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Looking ahead

On the cusp of my one year anniversary with Apple Tree, of living and working in Vietnam, and on the heels of my travels overseas to London and Morocco, I can’t help but think about goals for next year.

Usually when I work at home, I have the TV or some music on in the background (or as the weather is pleasant now, my windows open which lends plenty of background noise).  A line from one of the movies on HBO was, “Life is an occasion. Rise to it.”  And it caught me and made me think.  Have I risen to the occasion this past year?  Has my life been well-rounded?  Have I achieved all of my goals?  Have I taken the bull by the horns and checked off all the boxes on my personal to-do list?  No, no, no and oh yeah – NO!!!

I am actually very sad at how quickly I lost sight of myself this year.  Right off the bat, work projects gobbled up me and my time, my thoughts, my every waking moment.  And we all know that that is not the person I am or the type of person I aspire to be.  I am not all about work.  Yes – of course – I will always have a strong work ethic, be dedicated to my job…but when I don’t attend to my personal life on account of my job being too much…..Well then, Houston, we have a problem.

I know almost nothing about Hanoi.  I can’t tell you what the best restaurant to go to is because I haven’t really tried enough of them.  Outside the events at the Press Club, I’m not to sure where is the best place to go to have fun. I don’t really know that much about Vietnamese cuisine.  I eat most my meals at work.  At my desk.  I have about 7 words of Vietnamese down, and 5 of those are so I can direct taxi drivers.

Sure, I have made many great friends, and certainly strengthened those relations I had coming into this post.  Project Shanna 2009, though, a total bust.  Absorbed the local culture?  No.  Made a good group of Vietnamese friends? No.

Usually I wait until the end of December to pick my personal theme for the year.  (Let’s not even touch on the fact that I did not live up to my personal theme for 2009.  Nor my professional one for that matter.)  But after hearing that line in that movie, I’ve already decided my one theme for 2010.  Rise to it.  And with all my power, and spirit and resolve – I will.


Vietnameses Engrish Tourisme

I mentioned just a few posts ago how I have not ventured far from my days as an English teacher.  Well, today made for another classic.  I received a call from a Mr. Duc yesterday (passed on to me by my staff who encouraged me to talk to him because his offer sounded “exciting”).  Mr. Duc explained that his firm does direct mail marketing.  I explained that we have no budget nor do we desire for such service.  He begged for a meeting with me.  I said no. He was confused and wanted an explanation why we don’t need his service.  I explained I was busy and that we do all direct marketing ourselves.

This morning, one of his staff members came to my office (entered from my side door through the Emeraude office – staff was still excited for me to speak to these folks) to drop off their proposal and insisted that she leave with one of my business cards.  I reminded her that I will not enlist their services.  She did not seem to understand the concept of “zero percent chance” and told me that Mr. Duc will contact me and “really requests” and appointment.

Within an hour of her visit, I received this e-mail:

Good morning Shanna,

As per our short talk of yesterday on phone, I would like to send you here attached our general presentation & our main products & services for your info. In the current contexte of crisis & strong competition, I think enterprise like yours probally need to do some direct advetising mail to promote your businesses. I understand that today 70% of your clients come directly from oversea & only 30% are vietnameses. Why do not make bigger this part of vietnamese people since more & more vietnameses want to enjoy better services than the normal & low standard boat in Halong. I think many “high incomes” local individuals still do not know about Emeurade & they are still hesitating come to see you due to the lack of information. Among your other means of media such as Heritage magazine, forum, name card  collecting, incentive, email which are very efficient also , I think Media Post can help you to do some interesting advertising campaign by direct mail. We can provide you some database of potential vietnameses with high income, tourisme oriented( full name, postal addresse, company, postion, car name owner, consumption habit….) which are regularly updated then we are in charge of sending your advertising piece to these people in the best way( Media Post is using postmen of Vnpost to distribue mail) . In the same way , Media Post has our own checking system to control the quality of distribution( phone call, random check, POD…) The percentage of replying people depend of course in the attractiveness of your products & the potential interest of the recipient but in all cases we can be sure about the accuracy of database, good quality of mail distribution( by minimising loss)…ect. 

For your information, we started our company last july & we already work for Big C Casino, Nestle, Societe General Viet Finance, Ruby Plaza, Prevoir insurance company, CCIFV, ISIVIC…If you are interested, I can come at any time as I base in Hanoi to have further talk with you & Mr Nam.

Meanwhile, please do not hesitate to let me know any information you need & hope to see you soon.

 Best regards

Dang Minh Duc

Deputy General Director(Marketing & Sales)



The fact that they used postmen of Vietnam Post almost had me hooked!!!

On the Bright Side,


Big Cultural Differences

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,


Home Sweet Home!!!

I just arrived home a few moments ago and once I came inside, closed my door, and turned on the lights, I turned around to see my living room.  I actually clapped my hands with excitement as this is the first time in 7 months I have actually come home and felt like I’ve come home.

