The Grass is Not Always Greener...

By: Patrick Gaveau

Better Disposable Income and Working Opportunities?

Better Healthcare?

Better Government?

Why do so Many Expats Love Life in HCMC?

A few weeks back, terrifying news broke out about the 39 Vietnamese who died while suffocating in the back of a truck, in an attempt to seek a better life in the UK. This was a horrifying event and a poor awakening to the reality of many rural Vietnamese. This triggered my interest to find the answer as to “Why so many Vietnamese are still seeking to immigrate abroad?”

Research carried out together with experienced Vietnamese and foreign friends, from here and abroad, identified seven central motivational factors that drives those who believe that a better life is awaiting them elsewhere... 

- Better income, work opportunities, and working conditions 

- Improved education and health care systems

- Safety and security

- Preserved natural environments

- A better government

…all leading to a Better Future. 

I wrote this article humbly, knowing my own limitations, and whilst keeping aware that some issues may be rather sensitive to many. As a foreign resident and lover of Vietnam for the past 13 years, I seek to raise awareness from a migrant foreigner’s perspective and help locals open up to a fresh view on migration challenges and opportunities.

Some will ask “Who is he to discuss what he cannot understand, especially when he is not Vietnamese?” I am just a born migrant who spent his life around the globe as you can see in the table below... 

10 Countries of Residence

Years/Months Lived in Each Country

25 Cities

Vietnam

13 years

HCMC

Cote D’Ivoire

12 years

Abidjan

USA

8 years

Orlando, West Palm Beach, Lafayette, Baton Rouge, Phoenix, Seattle

France

6 years

Cannes, Marignane, Aix en Provence, Montpellier, Royan, Bourg en Bresse, Perpignan

Australia

2 years

Melbourne, Sydney, Deniliquin, Sunshine Coast

Polynesia

2 years

Tahiti

Canary islands

2 years

Lanzarote

Canada

10 months

Montreal

Holland

10 months

Wageningen

Spain

10 months

Barcelona

All in all, this amounts to 47 years of living abroad! I have lived on five continents in both the northern and southern hemisphere. And I have resided alongside Asians, Africans, Americans, Maoris and Europeans, some Bhuddist, others Christians or Muslims. I saw the rich and the poor, and experienced a variety of societies and systems with people of all colours and interests. Hopefully, this article enlightens some of those seeking asylum on the up-coming challenges that they will probably face if they effectively find a way out of Vietnam.

Vietnamese Assume Life is Better AbroadImage source: theculturetrip.com

Throughout this article, I will be questioning several motivational factors to see if these are true or false, subjective or objective, or if these factors are even justified. The aim is to identify what gaps lie between each of these assumptions and the reality of how it may be, to see if life truly is better for Vietnamese who move abroad. 

Better Future - SUBJECTIVE 

There is a saying that goes ”the grass is much greener in our neighbour's garden” and this is SO not true. The colour of the grass is only dependent on the capacity to see that it is already green and the will to nurture your garden. The problem is that most people often prefer to look outward, as they dislike what they are and represent. People hope that over there, wherever else this may be, it is better. 

As a foreigner with ample experience in Vietnam, I can honestly say that the future is much more promising here in Vietnam, both economically and socially speaking. The economic growth in Vietnam allows us to feel confident that so much remains to be done here while markets are most often saturated and limited in other western countries. 

Many people are kept apart from their families for years whilst trying to become citizens in other countries. They work hard towards migrating the whole family, who will also eventually aim to gain citizenship. Those who are lucky get to reconnect to their families but this is still not a guarantee of a better life. Most end up living mediocre lives which is not exactly the definition of a “Better Future” is it?

Vietnamese Assume Life is Better AbroadImage source: italoamericano.org

Of course, it wouldn't be fair to say that all overseas Vietnamese stories don't get a happy ending. This is exactly what a lot of people strive to achieve and it is also where “the big American dream” mindset came from. As always, there is a brighter side to venturing out. 

After the Vietnam war, many Vietnamese moved to the US, making them the largest foreign born population in the country. In fact, almost 80 percent of Vietnamese immigrants within USA were naturalized citizens in 2017. It was recorded that there were over 1.3 million Vietnamese currently residing in the US, making up 3 percent of the nation’s 44.5 million immigrants.

Vietnamese Assume Life is Better AbroadImage source: migrationpolicy.org

44 years ago, many of those who left Vietnam did indeed end up finding more opportunities in foreign countries. Many had successful lives and acquired wealth along the way. Most Vietnamese-born Americans had refugee parents who fled the country as boat people, encountering pirates while sailing through the dangerous South China sea. They set sail to refugee camps in Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia, or the Philippines and they would find themselves stuck in those camps for months, even years before immigrating to the US to find greener pastures. But the challenges did not end there. Immigrants then had to face the sudden change of environment, culture, language, and unfortunately, racism.

Today, many of them still strive to return home, as their hearts are still rooted in Vietnam. This is mainly due to the fact that these Vietnamese had to migrate because it was their only choice at the time. It was a time when finding jobs abroad was a lot easier and the requirements were not as challenging as they are today.

Better Disposable Income and Working Opportunities - FALSE

Yes, income is often higher abroad, at least in most developed countries, but we must re-evaluate by accounting for the cost of living in common migration destinations. Did you know that California, Texas, London, Toronto, Tokyo, Seoul, Melbourne, and Sydney rank at the top of the list of the most expensive places to reside in the world? They also rank very well in the list of favoured destinations for Vietnamese to be expatriates.

