BEAUTY, HYGIENE AND HAIRCUTS IN VIETNAM

BEAUTY IN VIETNAM

Pale skin is considered beautiful, women run around with umbrellas and wear long gloves to keep from getting tan. Less than 20 percent of Vietnamese women dye their hair, compared to more than 60 percent in Japan and South Korea. In Vietnam you can find outdoor barbers and ear cleaners.

Plastic surgery thrived during the war as Vietnamese women tried to look more Western to attract American soldiers. After the last soldiers left in 1975 the cosmetic surgery business collapsed.

Some men have long pinkie fingernails. In the old days Confucian scholars grew their fingernails long to show they didn't do physical labor.

According to the Vietnamese Cultural Profile by Diversicare: Bathing: The older Vietnamese person will usually prefer to use a basin (some kind of sink) and a hand towel for a morning wash, and a shower - at night. Dress: Vietnamese people value comfort in dressing. They prefer to wear plain dark-colored (black, brown and blue) trousers and a shirt or blouse covering the neck. Older Vietnamese women usually prefer to wear dark colored skirts. Bright colors are worn mainly by the young. For formal celebrations (e.g. Chinese New Year, Lunar Year Festival) or church mass Vietnamese people wear the Ao Dai (long dress) made from silk or cotton. Grooming: Most women do not wear makeup and prefer to tie their hair back. [Source: Vietnamese Cultural Profile, Diversicare, March 2009]

Ear Cleaning in Vietnam

Barber-ear-cleaners often set up shop on the streets in Vietnam. Lucinda Franks wrote in the New York Times: “In Haiphong, barbers in white coats set up shop along park fences. Wearing miner’s lights, they peer into ears and dig out dirt with gleaming steel skewers that have little spoons at the end. The victims sits back with blissful looks on their faces."

Reporting from Ho Chi Minh City, John Boudreau wrote in San Jose Mercury News, "To most Westerners, the idea of paying someone to stick little scoops and tweezers into their ears is downright unnerving. To Vietnamese, it's an art. Though the procedure may sound like torture, men line up day in and day out to experience this unorthodox probing. It's part of the country's pampering culture and is offered in corner barbershops, the oases where Vietnamese while away hot afternoons with luxurious shampoos, relaxing shaves and facials. But it's the picking that elicits moans of ecstasy. [Source: John Boudreau, San Jose Mercury News, January 27, 2011 \+\]

"Many returning Vietnamese-Americans head straight to these barbershops, or "hot tocs," after disembarking from long United and EVA Air flights at Tan Son Nhat International Airport. "It brings a lot of happiness," said Silicon Valley, Calif., resident Nguyen Tuong Tam, who always heads to a hot toc upon arriving in this city, also known as Saigon. He likens a good ear picking to good sex. Indeed, fans of ear picking gleefully talk about "ear-gasms." There is a spot near the ear drum that, when touched the right way, "tingles," said 26-year-old ear picker Nguyen Thi Le Hang. "For one person, it may just be a tickle. For another person, it's a mind-blowing experience." \+\

"In fact, the ear has a G-spot, said Dr. Todd Dray, an ear, nose and throat surgeon at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center-Santa Clara. "The skin in your ear is super thin -- it's paper thin," he said. "It's very sensitive. And there are a lot of nerves that converge in the ear." That explains why some customers have been known to blurt out, "Will you marry me!" Ear pickers usually ignore such exclamations as they would words of endearment from a drunk. Just as a shampoo in Vietnam is more than washing hair -- it's also head massage, shoulder massage and a refreshing facial -- ear picking is more than cleaning the ear. It helps reduce the tensions of living in the bustling, horn-honking metropolis of 9 million people, fans say. \+\

"Though the practice is mostly popular among men, some Vietnamese women enjoy regular ear pickings, too. "Everybody is afraid the first time -- but after, it's, 'Oh my God!"' said Katie Dang, a 20-something singer who spends time in the United States and Ho Chi Minh City. "The men do a very good job. But the women are better. They have the magic hands." \+\

Ear Picking Procedure and Vietnamese Ear Pickers

John Boudreau wrote in San Jose Mercury News, "Ear picking has long been practiced in Vietnam and other Asian countries. And a few Vietnamese barbershops in San Jose, Calif., have quietly offered the service. But in recent years, practitioners in Vietnam have elevated it beyond simply removing ear wax to an experience on par with massage, said Hien Nhan, a former Californian who owns Lido's Spa in Ho Chi Minh City. Those offering the service range from a guy with a chair along a busy street to air-conditioned barbershops with several ear picking specialists and shops where the staff wear alluring uniforms. A picking and a shave can cost as little as $2, plus tip. [Source: John Boudreau, San Jose Mercury News, January 27, 2011 \+\]

