|Meet the Griswalds|
The Griswalds and their families have had a long history with Vietnam. During the Vietnam war it was hard not to become involved. For people of our age it was probably one of the biggest events in modern history. The war was ended in 1975, but tragically the second war started, only this time it was an economic war. The Trade Union movement of Australia thought the people of Vietnam had suffered enough. They ignored the American embargo (as did most of Europe) and tried to help rebuild this war-torn country. Max, with his trade union background, became (very happily) involved in the breaking of the embargo. With the generous help of the Maritime Union of Australia, ordinary people were able to help this wonderful country begin to rebuild itself.
On their first trip to Vietnam in 1990, Max and Mado continued to break the embargo by delivering a large supply of medicines donated by a very kind doctor in Australia to Bach Mai Hospital in Ha Noi. Whilst there, an eyewitness told of the terrible Christmas bombings in 1972 that resulted in the death of 64 "innocents" ....... patients & staff. All were unarmed civilians.
This was the 2nd time that year that Bach Mai hospital had been bombed & on both occasions it was claimed to be an accident.
It was at this point that Max and Mado decided to become even more involved in Vietnam and its people. With their various trade union and governmental connections, opportunities presented themselves and the idea of Griswalds Vietnamese Vacations was born.
Mado had worked in the film, music and arts areas for many years before moving into the travel industry. She began by working for other people before setting up Griswalds to offer people more than just the same old, same old.
Max has been living in Vietnam, more on than off now since 1994 managing Griswalds tours "on the ground". Somehow he also found time to have leading roles in a number of films there and to produce the first Australian music show on the Voice of Vietnam. With their backgrounds and interests Max and Mado have made lots of friends in Vietnam from many diverse walks of life. Not only trade union and governmental people, but also artists, musicians, film directors, doctors, lawyers, soldiers and sailors.
The decision to start a tour company came about as a result of being bitterly
disappointed with what was on offer. There seemed to be only
choices: backpacking or package tours. Both were about as appealing as a boil on the arse.
We're not cheapskates, but we're not mugs either.
The Griswalds story, like all good stories, changes as time passes & gets even more interesting !
The Sydney Morning Herald has a Week-End magazine that used to do stories on well ........ odd couples !
I guess we were a bit of a "walk up start" as they say. Our heartfelt thanks to John Van Tiggelen.
The Two of us, December 18, 2004
Taking the pith: Max and Mado pose with Jason the dog for their 1995 Christmas card.
Madeline "Mado" Spielman, 42, and Max Hart, 48, run the Kangaroo Cafe in Hanoi as well as Griswalds Vietnamese Vacations, a tour company. They met in 1988, married in 1992 and divorced two years ago. Mado still lives in and works from their house in Sydney. Max lives in Hanoi with his new partner and their seven-week-old baby, Sydney.
Interviews by John van Tiggelen
Mado: Max's parents plucked him from an orphanage even though he was knock-kneed and had bung legs. They were strong Labor people, almost as Red as my parents, so Max and I grew up with similar values and passions for workers' rights. By the time I met him in 1988, he was a union organiser. He lived in Redfern where he'd get the Aboriginal kids over for roast dinners on Sunday nights.
For our first date he took me on his motorbike for a coffee at Sydney International Airport, which quietly impressed me. I just love airports, but he didn't know that. A while later I went to Europe and when I came back, Max, in his typical style, picked me up in a motorbike with sidecar. His big dog was in the sidecar, I was on the back; we looked like a nut show. When we got home he proposed to me. Jetlagged as I was, I said yes.
A year later we went overseas and fell in love with Vietnam. Through his union connections, the place just opened up to us. Max gets on with everyone, from the shopkeeper to the party leader. He's got the gift of the gab.
Max is a born performer. He's a very good musician and now he has become a movie star in Vietnam. He's been in about a dozen feature films over there. One film recently won a gold medal at the Venice Film Festival. He always plays the cop or the bad guy. It's that moustache. In one of the guidebooks he's referred to as the Tom Selleck of Vietnam. Funny thing is, I never liked moustaches.
I wouldn't say things went wrong with us. Things just happened. Max was in Vietnam for longer and longer periods while I ran the web-based business from Sydney. In the last five years he'd spend a month here, and 11 in Vietnam. The upshot is that we got divorced two years ago and we're both happy with that decision. Since then, the friendship between Max and our business partner in Hanoi has grown, and they're together now. They've just had a child. I don't know what it says about me, but the news didn't hurt me. It's funny. Even though we never wanted a child, I always thought Max would make a great dad. And I'm happy enough with being Aunty Mado.
Some of my friends today find it really strange that we still run a business and own a house together, that he's with another woman and that we don't hate each other. Maybe I don't have the jealous gene in me. I still care about him and want him to be happy. And being single has its good points. Though it kind of depends on your mood on the day.
