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The stilt house gets a new avatar in northwest Vietnam


Fashion designer brings modern twist to stilt house homestay

Three years ago, fashion designer Nguyen Thu Giang started to build a holiday home in Luong Son, a rural district in Hoa Binh Province in northwestern Vietnam. The house has been completed and is now being rented out.

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The house is designed by architect Vuong Dao Hoang and his associates. They have drawn inspiration from several aspects of traditional homes, including the old wooden floors collected by Giang for many years.

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Giang wanted to adapt the local culture of the Muong ethnic minority people. So the house takes some elements of the stilt house and gives it many modern twists, including a swimming pool in front of the house.

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The exterior of the house has a fashion designer’s touch, including the carvings in the white walls and its glass windows and doors, as though it has been dressed in a white lace outfit. The design allows natural light to come in, while keeping out the cold mountain winds.

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The height from the floor to the ceiling was raised to be 3.5m from the original 2m. The dense column system foundation of a stilt house was replaced by a sturdy steel frame to open up the space.

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As the result, the ground floor is spacious and can be used as a living room, a meeting room and a common area.

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The big windows create a continuous connection between the space inside and outside. People in the house can sit, relax, read a book or have tea while having unobstructed views of the nature outside.

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The staircase that would be found outside a traditional stilt house was brought inside and placed close to the wall to save space. The staircase is also used to separate the living room and the kitchen area.

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Giang, a lover of Vietnamese traditional styles, did the interiors herself in consultation with Hoang.

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A vegetable garden and a lot of lychee trees surround the house. The ground immediately around the building has been covered with gravel.

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There are two bedrooms and a common area on the first floor. Wooden and rattan furniture adds to the natural feel of the place.

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The modern bathroom has some traditional features including a wooden bathtub and bamboo blinds.

Photos by Nguyen Tien Thanh





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Malaysian newspaper gushes about Phu Quoc Island


Photo courtesy of Instagram account linhlaplalaplanh18

Photo courtesy of Instagram account linhlaplalaplanh18

Malaysia’s World of Buzz newspaper has written about the country’s largest island in the southern province of Kien Giang, saying it would one day become one of the top destinations in Southeast Asia. 

Photo courtesy of Instagram account Chiara Breschi

Photo courtesy of Instagram account Chiara Breschi

Stunning, pristine beaches

The beaches and small islands around Phu Quoc are a perfect getaway on the crowded vacation scene these days. You can visit Sao Beach, Long Beach, Truong Beach, Hon Chong Island, Hon Rom Island, Thom Island, and more. The options are endless. 

Photo courtesy of Instagram account grishabuben

Photo courtesy of Instagram account grishabuben

Rich history

Not many people know that Phu Quoc’s history is another magnet drawing visitors. Phu Quoc Prison witnessed horrifying scenes of oppression during war time.

Ngu Well is also worth a visit. This is where Lord Nguyen Anh found a freshwater source while fleeing from the enemy. He was the founder of the Nguyen dynasty (1802-1945), the last in Vietnam’s feudal history.

Other popular sites are Trung Truc Temple at Cape Ganh Dau. 

Photo courtesy of Instagram account instaudreyttt

Photo courtesy of Instagram account instaudreyttt

Untouched nature

Phu Quoc would not rise to stardom in Vietnam’s tourism landscape without its stunning natural beauty. Phu Quoc National Park is ideal for hiking, diving and kayaking. At Da Thoi Stream you can jump into fresh water and explore the wilderness. 

Photo courtesy of Instagram account instaudreyttt

Photo courtesy of Instagram account instaudreyttt

Spiritual relics

When seeking to explore Vietnam’s culture, visitors intrigued by its spirituality often head for temples. Phu Quoc has plenty of them, with Ho Quoc Pagoda, Dinh Cau Pagoda, Su Muon Pagoda, and Cao Dai Temple (pictured above) being very popular with visitors. 

Photo courtesy of Tran Viet Anh

Photo courtesy of Tran Viet Anh

Eat your way to paradise

Restaurants serving seafood and delicious drinks dot the island, especially at the Phu Quoc and Dinh Cau night markets. Some highly recommended dishes are herring salad, mackerel soup, vermicelli, grilled porridge, grilled onion grease, and melaleuca and jelly beans. 

In its list of five up-and-coming Asia Pacific destinations not to be missed during the autumn, CNN in September chose Phu Quoc Island.





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Work speeds up on Saigon’s Chinatown market


Work speeds up on Saigons iconic Chinatown market

The 90-year-old wholesale market in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 6 had dramatically deteriorated after nearly a century in use, prompting authorities to shut it down in November 2016 for a major restoration project.

