Ted’s Vietnam Adventure—Part Two

The Journey to Open a New Market Continues…

Our story so far: Ted McDonnell, a salesman and brand builder working in Asia, has been given the assignment to work with the Chivas Regal group.  He is sent to Vietnam to help the local team grow the brand in the newly opened market. Unfortunately, and unbeknownst to Ted, he ends up in Hanoi when he was supposed to go to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). By the time Ted learns of his mistake, he has been through a bit of an ordeal—deserted, dark and lonely roads, fears of having been kidnapped, going from hotel to hotel in search of a place to stay, and exhaustion from the ordeal.

But, Ted also learns that the Vietnamese he meets are warm and friendly and, despite his fears, are anxious to help him.

We pick up our story at the point where Ted has just learned of his mistake. (Here is part one.)

Back to the Airport

So, it’s late, Ted is exhausted and anxious to get to Ho Chi Minh City. If he stays in Hanoi—assuming he can find a hotel room this late at night—he will lose time in getting there. Then the thought hits him: Get back to the airport, surely there’s a hotel there, and get the first plane out to the southern city.

Ah, but what about money? Credit cards are not yet widely accepted and he has a limited amount of dollars (having paid Tran, the driver most of what he had), but he has over 300 British Pounds. “After all,” thinks Ted, “if a dollar can buy 17,000 Dong (Vietnamese currency) the pound should buy a billion. I should have enough.” Although, the universe may have other ideas.

But, first things first. He has to find a hotel at the airport and get a shower and some much-needed sleep. Then get up early, buy a plane ticket and get back on track.

Unfortunately, when he arrives back at the airport, he learns that that there are no hotels, in those days. What happens next according to Ted:

“There was no hotel just a building that was used for airport workers to sleep and they charge them so many Dong a night. I said, ‘Well that’s where I’m going to be sleeping but I need my own room.’ So, Tran wakes up the owner of the hotel at 1 o’clock in the morning. They’re screaming at each other, I’m saying, ‘I need a hotel room because I have to get the first plane.’ They’re thinking I’m crazy.”

“After a little haggling, I gave the last of my US dollars to the hotel guy. He was happy. I also gave Tran his money and he was happy. I got my room. They put my boxes and my luggage there with me and said, ‘Good night.’ I closed the door. I went to take a shower but there was no running water.”

One thing you can always say about a Seagram person, especially the folks who worked in Asia, no matter what, they’ll find a solution. In true form, Ted decides that if he can’t shower, he’ll use the sink. He turns on the faucet and out comes a lovely shade of brown water. He figures “what the hell,” finds a bucket fills it with the water and puts his head into it to cool down.

Please don’t laugh folks… desperate times call for desperate measures.

He’s feeling a bit better (or so he says) and puts on a clean t-shirt, turns out the lights, and quickly falls asleep. For about 15 minutes.

“Something was scratching and rattling the door. Well, you couldn’t believe how tired and exhausted I was, but I was still able to push the bed, the desk, the boxes, and my luggage up against the door. And I stared at that door for another half hour.”

The next day

Finally, around three o’clock in the morning, Ted falls asleep but is up at five to get to the airport, be the first on line to exchange money, get the ticket to Ho Chi Minh City, maybe even find a lounge (there was none) to wait for the plane. At seven, the foreign exchange opens and he’s first on line. He is starting to breathe a sigh of relief, reliving the ordeal of the night before and even managing to laugh about it. But not for long.

“We don’t take this,” the woman behind the counter says.

Ted is shocked: “This is pounds sterling… this is very important money, more valuable than US dollar.”

“No, we only take American dollar, Malaysian Ringett, also take Chinese money, but we don’t take this.”

Ted says, “You please take this, I need to get on a plane for the South and my flight’s at 7:30.” The reply is a firm No!

Ted leaves the counter and once again decides that desperate times call for desperate measures. He decides to approach people and beg.

He walks up to every person, and asks them if they have any money that they would be willing to exchange for pounds sterling. He tells them, “This is what I need to buy a ticket, can you help me?”

Two or three people just refused to speak English to him. One person gave him a few dollars and he thinks he ended up giving him twice the value in pounds because he was so desperate. A few more people gave him money. Finally, one person gave him $100 for 200£ (pounds). According to Ted, “That was a rip off but I was just so happy that I had enough money to buy a ticket.”

And, so, Ted at long last is going to the south. He, his luggage and what’s left of the trinkets, t-shirts and training material get on board. The door closes but Ted is already fast asleep.

Ho Chi Minh City today

The aftermath

If this story was fictional, such as one of my screenplays, Ted’s nightmare would continue (and perhaps get worse) when he landed in Ho Chi Minh City. If you were expecting that, dear reader, forget it. The universe figured he’d been through enough and decided to smile at him.

He arrives, goes easily through customs, meets his Seagram colleagues, who take one look at him and say, “Man, you need a drink, a bed, and a shower. Which do you want first?” They go on to say, “By the way, you have a training session in 3 hours and you need to be there.”

Ted is so thrilled he replies, “Of course I’ll be there.” He checks into his hotel, unpacks and sits in the shower for 30 minutes. All the while thinking about the people in that house, Tran, his friend, the policeman, the people that he met that night, and how everyone was so easy and nice to talk to.

The session with the Vietnam sales team was a big success with the attendees paying rapt attention, absorbing the information like sponges, and the excitement about Chivas Regal was palpable.

Let’s close with a final word from Ted McDonnell:

“I encourage everybody that I talk to, to go to Vietnam because the people are lovely and the country is lovely. Thank you for the opportunity to share my little salesman story. Every salesperson has a door he knocks on or a town he walks into cold turkey. Well, I walked into Vietnam cold turkey thinking all night I was in a city that I was not in at all.”

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Ted McDonnell now runs the Liberty Lighthouse Group, an international alcohol beverage sales and marketing agency. The company’s key objective is to support its Brand Companies to either establish new brands or to further support established brands throughout Asia/Pacific and other Global markets.

Ted at his training session in 1994

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