Real estate developer Frank Jao and silent partners have put $10 million into projects in his former homeland, suggesting a sea change in political climate.

BIG PLANS: Frank Jao shows his rendering for a development project in Vietnam. Jao is known as the Godfather of Little Saigon because he built many of the landmark malls on Bolsa Avenue. On the wall behind him are projects from the United States.

The Orange County Register

Frank Jao fled Vietnam in 1975 to escape communism and seek his fortune in Orange County.

Now, after becoming the biggest developer in Little Saigon, Jao sees Vietnam as a new land of opportunity – a suggestion that once would have drawn death threats from some anti-communists.

Jao is putting his money where his mouth is. For the first time after three decades in exile, he is investing in his homeland.

“Vietnam is geared up. It’s a good buying opportunity,” Jao, 60, said this week in the Huntington Beach offices of Bridgecreek Development, which has built$400 million worth of projects.

So far, Jao said, he and silent partners have invested about $10 million in two projects. If those go well, he plans to assemble a $100 million private fund for future investments in Vietnam and China.

The investments by Jao – often called the “Godfather of Little Saigon” because his shopping malls helped turn Bolsa Avenue into the Main Street of the largest Vietnamese community outside Vietnam – show how attitudes and economics have changed.

A few years ago, advocates of trade with Vietnam faced boycotts, death threats and denunciation as communist collaborators. When Dr. Co Pham, a physician who headed the Vietnamese-American Chamber of Commerce, proposed opening trade ties in 1994, he would wear a bulletproof vest when he went out in public.

“Frank has always been cautious about his overseas activities,” said Jeffrey Brody, a Cal State Fullerton professor who teaches a course on the Vietnamese-American experience. “If he is openly investing in a project in Vietnam, it’s a sign that the political climate has changed. It’s also a sign that Vietnam is seeking investment from the overseas Vietnamese community and that the overseas Vietnamese trust the government enough to invest millions of dollars.”

Tony Lam, a Vietnamese refugee and former Westminster councilman, said it’s no surprise that Jao is investing openly in Vietnam.

“The people are fed up with anti-communism,” Lam said. “Products from Vietnam are all over here. The people are used to it now.”

Ky Ngo, a Little Saigon community activist who led several protests against Lam and others he accused of being communist collaborators, said he no longer attacks people for simply trading with Vietnam.

But Ngo accused Jao of a different type of collaboration: using a 2002 appointment by President Bush as chairman of the board of the Vietnam Education Foundation to further his personal business interests.

“People aren’t mad about him doing business with Vietnam, but we’re upset he’s using his title with the U.S. government for his benefit,” Ngo said.

Jao said there’s nothing wrong with doing business while also serving on the board because he never uses foundation resources to do business. He said critics like Ngo won’t deter him from investing where he wants.

Controversy has followed Jao before. His mother’s Chinese ancestry and the Chinese architecture of his projects fueled questions about his loyalty to the Vietnamese community, criticisms he dismisses.

“I’m entitled to do business like any citizen,” Jao said. “I am a business entity, so I have to behave like a business entity. I am a U.S. citizen. I can’t be bound by the rules and regulations of the Vietnamese community.”

Incentives to invest in Vietnam are growing as its economy gears up. Vietnam is on track to join the World Trade Organization by November, when it hosts the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference, a summit that will bring 21 heads of state to Hanoi, including Bush.

The International Monetary Fund forecasts 7.8 percent growth for Vietnam this year, leading IMF Chief Economist Raghuram Rajan to call Vietnam an “emerging China.”

Vietnam’s Ministry of Planning and Investment reported $5.15 billion in direct foreign investment in the first nine months of 2006, up 26 percent over the same period in 2005.

Jao’s first investments are a Hanoi-based media company and a food-processing complex outside Ho Chi Minh City, the former Saigon.

Phase I of the Binh Dien Food Distribution Center is under construction, Jao said. The mixed-use complex, which Jao expects to be complete in four years, will employ 25,000 to 30,000 food-processing workers and house 2,100 families.

Jao said his U.S. investment syndicate will own 29 percent of the project.

He also runs another type of company, which only overseas Vietnamese can own, that will control 41 percent of Binh Dien, giving him control of a total 70 percent stake in the enterprise.

Through a private equity company called V-Home Group, Jao owns a minority stake in Vietnamnet, a media subsidiary of the state-owned Vietnam Post & Telecommunications Corp.

