Ancient Wisdom

Hello ,

Greetings from Hanoi in Vietnam..
Last week I was telling you about Magic and Mount Agung in Bali.. you can read about it here.
Latest news is that a six second earthquake rocked Ubud last night, Mount Agung could be waking up..

Since then I have flown to Kuala Lumpa, changed for a flight to Guangzhou in China, met my wife at the China Southern check-in counter and take the short flight to Hanoi in Vietnam. It's my first time in Vietnam, hoping to find some nice handicraft products to import. When I think of Vietnam, I think of baskets, lacquer boxes, pretty ceramics and.. erm well I couldn't think of anything else. But what the hell let's go and see what they have, lots of people tell me it's cheap so maybe we can acquire some good deals for our customers.

Hanoi - a quick google search established - is the handicraft capital as well as the national capital, there are thousands of craft villages, in the suburbs and outlying countryside each specialising in different things. According to one website, there are around 750,000 artisans making giftware in this region in a thousand villages. That sounds really promising..

Our arrival in Hanoi didn't get off to a good start, my wife's visa was rejected on an absolute minor point (I had applied online) we were made to wait an hour - told that we had to go back to China on the next plane, and then after much humble apologising on my part, told that the visa was granted but the passport return (across a desk) had a $200 fee. I could have argued, taken a picture, demanded to see a manager - I have done it before, but decided it wasn't worth the hassle anyway the manager seemed to be in on it, I could see a big desk at the back of the office with a slimy guy with a slimy grin. The cash disappeared into his back pocket in a flash. OK, not an auspicious start to a new trading relationship.


There are only four truly communist countries left in the world. Can you name them? China of course (although in a very capitalist way), North Korea (and the little rocket man), Cuba (cigars and rum), and yes.. I hadn't quite appreciated Vietnam.
The drive from the airport to downtown Hanoi it's not pretty, it's depressing, poor areas tumble down unpainted communist block housing. But central Hanoi is quite exotic, chaotic but exotic. The French colonised Vietnam and there are many old French buildings and a huge shambolic looking Cathedral a lake with a temple. Ultra trendy bars back to back with sit on the floor coffee shops, French style bistro's and street food, back packer places and boutique hotels. Tiny back streets with hip shops and local stores


First stop the Dong Xuan market, a big wholesale market on several floors, originally built by the French, and barely restored since. Bits of it falling down, but packed with traders and customers, mostly local and few tourists. Here was the place to see what kind of products you could buy.. so we found baskets, lacquer boxes and pretty ceramics and erm.. pop up cards but not much else. Next day we met up with a local agent, who took us on a tour of the craft villages. Lovely people, they explained that everything is made in a co-operative fashion in the villages, many items craft made by outworkers in homes.

How much is this nice lacquered box? In Dong Xuan market the prices had seemed quite cheap - for retail, but wholesale for export.. the prices were higher.. strange. And the designs while beautiful and perfect as a souvenir didn't strike me as suitable for the European market.

Our potential agent explained some of the problems, not enough interaction with western designers, too much control by the ruling party (who fear that interaction), too many people wanting to pocket a share of the export dollars. The dodgy guy in the airport is everywhere here. Beware of the police he warned us, they just live for bribes, only the army is trustworthy he explained. The people we met at the craft co-operatives were shy, earnest and really lovely people. I just wanted to do business somehow, unfortunately after a week of trying I think the country is not quite ready yet.

The newspapers in the UK are full of scandal and corruption stories, how men with power can abuse that power over others. It happens, I guess, sadly everywhere. In some cases to a degree that holds back a country.
But there is hope.. the internet, young people, creative interaction will happen. When it does we have the contacts to get to work on it.
Meanwhile, we bought Christmas presents.. dear friends hope you like baskets, lacquer boxes and pretty ceramics. And popup Christmas cards.

Back in the USSR.. back in the UK sorry.. things are beyond hotting up. It's all systems go - full on crazy busy. Orders are behind, but I understand better than this point last year.. all hands are on deck and we still have stock rolling in four containers this next week, so trying hard to keep those fast moving things in stock. I know we have been hit harder than expected on bathbomb stocks, but there is a plan.. and more production is coming online.

Hope you are trading well.. it's going to be an amazing Christmas.

Thank you for your support..

Next week I will be back to China.. news from there.

Take care



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