Back in Business

I’m the picture of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder these days. I can’t get out of a taxi without going through the ritual of looking back at the seat and then jamming my hand in my left trouser pocket to make sure my “replacement” iPhone is not in the cab but securely in my pocket. Since I ride in 4 – 6 taxis a day this panic avoidance mechanism is consuming a lot of nervous energy. Still, having been without this lifeline to the larger world for almost 3 weeks I am determined not to let it happen that little device slip away again if I can help it.

The picture above was taken with my new phone. Proof positive that I have it and it works, but the story that goes with it is what this new life in Saigon is all about.

Last week I got a call from a colleague asking if I could deliver some flowers for a couple of birthdays. Flower deliveries are not a normal part of my job description, but these were special deliveries.

East Meets West has a program to support people with disabilities and the two people receiving birthday flowers are two Vietnamese pop stars who are acting as Goodwill Ambassadors for the disabled network support program. I imagined grabbing some flowers at the market and hustling them over to the birthday boys’ homes and handing the over. Nooooooooooooo! Birthdays are a big deal in Vietnam, and pop star birthdays are HUGE.

So, here’s the deal on birthday #1 – on Tuesday afternoon the office got a message telling us to be at an address near the city center. Kasim, the rock star, had bought his mother a “tearoom” as a birthday present and there was going to be a party there to celebrate. When we arrived the street in front of the tearoom was awash with huge flower sprays saying Happy Birthday. Inside, the crowd of trendy 30 somethings was murmuring in anticipation. That was 7:30pm. At 11:30 we discreetly made our way out to the taxi and a well deserved beddy-bye. In those 4 hours we heard singer after singer pour their hearts out in turgid ballads of unrequited love in a language I don’t understand – but there was no mistaking the message. Kasim, himself, was gracious and let everyone know we were there and doing good things for the Vietnamese people.

Then, on Friday, we packed up again to attend Dam Vinh Hung’s birthday bash. DVH is a mellow, pop icon, who is enormously personable with an easy manner – kind of short haired Michael Bolton. For DVH’s party, in a much larger hall, we stopped on the way to pick up 6 blind kids from an orphanage. These kids had met him earlier and they are part of the disabled group that he is helping us raise money for. We arrived with the kids and were seated front and center. Here, the stage was like the street at Kasim’s party – totally covered in flower sprays wishing him a happy birthday. There were probably 1000 mostly middle aged women in the auditorium and he welcomed and then put on a show for them. In the middle of the show he asked one of the blind kids to come up on stage to sing a song with him. It was a magical moment. The kid grabbed the mike and belted out the opening bars and then DVH with a huge smile joined in. It was truly fun. After the song was finished he introduced all of us and told the crowd about the great work East Meets West does with the disabled. Now that is a Goodwill Ambassador.

Neither of these birthdays was on my calendar when the week began, but they were highlights of it. In the process I learned that Kasim, on a recent tour of the Ukraine, raised $200,000 for the program. It’s good to have friends like Kasim and DVH.

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