“Our goal is to do TV broadcasts, cell phones, Internet and cable,” he said.

V-Home Group also bought a stake in a company called EMHI, which controls the master license for Walt Disney Corp.products in Vietnam. In May, Jao was named as vice chairman of EMHI’s board.

The search for opportunities in Vietnam started in 1988, and Jao said he’s returned to his homeland several times without finding the right deals until this year.

Vietnam’s previous lack of transparency, its capricious bureaucrats and its hurdles against repatriating profits still concern Jao. But U.S. government-sponsored insurance policies through the Overseas Private Investment Corp. give him confidence he won’t lose everything. In some ways, Jao said, development is easier in Vietnam than California.

“Here, it takes two or three years to get a building permit,” he said of Orange County. “In Vietnam, it’s six months to get a permit, and the speed of construction is three times faster.”

Jao, whose local developments include the Asian Garden Mall and Asian Village, among other projects in Little Saigon, continues to build there. He plans to break ground this fall on Saigon Village, a $100 million, 144 condo project for seniors on Moran Street near Bolsa Avenue.

“This is part of our global strategy,” Jao said. “The recent decline of the real estate market in the U.S. is a concern, but it’s not unexpected. Nothing keeps going up forever. Real estate in China and Vietnam has shot up for five years, and we don’t expect that to go on forever.”

CONTACT US: 714-796-7969 or

sorry mr. gladiator! – vietq


Australian director BRUCE BERESFORD has turned down RUSSELL CROWE for his new film – declaring the actor is far too old. LONG TAN tells the story of how 108 American and Australian soldiers fought off 2, 500 Viet Cong troops in Vietnam – but it will not feature the 42-year-old GLADIATOR star. The acclaimed director says, “The problem with war movies characteristically is that all the guys playing the soldiers are too old. “I certainly would rather cast people who are the right age for the parts – that was a battle fought by very young guys.” The director did concede though that A List names are vital for a big film to get made, saying, “If you don’t have names, it is almost impossible (to get a film made).
29/09/2006 17:34



The StoryCorps Airstream trailer sat in front of Town Hall in Burlington, Vt., last month so people could tape their stories.
The StoryCorps Airstream trailer sat in front of Town Hall in Burlington, Vt., last month so people could tape their stories. (Geoff Forester for the Boston Globe)

BURLINGTON, Vt. — Hugh Pittman crossed Lake Champlain by ferry to reach the shiny Airstream trailer parked in the heart of this small city. There, on a brilliant Saturday morning last month, he settled into a dimly lit recording studio in the cozy back room of the trailer.

He had come to tell the story of his father, a hard-working Southerner who was forced to take the helm of the family farm when he was still in grade school. The 40-minute recording will become part of an ambitious new national archive of oral history, one of thousands of interviews with ordinary Americans collected by the non-profit group StoryCorps.

Due to arrive in Boston on Thursday , after a stop in Portland, Maine, the silver StoryCorps trailer is the most eye-catching evidence of a rising interest in recording history. As development diminishes the distinctive character of New England — extending its reach into ever more remote and scenic enclaves — some observers say changes in the landscape have highlighted vanishing traditions and sparked increasing efforts to preserve uniqueness in the face of homogenization.

The StoryCorps project, with its embrace of common experience, reflects a shift in public interest in the past, from a fixation on well-known events and public figures to “a recognition of the importance of the everyday and the local,” said Jo Radner, a Maine storyteller and past president of the American Folklore Society.

In Maine, the state humanities council has seen strong demand for classes, taught by Radner and offered since last year, that teach local historians how to record interviews. A new book of essays about the history of the Monadnock region of New Hampshire, compiled at Franklin Pierce College, is poised to serve as a model for other collections of regional history. The StoryCorps tour, sponsored by National Public Radio, has generated much enthusiasm in New England. In Vermont, two weeks of interview slots made available online were snapped up in six minutes, organizers said.

“There is such a sense of changing times in New England, and people want to try and capture what’s disappearing or what’s been lost,” said Erik Jorgensen, assistant director of the Maine Humanities Council.

Pittman, who traveled from Vermontville, N.Y., to visit the StoryCorps trailer in Burlington, said increasing urban sprawl in his native North Carolina helped him realize that his father’s way of life was disappearing. A few years ago, he visited the old family farm with his father and asked him to talk about his life there. Now, his father is in failing health, adding urgency to Pittman’s quest to record his story.

