Recently I've had a lot of stuff going on. I've found myself thinking more and more about whether this thing will happen or whether that thing will work out. It's ratcheted up the stress and racheted down peace of mind in my life.
Then I read a great piece of advice -- "Think of each day in your life as an air-tight compartent, each separate from and independent from the other."
During each day, don't think about past days or future days. Just manage each one day by itself until the sun sets. If you do this well, your stress will come down and future days will take care of themselves.
It's a great formula for ratcheting down worry and racheting up peace of mind.
"Any coward can sit in his home and criticize a pilot for flying into a mountain in fog. But I would rather, by far, die on a mountainside than in bed. Why should we look for his errors when a brave man dies? Unless we can learn from his experience, there is no need to look for weakness. Rather, we should admire the courage and spirit in his life. What kind of man would live where there is no daring? And is life so dear that we should blame men for dying in adventure? Is there a better way to die?"
Earlier this year I read an interview with Robert McKee, screenwriting guru. It contained this incredible quote:
The great irony of existence is that what makes life worth living does not come from the rosy side. We would all rather be lotus-eaters, but life will not allow it. The energy to live comes from the dark side. It comes from everything that makes us suffer. As we struggle against these negative powers, we're forced to live more deeply, more fully.
The most meaningful experiences in my own life were intertwined with pain and struggle.
You can read the entire interview in a PDF here. Highly recommended and highly thought-provoking. Great advice for communicating with others, too.
I was surfing the internet and randomly came across this song. It's hauntingly sad but beautiful. The singer is Khánh Ly, popular in the 1960s and early 1970s in South Vietnam. She collaborated often with the songwriter Trịnh Công Sơn. Trịnh Công Sơn is famous for his melancholy songs of longing and heartache related to the war, and is one of the most renowned Vietnamese composers and songwriters.
The video begins with a Khánh Ly interview. I can catch about 70%. She says there were many songs about the war. She talks about the emotional connection people have with the songs, and how they bring back memories about those times and loved ones lost.
Here are the lyrics in Vietnamese:
Chiều đi lên đồi cao, hát trên những xác người Tôi đã thấy, tôi đã thấy, Trên con đường, người ta bồng bế nhau chạy trốn.
Chiều đi lên đồi cao, hát trên những xác người Tôi đã thấy, tôi đã thấy, Bên khu vườn, một người mẹ ôm xác đứa con
Mẹ vỗ tay reo mừng xác con Mẹ vỗ tay hoan hô hòa bình Người vỗ tay cho thêm nhịp nhàng Người vỗ tay cho đều gian nan
Chiều đi qua Bãi Dâu, hát trên những xác người Tôi đã thấy, tôi đã thấy, Trên con đường, người cha già ôm con lạnh giá
Chiều đi qua Bãi Dâu, hát trên những xác người Tôi đã thấy, tôi đã thấy, Những hố hầm đã chôn vùi thân xác anh em.
Mẹ vỗ tay reo mừng chiến tranh Chị vỗ tay hoan hô hòa bình Người vỗ tay cho thêm thù hận Người vỗ tay xa dần ăn năn.
And here is my translation:
This afternoon, climbing a hill, singing on top of corpses I have seen, I have seen On the road, people holding each other and running to hide
This afternoon, climbing a hill, singing on top of corpses I have seen, I have seen In a garden, a mother holding her child's lifeless body
A mother claps her hands and celebrates her child's corpse A mother claps and cheers for peace People clap their hands for more harmony People clap their hands for more miserable hardship
This afternoon, passing through Bai Dau, singing on top of corpses I have seen, I have seen On the road, an old father holding his child gone cold
This afternoon, passing through Bai Dau, singing on top of corpses I've seen, I have seen The graves dug and dear brothers and sisters buried
A mother claps her hands and celebrates war A sister claps and cheers for peace People clap their hands for more revenge People clap their hands less and less to repent
Translating from Vietnamese to English is tricky. Vietnamese has a pretty different grammatical structure from English. Not only are words strung together in ways that don't work in English, but sometimes the directly translated word has slightly, or very, different meanings depending on the word or context. For example, "vỗ tay" litterally means "to clap your hands." Here I think it is being used figuratively to mean cheering, encouraging, agitating for or even longing depending on the context of the verse.
I had a hard time with the verb "reo mừng." "Reo" means to shout or cheer. "Mừng" is a word that loosely translates to "wishing" as in "wishing you a happy birthday." My dictionary says "reo mừng" means "celebrate" or "shout with joy." A mother shouting with joy over her dead child only makes sense if the songwriter meant it ironically, which is my guess.
