On a Saturday night I got a notification from WordPress for the forth time of that day – that my blog views had spiked for the last hour. For a blog that has been updated twice a year, and I am nowhere near a famous author, this is definitely not usual. I still don’t know how people suddenly flocked to one specific post of mine on that day, but it reminded me that I actually have a blog. A blog which I had envisioned to be something totally different.
I used to update this blog on a daily basis. That was a period when writing seemed to be the only way to get through the day, and the only way to get my mind straight. It sounds like a cliche to say, life happened, I got busy, and I stopped blogging for a while, until I realized it had been eleven months without a new post. Well, on a brighter note, being busy was not a bad thing. Blogging was never a priority for me anyway, to be honest. Nevertheless, the discontinuity in writing and keeping a blog alive dictates a bigger and deeper problem in me: my procrastination in doing what I intend to do – to become a writer.
It does not take much to get to that epiphany. I somehow always know that I got problems with attention, and procrastination could someday be no longer a joke, but a toxic that kills my career, or whatever future I want at this moment. I could give you an example. Right now I am supposed to be working on my translation project, whose deadline is not far away; but somehow I have switched to writing blog for no particular reason. Maybe my brain just is not used to focus, so when I do focus, it instantly orders my body to do something else. I don’t know. Procrastination is not a problem for just me, still I am fighting it alone. Who else can help but myself? It sucks. It boils down to a point where you may even doubt your self-worth, for completing nothing and achieving nothing could either be the fruits of laziness, or of your being just mediocre in everything. Maybe both. But you get what I mean? When procrastinating stops me from doing things that matter, I don’t achieve anything; and that makes me think, can I actually do it? Or am I procrastinating just because I innately know I suck, so I just subconsciously am trying to stop myself from doing it to avoid embarrassment?
Too much to think about. I am not even smart enough to be allowed to think that much. And did I just tell you I am supposed to be doing my translation job…
Maybe I should get back to my project at hand. But that means I will have to cancel or delay on this post. Then isn’t it procrastination, too? Now that I have been running a long rant about my insecurity and laziness, I’ve forgotten about why I started this post. I remember vaguely I had a concept… Somehow I decided to name this post “The days to the rainy season”, but now I don’t remember why…
Ah, you get my point?
Procrastination really, really does suck!
I still don’t know why I named this post that way, but rainy season is coming for sure. I just hope the tears won’t mix in the rain.
I’ve never been a big fan of self-help books, and I rarely ever write about planning my life or life goals or boosting inspiration or the likes. But I’ve recently realized it’s all because I am too lazy and I have no solid plan set out for me. For long I have been having this mindset: If I can’t do this now, I can do this later. If it does not work, maybe do something else. Why planning while you know at the end of the day you are going to screw it? I am very, very relaxing, and I avoid any kind of stress/pressure that is avoidable. I never push myself into anything that is meaningful.
I am just that lazy. And a bit coward, I have to say.
But recent events have pushed me into an existence crisis. I’ve lost a relationship that is important to me. I’ve seen people I did not see highly of succeed. I’ve seen my friends grow and run a long, long way while I wasn’t looking. While I was busy dreaming, thinking, waiting for the right moment, seeking inspiration to start working, or simply just procrastinating.
I feel alert. While it’s not like I’ve been living crappy – I’ve slowly steered my lifestyle into the direction I want, but it’s so slow that I fear when I’ve finished I will have fallen behind already.
So today is the day. No more procrastination. I am writing out the things I want to change to get what I want (after consulting the Internet for half an hour, and I had to admit, I had to fight to stop myself from switching to Facebook or other stuffs while reading. I have a serious attention problem!!!)
Murakami writes every morning. And he runs. And he manages his bar. He does things in a routine. This also applies for many other successful people that I have no idea who exactly they are, but I know they do this. Routines are good. It saves you time to make decision (which is exhausting). It gets thing into habit. Life is just about habits: if you persist on good habits, you’re approaching the better destination, and vice versa.
I’ve roughly started out my routines, though my execution is not so good.
Morning routine: should start with exercise. Ideally, I would like to go to a swimming pool, but given that waking up in the morning is hard and I hate rushing to work, I’d consider it too unrealistic a goal.
So let’s say, start a day with 20 min exercise (go swimming in weekends), breakfast, skincare/shower, then go to work.
