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.



RUN!!!!!! THE CAPITALISTS ARE BACK!!!!!! I never thought I would see an ad like this in Vietnam. It was from the British Business Group in Saigon. Doesn’t it look like some sort of Evil corporate / Nazi propoganda poster? Hell, at least the communists smile in their posters! And to make it worse, it’s lead by the evil white man!!!!! AHHHHHHH RUNNNNNN!!!!!! Vietnam needs Michael Moore!!!!

Seriously though, what is this ad trying to say? I cut out the bottom half of the ad which showed the groups involved in putting on this seminar. It’s actually not sponsored by a group called “the Capitalists”, but instead something much worse. LAWYERS!!!! The message conveyed is:

“You don’t need to be fair managers, pay decent wages, or limit the amount of overtime to your poor employees!!! What you need is LITIGATION and lots and lots of FORMS AND MORE LITIGATION!!!!!”

I can just imagine this army of lawyers storming into a factory like a battalion of soldiers, walking passed the sweaty poor, underpaid employees and up to the managements office where they will furiously fill out FORMS!!! And lots of them!!!! Then after creating a couple mountains of paperwork have the employees sign their one hundred page contract of which they cannot understand a word, and then be paid an obscene salary for successfully oppressing the poor masses.

And as a side note, why is the English language always so violent? It’s always THE FIGHT against something or other,, or THE WAR on this or that. Tackling isn’t as aggressive, but it still means stopping something by using force. I guess, “Fair Management practices to ensure strikes become unnecessary” is simply not catchy enough. Since I’m American and have learned much during the past couple years from our DEAR LEADERS, I might be able to offer some suggestions with the full blessing of the US of A.

1. The SHOCK and AWE of Labor Strikes
2. FREEEEEEEEDOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMM !!!!!!!!!!!!!! from labor strikes.
3. BATTLE for the Hearts and Minds of Labor Strike Leaders!
4. The WAR on Labor Strikes!
5. GOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ……. Hates Labor Strikes
6. Labor Strikes do not reflect the will OF THE American People!

Saigon Stories

If you’ve read my blog before, you understand I love living in Saigon. The main reason is really the community and the fact that I can go to any bar, restaurant and will know people. Most ex-pats hang out mostly in District 1 and feels more like a village than a city. I can also just hop on my motorbike or take a xeom (motorbike taxi) and get to where I’m going in under five minutes.

This is what I’m afraid of losing most should I go back to the USA. The image is of isolating myself in my car, then cubicle, then car, then home which I think describes a typical day for most Americans. Should we go out on the town, we will be isolated in any bar, restaurant or cafe since we won’t know anyone.

It’s not a fear of meeting new people as I love doing that, but as an example, I lived in Columbus, Ohio for most of my life and when I go out to a restaurant or bar, I rarely see people I know unless it’s in a very small section of the city. I’m used to going out here and seeing at least 10 people I know.

I’m also going to miss the laid back, friendly people here. The Vietnamese are extremely friendly and happy people. It really is a love / hate relationship here though as since they are so relaxed, it can make an uptight foreigner like myself crazy.

So switching gears from my love Vietnam side to my hate Vietnam side, let me go into the things that have driven myself and my girlfriend crazy in the last week.

1. At the Restaurant – My girlfriend and I sit down at a table with place settings for four. The waiter clears two away and my girlfriend no longer has a place setting but the empty seat next to me does. She just gives me a look of disbelief and says the usual Japanese expression of complete frustration, “Baka!”

2. At the office – We have wireless on two floors, HP1 and HP2. I can usually get both signals but HP2 is stronger and I have used it for the past 4 months. The other day HP2 had disappeared so I call the computer company in the same building who takes care of the computer problems. They are notoriously bad though and manage to break things more than they fix them. So anyway, I ask them where HP2 has gone and they tell me it’s only for the floor below me. I said I used it before and they tell me I cannot use it in our office room.

So I take my laptop down to the lower floor and stand directly under the transmitter and search for a signal. The result was that I came up with signals from buildings all around ours but not HP2. He reset the system, and it worked for half a day. Now it’s doesn’t work again.

3. In the elevator – As a rule in Vietnam, when the elevator door opens, you should not let the people exit but instead enter immediately and make the people trying to exit bump into you and have to fight their way out.

3b. About 3 times a week, the people wanting to go down, get in the elevator going up and the reverse. The point is, when in Nam, do not check to see if the elevator is going up or down, just enter immediately while not letting people exit.

4. I arrive at my destination and get off my motorbike, and two or three taxi drivers will ask if I want a taxi.

5. At our accounting office. No matter what time of day you go in, the two smartest accountants have “gone out,” and the dialogue goes like this:

a.) where is Ms. x?
b.) she go out.
a.) When will she come back?
b.) don’t know. You come back tomorrow.

Ok, that is a bit of an exaggeration but isn’t too far off the mark. Usually all I need to get is my salary, and although we have about 30 accountants, and they know where my salary is, and simply need to give it to me and have me sign, it’s only the job of the head accountant so nobody else can do it, except for the only other smart accountant in the room. But should the head accountant be out, you can be sure the other smart account – “He have a lunch.”

6. At the bar – At every single bar the waitresses will watch over you and the moment you have about an inch of beer left in the glass they will come over and ask, “One More?” And it’s always those two words, often before you’ve even had one and just sat down they might say “Fosters, one more?”

But if you’ve just finished your beer, and say you don’t want another one, another waiter will be along in five seconds to ask “One more?” And this usually occurs for about 4 waitresses/waiters.

I’ve found out why and it doesn’t bother me so much anymore. It’s because some of them get a commission of a few cents on every beer they sell. So if you just want to relax and not get wasted, leave about two inches of beer in your glass and finish the rest when you are ready to leave.

7. Censorship – While reading the International Herald Tribune at the Club, I noticed one small article had been blacked out with a pen. I was shocked to see this throwback to another era was still alive here. The progressing Vietnam, and one of my favorite countries was still practicing this sort of censorship? Besides, if you hold the paper up to the light, you can still make out what the story is. And with the internet, you just can’t censor everything although China is giving it a damn hard try. But Vietnam is a happy country unlike China so why do they still do this sort of thing?