Vietnamese Assume Life is Better AbroadImage source: assets.bwbx.io

Let's not forget the additional expenses incurred while living abroad. Everything is expensive, especially for daily commodities, so calculate how much discretionary income you may be left with after your everyday expenses such as groceries, rent, utilities, transport, etc. Many Vietnamese immigrants have reported facing financial challenges for a variety of reasons. 

It is common for Vietnamese immigrants to experience difficulty in landing a position/role of the same calibre and status of which they could work at within Vietnam, especially when applying for managerial positions. He/she will often not succeed in their job application due to language barriers, cultural and ethnic differences, or simply because their Vietnamese degree or work experience is not valued as sufficient or considered invalid. 

How much better can any one be with VND 30,000,000 (1200 Euros) per month in Berlin or Paris for example? With that budget (minimum income) you could probably rent a small studio (25 square meters) over 2 hours away from the city center. You would have to commute long distances to work via bus, train or metro and be subject to the daily stress and strain of rush hour. Your budget may allow you to eat out in a restaurant with a loved one or friends only once or twice a month, if you are lucky. As for rice, bread, vegetables, fruits, internet, utilities, plus local and national taxes, VAT and PIT, it would be a hell of a lot more expensive abroad.

Vietnamese Assume Life is Better AbroadImage source: thehunterdoncountynews.com

Unfortunately, residents in America and Europe need to own their own car, as commuting would prove to be more costly and winters are just too cold to ride around town on your bike. You would need to factor in gas and maintenance to support such a large ticket necessity. On the other hand, you may enjoy more affordable schools and you may even have free healthcare in some places in Europe, but if you reside in America, healthcare is an expensive benefit. Without medical insurance, which is a cost in itself, healthcare may be something you simply cannot afford.

Last but not the least, as an expatriate and a breadwinner, your family back in Vietnam will often expect you to send some dividends of your hard earned cash. To do so, you would really need to learn to restrain yourself and count your pennies - is that the “better life” that most expect in the first place?

Better Education Opportunities - NOT ALWAYS JUSTIFIED

In reality, primary schools are not really about what your children may learn, academically speaking. It is more about social development, playing together, and having constructive social interactions with friends and teachers, and an avenue for childcare. To this extent, many would sense that Vietnamese teachers are more suitable simply because they are some of the most kind, playful, joyful, carrying, diligent, and patient people you will meet. Vietnamese women tend to value family and children above all else and their maternal instincts are clearly evident in the way they care for and develop relationships with their students. 

At a secondary level, most western technical or educational systems provide decent opportunities, but if you were based in San Antonio - Texas, you'll be surprised to find that 50% of the adult population is at the lowest two literacy levels, lacking the skills required to graduate from high school. There are other important differences at the secondary level worth mentioning too. This includes the value of "disciplinary systems” and “respect” for teachers; a concept extremely different in the west compared to Asian countries.

Generally, western teenagers are more "wild" and more "experimental" than those in Vietnam. Many, especially those who live among minorities, are exposed to social peer pressure, galavanting with friends, often partying whilst underage drinking and smoking pot - something considered the norm. After four years abroad, most Vietnamese parents report that their well behaved child has become so ”westernised” that they cannot expect them to care for them when they get old anymore - a virtue not present in the western world.

Vietnamese Assume Life is Better AbroadImage source: redcrestcareers.com

At a tertiary level, educational systems in western countries are still often better than in Vietnam. But the question is can you afford it? And if you can, is it worth paying so much for the privilege? If parents spend up to VND 2.2 Billion (100,000 USD) for their child to earn a foreign bachelor degree in Australia, for example, can this be paid back with the average VND 11,000,000 per month salary when the child finishes his/her education?

Sure, foreign education gives you an edge. Your communication skills will come into play as a convenience and your education will develop a better understanding of multiracial concepts and work ethics, but is this enough to justify the distance and monetary value that you'll be sacrificing when these days, all or most things can be learned online and for free? The next important question is, would the current educational system be suited for the future job market? This remains to be seen. But when you consider the current and up-coming technologies, this becomes highly questionable.

Better Healthcare - RARELY JUSTIFIED

If you compare Vietnam’s healthcare system with those in France, South Korea, and America then yes, it is so much better abroad. The issue in the USA, however is always whether or not you can afford it. Being treated well within the American healthcare system usually comes hand-in-hand with the burden of a costly private insurance plan so it’s not exactly “so much better” there once you have considered the cost of good health care treatments. While we all understand its value when needed, fortunately, only a few of us will ever need such advanced modern treatments and facilities for a complex operation. 

Vietnamese Assume Life is Better AbroadImage source: thealdennetwork.com

It’s not always so easy to get quality modern healthcare for advanced surgeries in Vietnam but Vietnamese healthcare has made lots of progress in the last ten years and it continues to improve. In fact, there are already some operations such as the endoscopic surgery technique of Doctor Tran Ngoc Luong, being practiced in Vietnam that foreigners from all over the world seek to learn and study from. Doctor Luong is the first surgeon in the world to do thyroid endoscopic surgery with the patient not having to be reminded by a long scar on their neck because this technique is done by cutting between the neck and armpit without having to use robots. Other areas where foreign doctors travel to learn from Vietnamese doctors include endoscopic procedures in obstetrics and cardiology.