“To the day I die, I’ll never forget driving down that road with him, talking about the farm,” Pittman said. “A lot of people don’t understand the struggle that went on before them.”

In Madawaska, on Maine’s far northern border, a coalition of cultural groups is recording a CD that will trace 400 years of culture and history in the St. John Valley. In the valley, where many residents still speak both French and English, geographic isolation has been a double-edged sword: The remoteness has helped preserve traditions, like the 17th-century French ballads still sung there, but it has also driven industry from the region, in turn driving away younger people.

“It’s an oral culture here, so a lot of the heritage is passed down through families,” said project director Sheila Jans. “Most of the job is left to women, and it’s so vulnerable. It can stop in a generation, and it has.”

Social change also prompts reflection on the past. Five years after Vermont legalized civil unions for gay couples, the gay and lesbian community center in Burlington interviewed 14 of the state’s gay elders and commissioned artists to interpret their stories. “The Dialogue Project” is now on tour.

Increasingly, explorations of local history are seen as tools for solving problems. Besides preserving a rich culture, the Madawaska project has another purpose: boosting awareness of the region and its distinctive flavor, in hopes of fueling a new economy based on cultural tourism.

In Alexander, Maine, an oral history project also functioned on two levels. In recent years, the tiny Down East town saw an influx of newcomers, but natives and new arrivals failed to mingle, said Radner. The town’s history project, titled “Meet Your Neighbor,” tapped members of both groups for interviews and photographs last year, preserving memories while starting conversations.

A similar goal inspired the New Hampshire anthology, titled “Where the Mountain Stands Alone.” The 350-page book, published last month, includes essays on Monadnock regional history, from the native Abenaki to sheep farms and long-lost ski areas.

The stories offer newcomers a way to connect with longtime residents, said John Harris, director of the Monadnock Institute of Nature, Place & Culture at Franklin Pierce College. To help spark connections, the institute has scheduled a series of “story circles” around the state next month and also set up a website,, where users click on an interactive map to find history from their own towns. A daylong field trip last month to three of the historic sites featured in the book sold out.

“People [today] feel less comfortable connecting, yet there’s enormous hunger underneath to connect with each other,” said Harris.

Jenna Russell can be reached at  

Click to see larger image
THE organisers are calling it the ‘return of the prodigal… poker son’.
Most people here would not have heard of 65-year-old Singapore-born Willie Tann – one of world poker’s famous faces – simply because there have been no legal card game events here before.

Mr Tann has been in the restaurant business, the hot towel business and a bookmaker, but he has made a better living as a poker player

But this could soon change with the first Asian Poker Tour here from 12-17 Nov.

Singapore’s first legal high-stakes poker tournament will be held at the Meritus Mandarin Singapore, with a guaranteed prize pool of at least US$1 million (S$1.6m), to be shared by the final six players..

It is organised by a local company, Capital Events, in conjunction with Betfair (a London-based registered bookmaker and betting exchange) and the Singapore Tourism Board. (See report on facing page.)

For Mr Tann, who’s based in England but still visits Singapore once in a while, it will be a chance to finally showcase the skill and stone-cold ‘poker face’ he has honed over 46 years of playing the game to a Singaporean audience.

Last year, in poker’s version of football’s World Cup – the World Series of Poker – he won US$188,335 and an 18-carat gold bracelet from a one-day event with a buy-in of US$1,000 (the fee players have to pay to enter the main event).

A professional, now sponsored by Betfair, he couldn’t be contacted last night.

But in an interview with UK betting magazine Inside Edge last month, he talked about his life.

He was born in Singapore in 1941, and gambling was not in his parents’ plans for him.

They had high hopes when they sent him to London in 1960 to study law.

But law wasn’t exactly on his mind as he gambled often, and then tried becoming a bookmaker.

He owned a Chinese restaurant in Soho for a couple of years in the 1970s and ran a company supplying hot towels to Chinese restaurants all over London.

But poker was his calling.


With a total career earnings of almost US$1 million from poker, he lives comfortably some distance out of London in a small village in Hertfordshire called Bovingdon.

There, tudor houses, churches and greenery are more common than casinos.

It’s a world away from London, and definitely from Singapore.

He also has a family away from poker.

