Vietnamese Americans should come and live in Vietnam full time   ★

I’m a Vietnamese American. I’ve been living in Vietnam for seven years now. And in that time, I’ve only come back to the States a total of four times. Each time was less than a month. In other words, I’ve been living in this country full-time, non-stop. And if you’re a Vietnamese American, old or young, first generation or second generation, I think you should live here too.

America is great, but Vietnam could be greater

I was born and raised in the United States. I studied American history, I graduated from an American university. All of my close friends are Americans who still live in America, but after two years out of university, I moved straight into the Mekong Delta to teach in the countryside at An Giang University. Three and a half years later, I moved up to Ho Chi Minh city. In that time, I’ve seen all the big brands slowly enter Vietnam from KFC to Starbucks to Lotteria and Circle K. And I’ve slowly witnessed the rise of Vietnamese brands like Trung Nguyen, Highlands, Kinh Do, Jasmine Rice, and more.

When I first came to Vietnam at the age of 5, this country was full of bicycles and xich lo’s. Jeans were a thing of the aristocracy and cars were rare. In 20 years, Vietnam’s landscape has changed significantly, along with the rest of Southeast Asia. Asia’s time has come.

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On the other hand, since I left the States things appear to be deteriorating. It’s a country which I cherish deeply, whose people are open, sharing, spirited, and hard working. A country whose innovation still leads the world. It’s a place home to New York, Silicon Valley, Hollywood, the oil industry, the music industry, and more. But at the same time, it’s also home to the NSA, a waning economy, dangerously divisive politics, and a steady lack of morale. The USA is no longer the center of the world. And that is a good thing. The opportunities are across the world now.

The harsh reality of Vietnam’s top and bottom

Now, it’s not all flowers and lollipops in Vietnam. There’s a lot of reasons why it’s not Singapore, or more aptly compared, it’s not like South Korea. Vietnam, despite its enormous potential hasn’t lived up to it. In fact, it’s a running joke that “Vietnam is always in a state of great potential.” Even the World Bank came out with a gripping video on the more than 15 million people who still live in poverty in Vietnam that underlines Vietnam’s still-systemic issues. It’s not easy.

On an everyday level, Vietnamese people are not as educated, not as polite, not as open, and not as forward thinking as Westerners. On a political and legal level, some characterize it as a minefield. Economically, Vietnam has been struggling since 2008 and 2009 to get back on its growth spurt of the early 2000’s (although latest reports from government and international studies seem to be pointing to a renewed growth entering 2014). That’s the reality.

And on top of that, there’s the predicament of living here as an Overseas Vietnamese.

Advice for being a Viet Kieu in Vietnam

If you’re an Overseas Vietnamese not living in Vietnam, you’re bound to have preconceived notions about Vietnam, Vietnamese people, and what your place in this society is if you come here. It’s inevitable. We can’t help but have preconceived notions when we travel to a new place. But if I could give advice to any new Vietnamese Overseas hoping to live in Vietnam, this would be it: “Get off of your high seat in thinking that you know more than Vietnamese people or know Vietnam well or know how you can help. Stop bullshitting about what you’ve done and what you know. And sit down and listen to every single Vietnamese person you meet. I’m serious. Cut your own arrogance constantly. Don’t be chảnh.”

This is a fault I’ve seen in older Vietnamese Overseas, in younger ones, and in myself as well. And it never helps. Listening first, adapting, and responding to what the real needs and concerns of the people here is the only way. Prescribing solutions is great only if you truly know the diseases. And knowing the diseases is not something you can learn in 5 months or even a year. If you really want to make an impact, build a community, and grow Vietnam to the next level, you have to stick it out, be patient, listen, and keep going. Vietnamese people are complex (just like all people) and learning how to work with them and for them takes effort and lots of time. Don’t lose hope, don’t turn into a person who complains all the time, and develop empathy. And the irony is, the minute you start to understand how things work in Vietnam, things have already shifted, things change so fast.

