I chose to study biology in a very natural way and by fate. My mother is a doctor, so I was exposed to biology since I was a child. It encouraged me to consider going to Hanoi Medical University after finishing high school but unfortunately I failed the entrance exams; instead, I went to study Biology at the Hanoi National University of Education. From then on, I developed a very strong attachment to science. There were limited opportunities to study abroad back then; hence, I always tried my best to take advantage of those rare chances. During my third year, I had the opportunity to study in Japan through an exchange program. Before entering the university, I felt a little bit disappointed because it was an all girl school and there were no boys [laugh]. However, later my feelings changed and I felt more happy and comfortable at the university. During that year in Japan, not only did I learn Japanese but it was also an opportunity for me to expand my horizons. When the program was over, I returned to Vietnam and applied to continue my studies in Japan after my graduation. In 1996, right after finishing at the Hanoi National University of Education, I returned to Japan.
My PhD thesis topic was on molecular biology, but my first job was about bioinformatics. In fact, at the time that I was working on the thesis, I had to use bioinformatics in order to analyze the data. Hence, I decided to broaden my specialties in the field of bioinformatics which is helpful for my future career.
I have a lot of funny and happy memories of times when I did experiments in the lab. During my time in Japan, the school I studied in had a small campus and so the lab I worked in was also quite small and lacked many needed equipment. One time I had to do the research about protozoan, specifically paramecium, in which I had to operate a centrifuge at 4oC. However, at that time we did not have a modern centrifuge that could work under the required conditions. So when we found that the chemical storage room could set up at 40C, my co-researcher and I decided to bring the centrifuge to this room to carry on with the research. It was during the middle of the summer and we were just wearing a light weight lab coat over our summer clothing. But because we spent continuous hours working in a room that was 40C, we were freezing cold and hungry by the time we were finally finished. I told everybody that we had just came out of a refrigerator. Whenever recalling this memory I usually tell people, “the conditions of working in Japan was cold and starving.” [Laugh] Yet just one year later, technology had changed dramatically and we did not have to work in the storage room anymore [laugh].
I worked in Japan five more years before coming back to Vietnam. When I returned, I applied to work for the Institution of Biotechnology, which was where I did my internship back then. Studying in Japan had made my resume stronger; therefore, my application was easily accepted. However, I was quite bitter about being on a two month probation period and working a whole year as a trainee. After a short time, I realized that these things were just part of a formal procedure. After just two years of working in Vietnam, I managed a joint project with another institution in Thailand. Our research project was to decode DNA of sugpo pawn.
My responsibilities are focused on three main things: researching, performing administrative formalities, and guiding students. Every early morning, I list out all the jobs to complete that day and then rank them in order of importance. Research was always ranked first. I usually have spare time while waiting for research results because I use machines to analyze the data. During this free time, I usually deal with administrative duties or write reports. Next, I spent time guiding and discussing with students any problems or questions that they have. Unfortunately, my work in Vietnam did not run as smoothly as it had while I was working in Japan.
Researchers in Vietnam have to take on multiple duties. For example, if our institution is going to have a joint conference with Japanese and English researchers in order to share experiences, then we must deal with most of the administrative duties to conduct this conference. Or when we receive a research project, it is also our responsibility to deal with all the finances. We must do things that are not in our specialty and this affects our research job. At the university in Japan, there are departments specialized in finance and all the professors have their own secretaries. Working in Vietnam seems to give me more self-control, but it causes unnecessary pressure and stress.
Moreover, sometimes researchers in Vietnam are unmotivated. To be honest, our job at the Institution of Biotechnology is not too hard. Everybody starts their day at 8 am and tries to finish the job by 5 or 6 pm so we could spend more time at home with our families. However, working conditions are not as good as in Japan. My job in Japan started at 9 am and sometimes could end at 12 pm. The continuous effort and supportive facilities produced higher levels of productivity and motivation for me; but it is different when researching in Vietnam. Many times we run out of chemicals to use in our experiments when we were just getting excited about the project. So we have to buy it overseas and it could take up to a month for the shipment to arrive. That is why many times our enthusiasm diminishes. In addition, my co-workers and I, who have studied abroad, want to contribute everything we learned but it is hard because of the lack of necessary facilities and resources. Thus, in a way our work becomes quite stressful.
Among our many disadvantages at work, I realized that actually the most difficult job for me, and generally Vietnamese women, is how to balance my job life and my duties to my family. I actually had chances to continue working in Japan; however if I did that, I thought it would be too selfish. That is why I came back to Vietnam. Moreover, since I have gotten married, time spent at work has lessened. What would a husband think if his wife does not come home before 8 pm to prepare dinner? [Laugh].
