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culture shock

I’m Still Liking It

I’m such a goof! That’s me with Thomas and Kurt on the Emeraude, just taking a bunch of silly photos.

Without a doubt, this past week was the worst week I’ve experienced in Vietnam.  The house leak situation, my foot,  a bank transfer fiasco and the tailor screwing up 3 suit jackets really tested my patience.

There is no question Vietnam, and Hanoi in particular is a challenging place to live.  It is a far cry from the orderly and beautiful life I lived in Japan.  I’ve missed the simplicity of my life there very much recently.

While I am sure that as I get adjusted to my job, to my new surroundings, to my new life, that I will have a bad day or two sprinkled among all the great ones.  My teaching background comes in handy here.  I’m as much a teacher as i am a Director, Sales & Marketing.  I provide lots of opportunities for professional growth for the sales staff I work with.  And it is satisfying when they learn a lesson and do something well on their own.

I also love what I’m doing.  My job, as I’ve mentioned, is a big one, and there are so many projects for me to tackle.  I like that.  I am energized by having a challenging job and a division of the company which has sooo much potential for greatness.  In most of my jobs, I have created or built-up departments, and it is no different here.

I am loving being back in hospitality, and being in a much more expansive segment than the private club industry (although Kurt and I reminisce how easy it is to just take care of one club versus an entire group of properties!).

I’m still working on my personal life, as I need a serious boost of attention there.  But I’m taking steps to fulfill this aspect of my life…it’s not going to happen overnight.  I’m meeting new people all the time and trying to get out more so that I can continue to meet new people.

The thing is – I love the adventure of living life abroad.  The challenges which are presented to me only make me a stronger and better person, more patient, and lend experiences which I would never have in the US.  And I like that.

So while it seems, like this week, that the odds are not in my favor, I know that I will come out on the bright side of all this a much better person.

So when Kurt asks me every once in awhile, “Are you still liking it?”  I have to say, without a doubt, “Yes.”  And I am.  I’m still liking it.


On the Bright Side,


What’s next?

4.29.2009 Update

Just thought I would let you know…I have an appointment this Saturday with an agent to look at some houses.  I’m contracted and paid up until June, so that gives me a bit of time to hunt.  I’ll keep you posted!

4.18.2009 Update

The weather forecast said there would be a thunderstorm on Tuesday.  It just didn’t say that it would blow in at 4am!  And that it did.  The thunder was super loud and the lighting bordered on an electric storm.  I don’t sleep well during storms anyway, the pounding of the rain didn’t help lull me to sleep!

I find it very strange that my first instinct was to pop out of bed and check for roof leaks.  After the whole water heater incident, I clearly don’t have the greatest confidence that my apartment building is built soundly or with terrifically skilled workers.

Sure enough, with just a 45 minute storm, though it was a heavy downpour, several water spots appeared all over the house.  I’m glad I thought to take photos, it came in handy explaining it to the apartment management.

I met the “technicians” on Wednesday morning.  As it turns out, one was the plumber, which made me think that the crew didn’t understand that this wasn’t a pipe leak, but parts of the building that weren’t sealed properly.  I walked through the house, showing them the photos and the location of each leak.

I also showed them that the window that they sealed up in the living room, wasn’t properly sealed on the outside of the building.  I don’t know what the hell these people were thinking!  I serve enough as a teacher in my work in hospitality, I just don’t have it in me to teach someone why the construction of a building is not strong enough!  No one understood why I was knocking on the bedroom window seal, trying to explain that the area underneath the window is hollow.  They couldn’t hear the difference in sound when I knocked on different parts of the walls!

Of course, the security dude who I’ve locked out by changing the locks, took his golden opportunity to explore my apartment, opening the bathroom and bedroom doors to take his peak everywhere.  I should have yelled at him, but I’m somewhat fascinated by how curious he is about the apartment.  He looked around and then went back downstairs.

