When I grow up…
REMEMBER WHAT YOU WANTED TO BE – Never sell yourself short. Whatever the circumstances, however low you may feel, recall your hopes and plans. Use them as your benchmark: reassess your position and aim high again. – Patrick Lindsay, Now Is The Time
The neighbors on Alderson Street were families with boys. The only other girl was Ellen Robinson, two doors down. But Ellen really liked to play with Barbie. She had the mansion, the pool, the Jeep, and several of Barbie’s companions. I had Barbie and Skipper and a few changes of clothes. I was too much of a tomboy to get all fussy about what Barbie should wear.
With a street full of boys, I often played sports in the street. And yet there were many days I wasn’t allowed to hang with the guys. On those occasions, I took to playing office at my desk. I loved office forms and carbon paper. I madly filled out forms, filed papers in some sensible fashion and enjoyed the sensation that I was “getting something done.” My second favorite game was playing boutique. I would hang my clothes up all over my room and then have to bounce between the roles of customer, shop girl and cashier (complete with a toy cash register but a real cash drawer in the desk drawer). With my love of office forms, came also my love of receipts and price tag stickers and things I could use to make my imaginary adult life a little more real.
When I was a sophomore in high school, I began a lucrative little adventure called Hosting Helpers. It began when I worked a few parties for a senior named Lisa who had her own little biz, Party Partners. (I so wanted to use that name for my business!) She showed me the ropes for hosting events, and how to let the real hosts of the party enjoy themselves. The job entailed preparing the food tables, keeping the house free of empty glasses and thrown away napkins, making sure the chip bowl was full and doing all the dishes at the end of the night. Lisa was graduating and wanted to turn over her business to someone else. My dear friend, Rae Meadows essentially became my partner as we helped host parties all over San Diego. We would wear black pants, tuxedo shirts, complete with red bow tie and cummerbund. We worked weddings, BBQs, office parties, progressive dinners, and any number of holiday parties.
We were a hit. And with every party we hosted, we usually gained another client, simply by displaying my business card. I sent out reminders about the holiday season at the beginning of November, which helped us book up every weekend leading to Christmas. The minimum wage was $3.35 per hour, at the time. We pulled $6.00 per hour plus tips; I loved having the money to buy nice Christmas gifts for my family. Hosting Helpers got me a mention in the school newspaper and helped me develop a love for event planning, which has been at the core of most jobs in my long marketing career.
There was an entrepreneurial spirit in me, even as a young teenager. I secretly believed I could run a multi-national business, just by employing staff to host a party. I had no desire to cater, just a desire to employ well-trained party planners and hosts. I envisioned myself with an executive office at the top of some high rise in an unidentified city (Come to think of it, I don’t remember feeling that it was San Diego – I can still picture the skyline from my vision). Hosting Helpers International never came to be, but what a big, fun dream it was.
Here I am now, well into adulthood, back in my hometown, San Diego and dreaming once again of what my business will look like. With great enthusiasm and anticipation, I launched the Beaming Bohemian website on May 1, 2011. Since that time, I’ve picked up a few clients, continue to chase leads, but more significantly, continue to shape how I want my business to grow. I am heavily in R&D and working to narrow my focus. One aspect I have enjoyed the most is reconnecting with old friends and exploring a variety of options.
Admittedly, launching a new business is a struggle. It is frightening, quite frankly, and it is ridiculously hard work. Beaming Bohemian is quickly becoming the toughest challenge I have ever faced in my life. It turns out that re-establishment is WAY harder than settling into someplace foreign… even if that place is a Hanoi, Vietnam or a Shizuoka, Japan. While abroad, I learned that I am completely comfortable with being in foreign places, adjusting to new ways of life, hearing foreign tongues, adopting strange cultural rituals, and simply soaking up life as it comes.
Feeling like a foreigner in the U.S., in California, in San Diego – which should feel like home, is a hilarious new game I am trying to master. Fact of the matter is, I have never been more uncomfortable in my life. But I know, I really know that out of great discomfort comes great life lessons. At heart, I am still full of adventure, still willing to take huge risks and still full of patience to understand what life is going to throw my way. All the while, I have never forget that little girl inside me, the one with immeasurable creativity and imagination, such high aspirations and totally blind confidence. My desk no longer contains a cash drawer and all those fancy office forms, but it is still the hub for crafting my dreams, working my plan and creating a very lovely life.