Due to the many obstacles I faced, from bottom of my heart, I think in order to pursue this kind of career we have to be very passionate for what we do. You know, at my institution, we mainly compete for knowledge. Economic factors have no effect on our work relationships. Research is always our first priority and rarely do we think of competing with one another for power or position. To be a researcher, it is also about honor, which is way more important than money.
Contributors: Eliza Tran, Jennifer Phung, Nguyễn Minh Dương, Lỗ Thị Lan Anh
nhà nghiên cứu sinh học phân tử
At the pagoda, people call me Phương Huyền, but the name my parents gave me is Thu. I’m 27 and I’m from Bình Điền, Huế. My parents are farmers and I have four siblings. I have an older brother who has his own family and house now. Then there is me. Next there is my brother, who used to be a bus driver and is currently a truck driver who transports logs. My younger sister is a monk in Nha Trang.
I have always known about and liked the pagoda. In 1999 when a severe flood came to the town, all the monks in pagoda came to help people. We were with Master at Đông Ba market, We had to put all the toys high up to keep them from the rising water. When the flood stopped, it was already late at night so we stayed there to sleep. We even had the chance to lie next to Master. It was the first time that ever happened! We were all afraid that the flood would come again.At that time, I still had long, beautiful hair. As I laid next to Master, from time to time she would tuck my hair away to keep it from touching the water. She even gave us blankets to keep us warm. Actually, none of us could sleep. I could feel a lot of love from her. It’s kinda hard to describe it. If it had been my mom, I probably would’ve taken it for granted. I felt like it was like, an electric shock running through my body and spreading love through me! At that time, I felt that it was fate and I became more determined than ever to be a monk. I thought that if I just stayed at home, got married, had a husband and kids, I could help only my own family – I would not even have time to help my parents. But if I followed Buddhism I could help more people with all my heart. It’s already hard scrambling around and earning a living, not to mention have the heart to help others. Going to the pagoda seems more pure and I like it that way. (Laughs)
My parents understand Buddhism very well, so when they found out that their daughter had chosen this path, they considered it good news and at the same time, they didn’t really want it. Mostly because the life of monks in pagodas is very hard – we have to take care of a lot of things ourselves. So my family was strongly against it, especially my oldest brother. He didn’t even want to see me again after I left home for the pagoda. He said if I stayed home and lived well, then I could help others. But if I chose the path without a husband or children, I would miss out on a lot in life. Though my parents eventually agreed, he was still strongly against me! I told him, “It’s my life, my decision to make, and my own path to choose”. At times when I went home, he would not see me but he still cared about me. He gave my mom some money to give to me. Like the feelings between a brother and sister.
Everyday, we get up at 3:15 to get ready ‘til 3:30. Then we go ring the bell and pray ‘til 5. Then we go downstairs to do chores, like cooking, cleaning or gardening. At 6:15, we have breakfast and go to school or work at about 7. I come back around 10 and continue with my chores. After I have lunch, I take a nap ‘til about 1:30 or 2 and then I wake up to study. At about 3:15 I do more work and have dinner at 5. Then, I have my own free time ‘til 7 when I go praying. I start doing homework again at 8:30. 9pm is the time when we are allowed to sleep but I stay up ‘til 11:30 or 12 doing homework. I don’t get to sleep more than five hours a day.
Since I have become a monk, everywhere is my home and I consider my Master my mother, or even more. According to Buddha, parents are just the ones who give birth to us, while the Master here is the one who guides us to a better and grander way. This kind of devotion is greater than that required from parents. But we are human after all so we feel a closer connection to our parents, who tend to pamper us, as opposed to the Master who is strict to us. We pay respect to her and love her. All the monks, like me, have had to leave family to get here, so we consider each other siblings. The older monks usually take it easy on the younger ones. Sometimes when the younger do wrong, we, older ones, get really angry but we still show them the way because if we don’t, no one will. So we’re kinda like sisters, or maybe even more than that.
Well, I’m still young now and Master guides us so all I had to do was get up early and stay up late. After we finish our education, we’ll have to take over a charity kindergarten. Right now, I feel like I’m in my parents’ embrace – life is not really a struggle. Actually, some sisters used to be headmistresses of a kindergarten and they had to deal with so many things, like operations, payroll, and taking care of the kids. This charity kindergarten had low fees so they had to work hard to persuade the staff to stay and at the same time, outreach to more people. It was very hard for them. But I’m still studying now (laugh) and don’t have to have to worry about this yet. Some monks who finish school stay here to do charity at the kindergarten while others go to other places to spread the teachings of Buddha. Monks often go up North to become headmasters. It’s hard since we all get used to the guidance from our Master and it’s basically their first time having to deal with everything all by themselves, especially if they become headmaster!
