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Canadian blogger develops loyal following in Vietnam

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• 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.

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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.

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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.]