In Vietnam, the telephone company's directory-inquiry service provides a personalized touch above and beyond the call of duty. In Vietnamese, English or French, charming female operators answer questions about new restaurants, where to buy antique jewelry, how to find a veterinarian or practically anything else. Locals use the service to get up-to-the-minute football scores (to see if they won their bets), weather reports, exchange rates and cinema schedules. Children ring up to listen to fairy tales and folk stories (to lighten operators' workloads, the company recently switched to taped renditions).
The service started
in 1994 in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and is now available, fully computerized,
in most provinces. The dial-up number used to be 108, but due to the high
volume of callers who just wanted to chat up the operators or talk about
their personal problems, it has been split into two services. Dial 1080
for "ordinary" queries--and yes, operators also do the standard
work of giving out phone numbers and addresses--and 1088 for psychological
and medical needs. The latter service, staffed by professional counselors
and doctors, costs 10 cents a minute, four times as much as 1080. For
curious visitors, the only challenge is finding a telephone.
Copyright © 2002 Jennifer Gampell