As the former law school dropout told Betfair Poker’s website: ‘I’ve been married for almost 30 years now. I have one son who went through Westminster and Oxford, and is now a lawyer himself.’

Well, at least he fulfilled his parents’ dream… through his son.

Mr Tann told the same website: ‘I started playing poker with my fellow students in house games.

‘I was winning a lot of money and so I stopped playing with them, and started playing in ‘spielers’ (casinos) all over London.

‘I thought I could make a better living playing poker. I’ve been in a few other businesses, the restaurant business, the hot towel business, and I’ve been a bookmaker at the race tracks.

‘But poker had always kept me going.’

But it also ‘broke’ him many times as he would spend his ‘earnings’ to enter tournaments and lose.

Once known as the Dice Man, then The Governor, the former No 1 European poker player in 2004 now prefers the nickname Mr Miyagi.

Mr Miyagi, from the 1980s movie The Karate Kid, was the wise old trainer and mentor of young Daniel-san, who spoke philosophically while maintaining a humble profile.

Mr Tann banks on his experience to offer advice on Betfair’s poker website.

Mr Oliver Bowen, 23, Betfair Games’ press officer, said: ‘Willie Tann is famous and respected here in the UK gaming scene. So I guess many Singaporeans will now start to hear more about him and recognise him as the face of the Asian Poker Tour, since he was born in Singapore.’

Mr Joseph Wong, 39, a businessman and director of Capital Events, was the prime mover behind the idea for Singapore’s first legal poker tournament.

He told The New Paper last night: ‘This has nothing to do with the upcoming integrated resort plans for Singapore. This poker tournament will be independent, an annual event.

‘I travel overseas often, and I realise poker’s exploded in the West. Gone is the seedy image associated with it as there’s more emphasis on the skill and psychology of pitting a player against another, as opposed to you playing against the house, which almost always wins.

‘And it’s great that Willie Tann will be returning to Singapore to play the game he could never play here legally all those years.

‘The return of the prodigal poker son after 46 years, I guess…’



12:51 PM CDT on Thursday, September 28, 2006

By Chau Nguyen / 11 News Click to watch video
Southern California’s large Hispanic community is seeing a language shift.

A study finds that the Spanish language is dying out as English becomes the dominant one.

Now, it appears to be happening in Houston, where one immigrant community’s next generation could be losing their language.

At a one deli, Vietnamese food is served and, by in large, ordered in the Vietnamese language.

Young Vietnamese Americans like Le Vu might prefer speaking English, but, “it’s easier to speak to them in Vietnamese that way they don’t get confused if I speak to them in English,” he said.

And it’s a language dilemma that goes beyond this deli.

With the first wave of immigrants being replaced by a second generation comes this question: Are the children of these immigrants losing their language?

You might consider Dr. Rick Ngo in that category.

At work, he rarely speaks Vietnamese.

“I would say 99 percent English,” he said.

And what about at home, with his Vietnamese-American wife?

“We speak English,” Dr. Ngo said.

Now it appears there’s a return to their roots.

Truong Ngon teachers a Vietnamese language class for those of the second generation who were asked for it.

“I prefer myself a one-and-half generation,” student Jack Phan said. “Not really a second generation, but one-and-a-half or 1.8.”

Phan speaks Vietnamese, but articulating it well and reading and writing, he doesn’t.

“I know Vietnamese,” he said. “I don’t know it deeply.”

“And the second generation, they try to consolidate what they achieve,” Ngon said.

Ngon said his classes are getting bigger and bigger as Vietnamese-Americans are seeing the need to bridge their language gap.

“And as an educator I love to teach those who rally really want to learn,” he said.

Dr. Ngo hopes private lessons from Ngon will mean he and his wife will soon speak Vietnamese not to just each other but to their two children

“We don’t want them to forget who they are and where they came from,” he said.

Vietnamese might very well be the only language spoken at the deli, and perhaps some of the younger generation would like to keep it that way.



09:27′ 27/09/2006 (GMT+7)

Soạn: HA 907149 gi đến 996 để nhn ảnh này

VietNamNet Bridge – The Law on Intellectual Property (IP) took effect on July 1, 2006. Ten days later, the Madrid agreement on international registration of brands took effect in Vietnam. However, many Vietnamese companies are still not fully aware of the significance of brand protection.


The danger is that Vietnamese enterprises may have to pursue overseas lawsuits to claim their brands if disputes occur.


How to avoid brand-related lawsuits?


