ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION IN VIETNAM: KARAOKE, GOLF GAMES, PETS AND CIRCUSES

ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION IN VIETNAM

Singing karoake and watching television are probably the two biggest forms of entertainment in Vietnam. A lot of Vietnamese like hanging out at cafes, drinking coffee and chatting with a regular group of friends and playing cards, dominoes or some other game. Many men patronize bia om—a bar or karaoke with private rooms and hostesses—or bia hoi— streetside beer bars that serve beer made fresh everyday.

Many Vietnamese do tai chi or a Vietnamese version of it. When you see it done by Vietnamese in a park, they are often doing it individually or doing their own thing, sometimes in their pajamas or underwear. This contrast to the Chinese who like to do it all together as a group. People playing badminton or kicking around a sepak takraw rattan ball are also common sights.

The Hanoi Circus features acrobats, performing animals, elephants that do headstands, and clowns. Founded in 1956, it has 80 performers and 200 employees. During the Vietnam War, the circus performed on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. In 2004, 150 members of the Cu Chi Ecological Park circus troupe were destroyed as part of the bird flu culling effort. The birds were replaced by a team of racing pigs.

See Separate Article on Gambling. Also Alcoholic Drinks, Festivals

Bowling

The $13.5 million two-story Superbowl—a combination bowling, shopping mall, video arcade and fast food court—in Ho Chi Minh City is very popular. Bowlers pay up to $4 a head, a lot of money in Vietnam, to play in one of the center's 32 bowling lanes and listen to loud pop music.

One reviewer of Diamond Superbowl in Ho Chi Minh City wrote in Yahoo Travel: "Diamond Plaza is a totally lame! Overpriced hideous clothes. there is however a large selection of western brand cosmetics, which some might find useful, like Clinique and Lancome. the restaurants there are also lame and it is cafeteria style despite the high prices. The highland coffee cafe is nice but those are everywhere in this city." Another said, "I like it , it 's so fabulous , High building , Such a PLace for Rich people want to buy the real good things.

Bowling is know as "bo ling" in Vietnam. Describing a bowler in Saigon, Tim Larimer wrote in the Wall Street Journal, "Vo Ngoc Tuan grabbed the emerald-green bowling. First he placed his thumb and two fingers of his left hand in the holes. He dropped the ball with a thump on the maplewood lane. The ball veered straight to the right into the gutter with a clunk...Tuan picked up the ball again. he walked to the line, but before letting loose of the ball, he suddenly shifted the ball from his left to his right hand. he dropped the ball. Thump. It veered straight the left this time—and clunk into the gutter...After four frames, his score stood at the unspectacular, single-digit eight."

Golf in Vietnam

Golf was banned in Vietnam as a decadent Western "social evil" in 1975. As late as 1994 there were no golf courses in Vietnam. As of the early 2000s there were only a half dozen golf courses but several more were being built. One was located inside a former Viet Cong base known during the war as the "Iron Triangle." By the early 2010s there were several dozen gold courses in Vietnam. The most exclusive clubs have an entrance fee of $25,000 or more. Many of the members are foreign businessmen. The entrance fee is sometimes waved for high-level cadres.

Amy Kazmin wrote in the Financial Times, "Vietnam's first nine-hole course was built during the French colonial era in the hill station of Dalat to amuse Emperor Bao Dai. That legacy tainted golf in the eyes of Hanoi's revolutionaries. After 1975, the Dalat course was abandoned to weeds, used only by young lovers for secret trysts. In the early 1990s, Asian investors were grudgingly permitted to build several new fairways, although golf remained ideologically suspect. "It was regarded as a luxury game," says Mr Chau. "People felt very hesitant and guilty if they were caught playing golf like if they were caught playing tennis." [Source: Amy Kazmin, Financial Times, August 1, 2005 ><]

"In 1995 all that changed Hanoi joined the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, then Malaysia's foreign minister and now its prime minister, advised Communist leaders that full participation in Asean had two requirements: speaking English and playing golf. So began golf's official rehabilitation and its elevation to a tool of national advancement. Nguyen Manh Cam, a foreign minister sidelined at his first Asean meeting while colleagues played a round, led the struggle. In 1998, the politburo permitted officials, mainly from the foreign ministry, to set up the Hanoi Golf Club to improve local skills and establish golf's legitimacy. ><

"Golf did face initial resistance. In 1997, 500 peasants near Hanoi clashed with police over the appropriation of their land for a $177m golf course built by South Korea's Daewoo. But as new courses developed without such tension, official doubts waned. Today, Vietnam has 10 golf courses charging fees ranging from $13,000 to $25,000; hefty sums in a country with an estimated per capita gross domestic product of $568. Most club members are foreigners, but the number of local golfers and courses is growing." ><

By the early 2010s, the Vietnamese government was beginning to view golf as a nuisance. Associated Press reported: "Vietnam's Transport Minister has banned his senior staff from playing golf, saying it distracts them from their work too much. Dinh La Thang issued an document recently saying that some ministry leaders have had lackluster performance and that part of the problem was they spent too much time playing golf. The ministry's website posted a statement saying Thang has ordered all senior ministry officials and executives of corporations under the ministry not to play golf, particularly in this difficult time. Golf has become more popular among Vietnam's growing middle class, including Communist Party officials, in recent years and there are several dozens of golf courses across the country. [Source: Associated Press, October 19, 2011]

Golf Helps Drive Vietnam's Economic Modernisation

In 2005, Amy Kazmin wrote in the Financial Times, "Sixteen state officials and private entrepreneurs are gathered on the edge of Hanoi's West Lake on a sultry Friday evening. They are listening to Michael Moh as he explains the intricacies of an essential element of successful Asian business and diplomacy: golf. "When you want to aim, your club must form aninety-degree angle to the direction you want the ball to go," says the lanky Singaporean golf pro. As a translator repeats the words in Vietnamese, Mr Moh demonstrates the correct grip, checking each student's technique. "Hold the club lightly so your muscle is relaxed," he counsels. Finally, the pupils are led to a driving range, where they use their new knowledge to whack balls which float into the lake. [Source: Amy Kazmin, Financial Times, August 1, 2005 ><]

"Among those practising swings at the Hanoi Golf Academy is a 46-year-old executive of a state-owned trading company. He travels frequently to arrange jobs for Vietnamese laborers in Taiwan, South Korea and Japan. "Golf is very, very important," says the executive, who practices daily. "It strengthens relations. All the bosses in our partner countries play golf." ><

"When Hanoi opened its door to global capitalism in 1988, the Communist party frowned on golf as an irrelevant bourgeois indulgence. Today, the Communist elite has bestowed its full blessing on the game as both symbol, and tool, of Vietnam's economic modernisation. "Golf is a very effective instrument for bringing people together," says Pham Sanh Chau, deputy director of the government's Institute for International Relations and general secretary of the semi-official Hanoi Golf Club, established to boost the game. ><