After two years, work is set to be completed in a week or so, following which the district’s project management unit will carry out a full inspection before giving the go ahead for the market to reopen next month.

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The repair and restoration work is estimated to have cost more than VND104 billion ($4.66 million). The city plans to collect payments from tenants over the next 10 years.

Many parts of the market including its tiled roof, pillars, stairways, banisters, floors, walls, and main entrances have been upgraded. Public restrooms and a room for electricity generators are among the additions.

The facelift has retained the market’s original architecture and features like the bas-reliefs of dragons, the phoenix, and the clock tower, said Nguyen Anh Viet, vice chairman of the project management unit.

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The entire 11,000-square-kilometer roof has been replaced with new tiles of similar sizes and shapes as the original, sourced from neighboring Binh Duong Province.  

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The late delivery of tiles has been blamed for the slow progress of the project.  This is why the project is a year behind schedule, Viet explained.

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Currently, scores of workers are still working hard, from dawn till dusk, on the roof and other areas.

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At the main gate on Thap Muoi Street, two sets of stairs leading to the upper floors have been decorated with the original design unchanged.

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The interior of the market has been painted with a new color. Over 1,000 stalls have been rebuilt, installing fire safety equipment, sound systems, safer electrical wiring and a wireless internet network.  

During the restoration work, erstwhile traders had to move to a temporary market right in front of the old one on Thap Muoi Street, where stalls were open for business from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m. every day.

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Binh Tay Market was built in 1928 by a rice trader from China. The 25,000-square-meter market is appreciated for its bagua-shaped design. Bagua is a Chinese religious motif that incorporates eight trigrams including the sky, fire and wind that are arranged in a circle symbolizing yin and yang.

The market, famous for its clock tower and a central courtyard, used to receive more than 120,000 foreign visitors every year before it was closed for repairs.

Chinatown market to reopen in Saigon after two years





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62-year-old woman, son travel across Vietnam by motorbike


Chau Chi Dat, a senior medical student, said he had intended to go alone but his parents demurred, and it took a few days to convince them. But then his mother, Truong Nho, thought it would be a fun experience and asked to tag along.

Then his father began to worry about their safety.

But with the help of his older brother, who had previously taken Dat on a backpacking adventure across Vietnam before, they managed to assuage his fears.

It took them four months to plan and prepare for the trip, which began on July 17 in Saigon and ended on August 14 in Hanoi.

Despite going on a similar trip in the past Dat had butterflies in his stomach before leaving. The day before departure he had kept checking the weather forecast and felt nervous as if he was about to take a really important exam.

He took lots of medicines since he was traveling with his mother.

He thought it would be important to always stay on high alert and away from risky situations.

When they were at Van Roi pass in Kon Tum Province in the Central Highlands, locals told him about a shortcut, but there was a landslide on that route. Not wanting to take any chances, he decided to head back to Gia Lai Province and spent the night there.

His caution had not been misplaced: there were reports of five landslides that night.

Son takes 62-year-old mom on a trans-Vietnam bike tour

Dat said his mother was a very strong person and a true adventure seeker who had loved the thrilling feelings when passing passages in the central region. Her age did nothing to stop her from having fun. She did not once complain about her wonky back despite occasionally having to sit and give it a long rest.

Their luggage made things a bit hard on their motorbike. So at one pit stop in Quang Ngai, she sent three kilograms of items like hangers, extra clothes and others home by post.

“She even sent back a book I was reading.”

Photo acquired by VnExpress

Photo by VnExpress/Vi Yen

Their favorite passage was the Truong Son Dong Trail since they could see the beautiful horizon sky line. For him, it is the loveliest spot in Vietnam and must-visit destination for any backpacker.

He also gushed about the beautiful landscapes near Krong H’nang hydroelectric power plant in Song Hinh District in the south-central province of Phu Yen, saying it would be impossible for visitors not to stop and enjoy the breathtaking views.

Halfway through their adventure, she suddenly felt uneasy and wanted to return home, and he had to persuade her to continue.

When they reached Hanoi, Dat did not want to visit the northwest, and she encouraged him to keep going. “How can we call it a successful trip if we do not visit Sa Pa town and Mount Fansipan?” she had asked him.

The trip also made them realize the importance of spending time with family, relatives and friends.

Dat would definitely do such a trip again if the opportunity arises.





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Farmers as strong as bulls race oxen in Khmer fest



A Khmer tradition, the Bay Nui Ox Racing Tournament requires contestants to be physically strong and tactically smart.

