Learn Culture Through Travel and Food

Learn Culture Through Travel and Food

Episode # 25

Show Notes:

My guest is a serial entrepreneur, Paul B. Kennedy, a cookbook author and travel agency owner in Vietnam.  Paul has lived in Vietnam for four years.  He’s opened and closed a few businesses while there. He shares his experiences as a world-renown traveler, and what he has learned with the culture in Vietnam.

WARNING: In the later part of our interview we discuss about animal eating in the culture, some may find this offensive but it is NOT meant to be.  It is part of many cultures not just in Asia about dogs. It’s part of some African countries too. Just like the cow is sacred to India and they do not eat beef, we Americans love our hamburgers!

The show is meant only to educate and learn about different backgrounds/cultures/faith/beliefs from my guests and their experiences/skills.


[Music intro]

The 8th Level Podcast is about being self-employed, entrepreneurship, and managing our online business. It’s also about connecting to our souls, having the right mindset, and self-care. My name is Lourdes, and I am the host of this show. Thank you for listening to this episode today!

Hi everyone! Today, I am interviewing Paul Kennedy. Paul is an American who enjoys traveling, NOT taking a vacation, but really likes to travel. Loves to learn about the country, and the culture, and its food. He is a trained chef, and likes to cook different foods, especially Vietnamese food. Actually, he has been living in Vietnam for the past 4 years, and he recently opened his travel agency business there. He’s an entrepreneur at heart, and has experiences opening and closing his business, and he shares his story about his business journey.

Lourdes: And Paul, thank you so much for joining me on my podcast today. How are you?

Paul: Lourdes, I’m doing well! How are you doing? Greetings from Hanoi, Vietnam!

Lourdes: Yeah! And as I record this show, it’s about 5 minutes to 6AM, and is it almost 6PM in Vietnam?

Paul: It is, it is. I’m 12 hours ahead of you.

Lourdes: Tell me, what made you pick Vietnam?

Paul: [Laughs] First I need to explain my laughter. Because you and I were talking about this. So, why’d I pick Vietnam, I don’t know. I picked Vietnam because you never really know, sometimes you make choices in life, and it takes you sometimes years to really self-analyze why you made those choices, and often your answer would change. But, I know how I felt when I arrived in Vietnam, and that was, I really loved the word I used was “vibe.” And I know that because I happened to have put it on social media. So I had that documented for me that I know I loved the vibe as soon as I landed. And it was a feeling that I did not have when I landed in other places like Chiang Mai, Thailand. Places that I was told I might enjoy, I knew I did not like them. So as soon as I arrived in Hanoi, I knew it, almost instantly.

Lourdes: That’s interesting. So you must really listen to your heart and your gut. What kind of vibe did you not get from other countries that you visited?

Paul: Well Chiang Mai in particular, because the people I met along my… I don’t want to overuse that word “journey,” but along my journey, the people that steered me towards Chiang Mai as a place that they thought I might want to land or stay longer. And when I got there, there was no culture. And I didn’t know at the time, again that’s part of the, if you step back and try and figure out why you made these choices, now I realize, there was no culture there. It was very westernized, full of expats. I didn’t know at the time what it was, but now I realize, there was no purpose. There was nothing to learn. Everything there was westernized. So how I look at things here in Vietnam, there’s an expat area, and I do not live there. My red flag would be, if you’re living somewhere abroad and your neighborhood restaurant has a Taco Tuesday or some sort of pizza night, then you’re in the wrong neighborhood, because it’s geared towards westerners. So, that’s what I felt about Chiang Mai, and that’s what I do not feel about most of Hanoi. There is an expat area, but… So that’s why. The other areas I didn’t really feel like I was going to learn anything. Even though I didn’t realize I wanted to, I realized there was nothing there that would interest me.

Lourdes: Oh that’s hilarious the way you mentioned that there is…

Paul: Taco Tuesdays. [Laughs]

Lourdes: Yeah, Taco Tuesday, some pizza joint, and I think you’re right! It’s like, just the touristy areas, and it becomes so big and popularized in that region of the country. And I love that about you, is that you refuse to live in that part, and you’d rather go into the culture of the people. Tell me something, how do you communicate with the Vietnamese folks in your country, or the country that you’re in right now?

