Page 1

By Locals, for Locals

Ấn phẩm chuyên quảng cáo - Phát hành miễn phí (nhiều tác giả)



Editor’s note

Editor’s note #iAMHCMC

By Locals, For Locals Editorials 2. Editor’s Note

WORKING Features 3. The Month in #iAMHCMC 4. Working by the Numbers 7. To Degree or Not Degree 8. HR in Vietnam: A Culture on the Move 9. Job Seeking in the Digital Age 10. Reinventing Work: HCMC’s Millennials 12. Culture Clash: Multinational Working 13. Some Thoughts on Tolerance 14. Expats in Saigon:

The Employed and the Employer

16. Labouring Legally in HCMC 18. Where to Work?:

Local vs. International Companies

20. How to Make a Maverick:

Building a Business in HCMC

22. Startup, Up and Away 23. Shifting Sands:

The Future of Manufacturing

24. Saying Hello to High-Tech

For most people in this city and, further, in this country, work is the one issue that affects lives the most. “Work” means something different to every person depending on their background, country of origin and interests. The diversity of choice is something we tried to capture in the following pages. Vietnam is a land full of extremes: from the agrarian-based rural farmlands in the Mekong Delta to the white-collar office jobs prevalent in major cities to the always-vibrant entrepreneurial spirit alive in expats and Vietnamese locals alike, it seems like new opportunities to make money are behind every corner, provided you have the right experience and the determination it takes to get there. Reporters and analysts love to laud Vietnam as the success story of Southeast Asia. As is frequently championed, the past 20 years have seen incredible economic and societal growth, and the next 20 years are showing signs of continuing in this positive direction. However, it’s important to keep in mind that this growth hasn’t happened magically; it has been the result of the dedication and hard work of Vietnamese people far more than any amount of foreign direct investment. Here at Innovo, I’m constantly amazed at the level of focus, resourcefulness and patience my Vietnamese coworkers exhibit every day. After working at the company close to a year, I’m beginning to understand why Vietnam as a country has been tapped to become an economic powerhouse in a decade or two. I, for one, am excited to see it unfold. Best,

26. Changing River: Working in the Delta

environment FEATURE 28. Children at Work:

Effects of Climate Change


Keely Burkey

30. The Invisible Hands

EDUCATION FEATURE 31. Learning German in Ho Chi Minh Stadt

HEALTH FEATURE 32. The Creative Destruction of Healthcare

FOOD FEATURE 33. Feast for the Eyes

BUSINESS FEATURE 36. Living in a Mobile World

TRAVEL FEATURE 38. Exploring Cat Tien: Ta Lai Longhouse

Have feedback? Contact me at kEELY@INNOVO.VN Editor-In-Chief Patrick Gaveau

Marketing Coordinator Thomas Kervennic

Executive Assistant & HR Manager Do Nhai

Digital Marketing Analyst Minh Tran

General Accountant Nguyen My Content Manager Keely Burkey Visual Content Producer Emilio Piriz Production Coordinator Oanh Tran

Digital Marketing Assistant My Tran

Writers Jesús López-Gomez Robyn Wilson Arik Jahn Dr. Mason Cobb Hang Doan

Co-Owner Benjamin Giroux

Copyeditor Rob van Driesum

BD Manager Philippe Chambraud BD Coordinator Ngoc Tran

Sr. Technical Officer Stefan Georg Sr. Developer Ai Nguyen Front Cover Øyvind Sveen Designer Tung Dinh

Online Content Coordinator Sivaraj Pragasm

E-NOVO CO., LTD 42/37 Hoang Dieu, District 4, HCMC | +84 28 3825 4316 |

RECIPE OF THE MONTH 34. Red Bean-Green Tea Dumpling Che

ADVERTORIALS 17. Take a Trip on Japan’s Best Airline: JAL 37. Wolf Blass Saigon Rugby 10’s 35. Jaspas Gets a Makeover 2 |

WORKING (nhiều tác giả)

Thanh Niên Publishing House 64 Ba Trieu - Hanoi - Vietnam | Tel: (+84 0 24) 3 943 40 44 - 62 63 1719 Publishing Liability: Director - Editor in Chief: Nguyen Xuan Truong | Editor: Ta Quang Huy License Info: Publishing Registration Plan No.: 1775-2017/CXBIPH/29-82/TN Publishing Permit No.: 579/QĐ-TN | Issued on 17 August 2017 | ISBN: 978-604-64-7998-7 5,000 copies printed at HCMC Nhan Dan Newspaper Printing Co., Ltd (D20/532P, Hamlet 4, Binh Chanh District, HCMC) No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission in writing from the publisher.


The Month in

In cooking the most “ important thing is the taste

Natural disasters have “ a direct impact on children’s survivability, physical health and mental well-being

of the dish, the second is the presentation.

Nguyen Trong Dam, Deputy Minister of Labour, War Invalids and Social Affairs, speaking at a

Ancient Hue, Royal Cuisine Gallery chef Nguyen Don Van, discussing the importance of food presentation. (p.33)

child-labour conference. (p.2)

Being group-oriented doesn’t simply mean hanging

out or having beers together, but instead supporting

others when they face difficulties.

Tran Tri Thuy Duong, a lawyer who specialises in International Trade Law, discussing group dynamics in the workplace. (p.18)

Whoever has the “ answer to that will get a lot of money and will be really famous.

I do think “ Vietnam is doing a lot of the right things. ”

Michael Sieburg, Associate Partner of Solidiance Vietnam, when asked if automation would take away manufacturing jobs in Vietnam. (p.24)

Dr. Marcel Marchand, expert on coastal zone and flood risk management, talking about the increasing amount of floods in Mekong Delta cities like Can Tho. (p.26)

General Director of Medovations Vietnam Jonathan Moreno, discussing the growing environment for manufacturing. (p.24)

The funny thing is, some “ people think that because we’re still


People adapt, “don’t they? ”

around we’re a super successful company. But we’re just at the beginning of our journey founder T. Nguyen on start-up company culture. (p.22)

My strategy: “ cheap; cheap and best quality. ”

Entrepreneur Vu Thien An discussing his business strategy. (p.20)

employee will not be “ Thedisengaged if the manager is engaged. ”

Co-founder of UpUp App Jeremy Maman, discussing the root cause of millennial employee disengagement. (p.10)









Officially Employed People .36 (Jan 2017) million

Source: First Alliances, 2017 Salary Guide


Minimum Wage: VND3,750,000 per month

per month




2.3% 3.18% 1.86%

Officially Employed People .36 (Jan 2017) million

On average (2016)


Minimum Wage: VND3,750,000 per month


In urban areas In rural areas Managing(2016) Partner (2016)

US$30,000 US$40,000

banking & finance


CEO US$15,000 US$30,000


Officially Unemployed People million (Jan 2017)

construction & real Estate


project director US$10,000 US$15,000

Youth Unemployed Rate (Jan 2017) Officially Unemployed People million (Jan 2017)



60 55

126 9.6%

Overseas Placements thousand (2016)

Retirement Age (Men) Retirement Age (Women)

UNEMPLOYMENT RATE 7.29% 60 Youth Unemployed Rate (Jan 2017)

Retirement Age (Men)

2.3% 3.18% 1.86% 55

On average (2016)

In urban areas (2016)

Retirement Age (Women)

In rural areas (2016)

Source: First Alliances, 2017 Salary Guide

top 5 paying industries, 2017

per month



Foreign Employment


126 9.6%

information Technology


cio/cto US$6,000 US$12,000

Overseas Placements thousand (2016) Foreign Employment





Managing Partner

US$30,000 1 A salary higher than local rates US$40,000 2 A clear career progression 3 Flexible working arrangements

banking & finance

construction & real Estate

information & Technology


US$15,000 US$30,000

US$10,000 US$15,000

US$6,000 US$12,000

US$5,300 US$8,800

Source: Robert Walters Global Salary Survey, 2017


4 |

project director



Source: Robert Walters Global Salary Survey, 2017

Labour Force The at 15 yOa salary and above Indicators, year The average yearly raise and age group Number of overseas Vietnamese average increaseby age group by






when people change jobs in 2017








top performers can expect in 2017





professionals who want to return to Vietnam











top three industries hiring in 2017

90 80 70


60 66.1


Digital Marketing















Information Techonology

project director 15+ YOE, US$5,000 - 10,000/month

architect 3+ YOE, US$1,000 - 2,000/month

20 21.5

























Manufacturing 2002








2014 medical PREL. 2015 clinical research assosicate

Annual employed population & annual employed population at 15 yoa & above by kinds EMPLOYED POPULATION BY ECONOMIC ACTIVITY (BY THOUSAND) of economic activity by economic activity, items and year Source: General Statistics Office of Vietnam










24,279.06,972.6 6,645.8















3-5 YOE, US$900 - 1,800/month

nurse 3+ YOE, 700 - 1,300/month

thous. pers

24,408.7 23,259.1

24,362.97,267.3 7,102.2

8,082.8 7,414.7 24,357.2





Food & Beverage (Hospitality) 23,259.1 general manager







creative director 8+ YOE, US$3,000 - 6,500/month



6,645.8 119.0 101.3




Agriculture, Forestry & Fishing

graphic designer 2 - 5 YOE, US$700 - 1,500/month




15+ YOE, US$3,000 - 5,000/month


pastry chef 165.7 158.1 7,102.2

148.1 6,972.6 150.0








personal assistant

3+ YOE, US$500 - 1,000/month







2+ YOE, US$300 - 500/month






CEO (local & foreign bank)


10+ yoe, US$15,000 - 30,000/month

operations officer (Operation Department, Foreign bank) 2005

8,082.8 7+ YOE, 1,500 - 3,000/month

PREL. 2015




Source: General Statistics Office of Vietnam






2,468.4 Real Estate








2-3 YOE, US$600 - 1,000/month

Agriculture, forestry & fishing



Manufacturing 90 12.4





Construction 15.6







Real Estate Activities 20.0 20.3 22.2


25.2 26.2


12-15 YOE, US$15,000 - 20,000/month


PREL. 2015


3-4 YOE, US$1,000 - 1,500/month


80 70 60 annual employed population at 15 yoa above by62.2 occupation by 59.7 occupation & year 66.1 66.2 65.7 63.5 & 63.3 63.3 63.7 62.3 61.4 61.4 61.3 61.1 59.9 59.3 50 Retail

Source: General Statistics Office of Vietnam



merchandiser 1-3 YOE, US$400 - 700/month


senior merchandise 18,808.6 Manager

2020,305.5 21.5 22.1 10


5+ YOE, US$1,800 - 2,500/month



luxury 3,188.1 & cosmetics




21,124.2 18.3





2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010






0ver 50 yrs







6,533.2 25-49 yrs 3,728.5

15-24 yrs








21,035.1 14.8


Native teacher


3+ YOE, US$1,000 - 2,000/month

personal tutor

The average salary increase when people change jobs in 2017

2+ YOE, US$300 - 500/month




The average yearly raise top performers information can expect in 2017


top three industries hiring in 2017 CIO/CTO

retail manager 5+ YOE, US$1,500 - 3,000/month

15+ YOE, US$6,000 - 12,000/month

Source: General Statistics Office of Vietnam

1 Digital Marketing

brand executive

1,818.3 1 - 3 YOE, US$400 - 700/month



2 IT

3 Manufacturing IT manager 5 - 10 YOE, US$1,500 - 3,000/month









what does the vietnamese workforce want? 1 A salary higher than local rates




2 A clear career progression 3 Flexible working arrangements

70% 2009


Unskilled Occupations

2011 2012 Skilled agricultural, forestry & fishery workers

2013 2014 Plant & Machine Operators & Assemblers

Number of overseas Vietnamese professionals who want to return to Vietnam

PREL. 2015 Mid-level Professionals



INDUSTRIES EXPECTING STRONG GROWTH IN 2017 Fast-moving consumer goods (fmcg)



Information technology

retail & e-commerce






Expected unemployment rate in 2017











!!! 21,035.1























2009 Unskilled Workers


2011 2012 Skilled Agricultural, Forestry & Fishery Workers

Source: General Statistics Office of Vietnam

66 || gazette

2013 2014 Plant/Machine Operators & Assemblers


PREL. 2015 Mid-level Professionals


working FEATURE

by Hang Doan


To Degree or Not Degree than 400 universities and colleges, three times the number recorded in 1987, and double the number from 2002.

Positive Signs Along with other temporary jobs that degree holders take after graduation, many choose to sign up for programs to work overseas, and Japan and Korea are the most favoured destinations. A number of graduates decide to go to vocational training schools or enrol by Thinh&Toan

Vietnam’s degree-obsessed society is now rethinking the merits of vocational training. In Vietnam, high school graduates are usually told to take part in entrance exams for university. Vietnamese society is obsessed with degrees and diplomas and people generally believe that entering a university is the best

After failing to find a job, he decided to buy a motorbike and become a GrabBike driver. He is among many Vietnamese degree holders who have failed to find a job in their field and end up doing something that does not require academic qualifications.

Why Is it Happening?

way to achieve professional success; not many parents want their children to have a vocational education. High school graduates flock to universities, and after four years in dai hoc (university) or three years in cao dang (college), a new batch of university graduates joins the potential labour market. There is fierce competition among job candidates, but recent findings indicate that those with vocational qualifications are likely to find employment more easily than those with academic degrees. According to a survey by the Ministry of Labour, the unemployment rate of degree-holders in the country was 8.1 percent in 2016, while that of candidates with vocational training was only 1.8 percent.

Among 1.1 million unemployed people in Vietnam, around 200,000 hold bachelor’s or master’s degrees. Dang Quang Thien, 26, from the northern

back in universities with a different major. Nguyen Hoang Tuan graduated from the Business Administration Department of Long An Economics and Industry University in 2016. More than one year after graduation, he was unable to find a job. Tuan decided to attend the industrial electricity program at a local vocational school. “When I enrolled in business administration, I was following the lead of many friends, not pursuing my own dream. The more I learnt, the

The preference for qualifications over training probably dates back to the feudal era when a man’s greatest dream was to study and take part in exams to become an official in the imperial administration. For centuries this was seen as the path towards success for a commoner; being an administrative official was the noblest status in society. That mindset is still very common today.

