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I posted this quote on the On The Bright Side Facebook Page earlier today. Since it received lots of likes and comments, I thought I would share this here too.

— USE YOUR EXPERIENCE – In a world obsessed with youth, experience is often undervalued. But your unique experiences are priceless. They give you many advantages. Cherish them. Use them wisely: at work, with your family, in relationships, in planning ahead.


What’s been interesting for me is that since I have returned from an 8 year stint abroad, I find it increasingly difficult to actually talk about the experiences I cherish, the moments that have changed my life forever and made me the person I am today. All that international travel experience is unique and it is priceless… to me. Very few people in the US can relate to living overseas, and in such places like Japan and Vietnam. It’s a shame, really. It’s those experiences I value the most and have made my life full of value.

Thank you for your kind reply

UPDATE 8/5/09: I just had to share this one today.  It may even be better than the Italian e-mail…

We understand that we have booked this booking a long time, but clients so late reply to confirm us.

So, we are very sorry to say CANCEL this booking because our Clients have decided to changed this trip.  Therefore, we apology this inconvenience Cancellation and looking forward to hearing your early reply with acknowledgement.


Thank you for the acknowledgement of your confirmation.

Thanks with best regards,

I will endeavour to reply to your email on my return.

Thank you so much for your kind information.


These are actual comments from e-mails.  I have the pleasure of reading these types of comments in e-mails I see everyday exchanged between reservation agents in Laos.  Long story as to why I am auto-copied on the exchanges, but if nothing else, the e-mails give me a good chuckle everyday.  Here is the typical…


A:  Please kindly confirm the following booking.

B: Thanks so much for your booking. I’d like to confirm your booking:

A: Thank you for your kind confirmation.

B: You are welcome for the confirmation.


But today topped the cake.  I could not stop laughing when this one came in:


Dear All,

Please treat the above clients as VIP Treatment as they are very important (Italian) – I have just been informed by agent today that they are now complaint everywhere for slowly check in and they do not want to wait too long.

Therefore, please try to do the best for them to avoid any problem for us.

A – please hurry up prepare their immigration formality to avoid any delay for them. 

B – could you please serve them in house wine for them during Dinner at X as compliment from “Y”?  And prepare separate table for them from another passengers.

C – please kindly inform your guide at Z to do the fast check in and do the best services for them.  prepare separate table for them from another passengers during meals. 

Thanks all of you in advance for your kind co operation.


Aside from being hilarious to me, it hopefully serves to all as a warning how well the staff are aware of problem customers.  Clearly this group of Italians are just too impatient.  Can’t be bothered to wait for anything.  And they don’t like other travelers.  I find this hard to believe, as Italy certainly runs at its own pace and most Italians love a good group of fun people!  But I guess when folks travel to exotic places and are far away from home, they step outside the mold and get uncomfortable in new surroundings.  Too funny, though.

Thanks you for kindly reading this information.  Your kind comment is most welcome.

Thank you with best regards,


Haircut Preview #1

When I was in Berlin I had my hair up in a towel and when Paul saw me this way in the bathroom, he stopped, looked at me and said, “Wow, your face is really beautiful.  You shouldn’t have so much hair covering it up.”  When a dude says something like this, you should listen.

And so I thought about it and I decided I would grow my bangs out.  For the first time EVER in my life.  And so this past week, all because of the bangs, I had three haircuts in four days.

Saturday I cut it very simply at the shoulders, eliminating the layers at the bottom.  But with my hair being a bit thick and a bit wavy, the humidity makes it frizz a bit and so it just didn’t look right.  Too much of a triangle shape.  And it was boring.  No style, just too-long bangs and a blunt cut at the shoulders.

So I went back Monday night and asked for some layers to blend in the bangs.  I walked out with THE worst haircut of my life.  The dude layered and layered, textured and textured.  My grip on the chair grew tighter.  I finally said, “Are you leaving me any hair back there?”  The end result made me look like I had a reverse mullet.  Or a really weird shaggy bob or something which resembled a mushroom.  I looked like a rabid lion.

I went to work with that nonsense on Tuesday and then went to a different salon Tuesday night.  I ended up getting it cut, bluntly, just past my chin.  So now I have a very layered, short bob-type thing.  Not a bad fix, but not at all what I intended for my hair when I had the mind to get it cut on Saturday.

So here I am at the Friday Night on the Terrace event with my good friend Sarah for one of the first snapshots of me with my new do. The bangs blend a lot more, and I hope that with the shorter length, the whole grow-out process will be smoother.  Thank goodness my hair grows quickly!

What do you think of this new do?

On the Bright Side,


Photography 101

Here’s a little story about how things work in Vietnam.

You see, we have these wonderful parties at the Press Club on the first Friday of the month called Friday Night on The Terrace.  We hire a photographer for two hours and pay him $50 to take lots of photos of everyone having a great time.  For a Vietnamese guy, this is a lot of money.

For reference, I should say that these pictures are used in our publicity, in newsletters and as historical data for the great occasions which take place at the Club.

