Talk Around Town

December 6, 2007


Talk Around Town


Dress up or as: youth shock in two styles

by Tran Thu Van

The miniskirt and its use by young girls to rebel against traditional fashion never swept Viet Nam in the swinging sixties, but today youngsters in HCM City and Ha Noi are increasingly using their wardrobes to express their individuality and shock their parents.

While the miniskirt does play its role in the latest fashion trends sweeping Viet Nam, young local trendsetters are looking for inspiration from Tokyo not London.

Tran Thi Thanh Thuy, a 12th-grade student at Kim Lien High School in Ha Noi, says she can’t imagine a life where she wasn’t free to express herself through her clothes, however bizarre they may be to her parents.

Thuy started following Japanese street fashion a few years ago, finding inspiration in the harajuku style, which is named after a trendy shopping area in Tokyo. Dressed in a motley mix of urban threads that mix aspects of the do-it-yourself punk movement with Japanese streetwear, Ha Noi’s harajuku exponents would certainly turn heads on the streets of the capital.

Despite, or maybe in spite of, older people’s disdain for the style, harajuku followers have found joy in the individuality and creative freedom of the trend, swapping their ao dai for a short, pleated schoolgirl’s skirt and a pair of saucy stockings, augmented by a carefully put together grab bag of accessories.

“Having one’s own style makes harajuku interesting,” says Nguyen Lan Anh, a 10th-grade student at Gia Dinh High School in HCM City.

“Everyone wants to make themselves distinctive from others.”

Everyone except the old folks.

“While we young people love to dress like this, our parents definitely feel shocked at seeing us in such weird clothes,” says Minh Vu, a student at Van Hien Private University in HCM City.

Move over, Sailor Moon

But as parents continue to cast disapproving eyes on harajuku, another trend from Japan is taking hold among Vietnamese youth. Cosplay, a combination of the two words costume and play, involves people dressing up as their favourite characters from Japanese manga comics or video games.

This fad, which arrived in Viet Nam in 2005, allows for much more elaborate costumes. Paying attention to minute details, cosplay enthusiasts try to look just like their idols and even try to pick up some of their mannerisms.

Many girls dress like the dashing, pretty nubiles that fill the pages of manga books, while their boyfriends take on the guise of action heroes and video game warriors.

While the harajuku style can be easily translated into casual streetwear, cosplay is reserved for special occasions, such as cosplay festivals or competitions. With recent cosplay festival in both Ha Noi and HCM City, the movement is gathering force.

A competition organised by Kim Dong Publishing House was a playground for hundreds of manga lovers recently, while the Night of 7 Festival in HCM City and the Active Expo 2007 Festival held in Ha Noi last September also attracted the participation of many cosplayers.

It is easy to understand why cosplay has such a strong attraction for teenagers, who want to be like their idols.

“What can be more wonderful than becoming a character you love for one day?” says Thuy. “And what can be better than people saying that it looks like you’ve just stepped off the screen?”

The fad has become so popular that more and more businesses selling special cosplay costumes are opening up.

Depending on the cosplayer’s creativity and the character they want to become, a costume may cost as little as VND300,000(US$18) or as much as several million dong. The average price for an outfit is about VND1 million ($62.50). This is no small amount for Vietnamese teenagers who are still studying, so cosplay for many is still a luxury pursuit.

While some are lucky enough to be able to splurge on costumes, other manga fans on a shoestring budget have to get a bit more creative.

Nguyen Dieu Linh, who studies at the Ha Noi College of Arts, buys cloth for her costumes and takes it to a tailor with the cosplay design of her choice.

Cosplay can be a harmless type of entertainment. Dressing up is a part of Vietnamese culture, and it’s up to each individual cosplayer to choose which character he or she becomes, as long as they don’t dress up as Godzilla on the day of their grandmother’s birthday party. —VNS

Tailors targeting foreigners get internet savvy

A customer talks to the tailor’s receptionist about ordering clothes  

Having clothes tailor made has long been a demand from visitors to Vietnam.

Now they can have a suit shipped to them or ready for them when they get to Vietnam with a click of the mouse.

Location, location, location

“The demand from foreigners for having clothes made is not new. It has been common for over a decade. I used to show many tourists places where they could have their clothes made,” said Mr. Hien, a former receptionist at Novotel Hotel in HCMC.