Paul: I don’t. So, I almost always have someone with me. I had, in New York I was working at this restaurant group, and there was three restaurants, and the handyman was a deaf-mute. [Laughs] I say this because, and we believed he was illiterate also, but not for sure. But the reason I’m saying this is that, I didn’t know sign language. And if we needed something done, and I had to explain that whatever it was needed to be done at a different location, you just figure out how to communicate. That’s what we did. It wasn’t a process, you adapt. So here for me, I adapt. I run into plenty of situations that’re hysterical, but I know if it doesn’t work the first time, then bring someone with me or change. I was trying to get a ream of paper not too long ago for my printer, and I even pulled up a picture of it on my phone, and I have the translation ready on my phone, and I go to the store that I know has it. I can’t see it in the store, so I can’t point to it.

But I show them a picture, it’s a ream of paper. And she over and over tried to give me Depends undergarments, y’know, adult diapers. [Both laugh] Yeah this is a picture of paper, you’re like, where are you getting Depends undergarments, where are you getting adult diapers out of this? This is an image. But, I realized ok well, this is a place that sells paper, clearly her eyes aren’t good, and also clearly I just don’t come back here by myself. Or I send someone else to get it, not a big deal. Adjusted, done. So every time I need paper, a friend of mine gets it. So things like that happen, then you learn. So how do I communicate? I really don’t. Or I figure out something. In class, I was teaching today. For those who don’t know, I started teaching English once covid started and we were in lockdown.

And they wanted me to call the students, cause I was covering for someone, and they wanted me to call the students’ names to answer the questions. And I said no, I’m gonna butcher their names, and then we’ll go the “what’d you say?” It’s just a big issue, it’s gonna take a lot of time. So I just, I walk around the room, you’re next, next, next. I’d point to ‘em, I’d touch their desk. So you don’t have to. I did try taking classes, tutoring trying to learn Vietnamese, and it just didn’t work. I’m gonna at least try again, but I need more time. I need time.

Lourdes: Yeah. So, when I mentioned your, [Both laugh] and I’m gonna go into a different question, but thank you for answering that.

Paul: That was a long answer, wow!

Lourdes: No worries, no worries! I like it! So, I mentioned that you were an entrepreneur by heart. So, what businesses have you tried before?

Paul: Well, I had a restaurant in New York. And then, I’ve done at a small-time, catering and event planning. But, small scale in the States. Here, when I first landed, within 6 months I opened a hostel. Because that is also a part of my background, my field. Then I opened a hotel, and then I opened a travel agency. And I’ve closed all three, “paused them” as they say here, when covid hit, when the lockdowns started. And I have since reopened the travel agency, which was my favorite.

Lourdes: So how difficult is it to start a business in another country?

Paul: [Laughs] Extremely difficult! Extremely. Because, especially countries like Vietnam where English is not only not a language that is compulsory in schools, it’s also a quasi-communist-socialist kind of controlling government. So, they have a very tight grip on the moneys, and everything is in Vietnamese. So if I don’t know the language, and the language doesn’t know me, then it’s just very difficult. And the system’s different. So it’s very difficult for countries like this to adapt. So, if they want to collect the electric bill, there’s someone walking around door-to-door with a handful of cash in one hand, and invoices in the other. But the invoices are in Vietnamese, so who knows. I couldn’t even tell you if it was the electric bill. [Lourdes laughs] It could be anything!

It could be donations for the Red Cross, I have no clue what it is. So, there’s a lot of that. So how they set it up is, they encourage you to have a Vietnamese partner. Encourage meaning “don’t be stupid, you need one.” So that’s what I did, I have a friend of mine who is a – A friend of mine here in Vietnam, who’s my business partner. And it works out for the best, especially for the travel, because that’s what his forte is here. He was running one of the top travel agencies here in Vietnam. So it was a win-win for me, definitely. Yeah, it’s difficult, it’s very difficult.

Lourdes: So did you have to fund it yourself? For example, I think you mentioned the hostel was the very first business you opened there?

Paul: I did, I funded it myself. But, opening a business is less costly than it is in the US. So, there’s trade-offs, y’know. The US, you don’t have, where does your podcast air? Am I gonna get in trouble if I spill secrets? Like here, you have police coming door-to-door, let’s say “seeking donations.” So it’s a little bit different of a setup. It’s easier, but it’s riskier. It’s easier to set it up, but it’s a riskier business. So you have to at any point admit to yourself that you might have to walk away that day. So, that’s how it works. You can’t plan on permanency.

