Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The New Challenge at Reaching Out

Last week we arrived at Reaching Out to see this road construction underway. Apparently the merchants had been warned a few days earlier via a message shouted through a loud hailer from the back of a motor bike.  This is Nguyen Thai Hoc Street, one of the main thoroughfares in historic Old Town, Hoi An. The children who live with their parents in quarters over their stores are ecstatic. In the evenings, after the heavy equipment is shut down, they scamper over the rutted sand and dig and build, but the tourists are not as inclined to be charmed by the muck and unsure footing. As Reaching Out and all of the businesses, restaurants and shops along the road rely on foot traffic for their revenues, this is a real set back.

We had an emergency meeting to come up with a plan to minimize our losses during the project. Fortunately, the shop also has an entrance on the river side, where tourists like to stroll. There are restrictions for all heritage buildings when it comes to signage, so we had to be creative. Within a day, Quyen had a flag made in the shop with the new logo and tag line "gifts that give twice" painted on both sides. This now hangs over the back door. Our unique bamboo bicycle rests beside the wheelchair ramp ( where Elaine broke her arm two years ago) and a temporary sign hangs on the wall. More customers are using the entrance than before and walking through the workshop to get to the sales floor. This is a good thing as they are seeing the producers creating the goods.

We wish we could report that we have maintained our daily revenues, but we are having to settle for a dip of about 40-50%. Quyen and I are very proud of how the sales staff are using their skills to maximze every opportunty. We are faring better than our neighbours!

The promise is that the road will be completed for Tet Holiday, February14th, when thousands of tourists and locals come to Old Town for all the festivities, fireworks and music. Sure hope so!!!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Working For Reaching Out

We have our assignments and we are now well immersed in our work for Reaching Out. Bruce is working with Binh to explore software options that will augment the POS system and allow greater control of inventory both in the shop and throughout the supplier chain. This means that the raw materials of silk, thread, brass, silver etc. can be inventoried as well as the finished products. They are also working on the on-line catalogue. This has been newly launched and there are some glitches and spots that could be more user friendly, like the 15 pages of Terms and Conditions which are a little daunting.

Elaine's work so far has been learning to navigate the POS system to understand the customer data captured therein and how to utilize the function which allows the creation and storage of letter templates, for communicating with customers on line. Once learned, she will then develop the letter templates and teach the staff how to access them and personalize them. Inherent in this task will be the necessary teaching of written English skills!!!!

Who would have guessed that these two, fairly computer illiterate sixty somethings would be tackling such challenges...but hey...this is why we love being here. We are doing all sorts of things that we would not do at home and we are really having fun and are grateful that we are all learning together.

One day at Binh and Quyen's house, one of the four computers that we had going, just quit. Within ten minutes a technician arrived and in the next two had the CPU apart and was cleaning it with a small brush. We could not believe the sand and dust that came out of the box, right there on the front porch. Within another fifteen minutes we were up and running.
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Saturday, January 9, 2010

Journey of the Heart Goes to a Wedding

Hien and Ly were married today in a celebration of their love, their hope and our congratulations for their happiness and courage. Hien is a talented paraplegic painter whose work is sold through Reaching Out and his beautiful bride is a physical therapist.....and yes they met much as Rick Hansen and his wife did, he the patient after a horrendous accident with a bus toppling him off his bicycle and she the loving hands encouraging him to maximize his remaining capabilities. He first began to paint while he was in the rehabilitation center where they met.

