Things That Catch Your Eye

Hong Kong always impresses you with highly efficient professionalism. The Cantonese excel in functional excellence. Our otherwise sober hotel, Langham Place in Mongkok revealed its lighter side as I said in my earlier post with its choice of statuary and art. But also they showed human insight and a wry (yet always appropriate) take on hospitality. Soon after we had checked in, in the small study alcove in our suite, I found a folder that said “Read Me”. How could you not? Wonderfully irresistible. Inside was a note about some maintenance being done on the pool and provisions that had been made for us to use the pool at their sister property. Similar notes dotted the suite and gave unusually clear input into Club facilities, restaurants and bar, laundry service and more. Always clear, simple, elegant, attractive.

When we left, we enjoyed an impeccable early check-out at a wonderfully run 24 hour Club Floor at 6:15, the promised 6:30 lavish continental spread (which included excellent Dim Sum by the way!) was already set up and ready. The bags were down at 6:40, the car was ready. Only when we pulled out the copy of the bill after landing in Ho Chi Minh City several hours later did we see that the back of the envelope read: “Miss You Already.”  From a campy chain that would have been too much syrup. From a resolutely professional and efficient hotel in bustling Mongkok, it was a charming and insightful touch.

Ho Chi Minh hasn’t changed. A study in contrasts…and a commitment to national development. The government here has tried a new approach to stimulate consumption. They’ve done a 5 month income tax hiatus in ’09!!  Their hope that this will keep consumers spending normally!  Very clever…and as they’re NOT snowed under a mountain of debt, it’ll be fascinating to see how it pans out.

Anywhere the English colonized they left behind bureaucracy and institutions. When the bureaucracy stifles it’s sad, when the institutions work, great progress is possible (India for example is a case study in both simultaneously). Where the French colonized, they left in relative terms arguably greater inefficiency, but usually an advanced sense of aesthetics, style, and a rich appreciation of cuisine. This is very evident in Vietnam, and harmonizes well with their own cultural sensibilities.

We stayed at the Sofitel Plaza because of so many memories from the time the Unilever Vietnam office was next door, and we helped them build their teams and thereby their results over several years. Vietnam takes you constantly by surprise! We learned that a 3 star Michelin Chef had just finished a promotion at the Sofitel’s French restaurant Olivier, the first such tour in Vietnam from a Chef of such international repute. It won’t be the last. Another such is planned for November.

After a meeting with an old friend and future business partner, we went with a Sensei colleague to Mandarine, an elegant local restaurant whose ambiance and presentation of lovely dishes, done with real subtlety and style conveyed, as ever, so much of the spirit of this remarkable place.

Off we go to China Beach in Central Vietnam and another senior leadership team…coming there to both experience Vietnam and re-experience themselves and how they collaborate and interact.

PS. Much as we adore HCMC overall, not everything is impressive. Clearly they issue taxi licenses on a capricious whim. It’s evident that virtually no cab driver in Ho Chi Minh City knows any major restaurant, hotel or landmark. However, they don’t let that deter them! They drive on with great expectations…until eventually the location is spotted, or finally their ego relents and they call their dispatcher!