Thursday, November 10, 2005

Innovation and Ho Chi Minh City

Business Times p.B3
Thursday, November 10, 2005

By Moje Ramos-Aquino, FPM
Innovation and Ho Chi Minh City

I WAS in Ho Chi Mihn City (Saigon), Vietnam, in the early nineties as part of the Philippine Airlines team who trained the employees of Vietnam Airlines. I recall that back then:

• The streets teem with motorcycles, scooters and bicycles especially during rush hours. On the outskirts, there were also buffalo-drawn carriages.

• Tourists could take the cyclo, a human-powered three-wheeled carriage.

• You can stand by the roadside and count less than five cars/trucks/vans passing by the whole day.

• The average (not minimum) wages a month was US$20. The lowest monthly rent for a small apartment is US$0.50.

• Women of all ages wore ao-dai (national costume) for daily use or special occasions.

• Vietnam’s rice harvest was so poor, the whole country almost went into famine.

• There were very few hotels and very few foreign visitors.

• It was a shopping haven. For less than US$500 you can bring home suitcases and boxes of goodies—18 and 24 karat gold jewelry, crystals from Czechoslovakia, watches from Russia, hand-embroidered linen for kitchen and bedroom, fabric, handicrafts, antiques, lacquerware items, rosewood boxes and bowls, ceramic and porcelain things, garments and many, many others.

• We went to a nightclub at the end of our five-day Customer Relations Workshop to celebrate and dance the tango. To my amusement, my “students” ordered milk and noodles. Our pulutan was popcorn. The classy club didn’t have Kahlua or Bailey’s cream. I settled for the very comforting hot Vietnam tea.

• Shopping at Ben Thanh Market, where you can buy everything you need and want except cars and real estate, was from 8 a.m. to 6p.m. only. When the bell rang, the whole market closed down.

• There were no refrigerator magnet sold.

• There are no fat people. Food was healthy (veggies galore!) and fresh. No junk food. And there are many people who exercise at the numerous parks in the city.

• Ho Chi Minh was safe, secure and peaceful. There are not that many people in the streets at any given time.

Last week I joined my fellow Rotary presidents Eric Medina (RC Talipapa), Susan Valencia (Tomas Morato), Berna Ronduen (Primavida Cubao) and Cristy and Nes Mariano (Valencia) on a short trip to Ho Chi Mihn City and a side tour to Cambodia.

I took note with much admiration that:

• There are more motorbikes and bicycles in the streets. According to our tour English-speaking tour guide, Stephen, there are about four million of them in the city alone. There are more cars, SUVs, vans and trucks, too. There seems to be no more buffalo-drawn carriages anywhere on the outskirts.

• There are taxis (sedan and AUV) and the xe om (motorbike taxi) with honest meters and chivalrous drivers. They open the door and help you with your baggage.

• According to some sources, the average monthly wage is US$40. The rental or sale prices of real estate have skyrocketed.

• There are now very, very few women wearing ao-dai. Most women, especially the young ones wear fashionable and sexy clothes.

• We import rice from Vietnam.

• There are many hotels for the backpackers to the well heeled and in between.

• I’ve practically been around the world and I dare say that Ho Chi Minh remains a shoppers’ paradise, in terms of price and quality of goods. The whole city, not just Ben Thanh Market, is a shopping center. Saigon Square is their Greenhills.

• We didn’t go to a nightclub, but we passed by many such places and we noticed habitu├ęs imbibing spirited drinks. Eric and Nes spent one evening in a dive-girl watching.

• There are still no fat people in Ho Chi Minh. Ergo, there are no apparels that fit us.

• I was able to buy some souvenir refrigerator magnet.

• Ho Chi Minh is safe, secure and peaceful. There are not so many people in the streets at any given time. You can walk the streets at any time of the night or early morning and nobody will bother you except the cyclo drivers.

Thinking of your next travel destination? Make it Saigon or Ho Chi Minh.

Moje is president of Paradigms & Paradoxes Corp. and the Rotary Club of Quezon City North. Her e-mail address is

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