The result of a survey of famous brands in Vietnam in 2006 has surprised many people: 50% of the total of 500 most popular brands in Vietnam is owned by Vietnamese companies. However, many of the 500 surveyed brands are not registered for protection.


“If this situation goes on, there will surely be expensive lessons like the cases of the Vietnam Post and Telecommunications Group (VNPT) and the Vietnam Tobacco Corporation (Vinataba) when they had to pursue lawsuits abroad to take back their brands,” said an expert.


According to this expert, if disputes occur, Vietnamese companies will face many troubles and have to spend a lot of money. The issuance of the Law in IP and Vietnam’s participation in the Madrid agreement on international registration of brands has partly helped raise the awareness of Vietnamese businesses of IP.


Pham Thanh Long, Director of the Pham Lawyer & Associates Company, said that along with economic development and fiercer competition, brands are extremely important to enterprises. A brand is the symbol of a business and the way it promotes itself in local and foreign markets.


Many famous brand names have become valuable invisible assets like Coca Cola ($79 billion), Microsoft ($64 billion), IBM ($51.2 billion), GE, Intel, and Nokia ($30 billion). Thus, Vietnamese businesses can’t ignore brand registration.


Along with the development of the Vietnamese economy and the country’s accession to the WTO, the number of Vietnamese companies registering their brands abroad is on the rise. This is a precondition for the promotion of exports and protection of the overseas markets of Vietnamese companies.


The Madrid agreement on international registration of brands went into effect in Vietnam in July 2006, and it has enabled local companies to register their brand names abroad and to avoid disputes.


They attach important to brand registration but…


The number of brand registration forms submitted to relevant departments increased from 5,882 in 2000 to 18,018 in 2005. The statistics show that awareness of brand registration and protection has improved. However, awareness of the role and value of brands in Vietnam is still poor as many local companies are not interested in developing Vietnamese brand names.


A survey by the Saigon Tiep Thi (Saigon Marketing) newspaper of 500 companies reveals that 49% of the work related to brands is directly monitored by the directorate. Only 16% of the surveyed companies have divisions specialising in this field. Nearly 80% of companies don’t have staff in charge of brand management.


Investing in brand name development is also a problem: The surey discloses that more than 20% of businesses don’t invest in brand names and more than 74% invest less than 5% of their turnover in this task.


Some lawyers said that business leaders have some knowledge of brand protection but their understanding of how to prevent brand violations is still poor. 

(Source: Tien Phong)

The Urbanite and her ao dai

September 28, 2006

funny when asked about if she has anything traditional. all she had was the ao dai. sweeto.

Dorothy Ho cuts an international figure.

By Molly Lori

harley soltes

Extra Info

Find out where Dorothy shops.

Dorothy Ho doesn’t think she’s stylish, but we’re not sure who she’s comparing herself to. Carrie Bradshaw? Coco Chanel? With her internationally acquired wardrobe and fantastic shoes and handbags, the 32-year-old writer and photo editor stands out in Seattle. When not compiling documentary photography for her Web site,, Ho teaches writing classes and pens articles for publications such as Where magazine and newspapers in Singapore, her native city. She’s also lived in New York (where she met her husband, a designer) and San Francisco. Though Seattle isn’t her favorite metropolis—yet—she says she’s really gotten into the art scene here, attending First Thursdays and mixing with other creative types. She shared her thoughts over tea in the Fairmont Hotel.


Where do you shop for shoes? Far East Plaza in Singapore; Nordstrom and Edie’s in Seattle.

Where do you shop for clothing? I try to do all my shopping when I go home to Singapore; there’s a very different fashion aesthetic there that I identify with. I buy clothes from Singaporean designers I love such as WOMB and Song + Kelly. And many labels from Japan or Hong Kong that are not available here. In Seattle, the one store I frequent is Anthropologie. I also like Fancy because [owner] Sally Brock brings in great T-shirts.

When did you find your style? I think I’m still looking! I take a little bit from each city that I’ve lived in, and my present look is an amalgamation of my life. If there’s one constant, though, it has to be comfort. I walk everywhere, so heels or ill-fitting clothes are not an option. I know I’m lucky to have that ability to look outside of Seattle for fashion. My style is really me putting together my favorite items from different cities.

Did you ever go through any horrible fashion phases? I permed my fringe in the ’80s.