Many parents think that their children must pursue academia for them to be respected. They are also afraid that becoming a blue collar worker means harder work and less pay. As a result, there was a boom in university education some years ago as many junior colleges were upgraded to university level. A series of both

more I realised that it was not my thing. “So I think that young people should choose to study something that suits their ability and what they really like, not what others like.” Vietnam is in true need of skilled workers as the country lags well behind neighbouring countries in terms of labour productivity growth; the manufacturing sector, as it happens, has the lowest labour productivity growth. Apart from the needs of society, on a practical level young people and their families will benefit from vocational training by saving the money they would have spent in expensive universities. Mr. Nguyen Hoang Anh, the head teacher of Ho Chi Minh City-based iSpace Vocational College, said:

public and private universities opened up and

“In a society where people are still obsessed with

increased their recruitment figures, exceeding

degrees, those who choose to attend vocational

the real demands of the job market. Higher

schools should be praised for their bravery.”

education has become easier to achieve than ever before.

Vietnamese experts suggest that high schools and vocational schools should work together to

province of Ninh Binh, graduated from college

According to the Ministry of Education and

provide advice to high school graduates about

two years ago, majoring in the food industry.

Training’s 2016 statistics, Vietnam has more

better career path choices. 7



by Arik Jahn

HR in Vietnam: A Culture on the Move statistics and was hired for mere enthusiasm,

system. Hence the difficulties to find them on

and a third started a career in business

the job market. But at this point, another crucial

administration and somehow took over HRM

aspect of HRM in Vietnam comes into play:

responsibilities as nobody else could do it. But

multinational and local companies differ in the

they were all trained in HRM within their

importance they attach to HRM.

companies. There were simply no institutions in Vietnam that taught HRM. Once local companies warily followed international HRM trends in the 2000s, however, universities and private institutions began to offer the subject, so the situation is beginning to change.

Business success relies on human resources. Sounds obvious? And yet Vietnam has just only started to realise the importance of professional HR management. In the Vietnamese job market, the yearly

Meanwhile, GPO and First Alliances both reflect a big trend in HRM: outsourcing. Common practice internationally for years now, local companies have only embraced this in the past

the traditional approach, with HR as an

candidates to meet employer demand. Enter

attitude of staff shopping their skills around

the headhunters, the centrepiece of most HR

so aggressively, but the problem lies deeper:

service firms in Vietnam.

Vietnam is a sales-oriented environment where

based HR service company, remembers her first steps in HRM some 20 years ago. She had to go abroad, to Hong Kong and Singapore, to earn her spurs: “HR jobs were only created here when FDI [Foreign Direct Investment] companies entered Vietnam.” It was the time after the country’s fundamental economic liberalisation, the famous Doi Moi in the late 1980s, and there was no opportunity to learn HRM in Vietnam.

Career Changes

puts the same thing differently: “Many Vietnamese companies still [use]

makes your head spin. One could question the

Ms. Yen Do, Director of GPO, a Northern-

operating Applied Micro Circuits Corporation,

best – and keep them. There are simply not enough skilled

Some might say: Human Resource Management (HRM) is only just coming of age in Vietnam.

Ms. Thao, HR Manager at the internationally

decade. To stay on top, you have to find the

employee turnover of 20 percent or more

keeping good staff is not yet a top priority.

“In Western companies, the HR directors and HR managers make the decisions in HRM,” Ms. Tu claims. “They are very close with the CEO. They’re kind of like advisors. But in local companies, it’s the CEO who decides.”

Soft Skills, Yes or No? “Why not hire foreigners, then?” you might ask. The reason is simple: to manage a local workforce, you have to speak their language and understand

operational, not strategic partner.” Not only are Vietnamese HR staff less confident, they’re supposed to be!

Training for the Future Internationalisation brings about a shift in the business environment; multinational companies import their values and structures, and HR managers take on a new role.

their culture. How many expats who meet these

“It’s them who create the company culture,

requirements do you know? Right. “99.9 percent

after all,” said Ms. Thi Hoa, Managing

of the HR heads in Vietnam are locals,” Ms. Tu,

Director at the recruitment service provider

Executive Search & Selection Manager at the

Career Planning. It requires HR departments

HR service provider First Alliances, estimates.

to partake in shaping a corporate identity.

So, how about local candidates?

Soft skills are king.

“Based on the comments from quite a lot of our clients,” Ms. Tu says, “Vietnamese are considered intelligent and competent. But compared to other Asian countries the employees are less disciplined and less confident. In other words: they do not know their strengths.”

Is this something they learn at public

Each director in the sector had a different career

universities? Ms. Yen Do from GPO has her doubts: “I don’t think more universities will open up for HRM. But there will be more private companies that offer training programmes.” The mission is ambitious: training a selfassured, qualified workforce to manage human

path. One studied English and got into HRM

These soft skills, she continues, are traditionally

resources, the country is just now realising, is

for communication skills, the other learned

not taught in the Vietnamese educational

key to Vietnam’s economic development.

8 |


by Hang Doan


Job Seeking in the Digital Age Fifty percent of the institute’s staff were recruited

about going to a job interview, they will send

The digital age is here, and it’s changing the way people look for jobs in Vietnam.

based on online profiles, and the recruitment

them a “good luck!” message. Or if they have

process takes place within several days. At a

challenges finding a job or need some advice,

job fair, it would take the institute two weeks

the companies will jump into the conversation.

In the past, Vietnamese job seekers would look

20 applications out of 100 job seekers.

to prepare, when they can shortlist only 10 to

carefully at classified ads in newspapers to see which companies were hiring. Then they would prepare a written file with their resume, cover letter and so forth and send it to the company

New Headhunting Techniques

employment agency or job introduction centre, where they would find out in-person which

Among the biggest search engines for jobs in Vietnam are VietnamWorks, CareerBuilder, JobStreet, ITviec, Anphabe and LinkedIn.

positions were needed and apply via the agency

The headhunting industry is now data-driven,

or centre.

intelligent and proactive.

All Things Digital A lot of new jobs are posted every day on different job websites in Vietnam. At the online Vietnamese-language job search website, there are thousands of jobseekers looking for jobs every day, most of which are for management positions, senior staff and skilled workers.

As more young people go online to look for jobs, fewer job fairs, in which job seekers and employers meet directly, are held. According to the Vietnam Institute of

such as YouNet Media, Boomerang and Buzzmetrics help companies understand why they’re mentioned, what the conversations are, and then dial into those. It’s about using social data to “listen” to users’ job demands

via post. Another popular method? To go to an

Leading social monitoring tools in Vietnam

The internet has changed the headhunting game: research, networking and referrals can now be accomplished through these job sites.

and find those who have an interest in the companies.

Beware of Scams Here’s the bad news: Vietnamese social media groups as well as Vietnamese online job posting boards are seeing a dramatic increase in fake job postings. Most of the postings lure users with attractive salary and bonus offers, and the companies’

According to the Vietnam Institute of

names and websites are usually fake. The

Computers, its HR managers would rather look

targets of these scams are mostly students or

at the online profiles of job seekers than written

new graduates. When interviewees come to the

applications sent to the institute via the post.

offices of these companies, they will be asked

The use of social media in headhunting is also becoming a trend. Companies create teams of people who listen to the social chatter in the marketplace and take part in those conversations. Where those conversations are, that’s where the talent is.

to pay some kind of “recruitment fee”. They then go home and wait for the companies to call them back, but to no avail. There are some cases reported by the police in which interviewees came to appointed venues and met someone who claimed to be interviewing them. Then the interviewer would

Computers, an agency in charge of data rescue

Such companies use social networks to listen to

pretend to have something urgent to do and

technology, recruitment websites are much more

what people are saying about their careers, and

borrow the candidates’ mobile phones or

effective and less time-consuming than job fairs.

engage with them. If they see someone posting

motorbikes, fleeing the scene.




by Keely Burkey

Reinventing Work: HCMC’s Millennials

Millennials are taking over the workplace, but is the workplace ready? A native of the Philippines with decades of working experience in Manila’s hypercompetitive advertising world, 38-year-old creative director Maria* is used to straighttalk. She gave me a taste of this as we discussed one of the hottest issues in the working world: millennials in the workplace — roughly those

Forbes article, for example, predicts that by

seen in older generations. “They have more

2030, 75 percent of the workforce will be

choices in work and life,” she said via email.

millennials. Even today, depending on the

“A company can’t [expect to] retain them if

industry or company, as much as 95 percent of

they’re not giving them new opportunities to

the workforce might come from this generation.

get more benefits and higher positions.”

As digital natives, the way millennials work is markedly different from older generations. What are some of the defining characteristics of this generation, and how does it affect the workplace?

born between 1980 and 2000, also called Jeremy Maman, Business Development

ad world Maria was used to, some would think

Strategist at Green Digital and Co-Founder of

Vietnam’s equivalent, still in a nascent stage,

the soon-to-be-released UpUp App, has made

would be a breeze. However, the HR world

understanding the millennial worker (he is one

usually has her against the ropes.

himself) his bread and butter. The first hallmark

department, Maria told me, “She was good, she was fresh. [...] I hired her because of her plates in school. She has a free mind, she can

of this group? A heavy reliance on technology, which many young workers use as the primary means of communication. “Everyone is on their smartphone and social media,” he said.

work without a brief, and she has lots of ideas.”

On a broader level, a millennial worker’s

It’s this hunger and creativity that Maria wants

outlook, both on their job and life as a whole,

more than anything, and it’s precisely this that

is something quite new. “They expect more,”

she sees lacking in the millennial workers she

Maman shrugged. “They expect more from

works with today.

the manager, and they want to make a bigger impact on the company.”

A Nebulous Definition?

across Vietnam, this mix between a hypertechnological, multitasking working style and a more demanding, ambitious outlook has created a unique challenge for businesses. In a nutshell, Maman says: “They want to feel free, but they still want to [make] an impact

Generation Y. Compared to the awards-driven

Discussing one recent acquisition to her

For many HR representatives and managers

Tran Thi Thu Trang, the human resource

in the company.”

Diagnosing the Disengaged The contrast between the traditional work model — one that emphasises company loyalty, hard work and little recognition — and the new millennial worker has, so far, produced lessthan-stellar results.A recent Gallup poll, for example, states that a staggering 87 percent of employees worldwide are not currently engaged. Many are quick to disparage the millennial generation for not adhering to traditional workplace mores (“They’re proud of themselves, not of the work,” Maria laughed), and it’s easy to see why.

manager for CMC Saigon Integration Co., Ltd.,

For Maria, used to the traditional work-all-

Millennial workers have come in force into

notes that many of her younger employees care

night-to-meet-deadlines approach, the emphasis

the workplace and are here to stay. A recent

much more about a work-life balance than she’s

on a work-life balance, mixed with a lack of

10 |

working FEATURE

loyalty to any one company, can have disastrous consequences for a company’s creative output.

“This is what frustrates me,” she said. “You hire someone. You train them. They get to be who you want them to be. And then they quit and you have to retrain people.”

For managers and HR department heads alike, it comes down to how millennial workers are treated by their superiors, and everyone has their own tips of the trade. For Trang Tran, it’s about relating to young employees with technology: “Businesses should invest in information technology systems to

The question becomes how to keep employees

maximise Gen Y’s passion and potential,”

engaged and happy while also getting the

she wrote.

necessary results.

For another human resource professional,

Traditionally, this might have been a pay rise

My**, it’s about providing mentorship rather

or a title promotion every couple of years.

than cut-and-dried management. “We need to

With the increase of social media and instant

be stronger people as managers who are able to

gratification, however, the rules of the game

coach these young people, be able to show them

have changed. “Millennial employees right

what their areas of development are and explain

now are more motivated by benefits; they

their development plans and milestones.”

want rewards more than a pay raise,” Maman reasoned.

For Maria, it’s all about a mixture of friendship and authority. “My advice? Have them love

And if they feel like they’re not getting what

you. I’m playing the mother all the time, so I

they want from one company, many can rest

get that devotion, I get that love.” And what if

assured that another company will embrace

there’s an imminent deadline? “They’ll do it if

them with open arms.

you’re scary enough. It’s a mix of that — love, and being scared.”

Top-Down Solutions

A Whole Different Approach

Solutions to this problem, however, aren’t as


workforce through its user-friendly, gamified interface. As Maman explained, a manager can set a goal and provide “checkpoints” that the worker must fulfil along the way.

As employees input accomplishments in real time, they accrue points, which they can then turn in for awards like coupons for restaurants, hotels and even travel tickets. Think GrabBike’s promotional awards, but for your work. The app is due to be launched in September, and Maman hopes that this instantreward set-up will engage employees where traditional work models have fallen short. Maman sees it working particularly well for industries like sales and marketing, where goals are clearly and easily defined. Maria, a self-titled “old-school” manager, sees things differently, especially when it comes to creativity. “When I ask people a question, here’s the go-to method of answering it: open Google; find inspiration; twist it slightly; hand it in.” For her, the problem lies within the literal box, and her job is to encourage her employees to explore outside of it. “I tell them, ‘Come on, let’s take a walk. Let’s have a conversation.’ I try to get them to be comfortable and try to dissuade them

clear-cut as they may seem. Rather than trying

While many businesses in HCMC focus on

from [the computer] being their default. I try

to train employees to become happy with a

management styles to engage their young

to encourage them that experiences are better;

traditional workplace model, Maman says the

protégés, Maman and his business partner

seeing things is better.” And the results? Only

problem lies more with the managers than the

have devised an entirely different approach

time will tell.

employees. “When the employees don’t feel

to engaging millennial employees and hitting

engaged, it means the leader, the manager also

company targets: the UpUp App. This new

*Name has been changed.

feels disengaged.”

business model embraces the technology-driven

**Name has been changed.




by Jesús López-Gomez

Culture Clash: Multinational Working employee, however, might produce something that looks similar to the assigned work — maybe they skipped a few steps because they viewed them as unnecessary — and they may feel free to go over and above the required work because they’ve been culturally trained to be responsive to incentives in a different way, she said.

Cultural clashes are nothing new in Vietnam, but they can have unfortunate consequences in the workplace. Here’s one story to keep in mind.

Anyone who stays after six years is considered a lifer. Nguyen said an otherwise well-qualified Asian employee may be uncomfortable demonstrating qualities that may lead to promotion: ambition,

Pop quiz: if an equally qualified foreigner and

hunger, a willingness to offer ideas and

Vietnamese employee are being considered for

challenge norms. A desire to advance is seen

a promotion, who gets the promotion?

as status-chasing and greed. “Even if they don’t

The Asian employee usually gets held back in this scenario. In My Nguyen*’s experience, it’s a combination of a lot of factors: Western

agree with their manager about the target or something, they just agree with the boss as long as they pay enough salary.”

extroversion, their ability to navigate business

As a Vietnamese employee, Nguyen said she’s

culture better, the Vietnamese tendency toward

been taught that pushing against plans that

deference and humility.

come from management is a no-win. A foreign employee is usually received better in these sorts

Cultural Differences

of situations.