I just couldn’t get over how clueless these folks were.  They asked several times how the water leak started.  Through the interpreter, I kept telling them the water came from the outside, from the storm.  All the leaks are from the storm.  Yet they still asked in a couple of locations if the water came from the inside.  Umm…yeah.  I threw water against the wall, and particularly near power outlets because I think it’s hilarious!

So, two scrawny little teenagers showed up this morning to get up on the roof and put down some more material over the bathroom.  That part was easy.  In the living room, another guy stood on a bucket on a chair and chipped away at the moldy part of my wall.  You can see in the pictures that one he exposed the brick, there was even one big hole that was never sealed up at all!  Yikes!

What ticked me off is that everyone planned to meet here Saturday and get everything done.  But I was told that they would come back Thursday to paint and fix the outside of the building.  I’m not happy about this.  I hate having to arrange my schedule to be home.  But they were not prepared to fix anything but the big hole in my living room wall.  And I can’t do a damn thing about it!

I sent an e-mail to the management asking them why they weren’t prepared.  It makes me feel better, but it is in vain.

Ms. Ngoc, our HR executive and I discussed this and the other things which have popped up since I moved in.  She strongly encourages me to find a new place to live. Since Ericsson employees occupy the rest of the building, I think they would be happy to have one more unit in the same building.  This would sure make it easy to break the contract.  While there is a part of me which does desire a better living situation, another part is not willing to go through a search and a move.  Yuck.  what a pain in the ass!

What would you do if you were me?


On the Bright Side,




A window in my bedroom. A line formed and then the water just started dripping.  You can see the wall opening was too big for the window and improperly sealed.

I’m angry.

My face today. I have lots of patience.  But when other people waste my precious free time on a Saturday, I get a bit steamed.


Remember how excited I was for this weekend…for my designer appointment and the plant guy to come over and help me choose plants to help spruce up the place?

Well today was one of those days which teaches you not to have expectations.

I scooted out of work “early” today to meet the team from Dome.  They were coming here to measure my spaces, suggest materials for curtains and the sofa and design ideas for the big pieces of furniture.  So I’m in the taxi on the way home and I get a message from the designer to say that they couldn’t come, “I forgot about another appointment.”  Seriously?  I’m ready to drop some serious cash on living, dining and bedroom furniture and they leave it on the table?  What kind of craziness is that?

So I come home and see that Hien is still here and I ask if she minds staying because I had also scheduled the plant guy and he speaks no English at all.  She agreed.  And so we waited and we waited.  30 minutes after the appointment time, we called his number.  He forgot about the appointment and was sleeping.  He said he’d be here in 10 minutes.

30 minutes later I give up and Hien and I called it a day.  He showed up.  And he goes nuts.  I need 20 expensive plants in my window box for $100 and other super tall plants for another $200, and ??? and ??? and the total starts growing.  And then he said he would need an advance.

I should say that this is the gardener for the Press Club.  Instead of showing some respect, he chose the option to take advantage.  Me no likey.

So I drew the type of plant I wanted and how many and asked him to see if he has them and then to come back at me with cost.  Yeah – let’s see where that goes.  Disappointing.

So instead of spending the afternoon hours of my Saturday being productive and checking some boxes on my To Do list, I am no further in filling my apartment with beautiful things than I was last week.

Damn it.  I’m pissed off about this, but I just need to chill out and stay focused.  Things don’t happen that easily in Vietnam, I’m learning.

Breathe.  Remember that some things happen for a reason.  Respect that and move on….it’ll come together.  It WILL come together.

On the Bright Side,


Get a life!

What gang sign is that? I am such the loser that I meant to put an L on my forehead and ended up with this weirdo version.  I’m so NOT cool!


Berlin was great on many levels.  I got to spend a romantic weekend with a very cute boy.  I enjoyed sightseeing in a remarkable city in the world, one more pin for my map. I’m truly fortunate to “have to” go to Berlin once a year.  I like traveling for work!  The exhibition was amazing and provided an opportunity to learn a lot about the travel industry, as well as provided a view of the bigger picture.