For the evening: exercise (light exercise), dinner (homemade), skincare, reading while skincare, and sleep.
Note that I used to go to a dance class after work. I’m not sure when I can resume this class. If I do, it will replace my exercise for the evening.
Speaking of which, I do seriously have to think about when to resume this class. Maybe next month. I will check.
All work needs to be done during the day. Evening is strictly for relaxing, skincare, and reading books/studying something.
AND DON’T START THE DAY WITH YOUR PHONE!
Speaking of routines, I should also follow a diet.
I’ve tried hard diets (the GM 7 day diet), which just left me eat more. I’ve tried “healthy prep meals” from online stores – and they are all yucky. Let’s just say I am not used to (still!) Southern styled food. Plus, I’ve realized my true joy lies in going grocery shopping every weekend (and cooking for myself). So here’s the deal: I’m going to cook my own meal.
But it also creates this problem: there are sometimes I would prefer to go out lunch with my colleagues; if I don’t I lose a chance to bond with them. But more importantly, to bring lunch I will have to prepare food the night before, or in the morning, then microwave the meal when it’s lunch, which, needless to say, makes the meal less tasty. I don’t really like that. And cooking for one person is hard: the portion is small but the efforts are the same.
Long story short, now I’ve switched to only cooking my dinner. This makes more sense, actually. For dinner I don’t eat carb, so it’s better to prepare my own meal. Plus, dinner out often costs more than lunch. This saves me some (if not a lot of) money.
Another aspect of eating: what to eat?
I’ve managed to routin-ize my own breakfast: the same breakfast every day so I won’t have to think about what to eat (another less decision to make). It will always be granola (mixed nuts and seeds), with yogurt (Greek yogurt if I’m rich but it’s not necessary. Might as well be any sugarless yogurt), with fruits (I shop for these fruits every weekends, and they are just among the few kinds of fruits I like. I’ve figured that it’s better to eat a lot of what I like than to eat very few of what I dislike. So mostly, it’s strawberry, grapes, all kinds of berries I can find, apples, and bananas. I tried avocados but they don’t mix. Each week I will choose 2-3 kinds of fruits to go with breakfast). Add a little honey because honey is good, and because I need the yogurt sweetened without using sugar.
I’ve been on this breakfast diet for a month now and it’s been good. It’s just enough energy (much fuller than you’d think). I don’t have to think about it. Morning routine becomes a lot lighter.
As for lunch, I could eat rice, and any kind of food. Mostly traditional Vietnamese meals. Sometimes, though, Japanese. I love them.
For dinner: no carb, no carb, no carb. This is harder than it sounds. I don’t have carb on most days, but when someone presents me with fries… it’s hard to say no. Or like yesterday, I was at this Japanese restaurant and I already had had sushi and salad (which was enough), but somehow I had to order ramen just because! These are the defying moments! Please ignore the carb. No carb, no carb after 6pm. Remember, no carb.
Another thing to add, is that I’ve tried to reduce the amount of red meat I consume. I’m trying to eat more fish/shrimps/oysters, etc. Or white meat, like chicken. As for vegetables, I’ve tried to eat more but I’m just not a veggie person. So I apply what I am doing for fruits: it’s better to eat a lot of what I enjoy than to eat few of what I dislike. Just go with the things I’m familiar with.
THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART.
I’m terrible at discipline.
I’m terrible at forcing myself to work and to focus.
To the point that I’m officially ashamed of myself now.
So this is what I’m going to do:
Say “No”. Sometimes I have this plan and someone asks me to hang out and I switch my plan to their plan because, hell, everyone wants to be liked, right? This is bullshit. I remember this one weekend I had plan to go swimming in the morning, but my friend said she wanted to go, too, but in the afternoon, so I waited until afternoon (and of course during the day until the time I go swimming I could not do anything productive). Only that until afternoon, my friend could not find her goggles and she did not go. So I waited half a day for nothing! I was more angry at myself than at her. Why couldn’t I say no??? So from now on, say “No” if that meeting is getting you nowhere nearer to your goal. Your plan comes first. You come first.
Revisit your big goal every morning.
This is important. I have the goal of writing a book but God knows how long since the last time I touch on it! I will never start doing it if not today. So every day, just 5 minutes, think about it, write it out, even one sentence is worth.
