Saigon in a Cup http://saigoninacup.com The Life of a Vietnamese American Expat living in Saigon Mon, 04 Feb 2013 14:47:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.5.2 Still Here… http://saigoninacup.com/2011/10/13/still-here/ http://saigoninacup.com/2011/10/13/still-here/#comments Thu, 13 Oct 2011 00:41:36 +0000 http://saigoninacup.com/?p=2514 …working hard mostly. I’m been meaning to update my blog for ages, so apologies to anyone that still checks in every now and then. Short story: I’ve started a business here in Vietnam. We’ve been open for about 10 months now and it’s going very very well. It seems that I’ll [...]]]> …working hard mostly. I’m been meaning to update my blog for ages, so apologies to anyone that still checks in every now and then. Short story: I’ve started a business here in Vietnam. We’ve been open for about 10 months now and it’s going very very well. It seems that I’ll be living in Vietnam for the foreseeable future, so when I have more free time I’ll try to write more.

For those that haven’t read some of my earliest posts, I had moved to Vietnam in late 2009 and planned on doing volunteer work for about a year and then moving back to United States. Back then, I could have never imagined I would be where I am today. As my 1 year sabbatical in Vietnam was coming to a close last December, I began to reevaluate my reasons for leaving after such a short time and with all the opportunities I saw in Vietnam, I probably would have regretted going back without at least trying to start a business over here.

So with a lot of help from my Aunt, I decided to go for it. The length of time from the initial planning stages to the time my business opened was about 6 months; and although I was confident in my ideas and my business plan, I was still a bit shocked by how quickly everything came together and how short a time before my business became profitable. It only took about 5 months before I was the top ranked business in my category in Ho Chi Minh City. I’m not going reveal what I’m doing over here, because I’d prefer to keep my personal life and business separate. Anyways, I feel that I have a huge opportunity to grow my business by leaps and bounds in the next few years.

So from my own experience I would say that I think that it’s a great time to start a business in Vietnam. Vietnam is probably where China was (on a smaller scale of course) about 10 years ago, and if you asked most people today if they would have liked to invest in China back then, I believe that the resounding response would be YES! Vietnam is still one of the fastest growing economies in the world, with a very young population, low cost of labor, relatively educated (very literate, but higher education is still not on par with the rest of the world), and low internet penetration (25%).

There are also a lot of negatives to living in Vietnam that I think will improve over time…poor public transportation system, terrible drainage system, high inflation (20% this year!), weak currency, massive corruption, and personally from my experience….the lack of timeliness being one of the most frustrating things to me. I’m sure there are a lot more positives and negatives, but I’m writing this post really quickly so that’s the main stuff that comes to mind right now.

I think that staying in Vietnam for awhile will do me a lot of good. Living here keeps me from getting too lazy and comfortable. Back home, I found myself getting into a set pattern everyday. Making money, attaining things, watching TV, etc…..settling into a boring existence with no passion for anything. I guess that can happen anywhere and I’m certainly not blaming it on where I live, but just living among so many ambitious and hard working people that I see around me every day, really encourages me to work harder than I’ve probably every worked before in my life.

I can’t say I love or enjoy living here more than I did back in The States….it’s just different. There are pros and cons to living in either country and it’s not my intent to stir up a debate on the matter because I know there would be a lot of people that take it very personally when you make any critical comments about their respective countries.

With the way the economies around the world are crumbling, and high unemployment everywhere, I feel very fortunate to be living in a country that is still growing quickly, and with limitless opportunities. I think that having lived in another country really gives me a leg up on the locals when it comes to seeing what is missing here in terms of service, technology, etc.

My current business is not the only thing I’m working on. I have a million ideas that have yet to be explored in Vietnam. Once I can hand off management duties to one of my employees, I will start on my next big idea :).

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Volunteer English Teachers Urgently Needed! http://saigoninacup.com/2010/11/11/volunteer-english-teachers-needed/ http://saigoninacup.com/2010/11/11/volunteer-english-teachers-needed/#comments Wed, 10 Nov 2010 22:51:03 +0000 http://www.saigoninacup.com/?p=2175 Linh and her grandfather

I know that it’s been awhile since I’ve mentioned my volunteer work, and you’d be forgiven if you thought that I’d forgotten all about it. I am proud to say that I have kept up with it throughout my time here in Vietnam.  Recently, I’ve traveled to Vinh Long with a [...]]]>

Linh and her grandfather

I know that it’s been awhile since I’ve mentioned my volunteer work, and you’d be forgiven if you thought that I’d forgotten all about it. I am proud to say that I have kept up with it throughout my time here in Vietnam.  Recently, I’ve traveled to Vinh Long with a group of doctors and helped hand out free medication for the elderly and indigent; went to Thu Duc district with an NGO (Ngan Hac Giay) to feed and provide school supplies to poor “Khmer” children; also went with  NHG to give clothes, food and medicine to homeless people in Saigon in the wee hours of the morning.  In addition, I’ve been teaching English to disabled adults at DRD (Disability Resource and Development) and was involved in the establishment of an English club there.

