SAIGON TIMES PREVIEW: Rhino ranger highlights species in danger for Royal School students


By Harry Hodge Royal International Bilingual School students got a special visit from the Wild Rhino group earlier this week.

By Harry Hodge

An international bilingual school in Phu My Hung got up close and personal with a special ranger to learn about a species that’s in danger.

Wilderness Foundation Africa brought both awareness and a special visit from their rhino ranger to Grades 1, 2, and 4 students at newly opened Royal International Bilingual School in District 7. With the trade of rhino horns being a hot topic, with Vietnam being far and away the top market where poachers and black marketeers ply their trade, the young students learned about this issue with a child-friendly approach to open their eyes on the matter.

“It’s important to teach kids about rhinos because it helps them to be respectful to other animals, and learn to love other species and the environment,” said Thu Huynh, project co-ordinator the Wild Rhino group in Vietnam. “And because Vietnam used to have rhinos, so it’s part of their legacy and responsibility to protect rhinos.”

The children learned about different species of rhino and which ones are endangered both in Asia and around the world, as part of their study of animals in their science curriculum. They also got the chance to sign banners supporting wildlife conservation and take photos with the superhero-like rhino ranger afterward. Children will also have an opportunity to take part in an art contest next year that the Wild Rhino group conducts with schools throughout Vietnam. Students in high school who take part in Wild Rhino contests can compete for the opportunity to see wildlife up close at a game reserve in South Africa.

“It’s important our student body is aware of organizations that preserve wildlife and endangered animals,”  said Jon Barrett, director of the International Curriculum Training Center (ICTC) at Royal International Bilingual School. “Wild Rhino is a great source (of information) for that.”

For more information about the Wild Rhino initiative, visit For information about Royal International Bilingual School, got to or visit the school Facebook page.



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Work smarter, not harder


School’s in! Looks who’s teaching science!

By Harry Hodge

I used to tackle writing like I was taking down a redwood with a chainsaw: Blast through it, flick away some sawdust (editing) and saddle up for the next. Now it’s more like taking down a birch with a normal axe. Hack away, step back, adjust the angle.

A new post will now change direction a few times (including this one) while I tinker with it. Is it taking me longer to do things? Like write blogs? I’m gonna say yes.

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Working smarter, not harder

Weeks have been literally evaporating before my eyes for just under two years since I left my publishing job. There was even a stretch where I pulled revenue from eight (!) different employers at the same time, for assignments of varying durations and content.

Starting a new school is a massive undertaking. Being an academic co-ordinator requires that I wear some different hats, from teaching science to assessing staff to editing promotional materials in English. Science has been particularly challenging, but interesting. Working with three different grades, we’ve done a variety of experiments with magnets, spaghetti towers, baking soda and vinegar balloons, you name it. That said, prep time and actually conducting the class can be draining, and it’s good that I’m only tasked with a light teaching workload so as to turn my attention elsewhere.

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One hour of teaching is two hours at a desk

As I get older, I debate whether I want to continue teaching or take on more of an administrative position, which this current one seems to be a gateway to those sorts of opportunities. An hour of teaching really is like two hours of desk work: You’re chasing students around and conducting crowd control; dealing with meltdowns and resolving disputes; watching it all fall apart when dodgy Internet won’t let you show the video you need to, etc.

It can take its toll as you go along, leading some in the industry to become jaded. This is especially true in Vietnam, a country where schools that are “haves” and “have-nots” are especially glaring. I’ve taught in the public system as well as the bilingual international school regime in the past year, and the contrast is quite striking.

Public school either doesn’t have Internet and projectors or discourages foreign teachers from using them, abiding by the chalk/blackboard regime (with kids who all play with tablets when they go home anyway), notably with upwards of 30 students in class and minimal discipline (from what I’ve seen). My current workplace we have 15 students or less (at the moment) in our classes, teaching assistants who speak English, monthly material requests, and other things at a school with an ICT lab, a swimming pool, sports field, and more. My other school this year had the same types of facilities.

The boom in “international” education means that while I’m never particularly worried about employment here, the competition between schools is intensifying, which could mean certain institutions will be more lax with admission just to “fill the seats.” An article in the Atlantic ( ) captured the appetite for instruction in English not only in Vietnam, but in general worldwide.

As long as my two children who are studying upstairs right now are getting the instruction they need in a friendly place with good facilities, I’m happy to carry on a little longer in this country. My concern is that as the grandparents of my children age back in Canada, the opportunity for them to know each other diminishes daily. This could be what ultimately lures us back. When? I’ll let you know when I figure that out myself.


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Back in the saddle, Hodgedude makes his return

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By Harry Hodge

The whirlwind has slowed, the fog has lifted. Becoming master of my universe has returned my focus to write again.

