Saigon Stories – Thoughts of the Day

American in Vietnam
America in the House!!! Last week one of the biggest socialites in Saigon had his going away party and the theme was to dress like someone from your country. Therefore, I decided to dress as someone from a “Red State” and although my state of Ohio turned out red this time, I think that was simply an irregularity as most people from Ohio are most excellent. Perhaps my costume could have been construed as someone from Michigan or perhaps Indiana.

I also ran into a few of my friends from the State Department who also happen to be on my darts team and when I explained the costume they just shook their heads in disappointment.. 🙂

But speaking of the red states, I was contemplating on how it could be that Bush got elected for another term. I think one of the main reasons is that Bush just connected better with the people than Kerry. He was able to get them wound up just like an owner would get his dog excited over fetching a ball. “Come on Boy! Get the weapons of mass destruction, come on, come on, Lets Go! Let’s go attack an Arab country that is very little threat to us!!! Yea Yea!! ” This is what people in the blue states would call a “demagogue.” Now please don’t confuse this with demi-god, you people in the red states, it’s not the same thing.

But on a serious note, my buddy who just returned from the States says that the lack of honest debate in the USA is quite scary. Everyone who has lived abroad for any amount of time understands that leaders can whip the people up using demagoguery while vilifying those of a different opinion. The one thing that Bush is very good at is getting things done, and not getting bogged down in that horrible thing called debate and consensus. The democrats should also be castigated for not being able to get their act together and actually do something. Now don’t get me wrong, I still think America is one of the best
countries in the world, but has simply hit a rough patch. It is fun from time to time when people get too negative about America to ask them where all good things come from…. TVs’, computers, cars, robots to Mars, the internet… where did all these things come from??? If it was up to other countries, we would still be riding donkeys and whatnot.. haha…

But why oh why, is America so polarized when we have such excellent universities and an educated population? Anyone who has taken a debate class knows that there are positive and negative aspects to both sides of a conflict. I think most of the world’s problems stem from a failure to understand the other side. If you take the war in Vietnam for example, the communist fighters really did believe in what they were fighting for and if we look at their situation, they had been oppressed by the Chinese for thousands of years, and then by the French.

But if we look at the other side in terms of the French, the French people
thought they were bringing good things to Vietnam and “modernizing them” but it all came at a price. The Americans thought that Communism must be stopped because it was “oppressive” when the other side thought that Communism would be “liberating.” The truth is, the more one studies and understands the other side, the harder it is to define one side as good and right. If one reads Ho Chi Minh’s writing and read their constitution it speaks of liberty and freedom. The western powers wanted to keep Vietnam divided while Ho Chi Minh was trying to unify his country to make it strong. Many people will be angry at this opinion as I am just a foreigner in this country and they will say it’s none of my
business. But this brings up another issue which I will address shortly as I don’t want to get off my main point.

We have made so much progress in the USA that it’s disheartening to see the current administration define conflicts in terms of “Good and Evil.” Although they did get it right in calling North Korea Evil which the current leadership truly is. As you can tell by my writing, it’s very easy to go back and forth on every issue and this is what learning and
experience does to you. But this will always be attacked from the extremists on both sides as fence sitting as though it that is a negative thing.

Now back to me being a “foreigner” in this country. I think in this age of air travel, the enthusiasm to learn other languages and understand other cultures people are integrating with each other much faster than before. Just take the massive protests in the USA at the moment. These people are just seeking the “American” dream like the Italians, Poles, Chinese and Irish before them. The borders of countries change and new lines are drawn such as when the USA took half of Mexico in the 1800’s. But people migrate and seek out better circumstances.

The detractors to immigration point to the fact that they are “illegals” which they are. The laws are there for a reason which may be the stability of jobs for those who are already “Americans.” But laws will not stop people from seeking out a better life such as Americans did when the forefathers broke the laws of their King, and the black civil rights leaders broke the unjust laws of the white rulers. So again it is quite easy to see both sides of the issue. The Statue of Liberty stand for freedom and is one of America’s greatest monuments. Other people too wish to come to America and good for them. So while the laws are in place for a reason, we must also understand why people want to come to America and be proud of that. I think the government is doing a good job of understanding both sides and trying to navigate this issue delicately.