But on the plane back to Hanoi, I was working on my 3-month report for the owners, and as my list of things I’ve accomplished at work grew longer, I recognized that my list of personal achievements would pale in comparison if I had to write those down.

And that’s not me.  I’m the gal who gives 110% in everything I do.  Of course I want to be the best I can be at work, but at what expense?  Until I made time to write updates for the entire month of March, how often did I update my blog here?  How many photos have I taken in and around Hanoi?  And what have those photos mostly been of -my commute to work.  Yes I’ve met people, but I haven’t made much of an effort at making new friends.  Correspondence with my Japanese students or friends?  It’s been months.  Keeping up with my On The Bright Side newsletter? Writing to my friends? Writing in my journal?  Exploring my new surroundings?  Exercising and taking care of myself?  No no no no and no.  That doesn’t make me feel too good.

I had a rough week back at work this past week.  I was fighting jet lag like crazy and I got side-tracked with interviews for Press Club staff (20 hours!) instead of focusing on the bigger picture and following up after my trade event.  So by the time the weekend came and my half day of work on Saturday turned 4:00 pm. I simply stopped.

I had the Tang man pick me up and take me to a furniture shop called Dome.  I looked at sofas and dining tables and scheduled an appointment with a designer who will come to my home, measure my windows and space and suggest designs and colors and pieces to buy.  I’m excited.  I can’t wait to have a proper living space with fun, lively and bright colors.  I may end up paying more than I should, but I simply want a lovely home to return to at the end of the day.

I did more research on the motorbike and asked our HR Madam, Ms. Ngoc to help me by the Honda AirBlade I’ve set my heart on.  I finally sent my parents my wish list – there are some things they can send which would add convenience or luxury to my life. And I got my HSBC banking account set-up online so I can transfer money to my US account.

I got a little bit more organized at home and actually wrote a “to do” list for my maid.  I do, at least, have a maid who comes once a week.  I still feel weird about having a maid just for me, but she helps me tremendously.  It was awesome to come home from Berlin to a perfectly in-tact home.

So – I apologize once again for not updating you more often.  Enough is enough.  Sharing these life adventures with you gives me tremendous joy.  The thing is – I’ve got to get out of the office and live a little so I have something interesting to share!  I have got to get a life…

On the Bright Side,


Motorbike Wars

Morning Commute – This is what my commute looks like in the morning.  And this is actually a good day.  This is not congested at all.


The day I get my own motorbike is growing near.  I need the freedom to come and go as I please and I am growing quite tired of relying on motorbike and taxi drivers.

I’m particularly surprised with how little English the cab drivers speak, and by how often I am instructing them which turns to make and where to go.  Because of their lack of English, when you show them and address and try to confirm if they know it or not, all you get is an “OK OK OK”.  And numerous times, the guy who says “OK” and seems to understand, makes a wrong turn or takes the long way around or has to pull over to consult a map – never mind that I am trying to tell him that I know where we are going!  But I could go on for hours about taxis in Hanoi.  Let’s stay on the topic of motorbikes…

I’ve talked about the Tang man before.  He’s my driver in the morning.  I send a text message at night for the time to pick me up in the morning like

3.20.09  8:00am ok?

And he replies with a simple “ok”.  Rudimentary, but it works. I don’t speak Vietnamese, he doesn’t speak English.  It’s a classic case of k.i.s.s.

But recently I found a motorbike driver who stays around my work area.  Mr. Ha speaks a little English, is a safe driver and can be at my work in five minutes.  So I developed a good system.  The Tang man takes me to work.  Mr. Ha takes me home.  Win-Win-Win.

Just before Berlin, Mr. Ha went out to the countryside to visit family.  He called to tell me he wouldn’t be available.  I told him I’d call him after Berlin.  Cool.

When I came back from Berlin, the Tang man picked me up the next morning.  I had the receptionist explain that I forgot to tell him I went out of town and that I apologize for not contacting him before my trip.  He said it was no problem, but asked why I never call him to pick me up at work. I had to remind him that he told me he’s busy at night taking my friends Anna or MJ to their gig at night.  He said to call him anyway and that if he’s busy, so be it, but if he’s free, he’d like to take me home.  Fair enough.

