South East Asia & The Orient

(C) IQ Inc. 1997. 2007. 2009.


Thanks to the many journalists and travellers who contributed information and articles to this publication. Published by IQ Inc. (C) 1997. 2007. 2009. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, except brief extracts for review, without the written permission of the copyright owner. The authors and publishers have made every effort to ensure that the information contained within is as accurate as possible. However, no liability can be accepted for any injury, loss or inconvenience caused to anyone using this book.
Published by IQ Inc. International licencing enquiries: publicrelationsiqinc@hotmail.com www.iqincmedia.com

ISBN 974 - 94994 - 0 - 9 CD-ROM: 1997. First Book Pressing: July 2007. E-Book: 2009.




CHINESE HOROSCOPES Oriental nations take Chinese horoscopes very seriously. Many business people, politicians, as well as the general public, won’t make a move without them. Because Chinese horoscopes are an important part of Oriental culture, you never know when even a small element of knowledge on the subject could be helpful. If you lack even surface information about the culture of any nation you wish to travel to, your social or business goals will be that little bit less likely to succeed. This is particularly true of South East Asia & The Orient. The Chinese Astrological Cycle The Chinese Astrological cycle takes twelve years to complete, and each year is named after an animal. Legend has it that The Buddha named the individual years more than six hundred years before the birth of Christ. The Chinese Astrological Cycle commences with the year of the Rat and ends with the year of the pig. So if your partner has behaved like a rat or if you have had a pig of a year, you can always blame it on the way your astrological cycle fell.


The Twelve Years of the Chinese Astrological Cycle RAT OX TIGER RABBIT DRAGON SNAKE HORSE SHEEP/GOAT MONKEY ROOSTER DOG PIG The Five Elements Chinese philosophy considers that everything and everyone is influenced by the five elements that make up all matter. These elements are: Metal, water, wood, fire and earth. Metal is connected with a strong will. Water with qualities of sensitivity and persuasiveness. Wood with powers of imagination and creativity. Fire with energy and dynamism. Earth with practical aptitude and stability.

Yin and Yang The concept of yin and yang is to achieve a balance of the elements. The planets are balanced in the universe and the survival of all living creatures depends on such harmony. When you think about it, balance and harmony are important, and the South East Asian goal is to translate that balance to relationships within the family and between nations. This is the reason why any display of strong emotion, sorrow, delight or anger is discouraged. In fact it is considered to be the behaviour pattern of an immature and undisciplined personality. Breaking this cardinal rule in any of the nations of South East Asia is a cultural mistake which many Western individuals make. Just by itself, emotional self-indulgence can potentially ruin what would otherwise have been a fabulous holiday, or destroy a business deal in seconds flat. In extreme circumstances it could even get you killed, as such behaviour can potentially make others lose face. In South East Asia & The Orient, that is a particularly grave sin. Balance and harmony rule the psyche of the peoples of South East Asia. Chinese Horoscopes are a part of that cultural configuration.


NB. In the West until recent times, the Chinese practise of acupuncture was generally considered to be fatuous. However, when subjected to in-depth scientific investigation for a few decades, it was found to be a holistic treatment that could banish pain and help heal without the use of drugs. Acupuncture can even be used during surgical procedures as an alternative to conventional anaesthetic. Could Chinese Horoscopes possess a similar inscrutable power? What Chinese Astrological Sign Are You?

RAT 1900 - 31 Feb. 1900 - 18 Feb. 1901 1912- 18 Feb. 1912 - 05 Feb. 1913 1924 -05 Feb. 1924 - 23 Jan. 1925 1936- 24 Jan. 1936 - 10 Feb. 1937 1948- 10 Feb. 1948 - 28 Jan. 1949 1960- 28 Jan. 1960 - 14 Feb. 1961 1972- 15 Feb. 1972 - 02 Feb. 1973 1984- 02 Feb. 1984 - 19 Feb. 1985 1996- 09 Feb. 1996 - 06 Feb. 1997

OX 1901- 06 Feb. 1901- 07 Feb. 1902 1913- 06 Feb 1913 - 25 Jan. 1914 1925- 24 Jan. 1925 - 12 Feb 1926 1937- 11 Feb 1937 - 30 Jan. 1938 1949- 29 Jan. 1949 - 16 Feb 1950 1961- 15 Feb. 1961 - 04 Feb. 1962 1973- 03 Feb. 1973 - 22 Jan. 1974 1985- 20 Feb. 1985 - 08 Feb. 1986 1997- 07 Feb. 1997 - 08 Feb. 1998

Your Character According to Chinese Astrology

RAT Personality The rat was clever enough to become the first astrological sign of the Chinese Zodiac. Like their namesake, this sign is intelligent, ambitious, strong-willed and a fast thinker. They are good organisers and generous in nature. Career Good manager able to concentrate on many tasks at the same time. Excellent problem solver with artistic tendencies. Love Passionate and open when it comes to revealing feelings to a loved one. Element Water, which is in harmony with wood but overwhelmed by earth. Colour Black, which is associated with a conservative nature, dignity and honour. Most Compatible Partner Dragon and Monkey. Yin and Yang Powerful Yin qualities, which are associated with peace, reflection and solitude.