"The Golf Swing, a popular instruction book, was translated into Vietnamese. Multinational companies sponsored lessons for leaders in exchange for "face-to-face time" with the power brokers on the green. Golf is catching on. Nearly 200 people have attended the club's golf academy, which provides subsidised lessons in golf basics for officials and members of the public. Private lessons from Mr Moh at $400 (€329) for 10 hours are in demand. This month, the inaugural issue of Vietnam Golf Magazine was published with endorsements from Mr Cam and Hoang Van Nghien, the former Hanoi mayor. Deputy prime minister Vu Khoan, the point man for Vietnam's quest to gain World Trade Organization membership, was pictured taking a swing." ><

In 2003, AFP reported: "What do you do if you've already got the BMW with the obligatory dark windows to park behind the iron gates of your substantial villa, and overseas business trips are no longer impressing the neighbours ? Take up golf -- that's what the elite are doing in Vietnam. Currently, there are only seven golf clubs in the communist nation, where economic growth rates have soared over the past few years, but at least seven more are either under construction or in the pipeline.The north, however, can only boast one course, Kings Island Golf Resort and Country Club. The rest are located down south, mainly around Ho Chi Minh City, and were built to cater predominantly to the large number of Japanese and South Korean expatriates there. [Source: Agence France Press, October 26, 2003 \\\\]

"But the increasing affluence of Vietnam's southern business capital and its conservative political capital Hanoi, where luxury German and Japanese cars are no longer turning heads, has created an ever enlarging pool of wealthy Vietnamese for whom the costs of playing golf are no longer prohibitive. It is this Hanoi elite that developers are hoping to tap. "Even though golf is a high class sport, there are more and more rich people in Vietnam," said Dinh Nho Hung, deputy general director of the Tam Dao Joint-Stock Investment Co, which will begin work next month on an 18-hole course around 60 kilometers north of Hanoi in Vinh Phuc province. "The construction of our golf course will be finished in 2005 and by that time I believe Vietnamese people will be one of our target clients." \\\\

"Thailand opened its first courses 40-50 years ago but now nearly everyone can play. In Vietnam there is a developing middle class and soon they will also be able to afford to take up the game. Developers are looking at the long term," he said. Annual average GDP per capita for the Southeast Asian nation's predominantly rural population of 80 million is a paltry 400 dollars, but this figure is much higher in Vietnam's major cities. \\\\

Kings Island Golf Resort and Country Club

Kings Island Golf Resort and Country Club, 35 kilometers (22 miles) west of Hanoi in Ha Tay province, was the only golf course in northern Vietnam as of 2003. "Robert Bicknell, operations manager and director of golf at Kings Island where Vietnamese currently make up around 10 percent of its 600 members told AFP, "There is a prestige attached to playing golf. It is a rich man's sport in any developing country but there is a trickle down effect over the years as incomes change." [Source: Agence France Press, October 26, 2003 \\\\]

Bicknell also believes the government has cannily recognised that golf courses can play their part in attracting foreign investors needing to provide corporate perks for their expatriate staff. "It understands the value of golf as a business and investment tool and it can show investors that Vietnam is becoming quite cosmopolitan," he said. Although there are no official figures, industry experts estimate there are currently only around 600 Vietnamese golfers -- not including caddies who play whenever given the chance -- but say their numbers are swelling each day. "Vietnamese businessmen seem to be buying up the most memberships nationwide at the moment. They've got the money and regard a membership as a vital business tool," said Bicknell. \\\\

AFP reported: "To meet Vietnam's rising income levels, Kings Island, which is set in the middle of a natural reservoir and surrounded by towering, majestic hills, is in the process of building another 18 holes as well as a new clubhouse. But the monopoly the club has enjoyed since 1993 is about to be broken. The Chi Linh Star Golf and Country Club, around 70 kilometers northeast of Hanoi in Hai Duong province, is scheduled to open the first nine holes of its planned 36-hole development next month. \\\\

Another local company has also drawn up plans for a 40-million dollar 36-hole project complete with a conference center in Vinh Phuc. It, however, remains bogged down in a legal dispute with ethnic minority villagers refusing to relocate, and work is not expected to commence until early next year. Kings Island's Bicknell says he welcomes the competition. "We have done 320 rounds in a single day which is absolutely torture. There's enough demand to keep us all happy. "Furthermore, from a playing perspective it gives golfers more options in terms of courses, and that will force clubs to raise their standards which ultimately benefits everyone," he said. \\\\

Vietnamese Villagers Angry Over Land Seized for a Golf Course

In 2004, Associated Press reported: "More than 30 police and security guards were injured by a mob of Vietnamese villagers demanding compensation for their land during a golf course groundbreaking ceremony, officials said. More than 400 villagers surrounded about 300 officials, police and security guards attending the ceremony Monday morning in Kim No village, just outside Hanoi, a village police officer said on condition of anonymity. Villagers threw rocks, bricks and gasoline-filled bottles and attacked police and security guards with sticks for about three hours, he said. Police and officials were finally forced to leave. It was unclear whether any villagers were injured, and police were still investigating, he said. No arrests have been made. [Source: The Associated Press, December 14, 2004 :::]

"The Daeha Co. Ltd., a joint venture between South Korean Daewoo Corp. and a local company, rented 128 hectares (316 acres) of land near Kim No village to develop an 18-hole golf course in 1995. In 1998, the villagers received compensation for their property, but the project was put on hold because of the Asian financial crisis. Last year, a Thai company named Noble Ltd. replaced the South Korean partner in the joint venture, now called Noble Vietnam. :::

"The villagers, however, demanded that the new company pay 70 percent of the monthly salaries promised by Daeha Co., which agreed to hire one person from each family who handed over their land before a deadline, a company executive said. The company argued that villagers would be hired once the project is completed. But the villagers insisted that the monthly salaries, which amount to about 400,000 dong (US$26) per person, should be backdated to 1998, the executive said. The villagers also argued that they cannot support their families without their land and demanded that Noble Vietnam pay a monthly allowance for children born after 1998 until they turn 18, the police officer said. The local government was expected to hold an emergency meeting to try to resolve the dispute. In recent years, dozens of villagers have landed in jail for attacking officials over the golf course deal. :::

Karaokes in Vietnam

Karaoke bars are found throughout Vietnam even in remote mountainous villages. As of 2002, there were nearly 700 karaoke bars and about 50 discos in Ho Chi Minh, a city of about 6 million at that time. Officials contend drug dealing and prostitution take place in some karaoke bars and discos. [Source: Associated Press, September 26, 2002]

