Thursday, July 18, 2013

Customer Service in Vietnam

In an economy, which is highly dependent on customer service, whether it be tourism, exporting or manufacturing, one would expect the level of service to be very good.  On the face of it, it is.  However, while the staff are often extremely friendly and eager to please, the reality is that the service falls far below what foreigners, and more importantly, foreign companies would expect.  It is true that foreign companies need to understand the country they are doing business in.  They need to understand the culture of the people and the customs that they follow.  However, differences in culture aren’t always a good enough reason or excuse for errors that occur in business or even daily life.

So often we hear that in Vietnam, or in many nations in South-East Asia for that matter, that ‘saving face’ is very important.  However, this isn’t acceptable in Western society.  Not admitting an error or seeking clarification is simply unacceptable.  In a coffee shop it means the customer will not come back.  For a business it can mean the loss of a big contract with a multinational company, which could have ensured the long-term success of the enterprise.   In fact, owning up to a fault is since as courageous and good customer service in the West and Vietnamese schools should be encouraging the young generation to do this.

Another annoyance is that because labour cost are relatively cheap in Vietnam, there are often a lot staff in a resort, factory or shop, yet there are very few customers, or the staff are only responsible for one element of the business.  This causes problems.  When a customer goes to a shop in Vietnam, quite often, 2 or 3 staff will go to the customer.  This is often very annoying, and if the customer says, ‘I’m just looking’ the staff will follow the customer around which is even more irritating.  Additionally, as staff are often only responsible for one thing, if they are absent, it often causes confusion so others who don’t know how to do their job.  This can mean that important documents don’t get signed, deliveries don’t get processed and deadlines get missed.
This brings me on to my next point.  In the case above, is something is unable to be done, the guilty party won’t admit to the fault or inform the customer / client of the delay.  The most frustrating thing is that a smile or saying ‘it’s ok’ isn’t enough to make the situation ok.  Also, the time delay can cause serious inconveniences for the customer, which could be mitigated if they knew about the problem.   From people I’ve spoken to, delays and missed deadlines are the biggest problems with doing business in Vietnam.   It often seems to be forgotten that ‘the customer is King’.

Finally, I’ve never been to another country where staff in customer service where staff are allowed to use their phones.  You go to the bank, and the tellers answer their phones in the middle of serving customers and shop assistants would rather finish sending a message than tending to a shopper.  In the West, this is completely unacceptable, and although I’m used to it now, I still wonder why so many companies allow their staff to use their mobile devices whilst ‘working’. 

 cell phone ban

Vietnam has such great potential, particularly in customer service.  The people are naturally friendly, smile and are willing to help.  However, the lack of communication when problems arise, overstaffing and the use of cell phones are all detrimental to Vietnamese businesses, especially when dealing with foreigners.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Miscommunications in Vietnam

