Flavors of the Mekong

By James

Gems must be on my mind because the colorful fruits along the Mekong provide subtle reminders of the multi-colored sapphires and diamonds embedded in gold bangles back at the studio.

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In this instance, I’m admiring a woven basket holding bright red dragon fruit and yellow mango aboard our boat rounding Tân Phong island. Nina breaks open the scaly, layered folds of the dragon fruit to reveal a delicate white flesh studded with black seeds. The texture and flavor is much less dramatic than its appearance, reminiscent of a kiwi fruit. This contrasts with the meaty flavor of yesterday’s jack fruit. Meaty, really? Surprisingly, jack fruit is a hearty carnitas substitute for the vegan taco-lover.

Of course, the Mekong Delta offers much more than just tropical fruit. An early morning walk to the market at Hoà Ninh reveals the raw bounty of the region, especially the seafood or I should say riverfood. Bags of dried shrimp sit alongside buckets of live fish, eels, snakes, and frogs at the waterfront. Avoiding a catfish leaping from a bucket, I move to wander through the less animated stalls of produce, baked goods, and household items.

Heading back to our homestay, we watch a busy couple deliver blocks of ice by boat, reminding me of ca phe sua da back at the homestay. A day on the Mekong (really, any day in Vietnam) is not complete until a delicious iced coffee with milk is at hand. Vietnamese coffee is very dark, strong, and bitter so the condensed milk and ice create the perfect balance.

Packed up and back on the river, we enjoy snacks of coconut-sweetened tapioca with sticky rice wrapped in green banana leaves and jasmine green tea as we head to the homes of artisans scattered throughout the region.

In the next post, I’ll share more about how the women we meet create both practical and beautiful items with local materials like water hyacinth and nipa palm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lapis – Pantone Color Spring 2017

Pantone chose lapis and so did Nina Nguyen Designs!

Pantone Spring 2017 – Lapis Blue

Pantone has selected their colors for Spring 2017 and I’m thrilled about the color palate, especially as one of them is named Lapis Blue. I’m crazy about Lapis and I’ve been incorporating it into my line for quite some time. I even tried some different shapes of this mesmerizing blue in my new fine jewelry Heritage Collection.

Lapis Earrings by Nina Nguyen Designs

Nina Nguyen Designs, Spirit Earrings, 14k yellow gold, lapis

Lapis lazuli has long been regarded as the stone of wisdom and truth. It is associated with the Greek Goddess Athena who was notorious for her keen intellect and strategic planning.

Nina Nguyen Designs - Spirit Necklace in Lapis

Lapis – The Stone of Wisdom

The history between humans and lapis dates back to 6,500 B.C. when enthusiasts would travel over treacherous mountain terrain to secure some of this deep dark blue. Back in the day Lapis was prized as much as turquoise and sapphire. Not only was it used in jewelry, but it was also crushed up and used for medicinal purposes. Additionally, it’s been known to be used as a cosmetic!

Lapis Necklace by Nina Nguyen Designs

Nina Nguyen Designs, Heritage Necklette, 14k yellow gold, lapis

Folklore also tells us that lapis lazuli was a powerful talisman that purified the soul.  The Egyptians were rumored to crush up lapis and gold to make a mask placed on the forehead said to remove demons as it dried. I find it so fascinating that gemstones had such significant meaning in ancient times.

Nina Nguyen Designs - Lapis Spirit Ring

Nina Nguyen Designs, Spirit Ring, sterling silver, lapis

This stunning stone is roughly associated with the astrological sign Sagittarius, but any sign can rock this stone. I’m not sure I believe the hype, so instead of crushing them for medicine or make-up I will wrap my harmony lapis necklette around my wrist on days I need a pick me up! Gemstones have a mystery and power all their own that we may never truly understand.

Lapis Bracelet by Nina Nguyen Designs

Nina Nguyen Designs, Heirloom Bracelet, 22k vermeil, lapis

Nina’s Travels – Mui Ne

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Mui Ne Sunset

As most of you already know, all of my work is hand-crafted in beautiful Vietnam, my birthplace.  I have an office in Denver, CO and all of my jewelry is hand-made in Saigon.  I split half of my year in the states and half of the year in Vietnam.  I absolutely love to travel and find myself creatively inspired on all of my journeys.  This recent excursion was no exception.  While in Saigon I decided to treat myself to a quick weekend getaway in the gorgeous beach town of Mui Ne.

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Mui Ne Sand Dunes

Fifteen years ago Mui Ne was just a small, sleepy fishy town that was barely a blip on the map with only 25,000 residents.  Today it is a bustling resort town where you can find tourists swimming, surfing, sun-bathing, or shopping.  Kite surfing has recently become an avid pastime as well.  It’s been on my bucket list for a while and I’m so happy I made the trek out there last month.  Three hours and $6 (USD) on the bus will bring you this gorgeous stretch of beach, only 10 kilometers long.

 

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Crystal clear waters of Mui Ne

I went with one of my dear friends and our hotel was $20 (USD) or only $10 each!  That is the part I love about traveling in my home country, the cost of living is a dream.  Our hotel was super cute, low key, yet posh and situated right on the beach.  We also made sure to hit up Joe’s, The Art Café, a surfside restaurant that is the only establishment in town that stays open all year.  They have live music every evening.  It’s a perfect ending to a magical day, sitting outside slowly sipping on a beer while the sounds of crashing waves can be heard softly in the background to some chill local tunes.

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Kite surfing in Mui Ne

If you ever make it out this way, I highly recommend checking out The Fairy Stream.  This low water level stream has a soft current that allows for an adventure of discovery at any pace you choose.  You’ll find toddlers stop to stare and play in tidal pools, teenagers swimming, lovebirds sitting on a rock with their feet dangling in the water, but most of all you’ll find the peace and serenity you’ve been searching for.

 

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Calm, peaceful beach of Mui Ne

During this last excursion I felt a tremendous amount of pride for my country.  While I’m a dual citizen, it’s the heartbeat of Vietnam that stirs me and always offers tons of creative ideas.  I’m extremely proud of my Heirloom Collection which is a celebration of my heritage and hopefully embraces the beauty and magic of all lands far away.

 

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Nina Nguyen Designs, Heritage Collection