Reporting from Ho Chi Minh City, John Boudreau wrote in the Mercury News: "The singing begins Saturday for employees at the online gaming start-up VinaGame. Instead of beer-bash Fridays, the company hosts cafeteria karaoke contests. "It's a Silicon Valley trend here. We do that so people will stay in the office,'' joked chief executive officer and Santa Cruz native Bryan Pelz. [Source: John Boudreau, Mercury News, January 17, 2007]

Brothels, See Prostitution, Business Customs, See Japan

In 2006, Reuters reported: "In Vietnam, where karaoke is not only recreational but also business etiquette, failing to show your talent can cost you dearly. Tien Phong (Pioneer) newspaper reported that state oil monopoly Petrovietnam's financial arm PVFC ordered 21 officials to make "self-criticism" reports for not singing karaoke at a contract-signing ceremony near Hanoi. At least eight department heads were facing suspension, said the newspaper, which also published a letter by the group of officials protesting the decision as unlawful. "We all thought we had completed our company obligation and contributed to the success of the ceremony," the letter said. "We were only thinking of our family back in Hanoi, the kids and the wives waiting." A company official said, "No one has been laid off yet but they have to criticise themselves for not participating in collective activities." [Source: Reuters, June 7, 2006]

Curfew and Ban on Karaoke and Dancing in Vietnam

In 2002, Associated Press reported: "Authorities in Ho Chi Minh City plan to crack down on the nightlife in Vietnam's largest city by imposing a midnight curfew on karaoke bars and discos, an official said. Taking effect Oct. 9, the new regulations also dictate intoxicated people will not be allowed into these establishments, and drinks with more than 30 percent alcohol cannot be served, said an inspector in the city's Culture and Information Department. Owners of karaoke bars and discos in the city, formerly named Saigon, also must not allow sexually provocative or violent behavior and can't employ anyone younger than 18, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. She said they must have licenses, which need to be renewed every two years. The inspector said city authorities closed three discos and dozens of karaoke bars last year during a two-month crackdown on violations, and 32 more karaoke bars have been shut this year. She added some of the new regulations were already issued in various government decrees,but were difficult to enforce separately. [Source: Associated Press, September 26, 2002]

In 2009, AFP reported: "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. [Source: AFP, April 15, 2009 ***]

"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. 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. ***

Pets in Vietnam

The cats are very skinny. Dogs are valued as guard animals. Great Dane breeders sell their dogs for up to $3,000. In Vietnam, there are pet hotels with decades-long history and a university with a special dog training research institute. The Dog and Cat Hotel in Hanoi offers room service, piped in music, grooming, massages and sex. Set up in the early 1970s in the last years of the Vietnam War, it used by manly by people as a place to keep their animals while they are away or for breeding. At the same time both dogs and cats are eaten as food.

For a while Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs were popular pet animals in the U.S. They are cute when they are small but can get so fat their stomachs drag on ground. They're very active," one German zookeeper said, We sent two to London but 12 arrived...it was bad business for us.

See Dogs as Food

Dogs Are Both Delicacy and Man’s Best Friend in Vietnam

In 2012, AFP reported: "At a packed Hanoi restaurant, one of Vietnam’s growing ranks of proud pooch owners tucks into a traditional delicacy to mark the end of the lunar month – a plate of juicy dog. Canine meat has long been on the menu in Vietnam. But now a growing love of the four-legged friends means that one man’s pet can be another’s dog sausage – quite literally as far as dog bandits are concerned. "We never kill our own dogs for their meat. Here I’m eating in a restaurant so I don’t care which dogs they killed or how," Pham Dang Tien, 53, said as he chewed contentedly on a plate of boiled dog. Dog meat is good for health and virility, believes Tien, who sees no contradiction between these monthly meat binges and owning a dog – his family have had a string of beloved pet pooches over the course of 20 years.[Source: AFP, August 1, 2012]

For many older Vietnamese, dogs are an essential part of traditional Vietnamese cuisine that can coexist with pet ownership. Those dogs that end up on the dinner table are traditionally beaten to death. When times were hard after the Vietnam War, local authorities in big cities strictly limited pet ownership. But as the popularity of keeping animals at home rises along with the economy and living standards, more young people feel like 16-year-old Nguyen Anh Hong. "I just don’t understand how people can eat dogs – they are lovely pets," she said.

In Hanoi’s Reunification Park, hundreds of people now walk their pet dogs every day, showcasing the range of exotic foreign breeds – Chihuahuas and Huskies are particularly popular – favored by Hanoi-based pet-owners. "In Vietnam now, raising pet dogs has become fashionable," said Cu Anh Tu, a 20-year-old university student and dog owner. "The young generation now seems to love animals very much," he added.

In the countryside, local mongrels are kept as pets or guard dogs. For Nguyen Bao Sinh, a luxury kennel owner in Hanoi, Vietnam needs to move away from its traditional love of canine meat and learn from other pet-loving cultures. "They (Westerners) love dogs in this life. That viewpoint is very good... We should love dogs here and now in this life. We should not kill them or beat them barbarously," he said. Sinh, who run’s Hanoi’s only luxury kennel and grooming parlour for pets, said he has seen a rise in the number of pet-mad Vietnamese. His establishment offers "hotel rooms" for pets whose owners go away on business or holidays – and even has a cemetery for dogs and cats, where hundreds of pets are buried, and monks perform blessings every year.

Phu Quoc Island Dogs

AFP reported from Phu Loc Island: "Unlike the rest of Vietnam where eating dog is considered a delicacy, locals on this tropical island in the Gulf of Thailand hold their canine companions in high esteem. On the mainland, dogs are rarely seen wandering the streets or enjoying a short nap in the sun. Should they be foolish enough to do so, they are likely to end up in the cooking pot. Here, however, 45 kilometers (28 miles) off Vietnam’s southwestern coast and only 15 kilometers (nine miles) from Cambodia, there is an abundance of mutts, roaming the island’s streets and beaches at will. They can even be found in restaurants - but only rarely on the dinner table. [Source: Agence France Presse, September 22, 2004 +=+]

"Phu Quoc’s indigenous mutts are famed for the intelligence and hunting and swimming skills, and as such have formed a close bond with islanders."Phu Quoc dogs are very clever. They never bark at visitors if their master is around, but they become really wild if I am not here," said Trinh Viet Dung, who owns a local winery. "If I want to catch a chicken in the garden, I just point at it. The dog then catches it in just a few seconds and brings it unharmed to me," he added. With webbed feet and a two-centimeter wide strip of backcombed hair along their spines that spikes up when alarmed, the auburn-colored Phu Quoc dogs are the size of spaniels but more stockily built. Perfectly adapted for this 565-square-kilometre (226-square-mile) tropical island, their short, smooth body hair enables them to dry quickly. "My dogs often jump into the water to cool off when it’s hot," said Dung, who has 10 canines to keep him company and guard his family home. +=+