Astrological Food for Thought The Solar System is known to exert powerful forces; tides are influenced by the gravitational pull of nearby planets; blood pressure and our sense of equilibrium are influenced by changes in atmospheric pressure; climatic changes occur when there is strong sunspot activity; and there is almost certainly more which, at this current time, is yet unknown. Logic suggests that the highly complex mathematical calculations needed to chart ancient Chinese astrological horoscopes and the activities of the planets, could have some scientific basis in fact. Whatever, Oriental people govern a great deal of their lives using Chinese astrology, therefore even a surface insight into this cultural factor could potentially be of benefit to the tourist or business traveller. Knowledge is power. In this case it would also be courteous, as it is polite to be aware of other people’s culture and interests



Photo by Ian Cutler Burma/Myanmar Buddhist culture, so the Western concept that sex is sinful does not exist. No taboo therefore concerning relationships between Western and indigenous people. However, minimal contact with the West in past decades due to political isolation from the rest of the world, has ensured that a certain reserve is in place towards people from the West. Commencing a relationship with an indigenous person would therefore take time, patience and an understanding of local culture. Commercial sex is available in a very low-key way in major cities. AIDS is prevalent, so safe-sex precautions advised.



South East Asia & The Orient
Compiled & Edited by: Jake Anthony Thanks to the many journalists and travellers who contributed information and articles to this publication. (C) IQ Inc. 1997. 2007. 2009. International licencing enquiries: publicrelationsiqinc@hotmail.com
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, except brief extracts for review, without the written permission of the copyright owner. The authors and publishers have made every effort to ensure that the information contained within is as accurate as possible. However, no liability can be accepted for any injury, loss or inconvenience caused to anyone using this book. ISBN 974-7313-80-2 CD-ROM: 1997. First Pressing: July 2007. E-Book: 2009.


Burma/Myanmar: Cambodia: China: Hong Kong: Indonesia: Japan: Laos: Malaysia: Philippines: Singapore: South Korea: Taiwan: Thailand: Vietnam:

Page 74 Page 96 Page 110 Page 132 Page 148 Page 166 Page 290 Page 206 Page 226 Page 244 Page 262 Page 278 Page 296 Page 322

The cultures of the Oriental East are uniquely different to those of the Occidental West. To the Western individual experiencing those differences in practical terms on a day-to-day basis, the new rules can potentially come as a shock. The scenic beauty, cultural diversity and generally polite nature of the peoples of South East Asia is at most times a delight. In fact it would be difficult to find a better set of locations in which to experience a uniquely different holiday. However, the Art of War was formulated in the Orient in ancient times, and business is conducted using those principles to this day. So if you intend to investigate the possibility of investment or trade in South East Asia and the Orient, caveat emptor (buyer beware) applies with a vengeance. As example, during the Second World War, Siam allied itself to the Japanese. It had no alternative, the country would have been overrun by the Nipponese forces just as Singapore, Malaya, Burma and parts of China were in the same land block. Whilst supposedly allied to the Japanese, Siam assisted the Western powers via the underground. Despite having faced both ways at the same time for the best part of five years - never taking up arms and business continuing as usual - at the end of the Second World War, Siam/Thailand managed to stay on good terms with both East and West. Unique amongst non-Western nations, Siam/Thailand was the only country in South East Asia never to have been colonised during the golden age of Western imperialism. Every single nation surrounding that country was colonised, but Siam/ Thailand was not. You’d have to look long and hard through the history

books to match such dexterous feats of diplomacy. The cultures of South East Asia and the Orient are ancient. In fact some would say superior in many ways. Whilst the Celts, Scots, Picts, Gauls and Saxons - from which the European races and majority of the North America and Australasian populations are descended - were running around with blue paint on their faces (wode) armed with spears and wearing rough hewn skins on their backs, Siam had discovered how to weave fine silk, China had a well developed commercial system, fine art was much appreciated, gunpowder had been invented, and an efficient (albeit slightly corrupt) civil service was in place. Then there is the fact that the main Western religions Christianity and Judaism - are not the religions of the East. Five of the countries of South East Asia are Buddhist and/or lean towards Buddhism - which does do not accept the role of a God or Deity, believing that the conduct of the individual determines the present and the future. In other parts of South East Asia, Confucianism, Taoism and Islam are the faiths which predominate. When a business ventures into other lands, the difference between doing a deal that floats and one that does not, is cultural knowledge. An insight into the background and culture of any nation you intend to visit can also provide greater understanding and pleasure. Bon Voyage.