“That makes [an Asian employee] stay in the same position. Like, they do the same work for every month, every year,” she said. “They don’t want to show off.” Of course, there are exceptions. Nguyen said maybe one in 10 of the qualified Vietnamese peers she works with overcome these limitations and move on to senior positions. That will increase as Vietnamese get more comfortable handling themselves in advancement settings and even recognising them when they’re not obvious. That’s what happened to her. She started at her current company three years ago working under a manager who wasn’t contributing much to the team or the company, and she ended up doing a lot of his work for him. She took on an unofficial leadership role in her team and others in the company acknowledged her as the de facto head of her group. “I wasn’t complaining, and I didn’t fight with him [the

“For the expat, they welcome these people to

former manager],” she said. Things stayed that

Nguyen currently works as a senior graphic

talk to them. For the Vietnamese, they barely

way for one year before her former manager

designer at a well-known local multinational

talk about [conflicting ideas],” she said.

was outed. The company didn’t know her boss

company that has both Vietnamese and foreign employees. She manages a team of six staffers and a rotating cast of freelancers.

was not fulfilling his duties. In her words, they

A Matter of Perspective

Simply put, “in Western companies, you get

Do said that in her experience there is a

promoted faster than in Vietnamese companies,”

perception that Western staffers are better

she said. As a graphic designer, she worked for

versed in how to handle these situations. From a

one year at a Western company before being

young age, Western people are taught to present

offered a promotion.

and own their ideas in a way that Nguyen says

She explained that a Vietnamese company will typically require at least two years of service

is not asked of a Vietnamese student and, later, employee.

before a promotion is offered from an entry

If Nguyen gives her Vietnamese employees

level position. At least three more years are

an assignment with specific deliverables, they

required before the same employee is offered

will usually produce something to her exact

a junior management position.

specifications, no more and no less. A Western

12 |

were “pissed off” when they found out. He was fired and Nguyen was offered his position. It was a lot to handle at first, she said. She even left the company briefly before coming back to a reduced workload and clearer target.

She values the work and the team, but for Nguyen life and fulfilment are about other things than how you generate an income. “That’s the culture of the Vietnamese: do enough, enjoy your life and don’t take work so serious.” *Name has been changed.


by Patrick Gaveau


Some Thoughts on Tolerance International work environments abound in HCMC. So many cultures working in the same place can get a little complicated. Innovo’s CEO weighs in. In Innovo’s office we have six different

Tolerance n. The ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.


nationalities working in our 20-something staff: Vietnamese, French, Spanish, Singaporean, American and German, all in the same place.


Sometimes a company dinner out can look like a UN meeting!

Yin and Yang I’m sure we can all agree that these different

the hot-tempered, emotional and passionate

One of the great things about living and working

cultures working together towards a single goal

working style you’ll find in France and Spain.

in Vietnam is getting to know the Vietnamese

is a beautiful thing. However, let’s face it: it’s not without its challenges. The way we’re raised, and the environment of

Have you ever been to Southern Europe or Central and South America? Chances are, you know what I’m talking about.

our home country, greatly affects the way we

perspective, which is deeply rooted in family, tradition and Confucianism. I’ll admit it’s been a bit hard to learn about the Vietnamese perspective because Vietnamese people are

There, yelling during a meeting isn’t just acceptable, sometimes it’s de rigueur.

usually guarded in their thoughts and opinions,

If a loved one dies, family members are likely

People might say things that are outrageous, or

One of the important characteristics about

to cry and lament the fact they’ll never see the

name-call a fellow employee, but people in these

tolerance, however, is that it has to go both

deceased again.

countries don’t take it personally. Ten minutes

ways. If only one person tries to understand and

later, you’ll probably see them having a coffee

accommodate himself towards another culture,

together, as if nothing ever happened!

there will never be true understanding.

raised with the concept of rebirth and ancestor

Now let’s switch to Vietnam. Different story

For a company like Innovo to work, all

worship. Rather than lamenting the absence

entirely. For Vietnamese employees, it’s all about

cultures and all perspectives must find a mutual

of a loved one, many in Asian countries will

saving face, getting along and keeping quiet.

understanding, and the only way for that to

react to or handle any given situation. Just think about the concept of death. In many Western countries, it’s a thing to be feared and grieved.

But in many Asian cultures? With a deep grounding in Buddhism, many people are

celebrate the life the person lived. What does this have to do with the workplace?

These fundamentally different philosophical outlooks on life extend to many areas, including social interactions. And in a high-pressure environment like a publishing company, they can lead to some friction.

If a worker tries to go above and beyond the

at least around their boss. Later at the bia hoi or coffee shop, it might be a different story.

happen is by wanting it to happen.

required workload, or make an effort to have his opinions heard, chances are his colleagues will think less of him for it. After all, why should one person show off while the others keep quiet?

Tolerance, Both Ways

It won’t happen naturally; it’s a difficult task to put yourself in another’s shoes, and most people don’t have the fortitude to do it. If the end goal is working harmoniously and creating beautiful work together, however, we certainly must try. The most important concept

Much of the time it’s a pleasure to work in such

to keep in mind is the idea of yin and yang. You

a multinational company, but let’s be honest,

can’t have beautiful weather without monsoons,

sometimes our different perspectives can collide.

and you can’t have peace without war. One side

Since so many of us come from different places,

needs the other to exist, to be defined against.

every time a disagreement breaks out in the

For a company like Innovo, that strives to bring

The most striking cultural difference, at least

office, we have to lean back and think a little

the best of the East and West, this concept

in Innovo, would have to be the cool, calm

harder: how would a Spanish or Vietnamese

couldn’t be more important. We’re sure it’s a

and collected Vietnamese working style versus

person look at this same situation?

similar situation where you work too.

Cool Heads and Hot Tempers




by Sivaraj Pragasm

Expats in Saigon: The Employed and the Employer

Most countries have their pool of expat workers who left their country for a new challenge. What is it like for these people living in Vietnam?

restrictions back home.” She yearned for the

company, specialising in sourcing materials

freedom to be able to do what she wanted

for its products.

without being judged or admonished, and after a chat with a friend based in Vietnam, she found a job specialising in education for toddlers and

As children, when we were asked what we wanted to be, living and working in a different country may not have been the first answer to come to mind. But as the world was rapidly shrinking due to the evolution of communication technology, the concept of home got distorted for some of us.

moved here in March this year. For 42-year-old Christopher Browning, it was a little more complicated. Struggling with including a tumour in one eye, he resorted to a nomadic lifestyle and spent a few years living in different countries, including Japan. He then started up his own enterprise — as a business coach, primarily to motivate employers to bring

revolving door with emigrants swapping places

out the best in their business.

their metros for motorbikes, their first-world problems for knee-high floods and their burgers for banh mi.

The turning point came when, during a gathering with a bunch of friends, he was

The Story Back Home Twenty-seven-year-old Mei Sutardjo had dedicated her life to teaching back home in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, and made the decision

operation costs, it made a lot of economic sense to move here,” he said.

The Fish out of Water Being a Muslim expat in Vietnam isn’t too easy when many Vietnamese dishes contain pork, but this didn’t deter Mei, and she managed to find alternatives such as seafood and vegetarian dishes. Her bigger challenge was dealing with locals who mistook her for a local.

dared by one of them to visit Vietnam and get

“Coming from Indonesia, I can pass off as a

something started here.

local looks-wise and many times, I’ve gotten

So, who are these people; how did they end up in Vietnam; and what’s their story?

garment production, and with low living and

personal issues back home in the United States,

For decades in Vietnam, it has been a two-way with immigrants from across the planet, trading

“Vietnam was, and still is, a huge market for

people speaking to me in Vietnamese and all I

He took up the dare, with a plan to stay for only about half a year. This was in 2012, and he hasn’t looked back since. For 30-year-old Jan Stahlhacke, it was a matter of going with the flow. What started off as an

could do is give them a wide-eyed look, trying to get them to repeat in English. It never worked,” she said. For Christopher, the Vietnamese work culture was very different from the West when he first moved here.

internship at a small streetwear company in his

“People here were not as upfront with their

hometown in Germany, turned into an epiphany

opinions and feedback and they preferred

during a trip to Vietnam in 2011 when he had

playing it safe,” and this sometimes resulted in

a “hey, I could totally live here” moment. He

misunderstandings or unfulfilled expectations.

“This came not only from society but also my

found himself back in Vietnam the following

He also had a hard time with the language: “It’s

family due to religious ideologies, and all its

year as a garment exporter with the same

one of the toughest languages in the world.”

to leave for a variety of reasons, one of which was the lack of freedom as an opinionated female in a Muslim country.

14 |

working FEATURE

Communication issues also plagued Jan: “If I

hope, that they feel valued for their contributions

wanted to get something done, I had to first

and that they realise their potential.”

speak to my Vietnamese staff in English, who would then relay the message to the factory’s Vietnamese staff in Vietnamese, who would then relay the message to their boss in Chinese or Korean. There was always that chance of something getting lost in translation along the way.”


He strongly feels that the younger Vietnamese are more goal-oriented, street-smart, with a clearer view of the world than their predecessors. He also predicts that in five years’ time, Vietnam will be one of the most competitive countries in the region with a high proportion of English speakers ready to take on the world.

However, one common denominator is shared between all of them: the traffic. “I don’t know if I can ever get used to crossing the roads here. It’s always a life-changing experience,” said Mei.

The Pull Factors

A Home away from Home (or Not) However, not all of them see Vietnam has their home for the rest of their lives. Mei believes in going with the flow and might stay for another

The freedom not to be dictated by a religious doctrine was a major pull-factor for Mei. Proximity was another, as Saigon is just a threehour flight away from home with both countries sharing a similar time zone and climate. For Christopher, taking up a dare was one thing, but he has always had ‘a thing’ for Asia and he knew that Vietnam was developing fast:

“It’s interesting when I heard that Vietnam is the land of opportunities, and I come from the land of opportunities — the USA.” This sentiment was also shared by Jan who saw the opportunity and now runs his own business, dealing with garment exports for various companies across the south of Vietnam.

Working Philosophies While she is providing children with a solid foundation upon which to build their English

year or two before she considers her options. Christopher has set 2018 as the year to return home to the US to evolve his business — as a consultant in developing a cloud-based service application. However, Jan has no plans to leave anytime soon. He arrived here five years ago and feels he could stay another five years simply because he enjoys what he does. His only regret so far? Not mastering the Vietnamese language earlier.

Home, or a Stepping Stone? Expats in most countries sometimes get viewed as opportunists who use the country as a stepping stone, only to further their careers elsewhere while some do stay behind, settle down and build a home.

However, there are equally as many locals who emigrate to other countries with the exact same agenda.

language skills, Mei does not want that to take precedence over their native language. “They do need English to survive in the real world when they grow up. However, I also have

Christopher and Jan’s contributions to the business climate in Vietnam may be different, yet they both have their effects:

mixed feelings because I want them to master

Christopher is altering the general attitude of

their own language first. I would like to see

the workplace and Jan, as a small-business

the Vietnamese language retain its dominance

owner with Vietnamese employees, contributes

here,” she said.

directly to the economy.

For Christopher, his impact as a consultant is

Mei’s lessons imparted into young minds will

more immediate: “The most important thing

stay on for decades as they grow up to be the

here is to ensure that employees get a sense of

future leaders of the country. 15



Labouring Legally in HCMC

by Robyn Wilson

in Vietnam for over six months — though this requirement has been known to change from one month to the next.

“Most people forget their police certificate and it has to be six months valid from your country,” says another expat. “If you forget this, like I did, or you don’t have one, then you have to go to your country’s embassy in Vietnam, which can cost more time and money.”

Work Permit Exemptions There are exceptions to the rules, though, which means you could be exempt from having to get

Just started working in Vietnam? Better do it legally! Here are some tips for your foray into the complex and circuitous world of the Vietnamese work permit.

Unsurprisingly, you must have no criminal record in your home country, Vietnam or any other country. You will also need a university degree or another form of professional skills certificate, as well as a work contract and support from

Getting a work permit may not be the sexiest topic among expats in Vietnam, but often it is one of the most hotly discussed. Whether they have just moved here or have been in the country for years, expats are always on the lookout for the most efficient and hassle-free way to work legally here. Do a quick search on Google and you’ll find a number of websites and Facebook groups providing reams of advice. One company even offers a “complete hand guide” for a small charge. But with a lot of varying information it is hard to get to grips with exactly what is required, whether it be documentation or otherwise. So, here’s a breakdown of the process as well as some advice from expats who have already gone through the steps.

The Process

your employer.

For instance, if you are working in Vietnam for less than three months, a work permit is not required. Likewise, if you are the head of the representative office or branch of an international company in Vietnam you will not need one either. If you

In addition to this, your documents must be

still feel in the dark, however, companies such

notarised — either in your country of residence

as Resident Vietnam can help with this process.

or in Vietnam.

Get Organised Organisation is key to getting your work permit as quickly and as smoothly as possible, particularly when it comes to getting your documentation notarised.

“I think it’d be easier to at least start the process while you’re in [your country of residence],” says one expat, who now works as an accountant in Vietnam. “For example, definitely get your notarised work forms done at home. I did these while I was here and it made life a lot harder.” Another expat, who works as a teacher in Ho Chi Minh City, agrees that getting various

Work permits are issued by the Department of

documents notarised in Vietnam can make the

Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs and are valid

process longer. Starting the process at home is a

for three years, after which foreign applicants

particularly crucial to getting your police checks

have to apply for a renewal.

done with minimum fuss, since they can take

You need to tick a few boxes, including being

a work permit in the first place.

a while to sort outside your country of origin.

