Local Currents

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Hanoi, Z-Pizza and Horns

“’What does a horn mean?’ That’s an interesting question about the social structure of a culture.”

–John Parker, President, Amway Japan.

While headed to dinner with my wife at Bobby Chinn’s in Hanoi, Vietnam, we passed a Z-Pizza sign at a new shopping mall. Seeing a Laguna Beach pizza brand in a North Vietnam mall says a lot about how small the globe is getting and how far our little beach town reaches. It made me think about how international exchange enhances cultures.


We were in Hanoi to meet with Japanese distributors from Amway, who will be selling our drinks in the land of the rising sun this spring. The trip was an incentive award for top business owners and a demonstration of the optimistic growth going on in Southeast Asia.


Japan has suffered under 20 plus years of that country’s stimulus spending and the unintended consequences of deflationary monetary policies. Optimism is at an all-time low. Staying at the French-colonial Hotel Metropole and experiencing Hanoi’s hypermarkets delivered an enjoyable and inspirational belief in the possibility of fast-growing small businesses to change an economy and culture.


Vietnam has an explosive economy in a communist country that mimics China’s “market socialism.” While maintaining communist rule, the ruling party has liberated the market in ways that make Laguna’s city planning seem authoritarian. Starting a business in Hanoi is as easy as picking up fruit baskets and selling on the street. It is raw economic liberty.


Ho Chi Mihn’s legacy is so revered that they keep him pickled in a refrigerated room for busloads of tourists and citizens to view. Vietnamese have maintained Uncle Ho’s vision of a future that benefits the country as well as the individual. There is still a collective vision, but one fueled by the individual optimism of free markets.


One of the places that this enthusiasm for growth, individual movement and getting along in society is most evident is in the streets. Traffic lights are a waste of money. Vehicles simply flow like schools of fish.


“Share the road” is a strongly visible concept in Vietnam.


Most of the traffic in Hanoi streets is motorbikes. There are also buses and trucks, cars (more and more of them), pedestrians and rickshaws. Traffic goes both ways down both sides of the streets at once, and you don’t see police writing traffic tickets or resolving the occasional accident. People work it out. They respect each other.


If you want to cross the street in Hanoi, you simply start walking into the river of traffic. You maintain a steady and predictable pace, engage eye-contact and keep moving. It’s magnificent.


Where most Americans would be shouting at each other and flipping each other off, the Vietnamese smile, laugh as they flow together on the roads. Horns are not used in anger.


The horn in Hanoi is tapped for awareness. It’s used in ways that are actually illegal in California. The horn on a scooter, bus, auto, or truck is used to give notice to the person next to you, coming at you or crossing the street in front of you that you’re there. A horn says, “Be aware, I’m here, you’re there, and we all have to get where we’re going together.”


As we export our local Laguna brands to emerging markets, we should also import some of the exotic values we discover. We may have different places we’re headed, but we can get there together.
David Vanderveen is a Laguna Beach resident, husband, father and energy drink entrepreneur. His email is [email protected].

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