When my wife was recently prescribed a week of rest by the doctor I took on the role of carer.
I would work from home, giving me the opportunity to do the running up and downstairs and preparing of meals.
On Sunday, ahead of the working week, I asked what I could buy at the supermarket to make this go more smoothly? Veggies, noodles, rice, meat, snacks etc?
My offer was dismissed and was followed by a week of frustration as I tried to balance work deadlines with shopping and meal-by-meal preparing of food (though I’ll admit that sister Trang ended up doing most of the cooking).
The fact that Vietnamese still shop per meal is widely noted and tends to be attributed to their love of fresh food. But it’s more than that – forward planning, or a lack of it, is a feature in all parts of work and life in Vietnam.
Back in UK office days I was told that any event requiring participation should be booked into diaries a month in advance. In Vietnam event conception, planning and happening can all be squeezed into a couple of days. During my KOTO days I’d be just winding down to six pm, when someone would suggest a meeting. It would inevitably mean me hanging around to attend. Then, sometime later, maddeningly the meeting would just as likely be cancelled.
Likewise with my parents-in-law 10ks across a congested city, I’m always amazed when my wife suggests an immediate visit.
Now? Oh right. I was just going to…
Actually, normally, I’m not about to do anything. It’s just my western mind needs time to schedule things and get used to the idea that they’re coming up. Anything much more than a coffee takes some level of advance booking.
I’ve heard this described as Vietnamese being “event based” while westerners are “time based”. But basically that’s just repeating the situation using new terms. One set of people require schedules, other don’t.
We could explain it down to times of Vietnamese poverty and of living day-to-day and hand-to-mouth but that seems too melodramatic.
More than just common sense, the benefits of longer-term planning for longer-term benefit seems so obvious as to be intuitively understood. So why fight it?
There’s a little history with me and the new Cart location.
Before I left first time around, I stayed briefly at the Especen. When I returned, two and a half years later, I contacted them about a room and they put me in one of their longer-term digs down the alley.
The fact that my late friend Martin‘s cafe was right opposite was a mere happy coincidence. I arrived late at night, then left my lodgings the following morning to cross the road to see my good friend. It’s a moment captured on film 35 seconds in above. A minute later he introduced me to Loan, his business partner. One year later she would be my wife.
She disputes this story, saying we met on another visit and she wasn’t in that day. Whether or not that’s true I’m sticking to my version. Between truth and legend, always choose the legend.
Fast forward and shortly before we celebrated our second wedding anniversary Loan shook hands on the deal to move The Cart to downstairs at the Especen rooms.
Frankly it’s nowhere near ready but, yes, it is open. Better to leave it two weeks if you want to see it properly in operation and get the best service.
The Cart Au Trieu has many ties to the past, not least to Martin. Nice then that when we announced it on Facebook his sister Jill was among the first to give the move the thumbs up.
It’s easy to be cynical about the likes of London 2012 (and I often am) but whether or it was smart to even bid for it, the fact is it’s too big an event to do badly.
Until leaving the British Council in May I’d been living with the Olympics for some time. Information from on high would be filtered out and we were all given orders to maximise promotion of the Olympics locally. For the most part orders didn’t come with budgets so a certain amount of ingenuity was required to squeeze in a little Olympics into already planned events.
But that also included arranging trips to Olympic London for journalists, spots on local TV, that countdown, briefings and language training for paralympians, Olympic themed summer schools and language lessons, not to mention assorted Embassy meet-the-committee/athlete events.
Coming on the back of the Jubilee and with Wimbledon, including a British finalist sandwiched in between, this feels the most British time ever – which I guess is the point. Vietnamese teenagers as ever seem to have a love affair with the Union Flag which appears to be everywhere right now.
That whole “soft power” thing in full effect. Nice work.
Tonight it’s the opening ceremony which, the football aside, is realistically the only thing I’m especially interested in – alongside the closing event of course. Despite that cynicism, just typing this I realise just how nervous I am about it. The eyes of the world and all that.
In the meantime time Mitt Romney and #romneyshambles (the best twitter hashtag forever) has done the organisers a favour in uniting UK behind a hopefully successful games. Just to prove a point if nothing else.
What does grate includes the BBC going into Jubilee-non-objective-overkill mode. Even Prince William being branded in Adidas gear on the telly and that whole McDonalds embarrassing bit. But mostly that feeling that as each day passes the idea that Britain = London (and only London) is further enhanced. Yes the torch toured Britain but the story was always the torch rather than the locations. Also the feeling that if all goes to plan then those who will benefit most will be Cameron and Johnson – neither of which I have much time for.
Here in Hanoi, there’s sadly nothing to celebrate the opening ceremony. Time difference is against us but BBGV’s 9am breakfast in Ho Chi Minh City would have been fantastic. I’d have been there like a shot if a similar event had happened in Hanoi. That seems like an opportunity missed.
The above pic was an Olympic event I attended in Danang on 10th March earlier this year. My investment is comparatively small and yet, as I said, I’m nervous.
Some three months ago I applied for a dream job in Malaysia that I thought I had very little chance of getting.
In fact I reached the last interview stage. Then it was three weeks before we heard the final verdict.
The strangest part was being flown in for the third and final interview at head office. It required a presentation then I met with HR and the country head. Later I had lunch with prospective new colleagues who told me all the things I needed to know about the city. They made moving there seem liked a when not an if.
I had expected to hear within a few days but when that stretched week by week and when I heard nothing, I slowly resolved that I had most likely been unsuccessful.