And this fast change is exactly where you can place your hope. In fact, the setbacks of Vietnam are also where you can stake a lot of your hope for Vietnam. Despite all the harshness of politics, economics, and daily lives of Vietnam, it presents an exciting landscape for young Overseas Vietnamese looking for a challenge and older Overseas Vietnamese who want to make a big impact. Being educated and living abroad for so long, we have insight into where Vietnam could be and we bring a much needed unique perspective to Vietnam’s development.

Think about it, over $10 billion came back to Vietnam in 2013 in the form of remittances from abroad. What if all this money came in the form of human value? What if it came in the form of mentorship, trade, business deals, actual human resources, and more?

via saigoneer.com

via saigoneer.com

The hope and potential of Vietnam and it’s overseas peoples

Despite all of the above, Vietnam still needs you. No, not despite all of the above, but because of all the above. Vietnam is now pulling itself out of an economic slump and things are visibly getting better. One of the things that compels me most lately is this new wave of branding in Vietnam, aptly titled Neue Vietnam. If you drive around Saigon (I’m happy to call it Ho Chi Minh city as well) or Hanoi these days, you’ll slowly start to see a new wave of very fashionable cafe’s, restaurants, and shops. I’m not sure where it’s coming from. Maybe it’s the returning Vietnamese who studied abroad, or a new enlightened class of merchants who have global ambitions, but it’s clear that we’re seeing a new wave or business. An Overseas Vietnamese would be remiss to miss this opportunity. And if one report is true, that Vietnam’s middle class will double by 2020, now is the time to jump into Vietnam. In fact, there are already many Overseas Vietnamese here who are making an impact and making money, don’t be late.

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A final list of advice

This isn’t just a call to arms to Vietnamese Americans but all Vietnamese overseas across the world. It just so happens that I’m an American and its hits home for me. But I’d like to leave you a parting list of advice that, if you do end up coming here, will give you a much more wholesome long-term experience.

  • Make Vietnamese friends: Don’t just hang out with expats. Vietnamese people will give you perspective and plant seeds of appreciation for Vietnamese society. This will allow you to stay here long-term and happy. They will show you the cool things you wouldn’t know about by hanging out with expats or Googling, and they’ll even show you yummy restaurants and cool services.
  • Make friends with people who have been here for a very long time: It’s nice to hang out with people who have just arrived, just like you, but it’s the people who’ve been here for years that know what it takes. They have staying power. A person who has reached the two or three year point is at a crossroads. They are usually asking “Can I handle it here much longer? Or can I make a real life here?” Learn from the one’s that have answered those questions and stayed longer.
  • Listen, listen, listen: I cannot emphasize this more. This is the number one thing you need to survive and make a real impact here.
  • See the best parts about Vietnam while being realistic: Yes, Vietnam sucks in a lot of ways (so does every country, by the way). But you will need to learn to appreciate those really cool things about Vietnam, like drinking and eating on the street, or the joy of riding a motorbike, or whatever fits you. At the same time, you need to balance this with realism.
  • Don’t be another complainer: It’s easy to fall from realism into complaining. Don’t do it. Nobody likes a complainer and it will also make you blind to how Vietnam truly is. Too many people project their own psychoses onto Vietnam. That’s uncalled for. Be critical without getting miffed.
  • Get a 5-year Visa: Here’s how
  • Travel around the region for perspective on Vietnam’s place in Southeast Asia and Asia: Most Overseas Vietnamese fall into the trap of constantly comparing Vietnam to their Western hometowns. Guess what? It’s not America. It’s not Germany. It’s not France. It’s not England. It’s Southeast Asia. Look at Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, Philippines, and others in the area. Then look at how it measures up to greater Asia, with China, Japan, Taiwan in the mix.
  • Become fluent in Vietnamese: this will take a long time, but even showing that you have learned something will pay off exponentially. It is a passageway into the culture and will earn the respect of your Vietnamese peers. In some ways, a person’s level of language can be an indicator of their level of understanding of Vietnamese people. At the same time, there are a lot of people who’ve been over 20 years and don’t know much Vietnamese. What’s your style?
  • Get involved: There’s so many programs, groups, and organizations hanging out in Vietnam. Get involved, see what people are up to, and contribute. This is the only way to learn, it’s the only way to understand how things work, and it’s the only way to see how you fit in.