"Islanders traditionally raised dogs to protect their homes from wild animals, particularly poisonous snakes. Today, with the island’s population of wild animals severly depleted thanks to the dogs’ hunting prowess, they are mainly used as guard dogs. "The dogs never sleep inside the house at night. They are always in the garden or at the gate to protect the house," said Huynh Phuoc Hue, a native of Phu Quoc who runs a souvenir shop in the island’s main town, Duong Dong. Phu Quoc dogs are also notoriously independent. +=+

"A mother dog never gives birth inside the house. She will always go into the garden or the forest, dig a hole and give birth and will only bring the babies back home after a month when they are strong enough," he added. Most families on the island own at least two dogs, although no official figure on the number of Phu Quoc dogs is available. The island’s indigenous mutts also have a small following among the few canine-lovers on the mainland. Relocation, however, has not proved altogether successful. "Out of 10 dogs that are sent to the mainland, only two or three survive. They are not used to the climate and the water there," said Trinh Huynh Ly, a dog trader. +=+

Pet Hamsters Banned in Vietnam

In 2008, Andre Vornic of BBC News reported: "Vietnam has banned the sale and possession of hamsters, whose popularity has been soaring. The Ministry of Agriculture says anyone caught with a hamster will be fined up to 30m dong ($1,900) - almost double the average annual wage in Vietnam. The authorities say the creatures are a potential source of disease. Officials have also expressed concern that the animals are imported from China and Thailand without proper licensing or controls. In a tropical Asian country like Vietnam, hamsters are not a traditional pet of choice. That role has normally been held by various types of fish. [Source: Andre Vornic, BBC News, March 7, 2008 ////]

"But a combination of factors including growing incomes and the Chinese Year of the Rat have made the beady-eyed rodents highly desirable. They have been trading for $10 to $20 each and are reported to be a hit with the young population of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, spawning a whole sub-culture of hamster forums and hamster clubs. But the authorities are concerned. Traded illegally over the Chinese or Thai borders, the hamsters are unlicensed and unchecked. The Ministry of Agriculture has highlighted the risk of disease. ////

On the same issue, Deutsche Presse Agentur reported: "Hamsters have become the fashionable new pet in Vietnam in this Year of the Rat, but the government has tightened controls on importing the rodents, fearing they may damage crops and spread disease if they escape from captivity, an official said Thursday. The Ministry of Agriculture's Animal Health Department sent an urgent communiqué to provincial animal control agencies on Tuesday, asking them to set up working groups to monitor the importation, transport and rearing of hamsters, according to the department's deputy director, Hoang Van Nam. [Source: Deutsche Presse Agentur, February 28, 2008 +++]

"If hamsters are found being imported illegally into Vietnam, they will be destroyed," Nam said. "Those that have already been illegally imported into Vietnam must also be destroyed." The ministry criticized organizations and individuals it says have recently imported large numbers of hamsters as pets, without seeking approval from the authorities or quarantining the animals. It said hamsters could damage crops or spread unfamiliar diseases if released into the wild. Hamsters are a European species not native to Vietnam, according to animal health department official Vang Dan Ky. Until recently, the few in Vietnam were mainly confined to research laboratories. Around Christmas last year, young Vietnamese people began buying hamsters to raise and give as gifts in advance of the Year of the Rat, which began February 7. +++

"This year is the Year of the Rat, and as hamsters are also members of the rat family, it is considered a lucky pet," said Nguyen Huu Hieu, 25, who keeps two hamsters in his Hanoi apartment. Hieu said many of the hamsters being sold in the market were imported from Thailand or bred in Ho Chi Minh City. The pets sell for between 150,000 and 500,000 dong (about 10 to 30 dollars). "I don't think the authorities will find out that I have hamsters," Hieu said. "But I think it makes sense to ban importing them illegally." +++

GAMES IN VIETNAM

Vietnam is home to many chess players who compete internationally, among the well known being Cesar Boutteville, Hoang Thanh Trang, Le Quang Liem, Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son, and Paul Truong. Festivals sometimes feature life-size chess match with humans as piecess and children catching duck with nets.

A life size version of a game similar to checkers is sometimes played. The main difference between it and checkers is that the players stand on the boards intersections not its squares. Plays are first made on small boards then duplicated on a checkerboard the size of two tennis courts.

A shoe throwing game is very popular among children. The Vietnamese version of a sack race has two to a sack. Shops in Saigon sell sets of blocks that produce Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum when assembled correctly.

See Separate Article on Gambling

Vietnamese Spinning Tops (Con Quay)

In summertime, groups of children often play with tops along Hanoi’s streets and alleys. Their enthusiasm and happy laughter attract an audience, old and young, and remind older viewers of their younger days. The folk pastime of top spinning still charms city children despite the popularity of modern games such as bowling, skateboarding, billiards and video games. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

In the countryside, most children make their own tops out of guava, jackfruit, or longan wood. Sometimes they fashion tops from buffalo horn, though there tops are rare because horns are harder to obtain and more difficult to shape. City children frequently use wood scraps left from making furniture to fashion their tops. To Tich Street in Hanoi’s Old Quarter is famous for trading tops. A top has three parts: the head, body and nail. The head is shaped into a cylinder. The body is a sphere; the string is wound around its upper part. The nail must be accurately fixed into the bottom point of the top. Children in the countryside make strings from dry maize leaves; Hanoi children often use parachute string or cord. ~

The simplest way to spin a top is to "drop" it. The player uses his or her ring finger and little finger to press the cord or string against the nail at the knot. He or she holds the top firmly with the thumb and two remaining fingers so that its nail points upwards. Then he or she "drops" the top in three rapid steps: first, pushing the top forward while turning the wrist to point the nail downwards, then releasing the top; and rapidly pulling the string. ~

Once the top is spinning, players can use the string to move the top in the desired direction. When the top wavers, the player runs the string against the nail and pulls powerfully in the direction the top is turning. This keeps the top spinning longer. Although tops are among the simplest of toys, excited children spinning tops create one of Hanoi’s most vivid and boisterous games. ~

Vietnamese Bamboo Jacks (Choi Chuyen)

Vietnamese bamboo jacks (choi chuyen) is a girls' game that includes ten thin, well-sharpened, round bamboo sticks and a ball, which traditionally is a fig, a miniature variety of eggplant, a small rock or a clod of clay. These days, tennis balls are becoming more popular as a substitute. The player tosses the ball into the air. While the ball is in the air, she must quickly pick up the sticks and then catch the ball. Players often recite a singsong nonsense rhyme: "Cai mot... Cai mai... Cai co… So mang... Thang chang... Con chit... Ngam nga... Ngam nguyt... Chuot chit... Sang ban doi…" [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