However, as I am in the process of starting up not one, but two businesses in Saigon, I am afraid that I must for the foreseeable future concentrate on building my businesses and therefore will be unable to continue my volunteer work until things stabilize and I can free up more time.

At the moment, I am tutoring 2 female students here in Saigon, Binh and Linh.  Binh is a very sweet 22 year old lady who is physically disabled and Linh is a bright 10 year old year girl who was abandoned by her parents and is currently being cared for by her grandparents.  Both are from very poor families, and cannot afford to pay to attend a proper English school.  I hope to be able to find one or more persons to take over the tutoring sessions.

Binh’s English is actually at a very high level.  Her grammar is impeccable; she mainly has problems with speaking and listening comprehension.  I’ve been tutoring her twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays.  I spend 1 1/2 to 2 hours for each lesson.  Half of the time is spent practicing grammar, and the other half I just sit and converse with her.  She mostly needs someone to practice speaking with.  She is disabled and doesn’t really have any available means of transport since her parents both work.  She lives in District 8 and tutoring sessions would have to be done in her house.  She goes to school during afternoons on weekdays and weekends.  She is available from 8am-11am, Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

I was introduced to Binh by Co Bich, the supervisor at DRD.  It’s Co Bich’s desire that Binh’s English will improve enough that she can eventually take over English teaching duties at DRD, which would allow them to be less dependent on outside volunteers.  Another issue is that Binh’s father is elderly and the sole means of transport for Binh.  Unless he is driving her on his motorbike he has to carry Binh around on his back.  Co Bich fears what might happen if Binh’s father is one day unable to provide for and take care of his daughter…so we hope that by teaching Binh English,  we are able to instill in her the confidence and skills she will need to be able to obtain a good job in the future.  Binh has expressed an interest in applying for and attending college as soon as she is done with High School.

My other student Linh is a beginning English learner.  I have only been tutoring her once a week for the past month.  She is a very shy but bright  10 year old girl and has picked up a lot of English in just a few lessons.  As previously mentioned,  Linh’s parents abandoned her when she was a child and is currently in the care of her grandparents.  Her grandfather is in very poor health, with a severe case of diabetes.  Linh’s grandparents are obviously very proud of their granddaughter and want nothing more than to give her all the opportunities they can so that she can eventually rise from the poverty level they currently exist in.

Linh lives in Binh Tan district.  I have only had time to tutor her once a week.  I believe her schedule is flexible.  She should be available on weekends and most evenings.  Depending where you live, her grandparents might be able to drive Linh to your house/apartment to be tutored.

If anyone reading this can tutor or knows of someone that can tutor Binh and Linh please contact me ASAP.  They are both very enthusiastic and hard workers.  I hope to be able to free up some time in the future and continue to help these 2 very deserving young ladies, but until then I need someone that can generously devote some time to a very good cause.

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My new bike http://saigoninacup.com/2010/10/19/bike/ http://saigoninacup.com/2010/10/19/bike/#comments Tue, 19 Oct 2010 06:54:57 +0000 http://www.saigoninacup.com/?p=2154 My rebuilt 1967 Honda Benly 50s

This is my new bike.  It’s a completely rebuilt 1967 Honda Benly 50s.  Yes I know the color isn’t very manly.  Was going to go with black and silver, but eventually decided to make it white so I could use it in the promo/ads for my new business.  I [...]]]>

My rebuilt 1967 Honda Benly 50s

This is my new bike.  It’s a completely rebuilt 1967 Honda Benly 50s.  Yes I know the color isn’t very manly.  Was going to go with black and silver, but eventually decided to make it white so I could use it in the promo/ads for my new business.  I got the bike last week and have been enjoying it very much.  It’s so much lighter than my old bike.  And it actually looks much more like a motorcycle than 99% of the bikes you see in VN.  I’ll write up a full review on the bike soon!!

More pics available here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/saigoninacup/

Many thanks to my friend Huong who took these pics.

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Fireballs and Diabetes http://saigoninacup.com/2010/10/17/fireballs-diabetes/ http://saigoninacup.com/2010/10/17/fireballs-diabetes/#comments Sat, 16 Oct 2010 19:50:32 +0000 http://www.saigoninacup.com/?p=2136  

My dad's gift to me

My dad must really love me.  He gave me the gift to poop fire and develop severe diabetes when he arrived in Saigon last night :).  I believe I had mentioned in one of my older posts that my dad is a Buddhist Monk.  Actually he’s a Doctor/Monk.  He stills [...]]]>  

My dad's gift to me

My dad must really love me.  He gave me the gift to poop fire and develop severe diabetes when he arrived in Saigon last night :).  I believe I had mentioned in one of my older posts that my dad is a Buddhist Monk.  Actually he’s a Doctor/Monk.  He stills runs his medical practice in full monk regalia during the week and holds Buddhist services at his temple in San Antonio during the weekends.  Regardless of his current position as doctor/monk….I still view him as just my dad.  And he doesn’t treat me much differently now than he did before he joined the monkhood.  My father is in Vietnam to  escort a younger Vietnamese monk (who he is sponsoring) back to the U.S. to help him run his temple.   He is getting up there in age so I guess he wants to make sure that his temple will be in capable hands in the future by bringing over a young monk that he can groom to be his successor.