What do you hate about Seattle style? Comfort without style. Buying an entire getup from one store. People wearing “work clothes” with running shoes, which I gather they change out of when they reach work. Why?

What’s your opinion on East Coast vs. West Coast style? I can only compare this with New York City, since I’ve lived there. I love the New York style because it makes no apologies for what it is. People wear whatever they want, and everyone tells a story with their clothes. In Seattle, people prefer to let the brands talk for them. There is less experimentation and mixing and matching. The trends and styles are taken wholesale without any tweaking. To truly be a trendsetter, I think people need to be unafraid to take an “old” trend, pair it with something new, perhaps, and then throw on a fabulous accessory.

What are your clothing staples? Comfortable tees. Yes, there are uncomfortable tees!

Who’s your style icon? Hello Kitty. She rocks that red bow every time.

Is there a piece of clothing you bought on a whim that languishes in your closet? I bought a traditional Vietnamese ao dai [an outfit consisting of a long tunic, usually with a high collar, worn over loose pants] on a trip to Ho Chi Minh, thinking I could wear it for some formal event. Yeah, right. First I need to be invited somewhere.

What object in your home or apartment says a lot about you? My Apple computer. No fuss, easy-to-use operating system, awesome packaging and design aesthetic, clean lines, simplicity.

What are a few of your favorite hang-outs? My LoveSac at home. It’s like a giant beanbag, right in front of the telly. Yes, I won’t apologize for watching television. People make it out to be such a crime here. Also: Shiro’s when I can afford it. Best damn sushi in the world.

Photos taken by: VIETCH

more at:

Hanoi vs. Saigon

September 25, 2006


Jam packed, with two couples sharing one table.
Saigon: Chairs in rows like bus seats.

Hanoi: Brought to you with the waitress’s thumb as a free extra.
Saigon: A bowl of noodles comes on a plate.

Hanoi: Seldom without MSG and bread.
Saigon: Must include herbs, bean sprouts and red (or black) chilli.

Hanoi: Good and sticky, wrapped in banana leaves.
Saigon: Terribly dry, sold in boxes or nylon bags.

Hanoi: Bia hoi (local draught beer) with peanuts, back home by 9pm.
Saigon: Must include herbs, bean sprouts and red (or black) chilli: Bottled beer with lots of rice, a hot pot, home after midnight.

Hanoi: Not much choice, but tasty.
Saigon: Good variety, cheap and acceptable but nothing special.

Hanoi: Small pieces of sweet and sour stir-fried pork ribs.
Saigon: Giant lumps of unskillfully grilled pork ribs.

Hanoi: Xe om drivers around Hoan Kiem lake wear suits.
Saigon: People go to the best hotels wearing shorts and sandals.

Hanoi: Women can wear socks without shoes.
Saigon: Men can wear shoes without socks.

Hanoi: You can cut across a car, but make sure to turn right only on a green light.
Saigon: You can ignore red lights, but don’t stray into the car lane.

Hanoi: You can’t turn right.
Saigon: You can even turn left.

Hanoi: Free.
Saigon: “VND2,000, please”.

Hanoi: Obsolete models rarely seen.
Saigon: Like a museum, where ancient models are still going.

Hanoi: You are shocked if someone says, “Thank you”.
Saigon: It’s normal for a receptionist to bow when you walk in.

Hanoi: “Let’s get one each”.
Saigon: “If you take it, I’ll go for something else”.

Hanoi: “What if I say no?”
Saigon: “Why not?”

Hanoi: If you have a lot of money.
Saigon: If you spend a lot of money.

Hanoi: Stop and chat in the middle of a busy intersection to let the whole world know how important you are.
Saigon: Stop, get onto the pavement, and keep a look-out in all directions in case someone tries to steal your phone.

Hanoi: Similar to its females, smouldering and persistent.
Saigon: Like its girls, attractive but soon over.

Hanoi: The staff are rude and surly.
Saigon: A comfortable place for a free read, especially for kids.

Hanoi: A quiet and uplifting place where you leave daily concerns behind.
Saigon: Noisy and secular.

Hanoi: Immense and romantic.
Saigon: No bigger than a pond.

Hanoi: Prostitutes pretend to be students.
Saigon: Students dress like prostitutes.