Ten years back, a tailor shop called Huong’s Tailor on Pasteur Street in District 1 of HCMC was well known for making clothes ready in a day.

Huong’s Tailor had the advantage of being located on the way from the city center to Tan Son Nhat Airport.

In recent years, Miss Ao Dai on Nguyen Trung Ngan Street in District 1 has become well-known as a place to make clothes for foreign customers, with a mostly Japanese clientele.

There are also several shops with fashion designers on hand, such as Minh Hanh, Sy Hoang, Lien Huong and Ngo Nhat Huy.

They often receive orders from international clients.

Other tailor shops on the streets of Mac Thi Buoi, Le Loi and Pasteur tailor clothes for an upscale clientele.

These places are thorough and give detailed advice to customers.

One tailor shop owner said that customers who receive good quality clothes will tell their friends and relatives and spread the word to others, which will increase the business of the shop.

That is a very westernized business sense to go along with the owner’s western clientele.

The tailor shops said that 90% of the foreign customers have their clothes made in Vietnam because they think the prices are low.

An American customer at the Miss Ao Dai shop made the comparison that, “A beautifully-made suit of good quality material is about US$150 while the price is two times that in the US”.

Japanese customers who care about details and can be pretty hard to please, admit that clothes made in Vietnam look good.

Kataniea, a Japanese customer, said, “I like Vietnamese silk products. They are very expensive in Japan. Vietnamese tailors are very skillful.”

Many women from around the world who visit Vietnam like to have a traditional ao dai made to take home and show their friends.

Made with a click of the mouse

Several tailor shops are now offering to have customer’s orders ready in a short amount of time.

In one day customers can have their suits ready, although they may have to pay a bit extra.

For example, it costs $40 to have an ao dai made in three days, yet for a 30 percent surcharge the customer can have it within a few hours.

Some customers are willing to pay the additional price for the convenience.

The newest feature is that some tailors are starting to allow customers to places their orders online.

The customer can fill in information about their measurements, the style and materials.

The shops confirm the details, create the clothes, package the finished product and send it to the customers.

Customers are able to pay by credit card.

Miss Ao Dai and other shops now have this kind of service.

One shop owner who provides this service said, “Although we pro-vide the service via the Internet, we must guarantee the product quality. If customers are not satisfied with something, they can send the products back to us and let us know what is wrong. We will correct it or even make a new one and we will pay for the transport. Customers don’t have to pay any more money.”

Vietnamese painter’s book published in America


Two thousand copies of “Vision of War and Peace,” which features 87 paintings and sketches by a Vietnamese former soldier and visual artist, are released simultaneously in America and in Vietnam this September.

Huynh Phuong Dong’s 175-page book, which costs US$40, comprises of 109 pictures showing portraits of soldiers and guerrillas, scenes of battles and hard lives of soldiers during Vietnam War, between 1945 and 1975, and the period following peace.

Dong’s “Visions of War and Peace” is sponsored by American NGO Indochina Arts Partnership. This is the organization’s first book project to be published in America.

Dong is known for his extensive body of works: over 17,000 sketches, silk, gouache, and oil paintings, as well as wood, plaster, and bronze sculptures.

Source: Tuoi Tre – Translated by Ngoc Anh

Is Hollywood Giving Asian Men More Love?

By: Philip W. Chung, Oct 22, 2007

Tags: Reel Stories, Arts & Entertainment |


I caught the second episode of NBC’s revamped The Bionic Woman on Wednesday night, and Korean American actor Will Yun Lee plays Jae Kim, one bad ass mofo. He gets to kick ass, has an interesting back-story, is clearly an American character so no accent or other FOB characteristics and, rarest of all, gets to play a fully realized sexual being.

Kim pines for his ex-wife, played by blond Battlestar Galactica hottie Katee Sackhoff, who also happens to be the original evil bionic woman whom Kim had to “kill.” In the episode I saw, the two even got their own love scene.

Just a few years ago, it would have been hard to imagine a character like this on prime-time network TV. But along with characters played by Daniel Dae Kim of Lost (to be joined this season by The Sopranos’ Ken Leung); B.D. Wong of Law & Order: SVU; Kal Penn of House; Masi Oka, Sendhil Ramamurthy and James Kyson Lee of Heroes, and even Rex Lee of HBO’s Entourage, not only are there more Asian male faces, but also three-dimensional characters who are more than token window dressing.

