In the country’s most crowded city, Ho Chi Minh City, it is not difficult to see groups of teenagers skateboarding or rollerblading on streets or sidewalks and playing tricking at parks.
One influence that urges young Vietnamese to play street sports from Western countries like skateboarding or rollerblading is music and movies from those nations.
High schooler Tuan Anh, who usually practices skateboarding at Gia Dinh Park in Phu Nhuan District, said that he came to the sport out of his admiration for Canadian pop star Justin Bieber, who often skateboards in his music videos.
Large spaces in the downtown area like the Nguyen Hue pedestrian street, 23/9 Park and Le Duan Boulevard have been picked by these dynamic kids as areas to perform what they have been inspired to do.
Meanwhile, 11th grader Nguyen Pham Ngoc Mai, head of the skateboarding group named Cruiser Team, has another reason for skateboarding.
Mai said that the group members learn to skate because they cannot afford vehicles to travel around the city.
The crowded streets in Ho Chi Minh City may tire many riders and drivers, but they seem to have not been able to make these young skaters hesitate to use their “alternative vehicles.”
“We only use our skateboards when hanging out,” 9th grader Nguyen My Phi Anh, a member of Cruiser Team, explained.
“We skate on smooth and empty surfaces in the downtown area or at parks and still walk on tough-surfaced roads.
“The boards are very lightweight so it’s not a big deal to carry them and walk.”
Although it was established just around three months ago, Cruiser Team has attracted many members, around 600 people, the majority of whom are high school students.
Every day about 20-40 members gather on the Nguyen Hue pedestrian street in District 1 for practice.
However, skaters should not forget the law while playing their favorite sports, Cruiser Team members said.
A leader of the Railway and Road Traffic Police Bureau under the Ho Chi Minh City Police Department said playing sports illegally on streets, including skateboarding and rollerblading on the surfaces on which vehicles travel, could result in a fine.
The bureau advises that people traveling on streets must abide by traffic regulations to ensure safety for themselves and others.
Martial arts for retreat
Contrary to the vibrant image of people who play sports from the West, sports from Japan seem to be calmer, and players are also a bit older.
While judo and aikido are quite familiar to Vietnamese people, kendo has recently become a breath of fresh air of another kind of modern Japanese martial arts.
Kendo is an activity that combines martial arts practices and values with strenuous sport-like physical moves, according to Wikipedia. Players use bamboo swords and protective armor while performing.
Le Hong Phong Kendo Club in District 5 has become a familiar spot for people who love the Japanese sport to come and practice every day.
Established five years ago, the club has increased the number of its participants from five or six to more than 60.
Huy Khoi, a student from the University of Economics Ho Chi Minh City, said he has practiced kendo for half a year.
“I learn kendo partly because I love Japanese culture,” Huy revealed. “After a hard day of working and studying, Japanese-style retreat practicing rooms help ease my stress.”
But calling these rooms quiet is a mistake, as they are always full of screams.
Tran Tuan, a leading swordsman of the club, explained that screaming reflects the spirit of Japanese samurai in the past when they were at war.
“We love the screams also because they can help us alleviate stress,” Tuan added. “At first I came to kendo for my love of Japanese culture, the armor and kendo schools I know via Japanese manga.”
“But the more I practice kendo, the more I feel it is suitable to lift the stress I suffer after a working day,” he said.
Learners are required to clean their practice place, making sure their swords and armor are well-organized before starting to practice.
Other kendo clubs in the city, including Tinh Vo Club in District 5, the club at the District 10’s Children House, and Phong Kiem Kendo Club in District 10, have at least 20-30 kendo learners each, proving the sport has become better and better known among local youths.
Another sport which is related to martial arts is tricking.
It combines martial arts like taekwondo, wushu, karate and gymnastics, as well as dance moves and styles from breakdancing.
Anh Khoa, a tricking player in Ho Chi Minh City, said he took up the sport because he was fascinated by the eye-catching and vibrant performances he saw on the Internet.
Tricking practicing rooms have been set up in the city to meet the demand of a number of the sport lovers.
Tran Toan Huy Duy, head of a tricking group in Ho Chi Minh City, said his team includes around 200 members, and their practice space is the District 10 Sports Center.
Price also matters
One obvious factor that helps these sports conquer young people is their low cost.
Skateboarding does not require people to go to school to learn how to play, and a skateboard costs only about VND500,000 (US$23), even cheaper than a brand-new bicycle.
Meanwhile, the fee for studying kendo at Le Hong Phong Kendo Club is around VND150,000 to VND200,000 per month, equaling the fee for a tricking class.