Lessons from 35,000 Feet
The last month or so has provided a lot of travel opportunities for me. Most have been on business, but I did get to squeeze a weekend in there for myself. Traveling in SE Asia has its good points and bad points. Let’s start with the good…In less than an hour I can be in either Vientiane or Luang Prabang, Laos. In two hours, I’m in Bangkok. In just fours hours I can make it as far as Hong Kong or even Japan. Living in this part of the world where a bunch of countries are mushed together has its benefits. It’s one of the reasons I traveled through SE Asia last year. It’s super easy to get from one place to the next. And while there are some general similarities between Asian countries, an hour flight takes you to an entirely different culture. And I love that.
The bad part about this area of the world is that it is still behind more developed areas. Let’s take Vietnam for example…The Hanoi airport would be better off if they leveled the damn thing and put up tents. The building is old, the airline employees are not all that nice and the waiting areas are tired-looking and uncomfortable. Before you even get your boarding pass, you deal with people blatantly cutting in line, people who are standing so close behind you you can feel their breath on your neck (or smell their breath when they cough, as was the case on one travel occasion) and agents who appear that can’t be bothered to do their job. Never mind the ridiculous number of delays the airline experiences and the lack of communication with passengers.
I’ve likened Vietnam Airlines to being one chicken short of a local bus. It is probably the worst airline I’ve traveled with – ever. Not only for the lack of professionalism of the attendants – falling asleep in the jumper seat as the plane is preparing for take-off should not be acceptable in my book – but also for the condition of the planes. On one of my last fights to Saigon, I noticed that the hardware, like plastic coverings on some of the seat fixtures, were missing on several rows. I’m still shocked by how many people on board have probably never flown before. They have no idea that their ticket holds a seat number. Many people sit where they want and get bumped a few times until an attendant explains where their seat is located. Others walk aimlessly through the cabin and don’t know how to find their seat number, never mind figuring out if their seat is an aisle or window. I quite nearly punched a guy who kept pushing me when the row of people in front of me making their way through the plane stopped and he yelled, “Move!”
Vietnam Airlines also has a very strange way of seating people. If a flight is not full, they will clump people together in groups and leave several rows completely empty. As of lately, I’ve been involuntarily seated in the exit rows on most of my flights. I actually don’t like the exit rows. You are not allowed to put your items underneath the seat, and call me crazy, but I’m not willing to put all my belongings out of sight. The seat doesn’t go back, either. I’m not 6’5″ and I don’t think I look particularly helpful or someone who stays calm in an emergency. I have a feeling that in some training course, the reservation staff were told, “The foreigners like the exit rows.” And so now I am getting in the habit of asking to NOT be seated in emergency rows.
It’s kind of funny that everyday I’m learning something new about this country and about working in SE Asia. Everyday poses some challenge. I just never expected that I would learn so much while sitting in a plane so high in the sky!
On the Bright Side,
Since my return to San Diego, I’ve spent some time getting readjusted, some time relaxing and getting reacquainted with family and friends. I’ve also been looking to discover what it is I will do professionally. While there is still part of me which wants to buy a one way ticket to Argentina, I’ve decided to stay in San Diego and set up my own business.
Getting settled in San Diego has been its own adventure. This is my hometown, but I have not lived here for about 20 years. All of my memories are from my childhood, so I don’t know the best restaurants, the hidden gems, the adult life in this gorgeous town. So I’m approaching San Diego like it’s a new city I’ve moved to. I’m keeping my eyes and ears open and desire to find all of my favorite places.
Starting a business is a whole different kind of adventure. It’s not the same as the little business, Hosting Helpers, I ran in high school!!! And so this is where most of my focus has gone lately. I’ve also discovered the world of WordPress and am setting up my news business website on this platform. It’s a task, to say the least! In the meantime, I’m meeting with friends who are entrepreneurs and others who have offered me great advice. I’m working on leads and tailoring my efforts to determine the scope of my services. I’ll make more of an announcement when the time is right! (The photo here is the working version of the logo and name.)
I’m looking to move OTBS over to a WordPress theme as well. However I am finding the theme I’m using a bit to stale for my personal blog. There is a lot of content here to consider! : ) And so I’m debating the switch and may just keep things going from the iWeb and MobileMe platform here.