Mainstream film may be slower in showing love to the brothers, but there are small signs of progress — Kal Penn and John Cho will return next year in the Harold and Kumar sequel, and director Justin Lin seems determined to single-handedly change Hollywood’s perception of Asian men with films like Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift and his latest, Finishing the Game.

But is there a genuine shift taking place, or is this just a blip that will soon be forgotten?

Two decades ago, a young Vietnamese American actor named Dustin Nguyen burst onto the scene playing an undercover detective on the TV series 21 Jump Street. Nguyen’s character was just one of the guys and got to catch the baddies alongside his fellow heartthrobs, including a young Johnny Depp.

That experience has made Nguyen sensitive to how Hollywood has portrayed APA males over the years.

“Have things changed? Well, you can’t ignore shows like Lost or Heroes that have a very intelligent treatment of Asian males,” says Nguyen, who also stars in Finishing the Game. “But I wonder how much improvement in terms of quality there has been for Asian American males.”

Let’s not forget that in the 1960s Hollywood gave a shot to men like James Shigeta, who played the romantic lead in films like The Crimson Kimono and Flower Drum Song, and George Takei on Star Trek. However, those turned out to be just temporary blips on the road to business-as-usual.

But there are reasons why we might look at our current situation with guarded optimism.

If a genuine shift for the positive does occur, I think future historians will look at both Lost and Heroes as watershed moments. Not only were both shows major hits and pop culture phenomena, but their Asian male characters have become memorable, break-out presences who have made an impact on all viewers. I doubt NBC would have allowed The Bionic Woman’s producers to make Lee’s character an Asian American male had they not seen the success of similar characters on those previous shows. If these characters and shows continue to succeed, you can bet that the powers that be will be more open to do the same.

On the film front, I know of at least a dozen Hollywood projects in development featuring prominent Asian or APA male characters in non-stereotypical roles.

Whether these films ever get made and have an impact remains to be seen. But I think the best bets are our own Justin Lins. Just as Spike Lee almost single-handedly spawned a new wave of African American filmmakers and actors, all we need is that one guy to lead the way.

Philip W. Chung is a writer and co-artistic director of Lodestone Theatre Ensemble.


  1. I agree, we, API s are lacking the full representation in motion picture, music, entertainment, sport, media, publishing, politic/public sectors, etc.

    We must push to enter into the non-traditional roles and businesses. They are higher profit margin, higher respect, more power, and more attention. Why not?

    I don’t see any reason we should be reserved in this matter. Each of us must have that buring fire in our heart, to make things happen, to take back the glory, to steal back the marketshare now enjoyed by mainstream America and other minorities.

    We must have a vision, goals, and actions. No matter what you do in any profession. Take it to the top, give back, and share your wealth. You will last a long way. Don’t look back, don’t think traditional, but never imaged before!

    –EL on Oct 22, 2007


    Posted October 22, 2007 at 6:40 pm | Permalink


  2. Guys:
    I have serious doubts that things have really changed, other than the fact that Philip W. Chung is a distinct and solid addition to AsianWeek correspondents.
    It isn’t that the male Asian actors who have managed to get past the casting coucnes are wanting, or that the roles cited are less than valid.
    The sad fact is that the mass “audience” will never be there so long as the Great Unwashed continue to be regaled and regimented into the narrow confines of the stereotypical Pavlov-dog response to ANYthing.
    I refer you to the year Bertolucci’s “The Last Emperor” made it onstage to the er, ah “Oscars.”
    Were they not “Asian,” both John Lone AND Joan Chen should have been “nominated” along with the director.
    Others as well.
    But this is Gollywood, and unless you can afford agent, press agent AND personal manager, rotsa ruck, kiddo.
    Mr. Chung has already reached the understanding that showbiz is ONE TOUGH NUT. Not only to “crack,”
    but, more importantly, to place in perspective.
    I note that James Franco? is involved with Justin Lin’s latest foray into tbe muddy trenches. Now, there’s a non-Asian actor to contemplate. His James Dean outfoxed the original.
    No, guys, the proof in this pudding is, likely, less than obvious and more than disregarded.
    Stick by your guns, do your damnedest, and damn the pufflicity torpedoes.
    And I hope you can make a living doing so.
    Frank Eng