Better Safety and Security - FALSE

Unfortunately, racism still exists within many communities across the globe. How would you feel if you heard that your 12 year old daughter is being bullied because she was stereotyped as a “bad Chinese” every single day - even when she is not Chinese? From listening to so many first hand accounts of experiences abroad, you and your children may always be reminded that you are something else, a minority. To them, you and your children are simply “different” and “yellow”.

Vietnamese Assume Life is Better AbroadImage source: newyorker.com

How safe would you feel living in a place where shootouts in schools or public places, depression, and suicide rates are well above those of Vietnam? How would you feel living in France where more cars are being burned to the ground every year than in any other country and where weekly riots down the main streets of the city centres are the norm? 

Children are always exercising their misguided liberal ”western” freedom, and their parents are too busy working double shifts just to get by. Truth is, petty crimes are common in most of the world but the actual risk of being robbed or getting mugged are much greater abroad than here in good old safe Vietnam.

Better Environment - TRUE

Respect for the environment is often better in well off countries. If you ever see westerners eating in our restaurants or hanging around on our beaches, you may notice how most of them pack away their dishes and pick up their trash. And water in most first world countries is usually well maintained and drinkable straight from the tap! Oh what a luxury.

Fresh air is more common as most of their populations consider their carbon footprint to be lower and more environmentally friendly. Carbon emissions from factories are regulated and modern public transport networks keeps traffic - and subsequent air pollution - to a minimum. Not to mention the access and availability of eco-friendly automobiles. In mainland China, major cities such as Shanghai have banned regular motorbikes and enforce the sole use of electric powered scooters. This is greatly improved the air quality in a short number of years.

Vietnamese Assume Life is Better AbroadImage source: hikers.shop

The garbage collection and processes are also more sustainable, efficient, and some even find ways to turn these into renewable energy. Natural parks and forests are also well protected, and all of that results in better overall air quality. Australia and Japan, for example, spend millions on enforcing strict recycling laws, and through the education system, children are taught from a young age the strict importance of recycling waste, saving water, and sustainability.

Many complain about the traffic in Vietnam. The endless sea of mopeds, fumes, and honking horns. The truth is that traffic is just as bad if not worse in larger foreign cities. You can get jammed during peak hours in Los Angeles, stuck in a standstill for hours at a time - something we rarely get in HCMC. Traffic is often equally as painful in Hong Kong and the CBD area of Sydney. This is a reality that people who have never been in other parts of the world do not realize.

Better Government - RELATIVE

Many local Vietnamese assume that France is a democracy and has a better government rule, but when you look at it from an economical perspective, we can’t really say that the French government is any better than Vietnam’s. “Better” is always subjective but for what it's worth, here in Vietnam, the people have hope even though a lot still remains to be done. Local Vietnamese love entrepreneurship and are always seeking opportunities and their survival and success is only possible due to the stability that the Vietnamese government has delivered for the past 20+ years. 

If you want better roads, schools and health care, think of how much this equates to the government’s capacity to raise taxes. Better infrastructures often means greater taxes. As an expatriate, you’ll get even more heavily taxed because you are in a foreign country. In highly developed social societies such as Sweden or Denmark up to 70% of your total income would be taxed! And do you realize that VAT which is 7-10% in Vietnam is at least double in all of the EU? Would you really enjoy feeling like you are ”working for the government” because they get a huge chunk of your hard earned salary? 

Opening your own business anywhere outside of Vietnam usually means that you can expect extortionate rental and utility fees, not to mention the high cost of multiple licenses required to start up and continue running your own business. Although strict with its rules and regulations, Vietnam is a nation that welcomes and encourages business startups, with rental and management fees, as well as licensing and labour costs much lower than those enforced within other countries.

Vietnamese Assume Life is Better AbroadImage source: indonesiaexpat.biz

In many developed countries outside of Vietnam, corruption is commonplace. Corruption in Western societies is usually disguised under a variety of names such as political campaign donations or lobbying activities. Most Western countries also have their own off-shore haven where people can avoid paying taxes, and corruption payments or bribes are constantly exchanging hands under the radar.

Now, discussions regarding governments are complicated and hugely subjective. So let's just say that each of us may have different perspectives, and you are all entitled to them. I will leave it at that.

The “Illusion of Life” in a virtual world

Have you ever heard of living double lives? No, this is nothing shady but many of us live a false projection of our lives on social media when compared to what is reality. Our social media ”face” is often different from how life truly is. This is neither healthy or makes life any easier. It becomes a standard of living now, an illusion of a greater and grander life. Something we unnecessarily stress ourselves to achieve.

New immigrants are naturally proud of having achieved “freedom”. They post often on Facebook and flaunt their new lives to their friends, families, and followers. Their digital connections look up to them, envy them. Families insist that you share often about all the “great news” and what it’s like to live in such a modern place but they also assume that you’re earning so much and live an amazing, happy, and fulfilling life.

Vietnamese Assume Life is Better AbroadImage source: studybreaks.com

This is the bright side of the coin, the other side shows that material gains do not shed light on what is truly within you. You’re living in a foreign nation and you’ve learned to live with your loneliness and sadness too often, it has become the norm. You are now integrated into this new society where people are most often sad themselves, you are behaving just as them. You think you have become one of them, a better version of what you could ever have been back in Vietnam. And then you wake up one day not recognizing who you see in the mirror. You must be thankful for all you have, send only the good news, and money when you can, and you're ”all good” now. But is this the reality?