It’s hard to become a monk because we are human – we are still pleasure-seeking. Like tứ oai nghi, the ways in which we are supposed to walk, stand, sleep, and sit. It’s really tough because there are so many different rules and we have to apply it to everything we do. I still try, though. Master says that I still walk too fast and I need to slow down. I even run when the guests come to visit and Master doesn’t like it. It’s hard but practice makes better. Otherwise, it’s not too hard to learn since we what we’re learning is pretty easy. Aside from that, we also have to learn kinh luật, the teachings of Buddha.
If someone was undecided about whether or not they should be a monk, I would suggest them to go to the pagoda. It’s actually very hard to become a monk and sometimes there are so many things to worry about. I get in trouble sometimes but other than that, I feel at peace here. That’s why the monk’s path is actually the best path. As you know, Buddha was actually a prince who was ready to leave his throne and a prosperous life to discover the path of Buddhism. He already created the path and now all we have to do is follow him. So, why not? It would be so wasteful if we didn’t (laugh). Although becoming a monk means that there are restrictions, that you can’t “enjoy” life, and that you can’t always do what you want to do, it’s still worth it. It helps you get out of the “birth-death cycle”. It’s really hard to be reincarnated as a human and if you don’t get enough good karma, it’ll be hard to be human again in your next life. By being a monk I want to get to get out of this cycle and help people at the same time.
Contributors: Tina Bao-Ngan Ngo, Annelisa Luong, Nguyen Thi Lan, Bùi Hà Phương
To be honest, the whole process is hard and takes a lot of effort. But the most important part is cooking the rice and mixing it with the yeast. You can’t make good wine out of overcooked or undercooked rice. Or when you let the wine sit and brew–it sours pretty easily in the summer. It ferments too quickly and goes sour. When that happens, I have to pour more water into the mixture and cook it again. The sour part goes to the bottom–you just throw that away–and you take the top layer of wine to sell. It’s a waste of time and wine. Sometimes customers complain that the wine’s gone sour–mainly in the summer–but that’s pretty rare.
It’s a hard job, but I’m a laborer, and I have to admit that having something to do everyday saves me from boredom. Plus I have a good reputation; people keep asking for my wine so I keep making it! It’s pretty fun. I’d get bored otherwise, unsettled even [laughs]. [teases grandson] Grandma isn’t at ease if she doesn’t work!
Even though there’s a lot more beer places and types of bottled wines now, people are buying from me more than ever before! [laughs] [daughter interjects] We wanna stop but people keep asking for it so we have to keep making it! People like that my wine is made pure and simple–it’s not mixed with anything else–so they keep coming back. The wine you find on the streets nowadays is made with Chinese yeast. With Chinese yeast, you don’t even need to cook the rice, you just mix the yeast in with water and rice and wait 2-3 days. It doesn’t go sour and you can get more wine out of it, but it doesn’t taste as good and it’s bad for your health. I just stick to the old-fashioned way–always have, always will.
My customers buy directly from me and my family, not from restaurants or pubs. There’s such a high demand that sometimes I can’t fill all the orders. Some folks come all the way from Gia Lâm–that’s 30-40 kilometers away. Some folks come by every ten days and still can’t get their order after a month. It’s just that there’s no more space in my kitchen, otherwise I’d sell more. I sell each liter for 40,000 VND and make about 4 million VND per month. Just enough money to put food on the table! [laughs] I could sell my wine at a higher price, but I don’t dare to because I have good relationships with all my customers–raising my prices could create rifts.
I’ll keep making wine until I just can’t anymore! [laughs] I have three daughters–any of them can do this if they want, but I really don’t think so. Making wine requires a lot of space, time, and energy. You’re inside all day. And truth be told, it’s just something to do but it’s not much to look forward to.
Back to my work and the traditional medicine department of #108 hospital… After 14 years of working here, I have really fallen in love with my job. Actually, many people have bad feelings about hospital environments because some doctors and nurses will ask for money from the patients’ families, but that doesn’t happen in my department. Every patient in my department is treated equally. Some patients, even after checking out, will return just to bring us gifts as a way of saying thanks. Of course, we never accept anything greater than 2 kg of fruit [laughs]. We value saving people more than anything else.
