Vietnam plans ban on dancing to karaoke

People arrive at a karaoke bar in Hanoi

People arrive at a karaoke bar in Hanoi


HO CHI MINH CITY (AFP) — It is early evening and another night of singing has begun in earnest at Style Karaoke, a plush club where high-flyers in Vietnam’s commercial capital come to let off steam.

Music blasts from behind the glass doors of the small rooms where groups gather to sing and, as the rhythm takes hold, to dance.

And that, the communist government says, is the problem.

It wants to ban dancing at karaoke bars in what reports have said is a bid to limit drug use.

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism posted the proposed ban on its website last month and invited public comment on the move, its latest attempt to clamp down on lawlessness at the popular singing venues.

But at Style and other neon-lit clubs on Su Van Hanh street, the heart of karaoke entertainment in the city formerly known as Saigon, the proposal is dismissed as unworkable.

“I think it’s not feasible because these people who go to karaoke want to relieve their stress,” says Dang Duy Thanh, the gel-haired manager of Style.

“If we just force them to stay there singing without feeling comfortable, that’s not right”.

Le Anh Tuyen, head of the culture ministry’s legal department, reportedly sees things differently.

Tuyen, who five years ago warned that karaoke was linked to prostitution, was quoted by the VietnamNet news website last month as saying the drug ecstasy would be used in karaoke rooms if dancing was not banned.

“Ecstasy always goes with wine and music,” he said. “In my opinion, karaoke is a cultural activity which is always latent with social evils.”

Tuyen did not respond to AFP’s requests for an interview.

Ecstasy became popular around the world at “rave” dance parties.

Tuyen told VietnamNet the government has statistics about the use of ecstasy at karaoke bars, but the report gave no data.

“I’m sure the real number of cases is higher than in our statistics. Evils will not be prevented without banning dancing,” he was quoted as saying. “In our country, karaoke often goes with ecstasy and prostitution.”

Karaoke workers on Su Van Hanh street said ecstasy could be found in some clubs — but not theirs.

“Not all karaokes allow the use of ecstasy,” says Thanh, whose club targets middle to higher-class customers and charges about double the room rate of nearby singing clubs like Karaoke K-T.

“This is what we call ‘family karaoke’,” said Pham Ngoc Khanh, 40, a staffer at K-T.

He said the business, open for several years, has a loyal following of civil servants, students and workers.

“It is not karaoke with what we call ‘social evils’.”

Clubs in other parts of the city might be more prone to vice, he said.

“It’s not right to ban us from dancing in karaoke clubs,” said one K-T customer, who arrived with a laptop bag on his shoulder. “Maybe they should ban dance bars where they have prostitutes. If they just make a general ban on dancing in karaokes, it’s not reasonable.”

The customer declined to give his name.

Khanh, the K-T worker, said karaoke was a popular form of entertainment and a ban on dancing would be “a bit strange” for customers trying to relax.

Karaoke was introduced to Vietnam in the early 1990s. The bars are now found throughout the socially conservative nation, even in remote mountainous villages.

“It’s impossible” to ban dancing, says Dang Duc Han, standing in a T-shirt, his arms folded, outside the Karaoke 64 club he manages.

If people feel in the mood they will dance, Han says as customers ride up on their motorcycles, and a child with a toy bicycle brushes against his leg.

In 2006 Vietnam banned alcohol in karaoke bars — but in practice drinking continues — while a year earlier it stopped issuing licences for bars, karaoke parlours and dance halls.

Earlier draft legislation even called for karaoke clubs to be shut down, after Tuyen said many served as brothels.

In his interview with VietnamNet, Tuyen admitted inspectors were not able to check karaoke clubs very often and said “people themselves must obey the rules”.

Khanh, of Karaoke K-T, said officials have lost touch with reality.

“They have been sitting in a high position for quite some time,” he said. “They are not realistic.”

Ngo Thi Bao Ngoc, 28, a black-stockinged staffer at the Style club, said that as the number of karaokes proliferates, authorities have a hard time controlling them.

“They get confused and they don’t know how to deal with it,” she said.

Serious business owners will not want ecstasy on their premises because it damages their reputation while bringing no benefit, and banning dancing would not work, Ngoc said.