"It's not uncommon for ear pickers to give a customer Vietnamese coffee or tea before he settles in. He then reclines in a barber chair, tilting his head to one side. The ear picker, frequently a young woman wearing a head lamp, begins to gently probe. "Some people like it really soft, others like it to hurt," ear picking proprietor Nhan said. "It's like a massage." \+\

"After scooping up some ear wax, she scrapes it onto the customer's hand as a way to show off her handiwork. The tools include a tiny razor to shave hairs, a miniature shovel-like device to scoop up wax, tweezer-like objects to scrape the inner ear and little cotton balls on sticks that are twirled inside the ear to tickle the skin. The overall effect is so soothing it's not uncommon for customers to doze off. \+\

"The procedure, ear pickers say, takes about a week to learn but months to perfect. Those who become highly skilled develop a following. Ear pickers ply their trade with a mix of intense concentration and flirtation -- one reason men often don't want girlfriends or wives to know about their ear experiences. Frisky ear pickers sometimes blow into customers' ears. There are stories of customers leaving wives for ear pickers and a life of in-home ear pleasure. \+\

"But all this ear fun can have unintended consequences. Ear specialist Dray cautions against unsafe ear picking. If implements are reused without being sterilized -- which is common in many shops -- customers can be exposed to a variety of viruses and even Hepatitis B, though that's relatively rare, he said. Too much ear picking can leave ears dry and itching. And if done improperly, ear picking can pack wax deeper into the ear, causing an infection called otitis externa, or swimmer's ear. "It's like smoking or drinking beer," said Truong Phung, a 44-year-old professional who visits a bare-bones barbershop every two or so weeks. "Some of my friends say it's not safe, but I still come here. They do it without any license or insurance. If something bad happens to you, I don't know what they could do." Dray, however, said the risks from ear picking can be greatly reduced by a few simple precautions. "If you bring your own instruments, and you have found someone who is good at it," he said, "go for it." \+\

History of Haircuts in Vietnam

Dao Hung wrote in Vietnam-Culture.com: Chinese records from the first century AD. note that Vietnamese men "wear short hair", citing this as a difference between the two peoples. By the 17th century, however, long hair had become a symbol of Vietnamese identity, since, under the Manchu dynasty, Chinese men had started shaving the front half of the head and wearing the remaining hair in a pigtail. Thus, when Nguyen Hue launched his assault on the Manchu army that was occupying Thang Long (now Hanoi) in 1789, his declaration that he was "fighting for long hair" spoke of his determination to preserve Vietnamese culture. In the early years of the 20th century, Vietnamese men wore their hair long, secured in a knot at the nape. When going out, a man would wrap a scarf around his head to cover this chignon. This hairstyle was imported from China, probably during the long period when Vietnam was under Chinese occupation. [Source: Dao Hung, Vietnam-Culture.com vietnam-culture.com **]

"When the French took control of Vietnam they found some striking differences between their preferred styles and those worn by Vietnamese men, who kept their hair long and blackened their teeth. Some noble men and officials also sported long fingernails. Inevitably, as early as the end of the 19th century, many Vietnamese men working for the French began to imitate French styles. Since public opinion remained generally critical of those who imitated Western ways, it is interesting to note that one of the first men to cut his hair was King Thanh Tai, who opposed French rule. Having come to the throne in 1889, Thanh Tai was deposed by the French in 1907. Short hair, claimed this king, was a convenience, which others should adopt. At the time, however, most men in intellectual circles ignored his styling advice. **

"Following a long involvement in the Duy Tan (Reformation) movement and a stay in Japan as part of the Dong Du (Travel to the East) education movement, the notable patriot Phan Chu Trinh cut his hair in 1906. He then encouraged other intellectuals to do the same, arguing that long hair for men was outmoded. A few other patriotic intellectuals like Tran Qui Cap and Huynh Thuc Khang agreed. Other progressive Confucian scholars remained tormented by doubt. Phan Khoi suffered sleepless nights after having cut his hair, since he'd done so without seeking the permission of his parents and grandparents. These qualms stemmed from the Confucian principle that "the body, hair and skin are given life by the parents; not to damage or wound them is the first principle of filial piety". Despite his doubts, Phan Khoi later wrote a poem for compatriots who were about to cut their hair: Cut this foolishness! / Cut this foolishness! / Promote your skillfulness / Enough of this modesty / Enough of this naivety! **

"While it's now hard to imagine that a haircut could cause such a dilemma, consider the case of Ton That Canh. A graduate in Chinese studies under the Confucian education system, Canh cut his hair in 1927, while working as a district chief in Thua Thien. His father, Ton That Tram, a government minister, summoned Canh before a gathering of more than 30 relatives and berated him for cutting his hair. Although Canh already held a high official position, his father then ordered him to lie on the floor while he inflicted 10 strokes with a cane as punishment for the crime of "lack of filial piety". **

