As the anger at Joel Brinkley and his article on Vietnam shows no signs of disappearing I thought it was worth reminding people of this blog. As much as I’d like to post picture upon picture of their collection of birds spotted in Vietnam it’s better they get the hits and I don’t use their images without permission.
But I hope they’ll forgive me showing a list of their tags.
To remind you of the Brinkley quote:
You don’t have to spend much time in Vietnam before you notice something unusual. You hear no birds singing, see no squirrels scrambling up trees or rats scurrying among the garbage. No dogs out for a walk.
In fact, you see almost no wild or domesticated animals at all. Where’d they all go? You might be surprised to know: Most have been eaten.
Interestingly I was about to link Brinkley’s Wiki page that had a section on the controversy surrounding this article but it’s now been removed – leaving only the good stuff. Someone cleaning up after him?
Also of note is that while Tribune Media Services has added this to the post:
TMS has a rigorous editing process for its content, and in the case of Brinkley’s column that moved Jan. 29, all the required steps did not occur. We regret that this happened, and we will be vigilant in ensuring that our editing process works in the future.
…there appears to have been no attempt to stop the subsequent syndication of the article and despite all of the criticism it has since appeared in San Francisco Chronicle among others with no apparent amends and no apologies from publishers.
While TMS are obviously uncomfortable with the content Brinkley himself remains bullish. A friend who emailed him received a response citing his extensive research.
Of the comments below his original post in the Chicago Tribune this one from historian and US-born Hanoi expat Ginger Davis is among the most “liked”. It includes this snippet:
What I can tell you is that the entire neighborhood owns dogs, birds, and/or cats. They have stories of favorite pets throughout the last 30 years and earlier, especially those dogs they named “Nixon” during the war. Today dogs here even enjoy the dubious distinction of wearing sweaters in the winter as they guard their homes. Our local park put up “no pooping” signs for dog owners last year. Bird owners have clubs in cafes around town where the meet up regularly and wild birds sing so loudly that I have to sometimes turn up the radio to hear a song.
Other useful links – sourced via the Vietnam Bird News blog are Birding in Vietnam and Vietnam Birding which apparently specialises in “…custom birdwatching adventures and birding combination tours to Vietnam and beyond.”
A future trip for Mr Brinkley perhaps.
I’d rather link others’ views on here but it’s worth remembering that as much as Brinkley’s failings in research are obvious and much high-lighted we shouldn’t kid ourselves that all is well with wildlife in Vietnam. In terms of media coverage the irritation so often lies with visitors taking home their own mental snapshots from Vietnam based on first impressions and limited research. We can all be guilty of that, the problems start when it’s dressed up as fact rather than the “it appears to me” or “it would be easy to believe” level of information it is.
My final point is this, while trying to remember the url for the bird blog I googled “Birds Vietnam” and this was the third link. Just how extensive could Brinkley’s research have been?
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?
If I’m honest I’m not especially fond of any of the big brand behemoths that may or may not be coming to whichever big Asian city near you.
People queuing up to do online reviews of a Burger King in Hanoi remind me of that old Peter Kaye sketch about family holidays where they find Kellogg’s Cornflakes in a Spanish supermarket and buy them to see if they taste the same. Funnily enough those reviews can be divided roughly in two: It’s the Same! and It’s Not the Same (Typical Vietnam!).
That said next up is Starbucks in Ho Chi Minh City which means inevitably they’ll end up in Hanoi before too long. Before we proceed, check out this fantastic blogged snapshot of local coffee providers for some context.
Over Christmas in the UK I avoided Starbucks, opting for the UK-based Costa, mostly because of the widely publicised at the time Starbucks’ tax avoidance. On a recent trip to Hong Kong though I visited every day. My boycott, it turns out, was pretty half hearted but a reasonable relfection of my don’t-love-em but don’t-care-enough-to-hate-em attitude to the brand
With that scene set, what of Starbucks coming to Vietnam? Will it kill the local coffee scene?
I doubt it.
People talk of how the high street coffee shops killed independent outlets in the UK but frankly pre Starbucks there were very few local cafes making even a half decent coffee. Hanoi is a little different. There is already a coffee culture. Seeing as it was the French who introduced the bean that became your caphe sua da does it make much difference if the Americans now popularise the latte?
When I first worked here, less than a decade ago, women just didn’t drink coffee. Now I watch my two fellow comms team members arrive at work clutching takeouts. If coffee was a culture it’s now become a craze.
Recently I noticed the bizarre, if very sweet, The Note Coffee appear by the lake in the centre of town. Beyond the provision of very decent coffee it also has a baffling post-it note subtext. Providing coffee is old hat, you have to have a gimmick too.
But in Hanoi it’s not just about the number of places you can buy coffee but also the different types. Italian espresso, egg coffee, yoghurt coffee, sticky rice coffee, fair trade and the ubiquitous caphe sua da. Frankly the fact that the world is going nuts for coffee is good news for Vietnam rather than the other way around. There can be few other places offering such a diverse array of the stuff. On a lovely day, when you can sit outside at pavement cafes, Hanoi is a like a gaint caffeine theme park.
Starbucks will settle into Vietnam in much the same way as McDonalds and Subway fade into the food scene in KL. There was such a massive diversity of food there that the big American brands became another layer amongst many. In the end they’ll only remain if they’re wanted.
At Christmas, alongside a 30 kilo coffee machine, myself and my wife also carried back a huge box of takeout coffee cups (decent ones with lids and ripple walls). To buy such a thing in Hanoi would mean ordering 30,000 of the things that would fill half our house – takeout coffee culture is growing but obviously in its infancy.
That said, when my wife set up The Cart a few years back, the desire to do a half decent espresso meant they opted for Italian beans. But the quality and diversity of Vietnamese coffee continues to grow and that may change in the not too distant future.
Starbucks won’t fail but I don’t think it will kill the coffee scene either. If anything it’s all about to get even more interesting.
Christmas is being spent in Northumberland with family. Today included a trip to a fresh, breezy, blue-skied Tynemouth – the anti-Hanoi.
Yesterday we got married again. This time with the whole family present, sisters, kids etc and a lovely day was had by all.
For a number of reasons, 2012 has been a trying year for us. In October, on our anniversary, I asked Loan to marry me (again) and yesterday was the culmination of that. It also seemed to break a run of bad luck. Since then a new job has been secured by me and a new cafe opened by Loan.
All of the above means that, for the first time in 12 months, we’re absolutely committed to Hanoi. We wobbled this year and the wobbling made us more unhappy than anything Hanoi could throw at us. In the end all we needed to know was our near future would work out and when that fell into place we happily settled again.
Beyond this the only thing I need to really love/survive Hanoi is an annual day like today in Tynemouth. Head, sinuses and cobwebs cleared.
I will hate Hanoi again. In the middle of next summer, in a pool of sweat, I’ll dream of windy Tynemouth but I’ll also love Hanoi many many times inbetween.
Happy Christmas to all. I hope your year is ending as well as mine is.
My latest column for The Word is proof, if you hadn’t realised it already, that being married to a strong Vietnamese woman gives you plenty of material to write.
My wife suggests I buy an Air Blade. A friend of hers has one.
“You could put your shopping under the seat.”
I don’t do any shopping. I’m not trusted to do shopping. I’d apparently only pay too much.
I put my foot down. If we’re talking automatics I definitely don’t want a Honda SH. They’re universally driven by morons. The Honda asSHole: for people with an SUV attitude but not quite the money to back it up. The Honda SHithead. I could go on.
Read it in full here. Click the pic of the Word to download the full magazine.