GOOD LUCK! I wish you all the best. If you do decide to come out to live in Vietnam, send me an email and I’m happy to grab a coffee with you.

This post is dedicated to Sieng Tran, an Overseas Vietnamese investor and entrepreneur who has been working in Vietnam for years. He had a cool Facebook status update this weekend.

P.S. On a personal note, living in Vietnam has been one of my most transformative and meaningful periods of my life. Teaching in the countryside to young university students made me so happy sometimes that it made me cry. And there were also some really fun inspiring moments, like when Vietnam was winning soccer games during the regional Tiger Cup and everybody “đi bão”. To see a country shift and change through the eyes of a foreigner is a privilege. Being in close contact with Vietnamese people who have so much hope for their own personal and country’s future is awesome.

My cardboard furniture hobby   ★

So I have this ongoing hobby that I do in my spare time when I feel inspired. I make furniture out of cardboard boxes.

This is my newest project. An ergonomic standing desk made out of cardboard.

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It’s one of my favorite creative outlets because it ends up being quite useful. It’s nice to dream about what a desk or lamp or table might look like and then slowly see it come into being of your own hands after a few hours. This is the inside of a table I made:

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This is how it looks next to my bed:

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But on an engineering or material level cardboard has so many benefits:

- It’s light.
- It is easily moldable.
- It is durable and sturdy if placed in the right structure.
- It is highly customizable.
- If a piece breaks or doesn’t come out right, it is very easy to replace.
- It is cheap.
- It is fun.
- It only requires scissors and a knife.
- It is easy to clean up.
- It can replace almost any piece of furniture.

Getting my DNA examined by 23AndMe   ★

According to my DNA, I’ve got a 57% chance of becoming obese. And I know that because I sent my DNA to 23AndMe last month. It took them about 5 weeks to get back to me but now I’ve got a wealth of data about my health and ancestry. But before I get into that, let me tell you how it works.

After ordering online at 23AndMe, I got this package in the mail about a week and a half later. The awesome thing is I paid $100 for the package. Last year, this same package would have cost $1,000. The decrease in price of this technology is rapid.

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Basically, what I had to do was open it up and spit into this canister:

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Inside my saliva is my DNA. So then I sent this package, with my saliva in it, back to the 23AndMe labratory. The package was already sent with postage due, so it didn’t cost me any extra money to mail it back to 23AndMe. Just spit and mail. That’s it.

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So today I just got my report via email and on the 23AndMe website. Check out some of the data I got. Turns out I’m prone to Type 2 Diabetes, which means I should be watching my sugar intake carefully.

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I also know now that I’m 3.1% Neanderthal and where my parents originally come from! So although I’m Vietnamese, my ancestral blood goes all the way back to China on my father’s side and Japan on my mother’s side.

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The nice thing about 23AndMe, on top of all this very rich data on my body, is that the system also recommends how I should exercise or eat. That’s the most valuable data for me.

Ultimately, I’m deeply fascinated by the evolving medical technology landscape. Ten years ago, I didn’t expect such technology to be so easily accessible nor user friendly as today. Vinod Khosla talked about small $5 to $10 devices that will be able to hook up to your smartphone and send data straight to the doctor. In other words, why have a doctor’s appointment when I can just give myself an examination (and more often) and send that data. I don’t need to leave the comfort of home to get treatment. If you combine this with toilets that can monitor your shit and eating patterns and wearable devices that can track your fitness progress and heart rate, we’re looking at a really amazing medical frontier. This frontier is most certainly a multi-billion dollar industry that will vastly change the way humans live and interact with their bodies. I’m fucking excited.

just a little music to get me started on who i am.   ★

Here’s some awesome writing that I did back when I was in university. Sometimes I wish I could return to this kind of purity of writing. Makes me want to get back into poetry.