This is the ox racing arena at Tho Mit Temple, Tinh Bien District, in the Mekong Delta province of An Giang. On October 8 this year, the Bay Nui Ox Racing Tournament, a unique cultural event, was held as part of the traditional Sene Dolta Festival celebration of the Khmer ethnic community. This is one of the main festivals of the Khmer people, when they commemorate their ancestors, pray for the living and strengthen community bonds.

64 pairs of oxen from various parts of An Giang and Kien Giang provinces took part in the competition. To race, the animals need to be of good height, fighting fit and have a competitive spirit. A pair of racing oxen costs VND60 million ($2,570) to more than VND100 million ($4,283).

A rider crouches on a plow yoked to the oxen. He uses prods with sharp nails to make the animals run faster.

One oxen owner said that the choice of animals depends on a family’s affluence. “Rich people can buy good oxen,” he told VnExpress. “Besides competing, they also have to work in the fields.”

Two pairs among the 64 that competed in 32 races were named the champions. Lots were drawn to determine the order of the race, with different finishing points fixed for each contestant. The first half of the race is called “ho” (walking at slow speed) and the other is “tha” (accelerating to the finish line).

In the “ho” stage, if a contestant comes into contact with the plow in front, he loses. But in the “tha” stage, doing this, or maintaining a distance of four meters or less from the person in front can facilitate victory.

A contestant loses if he goes off the track.

The leader has the tactical advantage of being able to speed up when necessary to eliminate an opponent. On the other hand, a trailing contestant can maintain the required distance (4 meters or less) behind the leader or make contact with his plow to win.

The racers have to be very healthy and courageous. Thach Minh, 36, said, “I’ve been a racer for 18 years. But because I am poor, I only have normal oxen and mainly win consolation prizes.”

In the annual race there have been many instances of racers falling off the plow and being run over, leading to broken legs and other severe injuries.

Besides plowing the field, the oxen practice every day with their “riders.” For a week after the tournament, they are allowed to rest and treated to nutritious food like porridge, eggs and coconut water.

Many ox racing contests are held each year in An Giang Province.

One racer fell off the plough, and his oxen ran into the crowd. The contestant was disqualified.

This year, oxen belonging to Nguyen Thanh Tai of Chau Lang Commune, Tri Ton District, defeated those of Ngo Van Cuoc of Nui Voi Commune, Tinh Bien District in the final, winning the championship and the VND30 million ($1,285) prize.

The Bay Nui Ox Racing Festival is held annually between Tinh Bien and Tri Ton districts, which neighbor Cambodia.

The champions will return to their usual work after the event, but the value of the animals will increase.

Story and photos by Duc Dong






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In pictures: the best of Vietnam this week


Ferry ride

Photo taken on a Vam Cong ferry on a trip to the Mekong Delta province of An Giang by phong.khung on Instagram. The ferry boats, traveling across the Hau River, one of the two tributaries of the Mekong, serves as a major connection between the Mekong Delta and Ho Chi Minh City.

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Correct inaccurate portrayal of Vietnamese soldiers in TV serial: Defense Ministry


The Vietnamese version of the hugely popular South Korean serial, “Descendants of the Sun“, dealing with love on the battlefield, has sparked controversy over “serious mistakes” that viewers have spotted and protested.

Directed by Tran Huu Loc, the series tells the story of officers of the NH1 Coast Guard fighting crime and protecting the country. It includes a love story between a captain and a female army doctor.

As of Wednesday, Vietnam Cable Television (VTC) had already screened 12 of 48 episodes (two a day, three days a week). An online backlash ensued almost immediately after the screenings began, with people outraged about “unacceptable” mistakes about army rank, military uniform and manners of Vietnamese soldiers.

They said such a portrayal would lead to misconceptions and serious impact on the image of Vietnam’s armed forces.

The outrage has prompted the defense ministry to step in and instruct VTC to work with the production team to correct the mistakes before broadcasting subsequent episodes of the serial.  

Major General Nguyen Van Duc, head of Department of Propaganda and Training under the Political Bureau of the Vietnam People’s Army, said at a press conference Tuesday that the serial has incorrectly depicted military customs, manners and uniforms of the Vietnam People Army, creating an image of naval soldiers that are “not relevant” to real life.   

The defense ministry has not advised, verified or been involved in the censorship process for the serial, Duc said.

‘Illogical, ridiculous’

One Vietnamese film producer who preferred to remain anonymous said that in duplicating the original South Korean serial, the makers of the Vietnamese version ignored the completely different geographical and military contexts of the two countries.

This has resulted in “illogical, ridiculous” details, he said.   

An unnamed reader wrote to VnExpress, saying that although he has never served in the army, he could easily spot the “ridiculous” mistakes in the serial.