Although I did my best to translate, the song is more poetic and spare and haunting and beautiful in Vietnamese. For example, "People clap their hands less and less to repent" is a poor substitute for the Vietnamese "Người vỗ tay xa dần ăn năn." Translated word for word, it means "People clap fading to repent." Makes little sense in English, but in Vietnamese it works great.
This reminds me of a story from our Japanese-run server hosting facility. Our guy there told us that the first time a bunch of guys from VNPT, a Vietnam telco, visited their facility the guys marveled at the neat, Japanese-style bundles of cables coming out from the backs of the server racks. They just couldn't get over it. I guess they had never seen order like that before.
Before I moved to Vietnam I took a 5 day motorbike tour with Explore Indochina. It was awesome. Five days in the Northeast region of North Vietnam. Breathtaking scenery and remote locales. You can check out my pics here.
I was reminded of the trip by this video from Explore Indochina, below. While I didn't traverse raging rivers, I did have plenty of adventure. I want to do another tour, this time in the Northwest of Vietnam, including Sapa. Explore Indochina is a reputable outfit and I had an excellent experience.
Recently I spoke at the "Vietnam HR Day" event in Saigon. I had practiced my speech in English and planned to deliver in English with a translator.
After my standard introduction and opening joke in Vietnamese ("I'm learning to speak Vietnamese, but often Vietnamese people have no idea what I'm saying" spoken in Vietnamese, always gets a big laugh) I began speaking English. But then I started peppering my talk with Vietnamese phrases and a sentence here and there. Then I switched entirely to Vietnamese, relying on the translator only for a few words or phrases. I surprised myself and completed about 70% of the 15 minute speech in Vietnamese.
I thought this was pretty cool.
After the event, though, one of the major feedbacks was "It would have been better if you had spoken in English."
I asked if anyone had trouble understanding me. "No, they understood everything you said."
Once I thought about it, it made sense for two big reasons. The first: A lot of peole in the room had spent years learning English. When they see an American on stage they expect to hear English. And all those years of work paying off by understanding a native speaker at a professional event is a good feeling.
The second: People said that I was more passionate when I spoke English. I buy it. Speaking English requires zero effort, whereas speaking tonal Vietnamese requires a big chunk of my brain's attention to get it right (internal dialogue: "oh boy make sure you use dấu nặng and not dấu hỏi here").
So, I'm gonna stick to English in future presentations. I'm not going to stop working on my tiếng Việt though.
I bought some bananas from this woman, then asked to take her pic. She thought that was hilarious. It looks like someone took advantage of her distraction to pinch a piece of fruit -- see blurry hand, at left.
I snapped these pics in Tokyo's Narita airport in September. These hilarious illustrations were in a small travelers' health advisory office. There was a giant world map on the wall that was color coded for diseases like malaria (parts of Texas included) and dengue fever (Vietnam 100% included).
I don't read Japanese, but the main message I get from these posters is "Whoa! Scary stuff outside our island nation!" [Love that little red guy with the arrow and the expression on the victim's face.]
I read recently that a majority of young Japanese won't consider going outside the country because they consider it unsafe. Sounds kinda like a lot of Americans.
Two years ago I wrote this entry about Obama's then-imminent entry into Presidential office. Here's an excerpt:
Obama looks good, speaks well and clearly is intelligent. He talks about "change" a lot. He speaks beautifully about rising above partisan politics. But who is Obama, really? What change would he bring? How would he "rise above" the nastiness that characterizes politics in Washington? No one knows for sure.
To be honest, I'm a little apprehensive at the prospect of an Obama presidency. It seems to me that the *idea* of Obama is much more popular than the man himself.
In one word, the idea of Obama is "change." But change for what? It's like saying "anywhere but here." I, for one, am pretty interested in where, exactly, Obama plans to take us. But all I get is vagueness about change.
What I do know about Obama the man is that he voted with his party 95% of the time and that he has one of the most far-left voting records in the US Senate. When has he ever shown courage bucking his party? Never. And this is a man who will reach across party divisions and compromise? Seems unlikely.
Cloaked cleverly behind beautiful rhetoric is a man who is, in reality, far to the left of most Americans. He supports "spreading the wealth around" in the form of higher taxes and transfer payments. He's never actually run anything or created value in a business so I doubt he understands how business creates wealth in society, or how additional taxes and regulatory burdens harm the overall well-being of everybody.
