Professor Phan Huy Le, Chairman of the Vietnam Association of Historical Sciences, has become the first Vietnamese to be a member of the prestigious French Institute’s Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres (Academy of Humanities).
The professor told Tuoi Tre that he felt honored and surprised to be named the academy’s Foreign Corresponding Member since he didn’t know anything about the nomination.
Born in 1934 in the central province of Ha Tinh, Le graduated from Hanoi University in 1956 and worked for its History department. He received the professor’s title in 1980 and was awarded the People’s Teacher honor in 1994.
He was the first Vietnamese to receive the Fukuoka Asian Cultural Prize from Japan in 1996 and helped to compile the dossier for Doctoral Steles at the Temple of Literature to be recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage.
Founded in 1663, the French Academy of Humanities is one of the five academies of the French Institute, a learned society that runs about 1,000 foundations and awarded numerous prizes.
The academy’s Foreign Corresponding Members are often members of the most prestigious academies in their own countries as well as outstanding scholars in the world.
It may appear like a fool’s errand, but for Seth and Dem, decorating soon-to-be-demolished walls in Ho Chi Minh City with beautiful graffiti is a meaningful thing.
The two French graffiti artists have been searching HCMC for walls that will soon be pulled down just to give them a final make-up. One may ask, “Why bother?” Seth and Dem would say creating beauty, even for very brief moments, is worthwhile.
Carrying bright paint to construction sites, they have thus drawn many lovely images - from a Vietnamese girl in a pink traditional dress to a young woman standing next to lotuses – that have made observers smile and lighten their mood.
Nguyen Thi Lun, who has had her house painted on the front and back walls, said though she was waiting to move to another place, she felt so happy to see beautiful graffiti every time she goes in and out of the house that she will soon leave. Seth and Dem would consider such a reaction from observers one of their greatest rewards.
It is indeed their hope to share their sense of beauty with others that has made them travel all over the world to draw graffiti.
For 20 years, Seth, or Julien Malland, a graduate of the National School of Decorative Arts in France, has been carrying his brushes and spray cans to streets in America, Brazil, China, Indonesia, India, and South Africa to draw graffiti showing the beauties of the native culture he sets foot on. It may be an Indian woman wearing a sewing machine on her head, a boy eating popcorns in front of a Mumbai grocer, a couple dancing waltz in Buenos Aires, girls and characters from comic books in Japan, or sunny beaches in Rio de Janeiro.
Whatever idea he may have, Seth would take care that it should be expressed in the most unobtrusive place – walls that will soon to be demolished – because if people don’t like what he draws, they won’t have to look at it for long.
In France, he is paid to do this. In Vietnam, where nobody pays him for his art work, Seth, and his close friend, Dem, are still showing local residents beautiful decorations.
For them, who are in HCMC only for a short while under an invitation by the French Consulate, this is one a way to leave their memories in the minds of those who would remember their lovely graffiti even after the walls have all been pulled down.
Prices have been dropping across the board as the government’s stabilization policy has set in and the US dollar-dong exchange rate is going down.
Co.op Mart, Vietnam’s leading retailer, said many powdered milk firms have reduced their prices by 3 to 5 percent while others have been maintaining the same prices but increasing product weights for the past two weeks.
Vietnam’s largest diary producer Vinamilk said it will increase the weight per box of its Dielac Alpha powdered milk by 15 percent without changing the price as of July 1.
This will help consumers save VND10,000 on each box, Vinamilk said.
Essence wash liquid producers are also giving consumers an extra 500ml on every two-liter bottle.
Prices of imported confectionary products have also gone down by 2 to 3 percent while cosmetics producers opt to offer customers gifts as discounts.
Nguyen Phuong Thao, director of Maximark Cong Hoa in Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Binh District, said many producers working with her supermarket have also announced their plans to reduce prices.
Besides providing consumers with direct discounts, many producers are now working with supermarkets to launch promotional programs, hoping to increase summer sales by up to 15 percent.
Big C said it will kick off its biggest sales of this year during the summer with discounts of up to 50 percent on over 4,000 products.
As input costs for poultry farming have recently gone down by 7 percent, and demand is low, the HCMC Department of Finance has also asked producers to reduce poultry meat prices by VND2,000-7,000 per kg as part of its price stabilization campaign.
After poultry meat prices soared by VND20,000 per kg in the first six months of this year, many market goers said the price reduction is making things easier for them.
According to the management board of Tan Xuan Market in Hoc Mon District, fruits and vegetables have also been priced down as there is a large supply of these products everyday.
Many expensive products like spinaches, cabbages and carrots at this market have also fallen by 20 to 40 percent per kg.
Bui Tien Dung, former general director of the Ministry of Transport’s Project Management Unit 18 (PMU18), who is serving 16 years in prison for bribery and other crimes, has been given 7 more years for abusing position and power on duty.
After 9 days of trial, the Hanoi People’s Court yesterday handed down the sentences to Dung and 8 others.
The guilty were Nguyen Vu Nam, former head of the Project Initiation Department No. 6 (PID 6); Nguyen Cong Dung, a former PID 6 expert; Nghiem Phu Son, former deputy head of PID 6; Le Minh Giang, former deputy head of PID 5; Nguyen Huu Minh, former executive director of the Bai Chay 1 (BC1) bid; Nguyen Huu Long, former executive director of the BC3 bid; Tran Duc Hung, chief of the consulting office for the project; and Do Kim Quy, a former deputy general director of PMU 18.