“Dancing is understandable. There is no reason to ban it,” she said.

http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gLSNbEd-_gWO4du-v0G62WUVbYlQ

Vietnam has too many boys: state media

Vietnamese authorities are concerned that there are 113 boys for every 100 girls in Ho Chi Minh City

Vietnamese authorities are concerned that there are 113 boys for every 100 girls in Ho Chi Minh City

May 12, 2009

HANOI (AFP) — Officials in Vietnam have warned that too many boys are being born and said the country should learn a lesson from its Asian neighbours, state media reported on Tuesday.

Vietnam produces 112 boys for every 100 girls, a gender imbalance that will leave about three million men with difficulty finding wives by 2030 if it continues, Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan told an online conference of officials, according to Vietnam News Agency.

He said Vietnam could learn big lessons about gender imbalance from China, Japan and South Korea, and asked people’s committees to raise awareness through the mass media.

“Strengthening the dissemination of news and information on the issue is necessary,” Nhan said.

In the country’s commercial capital, Ho Chi Minh City, there are 113 boys for every 100 girls, said Nguyen Thi Thu Ha, deputy chairman of the People’s Committee, the local government body.

According to Vietnam News Agency, Ha said many books, newspapers and the Internet provide information on prenatal gender selection, violating state policy on minimising prenatal gender inequality.

Deputy Minister of Health Nguyen Ba Thuy was quoted as saying the number of families with three children has continued to rise and gender imbalance is becoming very apparent.

In late 2007 a UN Population Fund report highlighted “growing concern that the sex ratio at birth is becoming unbalanced in Vietnam”, while the international ratio at birth was about 105 boys for every 100 girls.

Reasons for Vietnam’s unbalanced sex ratio included pressure to adhere to a two-child policy, a preference for sons, and ready availability of ultrasound and abortion, said the report.

Although Vietnam in 2003 banned foetal sex selection, many doctors tell parents-to-be if they are expecting a boy or girl.

Men in Vietnam have traditionally carried on the family lineage, inherited homes and land, cared for elderly parents and overseen funerals and ancestor worship rituals.

China, where most parents are banned from having more than one child, has faced a marriage squeeze.

http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5iGdgbbjmHhVj0YYRDaVy_bRFiSzw

Vietnam proposes ban on dancing at karaoke bars

A karaoke bar in Hanoi

A karaoke bar in Hanoi

HANOI (AFP) — Vietnam is seeking to ban dancing at karaoke bars in a bid to limit drug use, a draft decree and press reports said.

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism posted the proposed ban on its website and invited public comment on the move, its latest attempt to clamp down on illegal behaviour at the popular singing clubs.

“The function of karaoke bars is for singing, not for dancing. The ban for dancing in karaoke bar is to limit the use of ecstasy pills,” Thanh Nien newspaper quoted Le Anh Tuyen, head of the ministry’s legal department, as saying.

Ecstasy is a drug that became popular internationally at “rave” dance parties.

Tuyen said that any dance in a karaoke bar would violate the proposed ban but “behaviour with less danger to society,” such as simply moving to the beat of a song without using ecstasy, would not be fined.

Residents quoted by the VNExpress news website reacted critically to the proposal.

“Who can monitor, and who can define what is called dancing,” VNExpress quoted one resident, Nhu Dan, as saying.

Another, Thu Hong, said visiting karaoke bars was a way of releasing stress.

“It will be boring if you enter a karaoke bar, sitting in one place to sing songs,” Hong said.

While it bans dancing, the proposed decree extends the opening hours of discotheques at luxury hotels in the capital Hanoi and southern Ho Chi Minh City. They may now be able to operate until 2:00am instead of midnight, the draft said.

With visitor arrivals in Vietnam dropping during the global economic crisis, the move is designed to attract more tourists, Tuyen said.

In 2006 Vietnam banned alcohol in karaoke bars — but in practice drinking continues — while a year earlier it stopped issuing licences for bars, karaoke parlours and dance halls.

Earlier draft legislation even called for karaoke clubs to be shut down, after Tuyen said many served as brothels.

Karaoke bars are found throughout the socially conservative, communist nation, even in remote mountainous villages.

http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jBWIxrGEfzcF1ZlgsSBOieiSP1qQ

Owl and the Sparrow: A Look Inside Vietnam

by Melody Erhuy
Feb 02 2009

The Beatles passionately fantasized about this, Cassavetes’ “The Notebook” (2004) was purely based on this, and Cinderella found this when she located her missing shoe. Can you figure it out?

