Phuong Khau

Housebound? Bring Vietnam Into Your Home During Coronavirus

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Five Ways to Bring Vietnam Into Your Home During the Coronavirus Epidemic

As global cases of Covid-19 have soared dramatically this month, self isolation has become a reality for most people internationally. Now that my access to the outdoors is somewhat limited by the coronavirus, I have had to continue my passion for Vietnam within my house!

Maybe your trip to Vietnam is cancelled because of the coronavirus. Perhaps you had to leave Vietnam prematurely and want to do something in preparation for your return. Or maybe you are like me, stuck inside your house in Vietnam wishing to to engage with the outside world. Whether you want to learn a new skill, recreate a cancelled travel experience or just get some recommendations to good music, this blogpost may be able to offer some help. Here are some ideas on how to continue to engage with Vietnam from the comfort of your home.

Get to Grips with Cooking Vietnamese Food

It’s time to get acquainted with all those leafy greens you’ve been avoiding at your local Asian market! People often ask me if I cook Vietnamese cuisine at home. The truth is, with Vietnamese food always available at every street corner in my neighbourhood, I have always gone out to eat. Now thanks to the coronavirus, visits to some of my favourite local spots have become difficult. It’s time for me to stock up on ingredients, pull up some recipes of favourite dishes and revive my cob-webbed kitchen! 

Bun Thut Nuong Hue Food Tour
Missing your favourite streetside bowl? Me too! Time to bring it home.

From noodle soups to fried pancakes, there’s a variety of Vietnamese recipes available online. Personally, I prefer cooking videos to written recipes so I can watch what is actually being done with those ambiguous kitchen verbs. Here is a small selection of the Vietnamese cuisine youtube channel stratosphere to keep you hungry during the time of coronavirus.

Helen’s Recipes with Helen Le combines a lot of central Vietnamese cuisine with the odd outings into Danang as well as incorporating some of her personal philosophies on gastronomy. Hương Vị Quê Hương takes back to basics cooking instruction amongst a variety of beautiful scenery. His channel is mostly in Vietnamese but always has English subtitles. Van’s Kitchen keeps it indoors. like she’s been in isolation all her life! While her library isn’t as extensive as others, her videos are probably the easiest to follow.

ong tho coronavrirus
Ong Tho cooking some mean ole’ pork skewers on his vlog. Photo from Youtube

Make Steps to Learning the Vietnamese Language

It is obvious that learning a little bit of a language in a place you live or intend to travel to will go a loooooong way. I am always impressed when my guests on the Hue Grit Tour use some basic Vietnamese to compliment or salutate the people we meet. Whether you are living in Vietnam or intend to visit, the coronavirus is an opportunity to extend your knowledge of the Vietnamese language. Even a dedicated one or two hours every couple of days will bring vast results so that when you hit the streets of Vietnam, your conversations will span further than pointing at pictures on a menu.

learn Vietnamese
If you are motivated by cute illustrated mascots, Duolingo will keep you hooked. Photo from duolingo.

There are a few online resources available such as the popular Duolingo app, which is great for basic vocabulary and grammar structures. For personal long-distance tutoring, Tieng Viet Oi caters for both standard, northern and southern languages. For video lessons specifically for Hue accent, get in touch with Hue Grit Tour for recommendations. Some good youtube vlogs are Vietnamesepod101, learn Vietnamese with Annie and VLS. There is also a fantastic list of resources here.

Hot Tip:

A great way to learn a language is by song and there is nowhere better than to test your mettle than at the karaoke booths of Vietnam. Embarrassingly, I am still without a solid Vietnamese karaoke song since I started living in Vietnam. (although I have made a few failed attempts!). I hope to have a few under my belt before my next karaoke session post-coronavirus.

Learn about Vietnamese History and Culture

There are an incredible amount of ways to learn about Vietnamese history and culture both online and offline but it can be a bit daunting if your Vietnamese language ability is less than proficient. Over more recent years, there are a growing variety of resources that continue to be informative and innovative. Here are some recommendations that may be of interest to you.