“I cannot recommend them enough,” said one expat who used the company’s services this year. “They answered my questions almost immediately.” Failing that, many companies taking on foreign candidates are willing to take care of the application for you. “My company fixed mine for me,” said one expat. “I just gave them the paperwork and they did the rest for me so it was easy enough. You’ve just got to tick the necessary boxes and get everything together one step at a time.” Expats who are already in Vietnam often report having to do a ‘border run’ in order to leave the country on their tourist or resident visa and then return through immigration with their offer of employment. Thailand and Cambodia are typical destinations for these quick trips. Just remember, the best advice is to get as much of your documentation sorted ahead of time

over 18 years of age and providing satisfactory

You’ll need a criminal background check from

and be as organised as possible to avoid any

health checks such as basic sight and hearing tests.

your country of origin, unless you have lived


16 |

TRAVEL Advertorial


Take a Trip on Japan’s Best Airline: JAL English: 1 800 577 725 (7 a.m. to 5 p.m.) | Vietnamese: +84 28 3830 6213 (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) |

TripAdvisor’s 2017 Travellers’ Choice Awards are in, and the results are clear: JAL is the best-rated airline in Japan, and the seventh-best airline in the world!

Japan Airlines has reinvented the entire flight

can travel with two pieces without charge. So,

experience. First of all, let’s talk seats. If the

if you did a lot of shopping in Japan, don’t

TripAdvisor award wasn’t enough, JAL has

worry, JAL has you covered.

also proudly taken home Skytrax World Airline Award’s Best Economy Class Airline Seat for the second year running.

It’s no easy feat to win Best Airline in Japan from TripAdvisor’s Travellers’ Choice Awards. Determined entirely by user ratings, these frequent flyers are honest, critical and won’t let one bad trip slide. When you’re choosing

the Best Business Class Airline Seat Award as

can experience all of this for yourself. When

well. No matter how you fly, you’re going to

you take JAL on your next trip, you’ll find out

be comfortable on JAL.

that your vacation starts that much earlier.

who have flown before you?

Airlines knows how to treat travellers right

customer service and value for money. So what are some of the reasons Japan Airlines pulled ahead of Japan’s stiff competition?

destinations across the United States (including Hawaii!), Japan and Canada, chances are you

Now that you’re comfortably in your seat, Japan

account: categories include legroom, cleanliness,

from Ho Chi Minh City to Japan, and with 11

And let’s not forget that 2013 brought JAL

an airline, who better to trust than the people

These yearly awards take everything into

It now offers an increased two flights per day

with its Magic-VI entertainment system. With over 300 movies, video and audio programs, it doesn’t get much better than that.

A Good Experience from Start to Finish

WHERE ARE YOU HEADED? With a quick pit-stop in Tokyo, JAL flies direct all over the world.


Comfort and Entertainment Besides the actual environment of the flight Picture a long international flight. Maybe you’re leaving Saigon for a vacation in Hawaii; maybe you’re taking a business trip to Tokyo. When you think of a typical economy class seat, or even a business class ticket, you’re probably thinking of stiff cushions, six inches of legroom

(did we mention the LED lights mimic the four seasons of Japan?), the TripAdvisor customer reviews discuss the entire travel experience. Japan Airlines has taken every measure to ensure that the entire trip runs smoothly – from check-in to baggage claim.

and an in-flight meal you would probably send

Take, for example, the baggage policy: business

back to the kitchen at an actual restaurant.

class passengers can check in three pieces of

Now, think again.

luggage for free, and economy ticket-holders 17

Where to Work?


by @katemangostar

Both local and international companies are constantly on the search for skilled employees. We talked to two professionals who have worked in both environments to draw a general picture about the labour environment in Vietnam. Do you currently work in a local or foreign company? How would you define the work environment at your firm? Ky: I currently work for a foreign company. I feel comfortable with the environment as it

be good. Last but not least, time flexibility since

Moreover, if an expat doesn’t speak Vietnamese

I have a family and many things to take care

(which happens quite often), it will hard for

of for them. Both firms (local and foreign) may

him/her to deeply understand both local people

satisfy the first and second criteria; however,

and culture. While speaking Vietnamese (even

Vietnamese companies tend to meet the third

the minimum) might be a great advantage,

one more easily.

many expats look for excuses in order to avoid

Do you believe that understating the local culture is an important aspect to the working environment in Vietnam? What hurdles do you think expatriates face when working in domestic firms or with Vietnamese? Ky: Sure.

learning the language. Therefore, the circle of people with whom they end up working/ communicating/making friends becomes limited and so does their understanding of local life. Are team building activities any different between local and foreign companies? Do

Understanding the local culture and responding

you often hang out with co-workers after

to it with an open mind is a huge advantage for

working hours? If so, do you engage more with

expats who want to work well with Vietnamese,

Vietnamese or expats?

Duong: I am at a local company. [The] work

especially when dealing with people from Hanoi

Ky: Foreign firms tend to have more team

environment is friendly and they are flexible

and the North.

building activities along the year (they usually

favours transparency and open communication, besides training and focused development.

about time, given that I finish my tasks for the day. When you look for a job, what are the key qualities you’re looking for in a company?

I believe language is one of the biggest hurdles that expats face, notably in local firms where not all employees can communicate in English or other foreign languages.

Do you find these are met more often in

Duong: Yes, grasping the local culture is really

international or local companies?

important. If an expat adopts an individualistic

Ky: Democratic leadership, attractive C&B

attitude, it will be difficult for him/her to

[compensation and benefits] packages, learning

understand, be understood and integrate into

and development opportunities. International

a Vietnamese group.

firms seem to offer these more often.

Being group-oriented doesn’t simply mean

host them on special dates such as Christmas, Women’s Day, New Year, etc.). They are usually focused on staff management. On the other hand, these activities are seen as bonuses from the Labour Union in local companies. I don’t usually hang out with my colleagues after work. If I do, I prefer hanging out with Vietnamese as we can chit chat in a more comfortable way, plus we match lifestyles so we all like going to local restaurants and coffee shops. My foreign friends tend to go to lounges, bars or clubs where other foreigners go.

Duong: First, the company’s business should

hanging out or having beers together, but instead

be of my interest. Second, professional and

supporting others when they face difficulties

Duong: While foreign firms seem to have more

human relationships among the staff should

(when a colleague is sick for example).

adventurous and sportive activities, the staff at

18 |

working FEATURE

by Emilio Piriz


Vietnamese companies often expect more time

co-workers don’t hesitate to ‘cover my back’

the family of those who have lost a loved one.

to sit together and learn more about each other.

or even help me with due work. Furthermore,

In international companies, they know when I

colleagues become a family when relationships

check in and check out and whether I reached

flow. They take care of each other and even

my target last month.

I used to hang out with my co-workers, but not anymore due to my children. Undoubtedly, those who go out with co-workers after working hours are often single.

worry about each other’s family. Sure, it’s not like that all the time; relations can also be very

Foreign investment usually goes hand-in-hand

bad in Vietnamese companies.

with an increase in foreign labour. As Vietnam

If a company employs both local and foreign

As for the cons, I need to understand that my

workers, what kind of HR practices could

colleagues have family issues as well, and I

possibly create an ideal working environment?

have to be less demanding about their quality

Ky: [A] fair evaluation system, [a] result-

of work, or simply do their job when they

oriented environment, frequent feedback and

are absent.

[a] coaching culture.

For foreign firms, you just need to focus

Duong: HR departments should create more

on results; if they are good, then things are

opportunities for team members to talk and

great. I see that as a pro. On the flip side,

be heard. For a company that employs both

you don’t often find ‘close’ relationships as

local and foreign workers, the HR department

in Vietnamese companies.

should definitely pay more attention to communication among team members due to cultural differences/particularities. Again, this [requires] a lot of listening and talking. What are the major pros and cons of working in local versus international companies? Ky: It’s hard to come up with the pros of local

Have you noticed any major differences in management styles between local and international firms? Ky: The biggest difference in management styles is the coercive style in local companies versus a more democratic one in foreign firms. In local corporations, there seems to be a king

continues to attract more foreign investment, will Western practices take over the Vietnamese way of working? Ky: Due to foreign investment and the rise of IT, many people say that we now live in a ‘flat world’. It is true that companies in Vietnam are catching up fast with trends in the market. Globalisation comes with both pros and cons, but it is necessary for development. Western practices help to progress in management and leadership capabilities but I am not sure about them taking over the Vietnamese way of working, especially in local firms. Duong: Of course, the work environment in Vietnam will become more globalised. I believe so. In the end, this is not so bad given that the Vietnamese are able to maintain the ‘human’ aspect in their relationships.

who holds the power and makes all decisions;


meanwhile, associates in foreign companies

Tran Thi Thuy Duong: A trained lawyer who

have their own voice and are empowered to

specialises in International Trade Law, she

deliver good results.

currently teaches at HCMC Law University.

room for [development] as well as exploring

Duong: In local firms, the HR department

Mai Chinh Ky: Experienced in Corporate

new fields.

knows all the ins and outs of me (for instance,

Communications and B2B Marketing, he is the

they have the phone number of my parents or

Communication Manager (Employer Branding)

Duong: For local companies, I see time flexibility

know about their health). In the institution

at Coca-Cola Beverages Vietnam Ltd.

as a major perk. If a family issue arises, my

where I work, the management board visits

companies once you have experienced both working environments. I am now interested in multinational firms since learning and growing are priorities for my career at the moment. I feel like international corporations offer more




by Jesús López-Gomez

How to Make a Maverick: Building a Business in HCMC sense of the Vietnamese as a forward-looking, optimistic people. “There was (and still is) an energy in Saigon that just seemed more positive, more optimistic than surrounding countries at the time,” he said. Nagle quit Starbucks in 2013 to undertake what became a 16-month-long world tour that started in South America and went overland from Istanbul to Beijing. He returned to Ho Chi Minh City and worked for two months as a volunteer for children. “I just fell in love with it,” Nagle said. The progress from his visit 10 years prior was as real as he’d been told. by Emilio Piriz

Meeting people and getting acquainted with the food and beverage landscape, Nagle said he saw an opportunity for a sandwich bar that

You can do it from a building or you can do it from Facebook, but if you’re providing people with something of value, you’ve got a business. Before opening Journeys Sandwich Cafe last year, Kevin Nagle was a trained journalist working at a Starbucks store in New York.

to want his own restaurant, but he thought of

wasn’t there in the US. He said a similarly styled

it as his “far in the future” plan.

business in New York would cost more and

Starbucks offered enough paid time that Nagle was able to travel as he liked. So far, he’s been

For most, food service is the thing you do before you have the job you really want. Nagle said he was the same. He was studying at New York University and “when I first started there I 100 percent did not expect it to be a path to anything,” he said. That changed as Nagle saw the fortunes for aspiring print journalists starting to sour at the same time he was offered a promotion at Starbucks.

Two career options were before him, and he took the one in food and beverage. “I fell in love with some parts of the job,

just made it near impossible,” he said.

to 65 countries —“quite a bit in Europe, much

In Saigon, he could launch sooner and cheaper.

of South America and a lot in Asia.”

His “far in the future” plan could be initiated right then. He opened Journeys Sandwich Cafe

Making Something out of Something

After 10 years with the company, he’d risen to be the store manager. He was 27.

face stiffer competition. “The rate of failure

On a cruise he took in 2005, he arrived at a bustling city in Southern Vietnam. It was just a short stop but to this day he can still remember the abundance of children selling tickets and trinkets greeting him in Ho Chi Minh City, and the lunch he had at the New World Hotel. Nagle said the Saigon of 2005 was dusty, undeveloped and busy with motorbikes — yet still “nowhere near as many as today.”

in June 2016.

Sandwiching Success Nagle qualified it as “corny”, but one of his proudest moments as a business owner was receiving the red stamp of his company’s seal, the official notary of a licensed business in Vietnam. He said opening the store was an exciting and proud moment, but celebrating his first year was even better. He’s seen cafés serve for usually no more than about six months before they

His tour took him to Nha Trang, then barely

retire. The building across from his restaurant

more than just a beach. The tour guide

has hosted “four or five” different cafés in the

explained that in 5 or 10 years, the beachfront

year he’s been here.

would be overtaken with resorts and high rise buildings. “My family and I just politely nodded our heads, as there was nothing of the sort at the time.”

One of his brand’s defining aspects is what Nagle describes as his push to “elevate” the casual dining experience while keeping it relaxed. As he tells it, it’s a “premium

specifically developing staff, and had a passion

Nagle said he heard that line — “just wait 5 or

sandwich shop that will satisfy the appetite of

for coffee,” he said. Six years in, he began

10 years” — enough for him to begin to build a

just about anyone that walks through the door”.

20 |

working FEATURE

“As the name of the cafe implies, I have always wanted the menu to be rooted in travelling in some way […] so offering different flavours


“There’s a business opportunity in everything,” Vu said. “You can sell anything; it depends on you.”

from different parts of the world through sandwiches is what we are here to do,” he said. Lamentably, Nagle said there’s no “Opening a Business in Vietnam for Dummies” book with simple knowledge and humour. Those are things studied and slowly picked up over time. “If you are willing to take the time to learn the correct way to do things, you will see that whatever you need to get done is possible, but it takes time and (a lot) of patience.” The learning curve aside, Nagle doubted he would have been able to achieve as much in another setting.

Vu started the Hi-Fi Store as a small cell phone accessory seller for friends and family. Since opening in November last year, he’s sold to around 3,000 customers and moved about VND30 million worth of goods. Vu said it generates about four million dong in revenue monthly while he completes his studies as a business student at Broward


College Vietnam. His store currently sells phone accessories including phone cases and premium screen protectors. His wares can be seen and purchased on the Hi-Fi Store Facebook page.

Saigon offered him the opportunity when other settings were much less welcoming.

“My strategy: cheap; cheap and best quality.” Now, he’s ready to take the next step. Vu has

A Store Without the Store You don’t need a storefront, a building and lease to run your own business.


been seeking investment to open a physical


location, which he expects before the end of this year in either District 6 or 10.

99 Suong Nguyet Anh, Dist. 1 HCMC

For him, the biggest challenge is staying

It’s common for Vietnamese to run small-scale businesses selling things with small inventories (think: Etsy) to friends, friends of friends and family.

ahead of product development cycles and having the latest products available as soon as they’ve shipped. The challenge is to be first

(028) 3925 1990


to the market, and retailers in his industry are generally very fast. Vu said he was once first

That’s how Vu Thien An got started.

to market with a hard-to-find screen protector — a product he’d worked tirelessly for days to arrange timely shipment for — and saw his competitors stock the same product within the day.

“Me, too - All my worldly goods are going to me!”

“Vietnamese are so good at small business,” he said. “These guys are super fast.” Vu said the venture has complemented his

Your Will?