    –Frank Eng on Oct 22, 2007


    Frank Eng
    Posted October 22, 2007 at 10:33 pm | Permalink


  3. Frank, always appreciate your insightful comments regarding my columns and elsewhere. Thanks for the feedback.

    –Phil Chung on Oct 23, 2007


    Phil Chung
    Posted October 23, 2007 at 12:13 am | Permalink


  4. It’s a fact that in every Anglo-Saxon society around the world, be it the U.S., Canada, the U.K., New Zealand, or Australia, Asian men are systematically placed at the bottom of the sexual totem pole.

    At the same time, black men are placed at the top of the ladder right below white men, in a desperate attempt to alleviate white guilt and appear “open-minded and tolerant.”

    So have we progressed?

    The answer is no if you compare it to the utter adolation and sacred cow status reserved for African-Americans in television and Hollywood vs. the scraps from the table thrown to guys like John Cho and Will Yun Lee.

    The problem goes far deeper than media casting. I believe an inherent bias instilled within Anglo-Saxon males to disrespect, malign, and assault the manhood of Asian men.

    –Gabe on Nov 15, 2007


    Posted November 15, 2007 at 12:53 pm | Permalink


  5. Enjoyed the insights of the article and comments, as an 18 year old asian male and a struggling actor there is no doubt that type casting will always be present, that is the nature of the beast!… has there been progression?, yes do i believe it will continue ? certainly! When it comes down to it the fact is that acting and show biz is a field where anything can happen, and thats the risk every actor takes. We all want to be hollywood and yearn for our faces to touch the silver screen. Secondly, I strongly believe that talent will get you places no matter the circumstance, wheter your asian, latino, black or white, talent can never be overlooked or neglected. Listen gentleman, the problem is present and theres no denying but actions speak louder than words. I hope I can play part to shifting this ridiculous notion and shine a positive light. One person can make a difference. So lets just do it; whoever you or wherever you are if you have this dream get it done don’t hold back let your face be known and carry a strong heart. Only time will tell.

    –Danny Hyon on Nov 24, 2007


    Danny Hyon
    Posted November 24, 2007 at 12:20 am | Permalink


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Man of the Town

December 6, 2007

John Tran
Council Member
City of Rosemead, CA 

Council Member John Tran is currently serving his first term on the Rosemead City Council.  He was elected on March 8, 2005 and is the first Asian-American elected to the city council.  He was born on November 20, 1975 in Vietnam and is one of six siblings.  He has lived in Rosemead for over 18 years and is proud of his two gems in his life, his sons, Joshua and Andre.

John has been involved in the real estate industry since 1994 as an agent and consultant.  He currently works with Coldwell Banker Real Estate Mart in San Gabriel.  Through his hard work and dedication, he won many prestigious awards for his sales and service to clients over the years.

John attended school as a student in the Garvey School District during his elementary and middle school years.  He graduated from Garvey Intermediate School and went on to graduate from Mark Keppel High School in what was then the Alhambra High School District in 1993.

John served his community as a member of the Garvey School District Board of Education from 1999-2005, serving as School Board President in 2002 and in 2003-2004, where he became the youngest member ever elected to the Garvey School Board at the age of 23.  During his tenure, he set high expectations for district administrators and staff and as a result, one school was awarded National Blue Ribbon Status, two schools were recognized as �California Distinguished Schools� and three schools were recognized as �California Title I Achieving Schools.  John was also instrumental in the development and approval of two joint-use agreements with the City of Rosemead to build two gymnasiums to be placed on each of our two intermediate school campuses.  As a School Board Member, John served on the Board of Directors for the California Latino School Board Members Association and as a Member of the California School Boards Association.

John was chair of the Garvey School District bond committee and successfully coordinated the work of staff and community to accomplish the passing of General Obligation Bond Q, a $30 million bond initiative, which will benefit the students of the Garvey School District by continuing modernization of the school sites.




Man of the Town




Nguoi Viet, News feature, Jami Farkas, Posted: Dec 05, 2007

John Tran isn’t one to let anything stop him.