You talk about good food and post beautiful photos but the fact is that your palate and love of home food has you craving and yearning for a slice of home. Your favourite ingredients and dishes are not readily available and you may have to adapt to local food and this may not always be as healthy as what you want or need. And we're just talking about food here. What about how hard it really is to make ends meet and how lonely it gets in new and strange environments?

Millions of Vietnamese share the same dream, strive for the same holy grail - to live in Canada, France, USA, Australia, Japan, anywhere else outside of Vietnam. If all migrants began sharing how challenging it really is to move to a new country, a place where you have no friends, no understanding of the language, traditions or culture, many might reconsider the challenge of emigrating and leaving the comfort of their home and loved ones.

Okay, so I acknowledge the problems here in Vietnam, like the traffic, corruption, and the seemingly “poor” environment but it does have a lot of charms. Western countries have slums and seemingly “poor” places too. Maybe they are just not as exposed as what you see here but once you get there, you will see that not everything in the movies or on social media is true. 

The grass may look greener on the other side but in reality, there’s more to what you see on the surface. Just like your own backyard, it has roots and weeds too. These are the things that you have to consider before heading out to a different country to seek greener pastures.

Why do so Many Expats Love Life in HCMC?

Life as an expat here is something many enjoy. We are pleased and fortunate to experience a vibrant city like no other. The rush, the colours, the noise, the palpable energy, the food! This is Saigon, the Pearl of the Orient. It has always been known to be a great place to be. There is nothing like it elsewhere, at least economically speaking. An exotic eldorado.

A city where its people have beautiful souls, are gentle, fiercely respectful, and always loyal. A place where when you smile, they smile back. A place where we can dress the way we want without feeling the weight of looks or judgement. This is a place of emotional freedom where we all live well without racism or religious conflict. A place where we can always find support when need be. A country where hope of a better future is rooted in its genes, its history. A young population that is eager, talented, and hard working. 

HCMC is a land of opportunities and it is the place to be. Many expats from around the world come to live in HCMC because life is great, and cheap! Let's not forget to mention the food here rocks and the tropical fruits are amazing! People are generally friendly and respectful. Life is good and we can lead a good life with a lot less. Besides, the sun shines all year long, isn’t that lovely?

Vietnamese Assume Life is Better AbroadImage source: ctfassets.net

When it comes to safety, I am definitely safe in Saigon, as long as I am careful when passing through some places after 11 pm. The rest of the time, you’ll be fine. Rarely have I heard, in my 13 years here, that someone I know got his bike stolen, or lost his car or got a broken window. There is theft like everywhere else on this planet, but here, no one bears arms except for the police.

Having gone through all of these factors, as an immigrant who has lived in almost all corners of the globe for so many years, I, along with thousands of other expats are left to wonder, ”Why are so many Vietnamese keen to immigrate to the countries we escaped ourselves?”

Banner Image source: vak1969.com


Nui Tuong Project

By: Zornitza Natcheva

Create sustainable change in a safe and supportive environment.

The importance of community.

Everyone is welcome to visit!

Global support towards an inspiring cause..

A remarkable story about a small rural Vietnamese community and its heartwarming transformation.

Nui Tuong is one of the poorest communities in the Dong Nai province where the main source of living is farming. Unlike some other provinces in Vietnam, Dong Nai has limited resources and English is not taught at primary school level. The Nui Tuong Project began in May 2016 when Hang Le returned back to her place of birth. 

Nui Tuong

Hang was born into a family of accomplished farmers. Having graduated with an English degree, life took Hang to the city where she spent years in Saigon working on a variety of projects and teaching Vietnamese to foreigners. Over time, Hang found her life to be unfulfilling and empty. She was always drawn to her roots and wanted to find a way to give back to her people. Upon returning to Nui Tuong, Hang immediately saw that little had changed for most families in her community since her childhood years. The severe poverty weighed on the community, they had low self-esteem and small hopes for a better future.

Finding Opportunity in the Darkest of Places...

With a passion to lead her community towards a brighter future, Hang realised the huge potential in sustainable agriculture and eco-tourism, as Nui Tuong is mere walking distance from Cat Tien National Park. Not long after she returned back to her village, the head of the ward asked her to teach the local children English in one of the small community houses available. She accepted enthusiastically and quickly saw how smart and inquisitive children of the community were. Hang recognized that in order to continue their development and create sustainable change, she needed to foster an environment where local children could learn, conduct experiments and share knowledge, in a safe and supportive environment.

Nui Tuong

With her own money, Hang founded Nui Tuong Project which is now a social enterprise. It presently sits on a 2000 square metre plot of land, nestled along Dong Nai River and has grown to have four large wooden bungalows for accommodation, additional dormitory for volunteers, a spacious and open dining and kitchen area and a library where children gather for their lessons and study activities. Nui Tuong project is unique as it blends agriculture, eco-tourism and education in a creative and innovative way and Hang strives to expand each area to its full potential. 

Cultivating Community...