"When a tax revolt broke out in central Vietnam in 1908 under the leadership of patriotic intellectuals, the act of cutting one's hair came to express the spirit of resistance. Everyone from peasants to intellectuals joined the demonstrations, which spread from Quang Nam to Quang Ngai, Binh Dinh, Phu Yen and north to Thua Thien. Along the way, protesters harangued men to cut their hair, which is why the colonial authorities referred to the demonstrators as "enemy hair cutters" and dubbed the movement "the revolt of the hair cutters". When the movement was suppressed, some men who had not even taken part in the demonstrations were arrested and sentenced to 18 months in jail, simply for having cut their hair! **

"It was not until after the First World War that short hair became common for Vietnamese men, mainly as a result of the growing urban population. Officials and students were particularly important agents of change. Gradually, rural men also got used to the idea of short hair, although they had to walk to the nearest country town to lop off their tresses. At that time there were no barbers in the countryside. Many conservative men, however, retained the onion-style chignon of the past, leading newspapers in the 1930s to ridicule them as "ancestors' head lice". Up until the Second World War, Nguyen Van To, a learned Confucian scholar working for a French research institution, remained loyal to the chignon and scarf: thus providing the press of the time with a target of ridicule. **

"The move towards short hair occurred earlier in the South than in the North, since the French first established themselves in Vietnam's southern provinces. Many of the Vietnamese intellectuals who studied in France returned with short hair. On the other hand, even into the late 1930s there remained groups in the southern provinces that decried short hair. Followers of two religious sects, the Cao Dai and the Hoa Hao, promoted a return to ethnic traditions by wearing the chignon and the long dress. In fact, of this advocacy of old ways can still be heard today. The long and the short of it, it seems, is that breaking with the past has not been easy." **

Ban of Color Hair and Skinheads in Vietnam

In July 2004, the Vietnamese government banned performing skinheads and actors with uncombed or colored hair. A government ministry issued a directive which banned "all hairdos that inflict horror, colorfully painted or dyed hair, uncombed hair, shaven heads" from the stage in an effort to preserve "traditional aesthetic values." Reuters reported: "Vietnam has banned skinheads and actors with uncombed or colored hair from performing on stage to preserve "traditional aesthetic values," the culture ministry has announced. Regulation 47, issued last week, said the ministry had banned "all hairdos that inflict horrors, colorfully painted or dyed hair, uncombed hair, shaved heads, racy and revealing dresses and make up that goes against traditional aesthetic values" from the stage. The communist country enforces strict censorship of all public performances, but this regulation has made some theater people unhappy. [Source: Reuters, July 21, 2004 ++]

"It is an individual's taste, and it should not be banned," Truong Nhuan, deputy director of a theater in Ho Chi Minh City was quoted by Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper as saying, referring to the latest regulation. One man in Vietnam who probably will not be seen on stage any time soon is 73-year-old Tran Van Hay, who was in the news last week for his snake-like coil of hair, which he claims is 6.2 meters (20 feet) long. Hay, who supplies traditional medicines to his village in southern Vietnam, is vying to get a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the world's longest hair. ++

Vietnamese Women Cover Themselves up for Beauty

In 2003, AFP reported: "White is beautiful. Or at least it is in Vietnam where skin-whitening creams sell like hot cakes and women wrap themselves up like mummies whenever they venture outside. Arm-length gloves made of a combination of lycra and cotton are essential accessories for women across the country as they zip around city streets on their motorbikes. Hat, sunglasses and a colorful handkerchief tied gangster-style across the face complete an outfit fashioned to beat the skin-browning rays of the tropical sun. Today, as has been the case for centuries, beauty in the minds of most Vietnamese woman means white skin -- a symbol of femininity, pureness, sophistication and high social class. [Source: Agence France Presse, June 16, 2003 *-*]

Many Vietnamese women wear the elegant elbow-length Audrey Hepburn-style gloves that keep their forearms from tanning."Dark skin, on the other hand, still conjures up images of poverty and peasants toiling in paddy fields, exposed to the unforgiving elements. "I want my skin to be white because I think it is beautiful," said Dang Thi Ngoc Nga, a 31-year-old office worker at a state-run company in Ho Chi Minh City. "But I also want to protect myself from the from the sun and its ultra-violet rays which are dangerous," she added before zooming off on her scooter at a busy intersection in the southern business capital. *-*

"Since the late 1990s, middle-class women throughout Vietnam have adopted similar protective measures as rising household incomes enable them to spend more time and money on their personal appearance. More recently, government warnings about skin cancer and the exponential rise in pollution levels due to the millions of motorbikes on the roads have further encouraged the trend to cover-up every inch of exposed flesh. But Vietnamese women are not alone in their desire to achieve a perfectly white complexion. *-*

