“For us, the most valuable thing when it comes to being a host on Vibeji is the opportunity to interact closely with the participants. The interaction here is not simply from one side; we share our knowledge and experience with them, and in return, they inspire us to be more motivated in pursuing our passion,” Nguyen Minh Nam shares with us.
Minh Nam is one of three people we met, along with Mike Hoang and Mun Lam. Minh Nam is an illustrator, graphic designer and founder of The Elephant Drawing Project. Mike Hoang is an enthusiast in Vietnam’s emerging cigar culture. He’s also the founder of Dr. Burger. And Mun Lam is a tarot card reader, helping curious souls understand a bit more about themselves. All three of them share one common interest: they’re all hosts on Vibeji, a platform that allows them to share their passion and skills with their peers.
How did you find your passion? And what motivated you to pursue this passion?
Minh Nam: At university, I studied architecture. After graduating, instead of pursuing industry-related jobs, I dedicated most of my time participating in community projects. I started The Elephant Drawing Project after I became friends with an art teacher from the UK.
While getting to know the way the art teacher worked, I realized that there are many approaches to drawing that are different from what I know. For the teacher, drawing helps to soothe the mind and bring people closer together. Convinced by this approach, I decided to pursue a similar path. It’s now been three years that I’ve invested into this community led approach to drawing.
Mike Hoàng: I used to live and work in Thailand for five years. During this time, I got to learn and admire so much of the lifestyle that’s not commonly seen in Vietnam. Specifically, I got to learn a lot about cigars. To date, it’s become one of my most favorite pastimes.
Before getting to know cigars, I first learned about pipe smoking. To me, the image of a suave European gentleman delving into every page of a book under the smoke drifting from the pipe is beautiful. After that, I turned to find out more about cigars. From the very first moments, I already felt the chemistry between myself and the lifestyle behind the cigars — a lifestyle full of liberty and freedom. This was when I decided to embark on the quest to share the influence of this culture to more people.
Mun Lam: Tarot and astrology for me began as a hobby. After a few months of researching, I became more passionate about the scientific yet novel approach that tarot and astrology offers to simple life perspectives. The more I understood about it, the more I become interested in it.
At the beginning, tarot was a way for me to get closer to the inner world of my loved ones in addition to serving as topics for my writing. Then, it slowly and unknowingly became presented itself as a career. It’s now been five years since I discovered my interest in tarot.
Why share your passions and interests with more people?
Minh Nam: Drawing is often portrayed as a gifted discipline that creates eye candy-type of finished products. However, when I took the time to experiment with drawing as meditation for myself, I’ve begun to realize its impact.
Drawing gives people the opportunity to reflect on themselves and to create positive inner values that are often forgotten by the usual hustle and bustle of life. It helps to balance stress and mental pressure, helping people open up to one another.
Mike Hoang: In Vietnam, cigars are often considered a hobby for ‘rich people’ – as if for show. However, in my opinion, it is somewhat misidentified. Cigar is simply a pastime hobby for anyone who loves it.
When you make a cigar, you are giving yourself a space to think and enjoy moments of inner introspection. It’s definitely a completely different experience from smoking a few nicotine-filled cigarettes in a hurry just to quickly wake yourself up. Moreover, cigars are also made from natural ingredients. It’s not as harmful to your health. Besides breaking the prejudice, I hope that everyone can see the special values that are worth exploring in Vietnam’s growing cigar culture.
Mun Lam: For me, I wish to build a destination where people can look back and understand the problems that they have been going through. From there, they can freely release negative emotions that have been hidden inside and create a space to welcome positive energy.
My target audience is young professionals. Because in them, I see a more cases of loneliness and tension. Rather than solve those issues, many millennials tend to just brush things off. For me, that isn’t a thorough and effective solution.
How did Vibeji help you reach your community?
Minh Nam: Vibeji introduced me to many young people with diverse backgrounds and personalities. Many people coming through from Vibeji join with the intention to have fun. Most of the Vibeji community bring a completely different type of energy to us.
As a host, I always have to be flexible in leading everyone so that we’re all ready to open up to each other. While more difficult, it’s helped me build skills for myself. Above all, engaging with more people is a long-term goal that Vibeji helps my team reach.
