Image credit: Huân Camera 0985738794
Vietnam is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, with an increasingly sophisticated business-ecosystem and massive foreign investment from major brands diversifying out of China.
With economic growth comes great opportunities — new types of jobs, new facets of entrepreneurism, and the expansion of traditional (and weird!) industries as the population enjoys more luxury consumption.
As travellers to a new country, we love learning about its weird and unusual jobs — it is an interesting lens with which to learn about a culture and what people value: i.e. the things and services that people spend their hard-earned money on.
And who knows: maybe there is a new job or business idea lurking in these strange consumptive habits? Here are some of favourite weird and unusual jobs in Vietnam:
These craftsman make beautiful things out of paper so that they can be sacrificed in fire — that is the backbone of a huge traditional crafts industry which serves the Vietnamese practice of ancestor-worship; in particular, gift-giving to dead relatives via paper-simulacra.
A key element of Vietnamese culture is familial duties, to both the living and dead. They believe that dead ancestors need items in the afterlife, just like we need them in the living-realm. In order to send a gift to a spirit-relatives, one needs to burn a paper-simulacra of the items: the fire and smoke act as a portal to the spirit-realm.
Paper cars, paper money, paper iPhones, paper houses — there is a huge industry of paper-artists whose masterpieces will never live longer than a year, but which remain timeless in the afterlife.
Learn more about the Vietnamese ritual of burning paper simulacra.
Transvestite Religious Singers in Vietnam
Are you an attention-seeking homosexual man who likes to wear ladies’ traditional clothing and sing songs about heroes and legends? Well, Vietnam has a special job for you: its a millennia-old version of drag-queens, albeit with a pious and charitable spin.
Vietnamese villagers love to attend these traditional performances lead by gay men: especially since the performers throw money at the crowd, paid for by wealthy benefactors. The motivation behind the performances a spiritual duty of wealthy-people: the plays are believed to be the karmic-fountain of their fortune, while poorer attendees go to the shows to collect money, eat free food, drink free alcohol, and listen to gay men sing folk-songs.
The performers don’t have to be gay, but the best and most-famous performers all seem to be gay-men. Subsequently, a mystical air has come to surround the gayness and the industry. Mysticism aside, it could be that gay-men have come to excel in these roles because, as a Vietnamese colleague explain, ‘they have to play both male and female characters and do elaborate make-up, and sing and dance‘ which is apparently not something particularly enjoyed by normal heterosexual men.
Business idea: add an LGBTQ+-tourism spin to this little-known bastion of homo-phila in Vietnam.
Fake Boyfriends/Girlfriends for Hire in Vietnam
Family is very important in Vietnam in a way that was been lost in the West. One consequence is that single Vietnamese adults receive incessant nagging from their parents and grandparents to get married and have kids, especially during big holidays like Tet. Elder Vietnamese without grand-kids are snickered-at by neighbours as barren losers, and their single-kids never hear the end of it.
As a way to cope with this familial pressure, while still maintaining singledom, enterprising Vietnamese have created an industry of fake boyfriends/girlfriends for hire (aka “escorts”). However, these escorts are not meant to party a la Las Vegas-style in alcohol-fueled debauchery. Instead, they merely attend family gatherings, engage in nice chit-chat with prying elders, talk about their career, and hold-hands with their client — clients thereby stave-off another year without needing to get married. A lot of gay people also do it to ward of family-suspicions that they are homosexual.
So, if you are a handsome guy who can gracefully handle the interrogating questions of faux-in-laws, there is a huge market of single ladies who need a shield from baby-crazed parents.
Business idea: a Tinder for fake boyfriends; photo-editing service for authentic-looking relationship histories.
Blind Masseuse in Vietnam
This job-niche is a rare example of central-planning done right: training blind people to give massages. The idea is that, according to the Vietnamese, blind people have extra tactile competencies that make them more sensitive to their clients’ needs. They can charge a premium for their services, as if they have a special power.
Look for signs that say “Tẩm Quất Người Mù”
Business idea: replicate this model in other countries; consolidate and offer auxillary services that are suited to able-bodied people, such as marketing, property management, and customer-relations.
Inspiring Releaser of Doves (and Re-Catcher)
The Vietnamese love to release caged-animals as a symbolic act of benevolence, and to score some extra karmic points. For example, on the holiday known as the Kitchen God Day, one of the traditions is to buy goldfish and then release them back into the rivers and lakes.
Such acts have become commoditized: there is a little industry of animal-catchers who supply the faux-heroes with animals to release. The most profitable example is to release doves into the air during “launching events” and other big ceremoneyies, such as the school-year kick-off ceremoney, or a new years ceremony, or when a local government official signs a major agreement.
Where the big money comes in is in the act of re-catching the newly-freed doves, and then selling them back again for the next launching ceremony. So, if you are a heartless animal-abuser, and cynical enough to exploit people’s faux-kindness, this is the job for you.
Business idea: host virtual animal-release services through legitimate conservation/animal-welface organizations with actual rehabilitated animals (e.g. sea turtles, pagolins).
Bonsai Rock Collectors
The Vietnamese Buddhist community loves bonsai-art — from ornamental trees to elaborate dioramas with little monks, miniature pagodas, and more. Such displays often include gnarly karst-boulders that look like mini-mountains. They become a mini ecosystem with mossy vegetation, hidden caves, mini-trees, and mini-figurines. You can see these impressive displays all over the Vietnam, especially in pagodas and upscale tourist-venues.
The interesting job is to find and collect these bonsai rock-mountains. Such rock-hunters scour sites for freshly exposed rocks, like property development sites or other excavation sites. Some even wonder the karst hills looking for apt mini-mountains and hire minority-people to dig-out their bounty and transport them to the wealthy temples.
