Manila, July 23, 2003 By BIBSY M. CARBALLO (MALAYA) IN a trip to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), it was with a pleasant surprise to discover Filipinos in high positions with multi-national corporations and held in high esteem by the locals.

"There are no Filipino domestics here," says Ma. Eloisa "Ging" Ledesma, country manager of PAL, since labor in Vietnam is cheaper than in the Philippines. The PAL connection with Vietnam goes back to 1946, as the very first Asian airline in the country, Ledesma reports. She was country manager from 1995-98, after which PAL stopped operations. In 2001, she was recalled to open up the station, now with flights thrice weekly from Manila, and the possibility of more to come.

Ned Bandojo, marketing director, and Allan Mirasol, quality assurance manager, both from SJ Johnson Manila, joined the Vietnam office barely a month ago. Bandojo is ready for his three-year stint, has gotten himself a flat which he is refurbishing, and is prepared to study the Vietnamese language.

Mirasol, on a short-term post in Ho Chi Minh, likewise, whose immediate contact is with the Vietnamese workers in the factory, lists as primary concern the language barrier.

Vietnam is considered by many as a hardship post. There are none of the amenities immediately available at one's fingertips unlike in Manila. There is not much of a nightlife or a cultural life; transportation facilities are limited (90% of the locals travel by motorcycles); and one has to contend with loneliness and homesickness.

The Filipino expatriate community is small-450 in Ho Chi Minh, and 150 in Hanoi, seat of the Vietnamese government. They congregate Sundays after church at the French-styled Notredame Cathedral, and in hotel bars.

Since Filipinos are also known far and wide for their musical talent, many bars employ bands. We got to listen to and speak with members of the Sox band, stationed at the Caravelle Hotel in the center of town. Their spokesperson and keyboardist Lyndon Sanchez has been in Saigon seven years, four years of these spent at the Caravelle. They perform four sets on weekdays, and five sets on weekends, and the Saigon Saigon bar at the roofdeck with a grandiose view of the city is generally packed as the Saturday we came to watch.

Sanchez says they have learned to cope with life abroad, as many musicians do. Life is simple, spent at home during the day.

Eugene Temesis, director of sales and marketing of Omni Saigon Hotel has been with the hotel two years, his stint extended for another year. He does not consider it a hardship post at all, enjoys the amenities provided expats, including having his family and baby with him during his tour of duty, and generous home leaves.

Miriam Melgar, general manager of the advertising/events agency Ads, was in Saigon previously, as the first manager for DYR agency way back in 1995. As such, her experience there for 3 1/2 years, like that of Ging Ledesma, is deeper, more connected with the people and the culture. She returned recently with Terry Alikpala, Ads' client service manager, and together they are finding that the steadily growing economy of Vietnam is perfect for their business.

The best thing about the Filipino community in Ho Chi Minh is that because of their size, they are not prone to the Pinoy tendency to be divisive. There is just too few of them around to be susceptible to this. The worst thing is that because of the attractive offers, the Philippines may soon experience a brain drain of young talented Filipinos making the beeline for Vietnam.

Our trip was sponsored by Omni Saigon Hotel of the Marco Polo group, and Philippine Airlines.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved