Anna Holt Danau ’98 took a chance to move to a country she had never visited and ended up starting her own company and, in her spare time, starring in a children’s show on YouTube.
Danau and her husband Victor moved to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam, four years ago after he was offered a COO position at a Vietnamese attractions company. “He went once for an interview and showed me around via video chat,” Danau said. “We were both up for an adventure, so we figured, hey why not, worst case we don't like it and come back home. Within two months we were packed and on a plane to Vietnam.”
Danau, who earned a bachelor’s degree in international affairs/sociocultural anthropology from George Washington University and a master’s degree in foreign service/security studies from Georgetown University, worked for an international non-profit, the U.S. State Department and an international security company before moving to Vietnam. Then serendipity struck. “My husband has worked in the amusement and attractions industry his entire career, and very fortunately for me, I've been able to ride this journey with him, learning a lot about his industry, and meeting fantastic people,” she said. “Through a friend of a friend, I was given an opportunity to manage and operate the first real ice skating rink in Vietnam.”
Danau then started her own company, Hospitality Intelligence, which promotes safety and guest service throughout the hospitality and attractions industries. “We believe that strong guest service supports strong standards of safety, and strong standards of safety supports strong guest service,” she said. Danau managed more ice skating rinks and worked with Sanrio to create Hello Kitty Snow Town in District 7 in Ho Chi Minh City and some small amusement parks. “Now most of my time is spent consulting and training parks across Asia how to be more safe and more professional. I have the honor of working with and representing International Ride Training, an American company who certifies ride operators at amusement parks throughout the world. We are bringing this high certification standard to Asia, and I'm really excited about it,” she said. To learn more about Hospitality Intelligence, visit the website: https://www.hospitalityintelusa.com/.
Of course, moving anywhere new can be daunting, especially if you don’t know anyone. When they first moved, Danau was not yet working. A colleague of her husband, Vi Lam, became a close friend and ended up asking Danau to host a show for her new production company called POMPOM Studios. Their first idea was a food-related show, but since the production company was created to educate children, they came up with “Anna and the POM POM Band.” The company hired a professional musician to write the music, and the company created the crazy costume for the title character and does all the animation and graphics. “It’s a lot of work, even for these short videos, but tons of fun! We’ve even had the opportunity to take the songs live to schools around Vietnam. Lots of fun!” she said. “Vietnam is growing so quickly, which means there are opportunities in every industry to be creative and add some value. A very exciting time for the country.” Watch Anna and the POM POM Band on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCyHrmbv5D0UEZlOptPhArPg/featured
Danau and her husband have enjoyed living in Vietnam. “The quality of life is amazing in Vietnam as an expat. Low cost of living, access to anything we need, easy to travel around Asia, and easy to make friends (both local and foreign). The pace of life is fast and slow at the same time. Fast in terms of business and economic growth, but slow in the sense that people live for the present, not for the future. A favorite, normal activity in Vietnam is just sitting at a streetside coffee shop, watching the world (and the many many motorbikes) go by. We love that we can eat a $1 bowl of the most delicious pho (noodle soup) on the street, and then later, go up to a fancy rooftop cocktail bar or a craft brewery, all within a few streets of each other,” she said.
While there are many wealthy locals and a growing middle class, Danau says there are still many people living in poverty. “Everyone is an entrepreneur here. Very rarely do you see someone begging. Everyone is selling something on the street or has their own shop selling something,” she said. “From my experience, Vietnamese people are extremely kind and hospitable, and have taught me so much about life, work ethic, and how to treat my family, friends, and those around me.”
And don’t leave out the food: “Vietnamese food is probably the most flavorful and varied type of food in the world. I could eat it every meal, every day. At the same time, though, in Saigon, you can eat any type of cuisine your heart desires. There are so many expats here who have started their own restaurants -- Italian, French, Japanese, Korean, German, American BBQ, even Syrian! And then you have types of foods - burgers, for example. There's a French burger restaurant, an American burger restaurant, an Australian burger restaurant, or pizza -- Japanese pizza, Italian pizza, American pizza. You name it, Saigon has it, and it is the most authentic availability of international cuisine outside of the country itself,” she said.
Despite being half a world away, Danau remains connected to her roots and has great memories of Bright. Her mother, Stuart Folts Holt ’64, was a PK assistant at Bright, and her brother, Garrett, graduated in 1995. Her fondest memories include the class plays, Santa Claus coming to the Christmas program, playing tag on the map on what used to be a parking lot but is now the Mondo, shop with Mr. Allen, handbells with Mrs. Moore and the Bright School lunch. “I'll never forget Otis who always made me a peanut butter sandwich because I was such a picky eater. I did like the Bright School lunch, though. My classmates and I would mush up the ground meat, mashed potatoes, and green beans, and slop them on the roll,” she said. And also the teachers: “I loved every single one of my teachers, even the tough ones. Mrs Eichorn, Mrs Cutrer, Mrs Mason, Mrs Knight, Mrs. Burger, Mrs. Duff, and Mrs. Taintor, Mrs Love, and Mrs Murray. I'll never forget any of them.”