Accepting a new position in my own end of Saigon was meant to be a stabilizing development, but it’s taken me roughly six weeks to get my head around the transition. My new role entails some quasi-management aspects and I think there is more clarity now than when I started here mid-August. The area that has shown the biggest change has been social life, where both My and I revolve our lives around work and parenting.

If this situation was what I’d be dealing with in my mid-30s, I’d be struggling considerably more. From trying new restaurants to pricey booze brunches, most things are considered frivolous luxuries that bring more guilt than pleasure. My existence isn’t spartan, but my weekends aren’t exactly benders either. Most well-adjusted friends seem to be able to balance the family, work and social components seemingly effortlessly, something I have yet to master.

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From partying to parenting

My mid-30s I was still in party mode, while late 30s “adulting” began to set in, although opportunities for travel and carousing still occurred. Early 40s have been somewhat predictable, save for work. Work is the area where I feel I can handle my business and, as long as revenue is being generated, I’m trusted to make decisions that benefit the household. Eighteen months of circumnavigating the city between multiple jobs was fairly stimulating, although not always ideal.

Taking stock of positives is just as important as acknowledging negatives. Starting at a brand-new school is kind of interesting, since despite being in a somewhat higher position as a coordinator, it’s basically all a clean slate. The pecking order I might have been subjected to at other places, underlying relationships (and rivalries) I parachuted into (notably, my last school) simply don’t seem to be in place here. Even the students are new to us, to each other. I think the people that sat across from me at my last school conversed with me maybe once or twice in an eight-month span, so just for the vibe this place is already a bit more pleasant. Having a minimal commute is also a bonus.

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Energy, balance and caring is sharing

Mid-40s is also a period where I’m learning about how my body changes. I find more white hairs; I don’t shed weight as easily. I bounce back more slowly from alcohol, and probably overdo it with caffeine (coffee). Having two children under five also makes demands when you are hitting this age, along with the added mental dimension of fretting over their well-being, their daily schedules, their futures, etc. My own selfishness has had to take a backseat so that my children get the attention they deserve. Also seeing what I can take from good examples and what to avoid from bad ones.

The last few months also stalled my output in terms of my blogging and side-writing projects. Hoping that this more stable position will bring about a return to form and that more articles are in the works. Onward and upward!

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SAIGON TIMES: ONE Championship fighters pumped ahead of Vietnam debut


Vietnamese-American Bi Nguyen, left, takes on India’s Puja Tomar at ONE: IMMORTAL TRIUMPH Friday night in Ho Chi Minh City. PHOTO: ONE CHAMPIONSHIP

By Harry Hodge

“Let’s get ready to rrrrrrrrrrrrrrumble!”

While professional fight announcer Michael Buffer may not be in town, all other things combat-related will be in the spotlight this Friday in Ho Chi Minh City. Professional fighting promotion ONE Championship (ONE), recently held an open workout at the Hotel Nikko Saigon earlier this week, just days before ONE Championship’s inaugural IMMORTAL TRIUMPH event at Phu Tho Stadium. 

“I’m excited to compete in ONE Super Series,” said Vietnamese-American star Bi Nguyen, known for her appearance on the hit series “Survivor” as well as her prowess in the ring, and faces India’s Puja Tomar this Friday in Muay Thai. “This organization has so much talent, and the opportunities for athletes are endless. One of the biggest reasons why I love being in ONE Championship is because I can fully test my abilities in all areas of fighting. I expect a great performance for the both of us, and the fans happy with the action they get to see. I’m definitely going for the finish if it presents itself!” 

Besides Nguyen, Vietnamese athletes Nguyen Tran Duy Nhat and Nguyen Thanh Tung, as well as Vietnamese-English striker Michael “The Beast from the East” Pham and Vietnamese-Australian Chris Nguyen were also in attendance to promote this debut fight card in the nation’s biggest city. While competitors such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) focus on the promotion of their mixed martial arts (MMA) events, the ONE: IMMORTAL TRIUMPH card will feature single-discipline bouts. Karate will not co-mingle with grappling, and so on. 

“I am so happy and thankful that ONE Championship has finally come to Vietnam, my beloved home country,” said Vietnamese competitor Nguyen Tran Duy Nhat. “For the past few years, it has been my dream to compete in front of my friends and family here in Ho Chi Minh City. I’m laser focused in putting together the best performance of my career this Friday. Hopefully the fans come out and we can rock the stadium.”