Specialists in Wills + Estate Planning for Expats in Vietnam

Tel: +84 28 3520 7745

business education well. How to establish a


brand presence and win customers has been critical to his business growth. “At first, people don’t trust you. They have to has been to be very responsive to customer complaints.



0000 0000 0000 0000

open their mind a little,” he said. Vu’s strategy

“The most important part is how do you correct issues. If there’s any problem, I’ll change [the product] for you.” 21



by Keely Burkey

Startup, Up and Away Startup companies mean big business for a country growing to love e-commerce. But does HCMC’s workforce have what it takes? T. Nguyen, the founder of, moved to Ho Chi Minh City from San Francisco with one goal in mind: to take advantage of the city’s unique e-commerce boom. Compared to overly saturated markets in San Francisco and Vancouver, B.C., where Nguyen originally developed and designed apps with startup companies, the entrepreneur recalled that Ho Chi Minh City presented a fresh opportunity to create something new. “I looked back into [Vietnam’s] market and I saw this opportunity to build Chopp,” he recalled.

A Booming Market

directly to your doorstep, or a t-shirt ordered seem tantalisingly great. Besides convenience, e-commerce also allows careful consumers to be more diligent about products. As Christou noted, within the FastMoving Consumer Goods (FMCG) market, two areas in particular have seen tremendous growth in the e-commerce market: personal care items and baby products such as milk powder and diapers. While the personal care items, which include products like lipstick, makeup and facial care, can be attributed to the abundance of choice offered through online portals, the allure of baby products points to the growing demand for safer and healthier options for a population wary of safety scandals. “Food safety is a big issue,” Christou confirms. For new mothers still reeling from the 2013 milk powder scandals, the ability to research products

He hasn’t been the first to recognise this burgeoning opportunity. Peter Christou, Shopper Expert at Kantar Worldpanel Vietnam, told us that conditions are ripe for an explosion

and order international brands from other companies outweighs the extra delivery costs.

The Startup Spirit

that Vietnam has quite a young population, I think that that has to do with the rise of

T. Nguyen’s concept for fits directly into this need for increased food vigilance.

e-commerce. Or maybe m-commerce. It’s all

“It’s not like [Vietnam] lacks healthy food

about mobile.”

resources,” Nguyen reasons. “It’s that they lack

Perhaps one of the reasons that e-commerce

might sound easy, but Nguyen contends it’s anything but. The biggest problem Nguyen faces? Human resources. He chalks this up, above all, to the misrepresentation of the startup culture in Vietnamese society. “It’s a big challenge to find the folks who can take initiative, can think on their feet and can make decisions,” he tells us. “Most folks here are more familiar with the outsourced model, which is like, ‘wait for someone to give you a task and then execute that task.’ ” What Nguyen has been searching for since starting in 2016 has been what he calls “the startup spirit”, which requires continuous learning and experimenting. T. Nguyen laments that the mixture of an educational system that does not prepare students for real-world vocational challenges,

of internet sales: “Knowing that the internet connectivity is quite high in Vietnam, knowing


online and brought to your office at work, can

a credible food resource.”

mixed with the unrealistic and glamorous expectations many potential hires have of startup culture, often produces workers wholly unprepared for startup communities. Nguyen’s solution? “I tend to hire people who have potential more than skill.” While this has

has risen so dramatically in Vietnam’s larger

Nguyen founded his company as a go-to service

helped become a growing presence

cities is due to the manifold options and

that vets local items and stores for safety and

in Ho Chi Minh City’s growing app scene,

conveniences e-commerce services can offer.

quality. For a small shopping and transfer fee

it seems that the city’s workforce must grow

In HCMC, a city with sporadic and intense

(around US$1),’s “Choppers” retrieve

with demand for e-commerce to take a lasting

traffic congestion, the allure of a meal delivered

the items delivered to a customer’s doorstep. It


22 |

working FEATURE

by Maxfield Brown

Shifting Sands: The Future of Manufacturing -1.00%







reached record heights of US$11.8 billion in 2015 and economic growth has maintained a level of 6 percent since 2010.

But What About Automation?


However, “The Vietnamese economy is


slowing”, “Vietnamese wages will soon be

Surely the introduction of automated

rendered uncompetitive” and, most recently,

manufacturing processes that are required for

“Automation will put huge segments of the

electronics manufacturing and increasingly

Vietnamese population out of work” are just

accessible for textile production will decrease

some of the headlines that have formed a

employment and render wages competitive.

counterargument for companies entertaining

While automation does pose the most realistic

the idea of investing in Vietnam. But how real

risk to labour-intensive manufacturing and has

are these concerns and how does Vietnam really

been a challenge for countries ranging from

stack up against its northern neighbour?

China to the United States, these concerns are less

2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007

A Long Way to the Top

2006 2005

important in the immediate future in Vietnam. Vietnam’s position on the value chain is food for thought when placing the risks of automation


Vietnam, while certainly susceptible to these

in context. Although Vietnam has benefited

changes over the long term, is far from a

from divestment from China, many companies

point where investments, on aggregate, will

remain content to keep at least a portion of

be rendered uncompetitive. Instead, similar to

their manufacturing in Asia’s traditional

China, Korea and other countries that have

manufacturing hub. Much of this production

Manufacturing is the biggest business sector in Vietnam, but for how long? As automation begins to take hold, the future of the industry remains uncertain.

historically chosen to pursue export-driven

remains at the highest end of the value chain —

models for growth, Vietnam is steadily working

with the manufacture and assembly of technical

its way up the value chain and has a long way


After decades of growth, the Chinese economy

Over the last two decades, Vietnam

trade agreements signed or in effect with all of

has begun to slow. Rising wages, an ageing

transitioned from exporting textile products

its ASEAN counterparts as well as China, Korea,

population and increased consumer spending

to being one of the world’s largest production

Japan and, most recently, the European Union.

has shifted the economy towards higher-end

hubs for cellphone manufacturing. However,

It comes as no surprise that these nations make

production and a more consumer-centric model

instead of replacing textiles, the export value

up the bulk of investment within the country.

of growth, which doesn’t bode well for many of

of both textile and electronics products

the existing manufacturing activities in China.

registered growth from 2001 to 2016 even as


Footwear Textiles Machinery Electronics Unemployment

2002 2001 0







What does this have to do with Vietnam? In short, investors fleeing skyrocketing costs in China

to go before it reaches the top.

electronics overtook textile exports in their share of total exports.

Currently the Vietnamese government has free

Additionally, the ability of the Vietnamese government to move quickly to institute domestic reform and conclude international agreements bodes well for the future when the

are starting to understand the importance of

This shift up the value chain has undoubtedly

challenges of wage inflation and automation

lessening similar risks in what are termed “China

put upward pressure on wages, has demanded

will become more pronounced. The true test,

plus one” markets — locations such as Vietnam

more technical skillsets, and led to increases in

however, will be time. No one knows for sure

characterised by lower costs and a capacity to

quality and value across all sectors. However,

what the manufacturing landscape will look

take on manufacturing once located in China.

over this same period, investment into Vietnam

like in 5 or 10 years.




by Keely Burkey

Saying Hello to High-Tech As the IT industry begins to struggle under the weight of a thinning workforce, the manufacturing industry has been growing strong.

less highly skilled, degree-holding people than

the main driver in Vietnam’s relatively recent

an IT outfit would. As Forbes reported this

push to embrace high-tech manufacturing.

year, 78 percent of the Vietnamese workforce holds no academic qualification and 9 percent currently holds a credential from a university or

The labour demand for the manufacturing industry increased 85 percent in the first five months of 2017 compared to the same period three years ago; the demand for labour in the Information Technology (IT) industry increased 102 percent in the same period. This stark statistic, given by the premier online job search VietnamWorks, paints an

higher; when comparing IT and manufacturing, these numbers matter.

In a professional landscape in which engineers and IT professionals have become a finite resource, it seems that manufacturing is currently filling in the gap left by IT’s recruiting troubles.

two parallel industries are growing — but not

“If you’re going to take one industry that’s

how the talent pool has responded to this need.

growing and doing well, manufacturing is

As Maxfield Brown from Dezan Shira &

manufacturing make up 23 percent of Vietnam’s total exports, and this is exactly following a strategic plan set up by the Vietnamese government, which offers tax breaks and

unambiguous picture of the rate in which these

Manufacturing the Future

Today, electronics and mobile phone

subsidies for targeted manufacturing industries. According to Vietnam’s current “Law on Investment”, high-tech activities, high-tech ancillary products and research and development are number one on the list of divisions with investment incentives out of 16 other investment priorities. Clearly, establishing this industry is target number one for this country on the rise.

probably the one to pick in 2017,” Brown

As Jonathan Moreno, the General Director


for Medovations Vietnam suggested, “Manufacturing is the type of investing that

Embracing High-Tech

Associates told us, “I think the IT industry is

the government wants. You’re coming to the country, you’re employing people, you’re adding value, you’re exporting. What country

certainly having some problems. [...] At first

For Michael Sieburg, Associate Partner at

there was an excess of people with the skills

Solidiance Vietnam, the future of manufacturing

necessary to get IT operations off the ground,

in Vietnam can be clearly defined from its past.

and as such tons of people flooded into the

“If you look back seven years ago and you look

Vietnamese market. And now the labour pool

at the export statistics, you won’t see mobile

has (kind of) been tapped, and they’ve been

phones being counted. They’re completely

exceeding the threshold of what made them

absent. If you look at it today, it’s the largest


export product,” he reported.

The simple fact remains that opening a

Spurred on mainly by the gargantuan investment

move manufacturing from its former operations

manufacturing operation in Vietnam requires

made by Korea’s Samsung, cell phone parts are

in the Czech Republic to Vietnam in 2010 was

doesn’t want that? What country doesn’t want to help facilitate that?”

Medical Moves For the leaders at the US-based Medovations, a medical equipment company that ships products to 70 countries around the world, the decision to

A comfortable living environment in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City. Saigon Sky Garden Serviced Apartments are ideally located next to business districts, shopping outlets and restaurants. Have you found your cozy home away from home?

Studio & 01-bedroom apartment: 02 adults 02-bedroom apartment: 03 adults 03-bedroom apartment: 04 adults (from VND1,760,000++ / NIGHT) _____________________________ 20 Le Thanh Ton St., Dist. 1, HCMC, Vietnam Tel: +84 28 3822 0002 | Fax: +84 28 3825 0430 Email:|Website: 24 |

working FEATURE


engineering position, they might interview 30 to 40 people for the job before deciding on one. Judging by the fact that 80 percent of Moreno’s workforce has stayed with the operation for over five years and the capacity of the manufacturing operation has tripled since starting in 2010, this employment method seems to be working.

Researching and Developing R&D Although the manufacturing industry is rising at the moment, strategists and industry analysers are constantly looking towards the future. As labour costs rise steadily, some worry that a purely logical one. As the group considered

Vietnam will soon follow China’s economic

better manufacturing hubs — the decision was

trajectory, in which rising labour costs have

between Costa Rica, India, China, Thailand and

been making potential investors reluctant

Vietnam — a number of factors influenced the

to commit.

final decision, including logistics, manufacturing costs and existing infrastructure. The choice was narrowed down between Vietnam and Thailand. Moreno recalled that

For example, analysts have been speculating that Myanmar might be the next manufacturing hub to watch in the years to come.

Vietnam won out because “there was some political unrest in Thailand at the time that the

Michael Sieburg, however, sees the bigger

decision was being made, and our leadership

picture. “Of course, there’s cost competitiveness

felt like Vietnam was a much more secure

there, but there’s also access to the supply chain,

investment destination.”

government support, a safe and stable place to

With a factory in a high-tech park in Binh Duong, Moreno oversees a 60-person production and administration staff that works to produce highquality gastrointestinal diagnostic devices for an international market. When asked about HR issues, Moreno pointed out that one size does not fit all. “When we’re looking for general production labour or workers, there’s not that big of a challenge,” he said. “I think you might see some higher

do business. These are all reasons [to invest], and then eventually it will be because the skill sets are here, the R&D capabilities are here, and the local market [will] draw them in as well.” With an educational system that’s currently placing a high emphasis on science and technology, the potential for Vietnam to become a research and development hub for multinational businesses looks good, though this is still years, if not decades, down the line.

challenges for engineering and high-qualified

Setting up this extra incentive for investing

positions; there’s more competition for finite

companies takes work, though, and Maxfield


Brown sees the beginning stages of this process. “I think the way they’re [developing], for the

Moreno’s method of hiring for these more difficult positions? Looking for potential rather than existing skills.

moment, at least, is through specialised zones

“Our philosophy has been to hire smart,

For a job market that’s currently stretched

talented, open-minded people with good English

thin for experienced science and technology

communication skills for lead positions in our

professionals, the big hope becomes whether

factories. We’ll train them to be effective in

or not the talent pool can keep up with the

our system.” Moreno says that for an open

R&D demand.

Apple & M icrosoft Exp erts

that provide incentives for companies that either conduct or focus on R&D in the country.”

94 Xuan Thuy, Thao Dien, District 2, HCMC




by Keely Burkey

Changing River: Working in the Delta Away from the bustling metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City, many rural provinces in the Mekong Delta are developing more slowly. And as the Mekong River faces changes, millions will be affected.

With an emphasis on agricultural and aquacultural production and traditionally labelled as Vietnam’s “rice bowl”, this largely flat land has been almost entirely devoted to growing food, an activity dependent on the Mekong River. And due to several factors, the livelihoods of millions could be permanently

It’s a hot day in Long My in the southern half

altered in the coming years.

of the Mekong Delta. Luong Thuy Hang walks

Dr. Marcel Marchand, a flood risk and coastal

carefully around women sitting on the laminated

management specialist with Deltares, told me

floor of the open-air, covered veranda; the walls

via Skype that the changes we’re currently

hold sewing supplies and colourful fabrics, and

seeing in the Mekong Delta are nothing new,

fans are strategically placed to move the still,

and will probably get worse without strategic

heavy air. The women sit in groups, talking

and intense human intervention.

quietly amongst themselves as they work on by Keely Burkey

their sewing. Small piles of fabric ornaments and children’s room decorations pile high as the day wears on.

her plans are in the future, and she looks at me like I’m crazy. “I’ll be working to help support

As the manager of the operation, Luong Thuy

my family,” she tells me through an interpreter.