Any time that communication is required, whether that be in the same lingo or multiple languages, there is always the potential for the message to be misunderstood.  This can cause minor inconveniences and result in a chuckle or two, but it can also lead to more problematic scenarios, bringing about stress and frustration.  In most cases, instances of miscommunication can be avoided and cleared up very easily, but in Vietnam, this is not always true.
One of the biggest problems many foreign teachers or business people face in Vietnam is the reluctance of many Vietnamese workers or students to admit when they don’t understand something.  Often, a foreigner will ask a local if they’ve understood the instructions given to them, and of course, the worker will nod their head, smile and say ‘I understand’.  In a culture where people are scared to lose face by admitting that they are wrong or don’t comprehend something, especially in-front of their peers, this can lead to potentially serious problems.
In Western culture, we are always taught that if we don’t understand something, we should always seek clarification and not proceed with something until we know exactly what is expected of us.  It’s seen as imprudent to attempt a task without understanding what we have to do, and managers and seniors are always willing to give clarification or re-issue instructions should that be required.  Workers and students don’t feel embarrassed or ‘stupid’ if they don’t understand something, and having the confidence to ask for help is considered to be a strength rather than a weakness.
In Vietnam, the opposite appears to be true.  When communicating with foreigners, many Vietnamese people won’t admit when they don’t understand something.  This ranges from students not understanding tasks or vocabulary in a classroom, a waitress misunderstanding an order in a restaurant or a receptionist mishearing the dates a tourist wants to stay at a hotel.  In most cases, the miscommunication causes small problems like the wrong food or drink being served, or a new piece of vocabulary being used in a harmless yet incorrect context.  However, these mistakes could easily be avoided if people sought clarification and had the courage to admit they didn’t completely understand something.
Although I’ve used the example of foreigners communicating with local people, the problem in communication runs much deeper than the language barrier.  In Vietnam, employees are also very eager to please both their managers and their customers.  This sometimes comes at the expense of honesty.  Employees tend to say what they think the other person wants to hear, rather than tell them a truth they don’t want to hear.  A small example of this is a motorbike mechanic telling a stricken motorcyclist that it will take him 5 minutes to fix his tyre.  The motorist is happy as if the job only takes 5 minutes, he can arrive at work on time.  However, in reality it takes 15 minutes and the motorist is late for work and gets in trouble for not informing his manager as he thought he would be on time.
While this may seem like insignificant and trivial example, it nevertheless highlights several differences between Western and Vietnamese culture.  In the first case, the mechanic clearly knew that the job would take longer than 5 minutes, and therefore, should have given a more honest approximation of the time it would take.  This is a common frustration that foreigners face in business.  Employees, in their eagerness to please their managers, frequently give their managers unachievable time frames to complete a task.  This invariably leads to deadlines being missed and projects running behind schedule.  The second problem is the motorist’s failure to inform his manager that he would be late.  While being late in most cases might not be a serious problem, the non-calling to the manager, presumably as he didn’t want to let his manager down, again highlights that saving face and not owning up to mistakes is common in Vietnamese culture.
As always, I’m not saying that these problems are unique to Vietnam, or that they don’t happen in the UK.  These things are of course evident throughout the world and I’ve certainly been guilty of doing these things myself.  It just appears that a failure to seek clarification and simply saying what someone thinks the other person wants to hear is more common in Vietnamese culture than in the West.  Simply seeking clarification and owning up to errors could easily remove the frustrations that many foreigners feel on a daily basis and ease communication problems, especially in cross cultural and language exchanges.

The frustrations of learning Vietnamese

Over the last 5 years, at various points I have tried to learn Vietnamese so that I can integrate better with my family in-law and experience more of Vietnamese culture.  However, I have found it an incredibly hard language to master, and I am sure many of you have experienced similar feelings when learning English or another language.

For me, the most difficult aspect of learning Vietnamese is mastering the different tones and sounds that Vietnamese has, that English doesn’t.  The best example is the ng sound.  In English, this sound is always in the middle or end of words, and it’s very difficult for me to make this sound at the beginning of words where it’s found in Vietnamese.  This is particularly problematic for me when trying to say names correctly.  Being a teacher, it’s embarrassing when I can’t say Ngan correctly, especially as that's my sister in-laws name.

In addition, the tones are incredibly hard for a foreigner to master.  In English, if we call someone’s name, we naturally go up at the end of the name.  However, when saying a Vietnamese name, this could be a huge problem as it might change the meaning of the word.  In fact, I’ve had several occasions where I’ve said a name with the wrong tone, and it has changed a student’s name to an offensive word.  Of course I didn’t mean to do this, and luckily the students have taken my mistake in good spirits.  However, I’m always worried that by saying the wrong name, someone might get very upset or even confrontational because I’ve got the intonation wrong.

Another thing that’s very difficult is to grasp that many words have the same spelling but different meanings depending on their intonation.  Native English speakers are generally able to figure out the meaning of foreigners when they say words incorrectly.  This is probably because we’ve had a lot of exposure to people trying to speak English and know the common errors that people make.  However, the Vietnamese seem to have a big problem in trying to understand words that foreigners say incorrectly.  This is probably because it’s only quite recently (15 years or so) when foreigners started living here and before then, there was very little reason for foreigners to learn Vietnamese.  Even so, it is very frustrating for me when I try to speak Vietnamese but no-one can understand anything I say.    