In the first round, the player picks up the slicks one by one. Next, she gathers two sticks at a time, and so forth up to ten. In these stages she plays with only one hand. The girl picks up sticks and catches the ball while reciting the rhyme. Meanwhile, her face reddens and her eyes become intense as she performs in front of her friends. ~

The peak of the game is the last, most animated stage with all ten sticks in a bundle. During this stage, the player losses the ball and then transfers (chuyen) the pack of sticks from one hand to the other. She must successively switch the bundle, first once, then twice, then three or even more times before catching the ball. The hands of a girl playing chuyen open and close like small, nimble butterflies. If a player's hands are not swift or if her eyes are not sharp, or if she fails to coordinate the two, she will lose her turn. The game will pass to the next girl. Playing chuyen warms up the body and creates a lot of fun. During summer or autumn, small girls play it everywhere, from the shade of a village banyan tree to a deserted market stall. ~

Vietnamese Musical Kites (Dieu Sao)

Kite flying is popular throughout the year in Viet Nam but especially so in summer. People of different ages make kites of many shapes, sizes and materials. Children's kites are often small, simple and covered with paper, while adults' kites may be more complex, cloth-covered, and feature one or more wind flutes that play melodies as the kites fly. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

A typical adult's kite has four parts: the body, the steering string, the flying string and flutes. The frame is made of the smooth outer bamboo stalk and is well polished. Kite-makers shape bamboo straps into a crescent two to three meters long and one metre wide. After that, they cover the frame with pieces of cotton cloth or carefully glued paper. If one half of the kite is heavier than the other, the steering string will help balance it. This string also serves lo direct flight and protect the kite wings from breaking if the wind is too strong. The flying string is also made of bamboo and can be as long as 100m to 150m. Young bamboo straps the size of chopsticks are tied together, then boiled in water or even in traditional Chinese medicine and salt so that the string becomes soft and flexible. ~

Kites not only attract people by their shapes and colors but also by their flutes. Flutes of different sizes and materials can make the sound of birds, car horns, gongs or music. The mouth of the flute must be skillfully carved so that it can properly receive the wind and create the desired sound. Today, villagers build more sophisticated kites in the shape of phoenixes, butterflies and dragons. They replace thick bamboo strings with thinner bamboo or plastic rope. Modern kites are very light and cost little since the materials to make them are readily available. ~

People often fly kites in the late afternoon as the sun begins to set. Normally, two people fly one kite. One person holds the flying string while the other takes the kite and runs into the wind until the wind lifts the kite. The two may keep the kite high in the sky from day to day, even from summer to autumn. Every year, kite-flying competitions take place in many northern and central provinces. The rules vary from place to place. In general, the most beautiful kite with the most interesting flute melodies wins. However, Quang Yen Townlet (Quang Ninh Province) holds a kite-fighting competition: regardless of design, kites that hit or break other kites win. ~

Vietnamese Game of Squares (O an Quan)

Either boys or girls, usually age’s seven to ten, play the two-person game of O an quan (literally "Mandarin's Box"). They draw a rectangle on the ground and divide it into ten small squares called "rice fields" or "fish ponds. "They also draw two additional semi-circular boxes at the two ends of the rectangle, which are called"mandarin's boxes," hence the game's name. Each person has 25 small pebbles and a bigger stone. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

Each player places the stone in one of the mandarin's boxes and five small pebbles in each of the other squares. Then the game begins. The first player takes up the contents of one square on his or her side of the board (but not a mandarin's box) and distributes the pebbles one by one, starting with the next square in either direction. (Since each square contains five pebbles at the beginning, the first move will distribute five pebbles to the left or right). ~

After the last pebble is distributed, the player takes the contents of the following square and repeats the distribution process. But if the following square is one of the mandarin's boxes, the turn ends and passes to the other player. If the last pebble falls into a square that precedes one empty square, the player wins all the contents of the square following the empty square and removes these pebbles from the board. If this square is followed by another empty square, the player wins the contents of the square after that, and so on. However, if there are two or more empty squares in a row, the player loses his or her turn. ~

Once a player has taken pebbles from the board, the turn is handed to the other player. If all five squares on one player's side of the board are emptied at any time, that player must place one pebble he or she has aside back in each of the five squares so that the game can resume. The game continues until the two mandarins' boxes have both been taken. At the end of the game, the player with more pebbles wins, with each of the large stones counting as ten points. If each player retrieves an equal number of points, then the game is a tie. O an quan remains deservedly popular among older children since it requires good counting skills and forethought in order to win. ~

Cat and Mouse Game (Meo Duoi Chuot)

Cat and mouse game (meo duoi chuot) requires between seven and ten people. They stand in a circle, hold hands and raise their hands above their heads. Then they start singing the song.

Please come over here
Hand in hand
Stand in a large circle
The mouse will run through the hole
The cat will run after it
The mouse tries to run as fast as possible
But it can't escape
Then the mouse will act as the cat and chase the cat, which is now the mouse.

How to play the game: Each game requires between seven and ten people. They stand in a circle, hold hands and raise their hands above their heads. Then they start singing the song above. One person is chosen as the cal and another as the mouse. These two stand in the middle of the circle and lean against each other. When the others sing the last sentence, the mouse starts to run, and the cat must run after it. However, the cat must run in exactly the same route and manner as the mouse. The cat wins the game when it catches the mouse. Then the two exchange roles. If the cal runs into the wrong hole, it will be dismissed from that round. If it fails to catch the mouse in a certain period of time (usually from three to five minutes for kindergarten-age children) it will exchange its role with the mouse. The game will then continue. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

Vietnamese Game of the Dragon-Snake (Rong Ran)

A large group plays the children's game rong ran (dragon-snake). One person sits on a small hill or some location above the other players; he or she acts as the doctor. The other children stand in a line, holding each other's belts to form the body of the dragon-snake. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The dragon-snake approaches the doctor. The following dialogue occurs between the doctor and the head of the line: Where are you going, dragon-snake? Dragon-snake: "I’m searching for medicine for my son." How old is he, your son? "He is one year old. The doctor is not well. "He is (two, three, four, five... repeated each time) years old." The doctor is not well. The dialogue continues until the dragon-snake says: "He is ten years old." ~

Then the doctor answers: All right, the doctor is well. With this, the doctor stands up and says: Give me your head. The dragon-snake rsponds: "Nothing but the bones." Give me the body. "Nothing but the blood." Give me the tail. "Pursue at will!" ~

At this, the doctor flies into a rage and attempts lo catch the child who represents the tail of the dragon-snake. The head of the line stretches his or her arms to bar the doctor while the dragon-snake tries to make a circle. If the dragon-snake succeeds in rolling into a circle before the physician can touch the tail, it wins. On the contrary, if the doctor catches the tail of the dragon-snake, the entire group loses the game. All losers must stretch out their hands, palms downwards, to the winner, who slaps them one after another. ~