Despite their deep and tender love for one another their lives will not be easy. Ly's salary will barely cover the rent of a suitable house and although Hien's paintings fetch a very handsome $120 a piece, the unsteady income against the ever escalating cost of his therapy and medical expenses is a constant worry for the young couple. In his bid to become independent, Hien has discovered the advantage of using the internet to network and seek other outlets for his art. His immobility means that until now, he has had to wait for Ly to finish her shift at the rehabilitation center, to take him to an Internet cafe to access the web. Journey of the Heart, in patrnership with Binh and Quyen of Reaching Out presented Hien and Ly with a computer, modum, web cam....the works!!! as a wedding gift! It was a surprising gift, beyond their wildest imaginings. There were tears of joy all round....Hien and Ly, Binh and Quyen, Elaine, Hien's mother and his sister, the Sister, could not utter words....we simply hugged, smiled, nodded and said many many Cam On's ( thank you's). Thank you to Nancy and George and Dan and Bryna for making this possible. Your gifts will launch this young couple toward a more independent life.

Around large tables of ten, we enjoyed a five course luncheon in the court yard of the rehab center. As with all Vietnamese weddings, there was much loud karaoke music, with the Doctor in charge, Binh's therapist from 30 years ago, many guests and even the bride groom belting out the songs. One resident, not an invited guest, but who had watched the procedings from behind a curtain, could not restrain herself and at last wheeled her ancient self onto the "stage" and offered her musical tribute.
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Sunday, January 3, 2010

Fun is Universal !

Sometimes, we forget to record and share with you, that in addition to our work, we really have fun here in Hoi An! In the evenings our bike rides through the villages and rice paddies always offer vews of rural life....water buffalo with their young calves, the mothers munching on grass, the young nuzzling at udders for a snack; fields of brilliant green, straw conical hats dotting the carefully laid out plats. It is a veritable visual feast.

Of course, our friends and family are a joy. As you can see technology is the bridge with the young. Nam is our housekeeper's 13 year old son who is happy to come to feed and walk the dog if he can use the internet for a a few minutes. His friends seem to want to come along too! We practise our Vietnamese ( Bruce is getting fairly good at the basics) and they their English. Our conversations are often better than a game of charades, with lots of laughter and cheering if we manage to understand each other.Not to be outdone, by the youth Binh and Quyen are very computer savvy and have duelling I-phones!

One of our favorite recreations is to cycle to the local beach An Bang ( not Cua Dai where all the large hotels are!)Here we walk on the sand, wade in the surf and drink strong black coffee at a small bistro. The bistro , La Plage is run by two expat friends, who have been conscious since they built the place last year that it would be accessible for persons of disability and also kid friendly. There are beach toys and table games. We are all at home here.

Of course our days are sprinkled with visitors to our house, invites to others' homes, dinners out, wedding parties and celebrations of every kind. Nga and her sister My came by one day with both Sophia and Lucky, their three year olds...they were very sweet but a little intimidated by our resident Doberman, both mothers and children. Zen seems to them a very big dog!

Gentle pleasures sparkle through our days. The newspaper seller in Old town remembers us from our previous stays in Hoi An. He watched us this morning trying to share the crossword puzzle. He was back in two miuntes with copies of the previous two days papers, so that we could each have a puzzle AND still have one to bring home. This kindness is so endearing and we can not count the times in each day, wherein, someone is particularly helpful, and welcoming. How lucky we are to be here!

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Saturday, January 2, 2010

Room With a View

The house, which we are fortunate to be sitting, is large and airy with comfortable furniture. We sleep to the hum of an air conditioner on clean sheets, under mosquito netting. There is plenty of hot water and indoor plumbing. We are well cared for by Lien, Linda the home owner's housekeeper, who comes every day. Today Elaine had a lesson in cooking rice. Lien has brought some very special, very white, almost translucent rice for Ong and Ba (old man, old woman with respect!)

Lest we get lazy and forget why we are here, all we need to do is look out our bedroom windows. The pictures are what we see, depicting the life of typical working Vietnamese. On their small patch of earth, they live, grow vegetables and raise the chickens, ducks, geese and pigs whose serenades awake us each morning. Some are wood workers, others metal workers. These "home based businesses" happen right on the front porch or under a leanto. The average income has risen from about $300 annually to about $500 over the past three years, but this surely is a statistic which is skewed by the much higher salaries in the large urban areas, rather than what our neighbours earn.

Humbling this reality.
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