City slicker

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A French Vietnamese artist moves to Ho Chi Minh City to take up advertising. But his heart remains in the jungle.

Truong Trung Dao, a 38-year-old artist, still remembers very well his two opposite childhood worlds in Paris, France.

"At home things were ruled by Vietnamese culture, we had to obey our parents and follow Vietnamese traditions while outside the home I behaved exactly as other young French boys."

He grew up in Paris, but his mother, a former teacher, taught him the Vietnamese language, culture and lifestyle. She also cooked Vietnamese food at home every day.

Dao speaks Vietnamese almost like a native and has a deep insight into Vietnamese culture that many who grow up abroad miss out on.

First contact


Truong Trung Dao (L) and Mr Hoa, the ranger of Cat Tien National Park, get ready for a boat trip in a spring in Cat Tien Park

In 1989, Dao visited Vietnam for the first time with his parents. The natural beauty of the place captivated him.

"I was so amazed by how strong and powerful the tropical forest was outside Da Lat. The French forest is soft and sweet. It can be tough but not as strong and powerful as the tropical forest in Vietnam," says Dao.

In 2001, Dao grabbed the chance to come back to Ho Chi Minh City where he worked in the arts department at the French Consulate until 2002. Back in France until 2005, Dao returned to HCMC once more to open MACs, a creative agency involved in advertising and marketing.

Dao says that he needed to discover his roots, to find a part of himself he felt was missing, and understand where he belongs.

Creation

After working in France as a design artist, Dao says running MACs in Vietnam has provided him with more freedom and opportunity to make decisions and be a leader.

Dao and his agency have been involved in a number of large and small art projects such as film festivals organized by the French embassy, advertising campaigns, branding and providing art direction for shops and cafes in HCMC, Hanoi and Nha Trang.

Dao believes that everybody has the ability to create. But when it comes to the professional field, it becomes real work, not a hobby.

"It is our job to find the prosperous image for prosperous products. It is a tough job and I need to be patient and balance well. And if I wanted a lot of money, I would never have chosen this job," he said.

You are nothing

Though he's busy running a business in the big city, Dao never forgets the real reason he fell in love with Vietnam.

Every 2-4 weeks Dao joins the K1 Jungle Trekking group, run by fellow French expat and former kick-boxing champion David Minetti, for hikes in the Cat Tien National Park, home to a primary forest with 500-year-old trees.

He says this helps balance his busy life in "young and exciting HCMC."

During his trekking trips, Dao crosses streams, follows paths made by wild animals, and stays the night at ranger stations.

Dao said that trekking releases him from the busy life of a city dweller and he learns a lot in the forest. It's the animals that fascinate him most.

Trying to be invisible to observe an animal, he says he feels safe, and learns that the wild is not the scary place it's made out to be.

"There are a lot of surprises in the forest. Sometimes the most dangerous animals are the invisible ones, like the bee. Scarily, in real life, the most dangerous animal is not the one in the forest but human beings.

"In the forest, you cannot change nature, you can only adapt. Because in the forest, you are nothing."

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