My Starbucks Story: Made in Viet Nam

1200px-Starbucks_Corporation_Logo_2011.svgDuring my first year or so in Viet Nam, i.e., I emailed Howard Schultz, then CEO of Starbucks.  I noticed that a number of coffee chains, including Trung Nguyen and Highlands, were charging Starbucks’ prices for coffee drinks, snacks, etc.  These cafes attracted Vietnamese of means who could easily afford a few dollars for a coffee, as well as expats and tourists.  It meant there was room in the market for a company like Starbucks – not in five or 10 years but now (then)!  

After sending my note to Mr. Schultz, which I considered a bit of free (multimillion-dollar) advice and nothing more, I received an intriguing reply from his assistant.  She asked if I had a background in the food and beverage industry (I didn’t) or in franchising (same answer).  That was the end of that.  Maybe I put a bug in their corporate ear or maybe Viet Nam was already on their radar.  

Amazingly, it wasn’t until early 2013, at least seven (7) years later after the email exchange, that Starbucks opened its first cafe in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) in partnership with Hong Kong’s Maxim’s Group.  At that time, in addition to Trung Nguyen and Highlands Coffee, two foreign companies had entered the Viet Nam market, the US-based Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and Australia’s Gloria Jean’s.  

I remember having a disappointing experience at the first cafe shortly after it opened.  It was clear that the employees were still being trained and that the quality of the drinks was not yet up to Starbucks’ high standards.  That quickly changed.  Consider it a growing pain of setting up shop in a new market.  

20191124_065141Since then, even more local coffee shops such as The Coffee House, Cộng Cà Phê, and Urban Coffee have opened their doors, making the coffee scene more competitive than ever. 

Starbucks celebrated its 5th anniversary last year and is expected to have a total of 45 stores in the near future in Danang, Haiphong, Hanoi, and HCMC.  The cafe near the Rex Hotel in HCMC may very well be the highest-grossing Starbucks in the country.  It was at 95% capacity on a recent evening.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

The Importance of Showing International Applicants THE LOVE

Once upon a time, there was a Vietnamese transfer student in the US who was planning to attend one  university and ended up accepting an offer from another.  Here are the main reasons:  
1.  The other school has better communication with students, including sending them a note on their birthday and more frequent updates.  
2.  An adviser emailed the original school on behalf of the student with a question about the international student orientation and didn’t receive a response until 11 days later.  
3.  The student called the original school to ask about credit transfer.  She was instructed to contact “Jim,” academic adviser.  She emailed him and received an answer more than a week later.  
4.  While the student was waiting for the above information, she received an additional scholarship from another university. 
Game over!  Uni #2:  1; Uni #1: 0.
If it’s taking some time to reply for whatever reason, international admission colleagues might want to update students even if only to say that they’re checking and will let them know by a certain date.  
The bottom line, figuratively and literally, is that institutions need to show applicants the love because they have so many choices in what has become a very competitive market in most countries, including Viet Nam.  
Shalom (שלום), MAA

Catholicism in Viet Nam

About 6.6% of Viet Nam’s population of about 97,000,000, or 6.4 million people, are Catholic.  While most are in central and southern Viet Nam, there are still some in the North.  Most Vietnamese identify themselves as Buddhist.  This photo was taken in Hà Đông, an urban district in the southwestern part of of Hà Nội.  Follow this link to read a 2018 post I wrote entitled Catholicism, the Vietnamese Language, & Student Recruitment in Viet Nam.  


Shalom (שלום), MAA

Air quality app under ‘coordinated attack’ in Vietnam amid heavy Hanoi smog

Sometimes, the truth hurts but it’s also useful in solving problems, both individual and societal.  You know the expression, “The first step in solving a problem is recognizing there is one.”  Here are two key paragraphs from this 7 October Reuters piece about Hanoi’s recent and cyclical air pollution problem and some misguided attempts to deny the accuracy of the data collected by independent monitors and reported by AirVisual via its website and app.  

The attack came after Vietnamese Facebook user (INSERT NAME), an online chemistry teacher with almost 350,000 followers on the website, said in a lengthy post that AirVisual was manipulating its data in order to sell air purifiers made by its parent company, IQair.

(INSERT NAME) did not offer any evidence to back up his claims, but the post – which said the AirVisual ranking would harm tourism to Vietnam and urged people to leave negative reviews of the app – quickly received thousands of shares and likes.

Of course, the online chemistry teacher (OCT) didn’t offer any evidence to back up his claims because he doesn’t have any.  That’s called shooting from the hip.  Or, to put it more crudely, I call bullshit.  Methinks the OCT should have put up or shut up.  It appears he’s just another social media “influencer” without data to back up his bold and slanderous assertion.  What was his ulterior motive?  More student customers?  Fame and fortune? 

Yes, air pollution is ultimately good for IQAir’s bottom line but why would a reputable Swiss company endanger its sterling reputation by “manipulating its data’?  It just doesn’t compute.  Besides, Hanoi and HCMC do have an air pollution problem, along with a long list of other cities.  In the case of the former, where I live, some of it is cyclical, i.e., there’s more pollution at certain times of the year than others because of changing weather patterns, e.g., temperature inversion.  The causes include millions of motorbikes, trucks, and buses, and the ubiquitous and never-ending construction.  

Just in case you believe the OCT’s unfounded charges, have a look at the result of the US Embassy-Hanoi monitoring station, which has been around for a long time.  (I think we can all agree that for all of its faults, the US government has no reason to manipulate air quality data.)  As of 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 8 October 2019, the air quality index registered 114, which is considered “unhealthy for sensitive groups.”

us embassy hanoi aqi

Here’s a relevant excerpt from the AirVisual website about the sources of data, which are many and varied.  