Max: I've still got the bike from that first date in the shed. A Kawasaki 900. It's a good ride out to the airport. The highway goes into this beautiful right-hand turn and you can hurl up there. When we got there she said, 'What are we doing here?' And I said, 'I like it here, out at the airport.' And she said, 'Me too. It's my favourite place.' She had dimples and I like dimples. She had a nice, fresh, soft face. Not stuck up, but natural, very down to earth. And she's still that way and I still like it. She wanted a serious relationship, but I didn't, really. I was a bit young for that shit. But when she went overseas I missed her so much that I realised I'd made a mistake.
Mado's family were big within the Communist Party of Australia, so our marriage was planned by central committee, headed up by Mado's dad. We had sub-committees for everything, for parking, for entertainment, you name it. Each committee had its own chairperson. It went on for months and months. But it's that old commo thing: slow and steady does win the race.
We had some very good years together.
We also had this beautiful big dog. He took care of her when I was away. She never wanted kids, but if you could get Mado on a lie detector, she would have to admit she thought the dog was human. The shit she used to do for that dog was insane. Like buy him chocolate cake for his birthday. Or install an air-conditioner because he was too hot. We even had to sell the car because the dog wanted a station wagon, with pictures of the beach in the back.
She let the dog onto the bed on our second night together. And once he got there, that was it. The f...ing dog never left the bed after that. I remember her coming to Hanoi and we were lying in bed, and she said, 'I feel like we're so close all of a sudden.' And I said, 'Yeah, because for once we don't have 65 kilograms of dog between us.' Later, when he got too old to climb up on the bed, Mado got rid of the base so we all slept on the floor.
But in the end, my being in Vietnam took its toll. I became like a stranger. We didn't have enough money to travel back and forth. We were so close to folding, every second day. In the end we saved the business and lost the marriage. I screwed it up. Not Mado. I'd always been afraid of commitment, afraid of rejection. I think most men are. Being adopted probably doesn't help.
I looked up my biological mother when I was about 35. Mado and her mum really made me, because Mado was fascinated with what sort of wog I was. So I rang this woman to ask if we could meet. Turns out she was a tyrannical religious nut. She wouldn't tell me who my father was, so I said, 'If you don't tell me the truth, I'll turn up again and again as the bastard child of Satan on your f...ing doorstep.' I sort of bullied her into an admission; being a union official, I knew how. Turns out my father was the parish priest. We still don't know what nationality he was, but I call him Father Hopontopofus.
After the divorce Mado said, 'I reckon you're going to end up with "The General".' (We called her The General because, being ex-army, she made a tough tour guide.) I was quite surprised to hear this because I was old enough to be her father. Also, she's seriously beautiful. Anyway, dumb old Max didn't tell Mado when The General got pregnant. One of our customers did. Luckily Mado's a lot more mature than me. Most women are. She just said, 'What is there you can't tell me?' And she's right. There's nothing.
Following on from the above ...............
Most Vietnamese kids have a nickname & the General called Sydney, Thoc which is the new rice that grows wild along the small paths in the Vietnamese countryside.
Mado first met Thoc when she was about 3 mths old & the general was still recovering from a very tough pregnancy. She'd gone from 48 to 76 Kgs (a gain of 28 Kg) & Thoc was 4.2 Kg when she was born.
Mado was visiting us in Ha Noi & came over every morning to help out. Mado would hold Thoc for me while I made coffee & cleaned up a bit. They immediately fell deeply in love & I was lucky enough to be there & witness it.
To say she's an exceptional kid really is an understatement & countless people have said to us "that kid's been here before". About 9 months later, the girls came to visit me in Oz & we were all a bit surprised that Thoc remembered Mado & wanted to be with her constantly.
Well nothings changed very much & Mado & Thoc are still crazy about each other. It's really nice when things work out this well.
It would appear that it's not just Max that thinks he's the luckiest person in the world.
Here's a few of the "Magic Baby" (as Auntie Evi calls her) pics.
Well everyone likes kid pics don't they ?
The first 6 Mths
1st trip to Thailand
1st trip to Oz
Various recent shots
The Griswalds way of doing things:
We're the only foreign tour operator with our VERY OWN office in Vietnam. Our home in Vietnam is the Kangaroo Cafe & regardless of what you may have read in some of the guide books, we're not affiliated with anyone other than Griswalds.
Over the years we’ve had various outfits trying to claim some sort of association or relationship with us in various ways & by various means. Whilst it’s completely untrue, it is of course somewhat flattering & is most definitely a positive indicator that we’re obviously doing something right.