At the risk of sounding immodest I nailed it. Obama *did* in fact turn out to be way more leftie than the masses realized, and he *did* show little appetite for compromising on any part of his tax, spend and regulate liberal agenda despite all his talk time on "bi-partisanship" before the election.
I saw all this a mile away. It puzzles me that anyone was surprised by it. It was plain as day.
You might also read this entry, from a Wall Street Journal editorial around that time.
Over the past few years Vietnam has suffered several bouts of rampant inflation. Some products have been harder hit than others, namely milk products and other consumables. Understandably, rapid price increases on consumer staples are quite unpopular.
The Vietnam authorities have decided to try to control prices by fiat. Recently, they issued something called "Circular 122." Not only is it unclear, but it contains different treatment for state-owned and private-sector companies. It also mandates disclosure to state authorities of confidential pricing information despite an unsettling history of similar disclosures finding their way into the press.
In short, it's a step backward for Vietnam's economic development.
Countless experiences in other markets have shown again and again that price controls have the opposite of the desired effect. They increase burdens and lower revenue on the companies providing valuable goods and services, which ultimately cause those companies to reduce their output or get out of the business entirely.
The best cure for rising prices is encouraging unfettered and free competition. My unsolicited advice for the authorities is to eliminate burdensome red tape and generally make it easier for companies to do business and create wealth for the benefit of Vietnamese society.
You can read a summary of Circular 122 here. Read the full text of the European Chamber of Commerce's open letter to the Ministry of Finance here. For a little background on price controls, click here.
There are a wealth of beautiful old colonial-era buildings in Saigon. Unfortunately, many are falling into a state of neglect and disrepair. Worse, some are being knocked down to make way for bland modernity.
Here's a pic of what looks like a magnificent old estate at the corner of Vo Van Tan (formerly Tran Qui Cap) and Ba Huyen Thanh Quan in District 3. It's surrounded by dreck skirting it like an apron -- tin roof eateries and various flotsam and jetsam. Whatever it is, it's an historic treasure.
I think one reason that you never hear about architectural masterpieces like this is because the period pre-1975 is a touchy issue. Few people like to talk about history. My sense is most would rather leave it alone -- no sense in inviting trouble. This collective amnesia sometimes reminds me of the "memory holes" in the novel "1984" by George Orwell.
The talk of the [expat] town lately has been the opening of the first American fast food hamburger joint in Saigon, Carl's Jr. While there are some fantastic burgers in town (American-owned Black Cat and Mogambo's spring to mind) there aren't fast food burger joints. Well, there's the Korean fast food hamburger chain Lotteria, but it just doesn't cut it. Sometimes you just have a hankering for a real fast food burger. Well my friends, that day has arrived.
After wandering around for what seemed an eternity in the bowels of Vincom Center, Saigon's newest and swankiest office tower-cum-high end shopping mall (shown at right), we finally stumbled across the entrance to the promised land in the food court.
The girl behind the register chirped "May I take your order?" with
impeccable English. After I ordered the "Western Bacon Burger" [sounds
good eh] she repeated the order back just to make sure she got it
right. Damn good training. The rest of the staff were well-scrubbed,
bright-eyed and bushy-tailed like the kid on the right.
Rather than wait at the counter for my order, I received a plastic number and a staff member delivered my delicious meal straight to the table. They also offered to refill my drink. To my friends in the USA, when was the last time you got service like that at a fast food joint?
On the way in I bumped into another friend of mine with his girlfriend in tow. "It's my second night in a row!" he crowed. Indeed.
Here's the meal:
Before the meal, my burger-loving colleague Carlton and I drooled in anticipation.
Amid all the excitement, I've heard a few Westerners lament the fact that restaurants like this are coming to Vietnam. A place like McDonalds opening its doors somehow marks the end of indigenous civilization [there's a rumor McD's is coming in the next few years]. "Aww," they say, "Vietnam is getting Westernized and losing all that makes it unique." This is baloney.
Vietnam will *never* lose what makes it different and special. Look no further than Japan. Has Japan lost its "Japan-ness" in the 65 years it's been open to the world post-WWII? No, it's gotten even weirder and more Japanese. Those who have been there know exactly what I mean.
Does the popularity of sushi or Mexican burritos, relatively recent imports into America, render America "less American?" I don't think so. There is little risk that sushi or burritos will crowd out stereotypical "American" staples like meatloaf, hamburger or fried chicken anytime soon. Similarly, there's little risk that Carl's Jr. or even McDonald's will cause Vietnamese people to stop eating pho.