Around this time next year, I’ll be retired, which means I’ll be leaving the position that I have worked for the last 15 years. 15 years isn’t too long, but it’s been enough for me to experience all of the bad and good things about being a nurse. At this point in my life, I’m really grateful that I accidentally became a nurse because it has allowed me to know the hearts of dying patients, see the happiness of a recovered patient’s family, to feel the joy of an old patient who has found a new purpose in life, and to enjoy the “tears of happiness shed after a patient wins their battle with the god of death.”
Hello! My name is Đỗ Minh Tuấn and I’m a film director… I’ve directed many films and shows, several of which you may know: Garbage Dump King [Vua Bãi Rác], Memories of Điện Biên Phu [Kí Ức Điện Biên], and the TV series Secret of Eva [Bí Mật Eva].
Before I was a film director, I was studying at Hanoi National University and graduated in 1975. After a year of studying geography, I found my real calling and decided to switch majors to literature. After graduating I worked for the Institute of Philosophy in Hanoi for a bit [laughs lightly]. As a child my parents exposed me to many different types of arts, magazines and a variety of books… I inherited my passion for the arts from my parents. When I went to school I found I naturally had other abilities and interests…natural senses… which came in handy when the economy wasn’t doing so well. Even though I love poetry, literature, and art, I put it aside for my left hand while I devoted my right hand to the sciences [a expression in Vietnamese articulating the left hand is used for lesser things such a side job while the right hand is dedicated to the main job].
The thought of becoming a film director came to me when I was working for the Philosophy Institute. I don’t know exactly when but I started to feel that my life needed a change; I needed to do something where I could be creative. I needed to explore and expand my artistic abilities in art: poems, drama, painting, etc. There was an incident at work… and it lead me to pursue a career in the seventh art [a term used to describe film and cinema; architecture, sculpture, painting, music, poetry, and dance are the first six]. I decided to quit my job and take courses at Hanoi University of Drama and Cinematography. I graduated from the university in 1986 and came to work at Vietnam Feature Films Studio. I’ve been working with them ever since.
Even though I’m a creative person, I gotta bottle it… I put a cap on my creativity. Working in a state owned studio forces me to….I have to follow orders [laughs loudly]. Luckily, I still have some methods of keeping my productions from being censored too much. For example, sometimes they check my screenplay and they ask me to alter it. Okay! I’ll change it… But when they give me the money for it I still do what I want. When they figure out [laughs] I tell them that the screenplay and the real films can be end up being so much different. Sometimes I accept the changes they want and do nothing but then they also do nothing… [shrugs his shoulders]. Perhaps they’d forget about what they told me to change but perhaps they thought they had already done their job and didn’t want to make it any more difficult for me… I don’t know. One of the most memorable moments I have is when I was required to change the name of the Garbage Dump King… since they felt that it implied to Vietnam as a being a garbage dumb and “destroying the image of the nation.” I pretended to change it but then I secretly kept the title… I snuck it into the final version of the film [smiles]. When the film had been completed they couldn’t change anything; there was no money left over to fix something as small as a title… so I got to keep the name [laugh]!
The Garbage Dump King became one of the most successful films in my career. It may be considered one of the most famous films from Vietnam. It was warmly welcomed in San Jose at Camera 12 and at a seven day film festival in Canada in 2003 as well. It was even in the list of nominations for the Oscars. Unfortunately, the film submission was late and could not make it onto the list for foreign films. I also have other projects that were shown in 40 film festivals around the world. They were pretty buzzworthy. 20 countries have bought copyrights to my films. The copyright to my movie, Memories of Dien Bien Phu was purchased by 5 different countries: China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, and Brunei.
Besides being accepted into film festivals, another moment in my life that I’m really proud of is when I was offered the Rockefeller Fellowship at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. I was offered an opportunity to go to the United States to study at the William Joiner Center: for the Study of War and Social Consequences. With this fellowship I got to study Vietnamese diaspora in California for a few months, where there is a large Vietnamese population. I also wrote a lot of articles about what Vietnamese culture abroad was like. While in the U.S. I also attended film festivals and marketed my films. After featuring in film festivals such as the Santa Monica Film Festival, I received some offers from film production companies. It was then when I started working on my very first English screenplay titled The Monkey King. But, when I got back to Việt Nam, I found myself too busy with other work and my point of view towards China changed. I decided not to continue with this project. Now I’m thinking about working on another project about Vietnamese from around the world… I think it would focus on the Vietnamese community in San Francisco.
