The Power of the Dong

- By Darren Smith

With the rapid pace of our ever-changing world, you have two choices: adapt or get left behind. This was highlighted for me on a recent trip to Vietnam with my work colleagues. We were based in the middle of Hanoi in the Old Quarter and to add to the chaotic environment, our trip coincided with Independence Day. To say it was an adventure would be an understatement.

For those who have not been before, Vietnam has a population of circa 90 million: Most families have a couple of scooters which is their main mode of transport and creates an absolute buzz and bustle in the city streets.

On arrival we were confronted with some significant differences compared to Australia and what we would encounter on a normal working day. Good coffee shops were very hard to find and the streets were filled with motorbikes in every direction which are loaded to the hilt with children, animals, building materials, you name it! There were traffic lights, but the red light seemed to be an invitation to speed up and run the gauntlet.

The environment we were confronted with included sights and smells that really tested our tolerance levels. There were also the differences in language and currency; the local currency being the Dong. Even the basics of walking across the street took on new meaning requiring us to run the gauntlet in a big game of chicken. How we used water whilst there was also very important. Using bottled water gave more confidence that we would avoid the inevitable gastro reaction.

Reflecting on the trip and the experience, I believe there was an important life lesson. When confronted with this new environment, it was a complete change to what we were accustomed to. The immediate emotions we felt ranged from fear, hesitation, caution and uncertainty. This is similar to those when first faced with a change or significant event in our lives that we are not familiar with.

By the time we had been there a week, the emotions had moved to excitement and we had become more adventurous, confident and familiar with the ‘local way’ of doing things. After a lengthy adventure we finally found ourselves a good coffee shop. This particular coffee shop overlooked one of the busiest intersections which made for some interesting daily observations. After a couple of visits, we began to notice some patterns and to the outsider, what seemed to be chaos in fact had some basic rules of engagement: keep moving, beep constantly and avoid hitting people.

The key message in this story is that when faced with a new challenge or going into a new environment adaptability is crucial. In our situation, some basic research in advance could have minimised the culture shock. As humans we quite often underestimate our ability to adapt. I have always been an advocate of putting yourself outside your comfort zone, building your resilience and adapting to changing circumstances.

If we don’t adapt we get stuck in limbo, and in the context of Vietnam, we would never make it across the road. This reinforces one of the important roles that an adviser can assist clients with which is crossing the road or getting from point A to point B. This involves creating a path and adjusting it along the journey of our lives as we face many new environments and changing circumstances. If you need some good coffee suggestions for Hanoi we can also assist!