Hang has worked with Mekong Plus, a non-

“If I don’t have this job, I’ll find another. It’s

profit that helps Vietnamese and Cambodian

what I have to do.”

weekly quotas, they will send their products to one of the five Mekong Quilts stores; all

of the most vulnerable deltas in the world to climate change, and that is basically because of the low-lying area. That means it’s directly impacted by sea-level rise,” he explained. Dr. Marchand was also quick to report that the

communities struggling with extreme poverty, for over five years. When the women finish their

“The Mekong Delta is often referred to as one

gradual rise in sea level is just one of the factors.

A Dire Situation

“The river discharge of the Mekong River will probably change [due to] a combination of

The Mekong Delta region, which spans over

climate change and human interference by large

38,000 square kilometres and houses over 17

dams.” As dams and dykes are built upstream

For Hang, the opportunity to earn a regular

million people, is one of the poorest areas in

in Vietnam, China, Laos and Cambodia, for

income was too good to pass up. I ask her what

the country.

hydropower in China and to regulate the yearly

proceeds will be reinvested in their community.


acceptance to ISHCMC American Academy

Congratulations to our Grade 5 students: Above international average results Priority acceptance to ISHCMC schools 92 Nguyen Huu Canh Street, Binh Thanh Dist., HCMC

(028) 2222 7788 / 99 26 |

working FEATURE


The Way Out

flooding in Vietnam, the farms downstream are affected by the increased salinity brought in from the ocean and a lack of fertile silt flowing

As situations seem increasingly dire and

from the upper plains.

poverty increases in these rural communities, organisations like Mekong Plus don’t just focus

Traditional cash crops like rice wither in the

on individual households.

salty and brackish water and poverty grows — and not just for farmers. Logistical workers who

Efforts are also being made to provide tutors for

transport heavy loads of rice are also affected.

children who need extra help and scholarship funds for deserving students.

Career Shifts

As a study by the Ministry of Education showed in 2015, the Mekong Delta has the nation’s

For Dr. Marchand, the potential solution is

largest dropout rate, nearly three times the

all about farming diversification. Rather than by Keely Burkey

try to prevent the inevitable salinity rises, he’s working with local governments in the Delta to encourage the spread of other agricultural and aquacultural crops. The most profitable change, adopted by many farms, is a two-tiered approach: growing rice during the wet season, when freshwater is plentiful, and switching to saltwater or brackish shrimp in the dry season, as the ocean waters surge upstream.

Kervyn and others working in the Mekong Plus’ Long My division showed me the work they’ve done with pig farmers like Nguyen Van Troi. Troi, who comes from several generations of livestock farmers, pointed to the biogas system the Mekong Plus team helped establish near the pig pens, where methane harnessed from faeces is used for cooking. As we walked back, Kervyn

Alongside this approach, soon helped by the

proudly announced that Troi has spread the

salinity-measuring system Dr. Marchand is

system to other pig farmers in the community.

helping to produce and distribute with Deltares, are recent efforts to propagate salinity-resistant rice strains and encourage coconut farming — a crop that requires less fresh water to flourish.

This is just one of the welcome ways to save on money, especially as pork prices drop, a consequence of China’s ban on Vietnamese pork exports established earlier this year. “Troi is

national average. The gap between rich and poor has risen in quickly developing cities like Can Tho, and more remote regions lack the resources to transport children to schools, which are sometimes long distances away from the family farms. The need to focus more on education to eliminate poverty is sometimes lost in translation. Kervyn recalled a conversation with a potential donor while raising funds for his project. “She asked me why we’re devoting resources to education, if our organisation was trying to reduce poverty. Like it was two separate things,” Kervyn said, shaking his head. “I didn’t know how to respond.”

Bernard Kervyn of Mekong Plus also heartily

worried about it, of course,” Kervyn told me.

encourages alternative career paths for Delta

“Farming pigs is all he knows how to do, and

Through a mix of education and employment

citizens. Besides the Mekong Quilt retail

now […] it costs more to raise them than to

opportunities, many hope that environmental

program, the group also promotes new and

sell them.” Asked what Troi can do about it,

changes in the Mekong Delta won’t stop

updated agricultural systems to farmers eager

Kervyn shrugged. “What can he do? Just wait

communities from developing on their own

to increase their yields.

for better days.”

terms, with a few helping hands.



environment FEATURE

by Jesús López-Gomez

Children at Work: The Effects of Climate Change in June to talk about how to keep children out of the workforce as climate change turns agriculture — an industry using 40 percent of the country’s workforce and producing a fifth of the nation’s economic output — into a more chaotic business. Last year, the Vietnamese government recorded 20 weather disasters such as droughts and floods throughout the country.

The more unstable the work becomes, the higher the risk children will be drawn into the workforce. by Redminsk226

“Natural disasters have a direct impact on children’s survivability, physical health and

In rural Vietnam, farmlands have been hit hard by climate change. As families struggle to rebuild, there’s been one side effect: a rise of child labour. Ending child labour by 2025 means getting children off family farms. An overwhelming majority of the 1.75 million children working, about 70 percent, work on family farms, according to the Bureau of Children. But farming in Vietnam is culturally a family business, and it’s typically all hands on deck. Furthermore, climate change is sure to complicate the government’s efforts as families deal with more unpredictable growing cycles and outputs.

Education First

still in school that’s fine,” Brosowski wrote in an email interview. “The concern is really about when they drop out of school.” He applauded the government for growing its education network into these difficult-to-serve areas. “The government has a fairly good [education] infrastructure network

Social Affairs, told the conference. “In addition, poverty can force children to leave school and partake in economic activities to relieve the financial burdens their families may face.” It may not be possible to wean children

in mountainous and remote locations.”

completely off farms, but “it’s important to

Blue Dragon Foundation helped by building a boarding house next to a rural school for children who live too far away from school. It plans on building another next year.

“Projects like this to increase retention rates in schools are important in reducing the incidence of child labour,” Brosowski wrote.

Speaking on the heels of a government summit

labour by 2025, and “if the government really

in Hanoi to address the intersection of child

wants to do it, then it can be done,” Brosowski

labour and climate change, Michael Brosowski,

wrote. “Other countries around the world have

founder and CEO of youth advocacy group

done so, and I believe Vietnam can too.”

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, said critical step”.

Deputy Minister of Labour, War Invalids, and

throughout the country, including schools [...]

The Prime Minister has said he wants to end child

keeping children in school needs to be a “first

mental well-being,” Nguyen Trong Dam,

A Disastrous Roadblock

differentiate between children helping out on the family farm, and children working full time as paid labourers,” Brosowski wrote. “It’s fair to say that most rural children would help on the family [farm], and so long as they are still in school that’s fine.” The work requires nuance and sensitivity, but Brosowski said the Vietnamese government is up to it.

“What’s required is a coordinated determination across government agencies and with NGOs” like Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation. Brosowski described Vietnam as a country “well on the way” to becoming an industrialised nation, but pointed out that a lot of the country remains employed in agriculture as a

“It’s fair to say that most rural children would

Governmental authorities held a meeting

consequence of where they live. About two-

help on the family farm, and so long as they are

with the International Labour Organization

thirds of the nation lives in rural areas.

28 |

environment FEATURE

Recent Statistics The population in those areas is over-represented in poverty statistics. In 2014, the World Bank found that 91 percent of the nation’s poor lived in rural Vietnam. The bulk of the rural poor are ethnic minorities, a number that has risen from 47 percent in 2010 to 60 percent in 2014. By 2020, the World Bank predicts that almost all of the country’s poor will be ethnic minorities. Overall, poverty is going down. The poverty rate in 2014 was 13.5 percent, down sharply from the 20.7 percent recorded in 2010. That is due partly to large-scale urbanisation.

“The shift out of agriculture has been dramatic, with the sector’s share in GDP falling from over 40 percent in the late 1980s to less than 20 percent of GDP today,” the World Bank report states. In 1986, the country had around 13 million urban residents. There were 30 million recorded in 2016, half of which live in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. Though “a lot of the country is still very remote and agriculture is the only industry,” Brosowski wrote, Blue Dragon Foundation’s sees access to childhood education as a key asset to combating

In 2004, Brosowski registered the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation in Australia as an independent non-governmental organisation


By 2020, forest levels are targeted at 45 percent above their 2010 levels.

in Vietnam. Regarding agriculture, the report calls for

Efforts for Change The World Bank paper lauds the US$3.2 billion commitment Vietnam has offered to meet the United Nations’ target of keeping global warming under 2 degrees Celsius.

greater use of organic farming methods and a more judicious use of resources to create crops. Vietnam consistently ranks high in terms of agricultural productivity with a land productivity gain of at least a 2.5 percent annually, according to the World Bank. In 2010, however, that productivity gain shrank to about

An international investment of US$18 billion

2.18 percent due to a lack of crop diversity and

has been secured to match that effort.

ageing water management infrastructure.

But as agriculture and, relatedly, child labourers

“There is a need for ‘smarter’ crop water

are uniquely vulnerable to the effects of climate

management and infrastructure investments that

change, the World Bank report states that this

help the system to catch up with the ongoing

industry is in a unique position to take control

transformation and constraints in land and

of the problem.

water resources,” the report states.

“Many sectors will need to contribute to achieve

The strategy outlined in the report explicitly

the GHG reduction targets including energy

names agriculture workers as key actors in the

(from changes in fuel combustion and fugitive

nation’s climate change strategy.

emissions), transport, waste, land use and forestry, and agriculture,” the report states. The World Bank report cites Vietnam’s newly created green standards, which are detailed in the Vietnam Green Growth Strategy. To curb the effect of climate change, Vietnam was to reduce its carbon emissions by at least 10 percent in 2020 compared to 2010 levels.

“Jobs in agriculture [...] contribute significantly to the conservation, restoration of environmental quality,” the report states. These workers will help “to protect ecosystems and biodiversity, reduce energy consumption, materials, and water through highly efficient strategies, reduce carbon emissions economy

child labour in Vietnam’s changing rural

Energy use will also be reduced by a similar

and minimize or completely avoid all forms of

economic ecosystem.

amount under these targets.

waste and pollution.”



Real Estate FEATURE

by Sivaraj Pragasm

The Invisible Hands Safety Issues In Vietnamese construction sites, hard hats, vests and even boots seem to be treated as complementary add-ons instead of actual requirements. Add to that a lack of rest due to long working hours and we’re primed for disaster. According to figures from the National Institute of Occupational & Environmental Health (NIOEH) released in 2014, the total number of cases of occupational accidents has been steadily increasing each year with 6,943 cases in 2014, of which 1,544 were severe and 630 fatal. The by Emilio Piriz

top three industries that contributed to this figure? Construction, mining and electricity.

Behind the skyscrapers, the flyovers, the glitzy shopping malls and the new metro line, here are the invisible hands who risk their lives to get the structures up.

direct investment resulting in new commercial, residential and industrial developments; recent government investment in infrastructure and residential construction projects; and increased issuances of building permits under the SocioEconomic Development Plan (SEDP).

A scattering of steel and concrete, like metallic birds perched on a wasteland, digging into the soil and planting seeds for a shinier tomorrow: Vietnam, and especially Saigon, is littered with construction sites from new upscale residential blocks, to glitzy new shopping malls and its first metro line. Vietnam has come a long way, but the ones who are directly involved, and also likely the ones who pay the heaviest price, are the labourers. They risk life and limb, toiling under the sun and rain, day and night, for months and years to ensure the structures are up on time. Although they are everywhere, and are vital for every project that’s been, nobody ever speaks of them, nor even acknowledges their presence. They are invisible to us, never the topic of conversations, barely a blip on our radars and yet, they are crucial enough to keep entire

The Elements

The forecast period for 2017 to 2021 will see a greater expansion of the country’s construction industry with more investments in transport infrastructure such as new bridges and roads to ease congestion, as well as new metro lines and affordable housing projects. The government plans to build one million affordable houses by 2020 as part of its plan to increase Vietnam’s housing area per capita from 16.7 square metres per person in 2015 to 25 square metres in 2020.

The government’s focus on developing seaports to increase trade volume and new airports to handle larger passenger capacities will only mean that the construction industry is going to be kept busy.

Let’s face it, the climate in Vietnam can be pretty harsh. Temperatures here can hit a high of 40 degree Celsius and the UV index tends to hover around an unhealthy range, from seven to nine and sometimes even going up to 10 for most parts of the day, even on rainy days. Intense rainfall on certain months bring about floods and for sites without a proper drainage system, the water puddles that form make conducive breeding grounds for mosquitoes, increasing the risk of diseases like dengue fever and malaria, and these workers are right in the thick of the action, getting exposed to the elements.

They may or may not be covered by health insurance, a risk that could drive them into further trouble should they ever get injured or sick. So, whether you’re taking a drive down District 7, surrounded by apartment blocks under construction on both sides, or trying to cross the street outside Ben Thanh Market

But how does this affect the labourer?

while sidestepping the barricades bordering the

Construction workers, many of whom come

construction site for the new metro line, do

from rural areas, get by with a wage of only

acknowledge that the comfort you’re enjoying

VND4 million (US$173) a month, and most

in your apartment, the efficiency you embrace

of these workers rely on working overtime or

on a freshly minted metro system set to open in

The Vietnamese construction industry has been

through the weekends and public holidays to be

the next couple of years and the photographs

growing each year, with last year’s figure at 9.1

able to earn more. However, being part of an

of the skyline you take from the top of Bitexco

percent. This was a result of many things: the

invisible workforce, whose only motivation is

were only made possible because of these

country’s strong economic recovery; the foreign

to get by, comes with its own set of problems.

invisible hands.

companies, and an entirely industry running.

Sowing the Seeds

30 |

education FEATURE

by Jesús López-Gomez Prost!


Learning German in Ho Chi Minh Stadt

English-language classes get most of the press, but plenty of students in Ho Chi Minh City are dreaming in German instead. Starting in 2013, Germany began sourcing healthcare workers from Vietnam to fill a need for geriatric nurses. About 300 nurses have completed German-funded language courses and emigrated to the country so far through the program, and another 125 more will join them after completing an intensive German program in Hanoi this autumn. The new cohort would be just a fraction of an estimated 17,000 nurses needed in Germany by 2020. But should these jobs be filled by Vietnamese?

The Healthcare Question “Why [specifically] Vietnam?” It’s a question

potential workforce has created a ripe talent

for Goethe-Institut German-language student

pool from which to draw, a government report

Quynh Vu.

stated announcing the program. “Germany is facing an alarming shortage of qualified nurses in the geriatric care sector. Experts estimate that, due to demographic change, the number of people requiring care in Germany will increase from the current level of about 2.3 million to approximately 3.4 million in 2030,” the German Agency for International Cooperation wrote, adding it would be impossible to fill these jobs from the native population.