To finish I had an amusing conversation with my Xe om driver a week ago.  I said ‘Can you take me to district 7?’ in Vietnamese.  He said ‘Sorry I don’t speak English’.  I said again, in Vietnamese ‘Can you take me to district 7.'  He said ‘No speak English’.  Then I said ‘Do you speak Vietnamese?’ in Vietnamese.  He said ‘yes’.  Then I said ‘Listen.  I’m speaking in Vietnamese.  Can you take me to district 7?’  He replied ‘Ah district 7!  I know it!’.  Why have I told you this story?  Well that’s a good question.  Usually when Vietnamese people see a foreigner, they expect them not to know Vietnamese and to speak in English.  Therefore, when a foreigner speaks in Vietnamese, the local thinks they’re talking in English, when in fact they are speaking in Vietnamese.  Obviously this will result in a mis-communication which is actually quite frustrating for someone who is learning another language.

As I said before, I’m sure many of you have shared similar experiences when trying to learn English, but believe me, I (and many other foreigners in Vietnam) have gone through exactly the same in learning your language.  Please sympathise with us when we try to use your language as it’s very difficult for us to learn!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Half Marathon - Nha Trang (4th March, 2012)

5:30am my alarm sounded in my lonely, small but comfortable hotel room.  I got changed, pinned my number on to my T-shirt, drank as much water as I could take on, put on my ankle supports (yes plural!) and staggered in a half daze as I usually do that early in the morning.  I made my way the kilometre to the start of the beach run and prepared myself for my second half marathon, 9 years after the first.

My training had gone pretty well.  I was running about 30km a week, but my longest run but the day of the race was only 8.5km, which to fair, I was able to complete very comfortably.  I felt in condition, but had been suffering a little from a cold in the days preceding the run.  However, I felt confident I'd be able to run the 21km in a reasonable time without too much damage to my body.  Such high hopes, such high expectations....

Well, after a lot of waffle from the race organisers in Vietnamese, which absolutely no-one was listening to, the race started and from looking around, it seemed that most people had run many more half marathons than I had, weighed considerably less and could keep up a much faster pace than I.  My previous spirits waned a little, but were completely shot to pieces after 5km when I realised that the run was going to be much more difficult than I expected.  At the 5km marker, I felt short of energy, was breathing much heavier than I would usually do at the same stage of a run and a horrible feeling of foreboding 'Am I going to be able to complete the run?'

With the organisers being particularly worried about the well-being due to the humidity in Vietnam, there were motorbikes constantly patrolling the route.  At no stage of the run did they ask me if I was OK or seem particularly concerned about me, which I can only take as a good sign.  However, I was a little disappointed and ashamed that I appeared to be the only one walking so early in the run.  Indeed, I felt so fatigued that for the next 7 kilometers I devised a strategy of running for one song and power walking for the next.  However, this was proving detrimental to my legs as it was getting harder and harder to start running after each 'rest' period.

At the turn (12km) I was failing to see the funny-side of my folly of thinking I'd done nearly enough training.  The venue of the running was beautiful.  For anyone who doubts my love for Nha Trang, you only have to read my previous post to see my feeling for the place.  However, the sun was starting to beat down which was negating any sea breeze that mother nature was kind enough to provide.  The middle part of the run had several gentle gradients, which felt far from that after having run 12km over the best part of 80 minutes.  The attendants at the drinks station were also unreasonably happy.  I was dead on my feet, but they were smiling.  To make matters worse, they didn't take my request for a taxi seriously as apparently they thought I was joking!

At 15km my legs gave up and I finally experienced 'the wall' that so many marathon runners talk about.  After another one of my 'rest' periods, I tried to get my leg to move at slightly more than a snails pace only to find that both my calves and quad had lost the battle to lactic acid and had completely cramped up and I staggered, nearly falling.  Fortunately me for, non of the race attendants notice as I'm pretty sure they would have not allowed me to continue.  I was able to keep up as brisk a walk as I could manage, but jogging was completely out of the question and only 1st gear was available.