Lourdes: Ok. And then you had a hotel too. How many rooms are the hotel, and did you have that at the same time that you had the hostel also?

Paul: I did. I opened it maybe 3 months after the hostel. And the funny part is, is that so, I would obviously live in hotels when I was traveling. And the one that I stayed at the most in Hanoi is the one I ended up buying.

Lourdes: Oh!

Paul: So, they would have some MLS system where you just look up properties and voila! There it is. It’s very convoluted and very difficult to find information, and when you do, the price’s are gonna be all over the map. No standardized information or source of finding it. So at one point after looking over and over at all these places, there was one that turned up. I did have a broker, but he didn’t know where I was living.

And they sent me to a place down the street, it kinda reminded me of New York. Like, I’m not telling you where it is until I know you’re a serious buyer, or customer, client. And anyways, at the end of the day, it ended up being the hotel I was living in. Which I was like, this is, yes, I’m definitely taking this hotel. Because I love the hotel, I know the hotel, done. So, that was really a small world, and I loved that. I loved it.

Lourdes: Man, it’s like you manifested that dream or something! That is pretty cool!

Paul:  I know! It is, I was like, I can’t believe it’s the hotel that I live in, I was like yes I want this, yes! So that was really cool. Especially because I knew the place, and I had already learned with the hostel, which is a different story, that trying to learn how the place works, you need that complete cooperation and transparency from the staff. Because you don’t know what linen service they use, or vendors, you don’t know any of that. So with the hotel, I knew everyone that worked there, I knew who was good, who was bad, who I was keeping, and what I was going to change around. So that was really beneficial. The hostel? I closed on it, and I think I had maybe three weeks until I was supposed to take over?

Well the day I closed, I got a call that night from the owner, and she said that’s it, I’m leaving early. I was like, what do you mean you’re leaving early? She goes, you own it now. And she goes, it’s a full house, breakfast in the morning. And that’s how I got pushed into the business. That’s how I learned it was, you have breakfast, and this was probably like midnight she texted me. So she’s like yeah you need to be there in 6 hours, you have a full house. So, me and my friend went there, and we made breakfast and just winged it. That’s how we learned the business. I was like uh uh, ok, 6AM! How do you want your eggs? [Both laugh]

Lourdes: Yeah, like on the fly you learn all this stuff, how crazy!

Paul: Yeah, but fun! It was fun.

Lourdes: Yeah. And so, since you had to cook the eggs and everything, you were a chef too. So tell me about that.

Paul: So I went to Johnson & Wales in Charleston, South Carolina, before they moved to Charlotte. So yes, I’m a trained chef and practicing chef. I also did managing and etc. So yes, eggs, scrambled eggs was not a problem! That and toast, I think. It’s good, it’s easy, and that ended up segueing, because after lockdown and I paused the businesses, someone offered me their land, their property, to open a restaurant. And again, because I just can’t say no to owning a business, I was like yeah, of course! [Lourdes laughs] And that started, I’d already kind of sought-out recipes, in the sense that I constantly am trying and comparing dishes to other places, to each other. So I kind of already knew the dishes, and knew the fundamentals of what I enjoyed, what I thought made it what it was. So anyways, I ended up saying no to the restaurant at the end of the day, and that ended up segueing into a cookbook. So it all worked out, it all worked out.

Lourdes: Interesting. So the cookbook itself, you create all those recipes then?

Paul: I did.

Lourdes: What is your inspiration for creating some of the recipes, and is it Vietnamese food in there only?

Paul: It’s only Vietnamese food. The reason for the cookbook was more about trying to encourage people to travel, and kind of understand Vietnam. And this came from someone who visited me who, there was a conversation about how they thought you needed a machete to get to your hotel. Because you don’t know, y’know. If all we learned about Vietnam in school was the war, what do we really know? You never see it on the news. If you did, the part that you would see would be the part they wanted to you to see. Like if you’re watching news in New York, it’s probably gonna be from Times Square. Y’know, it’s just, they air where people are either familiar with, or they want to see. So with the cookbook, it was, I wanted to introduce the culture in a lighthearted way. Not a history reading, not a history class, it’s all tidbits, splinters of the colorful culture here.