People and Place Vietnam has a coast line stretching just over a thousand miles from north to south, but is only between 31 and 375 miles wide. With a land border adjoining China, Laos and Cambodia, the climate varies greatly from north to south and season to season. South Vietnam is a tropical country remaining hot all year round. A rainy season stretches from May to October. The hottest months are March to May, when the temperature can reach 35C. The dry season lasts from November to April, and throughout the rest of the year temperatures range from 26C. to 33C. The north has a distinct summer and winter season but remains humid throughout. In Hanoi, the north’s principle city, the hottest period is from June to August, with a maximum temperature of 36C. in July. Winter stretches from November to April, when the average temperature can drop to 10C. at night. Generally the climate is cool and pleasant, but temperatures can fluctuate. In mountainous regions, the temperature can drop below freezing point. Monsoons and heavy rain affect the east coast between August and November, so the weather is not tourist-friendly throughout the year as it is in Thailand. Made up of 54 ethnic groups - Viets or Kinhs accounting for nearly 90% of the seventy seven million plus population Tays, Muongs, Chinese, Khmers and others make up the balance. Saigon - now named Ho Chi Minh City - is the capital of Vietnam. It functions as its economic and business hub. The city has

an expanding population of four million. When the country first opened its doors to tourism in 1987, fewer than 20,000 people visited. By 1995 the figure had reached two million. Hotel projects boomed as a result and tourism is expanding greatly. Unlike Thailand which has never been colonised, Vietnam has been under foreign rule for much of its history. China, Japan, France, and unofficially during the Vietnam War, the USA, have all spent time as foreign oppressors or occupiers in Vietnam. A remnant of French Colonial rule is excellent cuisine, wide boulevards, elegant (but run down) buildings and a small Catholic community. Vietnam is a one party Communist state, and the party plays an active role in almost every aspect of daily life. Chapter meetings are held at local level to ensure that the party’s views are carried out in factories, schools and at all levels of society. However, despite being a communist country, Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism still influence people’s lives. Buddhism in particular, is a philosophy which has allowed the Vietnamese people to cancel and pass on from the havoc and destruction caused predominately by foreign powers during the Vietnam War. When Communism was abandoned in the Soviet Union, the technological and economic aid the USSR had provided dried up. Vietnam then had to make dramatic changes in order to restructure its economy and prevent its people from starving. Wide ranging economic reforms - known collectively as Doi Moi (Renovation) - were instituted after the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. However, wary of the destabilising changes that occurred in the former USSR, the Vietnamese government employed a cautious policy regarding the creation of a free market economy. Inflation has been brought under control as a result, and the GDP grows steadily. However, Vietnam is one of the poorest of

all the Asian countries, with an average wage of less than US$20 per month.. But that is increasing since foreign investment has been encouraged and welcomed. Three quarters of Vietnam was once covered with forest, so the country is rich in natural resources such as timber, rattan, oil, resin and medicinal plants. Wildlife - the Asian elephant, rhinoceros, tiger, bear, deer, monkeys and a wide variety of birds, fish, reptiles and insect life - proliferate. In fact conservation areas offer considerable opportunities for ecological tourism. Unfortunately, the combination of a growing population and chemical deforestation during the Vietnam War, has left the country environmentally devastated in parts. At one time, tourists were allowed little freedom of movement and bureaucratic hassle was considerable. This discouraged tourism. But rules are constantly evolving and a more relaxed approach to tourism has commenced as the country realises the economic and social benefits which tourists and business visitors can bring to the nation. Agriculture has always been the cornerstone of the economy, and Vietnam is the world’s third largest exporter of rice - after the United States and Thailand. The birth rate in Vietnam is high, and approximately 50% of the population are below the age of 20.


Vietnam Visas, Immigration, Work Permits, Currency Allowances, Getting Around. Tourist Visas Visas fall into a number of categories: tourist, business, journalist, official/diplomatic, family visit and multiple entry. Tourist visas cost from $45 to $60 for just 30 days, so are expensive compared to other countries in the region. They can be extended within the country, subject to permission from Immigration. A tourist visa can be extended for two weeks. Two more extensions of two weeks are possible. Multiple entries are also allowed when applying for a visa via an embassy or travel agent. Visas on arrival are also possible, at the discretion of Immigration officials. For security and peace of mind though, applying for an advance visa takes away any uncertainty. Visas can also be revoked, if the traveller alters the purpose of their visit. An example is where ‘tourist’ is stated but religious proselytising is the actual purpose. Vietnam is one of the most bureaucratic countries in South East Asia. For a journey to Vietnam it is not sufficient just to be in possession of a visa for the duration of the stay. In Vietnam, visitors are required to state their entry and exit point when filling in a visa application. If plans change and you wish to exit from a different place to that listed on your visa, amendments can be made at a Foreign Affairs Ministry in Hanoi or Saigon, or with the local immigration police. There is a space in immigration documents where your hotel is to be named. Even if you have not yet booked one, fill in something or you could be refused entry based on the assumption that you are without the means to pay for a hotel.