Featured bouts include: Nong-O Gaiyanghadao vs. Brice Delval (ONE Super Series Bantamweight Muay Thai World Championship); Saemapetch Fairtex vs. Rafi Bohic (ONE Super Series Muay Thai – bantamweight); Thanonchai SomawangGaiyang vs. Kohei “Momotaro” Kodera (ONE Super Series Muay Thai – flyweight); Amber Kitchen vs. Viktoria Lipianska (ONE Super Series Muay Thai – women’s strawweight); Panpayak Jitmuangnon vs. Masahide Kudo (ONE Super Series kickboxing – flyweight); Michael Pham vs. Mohamad Fakri Bin Yusoff (ONE Super Series Muay Thai – featherweight); Nguyen Tran Duy Nhat vs. Azwan Che Wil (Vietnamese Super Series – flyweight); Nguyen Thanh Tung vs. Shahzaib Rindh (Vietnamese Super Series – featherweight) and more.

ONE Championship (ONE) is the largest global sports media property in Asian history, hosting bouts across all styles of martial arts such as Muay Thai, Kickboxing, Karate, Kung Fu, Silat, Sanda, Lethwei, Mixed Martial Arts, Tae Kwon Do, Submission Grappling, and more. 

Ticket information for ONE: IMMORTAL TRIUMPH is available at For more updates on ONE Championship, please visit, follow us on Twitter and Instagram @ONEChampionship, and like us on Facebook at
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Heat lance Knights for first playoff win



By Harry Hodge

So in 2012, the Hunger Games movie came out. PSY was rocking out with Gangnam Style. And the Saigon Heat begin their ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) journey in Tan Binh District at a rickety stadium near the airport.

No one thought it would take so long for a playoff victory. But better late than never.

This year’s version of the Heat has produced in the regular season better than any other incarnation of the franchise, with a winning record (the team’s first-ever) and a club mark of 14 wins. But fans have longed for something to celebrate in the postseason since the team first clinched a playoff berth with coach Jason Rabedeaux and Tony Garbelotto running the bench and names like David Arnold and Justin Williams keying the attack.

On Wednesday night, the team’s long-suffering fans enjoyed a cathartic moment when the team finally broke through with an 86-81 triumph over the visiting CLS Knights, tying their first-round series at a game apiece with the crucial final match in Indonesia in the coming days.

Sure, the confetti cannons showering the court with 15 seconds left in the game were a tad premature. But don’t tell that to Heat fans, who were also showering praise on American Trevon Hughes as he sank a pair of clutch free throws in a monster second half. The Heat rallied from a 42-38 halftime deficit thanks to Hughes’ 24 points in the second half and 30 for the match, while teammate Kyle Barone made some key plays including a clutch three-pointer with under two minutes remaining in a tight affair.

Former Heat star Maxie Esho notched a double double with 21 points and 11 rebounds, while regional stars Brandon Jawato and Wong Wei Long also registered double digits in points in the losing effort.

“(I’m proud) to be part of representing Vietnam,” said American Deangelo Hamilton, who registered 13 points after joining the team when Canadian forward Murphy Burnatowski left the team with a handful of games remaining to return to North America. “You don’t get that many opportunities in your career (to be part of a historic win).”

With upsets and surprises marking this year’s playoffs in the ABL, Hamilton noted it was any team’s opportunity to step up and steal a win.

“Basketball is a game of runs,” he said, with a final chance to make believers of the ASEAN basketball scene coming in the team’s crucial decider this weekend in Indonesia.

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Managing? Or Man Aging? Surviving a heavy workload in your mid-40s

silver and gold coins

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By Harry Hodge

Teaching is the sort of job where an off day is murder. When a class goes sideways, the students start to murmur and rustle, the ship starts to take on water. You come in unprepared, or even sometimes prepared, and an activity might not go the way you saw. No teacher has ever had a perfect record – there’s always an activity that went down like a lead balloon somewhere in your educational closet.

Add different layers to this. Working multiple locations or companies. Commuting to and from them, especially on a motorbike in a place like Saigon. And compound all of it with a fact you’ve been trying to avoid admitting to for years: You’re getting older.

So how to survive the schedule? Mercifully I only need to do so for the next couple of months, after which I foresee returning to full-time employment at one of my current workplaces. But now as I turn 44 in July, the energy and motivation with which I used to attack the schedule is showing signs of waning. That point in life where you wonder how much longer you see the same routine being acceptable or if something needs to change. Here are what I see as the main obstacles and how to counter them (in my case).

person wearing pair of black hiking shoes lying on orange and gray hammock

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Every job has an opportunity where you “phone it in.” Even a player in the NBA can dog it on defence and watch someone blow by him, which often leads to being cut unless you’re LeBron or KD. Here’s the lesson I’ve done a thousand times, how to keep it fresh? Shopping in a supermarket. Asking for directions. Ordering a pizza over the phone.