Anyway…I just wanted to check in and let you know that there is a lot going on with me personally and professionally and that my attention will soon return to On The Bright Side. Until then,
GLOWing in Bangkok
Yesterday I made my way to Bangkok where I will spend the next week on sales calls. I’m here with my Sales Manager from Laos, which will be our main focus. Since the riots and violence in May, travel to Laos and Luang Prabang has severely slowed down. Most of the flights to Luang Prabang come from Bangkok. The number of flights per day has been limited and the people on the flights are few. Bangok flights from Hanoi have also been limited to just 4 per day across two airlines. An while Hanoi has a direct flight to Luang Prabang, the cost remains $340 round trip. A bit expensive to just zip over for the weekend.
I happen to love Bangkok and Thailand. The traffic and the rainy season my put a damper on running around town for business, but I’ll stay through the weekend to get a health check-up and do a wee bit of shopping.
The photo I’ve included is my hotel room, the Glow Trinity Hotel. It’s pretty cute and comfy!
At the office; Laos
Here’s a vacation request you don’t get everyday…one I received from one of my employees in Laos:
This is Lao culture every son must become a monk for a short period to thanks parents whom gave our life. And I will be leaving from 23 Mar – 08 Apr 2010 for 15 days.
I love how this is not really a request but a statement. Need I say that the leave was approved.
Have you ever received a strange request for time off?
Another day another Dong
Sometime in July my company decided to pay all of us expats in Vietnamese Dong (VND). This decision came after the government cracked down on accepting dollars. We had to change all promotional materials, menus and such to VND. This in itself is a bit of a nightmare. Instead of $130 per person you list 2.400.000VND per person. Perhaps you can see where that gets confusing, especially for tourists. There are other, more lazy reasons for this decision, but that’s another blog entry.
This movement toward a dong-only system is bad for the country. VND is not an internationally exchanged currency. So even if I go to Thailand for the weekend, I can’t change my dong for baht at the Bangkok airport. Thailand wont accept the currency. The only place I can use dong is in dongville, and that’s Vietnam. And let’s face it – I can’t even say the currency name with a straight face, much less take this worthless currency seriously.
Managing my finances in dong wouldn’t be so bad if there weren’t so many restrictions on what I can actually do with the dong, once I am paid in this currency. Here are the only things I can do with the dong directly deposited into my VND account at HSBC.
1. Keep it in the account (never gonna happen).
2. Withdraw in VND ( a must for daily expenses).
3. Transfer in foreign currency to account in foreign country
4. Withdraw in foreign currency provided I have proof of air ticket and visa, if needed, and explain for what purpose I need the money. (The tellers can be more aggressive than immigration. Upon going to London I had to argue that as a US Citizen I did not, in fact, need a visa for the UK.)
If the direct deposit from my company is not earmarked as salary, then items 3 and 4 are null and void. I’m stuck with the dong. The only place I can exchange dong for dollars is the black market, the gold/jewelry stores peppered throughout the city. The hotels (even the 5 Star ones) wont exchange money this way either (total bullshit – good luck if you pull too much dong on your stay in dongville) and not all of the “exchange” booths at the airport exchange money in the other direction. When I went to Laos in October, I had to go to 4 booths to accumulate $500 because 2 of the booths refused to give me USD, despite being a money “exchange”.
In order to make bank transfers online, you have to set up your online banking. Fine. You have to register the bank(s) you want to transfer to and if you plan to transfer a decent amount of cash, you have to “apply” to raise your daily limits. Done.
So last night when I went to transfer funds to my US account, it wouldn’t process my transfer because it said I was over the daily transfer limit. (I so wish I was talking large sums of cash here, but it’s a normal amount to prepare for a two week vacation in the US.) So apparently the paperwork I filed months ago was pointless and never processed. I was pissed.
Today I went to the bank to check on that paperwork. I had to fill out the form a second time. I’m assured that it will be processed this time. And so then I went to get my cash, because frankly, between now and Friday, I don’t have the time to dilly dally around with a wire transfer. I don’t really have time to make a personal appearance at the bank, either and wouldn’t need to had the damn people at the bank processed my paperwork!!!