I haven’t seen my father or anyone in my family for over 9 months now, so it was nice to see him.  He looked the same as last I saw him…much younger than his 72 years of age.  The poor guy and the nun who was accompanying him had the most luggage I’ve ever seen 2 people travel with.  I think they had 10 suitcases between them….of which 2 were for me.  I had ordered a new laptop and a bunch of other stuff and requested that he bring them over for me.  Yeah, I could have bought a nice laptop in Vietnam, but I think the prices over here are at least 20% higher than in the States.

So where do the Kit Kats and the 15 lbs of Jalapenos come into play?  Well you can blame Twitter on that….

I’ve learned a lot of stuff about Vietnam just by following  the conversations in the Vietnam Twitter community in the past month.  I kinda regret that I waited so long to setup an account.  There are a lot of expats and native Vietnamese on Twitter with years and years of experience of living and doing business in Vietnam, and they have had to deal with so many issues that I haven’t yet needed to consider, i.e. visa issues, work permits, starting a business, etc.  I have learned a lot of things that I think will be useful for my future business venture and I am grateful for the Vietnam Twitter community for generously sharing their knowledge with me.

Getting back to the issue of the Jalapenos and Kit Kats….one of the most amazing pieces of information I learned on Twitter is that there is a Popeye’s in Saigon!   For those who don’t know….Popeye’s is a pretty popular fast food chain for fried chicken in the United States.  Personally I like “Church’s” fried chicken a little bit more than “Popeye’s” but beggars can’t be choosers….and Popeye’s makes some pretty damn good fried chicken anyways.  I have been dying for  good fried chicken for awhile and yet my search for it in Saigon had so far been in vain.  Yes, there are plenty of places in Vietnam that sell fried chicken…but they range from disgusting to just plain bad.  Kentucky Fried Chicken is a pretty big American fast food chain in itself…but I’ve never liked their chicken much.  So when I found out that there was Popeye’s in the new Vincom shopping center in District 1, I had to go check it out for myself.

A few weeks ago I suggested to my friend Tu that we head out to Vincom to check out the new shopping complex…but I just really wanted to find out if there truly was a Popeye’s in Saigon.  Vincom is located near the Parkson shopping center in District 1 and is just a couple of blocks away from the Saigon Opera House and Notre Dame Cathedral. The inside of Vincom is beautifully modern with a lot of high end clothing, jewelry and furniture stores occupying the 7 retail floors .  You might be hard pressed to figure out that you weren’t in a upscale shopping mall somewhere in the West if you didn’t see all the Asians walking around.  It’s definitely the nicest shopping mall I’ve been to in Vietnam.  The interior layout of the floors however were badly designed in my opinion.  Large spaces would often funnel into narrow hallways that would then open up into other areas.  Many spaces just felt disconnected from others and then there is the issue of the elevators.  There are a ton of them….but they don’t all go to the same places.  Some only go up…and  some only go down.  It took awhile for Tu and I to find the elevators that could take us to the basement parking area.  I’ve been told similar stories by other shoppers so it’s not just me.

In the end, I did find Popeye’s.  I think it is on the lowest retail level however I can’t remember for sure.  And although I was very happy to see that the rumors of a Popeye’s was true, I had no intention of eating any fried chicken at that time.  I had already predicted that even if there was a Popeye’s, there was very little chance that it they would also serve Jalapenos.  I don’t know about anyone else, but I grew up eating fried chicken with Jalapeno peppers.  Fried chicken is just not very good to me without those spicy, slightly sour green peppers.  Not the super fresh kind that you buy in the vegetable section of the supermarket, but the pickled kind they sell in the cans.  Most of the fried chicken places in Texas sell Jalapenos, but it was not as common to find them when I was living up north in Indiana for a few years.    Even so, you could always find them in the American supermarkets and so I usually had a few cans in my cupboard at any particular time.  I haven’t had any Jalapenos since I’ve been in Vietnam.  Once when I went to lunch at Mogambo’s with Saigon in a Cup’s other resident blogger Tuna, she ordered some cheesy entree that came with a lot of green peppers the restaurant insisted was Jalapenos, but tasted nothing like it.  Apparently there is a grocery store in Saigon called Veggy’s that does carry Jalapenos and Dr. Pepper and Ranch Dressing (two other things I miss!!)….which I also found about on Twitter from @eds_m and @ericburdette.  But since my dad was coming to Saigon soon anyways, I figured he could just bring me a can of real Texas grown Jalapenos.  I didn’t want to risk ruining my first taste of delicious fried chicken with inferior Jalapenos so I decided to diligently wait for my father to bring me the goods.

I was expecting him to bring me a single 1 lb can, which would last me for awhile.  Instead he brought me two jumbo 6 pound cans in addition to the 3 smaller one pound cans.    And to top it off, he also got me 10 packages of my favorite candy in the world….Kit Kat!  He didn’t realize that Kit Kats can be easily found in Vietnam….which I know better than anyone else :).  So damn you Twitter!!   Now I’m going to poop out fire and most likely lose a leg just because I found out there is a Popeye’s in Saigon!!

