Almost two years ago Marilynn and I chose an espresso place in the heart of Saigon for our morning lattes. We walk the two and a half blocks from the Hotel Rex gym, where we start the day, and we arrive right at 7am when they open the doors. Gloria Jean’s is an Australian chain and it’s hard for a Seattlite to say but I think they make the best tasting lattes on the planet. They are rich, thick, and very strong without being bitter. Tasty and long lasting.
But, the coffee is not the point here. Over the past two years we have made a number of new friends at Gloria Jean’s. The 7am crowd is very loyal and it took several months to break down the barriers but eventually we nodded and smiled and said hello often enough that we were able to start some conversations. The crowd is very eclectic and has changed a little over time: there’s Mike who does micro-loans and venture investing for Dragon Capital, Andrew, the vice provost at RMIT an Australian technology university, Nga, a Vietnamese business owner and single mom to 3 children, David, a San Francisco lawyer who splits his time between the Bay Area and HCMC, and Kaci, an ambitious, attractive, and very smart 28 year old who is starting an Executive MBA program at RMIT in January. Then there is the sidewalk newspaper vendor who saves us the Sat-Sun International Herald Tribune, the motorbike taxi guy right outside the front door who can’t keep his finger out of his nose, and the neighborhood sidewalk restaurant just across the alley. They are all part of our morning.
But, last week Kaci invited us (and Nga)to her 28th birthday party on Monday night at the Renaissance Riverside Hotel. It was a formal sit-down dim sum dinner for 20. Marilynn and I were the only non-Asian faces in the group and most of the other guests had known Kaci for years. It was very flattering to be invited and it was a good party even though it had to be moved from poolside to inside because of the never-ending monsoon rains.
Kaci’s friends are on the move. They are the ambitious, upwardly mobile, college educated, English speaking cohort who want to be part of the global community – whether they stay in Vietnam or move elsewhere. There were more women than men in the group and almost everyone was late 20’s or early 30’s and single. There were journalists, PR people, bankers, executive assistants, interior designers, business development people and Mr. Tri, Kaci’s American educated mentor and English teacher as well as head of external relations for the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee. But that’s another story.
One notable difference between the Far East and the US is that age is not limiting in the formation of friendships. Almost all of our friends in Saigon are the same age as our children. I suppose it has something to do with the Confucian influence on the Asian side, but even our expat friends are much younger than we are. It feels good and natural to have these friendships despite the obvious age differences. Next week we are going out with Nga and her children, whom we have not met. It’s been a real privilege getting to know these people.