Now let me digress to people calling me a foreigner in other countries. Sometimes it irks me when people call me a “foreigner” while I’m in their land. Anyone can come to the US and become fully American. But we cannot do this yet in the Asian countries and are always treated as outsiders. One lovely older lady kept saying during her speech at some
business event that we must remember Vietnam is not our country and we are “guests” here.

For those “foreigners” who have lived here a long time, will it ever be possible that our cultures integrate so much that people from other nations will be accepted as the locals are? Many of them speak Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese quite well. It may sound ridiculous now, but cultures can come together quite well in America,,, so will it ever be the same in other countries? Just a thought..

Saigon Stories – Fun in Saigon

I couldn’t think of a better title for this post. But a couple of funny instances recently that made me laugh and I thought I should write about. It’s moments like these that make me really love the Vietnamese people.

1. I was speaking with one of our staff members about how the salutation to put on a letter we were going to send to about 200 executives in Saigon. We wanted to make it a personal letter but not spend the mass amount of time writing each persons name on every e-mail.
Me – “How about,,,,, ‘Dear Members, or Dear Esteemed Guests’.”

She thought about it for a minute or two and said, “Deeeaaaarrrr……………….Monkeys.”

It kept the office laughing for about 10 minutes.

2. I was working on my laptop in the formal dining area. One of the new young female staff member came over and delicately poured me a glass of water after which she said,
“Please enjoy your water.”

It was really cute and made me smile. As every language learner knows, you learn specific phrases to say in certain situations and therefore anywhere you go, the Vietnamese will always tell you to Enjoy your something or other. Apparently she was not taught that you don’t have to say that when it comes to water.

3. We spent a day doing a lot calling to invite about 200 prospects to one of the clubs events. That means we spoke to a lot of secretaries who had limited English ability.
Most of the recordings would tell you to push the extention number of the person you were trying to reach or press either 1 or 0. 

One recording told me to please press the number 10………

It’s understandable that these things happen in English because it’s not their native language. But some funny instances also happen in Vietnamese. My Vietnamese co-worker was asked by a secretary the following. 

“Do you have a reservation for your telephone call?”

I could see the confused look on his face and when he told the other staff members everyone just burst out laughing.

Saigon Stories – Long time No entry

I write now from the Pham Ngu Lao district in Ho Chi Minh that now is home to Saigon’s only decent “Starbucks-like” cafe. Saigon doesn’t have Starbucks yet but this place is darn close. They have enough selection that even an American would be satisfied although I’m sure the staff won’t understand what a “skinny” latte is, so better take it easy on the coffee jargon.

It’s been a while since my last entry and the blame lies directly on the scourge that is the MMORPG. And no it’s not a new Bush administration initative to spy on American citizens. The MMORPG stands for “Massive Multiuser Online Role Playing Games.” The game I play is “Knight Online” which has refused to release me from it’s grip for the past two and a half weeks. However, I finally have reached a decent level and have managed to secure a pretty effective Horn Crossbow Plus 5 with poison damage! Haha..

But honestly, these games are so captivating already and can only get better! I seriously predict that a good portion of the population will withdrawl from society like Japan’s “Hikikomori” since the online game world is much more exciting than real life. For those of you who don’t understand exactly what these games are,, just picture an entirely new worlds, yes worlds, where it can take years to properly develop your character. You can also make money in the real world through these games, but if you want to learn more just go to www.mmorpg.com.

As for Saigon, it continues it’s Sonic Boom of development and has gained it’s very first 24 hour convenience store! Not only that, but there is finally a hip new magazine for ex-pats called Saigon Inside Out and it is every bit as Tokyo’s Metropolis.