And with the recipes, I tried to do as authentic as possible, understanding that these were gonna be made by somebody in the US. So I had to take a little bit of liberty, but the end flavor that I was shooting for was to be as close to what I enjoy here as possible. But that’s from me seeing on social media, I’ll see people posting pictures of, I’m like what is that. Or banh mi, and it’s just nothing like what we have here. So that was all part of that, was if I can just open their eyes and introduce the food and the culture, and I can do it through a book, maybe that’ll encourage them to travel, and then that will hopefully help them grow. Find their passion, like I found mine.

Lourdes: That’s interesting, very interesting. Finding your passion. And it is hard for some people to find their passion, isn’t it? And I think, you have been so lucky Paul, you’re meeting the right people in the right times it seems.

Paul: It’s working out, it’s working out. But, it’s all taking that step. And you know with owning a business, you have to take that step. And it’s kind of the same thing. If you own a business, you can’t go should I do it? Nah I don’t want to, I don’t know. If you own the business and you’re responsible for bringing in that income and paying for all these salaries, all these people who are supporting your families, you have to make these decisions. So it’s the same thing I think with me. Yes, I’m definitely lucky and fortunate, and it also came from making the decision, which was to travel. If I didn’t make that decision in Santorini and just keep wandering, I would’ve never been here. None of this would’ve happened.

Lourdes: So speaking of traveling, when did you start to travel and make that decision to just take off and start traveling?

Paul: Well, I went on a 10-day vacation birthday trip in Greece. And it was on my friend’s boat, and they literally dropped me off on the beach in Santorini because we stayed on their boat the entire time, and there I was, on the beach. I’d only brought a backpack because one of my friends told me that way you don’t have to worry about losing luggage. So I’m on the beach in Santorini, and then I made the decision. Just go. Don’t go back. I had in the back of my mind, y’know I wanted to travel. I wanted to explore while I was over there, but I really had nothing set, nothing planned, nothing definitive. But it was right then and there that I said just start walking. Just keep wandering.

Lourdes: Very interesting. Very interesting Paul. So tell me, before you started traveling, who was Paul then, and then now that you’ve traveled and are living abroad in Vietnam, who are you today?

Paul: [Laughs] So this is gonna be the same answer, I don’t know!

Lourdes: Wait, you gotta tell me who you were before though? Who was Paul? What did you do? I mean, I know you had a restaurant, right, in New York, and you were a chef of some sort, right?

Paul: I was, at that point in time I was managing a restaurant in New York City. And I had Airbnbs. I was just working to death. I was doing both of those. I’m the same person. The difference is, is that I think I now have more of a self-awareness, I think I have more empathy, because I understand the other part of the world a lot more, and I think I understand that I have a social responsibility. And I think that’s part of tying back to the cookbook, is I have a responsibility I think to encourage others. If I can encourage someone else to do what I did, then that’s the very least I can do. Because you really benefit from it, you really benefit from traveling. Especially traveling solo, especially.

Lourdes: I love the answer of self-awareness, before and after. That was the answer I was looking for! [Both laugh] So you did know, in a way.

Paul: Ding ding ding!

Lourdes: [Laughs] Yay! So, now let’s get back to your travel agency. When did you open that up? And, y’know lemme tell you about this. When I went to Mexico about 15 years ago, I met these wonderful ladies, they were expats. And they own a travel agency, and all they did over there was to get me to some ruins in different parts of Cancun or Isla Mujeres, any of those other places. So it was a local tourist for me to go to, because I just went there on a whim. And I had no plan, I’m at a hotel I’m like yeah, what can I do? Oh, let’s check out this travel agency! And then they pointed me and my friends to different parts of Mexico where we can travel the ruins. And so, is that what your travel agency is like there?

Paul: Yeah. We have the packages, and we have the tours, and we have the customized tours. So, yes. Most people I don’t think understand how travel agencies work, is it’s no different than going to a retail store. So you go to whatever store it is, they purchase something wholesale, and you buy it from them retail. So it’s the same for us. So if someone says we want to do this, then we can plan it out for them. And typically, you’d pay the same or less than if you were to book it yourself. But the plus to it, there’s many pluses, one is we can maximize your time in Vietnam. But the other is, it gives you support. It gives you someone who can be held accountable for whatever you’re doing, and I think that’s kind of important. Because when you travel, you have no rights, and you have no guidance.