I suspect some Westerners like being able to tell their friends they live in or visited a country without McDonald's in the same way that some people like to talk about the fact they don't own a TV. I don't hear any Vietnamese complaining -- the place was packed with Vietnamese when I went.
So to the anti-Carl's Jr. crowd I say "Relax. You know you want one!"
Vietnam's consumer culture is developing rapidly. I see a promotional events all the time.
Here's a pic from a Samsung 3D TV promotional display. There were characters from the animated 3D film "Monsters vs. Aliens" and the ubiquitous young promotional girls.
I had to get a pic with these guys, they looked so great!
Here's a promo setup for Sony Vaio laptops outside a big electronics store near my house. I snapped the pic on the way to work. I like the girls' outfits -- kinda like sexy space stewardesses. The smarmy expression on this girl's face is excellent. I'm pretty sure she saw me take the pic and struck an appropriate pose. A budding model for sure.
I stumbled across this pic. It shows a North Korean mother and her child attempting to enter the safe haven of a foreign embassy in Beijing. The look of pain and confusion on the child's face breaks my heart.
Contrary to its obligations under the UN Refugee Convention, China does not recognize the political status of North Korean refugees. China treats them as economic migrants and deports them back to North Korea where they face severe punishment, sometimes including death. The fate of the mother and child in this photograph are unknown.
One of the things I love about living in Saigon is the incredible mix of history sprinkled throughout the city. There are beautiful old examples of French colonial architecture, historic pagodas and even a mosque. Each tells a story of the different cultures that have influenced Vietnam. So far as I can tell, one of America's lasting contributions has been ... fire hydrants.
I've noticed old American fire hydrants throughout the city. Here's one manufactured by the M&H Valve Fitting Company of Anniston, Alabama. It's located on the corner of Đồng Khởi (formerly Tự Do) and Lê Lợi streets in District 1.
Another shot from the top.
And lastly, an establishing shot showing the historic "Nhà Hát Lớn" (literally, "house sing big"), aka the Opera House.
I snapped these pics at a rest area on the way to Mui Ne in January.
A silhouette of a gangster-type guy in a fedora seems to be the universal symbol for "man"
on restrooms in Vietnam. Sometimes he's puffing a smoke in a manly way, sometimes not. It always gives me a chuckle.
The symbol for
"woman" has a little more variation. Here she's wearing a floppy hat. It's little things like this that keep life perpetually interesting in Vietnam.
Occasionally I see old American Jeeps around town. As far as I can tell, they're driven by cops or soldiers. They've been restored immaculately, with new paint jobs and new stenciling. Here's one I snapped parked on Suong Nguyet Anh one Friday afternoon.
Note the yellow stenciling on the front bumper that reads "America" and "USMC." Also note the word "Army" on the passenger side. I don't know if this vehicle originally was owned by the US Marine Corps, but I'm pretty sure USMC vehicles didn't have the words "America" or "Army" on them.
Several museums in Saigon showcase captured American-made equipment such as helicopters, planes and tanks. All have US military markings instead of the former Republic of Vietnam markings. I find this odd, because by the time Saigon fell was liberated in April 1975, the American military presence had been reduced to a relatively small number of advisers and security personnel. Most equipment left behind was transferred to Southern forces and repainted by their new owners. I would expect a lot of the equipment on display to have the old Southern military markings.
So what explains the preponderance of not-quite-accurate US military markings on the captured equipment? My guess for the first reason is pride. The Vietnamese government derives no small measure of its legitimacy from the fact that it beat back the American imperialists and their puppets to liberate the South Vietnamese people, thereby ushering in an unprecedented era of freedom and prosperity under a one-party system of government. Displaying instruments of war ostensibly captured directly from the American military makes a more powerful trophy than anything captured from the South military.
My guess for the second reason is the authorities are loathe to display any yellow and red symbols of the former Republic of Vietnam. Public display of such symbols may stir memories and cause trouble.
So it makes pretty good sense to me that they would repaint all captured equipment with US markings. If I were them I'd do the same thing.
Technology is supposed to make your life simpler and easier, not more stressful and hectic. It's supposed to serve you. But if you're not careful you can wind up becoming a slave to your technology.
Case in point is your mobile phone. Does it serve you, or do you serve it? Do you sit at its beck and call, ready to interrupt whatever you're doing and jump when it tweets seductively with an arriving call or text message? If so, you might be a slave.
Lately I've taken to turning off my mobile phone for hours at a time. Sometimes when I go out I leave it at home. It's liberating. If I don't know when I receive a call or text, I don't have a nagging feeling that I have to respond immediately. I'm never out of touch for more than a few hours so it's no big deal.