I’m a combo of things right now: part poet, writer, playwright, artist, film director, and philosopher. After seven years of working, I’ve found that being a film director is just like being a conductor of an orchestra: you gotta be able to balance everything. You gotta have the ability to manage and combine small parts to be a part of a larger dynamic whole. Keeping busy and stimulating my creativity has been the key to my success. I really value freedom and was lucky to have parents that gave it to me. I was always given a chance to choose what I wanted and which course in life I would take [laughs] and I carried that with me always. My films are always inspired by my feelings and thoughts about everything in my life. Even though sometimes I may have a screenplay already done in my hand, I’ll suddenly see a sunray or feel a gust of wind that inspires me and I’d just go after it; I try to catch it [laugh] and then totally change the original screenplay. That’s the reason why my audience can always share every feeling and every viewpoint of mine… They cry and laugh and they laugh and cry with the characters in my films. Following my every whim can sometimes lead me to trouble with production managers. The kind of trouble that has affected my promotion… But if I could turn back time, I would still choose to be myself but if I had a chance to meet my 30 year old self, I perhaps would tell myself to immediately buy an iPad [laughs] and go to the US sooner.
I’m 59 now… and according to the law they’re going to put me out to pasture next year, but for me, retirement means nothing. I’ll still continue to do my work. I have many plans for next year even though I’m supposed to retire. I’m going to start on a spin-off of my series Secret of Eva with the title Secret of Adam, write a new screenplay about Trần Hưng Đạo [a revered Vietnamese General and Prince who fought off the Mongols in the late 13th century], rewrite some of my old screenplays, prepare for the “City of Five Seasons” in Đà Nẵng, finish up my artwork for the opening of my exhibition and much, much more… Art is my life. The day I leave art will be the day that I leave this life.
Contributors: Colleen Ngo, Josh Mayhew, Mai Lan, Mai Quang Huy
My name is Quỳnh Anh, and I’m a 21 year-old senior at the Foreign Trade University. These days I’m a manager at Oriflame’s Viking office [Oriflame is a direct-distributed cosmetics company based in Sweden and focused primarily on developing markets in Asia]. This office was founded by a leader who’s 1 year older than me, some other friends and myself, in November 2009 – four months after I joined Oriflame. At that time, I already had a network that generated 100 million profit monthly [US$5000]. I’d known Oriflame since high school, but it was not until 2009 that I officially joined this business. It all started when I was introduced by one classmate of mine. He changed from a shy guy to a dynamic, knowledgable and independent person, plus he started earning money. So, I was interested and decided to give it a shot.
It’s pretty simple to join Oriflame: you must be over 18, submit a copy of your ID card, a VND 89,000 registration fee [US$4.50] and not currently be an employee of any other Orilame’s branch. As a multilevel business, besides direct selling, a wiser way of making profit is to recruit and train new salespeople. As a manager now, I am still doing the fundamental strategy: direct selling and recruitment, but, of course, with higher responsibility. Obviously, managing 5 people is far easier than managing 100 people [laughs]. However, I can not personally work with all 100 of them; rather, I’ll just guide and train group leaders, then they will train their group’s members. In addition, Orflame also provides me daily sales report to observe the whole system and individual sales revenue, which is also counted in my salary.
This job does not require a fixed working schedule, as long as you spend around 3 hours each day for it. For example, if you were in my group, I could arrange my schedule to meet you at 6pm on Thursday to share experiences. And that’s how I could actively adjust my time for both working and studying. The needed characteristic of the job is being active, not only showing the catalogue to attract customers. You need some “catalyst” to dig into customer’s demands (laughs). For example, if a fat woman came to you without any knowing of how to lose weight, you can show them the Oriflame products help you lose some fat in the lower body. However, as I realized, the best way to convince people should come from personal experience, so I myself use these products to understand how customers think and be more persuasive.
Of course there are difficulties doing the job, like when sales decrease significantly in the summer since demand for cosmetic products goes down, and my regular customers – mostly my friends – go back to their hometown. Even though there was no pressure from Oriflame company to maintain a certain level of sales, psychologically, when your business fluctuates you feel like you’re facing obstacles. And then, there’s robbery. One time I left a bag of cosmetic for one of my friends to watch, but she didn’t and it got stolen. Another time, I brought some ordered products worth more than 1 million VND to school, then went to the canteen to chit-chat with my friends, and then I… forgot [laughs].
