Loa, which means megaphone or loudspeaker in Vietnamese, is a podcast dedicated to stories about Vietnam that are rarely seen in the mainstream media. A project of the Viet Tan reform party (an outlawed organization in Vietnam), Loa provides alternative perspectives not just about politics but also Vietnamese culture and trending topics in the country today.
In an interview with Global Voices, Loa editors explained that their goal is to promote a greater understanding of the Vietnamese way of life:
Loa seeks to explore the ideas and stories that shape Vietnam today. We amplify the voices you often don't hear and broadcast the perspectives you haven’t heard. We're trying to cover the gap of stories that mainstream and state media does not cover.
Trinh Nguyen, one of Loa‘s editor, explained that the podcasts are getting positive reviews in Vietnam, despite the fact that the country's communist authorities consider Viet Tan, which initiated the online project, to be a “reactionary organization.”
People from Vietnam actually make up 60 percent of our listenership and 80 percent of our likes on Facebook. We know that these stories are reaching Vietnam. We frequently get requests to cover a certain story or angle. Our listeners are very supportive of our work. They're also pushing us to do better and cover more stories.
Perhaps one reason why it’s easy to appreciate Loa is the clear, concise, and creative presentation of topics about unique aspects of Vietnamese living. The favorite of this author is the “Vietnamism” segment that features stories about Vietnamese arts and culture. One of these segments, for instance, teaches non-Vietnamese people how to pronounce Vietnamese names like Bích or Phúc (which, as you know, if you're reading this, resemble obscenities in English).
Another show is by Quyên Ngô, who explains the terms of address in Vietnam:
If that person is around your older sibling’s age, call them anh or chị. For addressing males, if they are younger than your father (or about the same age) you can call them anh or chú. If they are older than your father, call them bác. If a woman is a bit younger or older than your mom, call them chị or cô (only call them bác if they are much older than your mom).
Tiến Nguyễn discusses Tiết Canh, the Vietnamese pizza whose main ingredient is duck blood:
If you are a fan of pizza, you should try this type of “Vietnamese pizza” called tiết canh. Its ingredients include peanuts, coriander leaves, fish sauce, lime, and the main ingredient: duck’s blood. Here’s an important foodie tip: the blood has to be fresh! The dish is considered ready to eat when the blood is congealed, the color is still red, and when you lift it with a spoon the duck blood stays solid.
A show narrated by Nam-An Đinh shares the story of the cat that replaced the rabbit in the Vietnamese zodiac. Stella Trần, meanwhile, reveals the stories behind the mysterious numbers in many Pho restaurants in the United States:
Phở 54, Phở 75, Phở 79…. they are not just numbers to denote a sequence of stores, but usually come with a special meaning. Whether it’s to honor a memory, to reflect history, or to bring a bit of Việt Nam’s past to the places we go, it’s a legacy the Vietnamese diaspora serves up daily.
The podcasts are not just entertaining—they are also informative about the current struggles of many groups in Vietnam, such as the campaigns against environmental plunder, and in favor of LGBT rights, as well as efforts to publicize how the state persecutes and detains dissident bloggers. One podcast educates listeners about the background of the popular prison song, “Return to My People.”
As Internet use expands in Vietnam, the role of alternative websites like Loa grows as more people seek greater information about what’s happening in the country and aroundthe world. A recent Loa podcast discussed the impact of social media on local politics and the media landscape in Vietnam:
In Việt Nam, social media has definitely pushed mainstream media to be more responsive to issues that are politically sensitive. Often times, state media has picked up stories that began online. For state media, there are certain no-go areas: human rights, reporting on political dissent or popular movements.