I was out running errands this weekend and stumbled upon the base of construction for Bitexco Tower, a new 68 story skyscraper in Saigon. I read an article about it recently. The developer's objective is to create a signature address and signature building for the Saigon skyline. The unusual curved construction means that there is 30% less usable floor space than comparable-sized buildings. All the glass is being imported from Europe and shaped in China. Other major components are being manufactured in Korea.
Bitexco Tower's unique shape is supposed to represent a petal from the lotus flower. There will be a helicopter landing pad jutting out from the upper floors, which I don't understand. Not only will the ugly helicopter pad mar the building's otherwise graceful lines, but I've never even seen a helicopter in Vietnam. Ever. Not even on the ground at the airport. And I've lived here nearly four years.
Also, having helicopters and their spinning blades land a few meters away from the vertical face of a skyscraper seems like an invitation to disaster. Go figure.
I love to learn and improve my management and leadership ability. Tonight I was looking for some new business cases to use in the VietnamWorks MBA class and stumbled across a very pithy and valuable article on the Harvard Business Review blog. In my experience, this advice is right on. Always good to be reminded of the basics. Enjoy.
Eight Things Your Employees Want From You
11:53 AM Thursday March 4, 2010 by Melissa Raffoni
I often have to remind the dedicated,
smart CEOs I work with that leading takes time and energy. Directing
the feelings, attitudes, actions, and behaviors of a team is a big
task. Often, I also hear the secrets of these CEOs' employees, about
what truly aggravates them and what they love about their bosses. To
keep top executives on track, I've created this list of what employees
want their leaders to do.
1. Tell me my role, tell me what to do, and give me the rules. Micromanaging? No, it's called clear direction. Give them parameters so they can work within broad outlines.
2. Discipline my coworker who is out of line. Time
and time again, I hear, "I wish my boss would tell Nancy that this is
just unacceptable." Hold people accountable in a way that is fair but
makes everyone cognizant of what is and isn't acceptable.
3. Get me excited. About the company, about the product, about the job, about a project. Just get them excited.
4. Don't forget to praise me. Motivate employees by leveraging their strengths, not harping on their weaknesses.
5. Don't scare me. They really don't need to know
about everything that worries you. They respect that you trust them,
but you are the boss. And don't lose your temper at meetings because
they didn't meet your expectations. It's often not productive. Fairness
and consistency are important mainstays.
6. Impress me. Strong leaders impress their staffs
in a variety of ways. Yes, some are great examples of management, but
others are bold and courageous, and still others are creative and
smart. Strong leaders bring strength to an organization by providing a
characteristic that others don't have and the company sorely needs.
7. Give me some autonomy. Give them something interesting to work on. Trust them with opportunity.
8. Set me up to win. Nobody wants to fail.
Indecisive leaders who keep people in the wrong roles, set unrealistic
goals, keep unproductive team members, or change direction unfairly
just frustrate everybody and make people feel defeated.
Your job is to make it practical for people to succeed. When you do this, everybody wins.
over a decade, Melissa Raffoni has worked directly with more than 100
CEOs as president of Raffoni CEO Consulting. She has served on the
faculty at MIT's Sloan School and Harvard's Kennedy School. Melissa
holds an MS in Corporate Strategy and Managerial Communication from the
MIT Sloan School and a BA in Economics from Colby College.
Westerners and Vietnamese ask me all the time "How do you work with and manage Vietnamese here? Vietnamese are so different from Americans!" Then they look at me expectantly, thinking I'll spin some anecdote about how inscrutable and mysterious Vietnamese people are.
This question always reminds me of Shylock's impassioned speech in Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice." [I've taken a few liberties to suit the context.]
"Hath not an American eyes? Hath not an American hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, heal'd by the same means, warm'd and cool'd by the same winter and summer as a Vietnamese is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?"
My point here is that I've found that Americans and Vietnamese are 95% the same in our humanity and only 5% different in our culture. We only think that we're oil and water because we focus on the small differences and ignore the overwhelming similarities.
In all the important ways we're 100% the same. We both like to feel like an important part of a team. We both like to feel appreciated. We're both satisfied by meaningful achievement after hard work and sacrifice. We both like to feel like we're constantly learning and moving forward in our careers. These are human qualities. They are not the sole province of any nationality. I can relate to people here because they are human just like I am. We both bleed when pricked.