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Me on Twitter? No way!! http://saigoninacup.com/2010/09/13/twitter/ http://saigoninacup.com/2010/09/13/twitter/#comments Mon, 13 Sep 2010 12:36:52 +0000 http://www.saigoninacup.com/?p=2011 Penny impersonating the Twitter bird

I’m going to start a small business in Vietnam soon (shhhhhh….it’s still a secret!) so I thought it might be smart to do a bit of networking.  I’ve managed to avoid using most of the social networks in the past, although I did try Facebook for a few months last [...]]]>

Penny impersonating the Twitter bird

I’m going to start a small business in Vietnam soon (shhhhhh….it’s still a secret!) so I thought it might be smart to do a bit of networking.  I’ve managed to avoid using most of the social networks in the past, although I did try Facebook for a few months last year until I realized how much of a time waster it was.  I’m going to use Twitter to follow the exploits of some of my fellow expats and hopefully be able to contribute a bit to the conversation.  I’m also going to attend the Tweetup event tomorrow (9/14/2010) in Saigon so if anyone reading this attends I’d love to meet you.

Anyhow my tweets are going to either be the most mind numbingly boring or the most life altering tweets in history.  Epic (fail) I tell ya!  So follow me (odgnut) if you want to read some more frequent ramblings from yours truly.  I will  tweet my latest blog posts so you will know when I put something new up.   You can also read my tweets on the right sidebar of this blog.

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Exchange Rate Update http://saigoninacup.com/2010/09/10/exchange-rate-update/ http://saigoninacup.com/2010/09/10/exchange-rate-update/#comments Fri, 10 Sep 2010 08:46:10 +0000 http://www.saigoninacup.com/?p=2008 I went to exchange money for the first time in a couple months today and was a little surprised by the current rate for the dollar.  The gold shops are currently giving 19,500 Vietnamese Dong for $1.  That’s about the highest I’ve seen it even as it seems that the dollar is weakening against most [...]]]> I went to exchange money for the first time in a couple months today and was a little surprised by the current rate for the dollar.  The gold shops are currently giving 19,500 Vietnamese Dong for $1.  That’s about the highest I’ve seen it even as it seems that the dollar is weakening against most of the other currencies around the world.

Sorry for the lack of updates.  I will be back this weekend with a post.

Update 11/11/2010:  The current exchange rate has risen to almost 21,000VND/$1USD

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The ‘POST’ post office http://saigoninacup.com/2010/08/26/post-post-office/ http://saigoninacup.com/2010/08/26/post-post-office/#comments Thu, 26 Aug 2010 16:50:09 +0000 http://www.saigoninacup.com/?p=1974 Saigon Central Post Office

I asked my sister to mail me some stuff from the U.S recently….some white undershirts, a couple of pairs of shoes, 6 books and some various knick knacks that I needed.  The United States Postal Service (USPS)  has fixed price priority mail boxes that costs a little more than [...]]]>

Saigon Central Post Office

I asked my sister to mail me some stuff from the U.S recently….some white undershirts, a couple of pairs of shoes, 6 books and some various knick knacks that I needed.  The United States Postal Service (USPS)  has fixed price priority mail boxes that costs a little more than $40 to ship to Vietnam.  Those boxes aren’t very big, so I told my sister to just fit whatever she could into the largest priority mail box that they had and and anything leftover could be mailed at a later date.  My sis, ever the generous soul that she is, decided instead to go ahead and ship me everything I asked for in a big box that cost her $143 to mail to Vietnam.  The box weighed about 23 lbs or a bit more than 10 kgs, mostly because of the books and shoes.

The package was shipped on July 9th, with an estimated delivery time of 7 days….even so, I  didn’t realistically expect to see my stuff for 2-3 weeks.  I’ve seen my mom mail enough packages to Vietnam over the years  to know that although whatever you send may arrive in Vietnam in the estimated date….the time it takes for your things to go through customs,  sorted  and screened (and sometimes opened) by the local postal service (buu dien) often adds a significant amount of time to the date of delivery.  In this case, I didn’t get my box until August 16th.  It took over 5 weeks!!   In additional to the horrible delay, the local VNPT post office  ended up charging me an additional 1,400,000 Dong tax ($75) on top of the $143 my sister paid to send me everything.  Why?  Who knows?

Initially, I had thought the tax was due to the weight of my package, but the employee working at the counter said that wasn’t the reason.    She gave me a sheet with a list of what was in my box (which had obviously been cut open and then re-taped) and the tax charges for each item and what looked like a bunch of random codes.  My cousin who accompanied me couldn’t figure it out why this particular package was taxed, when other shipments in the past had not been.  So I asked the lady assisting us to please explain what all the codes on the shipment receipt meant and why even my old shoes and undershirts were taxed.  She said that she didn’t know, but she would give us a phone number to call if we wanted to get a better explanation.  My cousin took the receipt and said she would call and ask about the taxes when she had some free time.