For example, in the 10th episode, the scene where a group of bodyguards of a foreign financial oligarchy rushes to the hospital and points guns at Vietnamese naval officers and doctors was “inappropriate” and “melodramatic,” the reader said.

A group of bodyguards of a foreign financial oligarchy rushing to the  hospital and pointing guns at Vietnamese naval officers and doctors during the 10th episode of the movie stir up controversy on social media.

A screenshot during  the 10th episode of the movie captures a group of bodyguards of a foreign financial oligarchy rushing to the hospital and pointing guns at Vietnamese naval officers and doctors.

Phan Chi Thanh, director of VTC’s Program Coordination Center, said as cited by Voice of Vietnam (VOV), the station was working closely with the production team to fix mistakes as requested by the defense ministry. VTC is a member unit of VOV.

“The production team is seeking the advice of military experts to make the serial better,” Thanh said.

It remains uncertain if broadcasting of the serial will be suspended till the errors are fixed. The broadcaster has not received any official document from the ministry.





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Tickle your taste buds at Hanoi market food court


Hanoi’s Thanh Cong Market may not have made it to travel guide bucket lists, but its lure is irresistible to the capital’s foodies.

The A4 block of Thanh Cong resident area is almost absent in all the travel guides’ “must-try” list, but its culinary diversity attracts numerous Hanoi’s foodies every day.

Its food court is held on a yard in front of a kindergarten inside an alley off Thanh Cong Street. The yard serves as both the dining area and parking lot.

The setting might not seem so elegant, but I always prefer eating in the open without odors from a kitchen. There are huge trees providing shade, meaning sitting in the yard is preferable even during summer.

You can sit at any table and order food from any stall.

Light snack

Most food stalls serve a wide range of Vietnamese snacks catering to both meat lovers and herbivores.

You can start with some dried beef salad. The typical Vietnamese salad is made from shredded carrot and papaya, dried and seasoned beef, liver and peanuts. To eat it, you should first mix the ingredients until the vegetables are drenched in the dressing made from fish sauce, vinegar and sugar. In another version, pig’s ear replaces dried beef as the main ingredient.

Another snack choice is pig’s ear rolls. Order the dish and you will get a plate of ingredients and a DIY (Do it yourself) experience. Take some slices of pig’s ear, pineapple, green banana and fig leaves, and make as big a roll as you want. The dipping sauce completes the dish, so don’t forget to dunk the roll in the sweet and sour sauce.

 

If you prefer rice-based foods, you can order a dozen banh bot loc, a type of dumpling filled with ground pork, shrimp and mushroom. The dumplings are complemented by fish sauce and spicy greens.

Chicken’s feet is a snack loved by young Hanoians. The feet are often marinated in vinegar, lemongrass and chili. With its unique savory taste and crunchy texture, the dish seems to fly off the shelves.

Besides these, the stalls also serve other popular snacks like fried fermented pork, fried potatoes, cheese sticks, and steamed snails. 

How about main course?

If you arrive in time for dinner, the food court has many options for you. Top of the list must be clam porridge cooked with meat broth and ground rice. The rich, sweet taste of the clam and flawlessly white porridge are an ideal nutrition boost for the evening.  

There are also various versions of noodles like bun bo Hue beef noodles, crab vermicelli and eel noodles.

One of the specialties of the place is the mixed eel vermicelli, a combination of poached vermicelli, fried eel slices, tofu, sausage, and vegetables. It often comes with a sizzling bowl of eel broth. 

The restaurants here can satisfy the pickiest of customers: they offer “your choice” of dishes allowing you to customize them by adding or excluding ingredients.

Remedy for sweet tooth

Che, or sweet soup, is the queen of this food court when it comes to sugary dishes. Go to a che stall right away if you have a craving. It could satisfy your sweet tooth with 20 different sweet soup options ranging from traditional Vietnamese versions to trendy dishes with a foreign twist.

Kidney red bean and tofu soup are my favorite at these stalls, but the xoa xoa hat luu (rainbow sweet soup) is also a recommended option. The sweet soup can also be customized: you could just point to the glass case with colorful ingredients to get your own dessert.

The food court remains open from 6 a.m to 9 p.m. A single portion of almost any dish costs VND15,000 – 50,000 ($0.64 – 2.14).

Story and photos by Bao Ngoc





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Vietnam drops two ranks on Henley Passport Index


The index, published on Tuesday, shows that people holding a Vietnamese passport have free access to 51 countries and territories.

In Southeast Asia, the Vietnamese passport is only more powerful than Myanmar.

The Henley Passport Index is based on data from the International Air Transport Association, which maintains the world’s largest and most comprehensive database of travel information.

