Written from Vietnam: It’s in the mail!

TuoiTre News Stivi Cooke

Updated : 04/09/2017 10:27 GMT + 7

I knew instantly that I would never see it. Three months after Christmas, I was still waiting for a postcard sent by my mum. As my eldest brother noted over the phone, there was a little bit of Christmas cash tucked inside for me.

Considering that the Vietnamese postal system has always opened every single letter and parcel I’ve ever received, I knew the money would be taken. Although I hoped I’d at least receive the card, minus the cash, it never came.

Among the banes of living in Vietnam, the postal service is a regular annoyance. Mind you, I was amazed seven years ago to get a parcel from my mum with all the great candy she sent still intact despite a horrid sticky-tape repair job on the box. Even my motorbike guy can plug a hole better than that. Maybe it’s because the postal service here is just too busy.

I’m not surprised that the forests are disappearing…the amount of paperwork here can be surreal sometimes. Want a job in Vietnam? A work permit, a housing contract, a bank account, probably a local motorbike license, a work contract, home country or local police checks, and multiple copies of your qualifications are just the beginning. Funny that the busiest photocopy shop owner in town drives a Mercedes.

And collecting each document involves sending all sorts of paperwork all over the place.

Imagine the risks with those original documents that are so hard to replace…

Online shopping is also an issue. Items ordered from overseas run the risk of being stolen in transit or being so slow in delivery that online retailers risk a hit to their reputation when their ‘speedy’ service doesn’t live up to its name. Not to mention the costs businesses cover while waiting for important parts or materials. ‘Time is money’ is not just an idiom in Vietnam, it’s a reality.

I’ve ordered books for my school that never arrived, either somehow disappearing at customs in Ho Chi Minh City or simply vanishing like buffet food in front of Chinese tourists.

Costs have become an important factor in what I post both internationally and domestically. I have a children’s book that I’m trying to sell, yet the book’s value plus postal cost aren’t adding up very well and selling it has become a struggle. To date, I’ve not yet found a good alternative to the local postal service that meets my particular need of regularly sending small items around the country.

For the old hands, the expats who’ve lived here awhile, the private postal delivery systems have become an attractive alternative; FEDEX, UPS, and other companies work very well, although you pay through the nose for the reliability.

The difference between shipping companies, parcel delivery, and small postal items agents is blurring in Vietnam. If you were to judge by the number of trucks and vans, overloaded and hurling across Vietnam well above the speed limit, then business is booming. However, there’s a snag with their reliability.

By reliability I mean on-time deliveries and workers dealing with my mail and parcels in as efficient a manner as possible. Honesty is also an issue and problems arise when mail vanishes into thin air or is opened and then contents go missing.

Mangled packets are normal here; I’d die of shock if I got my mail in pristine condition. Judging by how the local motorbike taxi drivers pile stuff on their bikes, it’s a wonder that you can even recognize what it is by the time you receive it.

 

One time I had to get a new copy of my police check from Australia – unfolded – and it arrived wrapped in a roll with two huge rubber bands around it. It was marked in Vietnamese, ‘Không nếp gấp!’

 

However the final frustration is the local post office itself. Usually the staff are friendly and able to speak some English. I can understand dealing with mail that’s addressed in a foreign language can be daunting, however it seems strange when it can’t be found in a building smaller than a computer shop.

I remember having a furious argument in the Hoi An post office five years ago when I insisted they definitely had my envelope and the lady working, just as frustrated, threw open the cupboards behind her to show me it wasn’t there. My mail fell out of the bottom of the pile – a yellow and gold packet – and on to the floor.

I dryly commented, ‘That’s mine…’ and she sheepishly passed it over the counter not daring to look me in the eye.

Nowadays there’s a box with foreigner’s mail organized by name in the back room. Now that’s progress!

So if it’s in the mail, good luck!

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This entry was posted in Governance - Công quyền and tagged , , by Trần Đình Hoành. Bookmark the permalink.

About Trần Đình Hoành

I am an attorney in the Washington DC area, with a Doctor of Law in the US, attended the master program at the National School of Administration of Việt Nam, and graduated from Sài Gòn University Law School. I aso studied philosophy at the School of Letters in Sài Gòn. I have worked as an anti-trust attorney for Federal Trade Commission and a litigator for a fortune-100 telecom company in Washington DC. I have taught law courses for legal professionals in Việt Nam and still counsel VN government agencies on legal matters. I have founded and managed businesses for me and my family, both law and non-law. I have published many articles on national newspapers and radio stations in Việt Nam. In 1989 I was one of the founding members of US-VN Trade Council, working to re-establish US-VN relationship. Since the early 90's, I have established and managed VNFORUM and VNBIZ forum on VN-related matters; these forums are the subject of a PhD thesis by Dr. Caroline Valverde at UC-Berkeley and her book Transnationalizing Viet Nam. I translate poetry and my translation of "A Request at Đồng Lộc Cemetery" is now engraved on a stone memorial at Đồng Lộc National Shrine in VN. I study and teach the Bible and Buddhism. In 2009 I founded and still manage dotchuoinon.com on positive thinking and two other blogs on Buddhism. In 2015 a group of friends and I founded website CVD - Conversations on Vietnam Development (cvdvn.net). I study the art of leadership with many friends who are religious, business and government leaders from many countries. In October 2011 Phu Nu Publishing House in Hanoi published my book "Positive Thinking to Change Your Life", in Vietnamese (TƯ DUY TÍCH CỰC Thay Đổi Cuộc Sống). In December 2013 Phu Nu Publishing House published my book "10 Core Values for Success". I practice Jiu Jitsu and Tai Chi for health, and play guitar as a hobby, usually accompanying my wife Trần Lê Túy Phượng, aka singer Linh Phượng.

One thought on “Written from Vietnam: It’s in the mail!

  1. This is a huge shame and huge problem of the work ethics of the postal service and customs service (Hải quan) in Vietnam.

    I’ve heard tons of stories from friends who lost their mail/packages sent to Vietnam from abroad. I myself, too, have lost many postcards sent to Vietnam.

    Meanwhile, this has happened: Vụ “lọt lưới” 600 bánh heroin: Tại sao Cục Hải quan TP.HCM chưa kỷ luật ai? http://vietbao.vn/An-ninh-Phap-luat/Vu-lot-luoi-600-banh-heroin-Tai-sao-Cuc-Hai-quan-TPHCM-chua-ky-luat-ai/2131739096/301/

    Số lượt thích

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