Business Visas A business visa can take ages to obtain if applied for personally, requiring a letter of ‘sponsorship’ from a Vietnamese citizen plus many other technical obstacles. It is almost certainly best to obtain a business visa using the services of a travel agency in Bangkok, who will be happy to arrange a ‘sponsor’ and all the formalities with their Vietnamese colleagues in influential positions within the Vietnamese bureaucracy. $30 to $100 dollars will usually do the trick. Plus the cost of the visa of course. Travel agents in Khao San Road in Bangkok, offer competitive prices. Business vias cost around four times as much as a tourist visa. Thailand excels in such tourist-friendly services, and even agencies in Vietnam send their paperwork to Bangkok for processing. Time taken in Bangkok is four to five days, or just two days for an express visa. That costs extra of course. Business visas are easiest to obtain in Thailand. But then so is everything else. Tourists as well as would-be investors/traders wishing to ascertain the potential for doing business in the country, can avoid some of the bureaucracy by obtaining a business visa. These are usually valid for three months; they can be issued for multiple-entry journeys; you are permitted to work in Vietnam; and the visa can be extended without too many problems. You can apply for an extension within Vietnam to any type of visa, so it is a good idea to have a supply of extra photos as official photographers sometimes charge substantial fees. Residency visas cost from $170, but unless you are the head of a corporation or marry a local person, they can be difficult to obtain. Albeit, in South East Asian countries there is a system within a system, and hard cash potentially makes anything possible. Enterprising travel agents with good contacts within the immigration department can often cut out the mountains of paperwork required. Tea money will be required, of course. Until recently, tourists were required to register with the po328

lice every time they arrived at a hotel. Officially the government no longer require police registration of hotel guests (but still do if you rent an apartment) and technically you are no longer required to leave your passport or visa at the reception desk of your hotel. But old habits die hard, and some staff will insist that you must part with them. Politely insist that this is no longer the case and retain your passport. Vietnam is not Thailand, where freedom of movement is similar to the West. Customs When you enter Vietnam you must declare all goods such as computers, electronic equipment and cameras - as well as cash and credit cards. If you intend to reside in the country for an extended stay, import taxes are imposed on household goods. Customs officials check all goods brought into the country by land, air or sea. Luggage is also often checked when leaving the country Imported antiques need to be registered if you want to export them when you leave. A list of everything in your shipment will assist you to pass through customs with minimal aggravation. Pornography - even Playboy and Penthouse type magazines - and politically oriented material, is banned. CDs, cassettes, magazines, books and computer disks are often taken for examination. Firearms and narcotics are strictly prohibited, and the penalties for drug trafficking are severe. If you are bringing in prescription drugs ask your doctor for a note detailing the drugs you are taking.


Currency The unit of currency is the Vietnamese dong. The difference between the official and the street market rate of exchange is now minimal, but always check. The 5,000 and 20,000 dong note are printed in a similar shade of blue, so are easy to confuse. Transferring money into the country is a slow process even when carried out via major international banks. If requiring finance for purchases or investment, arrange it in advance. Under communist bureaucracy, things do not always work so well as in the West. The Vietnamese banking system has been less than efficient in the past and cashing traveller’s cheques carried a hefty fee. Cash is better, but flashed around can be a temptation to poor people. Newer joint-venture businesses accept credit cards. U.S. Dollars or the Vietnamese Dong are accepted everywhere. Small denominations should be carried for tuk-tuks, taxis and street vendors. Torn or dirty notes will often be rejected even by banks, so request newer notes when receiving cash as you may not be able to use or re-exchange them later.


Transport, Communications, Getting Around Infrastructure is poor and endless permits and permissions are required for many things.Water, electricity and telecommunications are less than perfect. However, cyber cafes continue to spread, allowing communication by e-mail and the Internet, and cell phones take up the slack where relay stations allow. Letters take up to three weeks to arrive and all packages are examined by Customs. This causes further delay. Not all packages or bulky letters reach their destination, and are better posted from Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong or another country. Internal courier firms are preferable to state delivered mail, but are expensive . Post may be censored, so delays are normal when anything is sent out of the country. Receiving post is just as user-unfriendly. First a letter of notification arrives from the post office, then you have to take the letter and your passport to the post office, whence the contents will be opened and checked in front of you. Road surfaces could do with improvement and the highway code is almost unknown in South East Asia. Traffic accidents are common due to poor driving skills and bad roads. Learn to say “slow down” in the local language and taxis and tuk tuks will usually get you to your destination safely. Train services can be a great way to see the country, but are slow. An air conditioned private cabin is more suitable for the foreigner as theft is not unknown in steerage. Buses cover distances between the main cities but are often uncomfortable due to ancient vehicles, wooden seats on some, and bad roads. Appalling head on crashes intermittently occur. But things are improving. Air travel is almost certainly the most convenient and safest method of travelling long distances in Vietnam. However, as in Thailand and China, there is a two-tier pricing system which includes Vietnam Airways: high price for foreigners; a low one for locals. The metric system is used in Vietnam, due to French colonial influence in the past.