I was listening to this podcast today of this lady who’s a travel agent in the States and she books trips in Vietnam. And I almost crawled on the floor, just calling please stop lady, please. Cause, she was just giving the worst advice, and I just, I couldn’t wring her neck because, y’know I’m just listening to a podcast. But the things she was telling these people. I’ll give you one example, and that is “If you are–” I understand people rent, so this is a motorbike country, everyone has a motorbike, if you rent a motorbike, and I understand people do and issues have never happened to them. But if an issue happens, if you, God-forbid, if you got into a fatal accident, you realize you just have to pay them like $10,000 on the spot or you go to jail? There’s laws that you just don’t know about, it’s just not worth the risk. But most people would never know that. I would never rent a car, or a motorbike in a foreign country, because there’s so many laws. And it’s just not necessary. You’re not gonna get any thrill from driving a car.

Why would you not have someone drive you so you can look around, and they can answer questions. But not understanding what the risks could be is huge. So yeah, there’s a lot of that. Y’know, you leave your backpack in a cab, you’re not gonna find that cab ever again. But if the cab was arranged for you, you’ll find that cab, and you’ll find your backpack. The list goes on and on. So what do we do, yeah, we plan the tours and we organize them, and we’re there for support.

Lourdes: Oh, ok, so that is good to know. I had no idea of all those crazy rules, oh my God!

Paul: Oh, the list goes on and on! It’s never-ending, all these things. Because, we don’t know them, and you don’t have rights, you don’t have the same rights, you don’t have the same rules. There was a friend of mine in Australia who was talking about accidents, and they said the majority of the accidents on the road come from people in the US, because they just are not used to driving on that side. You think you got it, but you don’t. Why would you not let someone else drive, it’s not like they’re costly, especially in a country like Vietnam.

Lourdes: That’s what I was gonna ask you, is it cost saving to rent a car or rent a motorbike instead of just having somebody drive you?

Paul: It’s definitely cheaper, to have someone drive you. But how are you going to even return the car? How are you gonna find out where it goes? You just can’t, so just… Stop. Just let it go. There was, I don’t know if you know Sapa, it’s in the mountains up north, but it was so busy this weekend that they literally turned away busses and cars. They said you know what, we’re closed. They closed a town cause it was so busy. If you are renting a car, and you’re stuck in that traffic, you’re done. Like, you just lost all day. And things like that happen. You would never think they would close a town, but they do. And someone else, there was an accident, and they were trapped in their van.

Well, they weren’t working with the same board, they were in their van for 6 hours on the road, just parked. They ended up reaching back out to us, and we helped them, but you would never be able to get 12 motorbikes, 6 for them, and 6 for the luggage, to get them out of there. You just wouldn’t be able to coordinate that, but those things happen. So I don’t care if it’s us or someone else, but that’s really their purpose. The purpose of a travel agent should be to oversee your trip. It’s not just to sell it to you, it should be to oversee it and help you, and that’s what we do.

Lourdes: I like that, I like the way you put that, is to oversee your trip and plan everything, because we just don’t know. I mean, I have no clue if I’m going to another country.

Paul: You don’t, there’s so many things that could happen.

Lourdes: I never thought about it, oh my gosh. Good to know. How do you get that word out, as a travel agency, and are you the only person running your travel agency, and how do you get the word out of what we just conversed about?

Paul: I don’t. If we’re talking to someone, then I tell them. If they say what they’re planning on doing, then I’ll. But I’m not a hard salesman, I’m not gonna sell you on a trip. It’s not about the… Anything except for the fact that if they want to book with us, then we’d love to have them. You could go online and post all these stories, but I realize in the beginning, when I was learning about, here’s that word, the shakedown. Cause also, when you drive motorbikes, especially here, they’ll pull you over, and they just want money, but there’s a language barrier, but what they’re looking for is your wallet, and everything that’s in it.

When you start posting information, A you get in trouble, because no one wants to see that. But it is a reality. And you can Google, you’ll see. They are known to stop foreigners who are driving motorbikes for money. But then, when these, foreigners being me, from the States, not Vietnamese. What happens is, when they read that information and they don’t understand it completely, then there’s confusion and there’s assumptions. So a lot of these guys, like, well looks like a majority of the things I read said I only need to carry 500,000 VND in my wallet, I’ll hide the rest of the money, and I’m like well, no it’s just don’t rent a motorbike, is what it’s really saying.

Y’know, you’re missing it, you’re missing it. They’re trying to cause trouble, and you’re trying to be sneaky. That’s not the answer, the answer is don’t rent a motorbike. So when you post that information, then it gets a little confusing, and you feel like you’re not really telling them the best advice. But yeah, the answer is not hiding part of your money, the answer is don’t rent a motorbike. Because they’re looking for you.

