VIE-STYLE

Grab it while you can

If I leave my alley on a morning when my bike has let me down (again), then I am greeted by three or four cheery uncles waiting in the midtown maze that our app friendly fellows struggle to find.

327069 grab 1 | FDI Việt Nam
A Familiar Sight: Delivery drivers are part of our everyday lives and deserve plenty of praise for their efforts. Photo courtesy of Grab

By Alex Reeves – @afreeves23

Want spaghetti carbonara at 2am? Grab. Want someone to transport a Christmas tree halfway across a capital city on a 100cc scooter at 10pm on Christmas eve? Be. Want your carefully manicured pangolin safely returned from the pet spa? Uber? Oh, unfortunately that’s not a thing anymore, but you get the picture.

In the local transportation vacuum created since the international taxi app kings left town, a number of players have stepped up to the plate in order to make the minor inconveniences of yesteryear a thing of the past. Grab, Capichi, Be, that Korean one, they’re here and a much bigger part of our supposedly self-sufficient everyday lives than we’d care to admit.

This isn’t a new concept, but the corporatisation and resulting digitisation, is. If I leave my alley on a morning when my bike has let me down (again), then I am greeted by three or four cheery uncles waiting in the midtown maze that our app friendly fellows struggle to find.

“Xe ôm”, which literally translates as ‘motorbike hug’, is a generationally old idea, it’s simply a less formal version of a taxi, yet on an appropriate amount of wheels to navigate the nooks and crannies of Việt Nam’s urban sprawl. It’s easy to see where the name ‘Grab’ came from and kudos to whoever coined it.

Many expats and locals who have travelled outside of the cost-friendly clutches of South-East Asia, though some days I’m unsure why anybody would ever want to, will be all too aware of taxi, and food delivery service costs. A mile in a London taxi-cab will comfortably run you over VNĐ200,000 and delivery fees often make ordering a takeaway as expensive as eating out.

There are countless amusing yet concerning viral instances of delivery drivers eating people’s meals, chastising customers for a below average tip and in some cases holding deliveries to ransom. Here things are a lot more light-hearted, with comical mistranslations and the occasional cancellation stand-off. There’s even a ‘Grab Translations’ Facebook group dedicated to our ‘heroes in green’ which I implore anybody to spend an hour reading through.

Drivers here like anywhere else can be grumpy, reckless or mean, but by and large they quite literally go the extra mile to get the job done, and at a price which makes the service accessible to almost everyone. Undoubtedly, we live in the age of convenience but it won’t last forever. There’s already rumblings from businesses about the share that apps take from their profits and drivers deservedly asking for fairer remuneration.

My point here is simple, “Xe ôm” culture is a gift we should be appreciative of. The next time you get a juicy discount, consider passing that on to your driver. As Việt Nam develops, costs will rise, so when it comes to cheap and cheerful transportation – grab it while you can.

Theo Vietnamnews