Business idea: “Little Vietnam”-version of the Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg, Germany’s #1 tourist-attraction
Replica Painters in Vietnam
Do you fancy your own, near-identical “Starry Night” by Van Gogh? Or how about a Klimt? If so, you should visit Vietnamese cities like Hanoi, where clusters of shops feature some of the most popular paintings. The detail and vibrancy of these replications are sometimes better than the originals.
The “copy painters” who make these replications are a strange breed — they are extremely talented in their exactitude and mastery of colour. But, ask them to innovate or think outside the box, and they simply can’t. No matter! They aren’t paid to think, but merely to replicate.
Business idea: source custom-paintings from Vietnam for resale in hot housing markets like Australia and Canada.
Calligraphers for Magic Scripts in Vietnam
This job entails sitting outside a Buddhist pagoda and writing nice words in the ancient Sino-Viet language (which looks similar to Mandarin characters). People take these scripts to get blessed by the Buddha and hang them up on their walls. Or, sometimes they burn them as an offering.
The big money happens during Tet, where people line-up by street-stalls to watch the master calligraphers perform their wispy writing.
If you are a talented painter with a penchant for public spectacles, and you like Mandarin-esque characters, then being a calligrapher could be a lucrative part-time job! A 30cm x 50cm script with 2-3 words could fetch between $25-$50 USD — the best calligraphers can paint such a script in less than 5 seconds with a few flamboyant flicks of their wrist.
Business idea: run calligraphy + fortune-telling workshops via Udemy.
Black Market Tourist Visas – Pay-up or get Blacklisted!
This lucrative job serves as an express-line visa service for those who want a clear path to visa approval — and also as an insurance againt black-listing. Anytime you see a visa-invitation letter service or visa-extension service offered along-side trips to Halong Bay, you know that a black market visa guy is behind the service.
The job entails having some sort of familial connection within the immigration department to expedite invitation-letters and visa applications — with a ~600% premium compared to the official method.
The job also includes a bit of social-media black-ops marketing. For example, check-out the posts on expat.com from seemingly-earnest accounts who did not go through the black-market route (presumably in order to avoid paying the exorbitant premiums). According to these accounts, they ended-up getting blacklisted by the government for not going through the black-market visa services — no travel to Vietnam for 5 years!
The sleuths at expat.com have their work cut-out for them trying to sort-out genuine warnings from unscrupulous marketers of the black-market service.
Business idea: a two-way marketplace app for tourists seeking visa-services and service-providers, with ratings and reviews.
Useless Union Reps
Because Vietnam is officially a Socialist Republic, unions are ubiquitous: every single workplace has its own union, and every single employee pays 2% of their salary to their union.
But, the union fees are basically a tax. The union representatives are just another HR employee — maybe they plan fun activities and run the social committee. More likely, they just do the company’s bidding like their HR colleagues, instead of actually “unifying” the interests of the working-class proletariat.
Perhaps this is for the best!
Business idea: outsource union-reps to a bare-bones virtual employee management system like ServiceNow.
“White Monkey” Jobs in Vietnam
Although not as common as the heyday of White Monkeys, these jobs entail looking sharp, shaking hands with important people, charming the female staff, and being a foreigner. That’s it! The less one talks, the better.
Why? Some Vietnamese businesses think it makes them look more prestigious and important to be seem with foreign-born employees (what multinational transactions are they doing to necessitate hiring a foreigner?). Or, perhaps it is a counter-weight in negotiations to have someone who can scrutinize English-documents and demand foreign standards. Who knows? But, we’ve personally witnessed how a charming foreigner can magically smooth-out negotiations.
How to find a White Monkey job? Start by going to a talent agency as a prospective model. You’ll need to at least somewhat slightly attractive.
Business idea: talent agency of foreign models/consultants to do drop-in business representation.
Fortune Tellers Drive the Vietnamese Economy
Fortune Tellers in Vietnam are not just a campy carnival-show trick like in the West: they hold inordinate power through industry, government and the personal lives of many Vietnamese. Families make marriage decisions for their children based on the “compatibility” advice of fortune tellers; real-estate deals are made or broken according to the advise of fortune tellers; people even decide when day and hour to book a flight based on fortune tellers astrological divinations. The occupy a niche not unlike a rabbi or pastor in the West, except they are more money-grubbing.
How do you become a fortune teller in Vietnam? There is no schooling nor certificate nor monastic order nor formal hierarchy to sanction who is and who isn’t a real fortune teller. The fortune tellers themselves claim that their credentials comes from a long-running family tradition, or a “dream” of being anointed by the Jade Emperor, or some other fantastic origin story.
They get around by word of mouth, which in an era of social media is more dubious than ever.
Approver of Music, Movies and Books
This job acts as the gateway to mass-media production in Vietnam. The job is part of the Government’s ministry of information and propaganda. It entails careful scrutiny of candidate pieces for publication, including music albums, movies, books, poems, etc. It is up to the ministry to decide pieces will be allowed for publication and which will not, based on Socialist principles of whether the media will benefit to the country and party.
This is one of the reasons why Vietnamese media is so different from the West. For example, Vietnamese rappers must stick to pro-social themes and not glorify gang-violence or sing “F**k the police!”, nor can movies feature anti-hero protagonists, nor are documentaries allowed to openly accuse the government of racism/sexism, as is the bread-and-butter in the West.
This is a great job for political Progressive’s who love to reign-in hurtful free-speech and carefully curate the cultural commons according to their totalizing ideology.