Tay Tet Sacred Ball Throwing Game (Nem Con)

Each ethnic group in Vietnam has unique ways of celebrating Tet. The Tay people of Cao Bang and Lang Son Provinces have a special Tet game that not only ushers in the spring but also serves as a matchmaker. According to Tay legend, Pia, an orphan, war poor and lonely. Discouraged with life, he went to the forest and gathered pieces of fruit to throw around. One time, he threw a fruit so hard it flew straight to heaven, where a fairy caught it. The fairy flew down to the earth to play with Pia. Before long, they fell in love and became husband and wife. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The people of the mountain village believed that the fruit had brought Pia happiness. To celebrate this story, young men and women toss balls (nem con) each year from the third day of Tet until the end of the first lunar month. Players gather on a level field where villagers have planted a tall bamboo tree. A bamboo ring about 30-40 cm in diameter hangs from the tree. Gaudy fabric covers the balls, which the makers have stuffed with rice grains (representing food) and cotton seeds (clothing) along with their hidden desires. A multicolored tassel decorates the balls. ~

According to tradition, before playing, the Tay people first prepare a tray of food, which they take to the field and offer to the Sky and Earth. Two balls and a bamboo ring on the tray represent vitality and virtue. The festival leader, who must have high status, prays to the Sky and Earth lo brings rain so that the community will have a good harvest. After this ceremony, the leader tosses the two balls high into the air. Everyone competes to catch them, signaling the beginning of festivities. ~

At that point, each family may throw its own household ball through the bamboo ring for good luck. Naturally, some balls do not make it through on the first try. The owners may try over and over until they are successful. The festival leader closes with a prayer for a good planting season, then slashes the ball open and distributes seeds to everyone. These seeds bring good luck and will sprout quickly because they unite the forces of am and duong (yin and yang) in the warmth of women's and men's hands. Everyone receives the holy seeds of the Sky, the Earth and Humanity with the belief and hope that their crops will increase, people will prosper and the entire village will have sufficient food, clothing and happiness. For this reason, the ball game is a major feature of Tay tradition. ~

Vietnamese Traditional Toys

Vietnamese children have traditionally played with toys made from all possible materials within reach such as wood, leaves, bamboo, clay and paper. Vietnamese archaeologists have found toys for children as long as 4,000 years ago. Clay marbles and statues carved from stone have been unearthed in Vietnam. There are even images of children's playthings inscribed on ancient bronze Dong Son drums. Some toys are still individually produced from paper and wood. [Source: Vietnam-culture.com vietnam-culture.com /:\ ]

Traditional round drums are still prevalent. This kind of toy is made of paper stretching across one side of a clay hoop to form a drum head, often decorated with a star painted on top. The drum-head is then attached to a straight bamboo handle, which is used to twist, by two wires. As the toy turns, a "drum stick", suspended between the two wires by a rubber band, repeatedly, hits the drum-head, making loud clicking or drumming noises. /:\

A bamboo boat is a very simple toy made from thick bamboo splint folded in the middle. A stick is threaded through holes drilled in each side of the splint to form an A shape. An elastic band is attached to the the foot of this A and a small, flat piece of wood is secured in the center of the band. The child twists the rubber band and releases the craft. As the elastic band unwinds, the flat stick spins, pushing the boat forward. People may see children playing with these toys on puddles formed by summer showers. /:\

During mid-autumn festivals, lion head masks can be found everywhere in lions dances, an exciting part of any Vietnamese festival. The lion head is made from painted paper mach. Two pieces of mirror are pasted on for eyes, a long tail of red cloth is glued on and bright synthetic fibers serve as a mane instead of one-time rabbit fur or cotton wool. During the dance, one person wears the lion head while others wave the long tail. The lion is accomplished by other dancers dressed in clown masks, and together, they dance to the beat of a pounding drum. /:\

Another kind of traditional toys is steam boat . These toys are made from tin cans. They can be very elaborate, with details like flags, chimneys and cannons. The main wonder of a steam boat, however, is that it actually moves. Below deck, there is a tiny container of diesel, which is lit to heat a second box, full of water. Kids love the gurgling noises as the steam activates the boat. /:\

Phoc Gun is a typical boy's toy, most popular at early summer time. Although it is called a "gun", it is of no danger, and can help kids develop hand co-ordination. The bullets are small nuts or balls of rolled paper and the cylinder is small, the hollow bamboo tube of not more than 5mm. A second round stick, which acts as a piston is fitted into this tube. To load the toy, the child pushes a bullet through the hollow tube to the lip of the barrel. A second bullet is placed just inside the gun's mouth and quickly pushed, so that the air inside the tube is compressed. The first bullet flies out with a sharp "phoc", or popping noise, which gives the toy its name. /:\

Internet Gaming Craze in Vietnam

In the mid 2000s, Vo Lam Truyen Ky' (Swordsman Online)—a Chinese Internet game featuring magical kung fu warriors and medieval swordsmen with supernatural powers—became all the rage in Vietnam. AFP reported: "Vo Lam and other versions of what is known as ‘massively multiplayer online role playing games’ (MMORPG) in the jargon of the booming industry have taken Vietnam by storm since June 2005. Cyber cafes have mushroomed and filled with school children who immerse themselves for hours a day in the interactive games, assuming characters that fight, chat with, and marry each other "Now I have friends all over the country," 15-year-old Truong Khanh Hoang, school bag slung across his back, said during one of his daily three-hour gaming sessions. "At school, it's the first thing we talk about." [Source: Agence France-Presse, June 22, 2006 \~\]

"It's not just kids who have gone mad over Vo Lam. "What I love is becoming somebody else -- sometimes a hero, sometimes a traitor. I can even try to kill my wife," said a 37-year-old man, asking not be named for fear of marital reprisals. Another self-confessed ‘gameaholic,’ 29-year-old dentist Tran Khanh Long, said Vo Lam, a world of medieval castles and marauding warrior tribes, is hugely successful because "Vietnamese people love Chinese martial arts stories". "We grew up reading these graphic novels, and in this game we find the same kind of atmosphere." Nguyen Thai Linh, a 22-year-old student at Ho Chi Minh City's Polytechnic University, is devastated. "I usually play 12 hours on Saturdays and Sundays," he said. "I don't have time during the week, so I really need to get my fill of gaming on weekends." \~\