Vietnam Culture Shock The North Vietnamese are more Chinese in descent than the people of Thailand, Cambodian and Burma (Myanmar). People in the south are more closely related to the Thai’s and Cambodians, and are generally more easy going in approach and less Chinese in appearance. Considering how much the country and its people suffered during the Vietnam War - and before that under French colonial rule - it is very Buddha-like that the Vietnamese people do not hold a grudge against Western people in general. The reverse, as most appear to have adopted a policy of reconciliation. Unlike Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and the Philippines, English is less widely spoken in Vietnam. French is more widespread, although English is spoken in the South due to the sex, drugs and rock n’ roll culture imported by American and Australian forces during the Vietnam War. Greater personal motivation will be found in the South believed to be due to the influence of the West during the Vietnam War. There are many jokes amongst people from the south, about the more relaxed attitude to work adopted by those from the north - who were brought up under a collective system where personal responsibility was not required. In addition to language barriers, cultural differences between East and West can be illuminating, sometimes expensive, and occasionally dangerous. As examples, South East Asian people are generally reserved, and close physical contact, back slapping and satire are inadvisable. Culture shock factors in Vietnam are probably more pronounced than in tourist-friendly countries like Thailand - which has never been colonised nor been at war with the West, so no underlying hostility exists. Until people in South East Asia get to know and respect a

foreigner for a long period of time, Westerners will generally be regarded as ‘foreign devils’. Despite retaining the core values of its culture, Thailand is unique in having welcomed the foreigner to a degree which the rest of South East Asia has not. So although Vietnam shares a land border and a common Buddhist culture with Thailand, Vietnam is considerably different to Thailand. Until recent times Vietnam was two countries, which makes it even more culturally complex. The change from a very closed political system to a more open one of late, has also caused confusion. Bargaining is standard, and failure to do so will automatically mark you out as someone not in full possession of their faculties. Bargaining is tougher than in other parts of South East Asia. However, if carried out with a relaxed demeanour and a smile, the process can be made more civilised. When renting an apartment in Vietnam, make sure that alterations and the terms of the contract are in writing - provision of a telephone for your sole use, air conditioning in working order, etc., or costs for extras will build up. If you travel in a group and wish to tip your driver or guide, it is polite to collectively put your money in one envelope and offer it discreetly. If your gesture of thanks is not carried out in this manner, the guide will lose face. In his or her mind, he/she will feel like a beggar. Given subtly in an envelope from one person, would be seen as a gift from a group of appreciative clients, and the recipient would gain face. Like most countries, Vietnam has its red-light-districts, and AIDS (SIDA in Vietnam) is present. Unlike Thailand, bar-girls and boys are not given regular health checks. It is also worth noting that it is illegal for a foreigner to have a Vietnamese girl in their hotel room overnight. Fines or pay-offs to the police could be considerable - dependant upon your negotiating skills. Restaurants, karaoki bars and discotheques are located in the cities, but usually shut early at night. In Communist Russia, restaurants closed between 12 and 2 p.m. so the staff could have their lunch! Such examples confirm why the communist system failed.

In Communist Vietnam it used to be difficult to buy a meal in an established restaurant after 9 p.m. However, rules are being relaxed and of course street stalls open late. Tipping is not expected, but is much appreciated. In many regions outside of major cities, the police and immigration departments often make up their own rules, and you could be asked to leave your passport and/or visa with whichever official or department tells you to. Fees are often required to release them, which is good for them but not for you. Sums demanded can start at $200. However, your relaxed, smiling demeanour and non-confrontational approach can usually reduce these unofficial fines down to as little as $5 or $10. Vietnam has many interesting and beautiful places to see, but is a country still suffering from the aftermath of a century of colonial occupation and the trauma of its relatively recent war-torn history. When visiting Vietnam, your sensitivity to its cultural history could potentially help exorcise the past, and continue to help East and West reach a greater understanding.


