When I travel, I love to understand the culture, society and order of things. This is quite hard when you have a short trip, but I try to be observant without judgement and see what I can see. Vietnam is one of my favourite places, I’m dying to get back. In fact I’d happily live there for a few months to get a better understanding of it’s complex culture and systems. There is a feeling of pain in the history of war and conflict, a socialist political system, and a relaxed and welcoming attitude that stems from their unique folk religion, which stems from Taoism, Confucism and Buddhism.
I also noticed an interesting acceptance of death. Where the goal of the west is in many ways for eternal life, I felt like there was an openness to mortality and grief. I saw this in the way that loved ones are buried in pride of place in the front lawn, how a funeral procession moves through the streets, and a contentedness in the present. I think recent history of war atrocities would still be very vivid in many of the elderly people’s minds, and perhaps acceptance is the antidote to being crippled by grief.
Another of the things that really struck me, was the high regard for women. I first noticed this on my meanderings through the Ho Chi Minh Museum of Fine Art, where many portraits and paintings depicted the strength of the female. Their value not portrayed in their physical appearance, but through their support of family, their leadership and a certain reverence of emotion. I noticed in a lot of paintings women were in the front, and there were several sculptures of female figure, and in general, I was just astounded at the dominance of the female in this story of modern history.
In this quiet, and beautifully decaying French colonial building, I meandered through rooms, with space and breath to examine the strength of women in the face of war. The narrative I experienced, was that not only did they get on with supporting and providing for children and loved ones, but they rose up to leadership in community, business, spirituality and combat.
This strength is a legacy in daily life in Vietnam even now. It was clear to me that this recent war had impacted gender roles - although I have no reference really for what it was like before, I found it most fascinating in the exchanges I had in various businesses. Women are boss. It’s the women who run the business, answer the questions when men don’t know the answer, and take the money. Here’s a few things I observed while I was there, about how girls rule the world here.
1. BOLDNESS. Many of the women I saw weren’t afraid to approach people where they’re at. As someone who is constantly anxious, I am so amazed at the boldness to continually approach people despite knock backs. Taking a leisurely stroll through the streets of Hoi An, and there she is. And her as well. Forthcoming with their offerings. And even if you say no, they’ll still try. There seemed to be very little care about putting people offside, or entering into their space. What did they do with failure to engage a customer? Didn’t even flinch. I think this is probably the first attribute needed to succeed in business. If you don’t try something new, you’ll never get from where you are, to where you need to go.
2. NICHE. I enjoyed watching women use whatever it is that they have, and adapting it. Whether it’s a jimmy’d bicycle hung with dried squid, or a suitcase filled with cigarettes, there are many inventions people have created using very little, and they head out from dawn until dusk to sell their wares, moving quickly from customer to customer, searching for opportunities. Perhaps it’s these limited resources forces a niche, where I personally struggle to choose a niche, because I have so many options. (Also, my brain is very wild.) Before I travelled to Vietnam, I saw a Luke Nguyen show where he told the story of these two Vietnamese women who were famous for their fresh rice noodles. The women, in their 70’s, had been making rice noodles for no less than 50 years. FIFTY YEARS! Day in, day out, they pound the rice, and make a paste, smooth it out to dry and cut it up. They have nailed their niche, and make an adequate living from it. I remember being in awe of how simple their life was, and how happy they were. No striving and struggling with social media and selling online courses for them! Just pounding rice with your bestie all day everyday. .
3. SALES PROCESS. They’ve nailed the sales funnel.
It starts as previously mentioned - cold call on the street. Ok it’s a little forceful, but they lure you in with an offer, perhaps a lie, something like “Take my photo, no money!” Right, they’ve hooked you.
Then... they try to force you into a sale of some sort with “Buy pineapple! Only this much!” with these tactics:
“I’ll give YOU a good price” - makes me feel special.
”I only have 2 left” - scarcity threat.
”But I gave you a photo” - nothing comes for free!
It’s the sales equivalent of incessant emails. The truth is, I don’t want to buy the daggy old fruit that’s likely been washed in septic water, but I also don’t want to be chased down the street. A couple of bucks is a small price for this amusing and inspiring interaction and a beautiful portrait.
The thing about Vietnamese business women is, they understand their own product. They know what they’re selling. They know their bottom line. Price point always starts at a higher margin, but they know how low they can go and don’t move past that. If you get into a bartering battle, and they welcome it, but there will be a limit.
THEN, and this is clever, they’ll ask you to tell people about their restaurant, store or travelling food stall. Because they know the greatest marketing tool in history is word of mouth. What I liked about it, is that it was as natural as anything for someone to say, “You like this food? Tell your friends!” or “Oh you like the dress I made you? Tell your friends.”
We westerners are so shy to share our skills, or tell people confidently what we are good at, I just had such admiration for the confidence, intelligence, and the finely tuned sales process.
The women of Vietnam are tenacious, strong, and running the show. I think it helps when culturally, it seems that is supported and normal, and I believe as a product of war in recent history. I hope to take even a small amount of these attributes and work it into my world in both business and life.
Have you been to Vietnam? Did you notice any of these amazing things about Vietnamese women? Let me know, I’d love to chat about it.
If you’d like to read more and look at photography from Vietnam, you can do that here.