"The Culture and Information Ministry, also in charge of censoring movies, books and cartoons, may see the new craze as a threat -- but the industry is excited by the potential in the youthful country. In Vietnam, the sector exploded from nowhere to two million online gamers now -- and industry watchers say the proportion of players beats that anywhere else in the region. "The leading game in China, 'Legend of Mir', reaches 700,000 concurrent users (CCU) at most, and the Chinese population is 1.3 billion," said Le Hong Minh, chairman of VinaGame, Vo Lam's local distributor. "But in Vietnam, with only 83 million people, 'Vo Lam Truyen Ky' has 140,000 CCUs and will probably have 200,000 by the end of the year." \~\

"Part of the allure for entertainment-starved Vietnamese youngsters is that online gaming is relatively cheap, with 100 play hours of Vo Lam costing about four dollars, when a ticket for a feature-length movie costs three dollars. Online gaming will be an 80 million dollar industry in three years, predicts the Vietnam Software Association. VinaGame now dominates the sector, but the state-owned Vietnam Software and Media Company and FPT Telecom are muscling in, with FPT recently paying 2.9 million dollars for the licence of South Korean firm Webzen's game 'MU Online.' "Unlike the Korean market, which is somewhat saturated, the Vietnamese market is only at an infant stage," said Webzen's Asia Pacific chief Andrew Yeom. "It's a real window of opportunity." \~\

Online Gaming Companies in Vietnam

John Boudreau wrote in the Mercury News, Santa Cruz native Bryan Pelz, who with several others co-founded Vietnam's biggest online gaming company, is helping usher in the Internet era. His start-up symbolizes the swift changes occurring in the country of 84 million people, which just joined the World Trade Organization. Vietnam's economy is roaring at about an 8 percent rate of growth a year. Young people pack electronics stores, buying everything from digital music players to expensive mobile phones. High-tech giants, from Intel to Canon, are setting up operations. The government estimates about 20 percent of the country is now online. "From an American perspective, the last thing you think about is an Internet culture in Vietnam,'' said Henry Nguyen, managing general partner of IDG Ventures Vietnam in Ho Chi Minh City, which invests in tech companies, including VinaGame. "This illustrates what modern Vietnam is like.'' [Source: John Boudreau, Mercury News, January 17, 2007 *=*]

"VinaGame's headquarters is in a seven-story building on Nguyen Dinh Chieu street, next door to a beauty salon and lingerie store, in the city's up-and-coming District 3. The street is abuzz with shoppers, motorbikes and fruit vendors. Serial entrepreneur Pelz quickly sensed new opportunities in the country after he moved to Hanoi several years ago. More than half of Vietnam's increasingly tech-savvy population is under age 30. Signs of new wealth are everywhere in the urban centers -- from rocketing real estate prices to Mercedes-driving residents. So it wasn't long before Pelz's thoughts turned to a new business plan for online gaming, and he teamed up with a small group of Vietnamese tech professionals to launch VinaGame in September 2004. "Two years ago, nobody believed you could make money online here,'' Pelz said. *=*

"Now, VinaGame employs about 450 office workers, dominates the nascent -- and legal -- online gaming market and has become a part of the pop culture. Its games incorporate community-building features that allow players to form online friendships with others in Vietnam, an aspect that is more important in Asia than in the United States, he said. "We are helping a lot of people in Vietnam to branch out into having an online life,'' he said. "The fact we are operating commercial games is a victory for intellectual property in Vietnam.'' *=*

"The company, which does not release revenue information, has about 8 million accounts, said Pelz. Its popular game Volam Truyen Ky, or Swordsman Online, based on a Chinese game created by Kingsoft and adapted to the Vietnam market, uses ancient Vietnamese dialect. Teen characters in popular TV sitcoms now use Swordsman phrases when talking to adults, an inside joke for young people. "Some people have tremendously increased their use of archaic Vietnamese vocabulary, thanks to this game,'' said Pelz, who previously co-founded an Internet search infrastructure company in Manhattan Beach and a leading French Web site portal. "It's the Vietnamese equivalent of Shakespearean English.'' *=*

"Vietnamese filmmakers are also making an action comedy based on the game, in which a player's real and virtual personas merge. Because most people in Vietnam still do not use credit cards, VinaGame had to create its own payment system. It copied the phone card model, in which consumers are provided scratch off account numbers. Gamers buy the cards in cafes, where most Vietnamese access the Internet, for 60,000 Vietnamese dong, or about $4, which covers a month of play time. That does not include fees to use an Internet cafe PC, which can cost about $8 a month for moderately active users. *=*

"The recent explosion of online gaming in Vietnam has not gone unnoticed by the authorities or parents, worried their children will spend all their time tethered to keyboards in smoky Internet cafes. The Communist government recently enacted regulations that require game makers to limit playing time to five hours a day by making the games less appealing after the cutoff time. Pelz said his company works closely with government officials, who license each game to "make sure it does not incite things that are not acceptable to the Vietnamese culture.'' The games in Vietnam are "G-rated,'' in line with the conservative culture and significantly more tame than what is found in the United States and other places, he added. "It's well-meaning, but sometimes it's impractical,'' said IDG's Nguyen. "You are trying to regulate an individual's habits which, for the most part, is very, very hard to do.'' *=*

"Vietnam's online game industry is in the "teething'' stage, observed Lam Nguyen, an analyst for IDC based in Vietnam. VinaGame, he added, owns about two-thirds of the market. "This is a new frontier related to e-commerce and online content in Vietnam,'' Nguyen said over a sinh to, or Vietnamese smoothie, in a WiFi cafe. "If you are the pioneer, you will challenge the legal system. The legal framework is not in place in Vietnam. So it's trial-and-error.'' Pelz would not detail VinaGame's next move, though he said he sees a business model emerging in online community building. The Vietnamese government estimates there will be 40 million Internet users by 2010, half of whom will be broadband subscribers. "Vietnam is a fast-following culture,'' Pelz said. "The adoption curves you see in other countries -- something that might take five or six years -- will happen in Vietnam in two years.'' *=*

Vinagame and VNG Corp

John Ruwitch and Jason Szep of Reuters wrote: “Take Le Hong Minh, the 34-year-old founder of Vietnam's dominant Internet group VNG Corp - an online gaming company that is fast becoming the country's answer to Yahoo Inc and Facebook. Modeled on China's most valuable Internet company, Tencent Holdings Ltd, VNG has expanded from 100 staff to 1,300 in five years, attracting investment from Goldman Sachs and boasting millions of users a day with ambitions to compete with global companies. After poring over Chinese kung-fu novels as a child, Minh surfed the Internet for the first time at Monash University in Australia where he studied business, discovering along the way a passion for martial arts videogames. Returning to Vietnam, he landed a finance job that paid the bills but failed to slake his inner gamer. To do that, he traveled to Daejeon, South Korea where he represented Vietnam at the 2002 World Cyber Games. Though not a winner, he saw how high-speed Internet and videogames were more than playthings. They were big business. [Source: John Ruwitch and Jason Szep, Reuters, January 13, 2011 <>]

