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Blogging boom provides alternative to Vietnamese media

From discussions about Angelina Jolie and the meaning of life to politicians sharing insights into their work, bloggers are fast changing the face of Vietnam

By Frank Zeller  /  AFP , HANOI

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, right, and his wife wave during a visit to the ASEAN Secretariat building in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Aug. 9.


Pop stars are doing it, so are millions of teenagers and even Communist Party politicians -- blogging has taken Vietnam by storm and spawned an alternative communications universe to dusty state media.

In an online phenomenon that has exploded in a little over a year in this youthful and booming nation, millions of net surfers now reveal all as they share daily gossip and thoughts on their fast-changing society.

Vietnam may be a one-party state that censors its official media and the Internet, but this has not stopped millions of yong people embracing a world of carefree online chatting their parents could only have dreamed off.

"Blogs were nothing two years ago and suddenly everybody's got one," said 28-year-old Canadian expatriate Joe Ruelle, a celebrity in the local blogosphere.

"The number of people who have blogs is baffling," he said. "It's kind of like the Wild West right now. People write everything."

When Hollywood star Angelina Jolie came to adopt a child here in March, in a visit celebrated by state media, bloggers hotly debated the merits of her trip -- and whether she really is the world's most beautiful woman.

When Vietnam hosted world leaders for the APEC summit last year, student volunteers and state-paid staff provided behind-the-scenes looks at the event.

Bloggers have fought wars over the cultural divide between Vietnam's north and south, but they have also raised funds for the needy, arranged organ donations and given support to people suffering deadly diseases.

Blogger Cuoi HK, aka Tuyen, a Vietnam Airlines employee, touched thousands as he chronicled his fight against cancer on a blog and supporters held real-life "offline parties" for him before he died earlier this year.

"I read your blog to learn how to live and fight," blogger Phuong Thanh wrote. "Thanks for your smile. I know you will be with us forever."

Pop stars such as Phuong Linh use blogs to share details of their daily lives, and unknowns such as blogger Ha Kin have become minor Internet stars through blogs such as her 50-part "Love Story in New York."

National assembly deputy Duong Trung Quoc, a prominent historian, recently became the legislature's first blogger, posting an assembly diary as well as historical tit-bits about the 1,000-year-old capital city.

Even Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has shared details of his personal life in a one-off online chat to reach out to young and tech-savvy citizens.

"Some people said that as a senior leader, one may feel very lonely," Dung wrote. "But I have never felt lonely. I don't know what other people think, but I feel life is always beautiful."

Vietnam's rulers have also been parodied in fake blogs using their names, in which unknown writers have sung the praises of the Communist Party -- leading the government in August to affirm that Dung has only one official Web site.

But for the most part, it is youngsters who have pioneered the form, usually with non-political chit-chat.

Phan Kim Ngan, a 13-year-old student from Hanoi, said at least half her 40 classmates now have a blog. Some even have two.

"Those who don't have blogs are mostly those without a PC and an Internet connection at home," she said. "They can use an Internet cafe, but that makes it harder to regularly update their blogs.

"I write about my life, what I think and what happens at school. I don't share my blog with my parents and never with my teachers. We sometimes complain about them, so they can't know about our entries."

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