“So there is a lack, [especially] for nurses of elder people,” Apelt wrote. The degree of physical labour and commensurate salaries are not attractive for Germans.

The Education Answer

Tom Apelt of the German Center-ST addressed in an email explaining Germany’s interest in Vietnamese healthcare workers.

“Germany is perfect for higher education — cheap tuition fee, highquality education and [an] international environment,” Vu wrote in an email. She said she’s taking language instruction there because the Goethe-Institut’s credentials are recognised by the German embassy. She’s studying business and hopes to land a job in her field in Germany after graduating.

Vu wrote that German is “much harder” than English. She said the umlauted letters, the grammatical structure and possessive case were especially difficult for her as a student. There were an estimated 83,446 Vietnamese nationals living in Germany at the end of 2005. Separate from that group, approximately

So, why should the Vietnamese pick Germany? “Germany is very attractive … because most of

40,000 have taken German citizenship. About the same number of Vietnamese are living in Germany as unauthorised immigrants.

Acquiring and training Vietnamese talent

the BA and MA programs are free and the living

has been a particular interest of the German

costs are somehow less than in other western

The language program’s sponsors have

government. The country’s relatively young

countries, e.g. Great Britain or Australia,”

committed to support the language program

population and the lack of employment for the

Apelt wrote. Cheaper tuition is a draw

until at least 2018.



health FEATURE

by Nguyen Dinh Phong & Dr. L. Mason Cobb

The Creative Destruction of Healthcare Digital healthcare is in its infancy in Vietnam, but the potential advantages are great. By Nguyen Dinh Phong, CEO of mHealth Technologies JSC and L. Mason Cobb, MD, President of Victoria Healthcare Systems, LTD “Creative destruction” in healthcare does not mean a smart doctor damaging an unfortunate patient. The term actually applies these days

mHealth Technologies, JSC, a startup in Vietnam, has developed its own platform and technology that is on par with highly developed countries. This allows patients to quickly evaluate available online doctors and arrange a telemedicine consultation wherever they are, through website or the Wellcare mobile app and chatbot.

to far-reaching changes on the horizon for

This virtual consultation allows the doctor and

healthcare. In the end, the consumer/patient

patient to determine best treatment options at

can benefit from convenience and efficiency

home, or whether a physical visit is best.

digitally. Now at the 10th anniversary of the smartphone, we find convenience and access to information, products and services as never before.

Diag and mHealth can do blood testing from the patient’s home and report the result to the patient digitally. There is also remote monitoring for blood pressure, EKG, blood

Just as “bricks ’n mortar” retail stores

sugar etc., through and the

are under attack from mobile outlets in

Foracare “smart” medical equipage.

developed countries, this “fourth revolution” is coming to healthcare. The wedding of digital technology and good healthcare is producing greater advantages for patients, in terms of access, careful follow-up, information and convenience.

The sun may be setting on feeling ill, then trudging to the clinic, waiting for hours, spending a few minutes in the doctor’s bailiwick, paying and then trudging home again.

A Digital Future

Jio Health, through a mobile app, offers home visits from physicians. Victoria Healthcare’s WebView allows the patient to review results and communicate directly with the doctor from a secure internet platform. The patient can also

uses that can make obtaining good healthcare much more accessible and well-informed. A whole spectrum of services is already available in Vietnam for the patient’s convenience. Digital healthcare brings the doctor to the patient rather than the other way around. It also provides access to much information previously

UK and USA have shown that better health outcomes result from careful follow-up through digital portals. As mHealth Technologies develops its product lines, it will be expanding chatbots and artificial intelligence to better direct patients and answer their questions. This will all lead to better and more seamless care in or out of the doctor’s room. However, digital penetration has not yet been deep in Vietnam. Most patients are older and not as comfortable with high tech. A major advantage of digital health is accessing remote locations. However, the people in these areas may not be as tech savvy or have the required coverage.

So, although digital healthcare could alleviate much of the crowding in large city hospitals, while serving patients with higher quality in their homes, the technology is only slowly taking hold.

book appointments through this portal.

Via Smartphone from Home

Bumps in the Road Although Victoria Healthcare and others use

Victoria Healthcare offers medical advice and

these digital modalities to integrate clinical

education through an mHealth chatbot (a

care, traditional care and digital are often

digital “robot” enabled by AI technologies that

done independently, leading to worse outcomes

can answer questions and direct the patient to

through lack of coordinated care.

the right service, or doctor). Each year brings new digital healthcare apps and

digitally follow-up patients. Studies in the

Online payment methods work best, such

Victoria Healthcare also uses an advanced

as PayPal and credit cards. However, most

electronic healthcare record, assuring privacy,

Vietnamese prefer to pay by cash, which is more

completeness and portability for the patient.

difficult with digital outlets.

This e-record allows easy access for quality

So, at this time, a better and more convenient

assurance and data collection, and is available

way of care is available but has not been widely

securely to any Victoria doctor from any


location, including at home.

But the opportunity is there for those who can

only known to doctors, and it gives a mobile

Smartphone and tablet texted pictures are

overcome technical and payment barriers and

platform for evaluating the doctor or clinic and

routinely used to show doctors particular

integrate well with the other side of the clinic

spreading the word quickly.

findings, and doctors and their teams can


32 |


by Robyn Wilson


Feast for the Eyes phoenix and dragon using raw carrot and other artistically carved vegetables.

Contemporary Twists Elsewhere in Vietnam, there is little history of such opulence to inspire food presentation. “We teach the students to respect the local and international methods of basic presentation but there is not too much emphasis on creativity,”

They say looks aren’t everything, but in the world of fine dining, where food is akin to art, that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s said that a person eats with all their senses, and if so, a beautifully plated dish can raise a meal from the exceptional to the exquisite. With the growing influence of social media on the food and beverage sector today — where customers are able to share their dining experiences visually with an audience worldwide — presentation is now taking on an ever-increasing importance for top-quality restaurants. Restaurants in some cities, however, have a lot of catching up to do to match the quality

“The way the Vietnamese cook and present the food at home for the family is the same as the way it’s cooked and presented outside.” A traditional Vietnamese family meal is often served up on a number of plates, utilising the whole of the table, so everyone can select bits of food at a time. This tradition is carried through in smaller restaurants that will dish up the likes of pho with heaped piles of vegetables and herbs on separate plates. This casual way of eating places less importance on the way a dish is presented in favour of delivering the food to the table quickly.

The Royal Touch

available in London, Paris and New York.

Street Roots

Of course, this isn’t the case across the whole of the country and many restaurants place great

says Mr Lindfield of Mai Sen Bistro and Vocational School. Elsewhere in Ho Chi Minh City, however, creativity can play more of a central role in presentation, like at the north Vietnamese restaurant Mountain Retreat. Here, you can find traditional northern-inspired Vietnamese dishes plated up in eye-catching simplicity, such as symmetrical slices of pork laid out in circles, with a small herb garnish. Or at Xu Saigon, a Vietnamese restaurant serving up traditional dishes with a contemporary twist, such as its cubed coconut-braised pork belly, which is carefully arranged in a linear fashion down the middle of the plate on a bed of pickled red cabbage, with caramelised daikon.

So while presentation may not be commonplace in Vietnam, it is not totally absent.

importance on looks. Vietnam is famed for its street side snack culture, but is regarded by some as a place where food presentation often takes a back seat. But is this perception or reality? How do the Vietnamese regard food presentation?

And what techniques are Vietnamese chefs adopting in the kitchen today that will further promote Vietnamese food on the world stage? “As the majority of food is very basic and inexpensive, the presentation seems to be

The country’s central region in particular is widely known for its sophistication and elegance in plating up food.

This is certainly food for thought when it comes to the future of its fine dining cuisine. As Ancient Hue, Royal Cuisine Gallery’s Mr Nguyen Don Van points out, “beautifully

“Central Vietnam has the best food presentation,” says Ancient Hue, Royal Cuisine Gallery chef Nguyen Don Van. “Especially in Hue, which is the last place of Nguyen Dynasty. Hue is the longest place to preserve the traditional royal dishes and the way it is presented.”

decorated food can attract people to eat it so presentation of dishes is very important.” Although Mr Nguyen Don Van adds: “In cooking the most important thing is the taste of the dish, the second is the presentation.” True, presentation should never be at the expense of pleasing the palate but with social

[very similar] everywhere you go,” says Brian

These royal dishes include the Phoenix Image

media platforms like Instagram assuming such

Lindfield, teacher at Ho Chi Minh City’s Mai

Appetizer and the Spring Rolls on Dragon Boat,

importance nowadays, it’s no longer just what’s

Sen Bistro and Vocational School.

where dishes are crafted into the shape of a

on the inside that counts. 33


recipe of the month

Serves: 10 Cooking time: 60 minutes Difficulty: Medium Ingredients red bean • 400g glutinous rice flour • 10g green tea powder • 300g rock sugar • 10g caster sugar • 50g ginger • 4 litres water • 50g roasted white sesame • 10g fresh green tea leaves • 5g salt • 100ml coconut milk • 150g

Red Bean-Green Tea Dumpling Che Che and dumplings have been enjoyed in Vietnam for centuries, and for good reason: they’re delicious! In 2013, Chef Ngoc Nghia gave this traditional recipe an innovative twist at the Golden Spoon Awards, skillfully incorporating the delicate flavour of green tea. Enjoy!

Directions 1. Prepare the Ingredients

dry. Split the bean batter into small, bite-sized

5. Cook the Che

lumps. Rinse the red beans thoroughly. Soak the beans in water overnight or for 8-10 hours.

3. Make the Syrup

After the dough has rested, pull off a golfball-sized piece of dough and stretch it into a thin sheet between your fingers. Place a small

Rinse the green tea leaves and drain them well in a colander. Rinse the ginger and grill till

Dissolve the rock sugar in 1.5 litres of water in

amount of the bean filling inside and wrap

cooked through.

a pot on medium heat and add the ginger. Bring

the dough around the bean, making a ball.

the water to a simmer for 15 to 20 minutes

Drop the dumpling into the boiling water until

until the liquid has reduced into a syrup, then

the ball floats to the surface and the dough

add the green tea leaves and cook for a further

becomes clear — this means it’s now cooked.

five minutes until you can smell the tea and the

Carefully take the dumpling out with tongs

syrup is light yellow. Strain the syrup to discard

and place it into the hot syrup.

2. Make the Filling Rinse the soaked red beans under running water and put them in a pot. Pour water into the pot until the beans are covered and add 4g of salt. Cook on a stove until the beans are soft, then drain the water from the beans and place them

the tea dregs and keep the mixture on low heat.

4. Mix the Flour

Repeat the process in turn with the remaining dough and filling. Cook for five more minutes so the dumplings absorb the syrup.

on paper towels to cool. Use a colander or fine mesh strainer to separate the husk from the

Mix the glutinous flour with the green tea

beans; mash the cooked beans. Place the mashed

powder in a bowl and gradually pour in 300g

beans into a non-stick pan, add the coconut

of water. Knead the dough until it becomes

milk with 1g of salt and 10g of caster sugar.

fine, gummy and soft — not too dry or too

Ladle a few dumplings and some syrup into a

Stir constantly and evenly on low heat until

soggy. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes. Boil

bowl, sprinkle the roasted sesame seeds on top,

the beans become chewy, soft and somewhat

the remaining 1.2 litres of water in a pot.

and serve hot.

34 |




Jaspas Gets a Makeover District 1 has a variety of food options available but there’s one establishment that’s still going strong after 12 years without showing any signs of ageing. With an array of restaurants, cafes and bars available in District 1, one is spoilt for choice when it comes to dining options. However, one of the indicators of a good establishment is having the same customers coming back again and again for more.

This is what has kept Jaspas going strong for the past 12 years.

Iconic Location and a Fresh Look Located right in the heart of downtown Saigon, along the famous Dong Khoi Street, Jaspas sits at the corner of a small intersection and the first thing you will notice is not a sign or a banner; instead, you will see diners. The new layout of the restaurant is structured so there are simply no walls; it’s an open concept where your table is right next to the sidewalk, exposed to the hustle and bustle of the city. That also means you get plenty of fresh air and natural light during the day, and an open party atmosphere at night. The idea behind this, according to Ben Winspear, Southern Manager of The Al Fresco’s Group, “is to create a concept of openness and to stand out from the other establishments within the area.”

“This is also to give Jaspas a clean, fresh and modern look,” he adds.

International Fare Jaspas has a pretty diverse and comprehensive

lunch, try the surf & turf, a 250g New Zealand

If you’d like something with a bit of meat, check

sirloin paired with a slipper lobster.

Jaspas Chefs which consists of romaine lettuce

The ever-popular breakfast menu comes in three categories: • Light Brekkie, with smashed avocado feta lemon and dukkah on sourdough (our recommendation);

tossed with caesar dressing topped with chicken, avocado, mango and cherry tomato. You can also wash them down with 100 percent fresh juices, blends and smoothies.

Where Modern Meets Classic

• Morning Meal of Substance, with Benedict’s “florentine”, a wonderful combination of smoked salmon, spinach and poached eggs (our favourite); • Big Breakie, where you can literally find Saigon’s BEST Breakfast (that’s what it’s called on the menu) consisting of two eggs of any style, two pork sausages, local smoked bacon, baked beans, potatoes, mushrooms, roasted tomato and toasted sourdough.

True enough, it was heavy enough to make me think twice about having lunch that day but it does live up to its name; you’ll be hard-pressed to find an even better breakfast than that in Saigon.

menu that covers a wide variety of dishes from

The ambience of Jaspas threads the line between modern and classic. With an interior layout that is rotated according to the time of the day – e.g., tables being moved after sunset to create more space for revellers, and a second floor that accommodates those who would prefer a more peaceful setting for their meal – it’s quite clear that plenty of thought was put into the planning of the restaurant’s layout.

“It’s been a big change but with a new look, we are still keeping the same standards.” Jaspas is, and will always be, a casual place with a friendly vibe all around. With most of its clientele being regulars, there is a sense of warmth and familiarity that you may not find elsewhere.

