Trip Start Apr 04, 2008
Trip End Mar 31, 2009

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Where I stayed
Sofitel Hotel

Flag of Vietnam  ,
Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The History Museum in Saigon is very near the Sofitel Hotel, just down the street from the French and American General Consulates, both of which have very high walls around them--the American one topped with a five-foot steel grill to ward off determined, if confused, tourists. It made me think how scary it is to be an American building these days. The other building, the Museum, is just a museum, as museums go, and, except for the artifacts, I'm not sure that the Lonely Planet doesn't cover Vietnamese history in at least as much detail.

But there was one placard in the Museum, in the room devoted to the varying artistry of Buddhist statuary done in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, China, and Japan, that made me immediately think of the Sofitel Hotel. You can go into the lobby of any Sofitel Hotel in the world and find a framed picture of the hotel's two founders along with a statement regarding their employees' "Spirit of L'Accor." The statement, in English, is written in exquisite prose and says absolutely nothing. To prove it, I replaced the name Sofitel with the name of the English school I was once managing, substituted teachers for hotel staff, and, students for guests. We expected the school, like Sofitel, to immediately become a world-class institution:

"The Spirit of Alias English Training Center is the art of blending skills, of combining traditions in pedagogies of the past with modern innovation, adding the generosity, discipline, imagination and warmth which can carry our school to a higher level of excellence. For Alias, this is a conquering vision of success. The teachers and staff of Alias have inherited a unique cultural legacy--the sense of hospitality, the unfailing ability to anticipate and meet the needs of their students with genuine attention to detail. Alias people know techniques and practices which mark the everyday with a sense of style, and turn simple services into real experiences for the students. It is a talent, it is an art, it is their particular talent. Seeking the best of everything." 

My favorite sentence is, "...this is a conquering vision of success." I'm sure this is just what Napoleon said to his troops on the night before a big scrum. And if that wasn't enough to motivate the ranks, then blending past and modern innovative battle tactics, along with generosity, discipline, imagination and heat, not to mention hostility and the unfailing ability to anticipate and meet the needs of the battle field, would surely win the day. But win or lose, to do it all with a sense of style, turning simple fighting techniques into real experiences for the guys on the other side--it is a talent, it is an art, seeking the best of everything and to be all that you can be. And lest I be misunderstood, I am in no wise making light of the French people, whom I'm sure we can all agree have inherited a unique cultural legacy.

Whew, I'm about done. The placard in the Museum now pales in comparison to the "Spirit of L'Accor." Maybe it would be better just to give a test:

Q. The "writer of placards" for the Museum wanted to express that the five Asian peoples mentioned above have all lent their unique spiritual and artistic sensitivities to depicting in stone and metal the image of the Buddha, and so formulated a "national characteristic" for each of those peoples. Please match the "characteristic" to the nation:

Characteristic:                    Nation:
1. gentility A. Cambodia
2. refinement                      B. China
3. perfection                       C. Japan
4. meditation                      D. Thailand
5. affection                         E. Vietnam

I defy anybody to get it right on the first guess. I got one. Answers below.

Now that all is said and done, I must tell you that after two hours it was time to leave the Museum which was right next to the Zoo. But I couldn't do the Zoo. I was obsessed with the "Spirit of L'Accor" and didn't even want to think about how the animals fit in.

Answers: 5e,4a,3c,2d,1b
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