Of course, there are some cultural differences and it's important to be sensitive and pay attention to them. An example is learning to interpret the indirect communication style of Vietnamese. But now I'm familiar with it and I can read the tea leaves just fine. [I've even learned a bit about the subtle art of how things left unsaid speak volumes.] But the cultural elements are peripheral to the central humanity that I share with my colleagues. It's easy to relate to them.
So my answer is always "No, I find that people here are exactly like they are in America."
I'm sitting in the Hong Kong airport on my way back to Saigon. Just took a shower after a combined 17 hours of flying, not counting the layover time in Chicago. I feel like a new man! Only 2.5 more flying hours to go.
Last week I visited my mom and sister in Vermont and my dad in Naples, Florida. Each time I go back, I'm always struck by things that have become more noticeable after living abroad for a while. One was that now there are flat panel TV screens everywhere. Another is the how young people are completely digitized now. I landed in Boston instead of Burlington on my way in due to a late flight from Hong Kong. So I stayed with my uncle in Boston on Friday night and took a bus to Burlington on Saturday. The bus was filled with college students and 20-somethings, all texting or iphone-ing the whole 5 hour trip. I think of myself as pretty digital, but sometimes wonder if I'm losing touch with tech trends as I near 40. For example, I feel a little stronger about privacy than they do. Things change.
Another big takeaway was how wealthy America is and how wasteful our culture is. I especially got this impression in Naples. Nearly everyone drives big, spotless, late-model cars. The stores are huge and packed full of every good imaginable at super low prices. I visited a Super Target in Florida and was blown away even though I had visited these stores before when I lived in the US. I wanted a battery-powered electric toothbrush and the models were all new, with two vibrating doohickies to clean your teeth better instead of the one I remember. It made me think about capitalism and consumerism, always pushing ahead with the next new thing to render your old -- but good enough -- thing obsolete so you'll buy the new one. I stopped by McDonald's (always a favorite) and was a little surprised by how much waste my meal generated.
Don't get me wrong -- I'm an unabashed and unreconstructed capitalist. It's the best system so far for creating wealth and lifting people out of poverty. It's just that, at times, it seems excessive. Oops, I gotta get on my flight soon. Will have to gather my thoughts and revisit this topic again.
“You know, it’s too bad.Abrams is very good.He deserves
a better war.”
Robert Shaplen New Yorker
correspondent Saigon 1969
Lewis Sorley’s “A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and
Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam” is a thought-provoking book
that casts doubt on whether the outcome of the Vietnam War (known here in
Vietnam as the “American War”) was as inevitable as the conventionally-accepted
view suggests.I discovered it by
reading a review in the “Wall Street Journal” that described how the book has
influenced the thinking among military and political strategists for America’s current effort in Iraq.
The book primarily covers the reign of General Creighton W.
Abrams’ years as commander of US forces in the allied effort from 1968 to 1972.Abrams took over from the previous commander,
William C. Westmoreland, in mid-1968.Westmoreland had been in command since January 1964, presiding over a
massive American escalation to pursue his disastrous strategy of “search and
Abrams saw the war differently.“The tactics changed within 15 minutes of
Abrams’ taking command,” said his deputy, General Fred Weyand.
Abrams believed that a high body count would not lead to a
victory.Instead, he emphasized the
political nature of the conflict.He saw
that military victory in battles was pointless unless territory could be held
by a stable government where the people felt safe.Among other things, he de-emphasized large
unit actions combing through the jungle to find nothing and re-emphasized small
unit actions to protect the population and disrupt enemy logistics and
infrastructure.He also gave a great
deal of attention to increasing the strength and effectiveness of provincial
By 1972, Sorley argues convincingly that allied forces had gained a large measure of
success under Abrams' leadership.The insurgent “shadow government”
that had held sway over much of the countryside largely had been destroyed or
rendered ineffective.Life returned to
normal in many places, with record agricultural harvests and economic activity.Regular enemy forces had been dealt a series
of setbacks and were on their heels.The
Northern Easter Offensive of 1972 was defeated decisively by South Vietnamese
ground forces supported by US
Things fell apart after that.Despite the Nixon Administration’s repeated
assurances that the US
would stand by its ally in case of violation of the 1973 Paris Peace Accords, a
war-weary US Congress limited the President’s freedom
of action to respond to nearly immediate violations through operational restrictions and cutting off funding.In rapid succession, the US pulled all political,
logistical, financial and air power support for the Southern government.Sorley argues that US
withdrawal of support was the key factor in the outcome of the conflict, and that with more time or support things may have ended differently. Although that certainly was a key factor, I'm not entirely convinced. Large swathes of the Southern military were poorly led, a result of political meddling by a Southern government fearful of a coup.