In other news, it is now the “Tet” holiday or Lunar New Year Holiday. It’s the time when everyone goes back to the countryside to visit relatives and pray for good fortune for the new year. The ex-pats all say that you gotta get out of the city since it’s dead here but that is simply untrue. First, it’s much more peaceful here without all the billions of motorbikes and I was struck smack in the face yesterday by a breath of fresh air! Unreal for Saigon. Secondly, there are plenty of venues still open, especially the ex-pat places. So actually this week isn’t any different from all the rest except that Saigon actually becomes an extremely pleasant place to live.

Saigon Stories – A Day in Saigon

The day has finally arrived. Tonight at midnight I’m traveling back to Tokyo, stay a couple days and then back to the USA. So today I have been running many errands and trying to get all those loose ends tied up. However, I’m not sure if the moon is not aligned or some cosmic forces can sense my excitement and are playing games with me because nothing is going right today. Or perhaps I have been here too long and my patience with normal Saigon insouciant-ness has simply run out.

I simply had to hit four or five stores, picking up Christmas presents, getting contact lenses and so on. The first store I went to was a place to pick up my grandmothers Christmas present. It was already paid for and they simply needed to give it to me. I parked in front of the store and upon walking in the staff immediately came up and told me to park somewhere else.

Now, as my patience being completely gone, I was unable to smile and played the impatient westerner. I showed her my receipt and told her I would wait outside on the bike. About ten minutes later, I receive it but then remember I need two boxes and go into the store with her. The staff had promised me I could have two big unfolded boxes so I could put them in my suitcase without taking up too much room.

So there I am sitting on my bike and ask for two boxes and wait. About five minutes later the security guard comes out with two bags. Since bags are not what I need but boxes, I go in and try to explain that. She shows me two extremely small tie boxes and says that’s all she has. I told her I was shown two big boxes and those are what I need. After she tells me the smalls are the only ones she has and me getting impatient, another staff member says something to her in Vietnamese after which she goes to the back and comes out with two big folded boxes.

I then explained again that I need flat boxes and say the words “suitcase” “airplane” and make a gesture after which she finally gets it and I get my flat boxes.

The next stop would be contact lenses. I went to a small suspicious looking store before, but had found a more credible looking one and headed there. The staff told me they had my one day Acuvues but not in the store but would order them if I could wait 30 minutes which I did.

Finally the courier arrived but with only one box. She said it was all the company had, but there was one opened box although it was missing one contact lens. Being Saigon, I tried to explain that they would have to give me a discount since one of the lenses was missing. But not being very Saigonese, they told me no discount and wanted me to pay full price for the opened box with one contact missing. They then told me there were no more boxes, but she could go and get me another pair of contacts to put in the box if I could wait 30 more minutes.

Now that I think back about it, it’s not such a big deal, but last month I had to settle for a piece of crap air cleaner from China for $160!!!! And it wasn’t even new, but was the floor model!!!!! I need an air cleaner because I live in the city and frankly like to breathe clean air. I also couldn’t find an air cleaner anywhere else so had to settle. But in the case of the contacts, I knew another store that had them and it’s up to the westerners to sometimes teach Vietnamese staff that one will not pay full price if pieces are missing and the item is not new!!! It’s the damn principle of the thing.

So I go to my usual store and I get three boxes of one day disposables although one of the boxes was opened, all the contacts were there.

I then go to Citimart for items, park my bike, walk through about 5 people pushing DVD’s on my chest only to find out that Citimart has no power, and is closed until 3 pm. God love Vietnam. So I go back to where I parked my bike but still have to pay for parking even though it’s only been 30 seconds. The parking attendant tried to short change me (F&^%ing idiot must be new, in from the country) but knowing how much parking is I called him on it and he gave me the rest of my change with a smile.

Then it was off to buy some plush animals for my friends with new babies. On the way I saw one motorbike run smack into a stopped one going about 10 miles an hour. The guy who got hit was none too pleased. The Saigonese often have a short attention span even when driving and often forget that concentrating on the road is important.

Anyway, I got to the toy store and although the attendants were friendly the toys were all kind of dirty and looked old. So I think it’s better to wait until Tokyo where everything is super clean and I can present the presents wrapped 42 times like the Japanese do and put into a box which goes into a bag.

Now that I’m back home, I’m almost afraid to go out again to have something else go wrong.