"Throughout Asia, from Japan to India, pale skin is considered a sign of beauty. Indeed, skin considered too dark can often be enough to derail potential suitors in arranged marriages among middle-class families on the Indian sub-continent. Not surprisingly, beauty salons and companies specializing in skin whitening products enjoy a captive and lucrative market. Kim Loan, director of the Japanese-owned Chao Spa salon in Ho Chi Minh City, says the desire for white skin has yet to be affected by the country's rapid exposure to western culture and fashions. "In Europe and other western countries, tanned skin is considered healthy, beautiful and a sign of expensive living, but here most people still want to have white skin," she said. *-*

Even for those fortunate enough to have access to a swimming pool, heat-relieving dips are unthinkable until the sun has begun its late afternoon descent. There are, however, signs of change. In trendy cafes and bars in Vietnam's fashion-setting metropolis, some women are turning heads with their dyed blonde hair and golden tans. Tran My Hanh, a 24-year-old amateur model and fashion shop owner, recently died her hair back to a more conservative brown color from a daring honey blonde. But her skin remains tanned. "We women all like to have a fair complexion, and that in Vietnam means white skin. But these days there are more and more girls with tanned skin like me. It is not because we don't like white skin, but because it is easier to get brown than white," she said. "I had to choose between off-white skin that looked unhealthy and tanned skin which I think looks healthy. I much prefer being tanned," Tian said. But she concedes there is a fashion statement to be made too. "It is stylish to be different, and besides, Westerners like it," she said. *-*

Plastic Surgery in Vietnam

Cosmetic surgery among both men and women has been gaining popularity in Vietnam, with nose jobs and eye surgery to appear more "Western" among the most popular procedures. Authorities in Ho Chi Minh City last year closed down several private beauty salons and clinics offering plastic surgery after two women died within a month after complications from breast enlargement procedures. [Source: Deutsche Presse Agentur, February 12, 2007 ^:^]

In 2007, Sophie Malo of AFP wrote: “After decades of war and suffering, women in booming Vietnam are embracing many Western creature comforts, including the right to look better. Beauty treatments, cosmetics and plastic surgery are all the rage here. "My husband and I have a successful business that we are very proud of," Tram says. "Unfortunately, I was not born beautiful and I have turned 50. In the restaurant business, you really need to feel confident and meet people, so I decided to have cosmetic surgery. My husband supports this decision." Marc Villard, head of operations for the French-based Pierre Fabre pharmaceutical group in Vietnam, says the beauty craze first took off in the early 1990s. "Fifteen years ago, Vietnamese women plastered themselves with thick face creams mixed with powder to make their skin whiter," he says. [Source: By Sophie Malo, Agence France Presse, January 7 2007 /-/]

“Now, women see make-up and surgery as equally viable options in the quest for good looks, and most remain ignorant of the risks associated with such operations. They don't think twice about getting a 300-dollar nose job, a 500-dollar eyelid lift or breast implants for as little as 2,000 dollars -- a fraction of what a woman would pay in the West. While Vietnamese women may want to mimic their counterparts in the West, they do not want Nicole Kidman's nose or Scarlett Johansson's ample bosom, but covet the physical assets of Chinese actresses and local beauty queens. They also want procedures to be performed as quickly as possible. "Some come in for a consultation in the morning and want the surgery in the afternoon. Some don't even want a general anesthetic, because they don't want to waste time in the recovery room," Thang notes. /-/

Problems with Plastic Surgery in Vietnam

In 2007, Sophie Malo of AFP wrote: “Tram, a restaurant owner in Vietnam's largest city, is not stingy when it comes to being beautiful. She has just had her eyebrows, eyelids, neck and nose done.And then, to top it off, she went for a face lift. "After five operations on my face, as soon as I recover, I will have liposuction on my belly," says the 50-year-old woman, her face swollen and covered in bandages. Once the bandages come off, Tram could look like a wax model in Madame Tussaud's museum. But at least she feels healthy. Many others having plastic surgery here are not so lucky. Vietnam, which posted over eight percent economic growth last year, has seen the emergence of a burgeoning middle class, mainly in and around the commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City and the capital Hanoi. Having a more generous cleavage or a slimmer nose is the new dream for many up-and-coming Vietnamese women, but demand has far exceeded supply, leaving women in the hands of unqualified surgeons often working in unsafe conditions. [Source: By Sophie Malo, Agence France Presse, January 7 2007 /-/]