Lourdes: Yeah. Or else do some research when you travel abroad, before you go there. Is that information… ?

Paul: Well, they have these arrangements, also. Like, it’s not really about the 500,000 VND shakedown, there’s a bigger picture and there’s bigger risks. And it has happened, and it has happened to our guests. They’re like, that’s ok we’re fine, we’re a rented, and they confiscated the bikes. And they’re like, you’re right. I’m like, I know I’m right! Well, now you’re screwed. So, posting online is difficult. They just need to heed your advice. If they don’t heed your advice, they don’t trust you. If they don’t trust you, it’s gonna be a tough trip for them. They’re gonna be on their own anyway, they’re not gonna listen anyway.

Lourdes: Yeah. Have you ever had any mad clients that came to your and then said I wanted a motorbike or anything that’s different than what you might have advised to them?

Paul: Mad, no. There’s some, back with the hotel, there were, we were just talking about this yesterday, me and my business partner. There was a group of 4 girls, who, they were doing that price shopping. [Lourdes laughs] I don’t blame you, y’know, everyone’s always looking for a bargain, especially, I’m used to that in New York. But, I knew it wasn’t gonna happen, I knew our price. And people don’t realize, travel agencies here, actually a lot of places, it’s in Turkey too, a company has a foothold on an area. And a lot of times they’ll own multiple agencies on the same street. They do the same thing with retail. So you think you’re price shopping, you see this jacket, and then you go the next store over, and you price it there, you go the next one. Little do you know, the same person owns all three, and you’re not really doing anything, you’re just wasting your time. And you’re entertaining them.

Because they own all the businesses, and that’s their purpose. High, low, high. Y’know, that’s just how they operate. And it’s the same with the travel agencies. So this group of 4 girls, I believe it was, they wanted a 5-star cruise, and anyways they came back and said hey they gave us this price. And I was like, what do you, it’s impossible. We know what the contract price is, we just can’t, they’re selling it to you for less than they even would pay for it, so it’s not the same ship, it’s not the same boat. So it’s not a upset, but afterwards yes, they got bamboozled, and they ended up on this 3-star cruise, where y’know, someone could see into their cabin, y’know. There was no way to close their door. It was just a nightmare.

But when they came back, the girl in charge was like everything was great, blah blah blah. But one of the girls separated later the next morning and told us, and showed us pictures of the nightmare that they encountered. But she didn’t wanna, she was saving face and she didn’t want to admit that she was wrong. So they’re not mad, but y’know, choices are choices. I love how she came back, she’s like oh it’s really good, I’d say really, five star cruise huh, she goes yeah, it was nice. [Both laugh] You knew something was wrong, but when her friend came back and showed us the pictures. Oh and someone being able to look in their cabin all night, like they had no curtain, and there’s this strip ripped out where the crew could watch them.

Lourdes: Oh how awful! So Paul, if anyone wants to start a business in a foreign country, like a travel business like you have, would you recommend it?

Paul: I’d say just be careful. I followed the legal route, and I used an attorney here for everything I did. The legal system’s not worth much here, you can’t really do anything with your contracts, but I still followed it and heed their advice. But there’s a lot of risk. You don’t have the same rights as you do in the US or some other countries such as Europe, or similar to. So I’d recommend it if you A can take the risk, and B you’re confident and comfortable with your choices. But you have to be comfortable with the risk. Every penny you spend, every minute you spend, you may lose it all. Easily. Without rights, why wouldn’t you lose it all, why wouldn’t you have the opportunity to have it be gone in the morning. It can happen. I’d recommend it, because it’s fun, it’s adventurous, you live once. But you have to be able afford the… It’s a gamble. It’s a big gamble.

Lourdes: Yeah, like you said, it’s kinda fun and you’re learning a new journey. It’s taking that risk, and like you said, you only live once. So Paul, what do you do when you’re not working? What do you do for fun?

Paul: This is fun for me! [Both laugh] It’s fun, y’know I really… I don’t miss the hotel and the hostel, running it as a business, because there was so much micromanaging different than the travel. Different. But, I do miss seeing those people on a daily basis. So what do I do? I do travel. Both in Vietnam and the travel agency. I think it’s mostly work. It’s mostly work, if I’m not working, I’m trying new foods and I’m traveling in Vietnam. But the work doesn’t seem like work, it really doesn’t. Even the teaching part, it doesn’t seem like work, because I get to learn from them.