Read the rest of this entry »

SONG: Blazing Saddles: Andrew On Guitar, Minh On The 4-String   ★

Andrew and I had a jam last night and we decided to throw it up online. It’s called Blazing Saddles.

This is also the first step to getting a Youtube Channel going. I’ll be filling it up with music and maybe some talks as well. Let me know what topics you’d like to hear about, or what kinda music you’d like to hear.

P.S. Coming soon…Zia’s Theme.

The Best Movies About the Silicon Valley   ★

This post is for my Vietnamese friends who are keen on learning more about the Silicon Valley (Although this could be a great list for anybody interested in the Valley). It’s the best movies about the Silicon Valley. Lots of people have gung ho ideas about what the Valley is, mostly based on recent news of Apple and Facebook, but don’t know how it came to be before that. So I’ve assembled this list of excellent movies that tell a great story of what is the Silicon Valley.

Of course, these videos are no substitute for actually living in the Valley, but they each give an intimate picture of what happened. I’ll summarize each movie one by one.

I’ve listed the non-documentaries first (made by Hollywood) and then the documentaries in order of what time period they cover. So, the documentaries move from the 1950′s to now. This will be easier for you when you decide to watch them in order.

If you’d like to know how to find them online, you can buy them or there’s always torrents. ;-)

Non-Documentaries

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These movies feature actors from Hollywood that portray the Silicon Valley. They’re good because they give you a very realistic and day-to-day picture of the most important events of the stories they tell. But they’re NOT documentaries.

Pirates of the Silicon Valley (1999)

If you’re too lazy to read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, Pirates is one of the best pictures of the early lives of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs you will find. It’s the story of the rise of the personal computer. You get to see how Bill Gates out-witted IBM and how Steve Jobs created the Macintosh team.

Although made in 1999, it’s still very applicable today. When the film was made, no one knew that Steve would come back and introduce the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. But it still gives one of the most compelling pictures of Steve and Bill in the early days.

The Social Network (2010)

Of course, this is the new hot movie of the startup industry. The movie paints the picture of how Mark Zuckerberg came to create Facebook back in his dorm room. How he outfoxes his friends, meets the creator of Napster and builds an empire in the Silicon Valley.

This is like “essential watching” for people who want to understand the early days of Facebook.

jOBS (2013) (unreleased and delayed)

This movie stars Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs. The movie’s unreleased so it’s actually hard to say what it’s all about but at least we’ll get to see more than what Pirates presents about Steve. But honestly, the most I learned about Apple was not reading about it in Walter Isaacson’s biography but in a book called Inside Apple. So we’ll see how good the movie is.

The Internship (2013) (also unreleased)

Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson in a comedy about two outdate businessmen who get into an internship at Google? Sounds hilarious.

With Hollywood making several films about the Silicon Valley, it’s clear that the Valley has taken hold over the world. Hollywood executives believe that viewers care enough to learn about Valley companies. And the TV Shows section only underlines this further.

Documentaries

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Okay, so…seriously forget about the fictional movies up top. They do a good job of “Hollywood-izing” the Silicon Valley. But it’s the documentaries that have the real interviews with actual people in the industry.

Of course, documentaries have their own agenda, but they have more journalistic integrity than Hollywood movies.

Something Ventured (2011)

This is the most thorough documentary about the Silicon Valley. It’s told from the venture capitalist side. It follows the contributions of Arthur Rock and his venture capitalists buddies through the path of funding Fairchild Semiconductor, Atari, Intel, Cisco, Apple, and more.

The film goes into deep detail with interviews with all the most important CEO’s in the valley. It follows the story from the late 1950’s to today. In one movie, you get to see how the Silicon Valley started from one person all the way to the startup machine that it is today.

