When I told neighbors that I was going to Hanoi, Vietnam, they recommended I reach out to their friends at Hanoi Food Culture. Through Facebook, HFC was generous with their time answering questions and helping me make reservations. I thought it was a one-time favor to a friend of a friend….and then I met Lap in person and started to learn about the Vietnamese spirit of Passing It Forward.
Lap Dinh Dong, one of the founders of Hanoi Food Culture and Hungry Hanoi, sat down with me on my first evening in Hanoi. I learned that he and other founder had been guides with G Adventures. Their dream of having their own restaurant had been sponsored by their former employers. They considered themselves privileged to have been sponsored and saw it as their responsibility to help others.
Many of their employees come from orphanages or under-privileged families. The founders sponsor these youths, bring them to Hanoi, help them find housing, and pay for their schooling (secondary education is not free in Vietnam), even sending them to the university. Their current general manager was a former youth they had sponsored. Our waitress shyly informed me she was currently attending Mr. Lap’s alma mater.
At fist, I thought this was just Mr. Lap and his establishment, but then I started to notice a trend.
At E Central Hotel in Hanoi, I noticed that youths with little experience and limited English held entry level positions and seem to shadow the older, more experienced staff members. I learned that the hotel had a policy of on-the-job-training and promoting through the ranks, even sponsoring employees through vocational training and university classes.
In my travels, I discovered a tea house designed to employ people with disabilities and a spa that employed individuals with visual-impairments. Employing and integrating individuals with disabilities is not a common part of the local culture and companies were working hard to remove the cultural stigma.
Yesterday, on Mr. Rot’s Secret Tour, he told the story of being from a minority tribe. He was adopted at age eleven, sent to secondary school, and given the opportunity to attend university. He talked of how he now supports the minority tribes through a number of charitable endeavours and act at their spokesman in the city (the hospital has him on call for translating).
Side Note: Because of these policies, sometimes service at hotels, spas, and restaurants can be inconsistent. The person may be in a newer role and is still learning what to do. Sometimes the person’s gratitude for the opportunity can be overwhelming and feel intrusive to the customer. I have experienced both. Smile, be patient, and remember that there is a backstory that we may never understand.
Again and again I have witnessed local people who were given a helping hand only to reach behind them and help elevate someone else. This is part of who the Vietnamese people are, neighbor helping neighbor.
Sometimes it feels that we are now living in a world where people only care about their city, their state, their religious group, their political party. We seem to be moving into a time where isolationism is preferred over globalization and the world seems just a little bit colder, a little bit less inviting….And then I visit Vietnam.
I have only admiration for the generosity of the Vietnamese people and hope we learn from their example.