Politics aside, “A Better War” contains some powerful leadership
lessons.Among my favorites:
The Top Leader is Key.“A Better War” shows yet again the
importance of the top leader.Everything flows from him.He sets the direction and tone.He decides on strategic direction and what is important.Only he and he alone can steer the ship
in a new direction.Abrams had a
different philosophy on how to manage the conflict and changed the
direction of the ship immediately.And he got results.I love
the quote “The tactics changed within 15 minutes of Abrams’ taking
command.”That says it all.
Other Leaders are Key Too.While the top leader sets direction,
it’s the leaders on the ground that make things happen.A poor leader renders everyone below him
or her ineffective no matter how good top leadership is.The Southern army suffered greatly from
incompetent leadership at the middle and high levels.
Simple Strategy Guides Action.The most powerful ideas are the simplest
ones.Abrams boiled his strategy
down to a few simple ideas – “Protect the population” and “an ounce of
prevention is worth a pound of cure” [referring to cutting the “logistics
nose” of the enemy].These simple
ideas provided clarity and guided action.
Repeat Repeat Repeat. Leaders set the direction, but one word
or one meeting is rarely enough to get others sharing your vision and moving
with you. Abrams never missed an
opportunity to repeat his message.
insisted that his staff deliver all news in a straight manner – the complete
truth and no sugar-coating or downplaying of bad news.This allowed him a clear-eyed view of the
situation, vital to making proper decisions.
I'd like to learn more about the leadership and viewpoints of the Northern side of the conflict.
It's a tradition for a different group at our company to to a "Team Show" at our monthly All Hands meeting. This month Hang and I performed. Hang and I are the only ones on the VietnamWorks Management Team. All the rest of the people on my team have their own groups and their own teams to help them in their missions. Hang, our Senior Business Analyst, is the only person whose sole responsibility is to help me with management and analysis. She's awesome. Together we're a team of two. So for our show we decided to perform the Jitterbug Stroll, a super fun dance routine that I learned in Saigon Swing . Enjoy.
A few weeks ago I traveled to Hanoi to join our Hanoi company party and chaperone the North sales team on their reward trip for kicking arse in 2009. This pic was taken in a small village in the mountains about 5 hours from Hanoi at the minority tribe guest house where we stayed.
The team joked that I was the "Đại gia" [pronounced "day za"] and they were the "Chân dài" [pronounced "chun zai"]. "Đại gia" translates loosely to the American slang "sugar daddy" while "Chân dài" literally means "long legs" or, more generally, pretty girls hanging around the Đại gia. Needless to say I've gotten a lot of mileage out of this word because it's a joke that never gets old. I think it's especially funny to hear a foreigner say "Đại gia" in my funny accent.
I had a ball during the weekend. On display were many of the Vietnamese characteristics I admire and enjoy -- the closeness in a group, the joking and fun, the zeal and enthusiasm with which they engage in fun activities. We climbed a few hundred meters up the side of a mountain to visit a
big cave. One girl insisted on doing it in her 7cm purple pumps. I
asked why. She replied with a smile "Because I like them! And it's a
challenge!" At one point they taught me a card game that's kinda like the American drinking game "President" but with some rule variations. They ran rings around me. The loser had to have a charcoal mark put on their face and they had a blast with me.
One of those cultural differences you never expect emerged during the weekend too. The first time our bus stopped for a toilet break, about 1/3 of the team got off the bus and promptly hurled their breakfasts on the pavement. It turns out that car sickness is very common, especially in Hanoi. Makes sense -- they didn't grow up riding in cars or buses.
All in all, a great weekend. I love spending time with the North team. Their "mau lua" -- fire in the blood -- energizes and inspires me.
You can see the photos from the trip above. The first half is our company party, the second half from the weekend trip [look closely for the purple pumps.] The costumes you see are worn by our directors for our show. We played characters from a Chinese TV serial that's very famous in Vietnam, "Journey to the West." The team loved it! I was the evil general and was vanquished by the good Monkey. Each team put on a show, including a "Sexy Show" [yes Virginia, there's no such thing as political correctness in Vietnam]. Good times, good times....
Another Christmas in Vietnam. According to annual tradition, last week I hosted the 4th annual screening of "It's a Wonderful Life" at VietnamWorks. ["A toast! To my big brother George -- the richest man in town!" chokes me up every time.]
