Vietnam and Some Regular Going-ons

Hello Again Everyone,

    Since I actually remembered to update once a week this time, there isn’t too much for me to report. Last week I mainly focused on continuing industry reports. I have about 5 more to finish before I leave and the last couple seem to be a bit difficult since the sectors are not as legally structured as those I have finished working on. Unstructured sectors can mean one of 2 things either a) they simply have not provided enough international revenue and interest or b) the government does not wish to pass regulations because it is simply easier to do without. In any case, finding information and laws on traditional Khmer sectors such as agriculture is quite difficult.

This past weekend I went to Vietnam with a few friends and it was definitely an experience I want to repeat. One of the funniest parts of the trip consisted of us having t walk across the border from Cambodia to Vietnam. Although we drove to the border on a bus that was not even completely full. After we crossed the border, somehow our seats had been filled and every foreigner (read non-Cambodian or non-Vietnamese) was left standing on the border near the customs office. We then had to walk a while to find another bus (which the operator from our original company paid for). Although at first I was quite upset by the situation, after about 5 minutes all any of us could do was laugh. For one thing, I know I will never be amazed at anyone’s border hopping stories from South East Asia, apparently the occurrences are all too common.  During the weekend w got to tour Ho Chi Minh and went to the Cu Chi Tunnels, which were used by the Viet Kong during the Vietnam War. We also went to the war memorial museum, and to say it is upsetting is an understatement. Although we all know that the Vietnam war was host to many atrocities  and terrible crimes, it is quie another thing to see it through the eyes of those on the other side.

 After the museum we were quite ready for some cheering up and some good food so we went off to try and find an Anthony Bourdain restaurant. Anothony, unfortunately, was not very clear with his directions so we ended up in a part of Ho Chi Minh not even included on the tourist maps. Needless to say, we did not find the restaurant. However, while stuck in the completely non-tourist section we stumbled onto a restaurant that seemed pretty popular with the locals. The whole wait staff spoke about 5 words of English collectively but, through the help of a cell phone word translator we managed to order some food from the all Vietnamese menu. At the end we had some frog, beef, chicken and pork and all of it was absolutely DELICIOUS!

After the great meal we decided to walk back to our hotel and enjoy the cites of the city. Ho Chi Minh is rather easy to navigate and we enjoyed cite seeing for about two hours. We even got to pas through Notre Dame, a French built cathedral in the center of the city. While taking some pictures, a few parishioners sitting before a large statue of the Virgin Mary began singing a Vietnamese hymn. It was surreal to hear what was clearly a church song in an Asian language, but the combination of traditional Asian voice undulation and tone with a more traditional catholic melody was riveting. We stayed and listened for a while and they seemed to appreciate the company in prayer. While in Vietnam I also had my first experience with a  pickpocket.

Although she didn’t end up getting anything, a young girl, about 15 years old, proceeded to grope my friends and I in about 1 minute to check for wallets in the back pocket. We didn’t realize at first but after getting back to the hotel room and discussing the butt grabbing we experienced, we realized we had almost been pick pocketed. Makes for a fun story since it did not actually occur! I also found that Vietnamese vendors are even harder to bargain with than Khmer vendors. While Khmer vendors generally begin with an asking price about double what a thing is actually worth, the Vietnamese vendors raise the stakes and try to charge 3 to 4 times the amount. I quickly realized this as I browsed for a traditional Vietnamese outfit for my sister (a twelve year old) and the woman selling them told me that 30 dollars was a very cheap price because it was 100% Vietnamese silk  After ten minutes I left with the outfit in hand. What did I pay you may wonder? The kingly sum of US$10. This is just one example of why I think I am going to have a pretty hard time getting reacquainted with US prices. I can already see myself going into Starbucks and trying to bargain a barista down to 3000 riel (75 cents) for my venti chai latte.

    That was about it for Vietnam. I also remembered some things I failed to mention on last week’s post but since this is getting a bit lengthy and I am getting quite tired (its almost midnight!) I will just list them.

1)    We got to sit in on two interviews with potential clients. One was supposedly about an adoption matter and Andrea and I were pretty excited because our lead counsel on adoption was gone and we were both quit knowledgeable in the field because we had been helping handle two separate cases and completing research in the field. Our boss and the Khmer counsel gave us free reign during the meeting since the client seemed to be very concerned with getting a national adoption accepted in another country (something we had direct knowledge about). Although this was initially exciting, we all shortly realized that the woman was using a free consultation as a means of acquiring free information. By google and later follow ups we discovered that the woman was a researcher at UC Berkeley and was completing research about international adoption in Cambodia and the rest of South East Asia. She had the audacity to email everyone (including me) asking for more information and the research report Andrea and I had been working on. Needless to say, our boss quickly and politely told her she can receive more information once she starts paying hourly fees.
2)    We also sat in on a client interview with an English attorney who was trying to refer a client of his. He was “wiling” to bring his client over to the firm if we paid a 15% “referral fee.” Given that he was not capable of doing any of the work and would only communicate with the client our firm refused. As our managing director concisely put it : if he wants to put in hours and work with our team, he can get paid. He doesn’t get paid for sitting around and looking up names of local law firms. I am not sure yet how the situation worked out, but I think the man may end up needing to jump off of his high horse.
3)    FINALLY…Andrea and I also made it onto the PUC National Radio talk show with Soma Norodom, the cousin of the sitting Norodom king and niece to the old one. Being on the show was pretty cool and mostly we gave advise about resumes, job applications, cover letters and working internationally/ finding international opportunities. I have the interview on my USB but I’m too nervous to actually listen to what we said! We even got call in questions for the show!

Alrihght---well that’s it. Until next time everyone!