Podcasts:

A growing amount of English-language Vietnam podcasts both hosted by Vietnamese people and foreigners. My personal favourite is the New Books in South East Asian Studies podcast where academics talk about their publications on South-East Asia, usually one publication per episode. While the South East Asian Studies podcast doesn’t exclusively cover Vietnam, there are many episodes that are exclusively Vietnamcentric and even those that do focus on other countries tend to be worth listening to. Saigoneer also produces a great podcast that touches on what is happening in Ho Chi Minh City and Vietnam now. The show hosted by the website’s editor and two (or sometimes three) staff writers gives a portrayal on modern-day Vietnam topics from the Saigoneers’ perspective. The Lotus Talks would be a good start for those who are floating with the idea of business after the coronavirus pandemic. Seven Million Bikes is a slightly more light hearted approach to living in Vietnam including interviews and anecdotes with guests.

podcasts corona
One of the more popular English language podcasts on Vietnam is Saigoneer which covers a range of topics on Vietnam today. Photo from Saigoneer.

Books:

The range of English-language publications for purchase continue to be very limited in Vietnam. The world is (almost) your oyster if you have a kindle or an e-reader. The kindle app allows you to purchase books from the amazon store and read them off of any electronic device. There are other ways to access books online but I will pretend to not know what they are.

Non-Fiction

A range of books on Vietnam have been published online recently. While I will not provide an extensive list, some recently-read recommendations follow. Rice and Baguette: a History of Food in Vietnam by Vu Hong Lien is a detailed chronology of the evolution of Vietnamese cuisine from the beginning of time. A good start to knowing the history of the Vietnamese food you eat. Hue, Vietnam’s Last Imperial Capital by Carol Howland is a poetic account of one repeat traveller’s dives into various locations of the former capital. Wandering Through Vietnamese Culture is a large collection of essays by Huu Ngoc on his ponderings and learnings about the country’s culture. Pierre Asselin’s Vietnam’s American War: A History is a detailed writing focussing on the birth and rise of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam from the beginning of the French colonial period.

Wandering Around Vietnam
Wandering Through Vietnamese Culture by Huu Ngoc

Fiction

If your tastes lean more towards fiction then obvious suggestions would be, the Quiet American by Graham Greene. A love triangle that personifies the political struggle of South Vietnam in the mid 20th century. Ocean Vuong’s 2019 prose-drenched novel On Earth, We’re Briefly Gorgeous demonstrates why he is one of the today’s best living writers. For people looking for the essential literary classics of Vietnam, look no further than the cultural cornerstone that is The Tale of Kieu by Nguyen Du (but be aware of the criticisms of the latest translation!). For something more 20th century satirical/existential, the novel Dumb luck by Vu Trong Phung

Ocean Vuong corona
Ocean Vuong. Possibly one of today’s best living writers. Photo taken from thenation.com

 

I have been looking for some online English translations of Vietnamese socialist realist books published between 1975-1990. If you have any or know any, please send them my way!

Youtube:

to be honest, I prefer to learn through reading than watching videos (unless to supplement my primitive cooking capabilities). Phượng Khấu is a youtube drama focussing on the life of the Grand Empress Tu Du. A woman who played a pivotal part of the Nguyen court during her lifetime and observed the transition of Vietnam into French colonial control. Unfortunately, watching the series requires an app but if you get around figuring that out then some fantastic cinematography and historical Vietnamese drama awaits you!

One of the few vlogs I follow is Le Minh Khai’s youtube channel. He’s a very quirky individual with some extremely niche topics and far from easy watching. Nevertheless, enjoyable for Vietnamese history and culture nerds. His blog is great too!

Phuong Khau
Phuong Khau setting and detailed costumes keep the Vietnamese historical drama eye-catching as well as engaging.

Online Academic Databases

Online academic databases are a real steal for finding quality texts on Vietnam. While different sites have different ranges of accessibility, there are still an ample amount of texts available for free. Some of my most favourites to have read in recent times are Print and Power: Confucianism, Communism and Buddhism in the Making of Modern Vietnam by Shawn Frederick McHale, Luxury and Rubble: Civility and Dispossession in the New Saigon by Erik Harms and Vietnamese Aesthetics From 1925 Onwards by Boi Tran Huynh Beattie. Academic databases are full of papers on almost anything. I recommend using JSTOR, Academia and Researchgate to find things that interest you.

