Flying high in dragon and fairy land

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"I have spent my whole youth on studying Vietnamese culture," Daria Mishukova said.

The statement made headlines in several newspapers, but the 34-year-old Russian author was not being overly dramatic when she said it last month at the launch of the Vietnamese edition of her book Viet Nam Dat nuoc con Rong chau Tien (Vietnam - the Land of Dragons and Fairies).

Widely used by Russian visitors as their guide to the country, the book is proof that Mishukova has been a diligent, perceptive observer of Vietnamese culture.

First published in Russian in 2007, the book covers almost every aspect of Vietnam from its geographic and climate conditions to traditional customs and historical relic sites.

Based on real experiences gained during frequent visits to Vietnam, the book also shows that she has been able to understand the subtleties of Vietnamese culture, Nguyen Ngoc Binh, former Consul General of Vietnam in Vladivostok City, Russia, was quoted as saying by VnExpress online newspaper.

Another former Consul General of Vietnam in Vladivostok, Prof. Vu Duong Huan, said that when the second edition of the book was published in 2010 during his term of office, he had ordered hundreds of copies to gift to others, but it was impossible to get enough, because it sold out very quickly.

In 2012, Mishukova translated the book into Vietnamese, a language that she has learned since 1995.

In a comment on her book's Vietnamese edition, Prof. Ha Minh Duc, a leading literature critic in Vietnam, said although it aims to be a manual and an informative book, it is written as beautifully as a work of literature.

Mishukova said she had aimed to "create an impression" with her book, and the objective has been achieved "200 percent."

The purpose of the Vietnamese edition is to share with Vietnamese readers how to talk about Vietnam in a manner that is attractive to foreigners, to highlight what foreign visitors are interested in and curious about when coming to Vietnam, and more importantly, what aspects of Vietnamese culture can cause misunderstandings if not properly explained, she said.

However, when she originally wrote the book in Russian years ago, "I simply thought that it would be an option for curious people who want to receive new information and turn it into their knowledge in a funny, simple, and easy way," she said.

Not so simple

It might be easy reading for readers, but for Mishukova, the process of acquiring information about Vietnam, turning it into her knowledge and writing about it was not a simple process. 


The Vietnamese edition of Mishukova's book titled Viet Nam - Dat nuoc con Rong chau Tien (Vietnam - the Land of Dragons and Fairies) was published last month. Legend has it that Vietnamese are the descendants of the Hung kings, the first of whom was the eldest son of Lac Long Quan, a dragon, and Au Co, a fairy.

After her high school graduation in 1995, she enrolled in the Vietnamese study department at the Oriental Institute in Vladivostok City, hoping that she would graduate in a rare field, as the department did not receive many students enrolment took place once in every four or five years.

In Russia, graduates from Oriental studies are ranked as high as those in the fields of law, business and diplomacy, she said.

While Vietnamese is written in Roman letters, and thus simpler than other Asian languages, it is not an easy language to master.

She was able to learn to write Vietnamese well, but she was always uncomfortable when speaking it, even after graduation, Mishukova said. 

It was everyday practice as an interpreter with the Vladivostok branch of a HCMC-based food company and regular voluntary work as interpreter for the Vietnamese consulate in the same city that helped her overcome the language barrier.

In 2004, when writing her Phd on Vietnamese linguistics, she started making long trips to Vietnam, going from the north to the south, even up to the high mountains. She met local people, learned about their culture and wrote down what she learned. She compiled this information into three books on the country and wrote many articles for Russian, English and Vietnamese magazines. 

From 2001-2007, Mishukova lectured on Vietnamese culture, business and psychology as Deputy Dean of the Faculty of South East Asian Languages at the Institute of Oriental studies in Vladivostok.

She moved to Vietnam about five years ago to work in the tourism industry, and in 2012, received an award from the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism for promoting Vietnam as an attractive destination in Russian and CIS markets.

Mishukova has just completed a book about Vietnamese money, "looking at Vietnam's culture and history through a specific window pictures carried by its currency notes during the 20th century."

She is now the brand and marketing manager of the Long Beach Pearl Company, and General Manager of its pearl farm and showroom on Phu Quoc Island.

She explained her choice saying it suits her personal tastes and allows her to learn about the world of pearls, one that she finds "beautiful, poetic and meaningful."

Mishukova's next writing project is a book about pearls in Vietnamese culture.

She said it is surprising that when writing about pearls, many Vietnamese writers mostly quote foreign sources like Chinese and Greek stories. Pearls, in fact, are mentioned frequently in Vietnamese folktales and were used as decorations on the hats of kings and officials during the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945), she said.

There is also a "very interesting story" about pearls left by Malay pirates on the Hoang Sa Archipelago during the 16th century that were found by the Japanese and secretly moved to Japan during the World War II, Mishukova said. The Voice of Russia broadcast a program on the issue in February, she said.

 "If you have a chance to study culture, you realize that the deeper you go, the more you realize it has many attractions that cannot be recognized initially."

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