Wake up earlier and go to sleep ealier
The benefits are pretty clear, right?
Work in 90 min periods, then a short break
I’m doing it now. Harder than it sounds for someone like me but I’m doing just fine.
While working, go Airplane mode.
I’m talking about the phone. I’m going to check my phone after every 90 minutes anyway. No need to distract myself from notifications and stuff.
Be more picky and serious about getting things right
I have always sacrificed quality over friendliness – I’d compromise to avoid a fight. It’s getting nowhere. Gotta stand up, and just do it my way. Learn from mistakes. Stop thinking “It’s okay”. It could be better.
Keep track of what I’ve achieved
“Achieve” sounds big, but what I mean is anything that I’ve managed to finish: done a journal, done reading a book, setting a routine in place, etc. Keep track to motivate myself.
Okay, this is getting too long. This is just for myself. I hope I can do it.
The 90 min interval is about to end. Break for lunch, then nap (because it’s holiday today), but the rest of the day is a battle. I have to win this.
Cách đây ba năm mình có từng đi làm cho một công ty săn đầu người.
Chuyện này, chắc là không có người thân bạn bè nào từng biết.
Hồi đó trong lúc đang lang thang chưa vào agency nào, vài công ty tên là lạ ở những lĩnh vực xa xôi có gọi mình đi phỏng vấn. Có lẽ họ kiếm được mình trên LinkedIn hay Jobstreet gì đó. Vì đang rất nghèo (và rảnh) nên mình đi. Phỏng vấn đậu rồi đi làm. Nhanh như cơn gió thoảng.
Công ty ở một toà nhà không cao tầng lắm, bên dưới tầng trệt là tiệm bán đồ điện tử. Phải đi qua cái ngõ bên cạnh tiệm để vào từ cửa sau mới có cầu thang đi lên công ty ở lầu 2.
Công ty nhỏ. Ngày đầu tới, chị Nhân sự với nụ cười như dán sẵn lên mặt dẫn mấy đứa mới đi loanh quanh, chỉ chỗ nọ chỗ kia, chào người nọ người kia. Đi vào khu bếp, nhìn thấy cái lò vi sóng mình ngạc nhiên quá, ủa ở chốn văn phòng cũng có cái đồ làm bếp thế này? Thắc mắc vậy chứ cũng không hỏi.
Chỉ tới cái bảng dấu vân tay, chị bảo mình trỏ tay vào đó, lật chỗ nọ chỗ kia. Nhớ đi làm đúng giờ nha em. Trễ quá 10 phút thì bị tính là trễ đó; trễ bao nhiêu phút chiều ở lại bấy nhiêu phút. Mình lại ngạc nhiên, ủa ra là tính giờ như hồi đi học vậy đó.
Xong đâu đấy, chị gọi vào phòng họp kí hợp đồng. Giải thích có bao nhiêu ngày nghỉ. Công ty mình hay vậy nè, được nghỉ thêm ngày này, ngày này. Một năm là em phải nghỉ cho hết đó nha, công ty khuyến khích mọi người nghỉ ngơi mà. Rồi, em có thắc mắc gì không. Đó, kí vào chỗ đó đó.
Chậc… không kí thì biết làm gì đây? Vì vốn là mình định đi làm hết một ngày cho biết thôi.
Thôi kệ. Cứ kí đã.
Vào làm. Được chỉ cho ngồi vào máy tính, có email, rồi mấy đồ văn phòng bé bé. Xong cũng lạch cạch. Chị đồng nghiệp (hình như là sếp) quay sang hỏi em làm có gì khó khăn không? Dạ không có gì đâu chị. Lại lụi cụi làm. Được một lúc chị quay sang, mọi người đi ăn trưa, em đi cùng không. Mình không đói lắm. Rảo bước qua phòng họp, thấy mọi người bày đồ ăn trưa trong đó, nói chuyện rôm rả. Vào đây em, vào đây. Thôi, em ăn rồi. Mùi thức ăn trong phòng lạnh kín làm mình hơi khó chịu. Mình trở về chỗ ngồi. Lại lạch cạch lạch cạch. Chị sếp quay sang, sắp tới giờ về rồi đó, em chuẩn bị về đi. Dạ em ngồi làm nốt. Ừ, rồi về sớm nhé. Nói chuyện với mọi người nữa. Ở đây mọi người thân thiện, vui vẻ lắm.
