Living in Vietnam can provide a real taste of life in the East. Expats are drawn to Vietnam’s beautiful weather, low cost of living, vibrant culture and steady improvements in infrastructure.
Despite the benefits, there are still some issues that expats regularly complain about when living in Vietnam. Here is a story from Rick Ellis, an expatriate in Vietnam.
My most recent update was a reassuring nag about the lack of motivation often displayed by university students and young graduates embarking on their working careers here in Vietnam.
As a result of the article above, almost all of the interactions I have with that age group are aimed at me doing their English homework and guiding them in their pursuit of get-rich-quick shortcuts.
I just don’t get it.
How could they ever be demotivated, unable to see the abundance of opportunity right under our noses?
A quick glance into the future is enough; the average age in Vietnam is just over 30, and they earn and spend like there is no tomorrow. They start families, buy houses, vehicles and fall in love with all the gadgets that will drive up GDP for a very long time to come.
All of this sets the stage for any young person who wants to succeed, it’s like shooting fish into a barrel.
Strangely enough, only a handful of students I’ve encountered in recent years have understood that success is within reach for those who want to work for it.
Each has that proverbial twinkle in their eyes that cannot be quantified, but we feel it when we meet, feel their positive energy and know they are going somewhere in this world.
Enter Miss Chi, manager of the apartment complex I live in, who also runs a mid-sized hotel for the same owner.
I was looking for a place, contacted Chi and arranged a meeting after a few short exchanges on social media. The building is well located and furnished so it is always in demand even in the pandemic era.
When I showed up, it was as if our transaction had been scripted, as if she knew me and had been waiting for my arrival on site. Chi had all the answers and, even better, had anticipated all the questions.
Me: “It’s exactly what I want. Can I move in a few days?”
Chi: “Of course, that would be fine.”
Me: “Are the tenants quiet?”
Chi: “Like mice.”
Me: “I’ve never made a deposit in Vietnam. I swear on a pile of bibles that I will leave the place as I found it or better. Can we skip the deposit?”
Chi: “Of course we can. How long will you stay?”
Me: “Forever. I’ll be back tomorrow and pay the first month’s rent.’
Chi: “Welcome, I hope you enjoy your stay.”
No sooner had we sealed the deal than a pneumatic drill was fired next door, the building shook, our teeth rattled and cups danced in the cupboard as if an earthquake had struck.
I thought, “Oh shit, here we go with the Vietnamese construction nightmare”, which consists of building, demolishing, rebuilding and renovating until the owner’s money or ideas run out, or the work crew retires and goes back to their hometowns, whatever comes first.
I slid sideways along the wall to the door, but Chi nailed me right in my tracks: “I’m giving you a big discount on the first month’s rent because of the noise.”
I really liked the place, but I’ve had enough construction nightmares to last a lifetime, so I would have been stuck, if Chi hadn’t made all the difference.
A few months later, the vaccine against the dreaded pandemic rolled around.
Chi organized everything perfectly and asked me to be ready downstairs the next morning where I was greeted by not one, but two bodyguards – employees of the hotel she had arranged to drive me.
It turned out to be a good idea as everyone we asked along the way kept sending us to the wrong location even though they were very helpful.
As I discovered much later and quite by accident, Chi has no holes in her shoes, so to speak. Instead of living a privileged lifestyle, she has a busy full-time job, tutors several students in the evenings, sells gadgets and clothes online, and probably has a few more gigs that I don’t know about.
Then there’s the neighborhood star, Funny Boy Quy, a man in a dingy, dimly lit store where it’s such a mess you’d think it had been broken into overnight.
As you can tell from the name I assigned him (within minutes of meeting him I might add), he’s hilarious – it’s the only way to keep his sanity.
Customers whine about the prices and freshness of goods, and, as he once confided to me, his colleagues blame him for everything that goes wrong in the store. That’s bizarre, because he’s clearly the star of the show.
Quy’s life has not been easy – he had to drop out of school early and move far away from everything he knows to help support his widowed mother and siblings.
He spends much of his time haggling with edgy old ladies trying to squeeze prices, compiling long lists of purchases in his head, and navigating the myriad obstacles that surround it:
Funny Boy: “That will be VND24.000″ [US$1]Mrs.”
Smooth Old Lady: “Are you crazy, boy?”
Funny Boy: Sheepish grin comes across his face.
Smooth old lady: “Gangster! All you’re missing is a gun.”
Funny Boy: Blinks with his charming smile.
Smooth Old Lady: “I only have 22,000 VND.” (She probably has 22 million VND.)
Funny Boy: “No problem, ma’am.”
And so it goes, always that little smile, even when the customers get on his nerves.
I translate all the numbers he quotes me, and he rushes to a cheat sheet taped to the wall to write them down meticulously in English, looking forward to the day when he can serve his foreign customers more efficiently.
Quy fits in perfectly with his neighbor and partner in crime, Miss Giang, who runs the fruit shop next door. I doubt there is any tax link between the two companies, but they work together, taking over each other’s premises during brief absences and helping to unpack supplies.
He even knows the inner workings of my twisted mind as a consumer, a miracle in itself. Quy reminds me of things he thinks I may have missed, not to beat them up, but to help me get what I need.
He knows I’ll be back soon enough anyway, only to play with the dog and yell at the staff for not wearing their surgical masks.
Funny Boy knows service. He gets it and will come a long way in this world.
The last stop is the convenience store, a family affair run by the daughter, Miss Bao, who is also quite the fireball.
When I first started visiting the place a few years ago, it was also a holy mess, products strewn everywhere, shelves in disarray, and old appliances and other forgotten things lying around because (according to the old Vietnam custom) nothing ever can be thrown away .
My career as a customer got off to a bad start because an employee followed me, lurking in the aisles, and thought I was a shoplifter.
I approached the young lady in charge, Miss Bao, who speaks better English than I do, and asked her to call off the dogs, explaining that I had my own money and would be happy to pay for all purchases.
Bao laughed, solved it and that’s how I became a regular. This is how my visits usually go:
Me: “Hi Bao, how are you?”
(Phone rings, laptop rings, customers scream, she ignores them all.)
Bao: “Thank you so much. Have you seen the new herbs yet?”
She leads me to a new display rack full of goodies, then sees a bag of frozen peas I bought elsewhere, pulls out her phone and takes a photo.
Bao: “I’ll have them in stock next time you come.”
Little by little, Bao has been sprucing up the store so it’s clean and organized, with goods on display and a never-ending stream of slick new products.
End of story? It’s actually only part one, because Bao recently opened a brand new gourmet version of that supermarket in a new location.
She said triumphantly, “Finally I can organize my own mess instead of taking over someone else’s!”
I stopped by for the grand opening and invited Chi to join me, and the new store is absolutely world class, with a mix of local and imported goods.
What do all Chi, Funny Boy Quy and Bao have in common?
They have unbridled motivation, the one quality that surpasses all other attributes for success in business and in life. Give them something to do and they’ll snatch it from your hands and run to get it done.
If I could lock them up in a remote cabin for a month, I’m pretty sure they’d have a cure for cancer, the ultimate cure for global climate change, and the world’s best lasagna recipe.
They will do everything they can to succeed.
By Rick Ellis. This story was first posted on Tuoi Tre News