At present, there is one permanent staff, Ms. Celine – a French national – who plans to remain at Nui Tuong for two years and is in charge of agricultural development. Her expertise and passion lie in permaculture, organic produce and sustainability and she has devoted her time to both managing the farm as well as creating workshops for the children. The long term goal is to have plants, fruits and vegetables all year round and to entrust the farm operations to the local children. Celine and the children learn about how to create small and large scale farms and about the local challenges in their production processes. The children are encouraged to develop solutions, experiment with new and more suitable crops for the climate, make organic fertilizer, teach farmers not to use pesticides and learn about current methods and machinery used in modern farming. 

Nui Tuong

Hang dedicates most of her time to engaging with the parents in the village. She organises music nights and other events to bring the community closer and build trust in her teaching methods. During community nights, Hang encourages the parents to have trust in their children and to allow them the independence to develop new skill sets and build their confidence. She also guides children on how to develop an open communication with their families about their hopes and dreams. 

Hang emphasizes the importance of having practical skills in addition to just good grades in school, which is what most parents usually focus on and what is promoted in traditional education systems. By promoting “learning by doing” Hang aims to strengthen the childrens’ abilities in performing independent research and having a solution driven, proactive mindset.

Nui Tuong Village Welcomes Everyone!

Of course, Nui Tuong Project would have never been possible without the help of international volunteers and visitors, which Hang has been actively engaging with in the last two years. In Nui Tuong village, eco-tourism is suitable to be experienced by anyone who loves nature, especially families that live and work in big cities. As a guest you pay a small fee for accommodation in one of the bungalows and you can use the bicycles from the farm to explore the nearby surroundings as well as tour Cat Tien National Park. One can enjoy the rice fields, the farm, eat and live like locals within the commune, learn about country life and experience its simplicity while feeling part of a big family. 

Nui Tuong

Additionally, the project organises Summer Camps where children from local schools and English centers in Ho Chi Minh City can join local kids on the farm and stay between 1 - 4 weeks. Most of the activities are determined by the volunteers and a typical weekly program includes: playing the guitar, practicing martial arts, and drawing. The program also covers subjects such as English, Science, History and Regional Geography. Children attending the camp are involved in weekly workshops on farming and nutrition, making jam and wine, planting flowers and fruits and even yoga! Children are taught how to run projects, manage finances and how to utilise social media for promotion and marketing. Hang loves to observe and discover the potential of each child through these activities and once she recognises certain talent within each child, she will change their role in order to fit their skills and personality, which in turn gives them the courage to develop in the right direction. Hang shares as her personal motivation for this project...

“To see a positive change in a human, to see them understand and trust themselves more and more every day, to have the opportunity to inspire them to be leaders.”

Global Support Towards an Inspiring Cause...

Schools which have joined in helping the project are Anglo-Chinese School (ACS) and Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP). Students and staff from FPT University in Vietnam visited and prepared dinner for over 100 community members. Even visitors from Hong Kong are making their way to Nui Tuong village, where 30 students from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology built a soccer field for the whole community to enjoy and taught the children experiments about aerodynamics and engineering. Students from National University of Singapore have also visited for two consecutive years to build additional classrooms and facilities and implement solar lights for the amenities on the farm. 

Nui Tuong

Hang feels happy now, even though her life and community responsibilities have become increasingly demanding and complex. She aims to continue to expand and accommodate more children from her community, nurturing and improving each of their native talents and strengths. Hang sees Nui Tuong Project becoming the perfect social enterprise model for anyone to pick up as a valuable case study and implement in their home towns and communities.

Within the next five years, most of the current children will leave to study abroad, the farm will grow to cover five hectares of land and there will be a small factory to produce wine. There will be additional housing for guests and volunteers, as well as housing for lecturers and scientists, with a fully equipped lab for them to conduct experiments. This is how Hang envisions the development of her project, as she believes her efforts will bring continuous change in the local community, for a better living environment and a stronger local economy. 

Now Hang is focused on the actual day to day work with the children, which she considers the most rewarding human experience. Her most substantial need is to bring more awareness to Nui Tuong Project, and to inspire organisations and companies to support with donations and volunteers. 

Nui Tuong

As Nui Tuong Project grows, it will soon need four additional interns and an education coordinator, as well as volunteers in the fields of Technology, English and Farming.

How can you and your organisation support Nui Tuong Project?
Contact Hang Le directly: +84 978 888 185
nuituongedu@gmail.com

Image source: Nui Tuong


Google's New Update Affects All Hoteliers

By: City Pass Guide

Breaking news: Your online bookings may be at risk

Did you hear that explosion? Google just set off its Mobile nuke. Media's calling the new algorithm update "mobilegeddon."

Basically, if your site is not mobile-friendly, you can expect a significant drop in your search rank. And since 90% of search engine clicks occur on the first page (Chitika), that could spell disaster for many unprepared tourism stakeholders.

Starting today, if you're not toe-to-toe with the search giant's expectations, you just lost a large chunk of bookings.

Yeah it's grim, but Google moves faster than any of us. All we can do is adapt.

Let's take a look at all the warning signs that told us this was inevitable:

1) Last year, mobile bookings rose by over 36%. Almost 21% of booking, 17% of room nights and 15% of revenue came from tablets and mobile devices. 25% of all bookings and revenue came from non-desktop mediums. (HeBS Digital Research).

