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Kaleidoscope (02-12-2012)

Update: December, 04/2012 - 22:25

by Thu Anh

Taking on foreign names, it's a question of identity

Have you ever heard of Van Navy, Huyen Baby, Kelly Tu Anh, Quan Rapsoul and Addy Tran? One hint: they're present-day pop singers and rappers.

A fair number of young Vietnamese musicians and film stars are using English nick names, mostly due to influence from English-speaking countries like Australia, the UK and US, as well as Singapore.

Rapper Nguyen Minh Quan has become Quan Rapsoul. Le Thuy Van is now Van Navy.

Perhaps fame comes easier to those with names that are catchy and easy to say. After all, who can easily remember a long name like Dang Ngoc Huyen, better known as Huyen Baby?

Young singers in particular are famous for taking new names chosen by their agents and producers to appeal to their teen-aged fans.

The phenomenon is not limited to the entertainment industry; students at international schools in HCM City are also enamoured of foreign names.

Seven-year-old girl Phan Hoang Thu Anh of the Viet Nam Australia International School uses the name Sally while at school.

"My teacher asked if he could give me an English name because mine is hard to pronounce. I agreed, so he gave me three names and asked me to choose one. I like the name Sally," she said.

The practice of giving foreign names can indeed set the mood for learning English, as well as other languages. In many French classes, teachers often give students a French name.

While many Vietnamese parents, like Anh's mother and father, are not worried about the use of foreign names, members of the older generation, including her 77-year-old grandmother, are not crazy about the idea.

However, the question remains: will we lose our identity if we use a name from another language? Or will it be only a small part of our Vietnamese persona?

City silversmiths, a poorly paid and fading breed

As one of the most extensively practised handicrafts in Sai Gon in the 18th and 19th centuries, silversmithing provided a good living for many men.

But times have changed as products now must compete with machine-made items.

"Most silverware, even exquisite ornaments, are still made by hand because silversmiths can't afford machinery," says Huynh Cong Tien, a 60-year-old silversmith who resides in Go Vap District in HCM City. "Customers today prefer imported products because of their quality and beautiful designs."

Years ago, Tien and his father left their native province of Vinh Long to come to the city to learn the trade.

Like many silversmiths, Tien sells objects wholesale to jewellery shops. Skilled artisans often receive direct orders from their regular customers, who are mostly women.

"Being a silversmith is hard work, but I'll never quit my traditional trade as it has been part of my family for generations," says Tien.

His three sons have all followed him in the craft.

However, the youngest son, Huynh Cong Danh, 19, has mixed feelings about the job. "It takes only a few months to learn the trade but a whole life to become truly skilled."

"I've become hunch-backed after years of moulding, grinding and carving small chunks of silver into finely crafted objects, including rings, bracelets and necklaces," says Danh, who began silversmithing at aged 13. "My thin body and callous hands stand as clear evidence that my work and life is indeed hard."

He earns only an average of VND150,000 (US$) for one silver piece, and VND700,000 for a gold piece. His monthly salary is about VND3 million, and when demand is low, it drops to VND1 million.

"That's not enough for me if I get married and have children," he says. "But, it's easy for silversmiths to get married because many young girls love us for our talent." — VNS

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