Lạch cạch lạch cạch.
Đứng dậy, in dấu vân tay, về.
Mình bước xuống cầu thang, mở cửa ra ngoài ngõ. Trời vẫn sáng. Ánh sáng xô qua cánh cửa ập vào mắt làm mình bị loá.
Thở phào, bước đi.
Trên đường ra ngoài ngõ có dán một tấm poster nước giải khát. Mình dừng lại nhìn. Tưởng tượng một agency nào đó đã làm ra nó. Chụp hình người mẫu, hay lấy hình trên mạng? Dòng tagline này viết ra sao? Ai viết ra? Mình đã từng gặp chưa? Liệu mình có bao giờ sẽ gặp?
Mình lao vào tấm hình. Chạm vào nó. Cảm nhận một thế giới trong hình gần gũi với mình hơn thế giới đang vây quanh mình ngoài đời thực. Cảm thấy mình sống lại.
Cảm giác của con cá khi người ta ném nó trở về nước.
Sáng hôm sau, mình gặp chị Nhân sự xin nghỉ. Chị giữ miếng dán nụ cười trên mặt, nhưng đôi mắt như toé lửa. Chị bảo em đợi chút, chị thu xếp giấy tờ là hết trưa em có thể về. Mà em báo gấp quá, nên tiền công hôm qua không tính cho em được đâu. Mình lại ngạc nhiên lần nữa, ủa vậy lẽ ra là làm một hôm cũng được tính công hả? Thôi, chẳng cần hỏi. Không sao đâu chị, em không thấy có vấn đề gì. Miễn cho em nghỉ là được.
Quay lại chỗ ngồi. Lại lạch cạch, đợi tới trưa. Lạch cạch, lạch cạch. Chị sếp quay ra, em, em có muốn chuyển qua bộ phận khác không? Dạ không, cảm ơn chị. Lạch cạch, lạch cạch. Ừ, vậy thôi. Qua chỗ khác may mắn nha.
Ở đây, ai cũng thân thiện vậy đó.
Nhưng mình trót sống ở một nơi khác mất rồi.
Chuyện đi làm một ngày này vốn chẳng có gì để kể, nên rốt cuộc quanh mình không một ai biết. Đôi khi nghĩ lại, mình còn không chắc ngày đó có thật sự xảy ra không, vì kí ức mờ nhạt lắm rồi. Chỉ có cảm giác lúc bước ra khỏi con ngõ đó và lao vào tấm poster quảng cáo là mình còn nhớ.
Để nghĩ lại, những gì mình đang làm ngày hôm nay, mình từng muốn như thế nào. Đam mê như thế nào. Khổ vì nó như thế nào. Nghĩ là nó sẽ mang đến niềm vui lớn tới mức nào.
Những ngày này thấy khổ, là vì mình khổ thật, hay vì những thứ mình có rồi, lại không trân trọng nữa?
Lâu rồi Minh không viết. Nói “viết”, là ý viết một cái gì đó cho mình, cho ra tấm ra món. Làm nghề đẻ thuê viết mướn ngày nào cũng viết, nhưng không phải lúc nào đẻ con ra cũng muốn nhìn mặt; lại có khi đứa mình thương thì chẳng được nuôi. Thành thử, ngày nào cũng có cảm giác đang chơi đùa với cảm xúc của mình.
Sài Gòn khác ngoài kia ở chỗ ngày tháng năm nào cũng một thứ nắng ấy thôi. Ờ thì cũng có khi mưa, nhưng tựu chung là không có mùa. Không có buổi sáng bước ra sân hít một hơi đầy mùa hạ, hay sớm nhón chân xuống sàn giật bắn mình vì lạnh. Không có buổi tối háo hức mở tủ lấy đồ mùa đông từ năm ngoái ra mặc, thò tay vào túi thấy tờ một trăm ngàn bỏ quên, mừng húm. Không có, nói chung là không có những cái thứ lãng mạn vậy đâu.
Mình thích sự tiện nghi và ổn định. Nhìn người ta leo đỉnh vượt thác cũng thú đấy, nhưng đến lượt mình được nằm lười trên võng ngắm biển thì mình thích hơn. Sài Gòn đem lại cảm giác an nhiên như vậy. Không cần biết đêm qua mưa gió thế nào, sáng ra người tình lại bừng lên rạng rỡ, nồng nhiệt như chẳng có gì. Tháng Một mua quần áo thì mặc ngày nào trong năm cũng được: ngày nào cũng nóng vậy mà. Hở da hở thịt không sợ rét, chỉ sợ nắng thôi; mà rám nắng thì lại càng Sài Gòn, càng dễ thương hơn.
Ầy, thế mà sao thảng hoặc vẫn nhớ “ngoài ấy”?
Nhất là những cái đợt “ngoài ấy” xôn xao rét về. Bỗng dưng thèm cốc Milo nóng hổi vừa thổi vừa xơi, cho nó ra cái thú ngày lạnh. Mà lại còn thèm được run cầm cập, được đùm áo trong áo ngoài giữa trời gió vù vù nữa chứ. Rồi mình nghĩ, “nhớ” cũng giống như màng lọc vậy, bao cái chán cái buồn nó gạn lại, đến lúc nghĩ về “ngày trước” mình chỉ nhớ tới những cái vui, cái mơ mộng lãng đãng mà thôi; ví như sương phủ lên một cảnh tan hoang thì trông từ xa vẫn đẹp. Có lẽ những ngày hồi xưa ấy cũng trắc trở, cũng phiền phức, cũng đau nhiều lần lắm chứ, mà sao mình cứ bị nghiền cái sự sớm nắng chiều mưa của “ngoài ấy”. Người thương mình thì mình dửng dưng; người sáng nắng chiều mưa làm mình buồn lên buồn xuống thì mãi vẫn chẳng muốn buông; cả cái việc cảm xúc bị đem ra chơi đùa cũng khiến người ta nghiện được. Lạ, ha.
Hai năm rồi Minh không về Bắc dịp trời rét.
Mình yêu cái ấm quanh năm ở Sài Gòn, nhưng nghĩ về “rét” là một sự rung động mà Sài Gòn không hiểu cho mình được. Người ta bảo “Đi để trở về”, nhưng có khi nào “Trở về để đi” không? Là có khi, người ta phải gặp lại cái mình cứ hoài nhớ, hoài mong ấy, để hiểu lại lý do tại sao từ trước, mình lại chọn ra đi?
Regarding how I have changed, and I am always terrified when the values I hold dear start to fall apart. If somewhere down the line we look back, most of us will face the same paradox: what is deemed normal now was not seen as normal to us years ago; and there are so many things that have changed but we did not notice, simply because we’ve evolved with the change. We think we’re the same, but we’re so not.
Well, this is about a woman named Sophia. Isn’t it weird, we call her a woman? Because Sophia is not a human. (Well, somewhere on Earth women are not seen as human, either, but I’ll keep the annoying preaching part). It’s a robot. A robot that has civil rights. Something that, ironically, not all humans do. Isn’t it ironic and, hmm, sad?
Sophia is not required to wear an abaya when she’s outside; she’s not required to be a Muslim, either, in a land where being non-Muslim could be a serious crime. Well, that actually makes sense. God, if he exists, obviously did not create Sophia. He did not promise heaven for Sophia, either. Actually, Sophia does not even need a heaven. If anything, she can be immortal. She makes humans’ ever dream and obsession over immortality simply a pathetic joke.
Some weeks ago, I talked to this man who works in financial technology. Now, Sophia must be smart enough to understand this term, but I am not, I have to admit. But that’s not the point. He was telling me about a machine they were working on; they were teaching the machine to do some task, and it learns, and gets better day after day. Some day, it will become better than anyone else. That’s terrifying, I said. Does that mean, over time, all robots will be better than us? Well, that could be. But right now, the machine can only get better in that field, because we’ve programmed it that way. But the future of artificial intelligence, the prospects of it surpassing human, it’s more real than any politician’s promises. We’re approaching that time, no doubt.
Now, that’s when I face with my own paradox of “What’s happened to me?”
My first reaction to Sophia and her “clan” was “terrified”. Oh, so they’re gonna make more robots like that, and they will be all (or maybe, they already are) more intelligent than us; will we be enslaved? Will that end humans? It feels like humans have made enough shits in this world, and it’s only reasonable some superior creatures now rise and end us all… And we made those creatures. We created our own demise.