So, feeling a bit of jet lag in the first days back, I asked him to be at the office at 6pm.  And I did this for the past three nights because, frankly, I’m exhausted.  I can barely keep my eyes open at work and just need to ease back into the Vietnamese clock.  And I always thought I did pretty good with jet lag.  Whatever – anyway…

Well yesterday, I get a call during the day from Mr. Ha.  I missed the call and figured he was telling me that he was back from the countryside or on his way there and simply wanted to check in with me.  He’s a good salesman in that way.

After I got home and got cozy on the couch with my laptop, about 8:30pm.  I saw that Mr. Ha was calling again.  I didn’t want to deal, frankly.  An hour later, I was about to hit the sack and Mr. Ha called again.  Surely that would be the last time.  He can’t be that desperate for my business, nor that curious about my whereabouts.  Could he?

I drifted off into dreamland only to to be jolted awake, thinking my alarm was going off.  10:30pm.  I rolled over, I just want to get some sleep, people!!!

The last call came at 11:50pm.  Then I was angry.  And I didn’t pick up the phone because I didn’t want to yell profanity at the man.  But I was extremely bothered by this.  Was he drunk?  Why would a motorbike driver ever need to call me at 11:50pm. EVER???

The next day, I had one of my staff members, Mr. Nam help me.  I told him the situation.  He thought it also strange and unacceptable.  So he called Mr. Ha for me.  Mr. Ha apologized profusely but said that he was very concerned because he had asked around and heard from others that I had found a new motorbike driver.  He wanted to talk with me about this because he asked and who-knows-who told him they’d seen me with another driver.  Mr. Nam explained that if I needed his services, I would call him, but asked Mr. Ha not to call me again.


Like I need this.  Now I’m supposed to feel like I’m cheating every time I hop on the back of someone else’s motorbike?  He asked other people about my motorbike habits? WTF???

Mr. Ha needs to chill out and realize that the Tang man, who I met when I traveled here last year, is my main biker dude.  And Mr. Ha needs to figure out that the moment he called me more than once in a day, and at 11:50 at night – he lost my business for good.  What a ding dong.

Not only am I tired of relying on others to get around town, but I do not enjoy being made a pawn in some weirdo motorbike driver war.  I’ve got my heart set on a Honda Airblade, red, slick and automatic, and at this point I don’t think I can buy it quick enough.

On the Bright Side,


Privacy Please

We Westerners sure love our space.  And we adore privacy.  We put a fence up around our homes and stick signs up to say KEEP OUT.  At hotels, we have the option of letting everyone know that we do not want to be disturbed.  Even on SKYPE, you can select a status of “do not disturb” which, frankly I wonder why someone wouldn’t just log off, but that’s a story for another day.

We value our personal space and privacy.  As much experience as I’ve had and as much traveling as I’ve done, I still value it, too.  But this is not the case in Vietnam.

As soon as I moved into my apartment, I noticed that while I was away at work, people, someone, who knows who, had been in my apartment while I was at work.  I would return to opened curtains, new paintings hung on the wall, or a note left on my coffee table telling me that the internet was working.  At first, I tried not to get upset, because I realized that they were simply trying to check on things and spruce the place up.

After the dust settled, though, I told the manager that no one needed to enter the apartment any longer, that I didn’t want strange people going inside.  And me being me, I’d booby trap the place before I left in the morning so I would know exactly if someone had entered and where in the apartment they had been.

One day as I left for work, I was told that a maid would start coming to clean my house and that she would start that day.  I thanked our receptionist but politely declined the service.  I didn’t tell them I would use only someone I know and trust.  When I came home that night, I knew someone had been in my house, but not a maid.  I called the manager and expressed my displeasure.  He assured me it wouldn’t happen again.