Where does IQAir AirVisual get its data from?

IQAir AirVisual reports from governmental and non-governmental air monitoring stations. For each station, it always lists the data source, contributor and location. IQAir AirVisual does this to be fully transparent and to give its users a choice as to which data they want to follow.

Oh, and the OCT’s claim that the AirVisual ranking would harm tourism in Viet Nam?  That’s one possible side effect of air and water pollution not only in Hanoi but other tourist destinations, e.g., Danang.  (The point is it’s the POLLUTION that could negatively affect tourism not AirVisual rankings.  Duh.)  Then there’s the long-term damage that will be done to the health of millions of people, not to mention the environment in which they live, unless these problems are addressed sooner rather than later.  Finally, there’s economic development, which will be negatively impacted by pollution.  

In the meantime, I’ll keep checking my AirVisual app, which I downloaded long before it became all the rage in Viet Nam simply because I like to know the air quality of the places in which I live and work, as well as those I visit for business and/or pleasure.  

Here are two relevant posts I saw on Facebook last week.  (OK, I cleaned up some of the language in the second post.  This is a family blog, after all.)  

hcmc smogAirVisual is a Swiss company, please tell me the reason why they picked Vietnam of all places and started a massive conspiracy to undermine the trust in Vietnam’s crispy clean air? Moreover, this is what Saigon looks like from my bedroom window… it didn’t look like that yesterday when airvisual claimed 56 points compared to today’s 152. Airvisual might be a scam but are my eyes suddenly blurry or something?

If some of you put the amount of effort you put into defending yourself into changing the small things, you’d have good air. It’s as simple as that  It’s OK to admit you f_____ up.  It happens. It’s called life. Grow the (______) up.

Breaking news & screaming headline!  Vietnam teacher apologizes after igniting smear campaign against AirVisual.  This happened the day after the Reuters article was published and picked up by a number of international news outlets, including the New York Times.  Gee, I wonder why?  Maybe, probably, most likely, because of enormous pressure applied to the OCT by AirVisual attorneys.  Can he spell L-A-W-S-U-I-T, I wonder?  Most likely, he didn’t want to end up living in a rented room and using public transportation or worse because I’m pretty sure he would have ended up with nothing after justice ran its course.  For all I know, maybe the Swiss ambassador to Viet Nam filed a complaint with the Viet Nam Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there are limits to freedom of speech.  We can’t just write and say whatever the hell we want whenever we want to, especially if it’s not true and especially if it’s harmful to others, in case this a Swiss company.  The offender was forced to shut up, thanks to swift action by AirVisual, because he couldn’t put it.  Chalk this up as a minor victory for accountability! 

Can you guess what the greatest concern is for the Vietnamese?  Health (!), according to a recent Nielsen survey.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

Keep Viet Nam Beautiful! Gìn giữ Việt Nam tươi đẹp!

plastic bottle in ha long bay
A plastic bottle floating in Ha Long Bay.  Photo:  MAA

Vietnam is the fourth-largest contributor to marine plastic pollution globally, a 2015 study by the University of Georgia showed.

I took the above photo during a recent trip to Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994 and one of the natural wonders of the world.  While the water is often described as “emerald” that is not always the case because of pollution.  In addition, if you take a boat out on the bay for a half a day or overnight, there is a nearly 100% certainly that you will see plastic items floating in the water. Most of this garbage will eventually find its way into the sea.  

Aside from the importance of maintaining a healthy environment for the sake of the flora and fauna that live in it and the people who consume what it has to offer, there is also tourism, which is ultimately dependent upon a clean and beautiful natural environment, including the water that people swim in.  

Photo taken in the same area at the same time.

Sadly, Viet Nam is one of Asia’s five worst polluters of ocean plastic waste with 13 million tonnes of waste released to the ocean every year.  The country ranks 17th in the world for ocean plastic waste pollution.  According to the February 2019 article from which that information was taken, each person in Viet Nam consumed 3.8 kg of plastic per year in 1990; in 2015, that figure had skyrocketed to 41 kg (Source:  Viet Nam’s Association of Plastic).  The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE) estimated that about 80 TONS (!) of plastic waste and bags are thrown away every day in Hanoi and HCMC alone.  

To learn about positive steps that are being taken and can be taken, read the rest of the aforementioned mention article, Việt Nam takes action to reduce plastic waste.  Waste is not only a burden but an economic opportunity with the use of existing technology and that currently being developed.  There’s gold in garbage, as many entrepreneurs have discovered.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

My First VinFast


The Powerful Spirit of Vietnam (slogan of the VinFast Lux SA20 Turbo, which will set you back about 1.5 billion VND ($64,602 USD)

I saw my first VinFast car!  Here’s an excerpt from the “About Us” section of the VinFast website:  VinFast is a private automotive startup backed by VinGroup – Vietnam’s largest conglomerate. This allows us to take a bold new approach to design. It was our goal from the outset to create a world-class car with a Vietnamese identity.  By inviting Vietnamese people – our future customers – to be directly involved in our designs right at the start, we turned the traditional design process on its head.

VinFast stands for:

Việt Nam (Vietnam)
Phong cách (Stylish, Ph=F)
An toàn (Safety)
Sáng tạo (Creativeness)
Tiên phong (Pioneer)

For more background information about VinFast, which was founded just two years ago, have a look at this overview.

I’ll be interested to see how Vingroup’s famous brand translates into VinFast car sales in the coming year.  There’s no shortage of competition and saying your product has a “Vietnamese identity” is no guarantee of success.  The competition is fierce.  Stay tuned!

Shalom (שלום), MAA