HCMC Dining Guide

Friday, June 14, 2013

Weekly Roundup

This is the first in what I hope will become a weekly series in which I share the most interesting, informative, disturbing, entertaining and/or ridiculous Vietnam-related stories from the previous seven days.

1) The government continues to crack down on freedom of speech, with yet another blogger being arrested on vague, Orwellian charges of "abusing rights to freedom and democracy to infringe upon State interests and the legitimate interests of organizations and/or citizens".

2) The country's cultural gatekeepers once again show how out of touch with reality they are by banning 'Cho Lon', the latest action movie from brothers Charlie and Johnny Nguyen. The film, whose title means Chinatown in English, is set in that section of Saigon. The Vietnam Film department asked the Nguyen brothers to re-edit the movie and cut some of the violence a few months ago, which they did, but they were critical of the organization in the meantime. Then, when it came time to find out if the film would be released, it was still banned, even with the edits. The reasoning, as announced by the department, is so old-fashioned it's almost cute: "'Cho Lon' violated the Law of Cinema when showing scenes of gangsters blatantly set in battle, chaotic fighting with knives, swords, machetes, with blood spilling everywhere...without the interference of government, polices, people or any other social forces." What is this, 1957? Other directors have blasted the decision, and this is yet another example of creativity being snuffed out by conservative old men.

Check out the trailer for 'Cho Lon' below. This actually looks like a Vietnamese movie worth seeing.

3) Growing numbers of men are injecting liquid silicon into their penises in misguided attempts to make them look bigger! This one goes into the 'try not to wince while reading' category. Vietnamese news sites seem to make up for the subjects they aren't allowed to cover by covering what they can in graphic detail. Horrifying stories of testicles being ripped off by bus tires, or penises being eaten by fish (neither of those are made up) are often relayed with glee. I'll let you read the story for the gory details.

4) Arguably the strangest story of the week has been the ongoing revelations that Quang Ngai province is building ludicrously expensive public school bathrooms. While neighboring provinces are building restrooms for $5,000-$6,000, it has been discovered that a few schools in Quang Ngai have bathrooms that cost up to $36,000! These aren't marble-clad edifices full of automatic toilets, they are the same basic design as anywhere else. Meanwhile, the principals of these schools are complaining that the money should have been used to buy new classroom equipment. The word 'corruption' hasn't been used in a single article related to this story, even though the implication is obvious.

5) The Vietnamese government held its first confidence vote, which is a pretty big deal. In this, members of the National Assembly cast votes of 'high confidence', 'confidence', and 'low confidence' for all members of the cabinet, which includes ministry heads, the prime minister and the president. This would have been a massive deal if 'no confidence' votes had been allowed, but this is still a historic move. Large numbers of 'low confidence' votes for the head of the state bank showed that officials are not happy with the way the national economy is being handled.

6) Another ministry showed its penchant for promulgating decrees on issues unrelated to any serious problems, and quickly reversing. A few days ago it was reported that the Construction Ministry had told local governments around the country that no more European or French-styled architecture could be approved for new buildings. Apparently the ministry thinks this type of construction is ruining Vietnamese heritage. This decision was blasted, as most contemporary Vietnamese architecture is hideous, with cities and towns nationwide covered in ugly tube houses and shoddy concrete slabs. The best-looking parts of any city here are the old sections.

Today, funnily enough, the ministry lifted the ban, claiming that it was a 'typing error'. Oops! Silly keyboards.

For those of you who live here and don't regularly check out the English-language news sties, you should start doing so. They are often a gold mine of interesting and unintentionally hilarious articles. Plus there's some just plain important stuff as well.

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