So when I attended another interview on a Friday in Hanoi and was offered the job on the Monday it was hard not to be impressed with their efficiency. Still waiting to hear from the Malaysia job I told them I would take the Hanoi job within 24 hours. They finally confirmed that my application to them had been unsuccessful.
Earlier, returning from that overseas interview I left a blue skied Kuala Lumpur and returned to bonfires in Hanoi’s fields. The city had never looked more grey, smokey and polluted.
It had been hard not to imagine new lives. House hunting, furnishing a new place, discovering new neighbourhoods.
Suddenly though, one holiday later, and we’re once more as content as we’ve ever been here. Hanoi’s gorgeous autumn is not so far away. The new job is roughly half the hours and stress of my previous post on the same terms. Thoughts of what I can do with that spare time are exciting.
The new job also means travelling. It’s less strategic but is entirely what I love doing. “Creating content” – words, pics and movies to support an excellent NGO.
I’m not sure organisations ever quite realise the stress of the job application process. Earlier this summer I had been approached, then interviewed, by a international (ie legit) headhunter about a Ho Chi Minh City post that literally would have been many times my last salary and then they never called back again. What a way to mess with your head.
The holiday (also to Malaysia, inspired by earlier research about living there) was well timed. Our return meant a 6.30am flight that meant getting up at 3am to travel to the airport. We returned desperate for our home and bed. It’s very good to be back.
In September my family will visit, Loan is back to work at The Cart today, I’m looking forward to a trip to far flung mountainous provinces as part of my new post.
Many friends have left this summer but key people have stayed. It feels like we’re fully invested in Hanoi again.
A chapter passes.
This Wednesday will be my last day working for the British Council here in Hanoi.
There’s no single reason why I decided to leave, I’ve spoken to a few people recently, both within the BC and others in similar positions to my own (I was head of marketing and communications), and everyone seems to be going through a process of transition. The old ways don’t work any more but the new ways need more in-house resources, not to mention a step change in attitudes.
Rather naively when I joined I didn’t really understand the terminology when it came to employment. Foreign colleagues were “UK appointments” or “local appointments”. I was neither, I was Vietnamese. Sometime in the future I’ll write about what it was like to be Vietnamese in this context. For now it’s enough to say that workload and aggravation will always be judged against remuneration and increasingly one didn’t compensate enough for the other.
In the end I was there a little under a year and a half. My boss was kind enough to provide a reference and his thoroughness meant he listed many achievements that even I had forgotten. It’s been a pleasure to work with a great marcomms department overseeing a digital head and communications manager. While there’s been treacle swimming elements, last week on the way back from an external meeting we started reminiscing about what we’d inherited as a department and all the change that had been implemented. I think that step change has been made.
In the end, what I enjoyed most about the job was how so much of the best bits reminded me of old days working in newspapers. A modern marcomms department has to create so much content. Words, pictures and movies – while at the same time keeping an eye on assorted platforms – Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo, Ning and even Tumblrs have been used this year. We had to do everything in two languages.
So while at one end it was supposed to be strategy and big picture stuff, I was also constantly writing, editing, captioning, uploading etc.
In the end though it’s been great to go out on a high. One of the additional tasks I picked up was to oversee our London 2012 support – both Olympic and Paralympic. Among the many events and initiatives have been the Living Clock. My idea, fleshed out by the “UK Family” Comms group, it’s since been adopted across the East Asia region – inspiring such wonderful efforts as this from British Council Japan.
As I speak we’re 68 days to go and it’s building beautifully and receiving compliments from regional and head office. It’s already on Flickr, Tumblr and Facebook and on Friday we even talked of turning it into a small book to leave with prospective clients. This “100 days in 2012” snapshot would tell you more about the sheer volume and breadth of our work than any number of more traditional corporate brochures.
As for the job itself, it was the best job ever and (sometimes) the worst(ish) - frequently on the same day. Incredible wider team though – as I have written about before. I have also come away so impressed by just how hard everyone works and, even to a cynic like me, what an inspiring organisation the British Council is.
What next? Well I have to admit that when I handed in my notice, knowing that it’d be three months till I was out the door, I had expected to have something lined up by now.
I was recently approached by a headhunter who wanted to talk about a great job and I was suitably enthusiastic. An initial interview and then it’s all gone quiet. Likewise I’ve applied for an exciting post but my email is as yet unbothered by offers of jobs or even another interview. Ever since I first completed my first VSO post in 2007 I have been sporadically applying for NGO posts with only one six-month interim post to show for it. With 20 years media/comms/ PR experience behind me and no interest, it’s easy to feel like it’s a closed shop.
The position the headhunter talked about was actually in Ho Chi Minh City – moving within Vietnam or within the region are not being ruled out yet.
But, in the meantime, I’ll be keeping myself busy. There are one or two little consultancy jobs lined up which are great. I’ll also be assisting The Cart on a daily basis. I’m also going to try and finally get some weight off too by doing a little more exercising – 10 kilos by the end of summer is the plan.
Since resigning, at times, thoughts of the future have felt rather exhilarating – I have to say right now that’s wavering towards worrying. But last year I spent half my wage on healthcare and travel back to the UK – whatever I end up doing here it’s going to have to be a little more sustainable.
Finally apologies if posts recently have waivered between grumpy and somewhat obscure. The situation has its own pressures and on top of that there were a lot of things I didn’t really want to write about until now. I hope that makes sense.
Sorry – that all got rather long winded. Pic is the view from work. I shall miss that also.