I first took notice of his photographic ability after our New Year’s Eve party.  It was such a great event, with balloons and glitter falling from the ceiling at midnight.  But somehow, between about 11:50 and 12:20, there are but a few photos.  And most of the photos we do have are taken from the same spot.  Otherwise we have photos of an empty restaurant, people pointing at menus, people talking on their cell phones, and people standing in line to buy drink tickets. You’d never guess that they were all attending a fantastic party!

This prompted me to have a discussion with my Marketing Manager who had a chat with the photographer.  Our January Friday Night on the Terrace photos were great.  Very pleased.  The pep talk seemed to work.

Then February came and the photo CD had just 112 photos.  11 of them were like the one in this post.  And the rest?  More of the boring bad stuff.

So I had another chat with my Marketing Manager.  He told me that the way it works in Vietnam is that the relationships we create are very important.  And the Club has always used this photographer.  He suggested that we have a sit-down meeting with the photographer and show him which photos are good photos and which ones are bad ones.

Here was my line of questioning:

If you go to a flower shop and order a bouquet, should you have to teach the florist how to make the arrangement?

If your motor bike breaks down and you take it to a mechanic, should you have to teach the mechanic how to fix the bike?

If I hire a “professional” photographer to take pictures at a party, should I have to teach him how to use the damn camera?

Of course, my manager understood my positioning, but insisted that we need to give guidance to the photographer, to be more clear about the types of photos we want.  He assured me that if we nurtured the relationship, we would see a good result.  So I sat in the meeting with my manager and the photographer.  The photographer’s cell phone vibrated the entire 20 minutes we met.  He nodded as I showed him examples of good photos and bad photos, making sure to use a “helpful” tone in my voice so as not to have him loose face.  Before he left, he said he agreed and that he appreciated the information.  I explained to my manager that the March event was the big test.

Today when I returned to the office from my trip to Berlin, I had just 104 photos to view on the CD.  That’s nearly $2 per photo.  I paid for blurry, uninteresting, menu-pointing, line-standing, non-publishable photos.  So I told the manager today that will will no longer use that photographer. He said he cannot just cut him loose (because that’s also loosing face and no one wants to be the bearer of bad news).  He suggested that we should hire someone else first and see if they are better.  The excuses flew as he told me that even a foreigner they used in the past could not take good photos.  He let me know that Mr. Thanh is the only photographer he knows and that if I wanted to hire someone new, I had to search on my own.  Never mind about that being unacceptable.

My new friend Muna, who is the editor of East West Magazine has already put me in contact with someone she finds talented and affordable.  While I am thrilled at the prospect of a real, live, professional photographer, I know that this little drama is not over.  I’m sure that I have stepped on toes and created discomfort.  I cannot get my hands around the idea that my manager would rather continue to pay for a bad service, simply because he’s used the same guy for awhile and doesn’t want to make the guy feel bad.

My Marketing Manager and I are coming from two completely different worlds on this one.  I refuse to pay for a bad service and he simply doesn’t want to rock the boat or loose face.


Welcome to Vietnam!

Happy New Year and Helloooo!

I’m such a dork! – I have no idea why the Press Club photographer thought this was an opportune time to take a photo, but it actually is fitting for the swirl of emotions of the past 1.5 months.


There is no question I have been a busy little bee since arriving in Hanoi.  I used this really dorky photo of me for this post, because that kind of sums up how I feel at certain moments.  It’s a combination actually of surprise, joy, misunderstanding and happiness.  It’s bizarre at moments, frustrating in others, and amazingly wonderful in most.

It must be the same everywhere in the world – when you start a new job, you are bit consumed for a good month or two, yes?  And so I have fallen into this phenomenon for the past 6 weeks.  Mostly I have been at work, attending work functions, meeting people through work and have had work on the brain for most of every day. It’s a big job ahead of me, a good challenge, and I love it.  A little hard work never killed me!

Yet I’ve still had a few moments here and there to observe life in Vietnam, to laugh at a situation, to take in a new culture and to attempt getting cozy in a new apartment (even though I haven’t been home so much!).  Here are some notes I’ve taken as I’ve been blazing through each day here:

At Work

  • At Christmas time, we had the local orphanage as our guest choir.  They (mostly girls) came dresses up like little Christmas princesses, complete with tiaras and sang all sorts of songs…just no Christmas carols!
  • For New Year’s Eve, we had a huge party on The Terrace.  Indeed, we were THE party in town!  I really didn’t know what to wear, with trying to mix business and pleasure, so I opted for a (big surprise here) black shirt with my black pants (the outfit in this photo).  Not bad except that what all our waiters and bartenders were wearing, too.
  • No matter, I met a very cute Austrian boy who was in Hanoi on vacation who didn’t seem to mind the all black attire.  He arrived a bit after midnight, but I got my NYE kisses in after all.  Yum.
  • I get e-mails addressed to “Shanna oi”
  • Some of my co-workers don’t close the door to their bathroom stall and think it’s OK to pee when talking to me.
  • On the way back to work one afternoon, I saw a very large, very pink and very dead pig in a trash can, feet sticking straight up in the air.
  • I caught a bad cold just before the big trade event in town.  I met some key players in the company with my stuffy nose and a voice like a toad.  Great first impression!  And also on all the new contacts at the trade event!
  • Vietnam hosted the Asean Travel Forum for the first time.  It was a very poorly organized event (but that was done my folks from Singapore), and at the end of the event, when all of the exhibitors had left, a gang of thieves came and stole all the furniture from the booths.  This does not fare well for Vietnam.  It’s bad on so many levels.   What’s worse is that one week later, the event organizers have yet to contact us and we have been unable to get help from the police.  Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore!!!
  • I just have to say this, and it is not very nice, but at the trade event the weirdest people I met happened to be American.  Why do we feel the need to talk so much?  And what’s with all the catch phrases and corporate lingo?  We really need to relax a bit and learn how to just sit down with someone, relax and just have a normal conversation. Please.