“At the time, more than half of South Korea's Internet users were watching soap operas and sports on their computers. But in Vietnam, the Internet barely functioned. Minh set up a "gaming room" with friends -- a precursor to today's Internet cafés - in 2003. But for the first six months, there was no Internet connection, just 40 computers with standalone videogames. Minh remembers when that changed, almost to the hour. It was July 3, 2003. The government opened its first registration for broadband Internet. He was among the first in line. "We said 'this is heaven'," he recalls. "That's the moment online games were born in Vietnam.""I kind of understood the investment opportunities and we had the passion of a bunch of guys who liked to play games, so we formed the company in 2004 and put together a business plan." "VinaGame" was born. A year later, backed by venture-capital firm IDG Ventures, they launched their first product, licensing a martial arts game from Chinese software developer Kingsoft Corp Ltd. About 20 friends fanned across the country to promote "Vietnam's first online martial arts game," plastering posters in about 5,000 gaming rooms in three cities. <>

“They calculated they could turn a profit if they had 100,000 customers their first year. "We had that number in one day," recalls Minh. "In the first month we had 500,000, and then after three months we nearly had a million users." Five years on, now named VNG, they compete directly with Yahoo, reaching 60 percent of Vietnam's 27 million Internet users, compared to Yahoo's 50 percent, according to VNG's own data. Their www.zing.vn portal offers entertainment, news and social networking. "For e-mail and for instant messaging we're not able to really compete, but we win with other services." They've also developed Vietnam's first locally made online game and are venturing into e-commerce. As they grow, they are shaking up Vietnam's image as a country dominated by textile manufacturers, computer component makers and rice growers. Plans for a public offering are in the works. <>

"Our mission is to make the Internet change Vietnamese lives," said Minh, whose disarming style and unfussy headquarters project the youthful zeal of a Silicon Valley Internet startup. Bean-bag chairs rest against a boardroom wall. He drives a yellow Mini Cooper and his passion for videogames has not diminished. "My wife still complains a lot about me playing games until one, two o'clock in the morning." On a recent Tuesday afternoon at VNG's 8,000 sq ft, warehouse-style office over a grocery store in Ho Chi Minh City, dozens of staff crammed into a conference room where finalists in a "VNG's Got Talent" contest performed on stage - an internal morale boosting event inspired by the American reality TV series "America's got talent." Some sang. Others dressed in drag. <>

It underscores the biggest challenge facing VNG and other fast-growing Vietnamese companies: staffing. "Finding qualified people is very, very hard," said Minh. "And then growing people is even harder because we have a very limited pool of talented and experienced people. When you are able to grow them, they are going to be approached by so many others." Despite those concerns, VNG is attracting interest, including a strategic partnership with China's Tencent, known for its online games, China's largest instant-messaging platform and foray into English-language products. <>

Henry Nguyen, managing general partner at IDG Ventures Vietnam, reckons VNG is still 5-6 years from its peak. Fueling his optimism is Vietnam's young population. Ninety percent are below or within the working age, according to United Nations data. To paraphrase former U.S. President Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign slogan, he said, "To us, it's the demographics, stupid." <>

Vietnam Cracks down on Internet Gaming Craze

The BBC reported: "Vietnam's authorities have become concerned about a generation hunched over computer terminals living in fantasy worlds instead of studying, building socialism or even playing football. In June, they announced new restrictions intended to limit playing sessions to five hours. Online gaming has become a huge industry in Vietnam and some international games developers have also set up facilities in the country to take advantage of its cheap and talented programmers. The authorities are happy to see high-tech industries develop, but not to the extent that they might - in their eyes - corrupt the country's youth. [Source: Bill Hayton, BBC News, January 2, 2007 <*>]

In 2006, AFP reported: "Communist Vietnam is cracking down on a new social evil, the Chinese Internet game 'Vo Lam Truyen Ky.' Worried about the Internet gaming craze that has swept Asia since the 1990s and hit Vietnam about a year ago, Hanoi this month unveiled an ordinance to restrict the hours per day fans can spend in the make-believe world. Vietnam's leaders worry about "pathological players" who spend real money on virtual weapons and sometimes continue online fights in real life. Under the new ordinance, due to take effect in mid-June, online game shops will have to locate at least 200 meters away from schools and shut their doors from 11 p.m. to 6a.m. Children under 14 will have to be accompanied by adults. Hitting gamers where it hurts, the state has also ordered the game operator to introduce a new scoring system that discourages non-stop playing by deducting points after a three-hour time limit. [Source: Agence France-Presse, June 22, 2006]

A few months later Bill Hayton of BBC News reported: "Tough new restrictions intended to curb the playing of online computer games have come fully into force in Vietnam. They follow concerns from officials and teachers about the effect the games were having on young people playing for many hours at a time. But some games companies are finding it difficult to implement the new rules. Some have been slow to introduce the rules and have been fined or closed down. Others, however, continue to flout the law. Almost every city center street in Vietnam has an internet cafe. Most of their customers are young men playing online football or fighting games. The most popular - Vo Lam or Swordsman - is thought to have a quarter of a million players. Based on a game developed in China, its use of traditional stories has become very popular. Some of its players have become virtual addicts, according to one man in a games cafe, Thue. "Some special cases play this game 24 hours a day - 24 hours a day." <*>

Vietnamese Video Game Addict Strangles 8-year-old to Play Video Games

In 2002, Deutsche Presse Agentur reported: "A teenager described as a "video game addict" strangled an 8-year-old girl to steal money for the arcade, police in Vietnam said Wednesday. Le Sang, 15, was arrested at a video arcade in the central city of Dalat two hours after his neighbour's daughter was found dead in her burning house. Police officer Nguyen Nhu Hung said that Sang apparently killed the girl, and also tried to strangle her 6-year-old sister, so he could steal about 200 dollars belonging to their parents. [Source: Deutsche Presse Agentur, August 21, 2002 \+\]

"According to police, Sang stopped by his neighbours' home on Saturday to use the telephone and overheard the two girls talking about how their parents hid their money under the bed. He told the younger daughter to go to her uncle's house, and then strangled 8-year-old Ta Thi Tien Giang. He later covered her body with mosquito nets and set them on fire, police said. On his way out with the money, he ran into the returning younger daughter and allegedly tried to strangle her as well, but ran away after neighbours came running to put out the fire in the house. Two hours later, he was tracked down at a local video parlour "playing games as though nothing had happened", Hung said. \+\

"Sang has long been known to be addicted to video games. He spent all his pocket money on games and even money for his school books so that he dropped out of school when he was 12," Hung said. The boy had already been known to steal from his family and neighbours and had been to state re-education programmes, he said. As a juvenile, he will not be eligible for the death penalty but could get up to life." \+\

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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