Music reviewer and contributor John Thornton seems to have his finger on the pulse. Just two weeks after he shouted out Charlie Brooker for his incisive criticisms of media and pop culture in AsiaLIFE‘s Endorsed column (vol. 23), the U.K.’s Metro reported that Brooker’s Newswipe special “How to Report the News” became YouTube’s top-rated video. Check it out below:

This Weekend in Saigon

February 5, 2010

If you’ve been putting off your New Year’s resolution to get in shape, think about giving it a jump start this weekend at NTFQ2’s first fitness Boot Camp, happening Saturday from 9 to 11am. The trainers drill sergeants at An Phu’s NTFQ2 will motivate you through an intense round of circuit, yoga, pilates, powers and spinning. Thankfully, NTFQ2 skips the mess hall part of the military theme and instead serves up a Boot Camp breakfast at Good Eats.

NTFQ2 Boot Camp

Or for those who prefer their physical activity from the sidelines, head over to RMIT for the Inaugural International Sixes cricket tournament on Saturday and Sunday. Six regional teams and four local clubs from the Vietnam Cricket Association will compete for the top spot, and there’ll be entertainment (including a kids’ corner). Food & drink served throughout the day. Entrance is free.

If retail therapy is more your speed, head over to Anupa Boutique’s location at 84 Pho Duc Chinh in District 1, where the sample sale Anupa’s eclectic range of design and fashion items continues. All sale items are marked down 50 to 70 percent. If you can’t make it this weekend, get there before the sale ends on February 11. Tel: 08 3915 1473. Open 9am to 6pm.

HCMC scenestress and Everyone’s a DJ organizer Linh Phan (better known as DJ Superkid) tipped us off to an interesting event happening this weekend. It seems an indie rock scene is beginning to emerge in Saigon, and the third in a new series of DIY-style shows will be taking place this Friday night at a bar/cafe in the decidedly non-downtown Pham Hung Street in District 8. Here’s the skinny from Superkid:

Wasted Youth of an Ill Nation III: Talk Less, Listen More

Friday, February 5 @ UPSTAIR(s) Bar, C4/21 Pham Hung, District 8. From 7.30 to 11pm. No cover.

The Coconut Macadam: a trio from France with guitars, harmonica and violin.

Gordon Brome: French guitarist brings back the 80s with tunes influenced by Sonic Youth and Daft Punk. Check out his MySpace page.

Purple Balloon: a funky punk band formed right here in Saigon. Click here for a video of the band.

AKAT: A three-piece grunge/punk band from Saigon. More info on their MySpace page or see a video here.

UPSTAIR(s) Bar is on the first floor of a materials store named Vinh Tuong. From District 1, 3, 5, etc. head south down Nguyen Tri  Phuong, which turns into Pham Hung in District 8. From District 7, take Nguyen Van Linh Boulevard (driving away from Phu My Hung) and make a right after RMIT onto Pham Hung. For more details email Linh at linh@helloyeti.com or einsamkeitie@gmail.com.

This month, contributing editor Thomas Maresca and staff photographer Nam Quan head south to pose the question, “Is the Mekong Delta disappearing?” Climate change and human development have placed this critically important corner of the world in peril, but for the farmers and fishermen who live off the land, daily life remains unchanged. The gulf between the slow country life and impending crisis is rendered in stark contrast in “Delta Blues.”

Also this month: Director Victor Vu sits down for Q &A. Thomas Maresca explores one of the quaintest streets in HCMC. Tom DiChristopher demystifies Buddhist temples and speaks to the survivors of Vietnam’s F&B scene about life before Western restaurants. Dave Lemke explores the north country by motorbike. Kristen Avis solicits Chef Vincent Tan’s favourite eats in HCMC. The ed staff compiles a list of street food hotspots. Ginny Becker gets the scoop on the new netball league. Amy Morison helps us relax with a guide to Hoi An spas. And Anne Branigin gives parents a lesson in learner-centred methodology.

Smile Group Update

February 2, 2010

Just yesterday, Leslie Wiener from Smile Group, the organization that connected us to the families we profiled in November’s “Living Positive” cover story, sent us an update on what the organization has been up to. Smile Group provides assistance to families affected by HIV/AIDS in Ho Chi Minh City, and from the looks of these photos, they’re living up to their name and putting a lot smiles on kids’ faces.

The kids go for tutoring at the office on Sundays, where the older kids are proud to help the younger ones. Smile Group also arranges for tutoring at their homes during the week.

There’s also some time for yoga classes on Sunday, thanks to the contribution of Aussie expat volunteer Lex.

Our friend Vy looks like she takes the meditation component very seriously…

Two French interns also helped out throughout the month of January. Not only did they take the kids swimming every Saturday and Sunday, they also did fundraising, cooked crepes and staged a riveting (and sparkly) interpretation of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”!

Smile Group volunteer Ginette also returned to continue caligraphy lessons. And…

More time for music with singing classes.

And finally, this past Sunday, Duoc began an ongoing children’s rights workshop aimed at empowering the kids. Groups were given a description of an incident that violates children’s rights, which they read out loud and discussed. They then worked in small groups to create presentations.

Next up, Smile Group will be heading to the sea with the families. If you’d like to know more about Smile Group, volunteer or make a donation, visit www.smilegroupvn.org.

Contributed by Tom DiChristopher

We might be playing fast and loose with the chronology of these covers, but I wanted to return to one of my favorite covers of last year, the Travel Issue from October (vol. 19).

As with every cover, we began with the same principal: avoid cliche. That meant no maps; no compasses; no planes, trains or automobiles. Yes, we considered all of these motifs in the brainstorming period, but none of them expressed the tone and scope of the 2009 Travel Issue. We had visited and wrote about four very different places–Mongolia, Israel, Nepal and San Francisco–and each story was unique in tone.

But what the stories did have in common was that they were all rooted in personal experience and a desire to evoke a sense of place without putting it in a box. As I wrote in October’s editorial, each story approached travel as a question, rather than an answer. The cover, then, should do the same.

And sure enough, Jennifer came through. She had unearthed the following quote from Mark Twain: “Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the Earth all one’s life.” It captured exactly what I wanted the feature section as a whole to express, the idea that travel is a lifelong project, one that is never fully achieved.

The execution of the final cover, I think, is superb. The subtle blur of color lends the sense of movement and the ephemeral moment, as if the message is presenting an opportunity that the reader can either acknowledge or ignore. Though the setting is dank and a bit grubby, it recalls a train station corridor or a subway entrance, and all the possibility that these oft-overlooked spaces present to those compelled to explore.

I count myself among the ranks of those people, and that’s perhaps why this is one of my favorite covers we’ve done yet.

Contributed by Tom DiChristopher