Blog by Vietnam based documentary Photographer Christian Berg

After working on a photo assignment portraying people living with HIV / AIDS in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi 2 weeks ago I more than ever believer that this is a topic not addressed enough and that one of the major problems with the issue is the strong stigmatization that they actually suffer. While I was covering the story in order to promote free treatment with ARV’s in clinics I also know that prevention is of similar importance. Have a look at this story on Reuters AlertNet to read how most prevention programs actually fail on of the most at risk groups – sex workers.

categories: Culture, general, Vietnam
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Saigon is probably one of the fastest changing cities in Southeast Asia at this point in time. PGPR.1 While some parts still have old french architecture that enchants with its beautiful decay other parts of the city look so modern that it does not even seem to be Vietnam anymore. Well, at least the Vietnam that we commonly imagine. Is it similar to Singapore? Is Saigon actually on the way to become a generic city, like the one that Rem Koolhaas is talking about? Have a look at the video below and share your thoughts! Personally it reminds me of the Prince George’s Park Residences, a popular student residence at NUS (National University of Singapore) which you can see in the image on the left hand side…

category: general
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The Angkor Photo Festival is coming up. Probably the biggest event of this kind in the whole region which draws Photographers, Editors and whoever else in this field from all over the world. I am still not sure if I will be able to make it, but I really think I should…. lets check the schedule! – actually I just checked an figured out that flights are already ridiculously expensive… so might have to skip this one :( Angkor Wat sunrise reflection

picture by Ann Ha

categories: Media, Vietnam
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category: general
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categories: Travel, Vietnam
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Minsk North Vietnam 2010

A few weeks ago I had the chance to make an amazing motorbike trip through Northern Vietnam and the Chinese border.

For more than one reason this was a memorable trip: endless hours driving through the rain, breathtaking landscapes, effective mechanics, broken frames, people lying in the ditch of the road, gallons of maize liquor….. but lets start from the beginning:

Minsk North Vietnam 2010I arrived in Hanoi way after midnight and after a few hours of sleep we got up to leave the capital as early as possible. It was raining. And we took almost 2 hours to place all our luggage on the 2 Minsk. As my buddy Nico had his dad as a passenger I had to take the luggage bike. So very early we figured out that we needed some more bungee cordsMinsk North Vietnam 2010Would you know how to call them in Vietnamese? very easy: it is a “cai nay” (“this thing” – which you have to say while making an appropriate hand gesture – you can actually express almost everything using this little trick :P )

First day of riding was unspectacular – basically riding 10 hours through poring rain up to Ha Giang. One thing I figured out: my old trekking boots are still waterproof… from the inside!

Minsk North Vietnam 2010 After that the landscape got more amazing with every kilometer we drove. I don’t want to bore you with every little detail of the trip, so let me quickly sum up the route: Hanoi – Ha Giang – Quan Ba – Yen Minh – Pho Bang (Chinese border) – Dong Van – Meo Vac – Bao Lam – Ba Be Lake – Hanoi (around 1,000 km).

When we arrived in Yen Minh and tried to find a hostel we faced a new problem – we did not know that we were supposed to have a permit in order to enter the frontier areas. But where to get this permit? 150 kilometer back in Ha Giang. Luckily this problem was solvable after a bit of talking. Minsk North Vietnam 2010

Most amazing of all was probably the road between Dong Van and Meo Vac – and we had the chance to drive it 4 times after we lost my Minsk during a little off road adventure while looking for a old French fort which we in fact never found… The sun was sinking and we were in a fantastic landscape driving reckless on what was supposed to be a road but where in fact only small rocks… every few kilometers we would pass small villages and members of the local ethnic minorities. When the road suddenly went very steep and my bike finally stopped with a lot of smoke and a small explosion and the whole world became very quiet (a Minsk sounds a bit like a loud lawmower)… and we realized how far in the middle of nowhere we actually were. And the sun was sinking…. after 2 hours of pushing and rolling the bike finally down into the next valley we managed to park the Minsk overnight in a local house. But we still had a long stretch of rocky and muddy paths before us while the night was breaking in… and now we where 2 on 1 bike… plus the 25 kilometers between Dong Van and Meo Vac. A beautiful road during the day as I said… with cliffs that go down several hundred meters on one side… So you can imagine how it feels in the moonlight.