PBS’s Silicon Valley Experience (2013)

Just recently released, the Silicon Valley Experience is like a plugin to Something Ventured. It focuses very specifically on the very early 1950’s-1960’s Silicon Valley. It’s all about Robert Noyce, the Traitorous Eight and the early day of developing chips. The foundation of the Silicon Valley.

This is where you get to see how the Silicon Valley culture truly began.

Triumph Of The Nerds (1996)

Although the host is very nerdy, this is not a bad companion to Pirates of the Silicon Valley. Mainly because it has interviews with Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Steve Wozniack, Steve Ballmer, and Paul Allen in the early days. The movie is in three segments and follows the battle between Apple and Microsoft, and ends with footage of Bill Gates doing a product launch event for Windows 95.

The movie gives you a very good idea of how Microsoft beat Apple in the 90’s. Like Pirates, Triumph of the Nerds also comes before the return of Steve Jobs.

Company Stories

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For movies that cover the 1990’s onward, there’s more focus on individual companies. And that’s super cool. It’s very influenced by the Dot-com Bubble and there’s different lessons to be learned when looking closely at companies.

Startup.com (2001)

This movie focuses on the story of govWorks. It’s a company that was attempting to build an add-on service for citizens that wanted to pay their fines and bills easily. But the story isn’t about them, it’s about how to found and run a company.

The govWorks team makes so many interesting mistakes that are now essential lessons to learn before starting up in Silicon Valley today.

E-Dreams (2001)

E-Dreams is pretty similar to Startup.com, it follows another company destined for failure. This company has an even more interesting idea though: delivering products in under one hour. The company even got millions of dollars of investment from Amazon.

This movie outlines issues of scalability and especially takes a close look at how the Dot-com Bubble destroyed the hopes and dreams of companies.

The Pixar Story (2007)

Well, the late 1990’s wasn’t all bad. Those were the days when Pixar released Toy Story (1995), A Bug’s Life (1998), and Toy Story 2 (1999). Once again we get to see Steve Jobs in interview, but from the creative industries. And the best part? we get a close look at Jon Lasseter, his team and the early evolution of the one of the hippest tech startups.

This movie is a must-see for people in startup and who also love Pixar’s movies.

Control – Alt – Compete (2011)

And finally, Control-Alt-Compete, this movie is great for people interested in modern Silicon Valley. It takes you through the new hip industry that the Silicon Valley has turned into; where almost anybody can call themselves an entrepreneur and there’s a PR machine that churns out good and bad startups alike.

The movie follows several early stage entrepreneurs as they get prepared to pitch at various events like SXSW and DEMO. A prettying interesting peek into the hype machine.

TV Shows? WTF?!

Like I said earlier, Hollywood is starting its infatuation with the Valley, and major TV channels getting in the mix is only more evidence for that. So far, the TV shows are crap. But maybe journalistic integrity will prevail?

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Start-Ups: Silicon Valley (2012) – this is a shitty TV show

I guess I had to mention this reality TV show. It’s not particularly insightful or anything, but it takes a funny look at some entrepreneurs who are trying to make it in the Silicon Valley. Unfortunately, it portrays the Valley as a place for rich college students to pretend to make it big. It’s bullshit.

Untitled Silicon Valley Project (2013 – unreleased)

HBO, possibly in response to the above mentioned TV show, is currently filming this TV show with Mike Judge, creator of Beavis and Butthead. I’m pretty confident that it will be a satire.

Honorable Mentions

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These movies don’t really focus on startup. Revolution OS is more about how the FOSS (Free Open Source Software) movement began. Welcome to Macintosh is more about the culture that was created around Apple. There’s no interview with Steve Jobs in the Welcome to Macintosh movie, it’s more just for fanboys. It’s also made pretty early, so you don’t see the introduction of iPhone and and iPad.