As the only universal bond that can break the barrier of language and culture, this less-than-three phenomenon, labeled love, is the most wanted item on everyone’s lists. Responding to this trend, director Stephane Gauger’s “Owl and the Sparrow” (2007) is a sophisticated, simplistic take on the classic love story, but it’s done like you have never seen before.

“The movie was shot in Saigon, Vietnam, the city of my birth. I wrote the film as a love letter to the city,” Gauger said.

Flight attendant Cat Ly, zookeeper Le The Lu and runaway Pham Thi Han are all missing the same things in life: love and family. These solitary characters meet by chance in modern-day Saigon, where their lives collide and transform to become one in the course of five days. Through their experiences together, they find the purpose for the rest of their lives – each other.

“The movie wasn’t about the plot,” said Hannah Moshier, a second-year English major. “I didn’t sit there and think ‘what’s going to happen next?’ I knew what was coming, but I was still enthralled in the movie for the characters. So much of it was shown more than said; I loved every minute of it. Everyone should see this movie.”

Gauger also stated that “the film is about how Saigon has opened up in the last 10 years through economic and social changes. The zookeeper represents old, traditional Vietnam, while the flight attendant characterizes new Vietnam. Both of them are brokenhearted souls. The small, [runaway] child bridges together the new and the old world.”

The film was awarded the Crystal Heart Award in the Indianapolis-based Heartland Film Festival, while also receiving a nomination for the John Cassavetes Award for film in the Independent’s Spirit Awards. The Big Apple Film Festival named the film as Best Feature Film, and both the Los Angeles Film Festival and the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival honored the film with the title of Best Narrative Feature.

Gauger added, “I wanted to be able to show the film internationally [by placing] universal themes of love and family that anyone can relate to. I originally intended the film to be seen by a European audience, the critics were a bonus.”

Gauger was raised in Garden Grove in Orange County, California, but he frequented France over summers with his relatives.

“Growing up in the suburbs is great as a kid, but the European influence on me [unleashed] my creative side,” Gauger said.

This creativity has appeared to pay off as there has been a general positive reaction to the film.

“It was so touching to see life and love through the eyes of a child,” said Rachel Han, a first-year Spanish major. “This movie made me think, laugh, cry, smile and sigh an extended ‘awwww.’ I think that the whole audience felt some sort of attachment to the characters. It was beautifully made and wonderfully enjoyable.”

This was the first feature film for actress Pham Thi Han, the runaway Thuy. Gauger believes that she exceeded expecetations.

“Two days before we started shooting, she was cast, and yet she was able to memorize everything. She completely immersed herself into that role, which made people believe who she was. We were very lucky,” Gauger said.

MTV personality Tila Tequila, star of “A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila,” “lent herself for a promo [for the film] so her fans could support a Vietnamese movie being shown in America. She wanted to bridge the gap with the youth,” Gauger said.

Gauger also explained that ‘“Owl and the Sparrow” is a vision of Vietnam usually unseen.

“Vietnam is portrayed in historical films that focus on wars and such; people don’t get to see Saigon in the present,” Gauger said. “I wanted to be able to take the audience on a journey to see the beauty of Vietnam. Making films, Vietnamese or English, helps me speak to a general audience and tell them a universal story. It’s a really special film and I’d love students to see it.”

“Owl and the Sparrow” is currently showing at Irvine Westpark 8.

http://www.newuniversity.org/main/article?slug=owl_and_the_sparrow%3A177

Vietnamese Police Break Up Matchmaking Ring

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam – Police stopped an illegal marriage brokering event were many women were being paraded before a group of South Korean men.

The police filed an information report on the spot on 11 people: five prospective husbands,two South Korean brokers, one interpreter, one Vietnamese driver and two Vietnamese organizers of the event.

All 11 people and 161 women, 18 to 26 years of age, mainly from poor Mekong Delta provinces, were in custody at the city’s District 8 police station.

The parade was organized in the early hours of the morning by 34-year-old Phung Bich Thoo of District 1 and 39-year-old Huynh Xuan Phu of District 11, police said, alleging they had rented a house on Cao Lo Street in District 8’s Ward 4 for the purpose.