Vietnam Essential Business Etiquette Thai people regard Laotian people as being very tricky when it comes to business. Laotian people regard the neighbouring Vietnamese people as being very, very tricky in business. Vietnamese people can be extremely charming and congenial, but information proffered by neighbouring countries concerning the Vietnamese approach to business, is something Western travellers should perhaps bear in mind. The general consensus is that in business, the Vietnamese take no prisoners. As in Japan, name cards are considered polite and should be utilised when meeting new business acquaintances.A card should be given to everyone present, otherwise those not given a business card will lose face. Initially you may not understand each person’s position at a business meeting, so give the first card to whoever appears senior. The business scams laid on foreign visitors to South East Asia are legion, and potential foreign investors are advised to adopt an extremely cautious approach. No matter how legal and fair a proposition might sound - and no matter how reputable the individual persuading you to part with your money might appear (lawyer, government or bank official) - caveat emptor (buyer beware) applies with a vengeance. Many overseas investors have just walked away from their investment when bureaucracy, delay, expensive permits and sometimes dishonesty, have made a return on investment a remote possibility. Like most South East Asian people, the Vietnamese are sensitive to people’s body language. So regardless of words spoken, South East Asian people may take offence at your posture. It is important therefore for the Western individual to adopt an inner calm and a relaxed, non-confrontational manner. Buddhist meditation is probably the key. It is more correct to find an agent or go-between in Viet335

nam who knows both parties. Meticulous research regarding who it is you will need to contact, is essential. When you have discovered who’s who, locate a lawyer, bank official, local business person or accountant to make an introduction. This is the traditional way of doing business in the Orient. If you approach the other party without a proper introduction, you will probably not be taken seriously. This is due to a general scepticism towards foreigners due to the country’s colonial history. Take your time when trying to do business in Vietnam, as half a dozen meetings will probably be required before a degree of trust and personal rapport is established. For business purposes, some Vietnamese adopt a Western pseudonym because most foreigners find it difficult to pronounce Vietnamese names. As in Thailand, do not be surprised to be called Mr. Ian, Mr. John, or whatever your Christian name might be. How you address a person is considered important in Vietnam. If you are doubtful about how to address a person, adopt a more formal approach to be on the safe side. The manner in which a person addresses another, demonstrates the level of respect and friendship between the parties. South East Asian people notice such subtleties. As in the rest of South East Asia age is respected, as are those in positions of authority. So do not show any lack of respect for the elderly or those in authority, and greet them before others in a group. When someone nods his/her head in Vietnam it does not mean that they agree with what is being said, only that they can hear and understand the words. Their nodding in this context is merely a form of politeness. Direct eye-contact is a no-no especially when meeting girls and young women. Eye-contact is impolite, and a threat gesture if prolonged. However, it’s considered OK for local people to stare at foreigners as the foreigner is still relatively rare in some parts especially in rural areas. However, if you stare back it will be

considered impolite! If you do look at someone, smile. A smile is a non-threatening gesture understood anywhere in the world. In cities, stares might well be more intimidating and at times you might feel you are being looked upon as a metaphorical meal. Your perception is probably right on some occasions, as where people are poor and a stranger rich, a degree of envy is understandable. However, street crime is rare in Vietnam. In business, the most common mistake Western people make is to get straight to the subject they wish to discuss. That is considered impolite in most South East Asian societies, and in Japan you would never do any business at all with that approach. People like to get to know you first, and it is common to sit and talk about your family, education, where you come from, how you have enjoyed your stay in Vietnam, and general aspects of business before the subject you actually came to negotiate is approached. Greater success will be achieved if your business is initially ignored and a social relationship established. In Japan, it can take ten meeting before your intended business is even mentioned. As in most of the rest of South East Asia, the word “no” is impolite because it makes the other person lose face. That can be difficult for the Western person to handle. So a combination of less haste and the ability to interpret other people’s answers in juxtaposition to the rest of the conversation, is required. A Degree in Psychology is useful here - in order to ascertain when a “yes” means “maybe”; or when a “maybe” means “no!” To make things even more difficult for the foreigner, the Vietnamese often phrase a question in negative form, so that an affirmative answer actually means “no!” In conversation, it is considered crass and stupid to brag about personal achievements or material wealth. That is the complete opposite to the self-promotion and conspicuous consumption mores of the West. For the Western individual used to getting things done quickly and venting spleen on anyone who does not jump to it, Vietnamese bureaucracy can sometimes drive the foreign visi337

