Millennium Mom

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Getting to know Vietnam

So frustrated, I just wrote my blog for the day and lost here I go again.

Yesterday we spent the day getting to know Vietnam. The first half was a cultural tour around the city. Our first insight was locals don't call it Ho Chi Mihn, they still call it Saigon, the name before the war. Ho Chi Minh was a hero from the north whom they re-named the city after when the war ended, so a bit of an insult to people in the south. We started our tour in the city center, not far from our hotel, at the post office.

This gorgeous building was originally built to be the train station, but at the last minute they switched to a post office. It definitely looks like a train station for sure. The architecture was beautiful and it had a buzz about it for sure. Outside a large Catholic church (who was holding mass in English when I went in) was surrounded by about six bride and grooms getting their pictures taken. Our guide explained that there are certain days that bring good luck for bride and grooms, so they get their pictures taken on these days. It can be as much as 8 weeks prior to the wedding itself. Yesterday was one of those (or just a beautiful day) and we saw tons of them. Their dresses were beautiful and not all that different from Western weddings, and like Western brides, they were happy to pose for a picture.

Next we hit China town. 10% of Saigon's population is Chinese, a bit less than 1MM, but China town takes up 25% of land, so it is huge. We walked around quite a bit looking at various shops, like India these are very busy store fronts with various types of rice, herbs, etc. For a good three blocks they were all TCM (traditional chinese medicine) places that smelled very interesting. They had every root, tree bark and oil there is - including snake oil with a King Cobra right in the bottle...totally true.

We ended up at a Chinese temple dedicated to the sea goddess. While hundreds of years old and not very well preserved, it was still breath-taking. The ornate detail was unbelievable, what craftsmanship. We learned a lot about how Vietnamese Chinese get ride of bad spirits and make wishes. I bought what they call a seven day cone and made a wish for my family, the incense (spelling?) will burn for seven days with my wish on it.

Next was lunch, and like Korea it was a 6-8 course meal. So much food, you wonder how they are all so skinny. But then you realize it is quality not quantity here that drives their health. Everything is fish (so arnie would not survive) and veggies - no rice, no break, no meat. We had fish in lettuce, fried fish, fish stew, fresh crabs, shrimp in garlic and on and on. So yummy and filling but all very good for you. Maybe not the beer we had with it.

Our last stop was the War Museum, the departing words of our tour guide (who did not go in) were "please don't hate me" after. Of course the story is from Vietnam's POV, as you would expect. Given I don't know much about the war, can't say I had factual data either way, but it was moving. I could only get through 2 of 3 floors, the graphic details go to me. Had never seen photos like that, as I don't normally wish too. Those of you who know me know I can't even watch movies with that much blood and guts. Hardest parts were rooms on chemical warfare and seeing the multi-generational effects.

After our tour ended, three p&G folks from the Vietnam office (the country manager, HR manager and a sales guy) took us to stores to understand more. We went to a "modern retail" store called Lotte, like W-M or Target in US, then lots of HFS (high frequency stores). We don't have these in US, but they are huge in LA, Asia, CEEMEA, little stalls that sell products, often in smaller quantities, and often limited categories. So the one who sells rice, doesn't normally sell shampoo, who doesn't normally sell coffee. Great to learn more, P&G is "younger" here but growing fast so great to see.

Tonight we head to Beijing, our last stop. We are counting down, four more days until we are home, very exciting. Can't wait to see everyone live, versus via Skype. The trip has been easy from keeping in touch perspective, I start every morning by talking or skyping with the kids to see how their days went. Being 12-14 hours ahead is easier to manage for me than even Europe. So far the trip has been great, and last night's dinner at The Deck was our best yet, let's hope it continues in China.


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