Like his size. He’s just 5 foot 9, but because of his leaping ability, he played center on the high-school basketball team he captained — a position usually the domain of the big men.

Or like his age. He turned 32 just last week but is a veteran of Los Angeles County politics, first elected to public office at age 23.

Or like an attitude that just because something has never been done before, it can’t be done now.

He isn’t one to take no for an answer.

Tran, of Vietnamese and Chinese descent, is the mayor of Rosemead, Calif., a multiethnic city nestled in the San Gabriel Valley. Born in Saigon, he has lived here since age 10, growing up playing basketball on its courts and graduating from its schools. It’s a place dear to him, a place that he doesn’t think should be content to be just good enough.

He wants it to be the best it can be.

”We’re on our way,” he said.

As is he. He is the only elected official of Vietnamese descent serving in Los Angeles County and is part of a group of a dozen or so statewide that is becoming increasingly active. He is believed to be the only Vietnamese mayor in the nation.

He says he understands and embraces the responsibility.

”There’s a lot of expectations,” he noted. When he was named mayor in March—in Rosemead, it’s a post rotated among members of the City Council—”there were a lot of tears being that in Vietnam, mayors and politicians were appointed, and there was never an opportunity for democracy.”


Growing up, Tran didn’t have political aspirations, unless you include his election as sixth-grade treasurer.

”That was so far from my radar,” he remembered.

He married right out of high school at age 18 and thought he might be a basketball coach. Instead, he got into the real-estate business, still his profession. At 19, he was urged to run for the local Board of Realtors.

A few years later, in 1999, and with some knowledge of the political process, he decided to seek a seat on the board of the Garvey School District, which has 13 elementary and intermediate campuses. His reasoning was simple: better schools mean better property values. Plus, since he was a father by this time, he knew he wanted the tops for his children.

”Things were happening in the right place at the right time. The schools were really in need of modernization,” he said. ”My son was entering kindergarten, and I wanted the best experience for him.”

In turn, Tran gave Garvey his best.

Tran and the board started holding principals more accountable and encouraging parents to spend more time with their children on their homework. They held town-hall meetings to make sure the community was vested in district plans.

”We got more parents to be involved,” he said. ”That was the real key. … My philosophy is children’s education comes on the backbone of parents’ participation.”

His goals when he ran for the school board were to improve test scores, modernize campuses while boosting public safety. By the time he left, the scores had risen; the state and federal governments had bestowed California Distinguished School and National Blue-Ribbon labels on some of the local institutions. Voters approved a pair of school bonds that never had been passed before, and the district made emergency-preparedness plans with law-enforcement agencies, he said.

One of his proudest moments came when the district got funding for two intermediate-school gymnasiums—another of his goals when he first won the post—proving wrong the naysayers who told him the district never would get the money. When he left the school board to serve on the City Council, his former colleagues named one of those gyms the John Tran Pavilion.

He said he, more than anyone else, appreciated what those buildings would mean to the young people of Rosemead. When he was a child, he walked 20 minutes to a park to play basketball. He wanted kids to have the same chances a little closer to home.

”Between 3 o’clock and 6 o’clock, those are the key hours. You get juveniles who are out there walking the streets. They become Good Samaritans or troublemakers.”

Virginia Peterson, the superintendent of the Garvey district, said Tran was an ideal school-board member.

”He grasps new things very quickly, and he immediately moves to the big picture,” said Peterson, promoted to superintendent when Tran was the board president. ”That’s why it’s so exciting to work with him. He’s very motivating and motivated.”

He also saw what Garvey could become.

”Garvey is a low-income area, and many immigrant children come needing to learn English,” Peterson said. ”His vision was just because the children, they come and are poor, that doesn’t need to define who we are and what kind of programs we offer.”

”He has a vision of the very best for the children…. ‘We need to strive for this, we need to strive for that.”’


Eventually, Tran saw ways the city and its school districts †two elementary districts serve Rosemead—should be working together and he also had separate goals for his city. He decided to run for the council in the 2005 election and won.

”He’s always been the top vote getter. People were elected with 1,000 votes. He got 3,000 votes,” said John Nunez, Rosemead’s mayor pro tem who served on the school board with Tran. ”That tells you that people are hungry for someone like him.”