2) 40% of page views were generated from non-desktop devices in 2014. (Tnooz)

3) In 2014, desktop website bookings declined by 4.4%, while desktop visitors declined by over 13%. (Tnooz)

4) Smartphones saw a surge in purchases in Vietnam in 2014. According to The Giodidong, 52% of all phone users own and use a smartphone.

5) Check out the infographics below, straight from Google. They drive the final nail in the coffin:

How Google's New Update Will Affect Hoteliers

How Google's New Update Will Affect Hoteliers

The warning signs were there: Google told businesses to brace for impact back in February.

So how will this update affect your business?

"Businesses that depend on people finding them through localized search will suffer most. Most of us use Google search engine on our phones and tablets. Imagine what happen when typing "activities in Saigon" or "Italian food in Ho Chi Minh City?" The many non mobile friendly website that relate to these subjects will fall off the screen. It will result in a substantial traffic decrease for them and a loss of sales."
Patrick Gaveau, CEO of Innovo JSC says
"Google has always been about relevancy, and content is king," he says. "But that's changing. Yes, they're saying content is still extremely important, but user experience is just as important. It's not sufficient to have all the right content — if people come to your site and the content is there but it's not readable, that's not good."
Itai Sadan, CEO of Duda, adds

Tnooz concludes that:

"Investing in your property website to maximize revenue from the three screens (desktop, mobile, tablet) is paramount to the very existence of your property. Coupled with a robust, well-funded digital marketing strategy, this will allow you to improve your property’s bottom line and leave the comp set in the dust."


7 Saigon Bloggers You Must Bookmark Now

By: Aleksandr Smechov

Saigon’s tourism scene is stuck on a plateau. Unlike other popular destinations like Bangkok, New York, Paris, etc., all is not revealed – secrets remain and an air of mystery still permeates even rudimentary tasks like going to a doctor and understanding traffic patterns. There’s a severe lack of official documentation and foreign language support that grants Ho Chi Minh City an air of impenetrability at times. Some times, to the point of utter frustration.

Our only hope, it seems, are the bloggers who brave the alien terrains of shouting ladies and incomprehensible signs to discover, transcribe and inform the confused community of expats and visitors. 

To save us all from bashing our heads against the wall when we order sautéed beef and get an avocado smoothie instead, we present a motley group of Content Heroes who provide us with the ins and outs necessary to experience the oohs and ahhs, without as much of the ughs and pffts. 

 

Rusty Compass

Cool stuff about Mark’s blog:

• A one-man powerhouse who produces consistent quality content on HCMC and around

• Well-structured website makes navigation easy

• Great pictures

• Observations are candid and nuanced

Rusty Compass features the lovable shiny-head Mark Bowyer, an Asia explorer since 1988. Mark has some cool guides for Vietnam and Cambodia, but his blog section is where his personality really sparkles. 

You get articles carefully eyeing the good and the bad of Saigon’s idiosyncrasies, with sensitive issues like the Cu Chi tunnel’s firing range and a potentially bland future for the city brought to light and discussed in Mark’s signature erudite manner. 

Mark also takes excellent photos.

Standout article: The Last President’s Driver

 

Andy Goes to Asia

Cool stuff about Andy: 

● Articles are written for the everyday expat

● Includes travel blogs, but also what it’s like to live here and work for a living

● Focuses a lot on storytelling

● Explains details that may seem confusing to expats, like the motorbike culture

● Well written, fun, blunt and helpful

A simple Wordpress blog, Andy Goes to Asia details the AsiaLIFE writer’s observations and travels in Vietnam. 

The blogs steady between practical and entertaining, are well written (Andy’s an English literature major, after all), easy to read and quite useful. “The Motorbikes of Saigon” sheds some light on Ho Chi Minh City’s chaotic motorbike culture, giving nuanced advice on where to rent, the 2007 helmet law, unpredictable obstacles and more. 

Standout article: The Motorbikes of Saigon

 

Adventure Faktory

Cool stuff about the AF duo: 

● Best layout/presentation of the bunch

● Content is broken down by topics

● Cool pictures

● Content is both practical (who expats date in the city) and related to experiencing the city (restaurants, bars, clubs, etc.) 

The cleanest, most well-laid-out site on the list, Adventure Faktory is a sexy travel blog with quality photos and a simple writing style that’s easy to get into. 

Written by world travelers Mitch and Thuymi, the blog is broken down into simple categories like “Travel,” “Sports & Adventure,” “Lifestyle” and more. Articles are practical and for the most part focused on venues and experiences (like “Fashion Boutiques in Saigon,” “Oktoberfest in Saigon” and “Ho Chi Minh City’s Coffee Culture”), and are chock full of cool Instagram-worthy shots. 

Standout article: The Ultimate Saigon Cafes List

 

Elka Ray

Cool stuff about Elka: 

● Tends to focus on short pieces targeted at the day-to-day goings-on

● Includes nicephotos and interesting stories – even a dash of humor thrown in

● Great writing

Elka Ray is a storyteller, and thus provides a more personal account of her daily life in Vietnam. Author and illustrator, Elka moved to the country in 1996, and has since started a family. 

The blog rotates around her family life at home, daily observations and insights and random musings. It’s a much different tone than others on the list, and the information leans more towards musings rather than practical advice, although there are some venue profiles.

Entries are fun, very well-written and a great read for anyone living in and experiencing the ups and downs of Vietnam.