So, I filled out my withdraw slip and waited in line. (Remind me to mention in another post how the Vietnamese do not like to wait in line and find no problem in just going up to the counter ahead of people.) Once I made it to a counter and elbowed a couple line-cutters out of the way, I was told that the maximum amount of USD I could be given “today” was $1000 (This figure, I was told, changes on a daily basis depending on the bank’s USD cash situation. It’s a frickin bank!!!)
I explained the situation about the unprocessed paperwork and told the teller that had HSBC done their job months ago and processed my paperwork, we wouldn’t be in this situation. I would have been able to smoothly transfer the funds I wanted. I went round and round with the teller and actually said the following on more than one occasion, “I am the customer. I already did my job. The bank has not done theirs. ” And a few “I should not have to work this hard to make a withdrawal. It is my money.” And also, “I am not leaving here until you give me the cash I am asking for.” One thing this country does not understand is customer service. But let’s just say that persistence does pay, and I left with my desired amount of cash.
I can’t tell you how annoying it is that even this aspect of my life comes with a set of challenges. Everything requires extra effort, but this is an area I really don’t want to have to put up a fight. She works hard for the dong just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Dong dong dong. Nope, still can’t say it with a straight face. Stupid dong.
Communication skills by English
Once I came back from Marrakech at the end of November, one of the goals at the top of my list was to hire a personal assistant. The thing with my job is that I am so busy, I really need an assistant to help me do this! I’m a day or two away from hiring one of three young ladies who would all be able to make a nice contribution to the role and have a good chance to develop their skills in Sales & Marketing.
During the search process, I have read scores of resumes. The Sales & Marketing Assistant really needs to speak English fluently. There have been numerous applicants who list their skills as “advanced” but who clearly have not yet grasped the language.
I’ve interviewed for a variety for positions throughout this last year, particularly as we have hired a few Sales Executives. What surprises me every time I ask this question in this country is the selfishness of the answer. The question being, “Why should I choose you?” The answer is often along the lines of, “Because I can get good experience and really improve my skills.” So totally NOT what we would say in the US or other Western countries. Yet, this is hands-down the most common way this question is answered. And it’s one tiny aspect of a cultural difference I have not gotten my head around.
To leave you on an entertaining note, I thought I would include one of my favorite cover letters I received from an applicant for my assistant. And this is not even the worst one! But this also gives you a small glimpse as to the level of English I deal with on a daily basis and the skills I’ve developed over the last several years to be able to sift through this garbled nonsense and capture the essence of the meaning. Special talent, people! ;p
Dear Sir or Madam,
I have known that your company is looking a Sales & Marketing assistant and I felt strongly interested in applying for the vacancy.
I graduated from Ha Noi University of Culture in June of 2007 and major in books & magazines business operation.
In my university, I was educated all basic knowledge about business field such as: Sales, Marketing, macroeconimics..and related others such as: method of managing and arranging system of document, data, equipment, chains of distribution books, magazines…
Otherwise, I was taught and practiced not only some basic clerical skills but also other specialist skills such as: research market, care service customers…
So besides, my computer ability for using Microsoft Office package and office equipments( phone, scan,fax, photocopy machine…) effectively as well as basic economic knowledge can useful for your work well.
Especially, I had 2 years experienced working in a Sales department as an order handler for big buyers such as Europe, America in a foreign company of the garment field gave me many chances to communicate with many foreigners directly or by many communication transports such as: phone, email in order to improve my communication skills by English …
Besides such a dynamic and complicated working environtment helped me to learn how manage time, informations, risk.. to give the best solution towards stragetical targets.
And assistant’s duty made me improve negotiation, persuading skill, making report and minutes and following, analyzing, collecting, balancing number,data skill
Because of my major to choosy buyers and diversity of exported order I must work independently under the high pressure as well as co-operate well with my colleagues to archieve common goals.
I believe that with my enthusiasm, ability, knowledge and experience, I can contribute to your company’s success. I hope to be a part of your company. The attached resume is enclosed with more details of my qualification.
I look forward to hearing good new from you soon.
Under Experience, an interesting job title:
One highlight under “Referees” (versus references):
Comment:A patient and unfear of hardship female staff to find the best way in her work.
I believe that with her experience and ability , she will get new suprising result in her career.
Have a great day everyone!
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