tor to distraction. However, haste will infer that you are upset with the person you are dealing with, and displays of anger, sorrow, fast speech or shouting will be regarded as signs of weakness and bad manners. If you wish to be regarded as a person with self-control, maturity and understanding, emotions should not be openly displayed anywhere in South East Asia. Compared to much of the West, South East Asian societies are sophisticated and adult. Important meetings should preferably be held in the morning, as afternoons are usually reserved for time off or a second job - because wages and salaries are low in Vietnam. Meetings will almost certainly take longer than anticipated, so do not cram in too many in one day. The line between what distinguishes a bribe from a commission is subtle. Tea money is technically illegal in Vietnam, but you will probably not do much business without it. In much of South East Asia a system within a system operates, and you will be subtly advised when tea money will help oil the wheels of commerce or bureaucracy. However, gifts are a regular part of business practise in all ethnic Chinese communities and as the status of the person increases, so should the value of the gift. But don’t forget those lower down the hierarchy - who can potentially delay deliveries and generally screw up your business progress if forgotten. Seniority is important to the Vietnamese, and even a couple of years difference between individuals alters the pecking order. Seniority in position usually comes with age, rather than ability. Not very efficient, but if you set up shop in Vietnam, the Vietnamese will expect foreigners to observe their cultural rules. Privacy is something the Vietnamese and South East Asian people generally, appear not to understand. You will need to amend or alter your own cultural configuration if you wish to stay in Vietnam for an extended period of time.

Vietnam Understanding Local Customs In most countries there is a figurehead to whom the population at large, show respect. Regardless of whether that person is a monarch, a president, a politician or a religious leader, it is important for the foreign visitor to show similar deference. In Vietnam it is the Communist Party and its leaders. That very much includes those from the past such as Ho Chi Min. In cinemas and public places, not standing for the National Anthem would be regarded as an insult, and people nearby would react in a very negative manner. As in Thailand, nicknames are standard practise. Children have ugly nicknames such as bo (cow) or gau (bear), so that evil spirits are not attracted to the infant. In the south, a sister will always call her eldest male sibling ‘brother’ as a mark of respect. Each family member will be referred to by their position in the family. Northerners do not follow this custom so much and will generally call family members by their given name. The Vietnamese do not shake hands but wai - palms clasped together across the chest, accompanied by a slight bow. The manner in which the wai is given illustrates the perceived rank of each individual. The higher and longer the wai, the more respect is offered. In addition, the lower the head is bowed would also indicate greater respect to the other party. Unless you wish to appear like a lowly beggar in local cultural terms, a brief wai with a moderate smile is all that is required. Men would not normally wai a woman first and would never wai a child. For a man to do so would make him appear as if he believed children were his superior. All would be embarrassed, including the child. The Vietnamese do not touch people of the opposite sex. Women do not shake hands but will nod and smile instead. A hand339

shake may be used where the Vietnamese woman is Westernised, or where a Vietnamese businessman realises that it is acceptable to the Western woman. Communications breakdowns and cultural misunderstandings are probably the biggest cause of problems between foreigners and Vietnamese people. This is almost always caused through indifference or ignorance of local customs on the part of the visitor. Far too often foreigners get angry and show it, whence the local person loses face. As in all countries, religious statues and images of venerated political figures should not be treated lightly. Images of Ho Chi Minh for instance, should be treated with respect. He did, after all, free his people from more than a century of colonial rule. When visiting a temple or wat, shoes should be removed, the image of the Buddha should not be touched, and women should never hand anything direct to a monk. Should a man not be available, she should place the object on a nearby table or on the ground. Women wearing skimpy clothing, shorts, low cut dresses or swim suits would be unacceptable. Vietnamese people cover their mouth with their hand as they speak, in the same way that Thai people do when they use a toothpick after a meal. This is a cultural tradition displayed towards strangers as a gesture of politeness. As in most of South East Asia, pointing at someone with a finger is considered grossly ill-mannered. Pointing with your toe or the sole of your foot would be even worse, and would be regarded as an indication that you believed the other person was below the level of your foot - shit. Conflict should be expected soon after. It is also impolite to gesture towards someone with the palm of the hand pointing upwards - a sign used when herding animals. The acceptable way would be with four fingers and the palm pointing downwards. The head has special significance, so never touch anyone’s head - particularly at the front. A different genie resides on the

shoulder, so do not put your hand there either. If you accidentally do so, superstition demands that you touch the other shoulder to offset any bad luck. For the same reason, avoid slapping a friend or colleague on the back. Such ill-considered behaviour patterns would ensure that business and social success in South East Asia would be minimal. When you think about it, Western habits are often overfamiliar at times. While you will see men holding hands and women touching each other, they do not greet each other in a showy manner. Friends or family members will not hug and kiss each other the way Western people do as a form of greeting, and you will embarrass everyone present should you do so. The rules are complex and many, and if you have consideration for the host country and its people, learning something about local customs will assist the value and pleasure of your stay in Vietnam. Like Thai people, the Vietnamese can be disarmingly direct, and it would not be considered impolite to quiz you about your age, religion, family life, or for someone to ask how much you earn. It is a socially acceptable way of ascertaining your status and showing interest in you as a person. The ao dai is the traditional dress for Vietnamese women - a Mandarin style suit. It is worn with trousers by peasant women, and with a dress by schoolgirls or office workers. The tunic has evolved as fashions change, and the length of the skirt has grown shorter. Tradition dictates that young girls should wear pastel colours or white on the top of their ao dai, but married women wear dark or bright shades over white or black trousers. During strict communist rule, the ao dai was regarded as an echo of the past. Since the communist regime amended its policies and leaned towards a more tolerant society, the traditional Vietnamese outfit has regained its popularity. The pursuit of happiness is something people strive for in the West - usually by way of conspicuous consumption and the acquisi341