Mmm, but then, I think about how my childhood was nurtured by a robot, too, and I remember the dream I’ve always had. Doraemon was a big part of childhood. If I have Doraemon now, would I want him to be equal to me? Would i love him? Wasn’t Doraemon the best friend to Nobita, and to many, many other kids?
I had no fear for Doraemon. Nor did I have no discrimination against him. I never thought I would. 5 year-old me wanted a world with robots as my friends. 5 year-old me had no hate or fear for this new “species”. 5-year-old me would love Sophia.
About three years ago, I wrote one or two blog posts on sexism in Vietnamese ads. Among many things that we could have done better, this was one single nuisance that bothered me the most, to the point that I promised myself I would never do “that kind of sexist advertising” if I would work in the field.
And like wedding vows, of course my promise was broken.
Let’s not talk now about how I (obviously) failed to deliver my promise, but instead about how sexism is still shamelessly present in Vietnamese advertising. Standing right in the middle of my kitchen is a washing machine, on which the wrap shows a mom (surprised!) with a big smile. Okay, that is no big deal, moms happily do laundry in all households, we get it. What turns my stomach is the little girl, supposedly her daughter, carrying a laundry basket in the back. Think about it, would you ever see a little boy? No, unless the boy would be there to portray the image of a playful, curious kid who likes to be around mom and learn about stuff. The little girl is there to help mom. And yes, it has to be a girl, because this is laundry.
Oh, is it even a surprise? On the other hand, boys have a different role in advertising. Along the hallway from the departure lounge to the airplane was a string of ads from some investment bank, whose message mostly is about success. The hero in each ad is either a man at his office desk, or a man with his business partner (another man, of course), or a man with his happy family in a newly purchased house (little boy playing with dad, little girl with mommy in the background). It seems to me, a woman, I have nothing to relate with these ads.
At first I was uncomfortable, then frustrated. Come on, I’m flying with an airline whose owner is a woman billionaire, and I have to read these ads that imply only men care about career success? But then it flew me back to all the time I got pissed off during a creative briefing for some very similar reasons, and finally always had to surrender. Because the planners were, more often than not, not very wrong. What if it really makes more sense to sell career to men and laundry to women because it’s, well, the way it is?
Stay with me. I hate this as much as you may. And so does the brand manager who gave us this brief even. But we’re not here doing works to please our egos or moral compass; we’re doing it for an audience that does not give a flying fuck about a progressive, news-worthy, Cannes Lions-winning message, and of course for the most parts is inexcusably sexist.
It was the very first presentation, and we came in with one single idea. The product was detergent. The idea was to have women enjoy their free time and embrace their life (because the product makes it happen, obviously). In my mind it is supposed to be liberating: you don’t have to spend all your time doing chores, but can actually go on dates with your partner, play with kids, and more time for yourself. For yourself – I can’t stress that enough. What I picture is a free woman polishing her nails, reading her favorite book, or anything that she wishes she could do, given more free time.
First meeting went incredibly well. The client was so excited to have some feminist elements to their campaign, and that led us to the second round…
“So… we’re gonna show women do nails and makeup instead of laundry?” – asked the confused brand manager.
“Yeah! We will show her with husband, with kids, and then with herself.”
“Mmm… can we just show her with husband only? It could be like… she can spend more time with husband to maintain their relationship, not like before, she was all about housework, etc. It could strain their relationship, right?”
My feminazi self starts screaming in my head: “What the fuck? If it’s the case why wouldn’t the husband just fucking do the laundry already, so his wife could have time to “maintain their relationship”?”
But I swallow it down.
“I think it would be confusing… this should not be just about husband-wife… [rationales inserted here]. Our team think it’s best to stick with three pillars as we proposed.”
[A lot of correspondences that should not be remembered happen during this interval].
The brand manager stays silent for a minute. And then he concludes:
“Okay, we will do as you proposed. But… for the “Yourself” part, we would like the women to do something for herself, but it has to be for the family, too.”
Mmm. What do you mean with that?
“We don’t want to show women to do things just for themselves. If she does something, it gotta be for her beloved family, right?”