Another thing about the job is that it helps me connect to lots of people, widening my social contacts. My hierarchical network now has around 100 active people, with 7 people at the first level. Viking office recruits 20 new member everyday, most of them are students: young, active and have lots of spare time. You see, after 2 years in this business, I have made thousands of new relationships (laughs). It also solidifies my relationships with old friends or relatives whom I didn’t have time to keep in touch so often. My customers are mostly people around me, and other people hear about our promotions online on Facebook or Yahoo. Yet those who buy the most are indirect customers. Like, if you work in an office, I could ask you to promote my products in your office, or at home, my mother could do the PR to our neighbors for me. [laughs]
As you may guess, there’s a lot of controversies going on around Oriflame. The word “Multi Level Marketing” itself is very easy to be misunderstood in Vietnam, because there are a bunch of fraudulent companies making use of this term. Because of that infamous reputation, you need to be careful when mentioning the issue. Some people even told me “It’s a scam, isn’t it? Why do you work for it then?” Anyway, I am not upset about that [laughs], because Oriflame is an international, well-known company. Not only that, before joining, I had done some of my own research from not only the company itself but also people around me. In case people have the wrong idea about it, I could clarify to them. Fortunately, things are getting better as Vietnamese people now have more and more helpful information on the Internet, so that makes our job much easier.
I am really satisfied with my job. And I guess you can get the same answer from all the people who have worked here for more than 2 years like me. Otherwise, they would have ditched this job already. To me, as a student from a rural area who has to pay monthly rent, tuition fee, utility bills, and other expenses incurred when living away from home, this job provides me not only financial independence but also some extra money for saving. More importantly, I feel more mature, and I gain more knowledge and experiences that can’t be taught in school. It also expands my relationships and career opportunities. To be honest, some human resources have asked me to work for their companies after graduation when knowing that I am Viking’s vice manager. It doesn’t matter what I learn at university, but what I get from my work place. Actually, in college, my major is International trade, but I learn many things including Marketing, Insurance and Customs duties– very broad, you see– but working helps me know my strengths and what I want to do. I myself feel interested in marketing or tourism, fields that allow me to socialize with more people. But whatever my career pursuit is, I will stick with Oriflame. This job is like building a house, everyday you stack a brick and after one year you will get a house. Viking is the house I am building, and with a solid and wide base, it will become my asset.
Contributors: Tracy Nguyen, Đinh Đoàn Vũ, Nguyễn Thanh Nga, Trương Công Tuấn
Basically, you can say that this job is a dream come true. I used to be a farmer along the Mekong delta, but it was always my dream to travel around my own country, explore different areas, and meet different people. Everyone knows that farmers work really hard for very little pay, so I wanted to increase my income.
I was 23 during the war when I fled the country and ended up in Malaysia for four years. I learned English there and then went back to Saigon. By chance, I heard that there were openings for backpacker tour guides. Three years later, one backpacker suggested that I move on. I started working for an Australian Company called Travel Indochina in 1990. In 2000, I went to Australia to start interpreting and translating English. However, the job exposed me to a lot of negative stuff such as court cases and police work. It wasn’t the job I was looking for. In 2008, I made the decision to start and run my own company. After working for someone too long, I wanted to run tours in my own style. When you work for someone else, you are building their business, not yourself. I accepted a job doing tourism management, and I learned all the ins and outs of running the business. It was in the middle of 2009 that I quit the job and officially started my own company.
I am recommended on travel websites, so I’ve been really busy these days. During the beginning of this year, things started to really pick up but I didn’t really want my business expanding so fast. I’m considering expanding sometime next year, but I’ve been rejecting some tours. I don’t believe in the enterprising war—making money by prioritizing quantity over quality. I am very selective to who I serve.
I do unique tours. I don’t have many competitors and my itinerary is unparalleled. I don’t just take people out to fancy lunches and dinners. My tours hit up the local spots and I always promote the local community and experience. I have a responsibility to the local community. That’s what I do. In Saigon I promote 333 beer and in Hue I promote Huda beer. The real stuff is my signature. No one can compete with me. I do the real tour. I don’t do backpackers or low budget tours. I’m non-touristy. I don’t like bringing people to touristy stuff, to shop and stuff. I don’t do tours for normal tourists, none of the big buses and stuff. Nope, I don’t do that. I like to narrow down my market sector that way.
My top three clients are Australians, US, and UK. For locals I only do company trips. I sometimes operate in some selected cities in Laos and Cambodia. It’s for my travelers who want to extend their tours. Only 15% are in Laos and Cambodia.
One of the challenges on the job is creating the itinerary. It requires people to have in-depth knowledge of different destinations. Not many Vietnamese people can really create the itineraries the way I do. You have to calculate every hour and every day of the tour. If you misplace a trip to the market, you could mess with people’s energy and enthusiasm. You can also impress your clients through email. They have to be clean, organized, and attractive. A lot of people send out confusing itinerary. That’s the most difficult thing—getting someone to help me with these itineraries.