“Tom Cuong Nguyen, an Australian-born Vietnamese doctor who runs the "perfect skin" ward at the Columbia Saigon Clinic, says many women suffer "complications due to the injection of an unidentified liquid into their breasts, lips or cheeks". Others looking for longer eyelashes end up with infections caused by dangerous implants, according to Nguyen Thang, head of the plastic surgery unit at the Franco-Vietnamese Hospital here. "Failure to use sterile instruments can also cause cases of hepatitis," he adds. /-/

This devil-may-care attitude, coupled with the total lack of regulations in the sector, means a windfall for surgeons -- qualified and otherwise. "In Ho Chi Minh City, at least 200 plastic surgery clinics are in operation, but only 50 or so are accredited by the city health authorities," the doctor adds. Most practitioners can only operate on the face, with a hospital stay required for procedures done on other parts of the body. Nevertheless, most clinics offer breast surgeries and liposuction, using colorful ads, dubious references and certifications that may or may not be authentic. A few weeks ago, a Vietnamese surgeon was barred from practising after performing an unauthorized operation. A judicial inquiry has been opened. /-/

Practitioners say the sector itself needs a face lift. "Only Hanoi University offers a certificate programme in plastic and cosmetic surgery. Vietnam is like France 20 years ago," Nguyen says. "Most practitioners are certified ear, nose and throat specialists who can perform orthopedic and thoracic surgeries." Surgeons often train on the job here. Some become good doctors. Others instead offer their services to shady beauty salons and spas, where plastic surgery is performed in a back room with only an hour's notice. The nip-tuck craze has extended from the middle class to the prostitutes of the former Saigon, where an A or B cup may no longer be sufficient to attract high-paying clients in the city's brothels. So what about Vietnamese men? They're largely unconvinced, but some have been tempted to go under the knife for surprising reasons. "When they fail in business, their fortune teller tells them it's because their nose is too flat or they have a mole that is too close to their eyes or nose, which is considered to be a sign of bad luck," Nguyen says. "The day after, they come in for surgery." /-/

Asian-Style Beauty Versus Western-Style Beauty in Vietnam

In 1999, the BBC reported: "After more than a decade of economic liberalisation in Vietnam, women are bearing the brunt of change. Traditional notions of physical beauty are coming under strain as a huge influx of advertising and other western factors influence the country. The authorities have frequently voiced concern over the social impact this trend is having, especially on younger people. It might not be Paris or Milan, but on the catwalks of downtown Saigon, they take their fashion and their looks as seriously and it is the beauty icons of the Western world that set the standards. [Source: BBC News Service, January 11, 1999 <<<]

"Backstage at a fashion show, 22-year-old Tranh wishes she had the blonde locks and all-American features of Marilyn Monroe while her friend, Lan-Anh, envies Cindy Crawford, not so much for her style, as for her looks.A glance at the advertising billboards tells Vietnamese women in no uncertain terms that when it comes to beauty, West is best. The shops overflow with imported cosmetics of every description - not least an extensive range of products meant to turn a brown skin white. <<<

"Unlike many of their western counterparts, Vietnamese women go to great lengths to avoid getting a tan. Hats and long gloves protect against the bronzed skin which in color-conscious Vietnam is the mark of a lowly manual laborer Of course there are those Vietnamese women for whom all the make-up and all the cosmetics will never be quite enough in terms of achieving that western look. Those are the sort of women who turn to surgery. <<<

"The new generation of plastic surgeons in Vietnam no longer heals the scars of the war. Instead, they make a comfortable living trimming noses, creating double eyelids and expanding the busts of female patients unhappy with the way nature left them.In his surgery, Dr Nguyen Xuan Cuong explains to the latest customer for his craft that a more shapely Western-style nose will embellish her Vietnamese looks."Higher is better. I put this implant inside her nose under the skin, and on top of the bone, the nasal bone, to make her higher, like that." In the waiting room downstairs, more hopeful clients ponder the enhancements that the scalpel can achieve. For Vietnamese women, it seems the pursuit of the Western ideal of beauty, however questionable, has never been more apparent. <<<

Unilever and Proctor & Gamble Top Advertisers in Vietnam

In 2000, the Vietnam News Agency reported" "Companies spent about US$116 million on advertising in Viet Nam last year, an increase of 6 percent compared with 1998's figure of $109 million. Consumer goods giant Unilever topped the list of advertisers, spending over $14 million in 1999, more than doubling its 1998 advertising budget, according to the market research company ACNielsen. "Last year sales of our products increased by over 50 percent and we invested in advertising proportionally to sales," said Loic Tardy, marketing director of Unilever Vietnam. [Source: Vietnam News Agency - March 9, 2000]

Procter & Gamble, which spent $4.11 million on advertising, ranked the second. Coca-Cola also increased its spending on advertising by 46 percent last year and remained the country's third top ad buyer. The list of top-ten spending brands included Omo, Sunsilk, Clear, Viso and P/S Toothpaste. Hisamitsu (Salonpas medicated plasters) took the ninth position, edging out pharmaceutical companies Janssen Pharma and Roche Pharma, which both dropped off last year's top ten ranking, along with Kao.

