Galatea’s Chi Huynh takes The Techie Road Warrior to Vietnam
My previous article discussed the cloud fax services that allow you to always be in touch, and with the convenience of all your mobile devices. This time I am going to share an adventurous experience on the road that also turned out to be very inspirational and moving. The destination is Vietnam!
One of the companies I represent, Galatea, took six sales reps to Vietnam to see the factory and tour the country. This was over New Year’s 2012/2013.
We had just come off of a very successful year and our illustrious owner, and the jewelry industry’s most creative designer, Mr. Chi Huynh wanted to reward the company’s top sales reps on a ten day tour of the country, from top to bottom. This included the capital Hanoi way up in the north, to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), to the far southern tip of the country, Soc Trang, where Chi has a home and has built two factories employing over two hundred workers.
We also visited the company pearl farm, about eight miles out into the South China Sea. There we watched as divers pulled oysters out of the farm that had been growing special pearls for close to one year. Once out of the water, Chi demonstrated how they remove the pearls, right on the deck of our “boat” while anchored off the shore of a remote island that Galatea leases. I put boat in quotations because it would not pass for a fishing boat like we might be accustomed to here in the states.
On the ninety minute ride back to the mainland, our motor actually started smoking and they had to shut down. This left us floating in the middle of the sea, but the fishermen in command know how to make due, and they cooled off the engine and started it up with what was a typical rope, like one you may have used to start a lawn mower - about forty years ago!
Adventure aside, I need to talk about mobile technology here. As was surprising to me, but really shouldn’t have been, I was getting a better signal on my iPhone several miles out at sea in Vietnam than I do back here in the Midwest! I cannot remember once not having a good signal anywhere in the country, and we covered a lot of ground.
At its best, Vietnam is still a third world country. The scene in Hanoi was a mess - I am assuming there are no such thing as building codes. In one hotel in which we stayed there were exposed wires running along the ceilings of the hallways. But no matter, cell phone towers seemed to service my phone better than back home. And Wi-Fi was everywhere.
So what did we do with that? I for one did a lot of Facebook postings. My customers back in the states really enjoyed watching our trip. I was taking video clips and posting, right from the fishing boat out at sea, in addition to on the mainland. So, having just an iPhone & iPad allowed me to document my trip for my family back home, but I was also able to keep up with e-mail, voice mail and faxes. In fact, one day at Chi’s home, when we were about to all sit down for our one and only hour long sales meeting, we had just received word via e-mail that Galatea had won another JCK Jewelers Choice Award. Being 8,000 miles away from home doesn’t mean being out of touch.
Now I must get to the inspirational part of our trip. Chi truly is one of the most generous people I have ever been associated with. He was forced to leave the country at age 12 after it was taken over by Communists some years after the war. The death defying journey to freedom is a whole story in itself. But after settling in Los Angeles, he grew up to be an amazing artist, poet, designer, inventor, and started Galatea after finishing high school.
As soon as Vietnam started to allow foreign business to set up shop, Chi went back to the small town he grew up in, purchased some land, and built a home and a factory. It would have been much easier to contract his product to be made in China, but he wanted to provide good paying jobs to the people of his hometown.
When we went there less than two years ago, there was one factory with one hundred workers. While there, we saw plans on the second factory, which today is also up and running.
Several times a year, he purchases hundreds of two kilo bags of rice and stacks them up at his home. He gives his factory workers coupons to pass out to poor people in the area. On a specific day and time, the people who have a coupon will walk miles to Chi’s home & factories where they will turn in their coupon for a bag of rice.
For many that will be most of the food they will have to eat for about two weeks. During our visit, Chi set it up that when we were on site, we could be the ones to pass out the bags of rice. This was very moving, and the people were so friendly, they loved to see Americans, a very rare site in this remote part of the country, and we loved seeing them.
The final story here happened by accident. While our group was sitting on the beautiful, lush grounds of the factory, we saw the adjacent plot of land. It was a rice farm, but sitting on the farm was a small straw hut with dirt floors. Something like what you might expect to see on the old TV show “Gilligan’s Island.” Chi explained that a young woman lived there with her mother. When she turned eighteen years old, Chi hired her, trained her, and she was instantly in the middle class. That is how well he pays his workers.
The curiosity was that they still lived in this hut, the only noticeable change was that there were more clothes hanging on the line to dry. She told Chi that a lot of her paycheck went to helping extended family, so they did not have immediate plans to move out of this “house”.
Upon hearing this story, I asked Chi, “what could a house cost here in Vietnam?” He told us perhaps under $2,000 US. I took one look around the group of reps and we all took out our wallets and started putting $100 bills on the table until we got to the needed amount. Chi also chipped in.
So we bought her a house! About a year later we finally received photos of the mother and daughter in their new home, courtesy and with much pleasure, of the reps from Galatea. This was one of those moments that transcends business, and concerns about technology on the road! Be well.