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.
The driver was late picking me up at the airport this evening. When he arrived 45 minutes later than scheduled, he clearly looked perplexed. Once in the car, he explained that there was an accident on the road and as he had no passengers in the car, the police stopped him and demanded that he take one of the victims to the hospital. He told me that the police can pull anyone over and demand these kids of things and that he is in no position to refuse. Hung was clearly irritated and did not want to be involved. He was also relieved that the victim wasn’t a big bloody mess.
Can you imagine?
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!
OK. So here is something which doesn’t happen in the U.S. – like EVER. For our team in Laos, we’ve been looking to hire a Sales & Marketing Manager because I’m not able to do all the work in Hanoi and it’s important to have someone who connects with all the travel agents there and manages the reservation staff. We first started with a Vietnamese guy who used to work for one of our properties a few years ago. But there was concern that he would not be able to deal well with the Lao people and that ultimately, he would not succeed.
Our second option was a Philippino gal, but again, the Lao owners thought that a Lao person would be best. Finally they came up with a candidate who has had some really spot-on experience and who will be able to pick up the job nicely and easily. She finished her contract at the end of July and was planning to take two months off, one reason being to attend a human resources training course. Her start date would be October 1st. A month later than we want and need, but nonetheless we found a candidate everyone agrees on. So yaaay.
I prepared all the paperwork with her offer, we all agreed on the salary and the morning I sent her the paperwork to sign I got this e-mail message (totally a surprise and out of left field):
Thank you Shanna.
Just want to let you know that today I am be coming a nan. I will stay in Temple for two week, I will be able to access to internet very limite.
Forget the misspelling and any thought this has to do with Indian food… becoming a nun was the last thing I expected her to say. And I certainly thought she would sign her papers before she would be unavailable for two weeks! I had to clarify with the Lao owners if this was something normal, acceptable…what this was really. The answer was that it is more of a cleansing ritual, washes away all the negatives, helps you gain a clear mind and a cleansed soul so that you can move forward in your life in a positive way.
While that all sounds very nice and zen, I was still left shaking my head. These are the kinds of cultural lessons no one prepares you for. They just pop up and you have to learn how to deal with them. Me personally, I would never prioritize my life in this way, and therefore did not appreciate being left hanging. But everyone else around me seemed ok with it, enough so that it made me feel like I was overreacting. So, I took a deep breath, talked to Buddha and told him that this gal had better sign our papers once she gets out of the temple. I am still waiting for the official signature, but have at least received an e-mail from her which tells me she’s back online this Monday.
Oh the joys of working in a foreign country. Never a dull moment!
On my way home this evening, I had to stop at the ATM, the market and walk home in this sticky humidity for about 10 minutes – in my work clothes and heels. Yuck. Running these errands after work allowed me to get home by about 7pm. Not so bad. I was pretty happy.
As I headed down the ramp, turning the corner toward the main part of Lane 31, some motorbikes came up the ramp and I could hear a few behind me. I learned super quickly to stay to the outside of this 90 degree turn – I nearly got run over 3 times the first time I walked home on the inside of the turn.
As all the motorbikes met in the middle, a young kid without a helmet thought it a good idea to pass other bikers going up the ramp. The foreigner on the big motorcycle going down the ramp did me a favor by staying on his path and not swerving to miss the kid, nor to run over me. The kid’s biked smacked the side of the foreigner’s bike and then bounced off the side of another bike he was trying to pass. His bike hit the pavement, he sort of popped off the seat and managed not to get run over.
Everyone paused. The foreign guy looked at the kid and in a thick British accent yelled, “It serves you fucking right. (pause) It serves you fucking right.” And then he zoomed off. Smart of him to do before he really drew too much attention to himself. But there was no, “Are you OK?” or even an ‘”I’m sorry” on either side of the collision.
All I could think was – WOW. I really hope that I never get in an accident once I do actually get a motorbike. And on top of that, I really hope I never get that bitter and angry about life in Vietnam. The foreign dude had a super red face and was really, really pissed.
This week has been a tough week for me professionally. No doubt, life here requires a bit of grit. I am a bit overwhelmed at the moment with all that is on my plate. And I feel I don’t have a good balance between personal and professional life. I really don’t want to feel guilty during all the moments in my free time when I am not chained to my computer working. What has become the norm is that my time during the day is not my own. I spend FAR too much of it helping my staff figure out how to do their job, editing and proofing English, approving artwork and putting out fires. By the time the end of the day comes, I often feel I have accomplished nothing, and long to go home to peace and quiet, simply so I can actually cross of one item on my TO DO list!!! But we all know how that goes. You arrive home exhausted and spent, and very little of what you turn out in the evening is actually quality stuff. I long for a “do not disturb” sticker for my forehead. Even then, I think my staff would ignore it.
I am still traveling on a windy path trying to find my way here in Vietnam. I wrote to my friend Holly today:
I am also struggling with the fact that our local staff here are just not up to speed – to put it politely. I spend so much of my day being teacher, mentor and coach, that sometimes I feel like a kindergarten teacher instead of a Director, Sales & Marketing. The role of teacher is not foreign to me (obviously), but when they don’t know how to do something or a poor decision costs us business, it’s hard for me to accept this and not get upset. And “upset” is not an emotion which is OK to display in this culture. So I’m finding my way of how to get things done and how to steer the horse to water AND make it drink!!!