Passport rankings of countries in Southeast Asia. Graphics by Henley & Partners

Passport rankings of countries in Southeast Asia. Graphics by Henley & Partners

Singapore is ranked highest in the region and second in the world, having visa-free access to 189 destinations.

Enjoying visa-free access to 190 nations and territories, the Japanese passport has become the strongest in the world after it gained visa-free access to Myanmar earlier this month, according to a Henley press release.

Completing this quarter ranking of Top 5 global passports are France, Germany and South Korea, with citizens of these countries having visa-free access to 188 destinations.

The bottom five passports in the world are Pakistan (33 destinations); Somalia and Syria (32); Afghanistan and Iraq (30).

The U.S. and U.K. have slid down one spot to sixth place with both having access to 186 destinations.

China, the world’s second largest economy, is among the biggest climbers, getting 14 more visa-free destinations in this year-to-date ranking. The country is ranked 71st with visa-free access to 74 destinations.





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At 85, a Hanoi law student cycles 3 kilometers to school


He changes his clothes, wears his sandals, picks up his bag and leaves his house in the capital city’s Bac Tu Liem District.

It takes Linh 35 minutes to cover the 3-kilometer distance to get to the university. On rainy days, he has to use all his energy to pedal faster and get to class on time.

“I struggle most in traffic jams. My children offer to help, but I want to go on my own,” Linh said.

Linh walks his bike into the house. Photo by Phan Duong 

Linh walks his bike into the house. Photo by Phan Duong 

To say that the 85-year-old has a passion for learning would be a massive understatement.

Linh lives in a 30 square meter room in which books are scattered all over the place. Some law books lie on a panel, where he studies every night. The books are full of bookmarks and notes of his reflection on reading or some date records.

“Last year I studied four law courses. I found the Law of Marriage and Family very great, I have read it many times. I am also very fond of international law,” said the sophomore law student.

Due to poor eyesight, Linh mainly listens to the lectures during school hours and synthesizes the knowledge in his notebook. He prioritizes self-studies, so he reads book every night.

His old age does pose academic challenges for Linh as he takes two new courses this year: Writing legal documents and English.

At 85, Linh has never touched a keyboard, nor used a smart phone, so it is not easy for him to type.

Linh is behind in English compared to his young classmates, but it does not bother him much.

“I learned English in teenage years. I did not use it for 65 years, so I forgot everything,” he said, smiling. “My peers have the chance to learn it at a very young age; I cannot keep up with them.”

Linh usually gets up at 3 a.m to study. Photo by Truong Hung

Linh usually gets up at 3 a.m to study. Photo by Truong Hung

Linh has nurtured a burning desire to get a bachelors degree since 1934.

When he was young, Linh went to school, learned some English and French. Given the struggles that the country went through for most the 20th century, he got involved in work and got married.

“I always had this learning desire in me. In 1968, I got a high school diploma despite a lot of hardship,” said Linh, showing the diploma he has kept carefully for 50 years. Even as he struggled with poverty, the young man kept up his reading habit. The old house is full of books and poem collections.

The love for poems has also urged Linh to pursue tertiary education. Joining a poem club with many college graduates, he was motivated further.

In 2014, Linh signed up for a journalism course, and received a completion certificate. A year later, he took the entrance examination for the Hanoi University of Law, but failed.

Never giving up, Linh was finally admitted to the Law department of Dong Do University with a 50 percent tuition fee exemption.

In the beginning, Linh kept all his academic attempts a secret from his family, but once they got wind of it, they have supported him.

Since he started school, Linh began getting up at 2 a.m to read, so his wife, Dong, could not sleep.

While people worry about Linh’s health, Dong does not discourage him. “I can only take care of his meals after school, and I have to support him mentally, too,” she said.

Linh’s youngest daughter, Hai Duong, 45, said: “We all know that my father has a strong desire to learn, and we all support him. He sets the example for us.”

Having undergone stomach surgery recently, Linh cannot eat or sleep much. He hopes to remain healthy and receive his university degree in 2021.

Linh hopes to complete his degree in 2021. Photo by Phan Duong 

Linh hopes to complete his degree in 2021. Photo by Phan Duong 

Nguyen Thanh Hai, a lecturer at the Dong Do University, said that Linh was very hardworking, and he always got to school early. For two years, he was only absent for two sessions because of his poetry club schedule.

“We want to call him ‘uncle’, but he insists on calling us ‘teachers’,” Hai said. “He excels mainly in subjects that involve writing.”

Vu An, the monitor of Linh’s class, said: “At first, we were very surprised at his presence, then we got used to it.

“Thanks to him, the musical activities of the class are always exciting.”





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