The final 6 km were, without exaggerating, were the singe most painful experience of my life.  I was lucky that my iPod still had juice and I could call upon some upbeat music to keep my spirits up.  I swear, if I had coldplay or radiohead on my dukebox, enough said.... In the distance, as there weren't many runners behind me, I saw a young Japanese man struggling as much as I was.  If only I could catch him.  I gritted my teeth and over a stretch of 2 km I reeled him in and we completed the final 3 km together, both of us fantasizing about the tiger beer we were going to enjoy after the race.  Honesty, I think chatting with my new comrade in arms was the only thing that helped me cross the finish line in somewhere between 2:30 - 3 hours (probably nearer the later but I'll yet to receive the official time).

Upon finishing, I was disappointed not to receive a medal, as I think the organisers only provided a certificate which I think was pretty lame.  Maybe I didn't make the cut-off time, but there was nothing on the website which stipulated a maximum time, though to be fair they didn't say finishers would receive a medal either.  However, my pain didn't end after the 21,097 metres of the run as I still had to walk the 1km back to the hotel.  Me being me, thought that the walk would be a good warm down, well at least before the run I thought it would be.  At approximately 9:30, I crabbed along the coast, barely able to put one leg in front of the other.  I got sympathetic looks for the locals and tourists alike, but they must have been flabbergasted that an overweight foreign had not only been stupid enough to run a half marathon, but was even more stupid enough to walk back to the hotel after!

Luckily, I recovered very quickly from the ordeal.  In fact, I recovered much quicker than I did after the first run I did, which is hopefully a result of being fitter that I was all those years ago.  And for your information, I enjoyed several beers after the run, after copious amounts of water!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Update - 2012

A belated Happy new year, or Chuc Mung Nam Moi to all of you, wherever you are in the world.  Since it's been ages since I've posted anything, I'll make a general entry this time and make some more specific entries in the coming weeks.  Obviously, with the little one, the festive seasons, and various other shenanigans, I completely forgot to maintain my online presence!

Hanh & Isabella

I'm happy to say that both my wife and daughter are doing very well.  Hanh has recently gone back to work after taking several months off for maternity leave.  While, of course, it is difficult for her to leave our wee one at home, we felt it was important for her to continue working and to maintain the relationships and friendships that can so easily be broken if one stays at home.  I am fortunate enough to have an amazing sister in-law and nanny who take care of Bella fantastically while we're at work, and I think that although Hanh is pretty shattered after a long week's work, she's happy with the decision she's made. 

Isabella is full of life and is growing up incredibly quickly.   Anyone who has seen the pictures on facebook will be able to tell you just how much she's grown.  She's now 6 months old, she's rolling over, attempting (with little success thus far) to crawl, her first teeth have just come through and she just doesn't stop smiling!  Right now she's making cute little sleeping noises as I'm writing this.  She's having a little bit of a restless night as she had some shots this morning, though I couldn't tell you what for.  We're also in the process of getting her British citizenship, something I should've done long ago.  I don't think it's going to be too much of a problem, so fingers cross in the next couple of months she'll hold dual nationalities.


Fortunately, all of my injuries have cleared up for the time being.  I played my first football match for about 6 months a couple of weeks ago and came through training last Wednesday without suffering any pain in my ankle which I'm really happy about.  I've also started running again.  I was fully intending on taking part in the Great Wall of China half marathon in May, but you have to book a package tour which costs over a thousand dollars, which I'm really not prepared to do so I've had to abandon that plan.  However, I'm going to run a half in Nha Trang in 4 weeks time instead which might be an error as I probably won't be in great shape to do it.  I'm also trying to play a bit of tennis and softball (of all things) to try to lose some of the excess weight I gained over the festive periods.  On Tuesday nights, I've been throwing some good darts, and even hit my first 180 a couple of nights a go.  Phil 'the power' Taylor, watch this space!

Christmas & Tet Holiday

For the first time since I've been in Asia, I had a wonderful Christmas Day.  Some good family friends, The Hoffs, invited us round for Xmas dinner.  They ordered a turkey, prepared carrots, potatoes and other trimmings, brought champagne and orange juice for bucks fizz and even managed to procure a Christmas log.  It was honestly the first time I've felt remotely festive in my 4 years away from Blighty.  It was also amusing as Jon's daughter Lou was trying to feed Isabella chocolate.  I had to feel sorry for her as she was trying to be nice, but we had to tell her off as she just couldn't grasp that babies don't have the facility to chew and swallow.  Still, it was wonderful to see her so excited and a massive thanks to Jon & Chi for hosting a fantastic day!