Revolution OS (2001)

You get to see interviews with Richard Stallman and Linus Torvalds and other significant people who built the FOSS movement to what it is today. Pretty cool if you love FOSS, Linux, and the idea of open source. In my opinion, FOSS is a really important movement and I really support. I used to use Ubuntu, after all.

Bonus! This movie also shows why Bill Gates is a dick about software. But, to be fair, it’s also how he developed such an empire.

Welcome to Macintosh (2008)

I don’t really like this movie. It’s just fanboys talking about Macintosh and how it affected their lives. For example, you get to see the guy who bought the first Apple II ever, and people who have been collecting Apple products for decades. Not particularly insightful but interesting for people interested in the Apple sub-culture.

Conclusion

Well, that’s it! If you think there are any movies or TV shows that I missed, please let me know by contacting me here.

Fuck It, I’m a Blogger   ★

This time last year, I was jobless. I was poor. And doing what I wanted.

In 2010, my friend Hy and I went to the Malaysian Bloggers Conference, where we first met the awesome community of bloggers in Southeast Asia. It was awesome. Bloggers from all backgrounds: from travel to food to commercial to civil. The event spurred a dream that I packed away for later: to be paid to blog.

2011, And Bloggers Conference in Bali

In December 2011, I got an invite to go to a Bloggers Conference in Bali. At the time, I was Marketing Manager at Indochina Tourist & Trade, my boss was away, and I decided, “Fuck it, I’m just gonna go”. It was an abrupt and naive decision at the time, especially because I needed approval and because I do respect my boss a lot. Nevertheless, a free ticket to Bali and to hang out with bloggers across Southeast Asia? Honestly, how could I pass that up? It was once in a lifetime.

I mean, look at all of these faces. Honestly, in my life, I’ve only met a few hundred bloggers in Southeast Asia but my impression is that Southeast Asian bloggers are absolutely awesome. They’re smart, tech savvy, socially conscious, and extremely friendly. And I got to hang out with them for free!

On the plane ride back, Tai Tran and I got stuck in Kuala Lumpur because President Barack Obama’s plane flight delayed everybody else’s flight in Bali. Between naps waiting for the next flight back to Ho Chi Minh city, I wrote my letter of resignation.

2012, And Blogfest Asia in Siem Reap

By February 2012, I didn’t have a job. And I refused to get an office job. I was sick of it and I was determined to do whatever I wanted, whatever that was going to be: playing music, teaching, writing, theater, and event organizing. It was difficult. Most of the latter half of 2012, I was living day-to-day with just enough money to eat. But I was resolute.

By November 2012, the stars aligned again. Friends in Cambodia invited me to Blogfest Asia and I got sponsorship from SEAPA, who were absolutely gracious about supporting bloggers in Southeast Asia.

The event was a recharge for the ol’ 2010 dream. Southeast Asia is such a richly diverse place. We’ve got the largest Muslim nation in the world next to top third most populous Catholic state. We’ve got one party systems, multi-party systems, and monarchies. Each with its own language, and different types of scripts. It’s that kind of diversity that inspires such a rich regional blogosphere.

Enter Tech In Asia

Fast forward to December 2012. The determination to not get an office job was catching up to me. I was happy, but I was broke. And there’s two truths here: 1) being happy and broke is better than rich and unhappy. I meet way too many people who complain about their job depsite being paid $2,000 or more. 2) Being broke eventually leads to unhappiness. But eventually, if you’re brave, patient and focused, you can find the balance in between those two.

One of my favorite lessons from Steve Jobs’ Commencement Address, which I cry every time I watch, was that “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” That’s precisely what happened in 2012. I was event organizing and MC’ing in the technology scene, and blogging. All the dots were there.

That’s where timing comes in. Friends were introduced, emails were sent, and I got an interview with Tech In Asia. Within a week, I wrote my first article.

This year, I’m writing. I’m not poor. And I’m still doing what I want.

Shoutout to all my wonderful Southeast Asian friends who inspired me, and are totally absolutely stupendously fucking awesome.