Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Hairdessers and Seamstresses

 Hairdressers and Seamstresses
Extract from Destination Saigon: Adventures in Vietnam by Walter Mason

The streets of Saigon are filled with businesses, most of them small and many of them serving to support a single family. The people of the south are inveterate shopkeepers, whose very souls were plotting commerce even while the state insisted that private profit was the worst kind of treason.

My old friend and protector in Vietnam, Kien, is of the generation that could launch itself straight into private enterprise. He runs a suburban hairdressing salon in the traditional manner of most Vietnamese bosses: the hours are long, the pay is poor; he is gruff and inclined to bark demands at the employees. But, oddly, the staff are at perfect liberty to disregard almost everything he asks and, despite his crankiness, the stylists and apprentices all seem to adore him. Indeed several of them, male and female, are not-so-secretly in love with him, and will declare to anyone who’ll listen that they would die for Anh Kien. Such devotion, however, does not extend to sweeping up hair when requested, or closing the door to preserve air-conditioning. Sometimes I would question this wilful disobedience, but Kien would merely shrug it off. ‘They work long hours,’ he reasoned, ‘and they don’t get paid much.’

‘Have you not thought of reducing their hours and increasing their pay? Then perhaps you’d get more out of them.’

Kien snorted at the idea. ‘That’s just the crazy sort of thing I’d expect a foreigner to suggest. Walter oi! You have no understanding of Vietnamese culture.’...read more

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