For Tet holiday we went to the in-laws.  I read the 2 books I've bought in the first 2 days and found myself with very little to do after that as I have no friends in Ben Tre and no one, barring Hanh, can speak English.  Also, their internet connect is pretty slow and I couldn't hack into anyone's wireless network.  Therefore, I managed to sleep a lot.  Being of working age, I also had to give lots of people lucky money, which doesn't feel so lucky as I end up being out of pocket!  Such is life I guess!  That being said, it was nice to spend some time at the in-laws and catch up with some of the extended family.  As there was nothing to do, I probably drank a little too much and I've definitely learned that if I've not made plans to travel during Tet holiday next year, I will need more than 2 books!

Upcoming plans

On Saturday, Hanh and I will be sending Isabella off to the in-laws so that we can go to Kuala Lumpur for an extended weekend.  Hanh gets very little time off work so we need to make the most of it while we can.  I also have a one week course break, so I can take time off without disrupting the teaching schedule.  We'll be staying in a nice 4-star hotel in the Bukit Bintang area of town which I'm told is pretty cool so I'm really looking forward to it!  Of course, you'll be getting a city review in due course.  Other than that, we'll be going to Da Nanang for my friend's wedding in March as well as Nha Trang for the half marathon I previously mentioned.

Well, that's the wrap for now.  As you can see, a few things have been going on.  Most of my time is taken up with work, taking care of Bella, and sport.  As tired as I generally feel, I'm pretty happy and content with life which is more than most people can say, can I reckon I'm pretty fortunate! 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The first 4 months of fatherhood

Well, it's been a long time folks, but I'm back and ready to join the blogging world once more!  My absence has been due to a number factors such as my family visiting from England, various sporting commitments, a change in schedule at work and mental fatigue resulting from my little family expanding by 1 person.  However, now things have settled into a regular(ish) routine, I'll be subjecting you all to my various musings that I know you've all missed so much!  As Isabella is probably the most interesting development over the last 3 months, I should probably start there, so let me share with you my tips in bringing up ickle ones,  from Daddy's point of view.

1.  Let the girls do everything, your time will come

Before Bella was born, I thought I'd get stuck into bathing her, changing her clothes and nappies and feeding her (from the bottle I hasten to add).  However, I quickly learned that babies want mummy.  Also, the female side of the family are only too happy to take over as their mothering instincts kick in.  At first, I was a little annoyed as I wanted that contact time and those opportunities to get to know my little treasure a bit more but several things happened to change my thinking.  To start with, getting the angle right and actually getting the bottle into her mouth were surprisingly difficult.  To make matters worse, she decided to practice her projectile vomiting after I fed her 2 of the worst (I mean first) 3 times.  After that, both dad and child were cautious around feeding time and relieved smiles appeared on both faces at the appearance of mum, mother in-law or auntie.

Now, I'm happy to feed her as she's a bit older.  That's probably only because I was forced to feed her last week as Hanh went to Da Lat and Nha Trang leaving me alone with our little one for a few hours for 4 days before help arrived in the evenings!  We're both (Issy & I) much more comfortable around dinner time and she now knows her dad isn't a useless offe!  Changing nappies has never been a problem, even if it is a smelly task and dressing her is cumbersome and awkward, though not impossible. 

2.  Sleep in a different room, rest is a God send

I'm one of the lucky ones.  Most of the time, my sister in-law, mother in-law or perfect wife sleep in the living room with Bella, while I sleep peacefully in our bedroom.  You might ask why she doesn't sleep in the bedroom with us and that would be a good question.  Fortunately I have a good answer other than the fact I just need my beauty sleep.  As Vietnam is so hot, air conditioning is a life saver.  The cot for Bella is rather large, and there's only one place that it can go in our bedroom.  This spot happens to be directly under the a/c unit which isn't the best place for her to sleep, so her crib is positioned in the middle of the living room.  I'm pretty sure she's happy being in the centre of the room as she's gets a good view of the TV and is the centre of attention without even trying!