Personally, I  just think that someone saw how much it cost to ship this box to Vietnam so they figured that either the contents are very valuable or really important and therefore the recipient (me!) would most likely be willing to pay the additional tax.  In reality, the contents of the box were worth less then the cost of transport.  If I had  known what the final tally was beforehand, I would have never  had my sister mail me anything .  Just last spring, I had received another package with no problems.  It took a bit more than 2 weeks to arrive and there were no additional taxes to pay.  In fact, the contents of that box were probably more valuable than the one I had just received.  It makes no sense to me whatsoever.  But I suppose that’s just the price of living in a fast growing but still very much developing country like Vietnam….in which the rules can seem to change by the day.

At the end of the day, I’m glad my last package wasn’t lost or stolen and that my sister’s efforts to pack and ship everything to me wasn’t for naught.  She is mailing me another package soon with some medicine and a few remaining items that I had recently ordered.  She’s going to ship them in a regular priority mail box this time, which I speculate will help it arrive more quickly and hopefully tax free.  After dealing with the Vietnam postal service, I now have a much greater appreciation for the level of service we get in the States with the USPS….where something “late” is usually counted in days….not weeks.

Better late than never I suppose…..

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Road Rage in Vietnam http://saigoninacup.com/2010/08/15/road-rage-vietnam/ http://saigoninacup.com/2010/08/15/road-rage-vietnam/#comments Sat, 14 Aug 2010 17:33:47 +0000 http://www.saigoninacup.com/?p=1965 Knife Victim in Saigon

Last Friday there was a road rage incident on Cong Quynh street in Saigon.  Three friends (on 2 motorbikes) were  returning home from a night of drinking when they got into a close call with a couple of other guys on another motorbike…..an argument ensued and one of the 3 friends [...]]]>

Knife Victim in Saigon

Last Friday there was a road rage incident on Cong Quynh street in Saigon.  Three friends (on 2 motorbikes) were  returning home from a night of drinking when they got into a close call with a couple of other guys on another motorbike…..an argument ensued and one of the 3 friends thought it was a good idea to take off his belt and start whipping the guys on the offending motorbike.  Needless to say this wasn’t too smart.

One of the guys being whipped didn’t take too kindly to the abuse and pulled out a couple knives .  Hmmm…2 knives vs. a belt….I think I would have started running the other way if I were the guy with the belt.  Maybe he was too drunk to comprehend that he was at a severe disadvantage.  Amazingly the guy with the belt survived albeit with severe injuries from 3 stab wounds….unfortunately his 2 friends who probably came to his aid weren’t so lucky…..both died.  Apparently there were plenty of witnesses to the murders, but they were too afraid to interfere in the fight….hopefully someone at least wrote down the license plate and the cops will catch the killer.

I drive down Cong Quynh all the time….and now I will always think of these dummies when I’m driving down that street.  I admit getting pretty pissed off at the crazy drivers in Saigon every now and then….but you never know what some people are capable of…so next time I’ll think harder before I start throwing out “du ma mays” around.   There is a popular quote from the movie “The Untouchables” in which the Sean Connery character says “never bring a knife to a gun fight”….if he were in Vietnam it might be changed to “never bring a belt to a knife fight”.

Read the original story from Thanh Nien HERE.

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Adapting to Life in Vietnam http://saigoninacup.com/2010/08/04/culture-shock/ http://saigoninacup.com/2010/08/04/culture-shock/#comments Tue, 03 Aug 2010 19:21:09 +0000 http://www.saigoninacup.com/?p=1885 Life on the Mekong

I get asked every now and then how hard it was for me to adapt to living in Vietnam.  Personally, I think I had it much easier than most expatriates.  I speak the language and I have relatives in Saigon who were more than happy to help me with any issues [...]]]>

Life on the Mekong

I get asked every now and then how hard it was for me to adapt to living in Vietnam.  Personally, I think I had it much easier than most expatriates.  I speak the language and I have relatives in Saigon who were more than happy to help me with any issues I might have had.  It was nice to be able to show up in Vietnam knowing that I had a place to stay and a person that would take care of my daily meals.

Unlike most expats, I am not the adventurous type…far from it actually.  I have always been quite conservative and never enjoyed traveling much.  I really admire people that have the courage to move to another a country without any real previous experience with the people or the culture.  Most of the expats I’ve met fall into this category.  They arrive and stay at one of the cheap mini hotels in District 1 and then start looking for employment.  Many find quick work at the multitude of English Schools throughout Vietnam and gradually settle into a more permanent living arrangement…while simultaneously trying to learn about the culture and society in which they live.

I’m sure the first few months are very exciting and stressful for many of these expats.  I don’t know if I would have had the guts to attempt something like this without the benefit of all the advantages I had previously mentioned.  Before I  settled on coming to Vietnam, I had briefly flirted with the idea of going to China instead, but once I considered all the complications I would face living there, not to mention the fact that most Chinese people don’t seem to like the Vietnamese much…choosing  to come to Vietnam was a no brainer.

