Apart from established and fledgling contemporary art venues, Ho Chi Minh City is now also home to several groups that have organized charitable, community events and run free or low-tuition art classes at the same time.
In recent years, several creative art hubs have popped up in the southern economic hub and secured a firm foothold among the local youth and expats alike.
Among them are Saigon Outcast, Zero Station and Nha Ga 3A (Station 3A), just to name but a few.
These venues are typically comprised of galleries, studios, clothing shops, and cafés.
They offer a wide array of street art and fashion activities, performances, sports, games, and flea markets.
One of the new additions to the burgeoning entertainment options for young Vietnamese and expats in the southern hub is En Dee Complex, located in the outlying district of Nha Be.
The venue is invariably teeming with commotion and laughter as expectant crowds of spectators gather around performers of skateboarding, hip-hop, and fixed-gear and off-road bike riding.
Jim Clark, a U.S. tourist, who showed off his skateboarding maneuvers at En Dee one day, expressed his delight at the place, which was recommended to him by his friends.
Nguyen Duc, 28, founder of En Dee, revealed during his stay in Australia, he was amazed seeing young Aussies skateboarding with great ease on streets there, while it is quite dangerous to do so in Vietnam.
Going back to his country, Duc set up En Dee in January this year.
With admission charges at VND35,000 (US$1.5), the complex provides lush greenery and shade under which book enthusiasts or students revising for exams can retreat to all day long.
Youths eager to hone their English speaking skills with foreigners find ample opportunities to do so at En Dee, particularly on “English day,” which is organized from time to time there.
Free catwalking, make-up, art classes
Nguyen The Anh, 27, leader of charity group La Den, runs a free catwalking class every Sunday.
The class, which lasts two hours, has gathered over 20 long-legged youngsters who cherish dreams of shining on the catwalk someday.
Some participants, such as 22-year-old Nguyen Thi Van, take the class simply to fix their walking gait and bolster their confidence when being around in public.
La Den has also offered make-up classes since March this year.
Students gather every Wednesday at an instructor’s home in Phu Nhuan District. The instructor also offers cosmetics if her students fail to bring their own.
Only after a few sessions, participants have grasped basic make-up skills before advancing to more sophisticated styles.
Anh, the La Den founder, has recently decided to organize acting classes on Saturdays and Sundays, which are a big draw to cinephiles and acting buffs who cannot afford a formal education at cinematography schools.
The classes, taught by seasoned artists, cost around VND500,000 ($22) per month.
In addition to such classes, members of the La Den group are active in their main work – holding charitable events.
They visit child patients at the Ho Chi Minh City Oncology Hospital on a weekly basis, where they sing, play musical instruments, narrate stories to and make animal-shaped balloons for the kids, who crave fun, love and attention as a remedy to their battle against cancer.
The group’s activities have aroused interest among netizens who contribute clothes, confectionary and books.
Its members also organize charity trips to provinces that neighbor Ho Chi Minh City such as Binh Phuoc and Dong Nai.
Likewise, Hoi Am Sai Gon (Saigon Warmth), with a current membership of around 100, has also been a household name among local charity doers.
Its 25-year-old founder, Huynh Le Tuan, and members usually travel to remote areas and look for disadvantaged people before posting their heartrending stories and photos onto social networks and summoning support from the online community.
Trai Tim Yeu Thuong (Loving Hearts), led by 36-year-old Le Truong Thanh Tien since 2009, currently boasts 50 standing members and over 600 volunteers across the country.
The members are gearing up for a program in which they will perform music and art and hand away gifts to approximately 500 underprivileged children residing in a district in the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai in celebration of this year’s Mid-Autumn Festival, which falls on September 27.
“We use social networks to rally financial support for our needy recipients, but always make a point of earning our own income to feed our charitable activities. We also cover trip expenses with our own money,” divulged Pham Van Tien, a member of the management of the Nang Am Yeu Thuong (Warm Sunshine) Club.