The Vietnamese, while they have many good qualities about them, lack some very basic skills which would help them better succeed in today’s modern business world. Their English is actually pretty good, but decision making, organization, professionalism, work ethic and others are lacking. Work ethic is a biggie. I think what gets me is that I end up spending numerous additional hours in the office or at home doing my own projects/work because in the regular working hours I am all too busy helping them do their job. And so when I get a “Where are we on the ABC project?” from my higher-ups, I get so frustrated, feel stressed out and allow myself to feel so inadequate. And that’s not a pleasant feeling! I have yet to feel like I am reaching my professional theme this year – Knock it Outta Da Park!
I am going to Bangkok this weekend for a health check and a shopping excursion. And a break. I need to get out of Hanoi on non-business related matters. Never mind that most of my shopping will be for work clothes, a business card holder and shoes suitable for the office. I’m spending time just for me, and it is important to replenish my enthusiasm from time to time.
There is no question that life in Hanoi, life is this complex and fascinating culture of Vietnam is much more of a challenge than I anticipated. There is simply no comparison between Japan and Vietnam. Two totally different animals. After nearly 8 months here, I would say it is about time that reality smacks me in the face and I allow myself to feel a bit of culture shock. I think I’ve avoided it quite nicely by hiding behind the “I’m new” motto. Now that I am in my good and sturdy home, now that the work has piled upon my desk, that I have made some friends and figured some things out about life here in this 999 year old city….I realize I have to buckle up and prepare myself for a very bumpy ride. Bumpy but rewarding.
The important thing to note is that I am sitting in the driver’s seat and I am ready for a super long road trip. I still don’t know what is in store, but I am ready. A bit shaken and in need of a good night’s sleep, but ready for more. I really want to find out where this journey will take me.
On the Bright Side,
I’ve talked a lot about work and my travels, a few holidays, the apartment drama and now sweetness, but I haven’t shared too much about my cultural observations with you.
I think many of you have been loyal fans of OTBS since my days in Japan. And when I had that blog active, I shared lots of cultural stories. My work here doesn’t throw me into cultural situations as often as my days as a teacher in Japan. I learned something new about Japan and the Japanese, I think, everyday I lived there. Plus, I had oodles of spare time to soak it all up and write about it.
Admittedly, my new career has sucked up most of my time in the past seven months, and considering my office at the Press Club also serves as my main social outlet – I don’t get out much! I’ve shared my commitment for change on that front, and indeed things are beginning to balance out.
Well, a couple weeks ago, I experienced my first jaw-dropping moment. One of my brand new sales executives for the Press Club asked for 4 days off in her probation period. This surprised me, as it would you – isn’t this the time to give 110%??? Well, it turns out that this married mother of a 4-month-old accidentally got pregnant again. And because it is bad timing for her, and because it was an accident, she decided to abort.
Now, let me make something perfectly clear…I don’t have an issue with her wanting an abortion. I’m not interested in getting in a debate here as to who is for and against abortion. I believe that is a private decision and a personal decision and not one I want to impose on anyone else. That’s not the point of my sharing this experience with you.
The shock to me was that the entire office knew she was off to have an abortion and that this idea was looked upon as casually as having to take four days off for the flu. No big deal. If I were ever in that situation – and I’m thankful I’ve never had to make those tough choices – I certainly wouldn’t want the entire office to know my personal business!!! To me, that is one of the most private issues a woman can face!
Kurt was a bit surprised that I was so in shock, and this situation gave us a nice opportunity to discuss this point. Essentially, in Vietnam, safe sex is not understood nor usually practiced and there are no hesitations to have abortions. It goes without saying that STDs and HIV/AIDS are almost a bigger issues than pregnancy. Abortion, though is simply seen as a medical procedure which takes care of a health issue. The casualness of this decision and the manner in which it is freely shared and known among all sort of freaks me out.
I’ve witnessed a lot and learned much in my travels and my life abroad. Clearly, I wasn’t prepared for this, and I’m still, after a few weeks, trying to get my head around it.
On the Bright Side,
I wish I were hilarious enough to make this stuff up. But unfortunately, this photo is the reality of my life at the moment!
To put it in a nut shell…Big rain storm. Lots of wind. Crappy building. No over-hang on the roof to protect this back wall. More rain. Rain, rain, rain. Unsealed walls. Walls absorbed the water. Water came through to the inside of the house. So wet, it ran down the walls and flooded the floor. My maid (bless her) freaked out, but cleaned it all up and did good by putting all my belongings in the guest room.
I’ve ‘evacuated’ the master bedroom as it is so humid in there with those wet walls. I’m living in the guest room with all my belongings. Cursing the management for their lack of care in fixing this super huge problem. Laughing at them because the crew that came today did not install an over-hang on the roof, but simply put a sheet of metal over the corner of the roof. Not a permanent fix, but what the hell do I care.
Found a nice agent who will take me to look at more places this Wednesday. Found one house online that I really like. Hopeful. Will keep you posted. Too much drama to write this out like a normal person. Tired of this nonsense and so very ready to move on. I have so much work to do, I don’t have time to deal with the apartment drama crap! I really hope the house gods like me!
On the Bright Side,