From 1994 up to now, there have been some nice moments with group tours years ago. When I pick up tourists, I can tell whether they just arrive from a domestic flight or an international flight. I either get the lukewarm handshakes or the enthusiastic. The handshakes says a lot.
My favorite part of the job is the people. I can say that I’ve fallen in love with the people, both foreigners and locals. Tours can be repeated, but the people can’t. I show them the beauty of the country and the people. I want them to understand Vietnam more than just a war. Running tours and meeting with the locals mean a lot to me. Yep, people. And I have a passion for that, alright?
One particular time, there was a group of people came from Da Nang. One of the women came by and looked at me and she said “Your smile makes me feel sad.” I just remember that funny story. “And when I got off the airport, she said you have such a big smile.” It’s the first impression. At the end of the trip they usually cry. Especially the middle aged people. When people shed tears, you feel a bit down and they feel sad to leave, but it also makes you feel happy. It makes you feel, at least you can do something. You can make people think of Vietnam in a better way, you know, with the war and everything. So for me, the impression that people leave Vietnam with is very important and it works well with my clients now. Within a year, I’ve had a lot of returning guests. It’s important. You should leave something special in their minds and their heart about Vietnam. It’s not only important for my business but for the country of Vietnam.
Contributors: Tracy Nguyen, Đinh Đoàn Vũ, Nguyễn Thanh Nga, Trương Công Tuấn
I got together with my friends and we had to make a decision. We had to decide between selling clothes, shoes, or other things. Phùng Khoang Market is mostly a market of clothing shops, so I thought selling something different would be ingenious. We chose shoes. I thought we made the right decision but after a while, we realized that we were wrong. Selling shoes is very hard. We stand out because we are the only shop that sells shoes, and that is not always the best thing. People come here to buy clothes; hence there’s a lot of clothes shops around here. When people want shoes, they go to other areas that have more shoe shops. People like having many choices.
What do I do for a living? I sit here and sell lottery tickets. I’ve been doing this for 10 years now and I’m planning to do this for a few more years.
My name isn’t important but you can call me Hoa if you want. I’m from Thái Bình province, and I’m 50 years old. Before coming to Hanoi, I used to work in the countryside. It was difficult to earn money, so that’s why I’m here now, in Hanoi. As for my family, I have two children. One child is working, and the other is studying at the Trade Union University. My family and I are currently living in Thanh Xuân district.
Though I live in Thanh Xuân, I currently have my set up on Giảng Võ Street. I am familiar with this area from a different previous job. Set up is easy because I store my wooden table, chair and canopy at a shop nearby for a tiny payment.[points to the back]. I do not want to move because there is no competition where I sell.
Every morning, I get up at 6:00 AM and prepare breakfast. After breakfast, I look after 1 to 2 children for the rest of the morning. In the afternoon, depending on the day of the week, I head to a company on Hàng Bài street to pick up the lottery tickets. Three times per week I’d do this. Afterwards, I’d head to the location where I usually sell my lottery tickets, which is on Giảng Võ street, and I would travel by motorbike. I set up my stand then sit and wait for customers to come. I keep record of the winning numbers from the company in one notebook while I wait. At 6:45 PM I have to return all of the unsold tickets in Trung Trực park. I don’t purchase any of my tickets, I just return them. At 8:00 PM I am home, relaxing.
As for the work, I must say that it’s not difficult at all, but there are still its ups and downs though. I remember when I first started. Getting the business going was hard. I wasn’t selling enough tickets; therefore, I didn’t make any profit. And also, when it rains it gets hard to sell these tickets. But once in awhile, I’d sell the winning ticket! I remember one of my customers won several millions before. And sometimes, if the customer is nice enough, they would come back and give me a portion of the winning prize. If not, then it’s okay too. It’s nice, very nice of them to do that. When my customer wins, sometimes they’d come back and I would give them the reward money in advance. Afterwards I’d go to the company and get reimbursed. I usually don’t charge extra fees for giving them the winning money in advance, because they’re usually the customers that have supported me for years.
I must add that not all of my customers are good-hearted people. I thought I would never be the victim of fraud, but not long ago, I got fooled. One customer came by and showed me a fake winning ticket, and I couldn’t really tell the difference between the real and fake ticket. So I ended up giving him 2,000,000 VND [US$100] and later realized that it was a fake ticket. I ended up losing 2,000,000 VND out of my own pocket. Usually, to differentiate between the real and fake tickets, I would need to get the ticket scanned at the company, or I can simply pay closer attention to the presented ticket. I work so hard to earn a living, but sometimes I just can’t help but be a victim of a fraud.