When moving to another country there are a few common things that everyone has to adapt to, mainly the weather, the food, the traffic, and the cultural differences.  I think most expats, by their very nature and openness in embracing the idea living in another country, won’t have too much difficulty adjusting to life in Vietnam.   From my personal perspective, I think it’s far easier for an American to live in Vietnam than for a Vietnamese person to adjust to life in America.

First of all, you can almost always find someone that can speak rudimentary English no matter where you are in Vietnam, whereas it wouldn’t be the same case for a non-English speaking Vietnamese person in the U.S.  That’s why many Vietnamese that come to the U.S. choose to live in areas with large Vietnamese communities like California and Texas.  The people in Vietnam are very tolerant and curious of foreigners.  As many expats will attest to, it’s not uncommon for the locals to come up to foreigners and start up simple conversations with them just to practice their English.  Of course not all foreigners that come to Vietnam speak English, but if you do then it should be pretty easy to get around most places by yourself.  On the other hand, if you don’t speak English (or perhaps Spanish) while traveling in the U.S., it’s can be very difficult to get around or to find someone to help you with problems.

Secondly, most Americans have probably eaten Vietnamese food before coming to Vietnam, so aside from sanitary concerns, most of us should have no problem finding a plethora of stuff to eat over here.  Finding good, cheap and healthy food in Vietnam is very easy!!  If you come from a low income family in the U.S., fresh fruits and vegetables are probably rare luxuries, but in Vietnam even the poor can eat fairly healthy.  Many fruits and vegetables are very very cheap over here and even if some people can’t afford to buy them, neighbors and family will often share fruits or vegetables from their trees/gardens with one another.  When people snack over here, they mainly snack on fresh fruits, as opposed to most Americans (me included) who can’t live without their chips, cookies and candy.

This looks better than it tastes!

In the States, I probably only ate Vietnamese food 2-3 times a week.  Now that I am eating it almost daily I mainly crave the unhealthy fast foods that I indulged in while living in the U.S.  Luckily there are a few places that sell decent burgers and pizza here in Saigon, although I have yet to discover anyplace with good fried chicken (there will be a future post on this subject).  Most locals don’t care for Western food at all.  They think it’s bland and way overpriced.  I’ve tried inviting a few of my relatives out to eat foods from other countries, but other than Chinese food, they seem content to just eat Vietnamese food 24/7.

For me, the toughest thing to adjust to in Vietnam is the hot, humid weather.  I come from Texas, and the Vietnam heat has nothing on Texas during the summer months.  However, we have central AC in Texas and when we do brave the outdoors it is usually inside the comforts of an air-conditioned car.  In Vietnam, most homes don’t have AC of any kind and if they do it’s a small wall unit that only cools a single room.  Most of the smaller businesses and restaurants in Vietnam also use the same wall mounted AC units to keep their stores cool.  And since the main mode of transportation in Vietnam is the ubiquitous motorbike, there really isn’t any hiding from the heat once you’re outside, unless you are wealthy enough to buy a car….and as I mentioned in one of my prior posts, owning and driving a car in Vietnam comes with its own set of hassles (crowded streets, parking, etc.) so often people that own cars will still prefer to use a motorbike for most outings.

My first couple of months in Saigon, I rarely turned on the AC.  It was hot, but I really wanted to acclimate myself to the local weather and try to live like the locals.  I figured if I never got used to the heat I would never want to venture outside the comforts of my room.  That was ok for January-March, but when April and May came around, going without AC wasn’t an option.  The heat was unbearable.  It’s not the dry Texas heat that I am used to either….the humidity in Vietnam in conjunction with all the dust and dirt flying around conspires to clog all the pores on your body which in turn doesn’t allow the heat to escape from your skin and makes being outside VERY uncomfortable.  During those months, whenever I didn’t have to be outside, I was in my air-conditioned room.  My monthly electrical bill shot up from 700,000 Dong ($37) to almost 2 Million Dong ($100); which is more than an entire month’s rent for some of my friends over here.  The weather has cooled down quite a bit since June when the rainy season came about.  I can now sleep without the AC unit on at night; however I still turn it on for a few hours during the daytime.

Ponchos are normal rain attire

As I write this post, we are currently at the height of the rainy season in Vietnam which usually lasts from May to November in the south.  According to the locals, there has been much less rain this year than the previous rainy seasons so flooding hasn’t been as bad as usual.  But the lack of rain has also forced city officials to implement rotating power cuts to most districts (aside from District 1, 7 and Phu Nhuan) around once a week because the lower rainfalls causes the hydropower plants (which provides over 50% of the power in Vietnam) to run at reduced capacity.  It’s just one more thing you have to get used to when you live in Vietnam.  What I really dreaded about the rainy season was walking/driving around flooded the streets, but it hasn’t been as bad as I had imagined.  The thing I hate the most about the rain is how dirty everything gets;  some of the smaller streets become extremely muddy and as a result very hazardous to drive on.  I have to remind myself to wear only dark color clothing after it rains because the splatter of dirty water from the streets will stain your clothes when driving around on motorbikes.