This year I decided to spend Christmas with the North team in Hanoi. Special thanks to Bryan Pelz for a special Christmas Eve dinner at his house on Nha Tho street, ground zero of Christmas Hanoi. He had great company and Bing crooning Christmas faves. Felt all Christmas-y!
Like Saigon, Christmas in Hanoi is a big party. The big day is Christmas eve. Kinda feels like New Years in the USA. People flock to areas with public Christmas decorations to pose and snap pictures with their kids dressed in little Santa suits. Oh, and they cruise like massive schools of fish coursing down the streets. I took a bunch of pics of my own. Enjoy!
As long time readers of this blog know, the Vietnamese are crazy about Christmas. Every year it gets bigger.
Last night I visited what I can describe only as a "Christmas Depot"
next to a church not far from my house in District 3. I needed to pick
up some supplies to decorate my office area. There were Christmas
supplies galore -- snowmen, snowflakes, santa outfits, lights,
Christmas trees (fake), everything. You nameit they had it. I snapped some pics on my swanky new phone.
There were several shops set up, each with different proprietors. An efficient market at work. I bought some snowmen from these cheerful women. Definitely into the Christmas spirit!
The "Santa Suit Shoppe," Saigon outlet.
A nativity scene done in signature Technicolor Vietnam style.
Christmas tree section showed impressive variety.
For more Christmas goodness, check out my Christmas post from last year here.
On weekends there are always groups of boyscouts, teenagers and 20-somethings getting together to play games and have fun in Tao Dan park near my house. I happened upon these lively young people a few weeks ago. Each of them had a balloon tied to one ankle. The objective was to stomp other people's balloons while protecting your own. Hilarity and pandemonium ensued at the whistle. I stopped to watch for a moment and snap a pic.
Today we launched the online component of our current "Success" campaign. The site encourages our users to send us photos of them showing the emotions of landing a new job. We'll choose one finalist to become the new face on the VietnamWorks home page. Check it out! [in Vietnamese only].
The captions in the pictures say things like "Hey mom, I'm about to start a new job!" and "I got a new job, yeahh!" The idea is to capture the emotion and excitement of finding a new job. It's a great campaign!
I snapped this photo at the corner of Nguyen Du and Truong Dinh in district 1. It's a great example of the juxtaposition of "old Saigon" and "new Saigon." Slowly but surely, decaying buildings and infrastructure are giving way to shiny new buildings and bridges. It's changing the character of the city. Of course, some will lament that something is lost, and they're right. But something is gained too. Change is unstoppable, and brings the good with the bad.
It's a real shame, though, when historic old buildings are demolished to make way for plain-vanilla office towers (see Beijing). The Society for Historic Preservation is a bit, ahem, underfunded in Saigon.
There are tons of similar-sized office buildings going up all over districts 1 and 3. Judging from all the "for rent" signs, I imagine each new building contributes to the surplus of space on the market. No doubt all this space will be absorbed over the next 2-3 years though. I can feel things starting to pick up again, slowly but surely.
I think the building on the left is a residential building. Looks like it's at least 50 years old. What's your professional opinion, chu Mel?
POST UPDATE: Thanks to readers Tyler and Mel, the old building has been identified as the Meyerkord BOQ from back in the day. I found this roughly 40 year old pic on the internet. Looks like time has been unkind to the Meyerkord.
Last night I went with some friends to La Habana, a cool Cuban-themed bar in District 1. On weekends there's a live band playing rock 'n roll favorites. Suddenly, the main singer's gravelly bass was replaced by a woman's smoky voice singing "You Give me Fever." "Whoa, who's that?" I wondered. I looked over and it was Phuong Vy, of the girls in our group (pictured at right).
I was riveted utterly by Phuong Vy's performance. Not only did her voice vibrate with clarity and richness, but it was alive with trembling emotion. Her pitch was perfect. Her facial expressions and gestures radiated pure passion and joy like a brilliant searchlight piercing the darkness. Rarely have I witnessed a live demonstration of such pure talent. Later I found out she won the first season of "Vietnam Idol." Wow.
Seeing Phuong Vy doing what she loves and doing it so beautifully lifted my heart. It inspired me to be the best I can be at what I do. Some of the truest joy comes from expression of great passion and excellence.
Back in February I posted a review of the romantic comedy "Passport to Love." Much to my surprise, I recently discovered that the film's promoters have listed my lil' ole review on their official site. Check it out, below. Roger Ebert, move over!!
"Passport to Love" will start playing on October 9 on a limited basis in Orange County, San Jose, Dallas, Houston and Atlanta [thanks commenters BuuNghi and Debra].