Saturday, April 19, 2008

Tipping, the Scale

Ah.. it's been a while since I've teed off in this space.  Maybe because I'm bothered from the lack of actual, real live golfing in my life.  Hitting the greens is a bit more relaxing than just hanging out at the range.

Anyhow, after moving down to Saigon, I've scoured the 'net looking for advice on where to eat and what to do.  I'm trying to discover more about this town, but there is only so much aimlessly walking in the midday heat that I can accomplish.  Getting coordinates to destinations would be helpful.

Such research on Vietnam ends up being a review of English travel logs and expat blogs.  Ergo, this rant.
  • people talk about giving $1 to someone (local), and then comment on how that's like 50% of the average yearly pay of a Vietnamese national.  Get a clue, m-fer.  The per-capita GDP is about $2,600 (in 2007) [corrected: this is the PPP (purchasing power parity) figure, as chicken leg man - Anh Duoi Ga - pointed out], but that accounts for the 50+ million folks who do not live in the city.  When was the last time you visited a province?  A lot of locals have spending power equal to your teaching salary, so stop trying to figure out how they're sporting nicer phones than you.
  • in the same vein, tip people appropriately you cheap bastards!  Folks write about going to foot massages and tipping 30k VND, like that's a big deal.  Listen, in jobs here where a tip from the customer is expected (aforementioned massages, golf course, etc.), the service folks get a very minimal base salary.  It's like your friendly bartender at home, who can legally get compensated below minimum wage.  If you were able to talk to the folks who have been kindly kneading your feet, or schleping your clubs, you would realize this.  That $15-20 USD caddie fee - the caddie sees 15-20k VND of it!  Per day!      
  • here is the tipping scale for a LOCAL - you are not, so pay more.  Foot massage: 50k; body massage: 100k; caddy (18 holes): 100k.
  • stop bitching about the women here, and how they are so materialistic.  Women are materialistic the world over (so are men - hey, look at me!).  It's just that your mangy ass could not attract the materialistic women back home, but, praise the lord, $omehow you could here.  Let's see - you can't really have a conversation with her, you met while you were either shopping for nice goods or sitting at a table nursing some $100+ bottle of whisky, and you got her number within 30 minutes.  Now you look askance when she expects, at minimum, some nice bauble of a gift the next time she sees you?  Welcome to the real world, from San Francisco to Saigon.
  • so you end up entertaining a materialistic girl.  Stop snooping around to see if she has other boyfriends - she does, just like every other like minded girl in the world.  And then it doesn't work out, so it ends. Be happy that you could entertain one, even for a bit of time.  Talking about bitch slapping people, even in jest, just makes you look like an asshole.  Or more precisely, a special kind of asshole, mixing misogyny with a faint whiff of racism.  After all, unlike a MySpace battle in the suburban jungle back home, your targets generally do not have knowledge of your digital putdowns.  
Saigon is a great city, bursting with life and people.  In a lot of ways, it is like every other metropolis, but it's a lot safer than the cities I know in the States.  So if you're uncomforted by the noise, or the masses, or the incessant commerce, then go back to your Podunk hometown in Australia, or the UK or whatever.  If you want cow-tipping, move to Hanoi :)

And the people here are just like they are everywhere else - from the desperately poor to the fabulously well off.  On average the locals may seem naive and less worldly, but they are like the corn-fed Iowans who had more of a say than you did on our next President.  

So spare some consideration for the kids selling gum, or the old folks selling yesterday's English language papers.  And marvel at the hard working women (and some men) who go about recycling plastic bottles, cans, cardboard, grocery bags and styrofoam, among other sundries.  They're reducing your footprint of waste on the world.  And stop for a moment, or at least slow your rush to the next nightspot for the evening, and take in the street sweeper and city garbage collectors, who work with brooms made from twigs and rope that they have to fashion themselves.  Apparently, the government's sanitation department has a sparse procurement policy.

It has been wonderful to enjoy the humanity of Vietnam, and to experience the humility that it evoked.         


Anh Duoi Ga said...

A fine rant I enjoyed it! Just a response to something that made me curious - that GDP figure you quoted is in purchasing power parity, average gdp in actual dollars like people are allegedly tipping with is maybe 800-900 now, of course higher in the city.


D. said...

You are right, that is GDP in PPP - my oversight.

Most college graduates looking for office jobs these days in Saigon are asking for at least 200 USD per month in the private sector, in my experience. Then there is the typical employment bonus in Vietnam, which range from 1x - 12x or more one's monthly salary.

Vincent said...

hsbc advertises their monthly stipend for internship to be 300 usd (for overseas interns) and just 160 for locals.


thanks for saying everything i've felt.

but my mother, who was born and raised until she was 16 on hai ba trung (next to cho tan dinh) comes back and finds the place intolerable.

whatever, i love it.

Anonymous said...

Vincent, thanks for reading.

I walked past Cho Tan Dinh just last week. Small world.

Khanh said...

Amen :)