The key is to remember it’s YOUR 1,000th time, but for the students, it’s their first (often). I’m still mystified when I teach the “airport” lesson in Vietnam, only to discover many students have NEVER GONE TO THE AIRPORT. You also know which parts can work, or not, based on previous experience. From that standpoint, experience has gotten me through a number of sticky classes simply based on mistakes I committed the first go-round.

All to say, even when energy levels aren’t at their peak, veteran savvy may save the day. But it’s best not to rely on this.

battery charging device display

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Turning 40 was eye-opening. Metabolism slows, hair changes colour, a variety of things take place. Teaching little kids becomes tougher as you get more sluggish. Even more so driving in muggy Saigon weather on a motorbike in rush hour, on rutted roads, sometimes 40-50 kilometers a day. In a car in North America, it’s no big deal. But in Vietnam it’s hard driving. You really start to feel it in your back, especially if you’ve been doing it for a few years (four, in my case).

That fatigue can carry over to your time off, where you just want to laze around when you get a free minute. This is an area you must show some discipline. Try to still go running before work, as often as possible. Get the missus to work on your back every now and then. I’d love to say I do yoga and drink healthy smoothies, but really I still cling to the odd cocktail and only do basic stretching. Longevity requires some form of plan, and this is an area I am looking into.

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For my inner curmudgeon, this can be a bigger struggle than the others. It’s easy to dwell on stuff that makes you crazy: This city is too hectic, my employers keep pulling trapdoors from under me, my students are lazy, whatever. Being the victim is the simplest narrative.

But if you stop and look around every now and then, reasoning why you’re doing all this work can bail you out. I have a lovely wife, two beautiful kids. Land. Condo. No snow. All of this was not even on my radar in Canada. I have so much to be thankful for. I got cut loose from a newspaper with TWO WEEKS severance. For real? I turned things around and I deserve a pat on the back. And if no one will do that for me, I’ll do my own.

Keeping up a hectic schedule for years and years on end is unwise, but if you know you just have to suck it up and get sh#t done, try and remember the point of it all and attack that mountain of work with a smile (and the odd latte).

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Tet à Tet: Reflecting before the Year of the Pig

pink paper origami

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By Harry Hodge

One thing about the holidays in Vietnam: You always have a lot of free time.

Gyms are closed. Coffee shops closed. Hotels and flights are all booked. Your kids’ daycare is closed. You may as well try to relax because… What else is there?

Since New Year in the West is typically a day off, two weeks seems to me like an eternity every year. Why so long? I used to get frustrated and angry about it, but no point in getting upset, since there’s nothing I can do about it.

This year, I feared I’d be watching my kids solo for two weeks with my wife working at the hotel. Once they saw they’d be paying a manager double salary through the holidays, they scrapped her remaining days. This was good as I’d not be solo for two full weeks (it has been a week already, though) but bad they decided to do it so late it’s difficult to really go anywhere.

Staycation it is.


Reflection time and looking ahead

I had a few things that ended up disappointing me in 2018 and I just rolled with them, knowing good things would be happening as well. Canada for the first time in four years was a high point. Some minor things like a longstanding book deal being squashed became an annoyance, but it had been pushed so far back it seemed inevitable anyway.

As the (Lunar) New Year was drawing to a close, a new business opportunity has presented itself. I’ll provide more detail on that one when it becomes more concrete, but it could change my day-to-day drastically. Last year was about me proving to myself I could still make a buck and not be tied to any one employer, in so doing having more free time for other pursuits without taking a major financial hit. That calculation didn’t include all the driving I had to do, of course. It’s a work in progress.

Hopefully this year, I can make use of this flexibility and work on the new opportunity before me. I’m also going back to a former employer, Ton Duc Thang University, so as to be a short drive from my place two days a week, half the distance as was on my previous schedule.

Avoiding the trolls

I’m trying to make my time online more practical when possible, and not get myself drawn into useless arguments with keyboard warriors I’m unlikely to ever meet in person. I’ve taken myself off pages that trigger me, and generally give Twitter a miss these days anyway.

Being physically present with my children when I play with them is increasingly important as they become more aware of day-to-day things, so this past year of spending much more time with them has helped our relationship. They’re both getting pretty quick on their mini-scooters, and are super-inquisitive. Questions, questions, questions.

I turn 44 this year, and can see my window to generate revenue starting to narrow. For some people, they’d say that their working days are half-over. Making a decent profit off a recent land sale was exciting, although I still find real estate transactions ridiculously old school in Vietnam. But money’s money; even if you have to drive with 40 large in cash through the dark in the Vietnamese countryside!

Positivity. Streamline stresses and commutes. Avoiding triggers. Showing some gumption and taking some risks, and worrying about the outcome later.

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