It has been a decade now since I’ve been in this business. There have been many changes since then. I remember when I first started I had to have at least 1 to 2 million [US$50 to $100] as the initial deposit to have the business, but now the deposit is 4 to 5 million [US$200 to $250]. A good change that took place since I started this business is that I’m a junior agent now. This means the more tickets I sell, the more commission and tickets I’ll get to sell the next time. Also, my customers are starting to become familiar customers—I’d like to call them the loyal customers. Most of my income comes from lô tô, which is a type of lottery ticket.
At the end, I’d like to add that this job doesn’t give me a lot of money, but it does make me feel free and independent. As long as I’m healthy, I’ll continue to do this work. And whenever my health does go down, I’ll retire, that’s it. I’d then just set up a little convenience store at home. What else is there for an old woman like me to do? [laughs]
Contributors: Chiêu-An Tôn Nữ, Peter Lê, Lê Phương Linh, Đỗ Đăng Tiến
When I was working at the hotel, I would meet a lot of foreigners. It was useful to be an International Studies major because I was meeting many people from many different countries. I began learning a lot of their cultures and even my own and the differences between the 2. Most foreigners were pretty nice to me. The Germans, the French guys and actually all the Europeans were very nice to me. The one instance that I was annoyed was when a Middle-Eastern person would come in. [Laugh] It wasn’t because he was Middle-Eastern, it was more that I couldn’t understand his English accent. It was hard to understand and communicate with them on the phone and face-to-face.
Also, the Chinese were annoying. They can’t speak any English! [Laugh] It was really hard to talk to them because we didn’t know each other’s language. I remember one time this guy wanted food, I think. But I really had no idea what he was saying. [Smirk] It was hard to communicate with the Chinese and it was pretty annoying.
This job wasn’t the hardest job I’ve ever had but there were difficult times. Of course, there are the weird foreigners that I couldn’t understand. Another annoying thing was when people go out after 11:00P.M.and come back around 2:00A.M. or 3:00A.M. I would have to wake up and open the door for them. It was annoying because the guest would be drunk sometimes.
Working at the hotel, there was some illegal stuff going on. When company employees came in, they would want to bring prostitutes. [Laugh] So this is what happens with these gusy. When they come in to stay, they don’t pay for the room. Their company does. So they can charge anything they want and it’s on the company tab. So when they come in, they tell me to put the charges on the prostitute on the hotel bill. The rule for the hotel is that no one is allowed to come into the hotel without checking in a room. With these prostitutes, I guess we made an exception. These prostitutes were different. Most of them were very young, like high school students. I remember seeing husbands cheating on their wives or wives with their secret lovers. I’ve seen high school students renting out rooms for a couple hours. It seemed like they were use to going into hotels too.
With these high school kids having sex, I honestly didn’t really care. It was just my job to get them a room. It felt like it was normal for these kids to have sex before marriage. Kids these days are changing their attitudes towards love and sex.
Other shady stuff I would notice is drug dealers too but the problem is that I can’t see what’s going on in the rooms. Well maybe one really annoying thing is that when people check out, they don’t pay. They run out. That’s happened a couple times.
Not the greatest working here. I’ve actually never really asked myself what’s the best part about working in a hotel. [Laugh]…. Uhh, I haven’t thought of anything yet…oh, I know one thing. On several occasions, a group will check-in to the hotel twice a week and they would tip me up to 200,000 VND. They were all around my age, I think. It was nice to get the extra 400,000 VND on top of my salary. I was getting paid 2.5 million VND a month. The tips were just for occasions though. Honestly it was always random, but when it did happen, it was at least twice a week. So it was at least 400,000 VND a week.
Another thing that was a secret with the other receptionist was that we always try to get a little more money. Stealing money I guess. [Laugh] I worked for family, so of course I never did it. But there were many ways the workers got around to stealing money from the hotel, like not recording the guests that come in for only a few hours or so or take some of the money we charge for taxi fees.
Anyways, we get Vietnamese people as most of our customers. Most foreigners are backpacking around Viet Nam so they don’t want to pay for a hotel or they just don’t have the money.
I worked at this hotel for a year. It was the same thing over and over again. Every day was the same routine. [Smirks] I’m the nephew of the boss of this hotel. I didn’t even ask to work here. My aunt kind of forced me to work here. [Laughs]
My goal was to only work there for 1 til 2 years. It was just something to do so I could have money. Now I have a new job that I actually like a lot better. I actually have time to sleep now. [Laughs]