Earlier today, I went back to crapville to check and make sure I didn’t leave anything behind, and that it was left in good condition.  As I looked around at the empty space, the great view of the lake, and the water stains on the wall, I just had to shake my head an wonder how I got sucked into that place.  Remember, that was, at the time, the 28th apartment I’d seen and construction was just being finished.  I think what sucked me in was that it was newly constructed and that it was the 5th floor with a great view.  I didn’t look at the small details, mainly because many of them weren’t finished.

So this time around, I studied every crack and door frame, the flooring, the walls, the quality of the cabinets, the furniture, etc.  And folks, I think we have a winner.  I’m not all that crazy about living just two flights up from the owners, but they are kind and I think that it can provide a great cultural experience for me.  They have two teenage sons who speak decent English and who were excited to learn that I had taught in Japan.  During move-in day, they were still installing a few things, and even though I told them that anytime that day they were welcome to go in to finish up projects, the elder boy, Trung, would call my cell and ask if it was ok to go inside.  Good start.

I haven’t unpacked everything yet, and I still need some pieces of unprovided furniture; a dresser in the bedroom, a guest bed, book shelves in the living room and possible more seating than what you see in this photo.  But the thing is – I can’t wait to make my home in this apartment.  I really, really like it and I am really looking forward to a long and happy time here.

I am overly delighted to have arrived at my very own home sweet home!!!

On the Bright Side,


Making my money work for me!

A couple of weeks ago, I was out with some girlfriends and we went to a restaurant in the Metropole (the oldest and poshest hotel in Hanoi), Angelina Steakhouse.  When Sarah suggested it, my first thought was, “It’s too expensive.”  But considering my work situation, I rarely spend money.  I realized, I can well afford a few nights out like that without hurting the budget.  It felt nice.

Once I had secured my apartment, I was trying to figure out how I would move.  I tried to collect boxes from Press Club, tried to find time to pack up my things (all the things which came in boxes from San Diego had been unpacked and boxes thrown away – do you remember those photos?).  I also had no clue how to get my belongings from crapville to my new home.

And then at breakfast last weekend, my new friend, Ray re-confirmed my idea – hire a moving service.  Since I was off to Laos on that Monday, gone the entire week before my move, it really seemed the only solution.  And so I contacted Stephanie who I met in my first days here who works for the Santa Fe relocation company.

The crew arrived at 9:30 this morning.  I explained how I had organized everything and what should be packed together, etc.  I had at least organized what went where.  By noon, all the contents of the boxes were emptied, most things put away in cabinets and the crew was off to the next appointment.

I am SO glad I spent the money to have someone help me move.  It would have been silly to try and do it myself – especially in this ridiculously HOT weather.  While it is important to stay on top of my finances, I really need to let go a bit and enjoy my success, as well as make my money work for me.  These types of services exist for a reason, and I am grateful I was smart enough to make the decision to pay for it!

On the Bright Side,


More Responsibility, Happy Me

June has been a month with many meetings and travel.  I’ve been to Saigon twice already, a third time next week and spent this last week in Laos looking after our properties there.

The meeting I attended today, gave me a huge boost in confidence and really helped me fall in love with my job, all over again.

I was called into headquarters in Saigon to discuss our online marketing efforts for our hospitality group.  To say that we are ‘average at best’ is an exaggeration, even.  We have outdated websites and no strategic plan in place to drive traffic to our hotels.  This is a project I am excited about and eager to be successful.

Since my office is at the Press Club, where two of my sales and marketing teams sit, I spend A LOT of my day on managerial issues and frankly, correcting English.  On site, I am the only native English speaker, and so I am constantly being asked to proof documents.  Heck, even one of our business partners, who should be providing us perfect copy, asked me to proof their marketing materials (that’s an entirely different issue for another day).  The press release sent out at the time of my arrival completely glossed over my five years as a teacher in Japan.  Yet I find that that entire experience comes into play more often than my years in marketing, alumni relations and hospitality.  In many ways, I am a teacher and mentor to our Vietnamese and Laos staff members.

In addition to this unwritten bullet point in the job description, I love the variety of challenges my job presents, such as balancing the day-to-day stuff versus the big picture projects.  I’m learning new things every day, I am kept well on my toes, and I see a great and long future with this company and in this type of position with other hotel groups in my far-away future.  I have a very long TO DO list, I still need to find the time to get organized, still need to balance out the personal life, but it’s all good.

In a nutshell, I think I’ve found my gig and I’m digging it.

On the Bright Side,


This is a brain map!

If all goes well and all gets approved, these scribbles will turn into a new online sales & marketing department with me as a team leader!

Just another day at the office…

I’ve already said it.  I’m a lucky girl.  This is a photo I took at Kamu Lodge, Apple Tree’s eco-lodge in the heart of the Laos forrest, just a couple hours from the UNESCO heritage city, Luang Prabang.

I love the lodge for the chance to get a way from modern civilization.  There are no phones, no internet connections, no cell signals.  It’s a complete chance to reconnect with nature and rejuvenate your soul.

I went to sleep in my tent to the sounds of crickets, birds, frogs and all sorts of other creatures who sung me to sleep and woke me up, all at the same time.

I was here to evaluate our property, to see how we can improve, how to best market this wonderful place, but damn, I’m lucky to “have” to do this job!  What a refreshing environment from which to work!

On the Bright Side,



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