Each year, my friends and I have been fortunate to take an exotic trip. Whether it was on a photo safari in South Africa, climbing Machu Picchu in Peru or walking along the Great Wall of China, we all returned with great stories and insights from the people in those regions.
However, none of those impacted me like our recent trip to Southeast Asia.
As a financial planner for more than 37 years, my job has always centered around people. But I don’t think I have ever met a group of people, as a whole, who had a more positive attitude and willingness to help, despite their living conditions.
As we arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam, we all wondered how the Vietnamese would accept the “American tourists.” We got our answer quickly. We were welcomed with open arms, and everyone spoke English in this bustling metropolis.
The hotel in which we stayed had the finest service of any hotel I have ever been in. On our second day there, we rode out one of the largest typhoons in history. The people of Hanoi, many of whom lived in small, run-down homes and apartments, continually asked us if we were OK and what they could do for us. All this when I’m sure many of those same people lost their homes in the devastation of that storm.
As we left Hanoi, I told our driver that I was surprised people were so friendly to Americans. After all, we were in a bitter war with them. He said through the years his country had been invaded by the French, Chinese, Japanese and so many others that the people leave all of that in the past and look to the present.
Cambodia was our next stop. Like Vietnam, it’s a growing country. But we quickly faced a harsh reality of their life. We were warned that more than 5 million land mines had been buried throughout the country since 1980. While many of us would freeze in terror, the Cambodians look at it as a way of life.
One of our cab drivers told us stories of cars hitting land mines, killing everyone inside. He said he once had to clean up a site after an explosion. When he was finished, he realized that he had walked across an area embedded with land mines without dying. He just laughed at his good fortune.
After hearing these stories, we visited the Cambodian Landmine Museum and Relief Facility in Siem Reap. And as a side note, what story would be complete without a Western New York connection? The man running the museum, William Morse, is from Jamestown. He said most of the people in Cambodia have a positive attitude because they are just glad to be alive.
Our final stop was Thailand. It was probably the most educated of all three countries, yet the friendliness still pervaded everything the people did.
Now that we’re home, thoughts of the people in Southeast Asia, who have been through so much, are reaching into my business practices. I’m making it my goal to be friendlier in what I say and do. I now thank people for doing things I might have ignored before.
I’m also trying to raise my customer service levels. After all, if people who live in shacks and dodge land mines every day can provide some of the finest customer service I’ve ever experienced, I should dedicate myself to their example and try to improve mine.