Going back to the heat and humidity for a second, I just want to add that I recommend getting a good face and body wash if you’re planning on staying in Vietnam for awhile.  During my first few months in the country, I developed some weird white bumps on my forearms which would only appear whenever I spent a prolonged period of time outside.  I don’t know if it was a mild allergic reaction to something in the air or just because my pores were so clogged from all the dirt and dust, but the bumps would disappear after I took a shower but would always reappear once I went back outside.  My sister in The States was kind enough to mail me a care package in March in which she included a few facial scrubs with microbeads.  I’ve never used these scrubs before back in the U.S., but they are a godsend in Vietnam.  The scrubs not only worked wonders in removing the dirt caked into my face from driving around Saigon, but also permanently got rid of the bumps on my arms.  Biore Strips are also a must for clearing up the pores in your face.  I see a lot of adults over here that have bad facial acne which I believe is the result of all the trapped dirt and oil beneath their skin.

My palm after my last accident

I’ve already mentioned the traffic in Saigon (see: Xin Loi…my bad) in a few of my earlier entries so I’m not going to regurgitate any of that stuff in this post.  However, I would like to note that I my motorbike driving skills has improved a lot in the past 4 months….since my last accident.  I realize now that I was probably driving way too fast and reckless my first couple of months especially in consideration of how little experience I’ve had on a motorbike.  I drive more carefully now and am much more aware of my surroundings.  Getting into 3 accidents in a short period of time will certainly dampen most anyone’s bravado.

I think that covers most of the biggest issues I’ve had over here.  My experience in adapting to this often strange and sometimes frustrating country is probably a bit different than most of my fellow expats.  I’m certain that the road I took was much easier than for most, especially when you consider that I also haven’t had to deal with Visa issues since I qualified for a 5 year Visa Exemption (see: How to get a 5 Year Visa Exemption) and/or employment issues (yet).  Culturally, I also was able to adapt quite quickly since I knew somewhat the things I should expect from my short trip to Vietnam in 2002.  Sometimes, my delicate American sensibilities are still offended when people shove me to cut in line or someone is picking their nose in the middle of a conversation, etc. but I remind myself that I am a guest in this country and it is my job to adjust to the people around me and not vice versa.

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A rare case of ‘good service’ http://saigoninacup.com/2010/06/23/rare-case-good-service/ http://saigoninacup.com/2010/06/23/rare-case-good-service/#comments Tue, 22 Jun 2010 18:45:52 +0000 http://www.saigoninacup.com/?p=1654 Nguyen Kim

Earlier this month, my Aunt (Di Tu) asked me to go with her to a large electronics store in Saigon called Nguyen Kim, to help her pick out a new CD player.  I recommended that she buy a portable media player like an iPod instead since they can store hundreds of CDs; which [...]]]>

Nguyen Kim

Earlier this month, my Aunt (Di Tu) asked me to go with her to a large electronics store in Saigon called Nguyen Kim, to help her pick out a new CD player.  I recommended that she buy a portable media player like an iPod instead since they can store hundreds of CDs; which means not having to swap out discs all the time.  Di Tu said that she would still prefer a CD player because she didn’t think she could figure out how to use an iPod at her age.

Nguyen Kim (63-65-67 Tran Hung Dao, District 1, HCMC)  is a huge electronics store in the same vein as Best Buy or Circuit City (R.I.P.).  They sell all the latest and greatest gadgets.  I haven’t been in a store like this since I left the U.S.  I was impressed with the size of the store and the large selection of gizmos.  They even carried the latest 3D TVs!

I asked one of the salesmen where the CD players were and he pointed to a small display near the center of the 2nd floor.  I could tell right away that they didn’t have much to choose from.  In fact, there were only 2 models….both were pretty cheap looking.  One of the CD players actually looked like a child’s potty training chair.  Di Tu was not impressed.  I asked her if she was ready to start looking at some MP3 players now….and she relented.

One of the CD Players looked like this

Nguyen Kim carries a bunch of MP3 players but no iPods.  Out of all the MP3 players in the store, I thought the “Sony Walkman” MP3 player was the best of the bunch, but my Aunt said that it looked cheap.  She liked the look of my iPhone so I told her that we need to find a store that carried iPods.  A quick search on Google pointed me to a couple of authorized Apple resellers nearby…..Futureworld (240 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, D3) and iCenter (142A Vo Thi Sau, D3).

Our first stop was Futureworld.  It is a really small shop that didn’t stand out much….if I didn’t know the address, I would have probably never noticed it.  They had all the typical Apple hardware on display, but as we were only interested in the iPods, we went straight to their iPod display.  Their selection consisted of the 8 GB Ipod Touch, the 160 Ipod Classic and the Ipod Nano.  Initially I thought about buying my Aunt an Ipod Touch since it has so much more functionality than other other two players….but as my Aunt only needed an MP3 player and the iPod Classic and Nano are so much easier to use I told her that it was probably best for her to choose among the other two.