Problems for Proctor & Gamble in Vietnam in the 1990s

Reporting from Ho Chi Minh City, Faith Keenan wrote in the Far Eastern Economic Review, "Imagine mold in your shampoo. Or a feather. These mishaps--known as "quality incidents" in corporatespeak--are a nightmare for consumer-products companies. If an entire batch of shampoo becomes contaminated by bacteria, it could mean disaster for a brand name and the waste of millions of dollars spent to develop it. No wonder, then, that American multinational Procter & Gamble tore down the new warehouses that its Vietnamese partner, Phuong Dong Soap & Detergent, contributed to their soap-products venture when it was formed in 1994. "They weren't the right size and not properly sealed; dirt and birds would get in," says Alan Hed, managing director of Procter & Gamble Vietnam. "You don't want feathers in your shampoo." [Source: Faith Keenan, Far Eastern Economic Review, December 18, 1997 /|\]

"Writing off the buildings and erecting new, airtight ones with epoxy floors to guard against bacteria meant unexpected costs for the joint venture. But the demolition wasn't the only thing that may have unsettled the Vietnamese partner, a local soap company with links to the Ministry of Industry's Vietnam National Chemical Corp., or Vinachem. Spending on advertising, promotions and expatriate employees exceeded the estimates of a feasibility study, and the venture, which sells mostly to the Vietnamese market, failed to make money within the three years the partners had predicted. /|\

"The project's Vietnamese partners question why spending has gone far beyond what was estimated in P&G's feasibility study. The American firm replies that a feasibility study is just that--a best guess--and that business circumstances often will cause a firm to stray from its plans. The problem is that Vietnamese law is ambiguous as to whether a company must strictly honour the terms of such a study, according to lawyers uninvolved in the project. "Traditionally, companies are not held to specifics," says a foreign attorney in Ho Chi Minh City. "But major items, like capital amounts and staffing, shouldn't vary significantly without informing the Ministry of Planning and Investment." /|\

"In the case of the soap venture, there were numerous areas in which reality diverged far from expectations. P&G originally said it intended to have five expatriates on staff, but as the project progressed, it ended up employing 5-20. One executive outside the company estimates the cost for each person at about $250,000, including benefits like education and home leave. Multiply that by 15 people over three years and that comes out to more than $11 million, or 39 percent of the venture's losses. (Hed declined to comment on expat salaries.) /|\

"The joint venture had also spent more than $7 million on advertising by September this year, research group Nielsen SRG Vietnam estimates. The early study called for it to spend 5 percent of its sales on ads, but the amount is actually 31 percent due to lower-than-expected sales. Neither side will comment on how far sales have fallen below projections. Local press reports have accused the venture of spending lavishly on consulting work ($1 million) and conferences and travel ($1.2 million). And Hed describes other areas where understanding is lacking: Machines with a book value of $50,000, he says, have actually ended up costing $200,000 because of the training and maintenance required to keep them running. " /|\

Perhaps the biggest question surrounding P&G's Vietnam venture is how a company with so much experience in emerging markets could have been so wrong about the prospects. P&G based its original sales estimates on the assumption that Vietnam's per-capita consumption of shampoo and soap products would be similar to that in the rest of the region. It's not. Vietnamese consumption of laundry detergent, for example,is just 20 percent of that in the Philippines.

Serious Health Problems from Fake and Home-made Cosmetics in Vietnam

They may be cheap, but experts warn that fake cosmetics can seriously damage health. In April 2008, the Viet Nam News reported from Hanoi: "Nguyen Thu Ha often suggests a shopping expedition to Hanoi’s Hom Market for cosmetics because of the variety and low prices of the products available. But the State-owned enterprise worker, whose monthly salary totals VND3 million, doesn’t know the origin of the cosmetics that she and her friends buy so enthusiastically. Nor does she realise that they can harm her skin. "I think most are illegally-imported from China despite the labels that are written in Japanese, Korean, English and German," she says. "But many have no label at all." [Source: Viet Nam News, April 2008 <:>]

"The young woman and her friends don’t go to shops that carry stocks of guaranteed brand names because the cost is too high for most city-dwelling Vietnamese women. "I’m not in the habit of buying cosmetics at luxury shops," says Hanoi Economics University student Tran Van Anh. "Spending money on famous brand-name cosmetics is too costly for a student like me." But Van Anh often buys Chinese-made cosmetics in Hang Dao Street. Cosmetics in Viet Nam usually have three sources: Made-in-China imitations of international brand names; cosmetics produced in a "third country" and genuine products. Chinese imitations are the most favored because of their cost. Hom Market vendor Nguyen Thi Chanh concedes that she buys her supplies wholesale from Lang Son border-region traders with a minimum of paper work. Neither she nor her customers anticipate the worst. <:>