Police said Thao became a marriage broker early this year and had scored two successes already. She would have received more than $2,000 from each marriage this time.

Since 2006, Phu has arranged marriages between South Korean men and 17 women from the Mekong Delta area. It was he who rented the house this time for $208 and arranged for the women to come, police said.

All five South Korean men are poor farmers and workers and some had borrowed money from the brokers to take part in the event, police said. They are investigating the case further.

South Korean authorities in mid-June launched a crackdown on illegal matchmaking, seeking to reduce a trend that has led to divorces, cases of spousal abuse and suicides.

They also have started a program to help foreign brides settle in South Korea, where 11 percent of marriages were interracial last year — a rate that reached 40 percent among farmers and fishermen, according to a report.

Statistics from South Korea showed that there were more than 10,000 Vietnamese brides in the country last year, up 74 percent from the previous year.

http://news.newamericamedia.org/news/view_article.html?article_id=935e92cf5f972c10cc925d4f48cb8620&from=rss

For Ex-Miss Vietnam, Uneasy Lies The Head That Quit High School Beauty Queen Loses Crown, Miffing Some

Beauty Queen Loses Crown, Miffing Some; Finding a Replacement Is a Royal Pain
By JAMES HOOKWAY

DANANG, Vietnam — Vietnam’s new penchant for beauty pageants took an ugly turn after government inspectors found that the new Miss Vietnam didn’t live up to their exacting standards.

Like many up-and-coming nations, Vietnam has been using beauty contests to quickly make its mark on the world. In July, Vietnam played host to the Miss Universe pageant, which was presided over by Jerry Springer and former Spice Girl Melanie Brown (the one known as “Scary Spice”).

For many ordinary Vietnamese, the event was more compelling evidence that the country has arrived than joining the World Trade Organization was the year before. Newspapers and TV channels repeatedly pointed out that this was the first time Miss Universe has been held in a Communist country.

But that pride crumbled after government investigators found that the new Miss Vietnam, crowned on Aug. 31, hadn’t finished high school.

[Tran Thi Thuy]

Tran Thi Thuy Dung

Shocked, Ministry of Culture officials stripped 18-year-old Tran Thi Thuy Dung of her most coveted prize — the right to represent Vietnam at this month’s Miss World contest in Johannesburg. Government officials in Hanoi are now trying to find a suitable candidate to send to South Africa. So far, they’ve drawn a blank.

In an interview in her hometown of Danang, in the center of Vietnam’s long, snaking coastline, Ms. Thuy Dung tried to shake off her disappointment at staying behind. “I wish Vietnam can still find the right candidate to send to Miss World, even if it isn’t me,” she said.

Other Vietnamese feel their government’s rigorous enforcement of its beauty-pageant rules has botched their chances of winning the contest. Britain and Australia don’t have any minimum educational requirement for their national beauty contests, while the U.S. gives beauty queens six months to finish high school after their first competition.

“If Ms. Thuy Dung doesn’t have a high-school diploma, she can always make it up later,” says Trung Thi Anh Nga, 22, who works in a boutique here. “If Vietnam doesn’t send a contestant to Miss World, it would be a shame and suggest we don’t have anybody beautiful enough to go.”

The head of the Ministry of Culture’s Performing Arts Agency is having none of this criticism. Le Ngoc Cuong says he has Vietnam’s reputation to protect.

“If we didn’t have the education requirement, then lots of girls would drop out of school to focus on beauty pageants, and we can’t let that happen,” says Mr. Cuong, who is also a well-known choreographer of ballets and a winner of Vietnam’s National Artist award.

Ms. Thuy Dung and her mother, Mai Thi Bich Ha, first realized she had a good shot at becoming a beauty queen when Ms. Thuy Dung turned out to be 5-feet-10-inches tall at the age of 17. Height is a major asset in Vietnamese pageants. “When we saw an advertisement in a fashion magazine inviting entrants for Miss Vietnam, I decided to enter,” Ms. Thy Dung says.

After coaching in Ho Chi Minh City and armed with a rack of clothes from her mother’s one-room back-alley store, Ms. Thuy Dung was ready for battle.

