Friday, 27 March 2009

Daam bee-uht Vietnam

This will be my last blog entry as I’m due to fly back to the UK tomorrow.

We left Hai Phong earlier today after a flurry of photographs, waving and good byes from our interpreters, VCCI and some of our clients. A couple of hours later Debbie and I hit the shops in Hanoi ready to spend our last few Vietnamese Dong on silks, linen, tapestries and ornaments to take home with us.

It’s very sad to be leaving Vietnam and everybody we’ve met and worked with during our time here. I wanted to thank you (sounds like calm urn) for reading my blog and I hope that those of you who have become regular readers have enjoyed the experience of my assignment as much as I have. My intention was to use this to share the ups and downs as well as the things I have learned, and the funny and challenging things that have happened over the past month. I hope that I have managed to do this accurately, without inadvertently causing offence.

The next thing for me to do now is to reintroduce myself to Pete and start finalising the plans for our wedding in a month’s time!

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Cut! Take 2 - Interview with Mr Dung

Today was my final day on client site and since Mr Dung had decided that we should finish the video interview we had started earlier on in the week, that is what we spent most of the day doing.

Once arriving on site, Mr Dung announced that he was off to get changed into a suit and tie (minus shoes) for the interview. I was not expecting for this activity to turn into something quite so formal but he was obviously a man on a mission and I let him do what he needed to do. We congregated in his office, where he sat behind his desk (and computer) and began the filming. He’s got quite a quiet voice and the microphone on the camera was struggling to pick it up over the sound of cutting steel. We overcame this by using the karaoke microphones (the same microphones we had used during our midmorning karaoke session the other week) to amplify the sound. It gets more bizarre and I was starting to wonder why I had even suggested such an activity when we’d experienced so many challenges with communication already. After seeing himself sat behind his desk, he decided he wanted to be filmed standing up, but I think his nerves got the better of him and we all collapsed into a fit of giggles while he tried to answer the 3 questions I had asked my interpreter to translate. An hour and about 6 takes later, he was still not satisfied and so he decided we should have a break for coffee.

We congregated in his office again after lunch, minus the suit jacket and tie (thankfully), but this time armed with queue cards. He had obviously spent his lunch break preparing. A dozen takes later, we finished the day with a 4min interview, which I will be editing and adding subtitles to over the next few weeks. The amount of time we spent on this today, anybody would think that it was going to be shown on the BBC or CNN, rather than used for internal IBM communications purposes. The interview itself is ok, but the out cuts are a better representation of the client I have worked with over the past 4 weeks - shyness, smiles and lots of giggling.

The rest of the afternoon was spent taking lots of photos and saying my good byes (sounds like daam bee-uht) to everyone, from the accounts team to the foreman and Mr Dung’s family. I’m quite sad to be leaving them as I’ve had such a wonderful experience working here despite some of the challenges we have faced. Tomorrow, the other IBMers and I return to Hanoi for our final day together as a team, before everyone starts heading off in separate directions. As my trip to Vietnam isn't officially over until I board the plane home on Saturday, I will save my final blog until tomorrow as a lot can happen in a day, especially as it sounds as though we may be getting a bit of a send off in the morning.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

News update: Food poisoning

Just a quick blog update, to thank everyone for their email messages of concern. I'm pleased to report that, thankfully, I am feeling a lot better today :)

I can't believe that this is our last day with our clients. It has passed so quickly.

Hosts with the mosts and food poisoning

Yesterday we hosted a thank you dinner for VCCI and our interpreters. As is customary in these situations we had sent an official invitation to the Director of VCCI at the end of last week, and weren’t certain how many people would attend. In Vietnam, it is not unusual for people to turn up to an event that they have not necessarily been invited to. I’m hoping this doesn’t happen at the wedding as we’ve already submitted the final numbers to the venue! ;-) We’ve experienced plenty of examples of this ourselves, where we’ve been invited to attend an event by a friend of a friend of a friend, and last night was our turn to demonstrate our thanks for the hospitality we have been shown during our stay in Vietnam.

It seemed to be going well, until about half way through the meal, I suddenly didn’t feel so great. I’ll spare you the details, but it seems I’m suffering from a little bit of food poisoning. You’ll be pleased to know that I didn’t embarrass myself or the team and managed to remain relatively composed throughout the remainder of the meal and the photos (!), despite turning a progressive shade of green. It must be payback for all the food I’ve been troughing recently! My Vietnamese phrase of the day is an important one in these sorts of situations toy naw lamb, meaning I am full. As a result I’m spending today confined to the air conditioned (important when it’s 100% humidity and you’re not feeling very well) hotel armed with rehydration powder and bottles of water. I can’t believe this has happened on the second last day of my assignment. Hopefully, whatever I have will have passed by tomorrow so that I can enjoy my last day with the client.