My Aunt really liked the look and feel of the Black iPod Classic so we told the salesgirl that was assisting us to ring one up for us.  I knew something was wrong when 10 minutes had passed and our salesperson was nowhere to be found.  She came back after a little while and told us that they had run out of the black version and only had the white color in stock.  They were nice enough to offer us a free black case if we bought the white iPod, but my Aunt didn’t like the feel of the case and her heart was set on the black iPod…so we thanked the salesgirl for her help and decided to try out iCenter.

The iCenter on Vo Thi Sau is a beautiful store.  It’s about 3-4 times bigger than Futureworld and the layout inside is very similar to the Apple Stores in The States.  The iPod display was the first thing you see when you enter the store.  According to one of the sales clerks, they did have the black 160GB iPod Classic in stock…..the only problem was that the price was about 1,500,000 Dong higher than at Futureworld for the exact same iPod!!  The price was 8,399,000 Dong ($445) at iCenter and about 6,800,000 Dong ($360) at Futureworld.  Why is there such a huge difference in prices when they are both authorized Apple Resellers?  Whatever the case, there was no way we were going to pay such a huge premium for the iPod at iCenter.  You can buy a the same iPod Classic from Amazon for $225….and I already thought that the price at Futureworld was a ripoff.

So with a bit of disappointment, my Aunt and I headed home empty handed.  I promised Di Tu however that I would search the internet and try to find another place in Saigon that sells iPods.  That night, I spent a good hour online  scouring for places in Saigon that sold iPods,  but the few authorized resellers listed all wanted the same ridiculous price as iCenter.  I would have preferred to order it in the U.S. and have it shipped to Vietnam, but there have been a lot of situations in the past in which packages my mom has sent to my Aunt had been opened by the local postal service, so I didn’t want to take the risk of it getting stolen.

I knew there were probably a lot of non-authorized places that sold iPods in Saigon, but I had no idea how to go about finding them.  When I told my friend Huyen Anh of my predicament, she got on my computer to do her own search.  It took her about 2 minutes to find a place that had the exact iPod we wanted for only 6,399,000 Dong.  It turns out that you need to search using Vietnamese terms since most local websites are written in Vietnamese.  Duh!! I couldn’t believe I didn’t think of that.  I assumed that searching for iPods in Ho Chi Minh city was enough.  Apparently it makes a big difference if you add the word “mua” (buy) into the search.

A good place to buy electronics

One of the first stores that showed up on Google using the search term “mua iPod” is an electronics store called Thanh Nhan.  Huyen Anh said that she had bought stuff from them before and their service and prices were good.  Indeed their price on the iPod was by far the lowest of all the places I previous looked at and a quick call to the store confirmed that the black 160GB iPod Classic was in stock.

Early next morning, I headed out to Thanh Nhan (428-428 Bis Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, D3) to buy my Aunt’s iPod.  I was greeted at the front of the store by a salesgirl who asked me what I was looking for.  I asked her where the iPods were and she just gave me a confused look.  I excused myself and just started looking for the section of the store that sold MP3 players.  It was located just inside the front entrance to the left under a glass counter.  There was a friendly looking guy manning that particular area, and when I  let him know that I was looking for iPods,  he pointed to the display in front of him.  Unlike the previous stores I visited that specialized in all things Apple, the iPods at Thanh Nhan were mixed in with with a variety of other portable media players.  The store actually had more models of iPods than the Apple Authorized Resellers.

I told the friendly sales guy (Thach) that I wanted the black iPod Classic and asked if they could possibly give me an additional discount…knowing full well that this was unlikely with any Apple products.  He went and asked his manager but returned and told me they really couldn’t  lower the price more than 20,000 Dong (about $1), which is what I pretty much expected.  In addition to the iPod, I also needed some decent portable speakers, and a usb wall charger.  Thach spent a lot of time showing me a variety of speakers, filling out the warranty card for the iPod, and then helping me test out everything to make sure it worked before I left the store…all with a smile on his face.  I ended up getting Soundmax brand speaker which was only 300,000 Dong ($15), but sounds decent….and a Sony 5Volt USB wall charger that was also 300,000 Dong but didn’t seem to work on the iPod for some reason.

I left the store about 7,000,000 Dong lighter in my pockets, but was satisfied that this was probably close to the lowest price on iPods I would find in Saigon, and I was more than happy with the professional and friendly service at Thanh Nhan.  Never did I feel pressured to buy anything I didn’t need.  I would highly recommend this store if you are looking for electronics in Saigon…..ask for Thach (ph# 0917 747 277).

Getting good service in Vietnam isn’t something that happens very often so I really notice it when people go out of their way to make a customer feel welcomed.  Even in the instances where I have been provided with good service at other places, the employee(s) that provide the service usually seem pretty miserable.   It wasn’t until living in Vietnam did I realize the importance of having employees greet and smile to customers to make them feel welcome.  I guess I just took it for granted because most businesses in The States really focus on providing good service as a way of obtaining customer loyalty.   Hopefully more of the local businesses in Vietnam will realize the benefits of courteous and friendly service and this rare case of good service I experienced at Thanh Nhan is catching.

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