That being said, my sleep time is very important.  Firstly, the simple fact is someone has to earn and teaching is pretty exhausting in terms of energy.  If I'm flat in the classroom, it's likely that the students will also be lethargic.  Therefore, it's essential for me to have uninterrupted snooze to do my job as well as possible.  Secondly, until recently, Bella has only really wanted women's attention.  I've struggled to feed her, settle her and get her off to sleep.  If she decides she wants something, she generally gets it, usually by bawling her eyes out and testing her lungs.  Now it's changed somewhat as she's much more comfortable with me and with Hanh returning to work soon, I'm sure I'll be taking more responsibility during the night shift, but until now, I've been enjoying sweet dreams!

3.  Learn the locations and opening hours of all shops that stock nappies, baby milk and wet wipes

For those who don't know, babies are machines.  They drink milk and get through nappies quicker than you'd every imagine!  If they're on the breast, I guess trips to the store are less frequent but if they develop a taste for formula, you're off to the store every 10 days!  Bella drinks both variety of milk, and seems indifferent to which she prefers.  However, the cost of baby milk is adding up.  One carton costs about $20, which I guess is cheap for 10 days worth of food, but still!  Nappies spin a similar story.

The main problem is that you don't always keep on top of how much milk or how many nappies you have left.  It could be 9pm when you suddenly realise that you don't have enough supplies to get you through the night!  Therefore, having an encyclopedic knowledge of baby-ware shops is essential.  We have several outlets close by and fortunately we've not been caught out in the wee small hours of the morning.  However, it's always best to be prepared as you don't want to be driving around desperately, half asleep searching for shops which may or may not be open or supplying what you require.

4.  They're not made of china

This was probably the single best piece of advice that my doctor gave me when I went to the doc for Bella's first month checkup.  In the first month, I was always so scared of picking her up.  I always had visions of me forgetting to support her head resulting in it falling off.  Fortunately, that didn't happen.  Trying to get the right combination of being firm but gentle was something that I initially found particular tricky.  Obviously, as they get older, things become much easier as their muscles develop and you get more comfortable handling them.  Having said that, it's easier said than done to have a firm hand when they're so small!

5.  Crying is a good thing

Babies are supposed to cry.  It's what they do!  Crying just means they need something.  In antenatal classes we were told waterworks are due to hunger, need of a cuddle, changing time, being too hot or cold, being too tired or being gassy.  Therefore, all you have to do is figure out which one it is!  The problem is, they generally follow each other.  After sleeping, she just wants attention.  A few minutes later she's hungry.  While she's eating she usually attends to a call of nature so a pit stop is required.  Then she wants more food or is gassy.  After that it's either play time or nap time.  At any stage, tears and screams are to be expected.

In the early months, crying was a relief to me.  She used to sleep so peacefully and deeply that she barely moved.  I constantly put my head over her nose and mouth, just to check she was breathing.  Later, I put my hand on her stomach to feel it going up and down.  Crying signified life which I think is all new parents think about.  Now, her lungs have developed I feel a little differently, especially when I can't settle her down.  That being said, you can't be angry and although it can be frustrating at times, you can't help but smile.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Welcome Andrew....opps....Sorry, I mean Isabella

After being awake for about 28 hours, I was a little bit like a zombie.  I staggered up the stairs, showed the nurse my piece of paper saying I was the father of my child and was lead to a room.  I figured at this point I'd be able to pick our baby up, talk with her/him and start to get to know it.  Well, as it transpires, it turned out to a viewing gallery and my ticket allowed me about 30 seconds to see my baby. 