The annual Miss Vietnam pageant is fiercely contested, despite the contestants’ avowals that they are all sisters hoping to do the country proud. The competition was first held 20 years ago as Vietnam began opening up to the rest of the world following decades of war and seclusion. Just holding a pageant was a radical departure from the “everyone’s equal” ethos of the time. Kim Ninh, the Vietnam representative for the Asia Foundation think tank, who was there, says that first pageant captured the imagination of the nation. The top prize was a bicycle. She recalls that it was stolen from the winner.

The stakes have risen since then. Winners of the Miss Vietnam pageant have won scholarships to study overseas. The winner of the 2006 contest, Mai Phuong Thuy, went on to star in Vietnamese TV commercials for Procter & Gamble Co.’s Pantene shampoo, as well as in a local TV drama about a beauty queen who contracted HIV. There was also a cash prize of $9,000 at stake and the chance to compete in the annual Miss World contest.

During the nationally televised finals in Hoi An, a beach resort a few miles down the road from her home, Ms. Thuy Dung appeared to win over the judges with her humility and charm. “If I don’t win the title, it means a friend is worthier of such an honor,” Ms. Thuy Dung told the judges.

The nation was shocked, and badly divided, when news broke that Ms. Thuy Dung had dropped out of high school. “There has been a tremendous outpouring over this,” says Ms. Ninh at the Asia Foundation.

Vietnamese writer Ky Duyen worries that the country’s traditional culture and values are jeopardized by people seeking success by any means possible. She doesn’t really blame the young beauty queen in this instance, but she doesn’t like cutting corners. For Ms. Duyen, “our culture and education…are perhaps not strong enough to withstand the pressure.”

Ms. Thuy Dung, meanwhile, says she has done nothing wrong. The organizers of the Miss Vietnam contest — a group led by the state-owned ‘Pioneer’ newspaper — concede they didn’t specify that contestants must have graduated from high school.

“We competed in good faith in accordance with the regulations of the contest,” Ms. Thuy Dung says. Her mother, Ms. Bich Ha, says she took her daughter out of school earlier this year in order to prepare her for a high-school equivalency qualification that might give her a better chance of studying in the U.S.

Now Ms. Thuy Dung plans to return to school to earn her high-school diploma. If she finishes school, she could try the pageant circuit again. Meanwhile, Ms. Thuy Dung has been getting bags of letters from Vietnamese soldiers who have read about her troubles or seen the lovely young woman on TV. “When I read about your case, I felt so sorry for you,” wrote Pfc. Pham Quoc Tuan. “Please cheer up, and believe in yourself. You can achieve anything you want.”

“My parents write the replies. They won’t let me do it,” says Ms. Thuy Dung, who says she doesn’t have a boyfriend. “Lots of them haven’t finished high school, either.”

—Nguyen Anh Thu contributed to this article.

Write to James Hookway at james.hookway@awsj.com

Vietnam police arrest marriage brokers

Hanoi – Police in Ho Chi Minh City have broken up an illegal marriage brokerage, which matched Vietnamese women and South Korean men, a police official said Tuesday. Police Lt Col Nguyen Van Nam said officers had raided a house in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 8 at 2 am Monday, and had “caught red-handed” 161 women presenting themselves as potential spouses to seven South Korean men.

The men were fined an undisclosed amount.

Nam said police were holding a 34-year-old woman, Phung Bich Thao, and a 39-year-old man, Huynh Xuan Phu, for organizing the show.

Nam said the accused had confessed to brokering numerous marriages between foreigners and young Vietnamese women from poor Mekong Delta provinces. He said the agency charged brides a matching fee of 100 dollars when a foreign client chose them.

In recent years, Vietnamese brides have become popular in Taiwan and South Korea. South Korean statistics show over 20,000 Vietnamese brides residing in the country.

The Vietnamese public has become concerned that such arranged brides are vulnerable to domestic violence abroad. The Vietnam’s Women’s Union claims “most” Vietnamese arranged brides become alienated due to language barriers and a lack of cultural understanding.

Last year, two young Vietnamese brides in South Korea, Huynh Mai and Le Thi Kim Dong, died as a result of mistreatment by their husbands.

Mai’s body was found in the basement of her husband’s house eight days after he beat her to death. Dong died after jumping from the ninth floor of her building while attempting to escape from a violent husband.

Vietnam police arrest marriage brokers : Asia World