Thursday, July 14, 2016
I've gotten feedback from friends and strangers back in the US. "What you've done is admirable", a lot of them say. "Packing up and moving halfway across the world! You're an inspiration".
Truth is, i'm not. I'm not exactly a success story here. Unless you go right into teaching English - of which there are well-paying jobs aplenty and which I don't want to do - expat jobs are a bit difficult to find. And once you get one, you're not guaranteed that it will last.
My first job here, the owner of the company broke my contract twice with no explanation. My last few weeks I was battling with HR over my apparent lack of email etiquette. I've been using email for business for over 20 years, sat through business writing seminars, and yet get schooled here because I wrote, "Thanks, Caroline" at the end of an email instead of "Best" or "BR" (for Best Regards). Seriously, half a day wasted every day going back and forth with HR on such nitpicky things. I was so relieved to stop working there.
I jumped into my second job quite blindly, with no thought, because I was bored at home and wanted something to do. Well, we all know how fantastically that job turned out. Since then i've met a multitude of people who've exclaimed, "Why didn't you tell me you were going to work there? I would have told you not to do it!". The delusional owner is not a bad guy, but has no idea how to run a restaurant, especially one in this country. It's surprising because he's a businessman, worked in Hong Kong for 16 years; yet when I talked to him about costs and P & L he would give me a strange look. One time after a lunch rush he exclaimed, "We made 7 million VND at lunch today!", to which I replied, "Yeah, but what were the costs involved? 7 million is not take home". He looked at me like like a little kid whose favorite toy was taken away. Cold wet washcloth of reality, that's me. His wife (The Money, his backer) confided in Larry that she doesn't sleep at night from worrying. I do feel sorry for her. I liked her very much.
Whether it's fair or not, expats get paid much, much more than their Vietnamese colleagues. We also work less hours. My current contract states I am to work 8 hours a day, 6 days a week. But my Vietnamese kitchen staff rarely, if ever, take a day off. I know this because when I first started I worked 20 days straight before I flipped out and took a day off; during that whole time, the only other person who took a day was the other chef. The staff come in every single day. I may be wrong on this but I believe they're bullied into not taking time off ( I know I was those first 20 days). I don't believe the owner of the company, an absolutely lovely woman who I really like, knows what's going on since she's passed the reigns of all the operations to the GM. My gut instinct tells me not to get involved.
Do I need to work? Not really. I'm fortunate that i've got a little money saved up. The cost of living here is ridiculously cheap, for an expat with expat money that is. But I like to work (and i've never understood people who don't; don't you get bored with nothing to do? Don't trophy wives bore themselves silly doing nothing except lunching and getting their nails done? I don't understand them). I wouldn't have met all the people I am now friends with had I not been working. I wouldn't have met my current boss had I not put on a pop-up restaurant over Christmas and she hadn't come to eat. Plus I get to meet really wonderful people and see a side of Vietnam I wouldn't have known otherwise.
I've mentioned that learning English is really important here, especially for kids vying to get into hospitality and tourism jobs. One of the kids I work with (the one to whom I showed the 50 Best Restaurants in Asia list) can't afford English lessons, so he teaches himself. He's got sticky notes all over the place and mutters English phrases under his breath. His English isn't good, but he's really trying. He's always asking me about correct American pronunciation. I glanced over at his notes one day; they're mostly vocabulary words and phonetic spellings of them. "Sourness", "Bitterness", "Sweet", and, interestingly, "Insipid", a word that even American adults rarely use, probably because they don't know what it means. When he uses a new vocabulary word on me, I congratulate him. His 100-watt smile is worth all the money in the world.