Standout article: Scraps of history

 

Hello Saigon

 

Cool stuff about HS:

● Articles tend to focus on reviews of different attractions, hotels and venues around the city

● Site is streamlined and mobile friendly – tons of pictures and short-form content

● Does a lot of work with food discussions and where the best places to eat are

● Blogger is active and a regular poster

Hello Saigon boasts a constant stream of entries on Ho Chi Minh City’s active scene, including venues, events, food trips and travels to other cities. This is the most streamlined site of the bunch, and consists of a continuous river of bite-sized articles broken up by relevant pictures (1-2 sentences + picture, 1-2 sentences + picture, repeat). 

It’s really freaking easy to read, is fun to scroll through and is quite practical, especially with the flood of photos. The writing is simple and light-hearted, and the content is very snug on mobiles.

Standout article: A Relaxing Stay at Salinda Resort

 

City Pass Guide

Cool stuff about City Pass: 

• Self-explanatory (kidding)

• Large back catalog of blogs from a diverse team of writers and guest bloggers

• Long-form content may put off the ADD crowd, but articles are informative and delve deep into their subject matter

• Interview with experts on various destinations

• Blogs cover tourism industry, various lists, events and more

We City Pass Guide is known around town as the free guidebook distributed at fancy shmancy resorts and hotels. Their online counterpart is focused on venue listings, but there is a dedicated blog section that is quite useful if you want to dive deeper into Vietnam’s tourism market, learn about grand opening, unique events, or scroll through various lists (ex. top 5 Vietnamese love sayings, top 7 honeymoon resorts, etc.).

Articles are written by staff writers or guests from various industries, are relatively lengthy but go well with a glass of pinot noir and a bag of Poca chips.

Standout article: The Declining State of Tourism in Vietnam – And How We Can Help

 

Sketchpacker

Cool stuff about Zoe:

● The blog features creative sketches of Saigon’s life and locals

● Zoe’s gonzo, down-to-earth observations are fun to read

● Blogs are both informative and very well written

Like Wix-using Andy above, Zoe hardly needs anything more than a free Wordpress blog to suck in readers with surreal sketches, disarmingly honest prose and a gonzo wit about her observations.

Blogs detail living on a severely limited budget (eggs, baguettes and VND 10,000 drinks every day? No problem), unspoken rules of the road, living in a shack on Phu Quoc for a week, children helping administer heroine to their mothers (yep…) and many more gems.

Standout article: Saigon’s Darkest Secrets

 


5 photo tips for travelers in Vietnam

By: Vinh Dao

How to capture and keep the Vietnamese breathtaking moment?

For shutterbugs, Vietnam is a paradise full of photographic opportunities. Whether you are into landscapes, street or even food photography, Vietnam has it all. We have put together five tips for taking photos in this picturesque country.

1. Be respectful. When taking photos of people, take the slow approach. Usually a smile or a gesture to your camera is all it takes for someone to allow you to take their photo.

Local insight: Monks and nuns make for great portraiture subjects.

2. Wake up early. When the first rays of sunlight head across the horizon, the light created is softer and colours are warmer and more saturated. Though this effect lasts usually lasts longer than one hour, photographers call this the Golden Hour.

Local insight: The Golden Hour is a great opportunity to snap some images of Hanoians exercising around Hoan Kiem Lake.

3. Take a tripod. This is a must for taking landscape photos and when the light is fading when shutter speeds are slower.

Local insight: Light streaks from the manic traffic in Saigon’s District 1 will create an ethereal feel to any image.

4. Read up about your destination. Finding a relevant tidbit where you are shooting can make the difference of turning a great shot into something stunning.

Local insight: The best time to take photos in Sapa is before the harvest from mid-September to early October when the rice fields are a bright yellow.

5. Use your camera strap. Sling the strap around your neck or across your shoulder to prevent an opportunistic thief from nicking your camera.

Local insight: When walking around in major cities, this is a must as motorbike thieves are drawn to cameras like moths to a flame.


Other articles:

Top 5 tips for crossing the street in Vietnam

Top 5 photo tips for travelers in Vietnam

Top 5 tips to rent a motorbike in Vietnam

5 tips to manage your online reputation on Tripadvisor

5 tips of preparation for better score at golf

5 tips to take pictures of fireworks in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi

Top 5 tips for preventing theft in Vietnam

The art of bargaining in Vietnam

Tips to spot and avoid scam and pick pocket


Increase Your Effectiveness by Managing Your Time

By: Victor Burrill

“Effectiveness is a habit and that you can improve through practice.” - Peter F. Drucker

We all have the same amount of time so why does it seem that some people are able to get more out of their day. Believe it or not, they have learnt the skill of how to properly manage their time to build their effectiveness. You too can learn this valuable skill and no matter how long you’ve been in the workplace, it’s never too late to learn.

Goal Setting

After getting to know my clients, one of the first things I ask them is ‘where do you want to be?’ One way I sometimes ask this is ‘What would be different say in two years’ time from now?’

Setting goals, or knowing which direction you are going is fundamental in clarifying your ideas, focusing your efforts, use your time and resources productively, and increase your chances of achieving what you want in life. To make sure your goals are clear and reachable, each one should be SMART which is:

- Specific (clear and concise).

- Measurable (the ability to track your progress).

- Achievable (challenging yet attainable).

- Relevant (set goals that are relevant to your overall plan).

- Time bound (goals should have a target finish time attached).