Lourdes: Makes sense. Oh yeah, it’s like your passion, you’re not even working. I get it, I get it. So what are you working on now? I know you’re working on the cookbook, you wanna tell us about that and anything else you’re working on now?

Paul: Well the cookbook is in its final stages, but it’s out of my hands. So I am pretty much done with it. It’s hopefully gonna be out at the end of this year, maybe the beginning of next year. But, that takes a village to make, I didn’t realize what a nightmare that is.

Lourdes: Holy cow! Really?

Paul: It takes a team. I heard that before, that it takes a village it make a book, it really does. It’s editors, across the board. Recipe editors, and testers, and then developmental editors, and, everyone, everyone has their hands in the cookie jar. And it doesn’t end. But I think for the most part, I’m done with it. For me now, definitely the focus on the travel agency, and I will make the decision about teaching later in the summer, whether or not I revisit that or not. And once the dust settles, I wouldn’t mind traveling, I would like to travel outside of Vietnam, because my travel’s been limited for quite some time. And I wouldn’t mind another book, but let me get this one under my belt first. I wouldn’t mind another cookbook from a different country.

Lourdes: Well your cookbook it sounds like it’s a hard copy of some sort, is it gonna be available online? Like as a download, I don’t know, maybe on Amazon? Like, I read so many people self-published.

Paul: I’m not self-publishing. I’m doing the traditional route. So, how they want to market it is up to the publisher, so I don’t know. Most of them they make available online, but I don’t know yet. That’s up to, once it leaves your hands, it’s kind of… It’s a nightmare, man. Did I tell you what my first line was for my intro of the book?

Lourdes: No.

Paul: It was, “I never…” Well, first of all, I didn’t realize I even had to write an intro, cause I just thought, here’s some recipes and some pictures. So they, they’re like ok, now we need your intro. So the first line was, this was after many many demands, now we need this, now we need this. So the first line is, and they may still cut it, but the first line is “I never thought I’d be writing a Vietnamese cookbook, and there are times that I wish I never had.” [Both laugh] I think they’re gonna take it out, but that’s how I feel. It was so difficult. You think you’re going oh here’s my book, but no, it’s, now you make it how they want it, or their suggestions. It’s a lot of work. A lot of work.

Lourdes: How many pages is it?

Paul: Right now it’s… 260 I think?

Lourdes: Wow, a lot of recipes! And you photographed all the pictures in there, right?

Paul: Yeah. But, things are gonna take a turn because I was going for… What it’s gonna keep though, is that lighthearted part about the culture, cause I think that’s super important. And I want people to learn the culture, but I don’t want it to feel like it’s a history class. So there’s a lot of one line blurbs that are supposed to make you go oh wow, I didn’t know that. Kinda like piquing their interest, was really my goal, was to pique people’s interest into traveling. If not to Vietnam, then just in general.

Lourdes: Wow, I can’t wait to see it! Can’t wait till it’s finally out there!

Paul: [Laughs] I can’t wait till I can see it!

Lourdes: Alright, so now –

Paul: It’s been 4 years, 3-and-a-half years working on it.

Lourdes: Really? Wow! Wow…

Paul: What were you saying? I’m sorry.

Lourdes: No no, go ahead, I was just gonna get to the ending part of the podcast, cause now it’s the time where I ask people a funny or weird question.

Paul: Oh, I don’t do well with the quizzes. Ok, go ahead.

Lourdes: Oh, it’s gonna be easy! So, here it goes. Would you rather know the history of every object you touched, or be able to talk to animals, and why?

Paul: Oh, I would have to say, I’d have to say the animals. Oh man, you’re not gonna like this.

Lourdes: [Laughs] Oh no! Go ahead!

Paul: So, here, because y’know, they eat dog here.

Lourdes: Yeah.

Paul: Everyone is listening, quiet, quiet, this is a culture issue, and once you understand, you don’t have to approve, then we can have a conversation. But, I would want to because of that reason. I would love to hear what the animal is thinking. I would love to, I would love to hear that. Because, it’s very interesting to watch the western influence of dog-eating in a country where it is acceptable. So we have, my friend makes fake dog-meat stew, my Vietnamese friend. Or, all of them, they make fake dog-meat stew, because they enjoy the flavors of traditional dog stew, but they don’t want to eat dog. So for me, I would want to talk to animals, but it would be because of situations like that. I would love to, I would love to.

