The Merchant of Saigon

Saigon, also known now as Ho-Chi-Minh-City. The name was engrafted to this vibrant economic capital after Ho Chi Minh, Vietnams charismatic leader. Nevertheless, Saigon is still Saigon – there is not much to see of communistic propaganda nor a strong apparatus in the streets. Rarely a truck passes by to get people into a small town hall for “political educaction”. You could draw the conclusion this is just as a free city as Bangkok or HongKong (once was….) , but don’t be too sure about that. Politics aside, the city and its surrounding have achieved a tremendous economic take over to the rest of the 3rd world. Comparing this to Costa Rica or other middle american states, it took Vietnam only 10 years to start from nothing to have a infrastructure that surpasses latin american countries by far. Not a miracle has happened, they simply have sold themselves to the corporate world. We are talking about a country that was after decades of Indochine Wars among the poorest countries of the world. It’s all not rosy here now, for sure and the scooter madness in town creates a lousy climate, pollution is a serious issue and the overall hustle is not good for your health either. Not to mention that the country still is in trouble with the leftovers of Agent Orange, Grenades and Mines all over the place. But that is something you see little of in Saigon, a city that is obsessed of the success of the chinese economy and they don’t want to let them run away and increase the distance for sure. In this city there is little to see of the poverty of coffee planters and sweatshop madness. But somewhere the stuff must be made and these people cannot all work at HSCBC or CocaCola. A SouthAfrican guy I met drunk in a club called “Camargue” working for Maersk (when he is not as pissed as he was that night), the biggest container shipping corporation of the planet, told me, that they have 150 containers a day being shipped from Vietnam for Nike alone and an insane figure of 71m pairs of shoes a day (!). 1/3 or all shoes being bought in Europe and the US is made in Vietnam. The way of development is dissimilar in the city. You may see at toolmaker, who is working on the floor of his 20 sqm concrete shop without windows, brazing metal with bare foot and the once green walls covered by filthy oil and dust. Next door the new “It-Bag”-Dealer installs shiny chrome displays to sell Prada and Gucci Bags at 800$ a piece, mingling them in “Less is More” style one a piece on frosted glass in a decent white luxury interior, contrasting perfectly to dark ebony woods from Brazil, whos semi-gloss shine demonstrate taste and aesthetic fine grinding.
Business itself has some rules here in the toolbox of success that were new to me as well. If you manage a retail shop, you will have at least 5 times more staff in your shop working than in Europe. While most of them will be busy serving you in the inner centre of the shop or say restaurant, the most beautiful girl or guy has a very easy job of welcoming the customer and opening the door – that’s what he or she is doing 10 hours a day. Fucking hell, it works so much better than putting a security gorilla in the entrance of a Jill Sander boutique as I see it in Hamburg or Berlin. And service, hah, service is translated to the needs of the people. Every Restaurant that will be proud enouhg to attract Foreigners to their menu has valet parking – but not for cars – for Scooters & Motorbikes! 2000 Dong for parking a scooter and getting it watched after is more than a fair deal, even for the Vietnamese (0,08 Euro). Serviceability includes the sunday church services – in front of the church there is a scooter “driver-in” and dealers will not hesitate to offer toys for the kids or candyfloss during service. The vietnamese are young and sometimes a little childish, but so you wonder whether they crowd at playgrounds just for their kids sake – again, with their motorbikes parked in circles around the area.
So are the Vietnamese good businessman? That is hard to say, but the average guy has not a clue how to negotiate and how to attract customers. Usually, the product offering is the first thing where they all fail. In Saigon, you will find one article per street often. That means, you look for a Scooter? Then go to the Scooter street, where you will find 20 dealers next to each other. Need a helmet? Don’t ask the Scooter Street guys, go to the Helmet Street instead four blocks away. Looking for candy in a kiosk? Take nuts instead! Oh, great, the same nuts as everywhere else in nut street.
Some other downside is the approach taken by the staff. They will say hello and not speak a single word until you grab a first product. As soon as you have one in your hands, they all assume that you want to buy that stuff and totally focus on it. If you cannot say “NO” loudly enough, well forget it. So better watch closely first before you touch anyhting – otherwise you can be in a discussion that you cannot win.
Last but not least I have a loss to be put in my balance sheet of this week: During the Crumpler Photo Shoot for the new catalogue my Ixus was stolen and Johnny Thai at the Black Market is still waiting for the camera to come to sell it back to me for at least 100 bucks. So no fotos of me naked in the studio, with a gimp mask and a violine bow in my ass. For this blog only memories of the bad times this country had to experience – Napalm is history now. Thank God!

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