But it did happen again, not long after that and I had to have a face-to-face meeting with him to let him know exactly why it was unacceptable for someone I don’t know to go into my apartment when I am not there and when there is no appointment.  He agreed that only by appointment or if I was home would his security or maintenance staff enter.  I told him that if an unwelcome entry happened again, I would change the locks.

So everyday for a few weeks, I maintained my simple booby trap and would come home quite pleased that no one had been inside.  That was until the Friday before I left for Berlin.  The little piece of black paper was not in the door jam.  I looked up and down and could not see it.  My heart started to race as I put my key in my door and opened it.  I could see the little piece of paper in the middle of the hallway.  Someone had been inside.

I looked around everywhere, checked all my belongings, checked everything and then sat down on the couch and tried not to get angry.  I wasn’t sure why someone had been inside, maybe something happened and there was a legitimate reason.  But it felt SO VERY WRONG.  I felt invaded, taken advantage of, all sorts of other horrible emotions.  I mean – who came in?  What did they do?  What did they look through?  Did they sit on my couch, watch a little TV?  Before I got too worked up, I called Mr. Thien, the manager and asked him who had entered my apartment and why.

He responded that the security guard had entered the apartment because he needed to water the plants (I have a window box and a palm on my balcony).  I explained that I water the plants every weekend and that in addition, the weather had been wet and rainy the entire week, so there was no need to water the plants.  “Oh, I see,” was the quiet response.  No apologies, no additional excuses.  I asked him if the security guard had an appointment.  “No.”  I asked him if I was home when the security guard entered. “No.”  So I reminded him of our agreement and he left me with, “It won’t happen again.”

You bet your sweet ass it won’t!

I had the locks changed.  And I can’t even tell you the peace of mind it provides to know that no one can enter my home except me.  I can’t wait for the phone call from Mr. Thien where he says, “Shanna, our security guard tried to enter your apartment today, but maybe you changed the lock.”  And this will actually happen.  And when it does, I’ll let you know!

On the Bright Side,


Yup! That’s me!

I am posting this photo and this entry merely as evidence that I am still alive and well in Hanoi.  What you see here is me “assuming the position”.  As of late, that is in my office, at my desk, slaving away at the computer, either writing articles for newsletters, reading e-mails, reading reports, writing reports, writing e-mails (way too many!), managing my team or coming up with some *brilliant* idea of how to market and sell our six properties!  I’m also likely to be setting myself up for a slipped disc in my neck again with my horrible posture, hunched over my laptop – but that’s a story for another day!

I really want you to know much I love you, I miss you, I am thinking about you and wishing I had the time to take a huge breath and break and touch base with each of you personally.  I’m in my third week of “OH MY GOD I HAVE SOOOOoooo MUCH TO DO” mode.  But I think all of us have been in this situation where a new job, a new adventure, a new chapter in life is nothing short of all-consuming.  And so it is for me.  I’m lucky if I remember to brush my teeth before I go to sleep (OK. That was totally an exaggeration!  I only forgot to brush them on Monday night.).

As you can see I haven’t lost my sense of humor.  Nor my enthusiasm for what I am doing.  I am so proud to be the Director of Sales & Marketing for Apple Tree and I am thoroughly enjoying living in Hanoi (what I experience of it when I’m not in the room you see in the picture!).

My favorite 15 minutes of the day is my motorbike ride to work.  The “Tang Man” (real name: Anh Tanh) picks me up at 8am most mornings.  I hop on the back of his bike with my brief case between us and purse clutched over my left shoulder.  I watch with wide eyes as mornings in Hanoi unfold.  Sights of ladies selling produce, men setting up their barber shops against tree trunks, families of four on a motorbike, random people trying to cross insanely busy streets, buses full of middle-aged tourists, and young “cool” guys without helmets all whiz by in a blur.  But the wind in my face and the sights and sounds (even the smells sometimes) are all so exciting.  It’s a thrill.  I can’t wait to get my own motorbike and learn the city streets.

I hope you can lend me your patience and understanding.  I miss my routine of writing, of updating my blog, of chatting with you.  Love and miss you oodles and will write again soon.

On the Bright Side,



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