After 3 months of starting out, the Vibeji team has always supported me in preparing the program in a strategic and methodical manner so that we can present to participants clearly and effectively.
Mike Hoang: My journey to reach Vibeji before was a bit more challenging, as smoking in any form is not seen positively. The two biggest obstacles I still face are: 1) how to change a person who has never smoked to change their preconceived notions; and 2) how to convince long-time smokers to understand that this is a different experience. Cigar or pipe smoking is quite complicated. From cleaning, storing to accompanying accessories – as well as being more expensive with prices ranging from several hundred thousand to several million dong.
Thanks to Vibeji, the journey to find and expand my community has become much easier. Just from the brief introductory information prepared by Vibeji, people already have some preliminary understanding even before joining.
Mun Lam: I loved the idea of Vibeji ever since I first heard of this platform. So far, in Vietnam, I have never seen a platform that focuses on and cares about experiences for young people.
With Vibeji, I have the opportunity to share with both Vietnamese and foreigners who have similar lifestyles, but also slightly different mindsets. Although tarot is a familiar concept to the world and doesn’t necessarily have anything specific to Vietnam, this type of programming can still be a new and accessible experience that attracts foreign visitors when coming to Vietnam.
What can participants expect from your experience?
Minh Nam: My “Vibe” doesn’t encourage drawing existing pictures. The whole experience requires people to draw out their memories and moments that make them happy. There was a participant who happily shared that: “Here everyone will be “drawing from within me!” Holding the pen to draw will make people feel more familiar and much closer to each other.
Mike Hoang: It’s a comfortable and friendly experience. In my activities, everyone can learn and understand about the culture and lifestyle that relates to cigars. It’s not necessary to immediately jump into smoking everything right away; everyone will get to hear the stories behind each cigar, from the history of formation to a typical lifestyle that is maintained to this day.
Mun Lam: After finishing the conversation, whether by having a tarot-reading session or not, I believe everyone will feel more at ease.
Please share a memorable experience as a Vibeji host.
Minh Nam: It was during a “vibe” session called “With my lover” that I organized with the theme of interactive painting. A group of two or more will complete a picture together. To my surprise, during that “vibe,” a participant boldly confessed his feelings by drawing pictures and symbols that hinted at the other person’s name. That moment has given so much meaning to me and my work. This is because I felt like I can bring a space where everyone, whether stranger or friend, can live and share with each other the good things in life.
Mike Hoang: I was very lucky to have met a very interesting friend. As a non-alcoholic drinker, he was concerned it would impact his cigar experience. For many, cigars and alcohol, especially whiskey, is considered an inseparable combination. At that time, I let him know that smoking a cigar is a personal pleasure. There is no rule that can dictate the experience. If you don’t drink alcohol, you can even replace it with a cappuccino.
Coincidentally, coffee is his forte. For him, I was the one who helped share the cigar experience. For me, he’s the person who was able to share knowledge about coffee that I have never heard of before.
Mun Lam: Through the Vibeji experience, I met my Singaporean friend. In a conversation that lasted more than 2 hours, she shared with me about some of the challenges going on in her life. As someone who looked beyond her 50s and through the way she shared her stories, perhaps in that moment she needed much less support and much more of just someone to listen to her. It was an unexpected surprise during that session for me to learn so much from her. Looking back on that day, I don’t know if I helped her or if it was she who helped me. Although I don’t usually keep in touch with the Vibeji guests, I really hope to see her again.
Finally, could you share some of the things you’re planning to add to or improve on the experiences you host on Vibeji?
Minh Nam: I’m planning to build a picnic “vibe” for families. The purpose of this activity is to close the gap between family members. I’m hoping that the friendly atmosphere will help people become more open to each other. The venue can be a combination of indoors and outdoors that takes place during the day or even overnight.
Mike Hoàng: I plan to organize a program inspired by what 80 and 90 year olds do when they gather with their friends. At the river bank, under the sunset, everyone can enjoy cigars while dancing to disco and funk. In addition, our Dr. Burger burger truck will be located there for people to experience making burgers themselves. I’m on track to finish sometime in 2020.
Mun Lâm: Vibeji and I hope to host a program with about 5-6 people participating at the same time instead of 1:1 as of now. I’m preparing this plan and hope to implement it soon.