"But a woman was admitted to Ho Chi Minh City’s Dermatology and Venereology Hospital in a critical condition last week after she made up her face with cream bought at the Ky Hoa market for VND40,000. The face of the 27-year-old was seriously swollen and her skin ulcerated. The hospital receives 5 to 7 such cosmetics victims each week. "Most of the patients have used black-market cosmetics: No origin, bad quality and home-made cream," says Dr Ly Huu Duc. Hanoi Dermatology and Venereology Hospital deputy director Nguyen Thi Thao says the number of patients allergic to cosmetics treated at her institution has increased since 2003-2004. <:>

"Cosmetic allergy occurs all year round," she says. "Most incidents involve the use of cream products of no known origin or products processed at home by individuals who are not trained." Cosmetic allergy springs from the susceptibility of the user and poor-quality products. National Dermatology and Venereology Institute deputy director Tran Hau Khang warns: "If your skin itches, or breaks into a rash when applying any type of cosmetic, stop using it immediately. "The patient must then see a specialist. "Most cosmetics can cause an allergy and this can have serious consequences if it isn’t discovered early and treated properly." <:>

"Dong Thap Provincial police arrested a woman allegedly selling home-made whitening cream in the Chau Thanh District’s Nha Man Market last Wednesday. They believe the home-made cream caused the death of Nguyen Ngoc Bich, 15, who died three days earlier. The teenager is reported to have bought two boxes of Quynh Huong cream at the market and applied it to her entire body. After an hour, she had a temperature of 40 degrees and vomited. Admitted to the local Sa Dec General Hospital in critical condition, she died six hours later. The hospital’s emergency unit head, Dr Vu Kim Long, said blood tests showed her white corpuscle count was six times higher than average. Dermatologists say home-made whitening cream is a mixture of Salicylic and Acid Benzoic Acids and too much will cause the skin too shed and cause dehydration and the body to over heat. A Chau Thanh District cosmetic vendor said Quynh Huong was a home-made cream processed at an individual workshop in Sa Dec. <:>

First Official 'Miss Vietnam' Participates in Miss World Pageant

In September 2002, Associated Press reported: "After years of official ambivalence, the 17-year-old daughter of a ship mechanic was crowned "Miss Vietnam'' in the communist nation's first government-recognized beauty pageant. Pham Thi Mai Phuong, who won a $3,225 prize, said she'll finish high school and enroll in a foreign trade college during her two-year reign. "I think most people in Vietnam, as in other countries, support beauty contests, and will have a chance to see that Vietnamese women are not only beautiful, but also intelligent and clever,'' she said. The ruling Communist Party once disparaged beauty contests as a sign of capitalist decadence, but economic reforms in the past 15 years have led to increased Western influence and a loosening of Marxist dogma. "We acknowledge that this is a significant cultural event which has broad support,'' said Bui Quoc Bao, head of the Ministry of Culture and Information's grass roots culture and arts bureau. [Source: Associated Press, September 23, 2002 ><]

"Contestants competed in both bathing suits and in traditional flowing "ao dai'' dresses in the pageant, organized by the Communist Youth League's newspaper, Tien Phong. The pageant was sponsored by Pond's beauty cream. The newspaper has held beauty contests every other year since 1988, but without official recognition. Then, the winner was proclaimed "Miss Nation Sponsored by Tien Phong Newspaper,'' or "Miss Tien Phong'' for short. The first contest drew less than 200 participants, while this year's attracted more than 3,000. ><

A month and a half later, Associated Press reported: "The newly crowned Miss Vietnam will participate in next month's Miss World pageant for the first time, a pageant organizer said. Pham Thi Mai Phuong, a 17-year-old student from northern Haiphong, will join more than 100 other contestants at the international pageant to be held in Nigeria on Dec. 7, said Duong Xuan Nam, editor of Tien Phong (Vanguard), the organizer of the Miss Vietnam contest. he Vanguard newspaper had sponsored beauty contests every other year since 1988, but without official recognition.[Source: Associated Press, November 5, 2002]

In 2006, Vietnam put itself on the international beauty "map" with Miss Vietnam Mai Phuong Thuy winning the greatest number of votes in Asia in the Miss World competition.