Vietnamese pho to western offerings such as

For the more health-conscious diner, Jaspas also

steak. Seafood lovers should check the Seafood

has healthier options on the menu with salads

Whether you’re in there for breakfast or a post-

Tower, a three-tier tower with all the seafood

such as the quinoa and lentil, which consists of

dinner drink, Jaspas is a great choice whether

you’ll ever need for the week, fit for two people.

a mixed leaf salad tossed with balsamic creme

you’re with your family or your friends.

If you like both steak and seafood and can’t

dressing and topped with grilled Halloumi

decide which of these you’d like to have for

cheese, asparagus and fresh mint.

33 Dong Khoi, District 1 | 028 3822 9925 Hours: 7:00 a.m. to 12:00 a.m. |



business FEATURE

by Jesús López-Gomez

Living in a Mobile World storefronts in Ho Chi Minh City with the company’s original URL opened that year. Those would later be rebranded to the existing name. The company grew to 38 stores across the country in 2009. In 2010, Mobile World Investment Corporation introduced consumer electronics retailing. As with the first phone stores, the first stores carried the name of their website,, before being rebranded to Dien May Xanh. Also to “consumer electronics”; this retailer’s business model focuses on larger domestic electronics like irons and electric stovetops à la Nguyen Kim Shopping Center. The mobile retailer is by far

No matter where you go in Vietnam, chances are you’ll be met with The Gioi Di Dong’s black-andyellow storefront. What led to this company’s meteoric rise?

in 2010, the company doubled the number of phone stores, which quadrupled in 2011. In 2012, they were the only phone retailer in each city and province in Vietnam.

the bigger of the two business interests. There are

The stores sell Android and Apple handset

over 1,300 stores across the country and more

models. The Gioi Di Dong has expanded to

than 250 Dien May Xanh retailers.

Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. One of Mobile World Investment Corporation’s defining

A Food Foray

advantages was early involvement from

Mobile World Investment Corporation has

In addition to bringing a US$4.5 million to

recently added a grocery unit to its portfolio

the company in 2007 just three years after the

of business interests. There are 87 such stores,

company had started with its initial group of

called Bach Hoa Xanh, around Ho Chi Minh

three stores, Mekong Capital also played a role

City. The growth in this new asset has been

in shaping the company’s practices to support

meteoric. The company reported VND45 billion

its ambitious growth. A 2012 impact study of

Nguyen reportedly picked the clouded leopard

in sales in January. The company has more than

the investment identified talent acquisition as

because of its ability to gain speed quickly and

tripled that number in the first three months

a key factor. Mekong Capital was instrumental

its capacity to adapt to a changing environment.

of 2017.

in helping the company develop a skilled

In a ceremony held this year to honour the 50 Vietnamese businesses with assets exceeding US$1 billion, The Gioi Di Dong CEO Nguyen Duc Tai and other attending executives chose what animal best represents them.

For a cell phone retailer that has made a mark as a durable goods seller and recently a grocer, it’s almost too apt.

A Whole New (Mobile) World

human resources department and shaping the

At the close of 2016, there were 142 supermarkets operating. It has also launched an online retail space called, which sells a broad range of items from detergent to luxury watches. The company’s first quarter 2017 revenues,

In December investor communications from

VND15.2 trillion, are a 62 percent increase

the mobile retailer’s parent company Mobile

over the same period last year. The consumer

World Investment Corporation, the company

electronics store sales grew 152 percent. In the

announced a 2017 revenue target 85 percent

first quarter of 2017, VND9 trillion came from

higher than the previous year. It hopes to

the mobile phone retailer, with another VND6.3

generate VND63.3 trillion, or about US$2.8

trillion from the consumer electronics stores.

billion, in sales. That’s not all cell phones. The Gioi Di Dong — “mobile world” in English — is part of a

investment group Mekong Capital.

A Quick and Profitable History

larger company, Mobile World Investment

company’s day-to-day sales floor practice into a conventionally managed retail store. Mekong Capital also helped connect Mobile World Investment Corporation’s leaders with foreign consumer tech retailers like Best Buy to trade ideas, acquire foreign personnel and further develop business practices in line with global standards. Similarly, the investment group pushed the company to develop robust financial reporting to make it attractive to foreign investors ahead of its being listed on the Ho Chi Minh Stock Exchange. Mekong Capital partner Chris Freund notes that the company’s quality control in hiring and trust in its staff will continue to push the business forward. “No other company has replicated that trust and business empowerment in Vietnam yet.

Corporation, and operates alongside another

Breakneck growth has characterised the

MobileWorld is on their own level,” he told

retailer, Dien May Xanh. “Dien May” translates

company since its inception in 2004. Three

investment publication Vietcetera.

36 |



Wolf Blass Saigon Rugby 10’s year was a no-brainer, when 16 teams signed

a large kids’ zone, where the little ones

up to play.

can tear around and learn to play rugby

And this year? A whopping 32 teams, divided into three competitive categories, will be heading to Saigon to battle it out for the top spots in the 2017 Wolf Blass Saigon Rugby 10’s.

A Different Kind of Rugby

(safely, of course!); and a kids’ clinic in which ex-international rugby players play with disadvantaged children; and dance performances throughout the day by the “Sugar Bears”, the official cheerleaders of the event. This rugby 10’s tournament has been expertly designed to provide something for everyone, not just Saigon’s die-hard rugby fans.

With such a dramatic growth over the past three years, it’s apparent that the organisers of the Saigon Rugby 10’s has hit upon a winning formula. Rather than the typical rugby tournament with the audience simply watching, Holdsworth pointed out that AFG is, at its heart, a hospitality group.

It’s that time again: the Wolf Blass Saigon Rugby 10’s is heading back to HCMC, and this time it’s bigger than ever.

“It’s just a fun day out,” Holdsworth explained. “People can come and enjoy, have a few drinks, have some food. The kids are safe – it’s a safe environment. There aren’t many places you can do that in Saigon, where kids canjust tear around.”

“We wanted to package the whole event. So it’s not just about the rugby, but also the whole party aspect, and it just being a fun time,” he

Go Geckos!

said. And this party aspect doesn’t just stop with the rugby players after the matches: at

When you and your family enjoy the weekend at

Vietnam and rugby? This combination might

Wolf Blass Saigon Rugby 10’s, everybody can

RMIT, be sure to watch out for HCMC’s own

have sounded strange a few years ago. Although

join in on the fun.

rugby team, the Saigon Geckos. Although they

this tough sport gained serious ground in countries like Singapore and Hong Kong, people in Vietnam have traditionally favoured sports like football. However, since the Al Frescos Group’s (AFG’s) Saigon Rugby 10’s hit the turf of RMIT’s rugby pitch in 2015 this has all begun to change. So what spurred this on? Al Fresco’s National Marketing Manager Peter Holdsworth told us that after looking at the huge rugby culture in Hong Kong, where AFG works with its partner Castello Group, the idea was hatched to see if a Hong Kong-style rugby tournament could do

haven’t brought home a Saigon 10’s rugby trophy

Over the course of this September weekend, RMIT will be taken over by rugby mania, and watching the international rugby teams duking it out on the fields will just be one source of entertainment. Holdsworth described the events that will take place at the tournament, and the list is long: a huge, 1,000-square-metre hospitality tent

yet, rumour has it they’ve been working hard to represent Saigon better than ever this year. “They really want to win it this year,” Holdsworth mused. “They have 55 players on the books!” So when you get to the rugby pitch, be sure to cheer on our Geckos – let’s help them bring a trophy home. Wolf Blass Saigon Rugby 10’s At RMIT University: 702 Nguyen Van Linh, D. 7

that will house food, drinks and merchandise,

Saturday 16 & Sunday 17 September from 9:00 a.m.

available when you buy a voucher booklet;

For more information go to

Free Entrance on both days.

well in Vietnam.

“We decided that it was about time that something kind of fun and interactive [happened] in Vietnam,” Holdsworth recalled. With the help of some international sponsors and a lot of ingenious hospitality planning, six rugby teams landed at Tan Son Nhat Airport for a weekend of rugby and, of course, a bit of beer after the matches. The event was such a success that organising an event the following 37

Exploring Cat Tien: Ta Lai Longhouse Kayaking, hiking, biking, oh my! We took a trip to Ta Lai Longhouse in Cat Tien National park to get in touch with our wild side. by Ta Lai Longhouse

When I was told that I would be spending a

preserve large tracts of land, like the 72,000

With little education and no viable career

weekend with a friend in Ta Lai Longhouse,

hectares of Cat Tien National Park.

options, it was only natural for many to turn to

at the edge of Cat Tien National Park, I was elated. A retreat into nature and learning about a different culture? Yes, please.

Exploring Ta Lai Longhouse After a three-hour bus ride, half an hour on the back of two xe oms and a trip across the river on the ferry, we arrived. A long, winding stone staircase led up a hill and the eponymous longhouse slowly revealed itself, some 30 metres

While this is an admirable mission in theory, in practice these regulations resulted in the displacement of tens of thousands of Ma and

poaching to earn a living — one of the reasons so many animals in Cat Tien National Park are now severely endangered.

Stieng ethnic minority members, who lived in

Tram Anh works to educate the next generation

the jungles for centuries and depended on the

of Ma people about wildlife conservation. “I

local resources.

asked a group of children what they wanted to

The result? Widespread poverty among the ethnic minorities who set up communities around the “buffer zone” of the national park.

be when they grew up, and they didn’t know. Eventually, one boy said, ‘A poacher! That’s how you get a lot of money. One pangolin can be sold for US$2,000!’”

Exploring the Green Hills

long and crafted by Ma people almost entirely from bamboo, palm leaves and rattan.

I crawled under the mosquito net covering

On the left was the separate bathroom structure

my simple, clean bed and quickly fell asleep.

(simple and clean, although looking in the sinks

A fan whirring overhead with crickets and

in the morning was always an adventure), the

geckos singing their nightly chorus made for

open-air communal dining table; the breezy

very sweet dreams. After a simple but good

pavilion stood towards the edge of the camp.

breakfast the next morning (banh mi, eggs

We were greeted by Do Kim Hoang and Nguyen

and a few cups of the special Ta Lai coffee,

Hong Tram Anh, who showed us to our room

which features some beans grown on the Ta Lai

and gave us dinner once we settled in. As we ate

Longhouse coffee plantation) Tram Anh told us

our sour soup, sauteed morning glory, steamed

our day’s itinerary: a 10 km trek through the

rice and grilled pork, Tram Anh, a member of the

jungle, a bike ride and kayaking around sunset.

Ta Lai team since 2013, told us about what she

It sounded like a lot of moving for a writer

hopes to achieve by managing Ta Lai Longhouse.

chained to a desktop computer most days.

For anybody following conservation efforts in

Tram Anh introduced us to Ka Huong, our

Vietnam, you’ll be familiar with this sad story: the Vietnamese government made efforts to 38 |

26-year-old tour guide and member of the Ma by Ta Lai Longhouse

group. She, along with a silent Ma companion


by Keely Burkey

whose job was to clear our path with a large, rusty machete (“He’s also here for protection. He saw a tiger in the jungle once,” Ka Huong reported) and two German medical students

Learning about Ma


Looking Forward to the Future

Ka Huong first began guiding 10 years ago, barely understanding a word of English. Since

The Ma and Stieng groups have to face

then, her many foreign clients have given her a

hardships as they navigate their way through an

solid command of the language, allowing us to

increasingly complex and rapidly modernising

With plenty of water and leech repellent, we set

gain insight to a world typically not accessible

world, but the people behind Ta Lai Longhouse

off. It soon became clear that Ka Huong had

to outsiders. Today there are over 30,000 Ma

are optimistic about the future.

an intimate knowledge of pretty much every

people living in Vietnam, mostly in Lam Dong

plant in the jungle. She routinely stopped our

Province. Among the things they’re known

group every hundred yards to point out different

for are their colourful clothes, a penchant for

plants used to combat malaria, diarrhea and

weaving baskets, blankets and clothing and a

other life-threatening maladies.

vibrant religion and tradition of folklore.

As we soon discovered, the forest had just as

Ka Huong told us that while these traditions

many poisonous plants as medicinal ones. It

have lasted thousands of years, they are

became somewhat of a macabre running joke.

currently under threat. She described a fun

visiting Cat Tien for the weekend, completed our ragtag hiking group.

Ka Huong would hand around bits of licorice vine we could chew on, expertly naming the helpful properties of the plant. “And that one?” someone asked, pointing to a plant directly adjacent. “Poisonous!” Ka Huong replied.

Although most of the hike was relatively flat, the real fun began when we climbed up the Green Hill and arrived at the bat cave.

tradition she used to enjoy in Ta Lai Village: the year-end festival, which included food, singing and dancing. “When is it?” I asked. “I’d love to come and see it.” She shook her head and answered, “Oh, it hasn’t been done for a long time. The last time was in 2005.” Although many of her peers in the village are quickly adopting mainstream Vietnamese culture, Ka Huong, along with her mother and grandmother, are doing their part to keep traditions alive. After surveying the town and

Ka Huong handed out headlamps and motioned us inside, warning us to beware of the green viper lurking just outside. A few steps into the

village on mountain bikes, we stopped at Ka Huong’s house. Her mother and grandmother were there, along with her nieces and nephews.

For Tram Anh, it’s all about community engagement. “A lot of NGOs fail around here,” she said. “And that’s usually because they give away free stuff, but there’s no partnership with the community, or the local authorities.”

By contrast, from its very start, Ta Lai Longhouse, with the help of WWF, engaged with local people every step of the way. Besides employing local people as tour guides, Ta Lai Longhouse has staff from the Ma, Stieng and Tay tribes. Volunteers staying at Ta Lai Longhouse hold a daily English class (Holly, the current volunteer, said that ages in her classes range from 13 to 27 years old), and community campaigns have encouraged people to stop poaching and to throw trash in bins rather than burning refuse in backyards. So how can you help this worthy project? Just staying at Ta Lai Longhouse helps. You’ll be able to create long-lasting memories with a work team — this group specialises in team-building

damp cave, I could hear fluttering as hundreds

In the small, traditional longhouse Ka

of horseshoe bats were agitated by our sudden

Huong’s grandmother sang us a traditional

presence. “It’s like watching a mouse fly at your

Ma welcoming song as Ka Huong’s mother

But whatever you do, don’t forget the mosquito

face!” one hiker exclaimed.

quietly weaved a vibrant and intricate design.


IamHCMC 220x100mm.indd 2


8/9/17 4:05 PM


#iAMHCMC September 2017 - Working  
#iAMHCMC September 2017 - Working