We're old fashioned enough to still believe in direct employment, job security, training & advancement. That's why we don't subbie out your holiday to some other mob who don't really have much of an interest in you or your holiday.
We take care of you ourselves & are very happy to do so.
Griswalds never employ previous customers (who've never had any experience in tourism except as a customer) & then call them tour leaders.
The practice of free holidays for old customers in return for cheap labour with us, is strictly not on.
Our Guides & other staff
Our Guides are quite simply the best. They're people we know well and have been friends with, in some cases, many years. They're Vietnamese nationals who speak English fluently and work exclusively for Griswalds. Our guides have all the necessary accreditation & have studied & graduated from the Tourism institute of Ha Noi.
Griswalds guides are like good friends, not
employees. They are not receiving commissions from the various shops,
restaurants or retail outlets. Our guides & cafe staff are the highest paid
in Vietnam & we're very proud & happy to be able to say that.
They get all their public holidays (& some of
the Aussie ones too), sick pay, annual leave entitlements as well as their end of
year (Tet) bonuses. Our staff all get a special bonus on their annual
anniversary as well.
The Griswalds guides genuinely want you to enjoy your time in Vietnam.
In Viet Nam tipping is not expected, not the done thing & as is the case in any other civilised country, something that you may or may not wish to do. Tipping is entirely up to you because a tip is something that we give because we want to, because we want to show our thanks to a particular person but when it's compulsory it's a scam, no more no less.
Compulsory tipping is when the greedy boss refuses to pay his workers a living wage & that's where our unions come in very handy indeed.
Compulsory tipping is simply someone charging us extra but doing it on the sly & we never did or will support this kind of backdoor approach to upping the ante.
There are mobs that force their customers to pay extra for tips at the start of a tour but the money is doled out secretly most probably under Maxwell Smart's cone of silence for all we know.
You can tip our staff but only if you want to ! Rest assured that they all get a decent "living" wage & don't have to survive by constantly sucking up or other forms of demeaning behaviour.
Commissions, kick backs etc
Unfortunately the tourism industry in Viet Nam runs on commissions, kick back, nods, winks & say no mores !!!
We never did, don't now & never will support this stupid & ugly practise. The assumption that the "stupid western tourist will never know" only goes to show how stupid the people who go in for this racketeering are.
When you're with us you won't be over charged because we're supposed to pay some kind of kick back to the various touts etc. We never give or accept commissions of any kind.
Most of our competitors have various hotels, cab drivers, touts & other assorted misfits all flogging something or other for them.
Griswalds never engage in these kinds of desperate measures to drum up a bit of business.
We simply don't have to !
The thing about this whole eco or environmentally friendly rave that we can't stand is that it's all become so very groovy & fashionable. There's little & in most cases nothing past the words on the web site or brochure to back it up by most of the players & it's all become very shallow.
A lot of it sounds just like that warm & fuzzy stuff from the 90's that was just talk in the main & those who sprouted the best PC rave were usually the biggest bastards we'd ever met when there were no TV cameras around.
Sound familiar ?
You may not know it but there's all kinds of cash incentives & even prizes for touting the best green rave on your brochure &/or web site from the various tour company employer groups.
Seems like the bosses organisations haven't learnt much about integrity since I was boxing on with them when I worked for the Unions.
The costs involved in printing &/or putting your "spray" up on your web site are tax deductible & it's like most (but not all) of the foundations/charities/drinking funds etc .......... Homebush confetti (which is what we call bullshit in Sydney).
Try raising something with them that they don't want to talk about. You'll get the cats bum mouth (or just sucked on a lemon) look out of them & not much bloody more.
With Griswalds, it's you who decides if what we do is OK & we're constantly talking with our customers about the environment, politics, cricket & all kinds of other stuff as well !
We can because at least one of us is on deck & available to speak with you, in person, every day of the year.
We're not ISO, ABC, 123 or whatever else is fashionable these days although Max must be U R Sole approved as it was a term that the bosses often used about him in his days as a trade union official.
If there's anything you want to discuss, praise, complain about, tip a bucket on us for, or simply have a chat about, then please feel free to do so. We'll shout the coffee !
All of the Griswald's staff are keen "have a chats" & can be contacted, as we've said, every day of the year.
Now there's a welcome change !
For more information, or to arrange your vacation,
Phone from inside Aust: (02) 9430 6426
OR - from outside Aust: +612 9430 6426
Note: We understand that in recent times a number of our customers were leaving messages but they weren't being passed on & we apologise for that. The situation has been rectified & we'll respond ASAP to any messages left with our New staff in the future !
Australian Company Registration Number: 107 709 384
Aust Govt Travel Agents Licence Number (your international protection): 2TA5568
|This page was last updated on 12/05/12|