Especially in a community like Rosemead. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 55,000 residents live in the city. Tran said about 65 percent are Asian Americans and 28 percent Latino.

”As mayor, you are the face of the city,” Tran said. ”You are the chair of the meetings. A lot of the Vietnamese, a lot of the Asians, a lot of the Chinese are very proud that they do have a leader of their color. It’s a good feeling to know they are very proud of me.”

But he is more than just an Asian mayor, his supporters say. He is Rosemead’s heartbeat.

”At first political people used to look at him and say, ‘Who’s this?’ ”Nunez said. But when they get to know Tran, Nunez said, their position changes to, ”This guy’s got a lot of strengths.”

”He brings a lot of energy to the city,” Nunez said. ”A lot of enthusiasm. He has a great smile. He makes you feel good about the city. He gets people to work hard. He has a lot of innovative ideas. He wants to do things quickly. He doesn’t want to start a committee to figure it out. His committees are working committees.”

Peterson said that under Tran’s leadership, she has begun regular meetings with the city manager to partner the schools with the city. She said Tran knows that if you want people to move into the city, they must offer good schools, and that he’s brought the same vision to the other facets of Rosemead.

”I see a great future in Rosemead that frankly maybe I hadn’t seen. It’s a city getting some good attention now,” Peterson said.

Tran said many of his goals he’s already met. The city has initiated a number of events, such as a July 4 parade, to instill community involvement. Rosemead now has a Web site to better inform residents. Its leaders are working to bring in a nationally known supermarket to supplement the ethnic markets and to boost revenues and keep residents inside city boundaries when shopping.


While Tran accepts the responsibilities of being Rosemead’s mayor, he also embraces his place as a Vietnamese American politician. He said he regularly confers with some of the Orange County Vietnamese leaders and San Jose councilmember Madison Nguyen to share ideas.

”They do come and visit. We do share a lot of our experiences,” Tran said. ”I look to (Assemblyman) Van Tran (R-Costa Mesa). …He’s done great things in Orange County. I’m a Democrat but share in the same philosophy. We’re here to serve. He’s been a great role model.”

He’s also becoming a role model to some of the newer —at his youthful age, they aren’t necessarily younger †elected officials.

”Being Asian Americans, our first instinct is to run a business. My family has always done that. A lot of Asians do that. When they get to politics, they are always afraid. Finally, we have a group of us willing to do that and be the voice of the community,” Tran said. ”There are not that many of us. We need to band together and encourage more Asian Americans to run for office.”

The others in this select group recognize his contributions.

”Don’t judge John by his age,” said Lan Quoc Nguyen, president of the Garden Grove Unified School District’s board of education. ”He’s one of the youngest, but he’s more politically experienced than most of us. He knows how to make use of the political vehicles to affect the changes that he envisions. He’s not shy about taking drastic actions such as replacing the most senior staff members or changing the leadership team if that’s needed. He has a strong passion as a community leader, and he’s willing to take the strong medicine to accomplish what he needs to do for the community.”

Tran said he will run for reelection in 2009 to continue the city’s progress. If he’s decided to seek higher office at some point, he isn’t eager to reveal that.

”With term limits, there will be vacancies,” he said. ”I’ve been asked. I’m still considering it. There’s a lot of options, and it’s very tempting.”

Until then, he’s happy to be the face of Rosemead, especially when his constituents approach him on the streets or at one of his sons’ sporting events.

”They say, ‘You’re doing a great job.’

And that’s a great feeling.”

Birthplace: Saigon
Family: Fiancée Nikkie Cam. Children Joshua John, 13; Andre Dominic, 8; and Jack Dylan, 3 months
Education: 1993 graduate of Mark Keppel High School in Alhambra, Calif.
Currently enrolled at Rio Hondo Community College in Whittier, Calif.
Last political book read: ”The Audacity of Hope” by Barack Obama.
Favorite hangout in his city: The Rosemead Park basketball courts, where he first learned how to play the game.
The No. 1 reason that constituents call: ”Residents call me constantly to voice their desire for enhanced economic development and improved public safety services.”
Who, in his mind, are accomplished speakers: Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, eBay’s CEO Meg Whitman and Barack Obama.
His thoughts for the 2008 election: ”I absolutely believe this country is ready for either a woman or a minority to serve as our president.”