Minsk North Vietnam 2010 We arrived finally at 9pm back at the hotel… had some bottles of local liquor to digest the day and fell into the bed like rocks… next day we got up before dawn for operation rescue… while praying to the god of the Minsk we arrived back in Dong Van at the mechanics house. A small and not very talkative man, who smoked a big water pipe and drank some tea before he was ready to follow us to the middle of nowhere – the bike was fixed quickly. The problem was a little piece of hardware called the “con” or clutch disk.. only problem was that no one in the north had such a piece… so we had to re-adjust it and drive with a broken one, which would have been no problem if not… ok, more later… because our next problem came only 2 kilometers after we left the tiny mountain village… the Minsk broke into 2 pieces! Literally! the frame it is.. So we waited in a tiny piece of shade in a local stone pit hiding from the burning sun… and doing nothing for an hour or so. Finally some people arrived to rescue the bike out of the mountains. then we had to wait several hours while the frame had to be welded. Lunch was interesting: Silk worms, bees, duck and some rice and spicy pickles… And beer of course! Finally at 4pm we got back on the road. We lost 1 whole day. Which turned the rest of the trip into something like a race… BTW: How many people does it take to rescue a Minsk out of the mountains? – 10!

On the way to Bao Lam, while the sun was sinking we suddenly found a motionless body lying in the ditch of the road, ready for the next truck to drive over it. It turned out the the local guy was not dead, but just sleeping. He must have been high on whatever. So we carried him to the frontdoor of the next house and left him to his narcotic dreams… after all the sun was sinking again. Did he mess up our schedule? After that we saw a couple of people lying next to their bikes and sleeping. So we figured that this must be a popular past time in the mountains. Minsk North Vietnam 2010 Finally in Bao Lam (after dark again) we got a drawn a map that would lead us to Ba Be Lake. Only we did not follow it. Too bad.

The next day my bike broke down again on the road that everyone told us not to take. Again we had to pull of a rescue mission that would take us most of the day. And this time my morale was really down… However also this problem got solved and when the sun set we were on a boat to Ba Be Lake!
Minsk North Vietnam 2010

After all a fantastic trip! Some things I learned during the journey: never do a Minsk trip without a “con”! \ And 6 days actually might seem a lot but they are nothing once you are out in the mountains… Next time it will be 20 days! —– More photos from this trip are available on Flickr!

Minsk North Vietnam 2010

categories: Cinema, general
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Asian Hot Shots Film Festival started yesterday in Berlin. http://www.asianhotshotsfestival.com/ – for sure worth checking out for anyone in the German capital!

categories: Politics, Thailand
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————————————————————————————-

Thammasat University in conjunction with Chulalongkorn, Mahidol and Chiang Mai
universities is organizing an International Conference on International
Relations and Development, titled “Governance, Human Rights & Development:
Challenges for Southeast Asia and Beyond”. The conference will take place on
19/20 May 2011 at Thammasat University’s Tha Prachan Campus, Bangkok.

The call for abstracts is now out to scholars and graduate level students, who
are encouraged to submit their proposals by 30 October 2010 to:
abstracts@icird.org.

For further information please visit our website www.icird.org, or
contact us via email: info@icird.org.

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categories: Cambodia, Politics
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The long awaited verdict in the Khmer Rouge Trial in Cambodia is due soon. More on NYT.

categories: Travel, Turkey
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Istanbul – City of plenty

Istanbul is not city, but many in one: an estimated 20 million live in this colorful melting pot between East and West; on the very border of Europe and Asia. Istanbul is a city of opposites, and opposites attract: old and new; tradition and modernity; hedonism and religion; century old oriental bazaars and shopping malls that almost seem to come from a distant future (a central part of the famous hyper-post-modern Kanyon looks like cut out right from Darth Vader’s Death Star in Star Wars – and if you don’t believe me, why don’t you just visit this amazing city yourself, hello?) a list as endless as the water that flows down the Bosporus, that legendary strait that parts the city, the two continents as if they were 2 sides of the same medal….


Istanbul – Images by Christian Berg

Sultanahmet

This is obviously the oldest part of Istanbul. The center of the city from a sightseeing point of view, but also a bit of a tourist trap, comparable maybe with Hanoi’s old quarter even though not that crowded – a beautiful beautiful place, but not where the heartbeat of the city is located. This area of the city is one of the more conservative ones on the European side and here you should not be surprised to see many women wearing the headscarf, even though Turkey is a secular country. Sultanahmet is home to some of the city’s most important and impressive sides, such as the Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque or the Topkapi Palace. This part of the city also might cause sleeplessness as the Muezzins call for prayers via loudspeakers on the top of the minarets (small towers at the mosque) at the most unexpected times of the day.