Monday, 23 March 2009

And the Oscar goes to....

After such a relaxing weekend, I think we all struggled to get up for work this morning. We’ve only got 3 working days left with our clients and so we’re spending this week tying up lose ends and wrapping up our assignments. I delivered the stock/inventory management training, with the help of my interpreter, and they seemed to like what they saw and were able to practice with the tool. Fingers crossed, I’ll get to see it in full use before I leave Hai Phong on Friday.

I had also asked Mr Dung, at the end of last week, whether he would be prepared to give an interview about the work we had been doing, for internal IBM communication purposes. He enthusiastically agreed and armed with a video camera we had our first attempt this afternoon. With communication being one of the main challenges we have faced during our time here, this seemingly easy task was not as straight forward as I had initially hoped. The accountants decided that, since they had never used a video camera before, they wanted to be in charge of the filming and I was promptly told, that even though my interpreter was asking the pre-prepared questions, I should sit next to Mr Dung during the interview (it seems these ladies could be quite assertive when they want to be). My interpreter and I are still trying to decide whether we should have a voice over in English or subtitles but the wobbly nature of the filming would give anybody sea sickness. So we’ve decided to have another attempt tomorrow but needless to say, I don’t think we’ll be winning any Oscars ;-)

My accountant friend also decided that today I should learn how to introduce myself in a work environment, so with that in mind my Vietnamese phrases of the day are: I work for IBM which sounds like toy lamb (tone going down) veea (tone going down) chaw IBM and toy laa (tone going down) neeyaa tuu (tone going up) vun (tone going up), which means I am a consultant.

If you haven’t seen this yet, here’s a link to a recent article about the IBM CSC program in Business Week:

Sunday, 22 March 2009

A bit of R&R

We spent a very relaxing weekend on a boat in Ha Long bay, away from Hai Phong, our clients and most importantly our computers.

Saturday afternoon was spent on the boat chilling out and admiring the scenery (I actually managed to start one of the 4 books I had brought with me and hadn’t had a chance yet to read) before we climbed the 400+ steps, in 100% humidity, to the top of Titop Island where we got beautiful (sounds like sing guy – tone going up) views over the bay.

We spent a lovely evening on our private boat named the Little Dragon (after the local legend of a dragon which descended from the mountains and carved out the 3000 islands which make up the bay) before visiting Hang Sung Sot cave and a floating village on Sunday morning.
I think we were all in need of some down time, ready for our final week in Hai Phong.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Contrasting family businesses in a rapidly growing economy

Every day we have spent in Vietnam has been different and today was no exception. Arjan joined me on client site today at the request of Mr Dung, with the intention of discussing computer aided design tools, to help them design their steel products, while I was intending to deliver the stock management training to the team. As it turned out those requiring the training were unavailable and Mr Dung had completely underestimated how complex some of the CAD programs available are, and considering he only started using his computer last week, I think he quickly realised that he needed to learn to walk before he could run.

So, instead Mr Dung and I, with the aid of the interpreters, showed Arjan around the site. He got to see the order schedule, which has now been put in place and is being used by the foreman, as well as the different types of steel in stock, waiting to be used to produce a customer order.
It rained, sounds like choy daang muar (tone going down), and after lunch and lots of photos (the accounts team wanted to have their photograph taken with the Dutch giant), Mr Dung took us to visit the company of his eldest brother. This is the 4th of the family businesses I have visited (my client’s steel company, his brother’s steel company, his sister’s new steel trading company and now the eldest brother’s electronics company) and it has been very interesting to observe the stark contrasts in size as well as business and technological maturity of each of these companies and the family dynamic between the siblings (it is very hierarchical and you could definitely tell that my client was the youngest of the 6 siblings).

The eldest brother has over 16 years of experience in the electronics industry, firstly in a government owned company and now with his own. He has travelled extensively outside of Vietnam, in Europe, US and other parts of Asia, and interestingly understands and speaks English but chose not to (whether that is related to status or confidence, I’m not sure). His electronics company is less than 4 years old, has almost 600 staff and is one of the 500 largest companies in Vietnam (as we discovered when we saw the certificate on the boardroom wall). His company currently has a startling 70% share of the electronics market in Hai Phong and is expanding rapidly across Vietnam. Their offices have a spectacular view across Hai Phong city and have better facilities than some IBM sites I’ve been to.

This contrast is evident throughout Hai Phong, and Vietnam, as the economy continues to expand rapidly. Family run businesses range from small street stalls to large corporations, I just hadn’t expected to see such a vast difference between two companies within the same family.