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A Belgian businessman says it is easier to be an entrepreneur in Vietnam than in the US or Europe

The Rolling Stones. Belgian Gricha Safarian and his family were flying to Hanoi on their first visit to Vietnam early in 1993 when they heard the band's music in the aircraft.

"It really struck me as a special welcome from Vietnam," says Safarian. "I am a big Rolling Stones fan and I have seen over 50 of their concerts all around the world."

Safarian was drawn to the country by its fascinating history, but he was also exploring the market for Grand-Place chocolate, a business he had set up with his friend many years ago.

"We discovered Vietnam then and have been in love with it ever since."

Safarian says one of the most impressive things that he found on his arrival in Hanoi at that time was the emptiness of the streets with mostly bicycles, not motorbikes, and there were only a few cars and taxis.

"I used to spend evenings in Hanoi riding a bike in the empty streets and enjoying the very peaceful and special atmosphere there. While in Ho Chi Minh City, cyclos were the best way of moving from one place to another then."

One year later, he decided to settle down in Vietnam with his family. At that time, his youngest son was a month old.

Now and then

"Vietnam today is quite different from 16 years ago, but one thing remains unchanged. Vietnamese people are steadfast, creative and inventive.

"They are also hard workers, independent thinkers and they do not like to be forced to do something, but they are open minded enough to be convinced about doing it," says Safarian.

He also admired the fact that "even if they had to go through very difficult episodes in their lives, they were standing strong and proud."

Safarian insists that he is not blind to faults when he expresses his admiration.

"One of the characteristics that is quite strange to me is the ability the Vietnamese people have to make simple things complicated.

"In business, sometimes I feel Vietnamese do not like simple things. So if things are simple, they tend to make it complicated, then they are happy with it," he says, without elaborating.

"This country is very open to the entrepreneurial spirit. I find it easier to set up business and develop a company here than in the US or Europe where I have been working and setting up businesses before and after Vietnam."

"I believe this is an important point that most people in the world have not fully understood yet about Vietnam," he said.

"When I had established our first factory in Vietnam in 2001, the official agency of the Belgian government for export Ducroire sold me an insurance policy called 'against nationalization' to protect me in case the Vietnamese government confiscates my assets."

"Eight years later, I do not see any risk that the Vietnamese government will confiscate my assets and I had stopped paying for such insurance many years ago," he added.

Traffic and the noise

Not surprisingly for someone who came to Vietnam in the early nineties, Safarian is none too impressed by the quality of life in Hanoi and HCMC.

"Needless to say that today's traffic, both in HCMC and Hanoi is getting worse with many road works. It's a matter of incompetent traffic management.

"One more thing that I find quite painful living in Vietnam is the level of noise in the cities, which is too high. There should be a regulation against horns in this country. This is a kind of pollution that is less advertised than CO2 but may be currently more harmful."

He is also deeply concerned about recent dynamite fishing stories that have gradually destroyed many good scuba diving places in Vietnam.

"Scuba diving is very popular in the world and a country like Vietnam, with so many coasts should be a scuba divers' paradise. Countries like Maldives, Malaysia, the Philippines are getting much more scuba diving visitors than Vietnam.

"Unfortunately, once a coral is destroyed, it takes a long time to rebuild. The protection of corals and beautiful spots under water should be a priority for Vietnam because it generates more income for the country."

ONE FOR ALL, ALL FOR ONE

In Belgium, Safarian has been a long time active member of "Omnes Pro Uno," a charity organization primarily helps children. Unus Pro Omnibus or Omnes Pro Uno is a Latin phrase which means "One for all, all for one."

In Vietnam, Safarian is looking for opportunities to help children on his own and not via third parties, like funding cataract surgeries for children.

"There are two specific plans I have chosen myself. First is to help the Somaly Mam Foundation (www.somaly.org) which is working in Cambodia against human trafficking, especially of children. Secondly, we will finance surgeries for children with cataracts."

Charity organizations can reach Safarian at grichka@me.com.

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