A Canadian ex-pat living in Hanoi began blogging in Vietnamese to improve his vocabulary. It turned him into a national sensation.
• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.
Joe Ruelle didn’t intend to become famous. In 2006, four years after moving to the Vietnamese capital, the Canadian started a Vietnamese blog as a way to build his vocabulary. By the following year, his blog had attracted 3 million hits.
Now Mr. Ruelle’s blog posts are syndicated on the official Vietnamese online news site Dan Tri, and the literary dynamo may be Vietnam’s most famous Western personality. Nicknamed “Joe Tay” – Dâu Tây in Vietnamese, which translates roughly to “strawberry” and “foreigner” – he writes a column for a Vietnamese fashion magazine and has hosted a variety show on national television. Although Facebook is officially banned here, Vietnamese-language posts on Ruelle’s Facebook page regularly attract hundreds of comments.
On his Vietnamese blog, the 31-year-old makes wry observations on life in this communist Southeast Asian nation. For example, a recent post proposed that Vietnam build a “slow train,” mocking the government’s failed attempt to develop high-speed rail service.
“He really inspires Vietnamese readers,” said Hoang Thuy Chung, a reporter at the official Vietnamese online newspaper VietNamNet. “They are surprised to see a foreigner blogging about them in a very understandable and surprisingly true way. He can shock readers into thinking, ‘He knows so much about us! He understands us better than we know ourselves!’ ”
[Editor's note: The original version of this article misstated the age of Joe Ruelle.]