At Home

  • In finally moved into my apartment on December 28th.  I have a long way to go before it feels cozy and mine, but I am happy to finally have a place to call home.  Living out of a hotel is simply not fun at all.
  • In the beginning, the manager said that 4 single men who worked for Ericsson were moving into the building.  I could only dream and hope.  In reality, 6 men and 1 woman, all Phillipino and doing IT work for Ericsson moved in.  All very nice, but no hot single studs like I was hoping.  Is that so wrong?
  • It’s totally normal in Vietnamese culture to go into a tenant’s home when they are not there and have not set an appointment or invited you in.  I’ve had several discussions with my manager and am two seconds away from changing the locks.  You see, I booby trap my apartment everyday, with a simple piece of black paper in the door jam.  So I know exactly when someone has been in my apartment.  You, too, would be disturbed if you saw how often this happens.
  • On one occasion when I was home and had the “security” man and the maintenance man here to fix my water heater (I was getting only 4 minutes of hot water), the “security” man thought it was ok to make himself at home and take an empty bottle from my cupboard, open the windows and water the plants in the window box.  Since he couldn’t understand me and wouldn’t listen, I finally grabbed the bottle from him and said, “No!”  He just smiled back at me.
  • Now that the water heater is fixed, I get a whopping 7.5 – 8 minutes of hot water from the 30L tank.  Boys, that may be plenty of time for you, but for us girls, it’s nearly impossible to wash/condition our hair and shave our armpits and legs and bikini lines in 8 minutes.

In General

  • The current exchange rate is 17,500 VND to US $1.00.  Even so, there are 500, 1000 and 2000 VND notes.  However at the grocery store, when they are out of 1000 VND notes, they give you this change in the form of candy.
  • On that ‘note’ the Vietnamese currency is called Dong.  Dong.  Dong. Dong.  How can you not laugh?
  • Mr. Thanh (pronounced like Tang), is my motorbike driver and now pipcks me up everyday from my house to take me to work.  I SMS him something like…  15.1.09  7:30am ok?  …and get a response “OK”.  That’s about as much communicating as we can do for now!  But it works!
  • Until I get my own motorbike, I am also taking taxis to get around.  These are more expensive than motorbikes and I hate the fact that the drivers never seem to have change.  So when your meter says 20,000 and all you have is a 50,000 note, you have to argue with the driver a bit to get your change.
  • I finally bought a vietnamese phrase book, but haven’t the faintest clue how to pronounce anything in it!  And for some reason, Japanese doesn’t work in this country!
  • I can see a lot fromt he back of the motorbike on the way to work.  One of my favorite sights is men getting a haircut from the barber.  A barber who has hung a mirror from a tree trunk and plopped a chair on the sidewalk.  These stations are everywhere!
  • I’ve had two suits made by my new tailor.  Good looking suits.  In V-style, the suits are very form fitting.  In fact, when I lift my arms, the suit jacket goes up with ’em!  I’ll have to work with them on that.  My suits look nice, though when I’m not moving too much!
  • There are plenty of places to find amusing forms of ENGRISH.  I like the menus in particular.  At the City View Cafe you can get a “Generous turnip with tomatoes.”
  • We Americans haven’t played too nicely in SE Asia.  I had to pay $10 more for my visa to Laos than my buddy Kurt.  He’s Swiss.  The Swiss know how to play nice.

And on that note, I’m off to Laos tomorrow!  I’ll visit our two properties there and get to know Luang Prabang as a destination.  Since I didn’t get to visit Laos this past spring, I am more than eager to visit now.  After Laos, my schedule is a bit more calm and I hope to fall into a MUCH better routine of updating the blog and photos.  You can see there are a few updates below…especially one on my boxes!  Thanks for keeping in touch and tuned in. Check back soon!

On the Bright Side,


My First Pet

For anyone who has traveled through SE Asia, this is a familiar sight.  I love these little geckos.  I was delighted to come home tonight and find one tucked up near the corner of my living room wall.  He was a tiny little one, not even as long as my index finger.

There must not have been enough bugs around – he was gone in the morning.  Bummer.  I hope he comes back.

On the Bright Side,


Bread Ladies

On my way out to Halong Bay to visit our boat, The Emeraude, the highway was peppered with these women who sell french bread.  Some sit passively as this woman in the photo, but some stand and try to wave down cars or motorbikes passing by.

With all the dust and pollution from the highway, I can’t imagine what that bread tastes like!

On the Bright Side,



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