The Power of Focus

Tim Cook, the COO of Apple said “We are the most focused company that I know of or have read of or have any knowledge of. We say no to good ideas every day. We say no to great ideas in order to keep the amount of things we focus on very small in number so that we can put enormous energy behind the ones we do choose.” Like Apple’s success, you too can achieve amazing results on focusing your efforts and doing a good job on those things you decided to do and eliminating unimportant opportunities.

Time Management

Keeping the amount of goals you have to less than three increases the likelihood that you will reach them all with excellence. Statistics show that those who have more than four goals are likely to achieve only 1 or 2 of them. If you have over 11 goals, you are unlikely to reach any.

Learning to say ‘NO’ is a skill many successful people have mastered. Take billionaire Warren Buffett, for example. With all the demands on him, Buffett learned a long time ago that his most valuable resource is his time. He has mastered the art and practice of setting boundaries for himself. The mega-mogul once said, "The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.

Executive coaching guru, Dr. Marshal Goldsmith says that one of the greatest lessons Peter Drucker taught him is:

“We spend a lot of time helping leaders learn what to do. We do not spend enough time teaching leaders what to stop. Half of the leaders I have met don’t need to learn what to do. They need to learn what to stop.”

As a coach, I have found that much of my work is helping leaders work out what they need to stop doing in order to focus on their most important priorities.

You may also want to start by looking at your schedule or to-do-list every day and for simplicity try to get down five tasks you need to accomplish. Using the principle you can probably eliminate the majority of the items on your list. It may feel unnatural at first but overtime this will condition you to scale up effort on the most important tasks.

Learning How You Spend Time Will Help You Save Time

When it comes to managing your time, you may need to find out where your time actually goes. You may believe that you only send 30 minutes on emails, but in reality that task might be eating-up an hour of your day. The easiest way to keep track of your time is to download an app like RescueTime, Toggl or my app Calendar to track everything you do in a week. You can then find out what’s stealing your time and make the appropriate adjustments.I've found that setting a time limit to each task prevents me from getting distracted or procrastinating. if I don’t complete the task on time, I can still work on it without eating into the time reserved for something else.

Virtual meetings - thanks to rapidly advancing technology, we have more and more choice on ways to run a meeting. Of course, to say that online meetings can simply replace all face-to-face meetings is unrealistic.

Batching similar tasks together such as emails and phone calls. I know effective managers who schedule a specific time to handle these tasks such as late morning and towards the end of the day.

I also plan my week to avoid wasting time waiting. If I do find that I have a delay, I make the best of it. For example, whist waiting I’ll read an inspirational book, listen to a podcast, or make those important calls.

Time Management

Delegation and outsourcing can get a bit difficult for some but are real time-savers since it lessens your workload - which means you have more time to spend on more important tasks. Either hand over responsibilities to team members who are qualified or hire an experienced freelancer. Time training will be worth-it in the end.

Leaving a buffer-time between tasks and meetings can help performance. Jumping immediately from one task or meeting to the next may seem like a good use of your time, but it actually has the opposite effect. We need time to clear our minds and recharge. After all, the human brain can only focus for about 90-minutes at a time. Without that break it’s more difficult to stay focused and motivated. Scheduling buffer-time also can prevent running late to your next meeting.

The Power of Planning

A lot of successful leaders spend time thinking on how they will achieve their priorities. Spending time planning keeps you focused on your goals as well as giving you the opportunity to build contingency for a possible crisis and help you work out how to avoid interruptions.

One of the worst things that you can do is wake-up without a plan for the day. Before leaving work for the day, spend the last 15-minutes organizing your office and composing a list of your most important items for tomorrow. During your morning routine write down the 3 or 4 most urgent and important matters that need to be addressed today and work on those when you’re most productive.

Spend your mornings on your most important tasks (MIT’s). Mark Twain once said, "If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first." Gross? Sure. But, the point that Twain was making that you should take care your biggest and most-challenging tasks in the morning, aka your most important tasks (MITs) of the day.

There are a couple reasons why this is such an effective time management trick. For starters, you usually have the most amount of energy in the morning. So it’s better to tackle these tasks when you’re not drained. Also, you can use that feeling of accomplishment to get through the rest of the day.

Be Energized and Inspired

There is a reason why successful leaders exercise regally. Even a short burst of fun cardio activity works wonders, especially in the morning. This is because exercise releases endorphins, serotonin, and other happy chemicals in your brain. According to renowned psychologist Shawn Achor, the reason why exercise is so key to your morning routine is that it literally trains your brain to believe "my behavior matters," which then carries (positively) into other activities throughout the day. And for procrastinators, exercising when you least feel like it is when it does the most good.

Time Management

I use inspirational sources like a TED Talk or biography. It’s a simple way to reignite that fire to get me motivated and back-on-track.

Change your schedule. If you’re reading this article then it’s obviously because you want to discover some useful time management skills. If you’re struggling with being effective, the solution may be as simple as changing your schedule around. For example, instead of sleeping-in until 6:30am, wake-up an hour earlier. Personally, I find 5:15am to be the most productive time of the day since it gives me time to exercise, plan-out my day, go through my emails, and even work on side projects without being disturbed.

*Victor Burrill is an internationally certified coach, leadership trainer and is Chairman of the Business Executive Network Vietnam.

Image source: Shutter Stock

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