Beyoğlu

A hell of a 20 minute Taxi ride on the European side (and a hell of a ride you will have considering the driving still of Istanbul) will bring you to Taksim Square in the heart of Beyoğlu. Don’t be surprised if your driver opts to drop you a few hundred meters earlier if he sees the chance to pick up some local alternative punky looking girls for the next ride, at least this is what happened to us.

Taksim Square is located at the beginning of the some 2 kilometer long Istiklal Avenue, the main shopping area in this part of town. On weekends this is where to meet the masses. And by masses I mean masses. It must have been some ten thousand on the first Saturday night that we have been here. Here you find everything (and pickpockets easily find you). From international branded shops and huge kebab places on the main road to beautiful garden restaurants being tucked away in the back alleys and backyards around Galatasaray square to fancy sky bars or basement second hand stores as big as Ben Thanh Market with a DJ playing between the clothing racks. This is definitely the hippest area in town, playing in a league with similar areas in London, Paris or Berlin. An area though that does not always make it easy for you to find the hidden gems. If you are new to the city it takes some endurance to find that special Meze restaurant you might have picked and maybe only to figure out that it is still another 4 hours until it opens. One thing I know from this trip to Istanbul: next time I will definitely stay in Beyoğlu and not in Sultanahmet.

Crossing the Bosporus to Asia

Probably the best way of catching the spirit of the city is to take a ferry over the Bosporus to Asia. We took the ferry from Kabataş to Üsküdar and from there back to Emınönü.

On deck, the wind in my hair, screaming seagulls, ship horns and the muezzin in your ear while drifting between Asia and Europe for me is was of the most essential moments of this trip. On the Asian side then the world again looks totally different. Organized chaos like you might know it from the suburbs of lets say Kuala Lumpur instantly reminds you of setting foot on Asian ground again. Here suddenly all women seem to wear headscarf and the often described gender difference in Islam seems striking when you enter a small park and suddenly realize that the more than hundred people sitting on benches are only bearded elderly men. After returning to Europe there is probably nothing better then Sardine sandwich (with squeezed lemon) and Efes beer under the Galata Bridge while you can see the fishing lines of the overly enthusiastic locals flying over your head towards the sunset.

Beşiktaş

The posh area of Beşiktaş is located south of Beyoğlu and a must for those who want to buy expensive fashion brands like Mark Jacobs and Co. Beşiktaş is also home to the famous Dolmabahçe Palace at the shores of the Bosporus -  a relict of the once mighty Ottoman empire. Unfortunately it can only be visited with a guided tour which spoils a bit of the fun, so instead it is a good option to just have a cup of turkish coffee outside the palace at the sea and then head a few kilometers back in direction of Beyoğlu and visit the surprisingly excellent Istanbul Modern featuring a library of flying books and other inspiring contemporary Turkish art.

Travel Tips


istanbul travel tips – Images by Christian Berg

Where to eat:

Limonlu Bahçe

Yeniçarşı Caddesi 98, Galatasaray

Tel: (212) 252 10 94

A secret garden in the back alleys of Galatasary in Beyoglu. Not only beautiful and relaxed atmosphere but also great local food with a own note!

9 ece aksoy

Asmalimescit Oteller Sok. No.9, Istanbul, Turkey

Tel: 0212 245 76 28

Awesome Meze restaurant tucked away in a small side alley of Istiklal avenue. Open after 7 pm. Not the cheapest choice but for sure one of the best around town!

Where to stay:

W Istanbul

Suleyman Seba Cad No: 22,

Akaretler, Beşiktaş

Istanbul,

34357

Phone: (90)(212) 381 2121

Ueberstylish luxury Oasis in the cities poshest area. Prices are also ueberstylish.

Where to buy:

by Retro

Istiklal Caddesi 166/C. Suriye Pasajı (0212) 245 64 20.

Vintage heaven! No need to say any more.

Lazy Istanbul

Yeniçarşı cad. 9/A,Galatasaray,Beyoğlu, İstanbul,Türkiye. Tel:+902122523155

Hip local designs for the ladies! Very worthwhile checking out!

Kanyon

Esentepe Mh., 34394 İstanbul, Turkey

One of Europes biggest shopping malls. Reminds of Green Belt in Manila.

Grand bazaar & Spice bazaar

Experience first hand the local trading and bargaining culture in one of the world’s biggest market area. And expect to spend way more money then you intend to.

What to see:

Must see: Topkapi palace (the Harem!!!), Blue mosque, Hagia sofia, a trip on a Bosporus ferry,

Should see: Istanbul Modern

What to read:

Elif Shafak – The Bastard of Istanbul

What to watch:

Movies by Turkish-German director Fatih Akin such as: Crossing the bridge, On the other side, Head On