JSTOR read at home coronavirus
JSTOR Fantastic resources for academic papers on literally everything.

Play a Vietnamese Instrument

As mentioned earlier, my lack of knowledge with Vietnamese music stems from my inability to engage with it. My interactions with Vietnamese music are mostly passive, I need a more active approach will yield better engagement. 

Dan Nguyet Stay at home
One of the most popular traditional Vietnamese instruments, the đàn nguyệt.

While attending a ceremony around this new year, I became fascinated with the accompanying music, chầu văn Huế. Spiritual folk music straight from the soul. I found its transcendental pulse and the singer’s fluctuating heart-borne intonations both attractive and amusing. 

Chầu văn Huế’s lead instrument is the đàn nguyệt, a two-stringed guitar similar to the lute. I must admit that having previously played the guitar, makes the transition to the đàn nguyệt is less complicated than learning a new instrument. I have yet to find a teaching resource but listening and trying to repeat what I find on youtube has been fun!

There are other Vietnamese instruments that could bring joy in the time of corona. The đàn tranh, a Vietnamese zither (a multi stringed lap instrument) is a delicate sounding instrument akin to a harp. đàn tỳ bà is similar to a đàn nguyêt apart from that it is four stringed and reaches a greater range of pitch. The đàn bầu is another unique plucked lap instrument with a single string. While it looks relatively simple to play, it actually takes some unique technical ability involving a manipulation of the fifth finger on the plucking hand. If stringed instruments aren’t your thing. A bowed, woodwind or percussion instrument may be better suited to you. Check out a list of Vietnamese instruments here and see which one piques your interest.

Listen to Music:

if learning an instrument isn’t your thing then finding some good music may be equally enjoyable. I really enjoyed 2019’s release by Họa Âm Xưa by Saigon Soul Revival. The group aim to bring back pre-1975 Saigon music to the present day. The Saigon Soul Revival project was supported by Saigon Supersound who have also compiled two compilations of pre-1975 South Vietnamese music. Blurring the lines between old and new Vietnam is UK-based Phambinho. His fantastic playlists on NTS are broadcasted and saved on the website monthly and free to stream. 

My understanding of what is happening NOW in Vietnam is very limited although indie band Cá Hồi Hoang are one of the most popular indie bands in Vietnam at present. 7 Upper Cuts are Vietnam’s answer to pop punk. Suboi is one of the country’s most successful hip hop cum pop-stars whose career has spanned the entire past decade.

Phambinho corona virus
Phambinho compiles fantastic monthly tracklists. perfect indoor listens during coronavirus. Photo taken from NTS.live

Let Creative Juices Flow

Radical homemakers stress that the home shouldn’t be merely a place of consumption but also one of production. My recommendations above aren’t necessarily the most creative or proactive but there are endless possibilities. Learn a skill that may come in handy beyond the coronavirus thunderdome like repairing your motorbike, making hand sanitizer, facemasks or…traps for rats? Practice some decorative arts to brighten up your house. Paper flowers are popular in Hue and you can find a tutorial here

Make your own pickled savouries or even homeade wine. I have been experimenting with distilling vodka with Vietnamese fruits and recently found a good starting point with sapodilla. The mango and lychee mash is not as enticing.

Write a blog, make a youtube vlog or start a podcast . About your hobbies, your personal experiences, the things you know or the things you want to know. Even if you have never had any creative outlet online before or feel you have nothing to contribute, starting something new will bring new learning experiences. You might just enjoy it!

Are you proactive during Coronavirus yet?

I just wrote a pop chorus. Recorded it.

Were these tips useful? What are you doing during this period of coronavirus isolation? What tips would you recommend to bored people? Have you got any online projects you would like to share with the readers? Leave us some answers in the comments section below!

 

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