I counted, two arms, two legs and one head.  Good start I thought.  Cute little face - definitive plus.  Potentially blue eyes (I still haven't worked that out yet) - double plus.  Looks like me - plus as it's definitely my baby, minus that she may end up being the female equivalent of her father.  I went to pick her up, but was fended off by the nurse.  I figured they must have tests to do but I was a bit put out.  The nurse quickly lifted up the diaper to show me the sex.  She lifted up our baby's legs for about half a second.  As no spoke any English and I didn't really get a clear look, I made the decision the our baby, was in fact, an Andrew, my son.  I quickly took two pictures and was asked to leave the room.
My wife's sister told me that I wouldn't be able to see Hanh until about 1 or 2pm so I decided to go home.  I found my motorbike in the car park, paid the attendant and drove home - which I wouldn't advise doing after being awake for as long as I had!  I stopped off at the shop, bought some milk as I was desperate for a cup of tea and eventually made it to my house at about 9:40, roughly 27 hours after I'd left the house the previous day.  I hadn't turned off my computer from the day before, so I opened the top, uploaded the two pictures I had taken and announced the arrival of Andrew to the world on Facebook.  I didn't even look at the pictures.  I was too tired.  I was only really thinking about Hanh and Andrew.  I hoped they were both healthy and couldn't wait to see them both.  I set a couple of alarms for 1pm and 1:10pm, closed my eyes and fell asleep.

As is normal for me, I woke up a couple of minutes before my alarm went off.  At first, I didn't know where I was or what had happened before I went to sleep.  However, after looking to my left, I saw the cot already made and suddenly remembered I had some to be.  Unlike the previous morning, I had a quick shower, gulped down some water and dashed to my motorbike.  Again, I don't remember all that much about the bike journey but I think it was fairly uneventful.  For this experience I know that if my wife goes into labour in the UK, I will definitely not be the one driving the car!

I arrived at hospital and called Ngan.  See came down to meet me at reception to tell me her bag had got stolen.  This was a big loss for us.  Most of the money that we were going to use to pay for everything was stolen, 3 mobile phones (including my wife's) and my sister in laws identification papers were gone.  Fortunately, I'd kept some of the money (which turned out to be enough to cover all the fees) and the important documentation for Hanh and myself.  If these papers had have been lost, it would've made life very difficult as bureaucracy is king in Vietnam.  At the time, I took all this in my stride.  I was to concerned about Hanh and excited to meet Andrew to care.  Ngan led me upstairs to the room my family was staying in.

At about I walked into the walk.  Hanh looked exhausted.  My managed a faint smile and nodded to say she was OK.  In the time I was away, her parents had arrived from her hometown.  Hanh and Ngan had decided not to tell them that their daughter had gone into labour to save them from any stress.  In hindsight, that turned out to be a good idea, though not necessary one I'd have chosen in the same circumstances.  My attention then turned to the centre of the room.  There was a small baby's bed, covered in a pink mosquito net.  Inside was my child dressed in pink.  I spoke to him and he seemed to recognise my voice.  I look into his eyes and felt a surge of love that will stay with me for life.  Just of innocent purity.  I picked him up, held him and started walking around the room, talking the sort of non-sense that only new fathers are allowed to speak.
 I distinctly remember saying "Why have they dressed you in pink Andrew?'' and ''Why is your bed pink?'' in my 10 minutes of rambling after which time my wife said to me ''Mark, why are you calling Isabella Andrew?''.  I stopped, looked, put two and two together and had realised my mistake.  I offered a token ''Are you sure?'' to which the response was ''You can check if you want!'' - Check mate.  I'd lost.  Andrew was in fact Isabella which seemed to make much more sense since everything was pink!

Since I'd informed everyone that we'd had a boy, I knew that a bit of stick would be coming my way.  To be fair to everyone, I haven't received a lot of mickey taking for which I'm incredibly grateful.  Hopefully if you've read the previous two blogs, you'll see that I was exactly in the best place through both physical and mental exhaustion.  Hanh needed me to pick up a few things from home, so after an hour and a half, I went home, had something to eat as I was starving and updated Facebook.  I called my parents and gran to inform them of the change of gender before going back to the hospital for the 4th time.  This time, I just spent time with my family.  Hanh and Isabella spent most of the time sleeping after their earlier struggles and the in laws and I just watched them.  At about 21:30, I said my goodbyes and went to my local.  I knew that a couple of the darts team would be there so I got my first proper meal, a whiskey and watched the community shield, reflecting on what had happened in the previous 48hours and contemplating on what the future will hold.