Vietnam’s Largest Beauty Pageant to Include Diaspora

In July 2007, Pham Ngoc wrote in the Thanh Nien News, "Miss Vietnam World will showcase girls of Vietnamese origins from around the world. The pageant, which will crown the most beautiful and talented of all Vietnamese girls living both at home and abroad, aims to encourage young Vietnamese expatriates to look back at their roots and contribute to the development of Vietnam Of the 60 final contestants to be selected, 40 will be from overseas, said organizers at a press conference Thursday. Over 1,000 girls have applied to compete since the contest was launched three months ago, said Duong Xuan Nam, the editor-in-Chief of Tien Phong newspaper, one of the event’s co-sponsors. The group will be narrowed down to the 60 finalists by qualifying rounds abroad from now until August, and qualifiers in Vietnam in mid-August. [Source: Pham Ngoc, Thanh Nien News, July 12, 2007 *|*]

"The Organizing Board has the three American winners of Miss Vietnam Global, a similar pageant held in the United States, to join the final round in central Vietnam’s Nha Trang City, the country’s most popular beach town. The contest organizers are offering US$20,000 to the pageant winner, the highest cash prize for any beauty contest in the country. The queen will also win a tour of Vietnam. The first and second runners-up will receive $8,000 and $5,000. The pageant would also crown Miss Beach, Miss Tourism, and Miss Photogenic, each of whom will receive $1,000. *|*

"VTV will broadcast the final live on Vietnam’s Independence Day, September 2, from Nha Trang’s Vinpearl Resort. Organized by Thanh Nien and Tien Phong newspapers, the Vietnam Television, and Vinpearl Tourism and Joint Stock Co., the Miss Vietnam World contest is opened to young women of Vietnamese origins, including those are working and residing in foreign countries. Participants must be able to speak Vietnamese, be aged 18-27, single, without children, have a high school education at least, be over 1.6 meters, and never have had cosmetic surgery or sex change. " *|*

Mystery over 'Missing' Vietnamese Beauty Queen

In August 2003, AFP reported: "The mystery deepened today when a Vietnamese beauty queen returned home after disappearing for more than a week, allegedly having been kidnapped by the well-connected, lovestruck son of a senior police officer. Pham Thi Mai Phuong, who was crowned Miss Vietnam in September 2002, disappeared on August 5 in the north-eastern port city of Haiphong while heading home after attending an English class at a language school. However, in circumstances that remain far from clear, the 18-year-old was reunited with her family last night, according to her younger brother, Pham Anh Huy. [Source: Agence France Presse, August 14, 2003 >>>]

"My sister is now at the house of my grandmother and my parents are with her there," he told AFP. Asked if Phuong had been kidnapped, he said: "It is difficult to say because it concerns many people." Further deepening the mystery is a denial by Phuong's father, Pham Thanh Hung, over his wife's comments that a group of unidentified men had surrounded their house in the early hours of that morning and threatened to kill him. "No, no, no, maybe my wife was afraid of something, maybe she missed our daughter very much," he told Radio Free Asia's (RFA) Vietnamese service. "Nothing, nothing happened."

"RFA, citing a close family source, said Phuong was kidnapped by a friend, Nguyen Binh Khanh, who did not want her to leave Vietnam for Britain where she had been awarded a scholarship by Luton University. Apparently, Khanh, a police officer and son of Haiphong City Police Chief Nguyen Binh Doan, threatened to kill Phuong and then himself if she tried to leave the country, the US-government funded network said. The state-run Tien Phong newspaper, reporting from Haiphong, said Phuong was stopped by a group of men who bundled her into a car and drove off. It also said the son of a high-ranking police officer was involved in the case, but did not name Khanh. >>>

"The official press yesterday reported Phuong's return home quoting a letter, purportedly written by her and sent to Haiphong city newspapers, in which she denied she had been kidnapped and said she was travelling with friends. However, many newspapers cast doubts on this version of events, with the Quan Doi Nhan Dan, the military mouthpiece, saying many "absurd and intolerable" details remained unanswered. Police in Haiphong, which is considered one of the country's most crime-ridden cities, where corruption is rife, refused to release any details on the case. >>>

"Two days after Phuong's disappearance, her father Hung sent a letter to Doan, the city police chief, and to the Ministry of Public Security saying his family were living in fear over their daughter's fate. On the same day, Doan telephoned Hung and told him not to circulate the letter because he would be able to find Phuong, Hung told the Tien Phong in comments published. Miss Vietnam, however, did not return immediately and so Hung also sent another appeal to Prime Minister Phan Van Khai, his deputy Nguyen Tan Dung, and Minister of Public Security Le Hong Anh. Phuong was awarded a scholarship worth more than $US56,000 ($85,000) to study for a degree in business management at Luton University, just north of London. She is supposed to start her classes on September 15. She told reporters late last month she was honoured to be able to attend a university abroad but would return to Vietnam after graduation. >>>

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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