Hanoi vs Saigon [Myspace]

[Photo: J Catlett]

Previously: Cafe Lung, Pork Soup Shack, Restaurant Bobby Chinn, A Chinatown in Vietnam, Goat Fetii and Unlicensed Doctors, Hanoi-Style


By Grant McCool HO CHI MINH CITY, Sept 25 (Reuters) – Would you like your crickets deep fried and crispy? Peppered and presented in a neat circle on a bed of green leaves? Breeders of crickets say the insects have become “finger food for beer drinkers” in an age of increasing prosperity in Vietnam compared with the recent past when they might have been food for the hungry or for wartime soldiers surviving in the jungle. Businessman Le Thanh Tung raises hundreds of thousands of the flying insects in barrels and sells them to restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City, the Southeast Asian country’s largest urban area, or to other breeders in neighbouring provinces. “The taste is very particular, very special and it smells good and tastes delicious but it is very difficult to compare cricket to other meat,” said Tung, 28, suggesting that crickets are an acquired taste. At his small farm and restaurant about 25 km (16 miles) west of the city centre, a plastic-covered menu with photographs of cricket dishes offers “young crickets deep fried”, “cricket salad”, “breaded cricket”, “cricket noodle” and “peppered cricket”. One customer rode 340 km on a motorbike from his home near the border with Cambodia to buy two boxes full of twitching, chirping crickets to breed and serve at his restaurant. “There is a demand because people like to eat better,” said the customer, Nguyen Chinh Anh. CRUNCHY CRICKETS Back in the hot kitchen of the farm’s brick-faced building covered by a tin roof, Tung’s sister-in-law, Huynh Thi Oanh Kieu, scoops up a colander of crickets from a plastic basin and gently releases them into boiling oil. They sizzle and smoke for five to 10 minutes and she pulls them out. Crunchy crickets are ready. Tung gives his guests six dishes of crickets of various sizes, shapes and colours nestled on long yellow noodles, or battered, or stood on their legs atop a dark-green salad. Vietnamese crickets usually grow to 2.5 cm (0.9 inch) long and the largest can grow up to 4 cm, according to Tung. “Tasty,” said driver Nguyen Trong Thanh, after gingerly picking up a deep fried cricket with his chopsticks, dipping it in spicy fish sauce and then into his mouth. “This is the first time I’ve eaten it and I’m surprised it’s that good.” Throughout the meal, crickets sing in the background. Tung says that after six years of catching and breeding the insects, he knows their character and moods. “When they are angry, the singing is high-pitched and when they are looking for a mate, it is like the sound of violins playing,” he said. Like many Vietnamese of his generation, Tung remembers a childhood fascination with crickets, which they caught to watch them fight for entertainment. The insect has a special place in Vietnamese literature through a book called “The adventure of a cricket” by To Hoai. A picture book and a cartoon film were based on the story. However, the cricket breeder said the real inspiration for his business came from watching a TV documentary about crickets as a culinary delicacy in Thailand and a European report that said eating insects reduced cholesterol. SCORPIONS AND CENTIPEDES Crickets are harmless but Tung also breeds scorpions and venomous giant centipedes. They are two other insects considered delicacies at some restaurants in the nearby city of about 8 million that many still call by its old name, Saigon. The story of Tung and his insects is also one of a young entrepreneur who said he had struggled to make a living breeding rabbits and other animals and growing vegetables. He also tried working on construction sites, a common occupation for men his age in Vietnam’s rapidly developing cities, but hours were long and wages relatively low. In this country of 83 million with per capita annual income of just $640, Tung’s cricket business changed his life as his earnings rose way above average. His business grosses an estimated 90 million dong ($5,625) a month, before paying salaries to 12 workers and other costs. Tung said buyers pay between 250,000 dong ($15) and 450,000 dong ($28) per kg of crickets and he can sell about 300 kg a month. By comparison, one kg of chicken costs 70,000 dong ($4). “There’s a niche in the market, demand is potentially big,” said Tung as he stood in his breeding shed surrounded by hundreds of blue, red and green plastic barrels. In the crowded, narrow streets of the Go Vap district of Ho Chi Minh City, a restaurant called “Cricket” serves the insects cooked in batter or in fish sauce. As beer- and rice wine-drinking customers walk in and out of the three-storey lime green building, manager Nguyen Hong Muong says that, while it caters mostly to locals, “tourists from Japan and Korea and even Russia have come here to eat crickets.” ($1=16,001 dong) (Additional reporting by Nguyen Nhat Lam and Nguyen Van Vinh)