tion of material goods. Buddhists, which in the main the Vietnamese are - albeit with the influence of Taoism, Confucianist principles, Ancestral Worship and Animism in rural areas - believe they are born with happiness and that one of life’s tasks is to promote that happiness so as not to lose it. It’s a beautiful concept when you think about it. Similar to sanook in Thailand. Lip service is now paid to religious freedom within the country, but there can be problems importing material which proselytise Western religions. Evangelistic sects promoting obedience to a Deity are frowned upon in countries where reliance on self-help is regarded as the key to social reform and personal fulfilment. In many ways, Buddhism links well to Communist ideology, as it does not promote competition or regard wealth and personal possessions as God. Followers simply ensure that they have enough to get by on. Buddhist beliefs affect the conduct of the Vietnamese people, and most will not even kill an insect let alone an animal. The result is a plethora of excellent vegetarian restaurants. It is considered bad luck to take photographs of three people, so ask permission before taking any photograph. Shopkeepers believe that good fortune depends upon how much the first customer of the day spends, so avoid shopping early if you intend only to buy a packet of chewing gum. Expect shopkeepers to be unpleasant or even hostile if you ignore this custom. The Vietnamese and most people of Chinese ancestry are ‘spirit sensitive’, and will cover all mirrors before they go to sleep. This is to prevent ghosts or evil spirits utilising the mirror as a means to return from the dead during the night. A gift is a symbol of thanks from the giver in the West. In Vietnam where Buddhism prevails, a gift is the route by which the giver gains merit in the next life. So it is the giver who receives the benefit, not the receiver. So while a Vietnamese person will thank you upon receipt of a gift, do not expect a major display of gratitude. This is because by accepting your gift, they allowed you to make merit regarding your next incarnation. They did you a favour, not the other way round. Touchingly inscrutable.

Colours and animals have symbolic meanings regarding the selection of gifts, and information in this respect is useful to bear in mind. Red is lucky and warm, so is an acceptable colour; purple is feminine and romantic; green is youthful; and blue is linked to love and hope. Black is associated with mourning, unhappiness and gloom; white with death and funerals. However, white also means purity, which is why a young woman would wear a white ao dai and why white flowers are an acceptable gift for a young girl. Yellow is seen as a substitute for gold. In contrast, yellow flowers are associated with betrayal, so should not be given. Vietnamese women who date foreign men are generally regarded as low-class by other Vietnamese. Unless the girl emanates from a privileged background, it will be assumed she is a bar-girl or prostitute. The Vietnamese are apparently more judgemental than the free spirits of Thailand.


Vietnam Public Holidays January I’st: New Year’s Day. January/February: Chinese New Year. February 3’d: Anniversary of the Founding of the Vietnamese Communist Party. April 30’th: Saigon Liberation Day I’st May: International Worker’s Day. May 19’th : Ho Chi Minh’s Birthday. May/June: Buddha’s Birthday. September 2’nd: National Day (Independence Day). December 25’th: Christmas Day. A variety of traditional holidays are listed by the lunar calendar As a result, dates vary from year to year. They are many in number and appear to take place somewhere or other on every single day of the year. Vietnamese people clearly have their own version of Thailand’s sanook (joy, fun).

Vietnam Trade Fairs Free enterprise is relatively new to the country, and no organised programme of trade shows has been developed as yet. This could change as Vietnam opens up to the West with greater enthusiasm. Check Internet sites detailed in Useful Addresses, to keep up to date.


Vietnam Useful Addresses www.destinationvietnam.com www.govietnam.com www.vietnamtourism.com www.vietnam.designerz.com www.travel.state.gov/travel.vietnam www.vietnamemb.se www.vietnamadventures.com www.vietnamembassy.usa.org OSC Tourism Transactions and Guide Office 101 Nguyen van Cu Street, Ho Chi Minh City. Tel: (84 8) 54717, 51520, 51271. Vietnam Tourism 69 - 71 Nguyen Hue, Ho Chi Minh City. Tel: (84 8) 90772/3/4/5/6. Immigration Service Department 254 Nguyen Trai Street, Ho Chi Minh City. The State Committee for Cooperation and Investment (SCCI). 56 Quoc Tu Giam, Hanoi, Vietnam. Tel: (84 4) 253666. Ministry of Foreign Economic Development 406 Nguyen That Thank Quart 4, Ho Chi Minh City. Tel: (84 8) 22415, 25663, 90197, 24342, 24535.


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