VNN PLUS is a hip, young company working in the mobile media space in Vietnam. With an average age of about 25 years, the office is filled with creative guys and girls who are super stylish and modern. They seem to like us, as their eyes light up and they start to giggle when we walk by (even the guys sometimes). Some are more outgoing than others of course and the English language ability is basically all over the map. As a team we are doing as much as we can to help them get comfortable with us in the office. We have a private conference room as well as five seats out in ‘cubeland’ with the B2B team. Admittedly, with the initial organization we’ve needed, we have been huddled more often in the tiny room than we have been out in the open, but we are trying our best to show our faces as much as we can.
City’s development plans
It seems that Vietnam has some ambitious plans for where the country is headed. Driving around the city of Hanoi and further north to Halong Bay, it is impossible to miss the big billboards that line the street showing the proposed development that will turn the currently (somewhat) decaying buildings into a beautiful development of apartment complexes, parks and tree lined streets.
I see this two ways. First, its great to have ambitious plans and a unifying vision that all citizens can rally around. It gives the community hope and energy for the future and it reminds everyone that Vietnam is heading upward and that things will continue to get better. The second way is to be a bit foolish in taking time to design these elaborate plans while kids are still eating in the streets, drainage and plumbing systems are still below adequate for the environment (see floods above) and there are already dozens of building projects left unfinished throughout the country.
Where’s the Pho Bo??
So we’ve been in Vietnam for just under two weeks now and, while everything has so far been really great, we are still yet to have the famous Hanoian dish, Pho Bo!! Its actually a bit of a running joke now because I had been so excited to try this dish that I’ve talked about it before we left, on the plane and since we’ve touched down. I’ve requested it several times, even tried ordering it while at a restaurant, but Ms. Mai keeps veering us away from it. First we had to try her favorite food, then there was a special at the restaurant, then we were eating with some of the staff, then we were eating rice on the street, then… then… then… aahhh. Where’s the Pho bo?!?
But please, don’t get me wrong, we’ve been eating really well, whether its in a “VIP” room upstairs in a proper restaurant or sitting on tiny little stools, perched under a tent in an alleyway that serves as a makeshift eating hall. We’ve had rice, noodles, chicken, beef, pork, green veggies, white veggies, carrots mushrooms and more. Mai is even testing our limits a bit by surprising us with snails, deep-fried fish and frogs. We’ve braved it all and delighted in every distinct taste, but every once in a while we break down and have to find something a little more familiar, even going so far as ordering KFC for lunch. We are not proud, but sometimes these things need to be done.
Its becoming an art. Upon our first step out of the taxi on the Sunday night of our arrival, we have been perfecting our skills of walking tall amongst the steady stream of zooming motorbikes. As Rodrigo likes to say, we just “go with the flow”. You may have heard about it before, but its one thing to read it in a book and a complete other thing to look up the street and see hundreds of bikes with men, women and children of varying shapes, sizes and configurations creating a barrier between you and your destination on the other side of the street. It is clear why Buddhism is so popular in this country because one must channel his/her inner zen in order to take that proverbial first step. Now even Lauren, our initially most skittish member, is dancing around vehicles of all sorts with the grace of ballerina and the fluidity of a ninja.
This river of motorbikes has actually turned into a real river on several occasions. After only three days in the country we had already experienced two floods! It seems as if this is basically a daily occurrence. One might think that this would be a frustrating or disheartening thing, but really it just adds to the charm of the place. Nobody panics; nobody so much as even gets upset. Everyone simply takes off their shoes, pulls up their pants, dons their colorful ponchos and goes about their business. So, feeding off of the “can do” attitude, we follow suit and start trudging our way through the foot-deep water.
The first step was to hail a taxi. Luckily, that happened pretty quickly. I guess its hard to miss 4 tall (it’s a relative term, ok?) white people standing in the middle of the street, holding their shoes and trying to cover their heads with their bags. So, the cab came quickly but it kind of got itself in a jam; it pulled down an alley with nowhere to turn around and bikes coming at it from all direction, in the street, on the sidewalk; all over the place. It was stuck, but in Vietnam its never for too long. If you are a big 7-person van, you can basically do whatever you want and anything that is smaller than you will have to get out of your way.
We’ve been having a lot of fun in our first few weeks and we are really getting to know each other, sometimes more than we might really like ☺. As such, little patterns, idiosyncrasies and tag lines have begun to pop up. Here is a quick little list of current nicknames (quirks to come later):
Lauren: “Oh, dos besos, huh?”
Riley: Spike W, Spike Dubs
Rodrigo: Rodri, Rigo
Sean: Pho Bo