Lourdes: Huh, very interesting answer. And yeah, I mean… [Both laugh] I didn’t expect that!

Paul: I knew you wouldn’t! But y’know, I hear dogs barking in the background, and my joke is always oh, sounds like someone’s making dinner!

Lourdes: [Laughing] Oh my God!

Paul: But, it’s that, particularly because of dogs. Because people will have dogs, raise dogs, and my friends who don’t eat dogs, they were given dogs as kids, and then when they got fat their parents killed them and they ate them. So that’s my part of my intrigue. So now those friends don’t want to eat dogs because they had dogs as pets.

Lourdes: Right, yeah, totally understand.

Paul: So if y’know, if your kid in the States has chicken as pets, will your kid eat a chicken? Y’know, it’s that kind of thinking. So that’s why I would love to be Doctor Dolittle and have a little fireside chat with some of these animals. What do you think’s going on when they take you to the kitchen?

Lourdes: Hey, there was a movie, it was a weird cult movie. Probably it came out in the 70s. And I can’t remember the name, it was like Death Scare or something like that. It had to do with animals being killed for food, and it was showing the reaction of the animal. They knew they were gonna get killed, and so they behave way differently than what they were before. And it was kinda interesting, so they know. [Laughs]

Paul: On a lighter note, everyone!

Lourdes: Yeah right! [Both laugh] Now I see why there’s plant-based people eating and all this vegan stuff, right? Maybe because of that, I don’t know. But y’know, some of us are carnivores, some of us are both, y’know herbivores and all, but it’s ok, it’s alright. But, yeah, so anyways, how would people get a hold of you? How can we get in contact with you if they want to find you and find out about the latest news on your cookbook?

Paul: The book, you can sign up to be notified when it is available. The website for that is my name, which is very creative. It’s Paul B Kennedy, so it’s my name. Paul, and then B is the middle initial like Boy. Kennedy, that’s like the president. So the cookbook information is at https://paulbkennedy.com/, and the travel website is https://vietnamtravelwithus.com/

Lourdes: Awesome.

Paul: If anyone ever wants advice about traveling, you can also reach to me on social media. @paulinvietnam is my Twitter. But in all honesty, if you ever have questions, not about a tour, if you ever have a question about should I, or what size backpack should I, any questions. Because knowing really, I did have some friends towards the end who guided me, but no one really guided me into traveling. So I’d be more than happy to connect and answer any questions you might have that I hopefully will know and can help you with.

Lourdes: I think as a girl I need two backpacks, I don’t know if I can do it in one backpack man.

Paul: No, you can do it. I have faith in you!

Lourdes: [Laughs] Yeah, it’ll just be gym shoes and sandals I think.

Paul: No, just wear the sandals.

Lourdes: That’s it huh?

Paul: Shoes? There’s no room for shoes, no room for shoes. You can buy shoes, no. I tried it, it doesn’t work. And once you pass that backpack, no you’d wanna stay with one backpack. It changes the entire trip, literally. It really does, it changes everything.

Lourdes: So I’ll have to check that out too, about backpacking travel. That is rough, it seems.

Paul: Not that big one like you see like a camper, no. Just like a 40 liter backpack, a tiny little backpack. I’m not talking the one that’s the size of a small car, no. I’m talking about like a backpack you might’ve had in school, a 40-liter backpack.

Lourdes: So no sleeping bags.

Paul: No sleeping bags, no! Unless you’re going camping, that’s a different story.

Lourdes: Different story, I agree, yeah. Alright. Well Paul, thank you so much for being on my podcast, I really enjoyed knowing more about you and the cookbook, and the culture there, and your travel agency. It was really fun, thank you so much!

Paul: Lourdes, thank you for having me! It was a pleasure!

Lourdes: Same here, so alright, we’ll be in touch, thank you so much!

Paul: Alright, bye Lourdes.

Lourdes: Bye-bye.

And join me next week, when I interview an ex-colleague of mine, who is a project manager.

[Music outro]

I hope that you enjoyed this podcast and please share this episode with your friends! Please subscribe, rate, and review this episode! And as always, the show notes will be available at https://8thlevelpodcast.com. Thanks for listening!


Travel Agency: https://vietnamtravelwithus.com



Paul’s website: https://paulbkennedy.com/


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