Except Quy, who was charged with “using assets illegally acquired by others,” the other defendants were charged with embezzlement.
The court gave 2 years of suspended imprisonment to Quy, 9 years in prison for Nam, 7 years for Son, 6 years for Nguyen Cong Dung and Giang each, 5 years for Long, 4 years for Minh, and 3 years for Hung.
Bui Tien Dung and his accomplices were found guilty of siphoning off nearly VND3.5 billion (US$165,500) from the ODA-funded Bai Chay Bridge in Quang Ninh Province.
According to the indictment by the Supreme People’s Procuracy, in 1998, PMU18, then led by Dung, was assigned to develop the bridge project.
Dung and his accomplices then signed false consulting agreements and prepared false payrolls of consulting engineers to pocket $165,500 when carrying out that project from March 2003 to February 2007.
Dung used VND500 million ($24,300) from the amount as a “send-off gift” to Quy who was about to retire and Quy accepted the money though he knew it was illegal.
Quy handed over the VND500 million to the police after they began investigating Dung’s wrongdoings.
In November 2007, Dung was sentenced to 13 years in prison for gambling and bribery.
In August 2010 he was given an additional three years for “deliberately acting against the State’s economic management regulations, causing serious consequences.”
A young woman in a tight silver dress posed on the front of a black Audi A6 sedan at a Hanoi auto show, hoping to entice buyers.
Luxury cars are increasingly irresistible for many Vietnamese, say industry players who report rising sales even as daily life becomes harder for the majority struggling to cope with one of the world's highest rates of inflation.
Audi's A6, launched at the Vietnam Auto Expo last month, costs almost $142,000 -- which would take the average Vietnamese worker 182 years to earn.
Yet Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, Audi and other high-end brands are increasingly common on the narrow streets of Hanoi, where they vie for space with the motorcycles which are standard transport for most people.
Even more exclusive names including Bentley and Rolls-Royce can be spotted, leading to concerns about growing social inequality.
"We have been doubling our sales every year and I think we'll do the same again," said Laurent Genet, general director of Automotive Asia Ltd, Audi's official importer to Vietnam.
Ford, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz and others have been assembling vehicles in Vietnam for several years.
But only since the country joined the World Trade Organization in 2007 has the market been open to official importers, Genet said, meaning it is still in its infancy and attracting an increasing number of brands.
Auto Motors Vietnam, the official Renault importer, arrived in Vietnam late last year with its Koleos, which retails for 1.429 billion dong ($68,048).
"Sales have started pretty well from the beginning," said managing director Xavier Casin.
France's Citroen returned to Vietnam this year and Range Rover, which has been in the country for three years, says sales are up by about 50 percent in 2011 -- even though its models at the Hanoi show retailed for about $200,000.
"Land Rover is very expensive. The market knows that," said sales manager Tran Nhat Tu.
The Vietnam Automobile Manufacturers' Association reported a year-on-year increase of almost 38 percent in car and SUV-style vehicle sales for the first four months of 2011.
The increase comes despite an economy beset by a high trade deficit, a struggling currency and inflation that has risen every month since last August.
With inflation running at 21 percent in June, ordinary people -- whose average monthly salary is 1,365,000 dong ($65) -- have been cutting back on expenses.
As part of efforts to stabilise the economy the central bank wants growth in credit to stay below 20 percent this year, with lenders limiting the proportion of loans for "non-productive sectors", notably property and stocks.
But the restrictions have not affected the high-end car market, said Genet.
"In our case we are selling expensive cars for people who don't really need financing," he said. "For them it's prestige. It's almost an investment."
Tran Minh Tuan, 28, is an example. The real estate trader visited the auto show thinking of upgrading from a less-prestigious brand to Audi.
"The car you drive shows your social class, your identity," he said.
"I think the demand for luxury cars in Vietnam has always been high. Although the economy sometimes is not good, there are still a lot of people who have money, who want to change to more expensive cars."
In 1986 communist Vietnam began to turn away from a planned economy to embrace the free market, a policy which led to growth among the fastest in Asia.
Despite recent economic instability the growth has continued, inevitably bringing with it the "conspicuous consumption" evident in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, said John Hendra of the United Nations.
"The wealth gap is rising between the rich and the poor," he said in May before ending his term as UN country director.
But while displays of wealth are sometimes a sign of success, many ordinary Vietnamese doubt the money was acquired honestly, said Matthieu Salomon, international senior adviser for Towards Transparency, the local affiliate of global anti-corruption organisation Transparency International.
Saloman said a survey by his group, due for release in August, found that about a quarter of urban Vietnamese youth believe people are most likely to succeed if they are not following the rules.
Hanoi's Young Business Association recently told a World Bank-backed forum that the "supercars and expensive houses" of a few rich people reflect waste, bureaucracy and corruption in public spending.
For most Vietnamese, a car is still out of reach and the auto show was a chance for people like state employee Nguyen Tuan Hung, 37, to fantasise.
"I drive a motorcycle," he said. "I don't have money to buy a car. But of course, I dream of buying one."