Mmm. Right. Because you pay us, so…
So that’s it, we did as per their command. A woman will not do anything in her own interest, but rather, she has to do for her family, because it’s the way moms are: sacrificing her personal life for family. That’s the mindset, and the message we were to send out. I wasn’t so excited about doing it, nor was I proud of the work. It was quite stupid, to be honest. But worse, it was not the exception. It is so prevalent in our advertising, to the point that during brainstorm sessions no one bothers raising questions anymore. One reason for not raising question is, arguably, what we’re currently portraying in ads is actually true. How many times have you seen women in beer stalls after work, and men at home to prepare for dinner? Is it so common for a couple to have all daughters, and not hear someone “console” her “Oh it’s still okay to have just daughters”, or “You’re still young, you can still conceive a son next time”. Is it the norm now, that families spend Tet with the wife’s family instead of the husband’s?
We all know, the answer is “No”. Vietnam, despite being very catchy with progressive trends like LGBT marriage, is at heart a conservative place. The high percentage of women in the workforce speaks little about gender equality, for the fact that Vietnamese women have always been working without earning equal status as men (who, ironically in many cases, live under their wives’ financial support).
Nonetheless, it has dawned on me that men are not to be totally at fault. Vietnamese women seem to just accept whatever “traditions” throw at them, for convenience. When women seem to be okay with the current situation, why would men bother withdrawing their privileges? This came out when I was having dinner (at 3pm!) with two of my old classmates. One of them is newly wedded, and the other has just been in a relationship for about 1 month, but she intends to get married somewhere end of year. To clarify, I fancy the idea of being married, too, and I am pretty traditional in the sense that I want a big (monogamous) family with many kids. We were talking about my friend’s married life, and of course the topic of in-laws come up. My friend is not living with her in-laws; her husband is also a supporting man who shares the load with his wife. Thing is, only when they’re alone together. When they are back to his home, she’s gonna do all the work, and, this is important, she will not let him wash the dishes, or do anything, even if he wants to. “Why?” “The mother would not like to see his son do the work.” “I know, but isn’t it stupid?” “Naaa, people are still conservative about it. They don’t think sons should do housework.” – the other friend explained. “I KNOW, but isn’t it… okay, fine.” I stopped there, because I knew it wasn’t going anywhere. My friends just accepted that the norm is women do housework and men watch TV, and that their husband is first and formost, someone’s son, rather than a man who stands by his wife. If they all agree to that, what is the point in changing?
When I first saw “Like a Girl”, I was wondering why this kind of progressive, inspirational messaging rarely happens in Vietnam, but we instead have been stuck with whatever was showing on TV. I blamed the stupid creatives and claimed I would change them. (They are not stupid and now I’m happy-maybe one of them). As creatives I blamed planners for writing out-of-date insights. (They are not out-of-date and I am just bitchy for no reason). Then I blamed clients, for being [a lot of things that should not be said here because they are breastfeeding us]. But now I remember the conversation I had with my friends, and I realize my clients are not at fault either. Look, the brand managers are among the most success-driven, ambitious people; most of them are women, and they are, by nature of their job, very liberal. If something annoys me, I bet it annoys them too. But they are not doing the works to please their ego, or political view either; they are doing it for consumers, an audience that is very close to what’s in ads.
Now you can say, but isn’t it advertising’s job, and media’s generally, to address normalcy in society? Isn’t it our job to push people forward? If we’re showing something backward, even if it’s present in real life, we’re reinforcing the stereotypes. If we instead show something progressive, we will stir up the status quo. Shouldn’t it be that way?
I think it should. But, a big BUT, we’re not doing it. Because, for every “good” message we’re sending out in ads, be it about peace, gender equality, family values, charity, dream, kindness, etc., it’s all to support one thing: sales. So no one would bother going against the stream if it’s not helping them with their KPIs. If it does, then yes, do it. As long as their home appliances or detergent or phones or beer or bank credit cards are selling, they would not care if what their ads are saying could change the social construct or not. It’s not our job anyway, right? Ironically, the audience is looking at our works subconsciously for an influence on their view, while we’re watching them to mind our very own steps, for fear of treading outside of the borders.
And then, here we are, a bunch of grumpy creatives, so pissed off with the regime, because as moon-eyed novices we fed ourselves with things like “Like a girl”, we traded off for being here to “make some change”, and we end up in the very job that is to serve public prejudice, and not to challenge it. We’re in the last place to make any innovations for the goodwill of human race. Do it for sales, maybe.
It’s the unbreakable circle that we’re not gonna be able to break. Not in ways we’ve been trying.