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Saigoneer's Guide to What to Watch While Staying at Home

As the coronavirus outbreak stretches its treacherous tendrils across all aspects of our society, the lives of Vietnamese are gradually becoming more confined to the four walls of our home.

In Saigon, where all bars, nightclubs, gyms, karaoke parlors and most restaurants have shuttered, residents now have to explore other pastimes that are more home-friendly. Play with pets, embroider, garden, write poetry, play an instrument, turn your bedroom into a home gym, talk to your parents, bake bánh mì, pull a Marie Kondo on your closet — there’s bound to be something indoor to satisfy even the most wanderlusty of us. Even when all else fails, you can turn to the wealth of content that the internet has to offer, and if your favorite activity is to wallow in YouTube, you’re in luck, because Saigoneer is here to help.

Watching YouTube is something of an addiction for many Vietnamese netizens, but how can we help it when local content creators do such a kick-ass job? From soothing cooking videos to the bucolic ambiance of the Central Highlands to intimate live music sessions, here are 10 of Saigoneer’s favorite series by Vietnamese content creators — that are completely free and readily available — to calm your strung-up nerves, educate your inquisitive mind, and tide you over these trying times.

1. Việt Sử Kiêu Hùng by Đuốc Mồi

Viet Su Kieu Hung might be the most ambitious project of its kind to have come out of Vietnam. It takes historical events and figures and turns them into polished short films, complete with voiceover, a majestic score and impressive artwork. Needless to say, the project will no doubt be appealing to history buffs with an interest in Vietnam’s pre-modern eras, but for casual viewers, Viet Su Kieu Hung’s cinematic sequences and dramatization won’t disappoint either. At around 10 to 20 minutes long each, the episodes won’t take too long to complete, though the visuals might be best viewed on wider screens than a phone for maximum enjoyment.

2. H'Hen Niê’s Vlogs

There’s not much that hasn’t already been said about Miss Universe Vietnam, H'Hen Niê. When crowned, she was the first winner from an ethnic minority and, on the world stage, she became the most successful Vietnamese representative to date, finishing in the Top 5. Following the call to stay home like the rest of the country, H’Hen is now back with her parents in Dak Lak, in the Central Highlands, bringing us rustic wholesomeness with every dish she cooks and every slightly out-of-tune but endearing melody she hums while picking vegetables. A library of videos portraying her fashion works does exists, but H’Hen’s infectious positivity really shines in videos showing her with her family. With H’Hen in pink sandals recounting her mother’s way of cooking gourd blossoms, the video makes forgetting about the ongoing epidemic very easy, as we dream of a life embraced by the warmth of loved ones, cooking and homegrown vegetables.

3. Melon Bê Đê

Having been established just a month ago, Melon Bê Đê is younger than most channels in this list, but it’s shaping up to be an important platform for young queer Vietnamese. The project is dedicated to Vietnam’s lesbian community and has released two videos so far: one on the significance of frequent STD screenings among queer young adults, and another discussing the movie Chi Chi Em Em. The two hosts, Phuong and Thu, are knowledgeable and have great rapport, making the watching experience not unlike interacting with your close friends.

4. Yêu Kiều by DeeDee Animation

What would a millennial take on Truyen Kieu, or The Tale of Kieu in English, look like? The answer is adorable characters, cartoonish effects and facetious narration by veteran comedian Quang Thang. Most young Vietnamese’s first exposure to the age-old poem was probably in school, as it’s a prominent part of the literature syllabus. The academic setting, however, can be a turn-off for some, discouraging them from exploring the rich, masterful layers of Truyen Kieu. Yeu Kieu might help to remedy that by serving the well-known story on a new plate with renewed representation especially tailored to youth. Some snippets of contemporary slang and humor in the series make Truyen Kieu more approachable and, at times, laugh-out-loud funny.

5. Culinary Frank

Culinary Frank, whose real name is The Phuong, is a chef living in Australia. Frank’s cooking videos are typically devoid of any spoken narration or sappy back story; instead, the channel focuses on high production value and pristine sound recording, in line with the ASMR trend that’s been making the rounds on YouTube in recent years. Through the lens of Culinary Frank, the mainstays of Vietnamese cuisine, like bánh mì chảo, xíu mại or cơm tấm, are treated with the level of visual polish usually reserved for cooking shows or travel features. At times, I find myself just randomly putting on a video just to serve as calming background music for work or household chores. Apart from Vietnamese, he has also tackled Japanese, Korean and Chinese dishes, including the trendy “ram-don” made popular by the Oscar-winning South Korean dark comedy Parasite.

6. Love Is Blind by Dustin on the Go

Unrelated to Netflix’s notorious dating show, the Love Is Blind series by Dustin on the Go promises neither soulmates nor drama. Instead, the show offers an honest glimpse inside the psyche of Vietnamese milliennials and Gen Z-ers, those who are often, mistakenly, considered hedonistic, vacuous or socially apathetic by other media. Complex issues like consent, adultery, self-love and sexual identity are discussed by the show’s hosts and guests in a non-patronizing and mature way. Of course, one can tune in to explore those topics, or just to revel in the simple pleasure of watching attractive, well-dressed people wade through the awkwardness of a blind date.

7. Khoai Lang Thang

Khoai Lang Thang, the screen name of Dinh Vo Hoai Phuong, might seem like your average food vlogger, and maybe he is. What makes Khoai’s videos click is his unassuming demeanor that can completely break down the guard of his video subjects, and even members of the audience. He’s never obnoxiously loud, political or pretentious, and is always appreciative of the delicious Vietnamese dishes in the limelight. For the duration of 20 to 30 minutes when we focus our attention on Khoai’s trip, viewers can pretend to live in an alternative universe where the people are always friendly, the food is tasty and every meal is shared with a personable southern beau.

8. Cornerstone by Cổ Động

If one’s into youth culture and indie music, Cổ Động is already a household name as a channel dedicated to all things cool and wholesome in Vietnamese culture. Now, Cổ Động’s YouTube channel is hosting a new series called Cornerstone, created by “a dear friend of the channel.” In each of the 14 episodes, a musician in Hanoi joins an informal interview and then performs a song live. The concept is not groundbreaking, but its stripped-down nature leaves a pleasant feeling that lingers on even after the music has stopped. There’s something magical about listening to people who are passionate about their work, and even more magical when that work is music, which, at times, can be the panacea to all of life’s hurts.

9. Chuyện Bỏng Ngô

After history, cooking, music and literature, it’s only fair to have something to cater to the film fans among us as well, a role that can be perfectly filled by Chuyện Bỏng Ngô. Established about two years ago, the channel produces video essays ruminating on a range of movie theory topics, from director profiles to exploration of movie tropes. If you’ve enjoyed videos by The Take or CinemaSins, Chuyện Bỏng Ngô is a must-watch, as it's a rarity today when there are too few projects that actually dissect Vietnamese films in such a nuanced, analytical way.

10. 1977 Vlog

It’s challenging to put a finger on what 1977 Vlog is. A rich mother lode of meme material? Perhaps. Black-and-white video adaptations of classic Vietnamese literature? Absolutely. The one thing I know for sure is that their videos are delightfully absurd. Using a starting point of famous literary works like Vo Chong A Phu or Chiec La Cuoi Cung, 1977 Vlog turns up the weirdness by weaving in internet slang, memes and dramatic readings — the results are intensely meta videos that are endlessly entertaining.

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