This morning was a sad one, as it was the last time waking up in the Victory hotel. After a light breakfast we headed off to a gym to play some sports with the UEF students. We played soccer, tug of war and had a sack race. Soccer was fun despite the fact that I was dripping with sweat a mere 2 minutes after starting to play. Tug of war was an easy task, even with only 10 Americans and about 15-20 Vietnamese students. After sports we gave our gifts to the Vietnamese students. We thanked them for all the fun that they’ve helped us to have during this trip. After our gift giving we went back to the hotel to shower, finish packing and have lunch. After lunch we headed to UEF one final time to give our company presentations. We decided to wear our ao dais for the presentation and changed into them at the hotel before heading to UEF. All of the Vietnamese people in the hotel and on the street were fixated on us wearing our ao dai’s. A few people came up to me kept saying that I was so handsome and that they wanted to take pictures of me. After our presentations we went to our farewell dinner which had a fabulous view of the Bitexco Financial Tower. After dinner we went to the airport to say goodbye to our Vietnamese friends which was rather emotional. Now we are sitting waiting in the airport with an opportunity to reflect on all of the experiences, the good, the bad and the straight up crazy. These two weeks have helped me to culturally adapt in the most drastic of ways. I have learned so much in these two weeks, about Vietnam, engineering, business and most importantly, myself. I haven’t been able to post any pictures because of the bad wifi at the hotel, but when I return to the US there will be plenty of pictures to see and share.
Today was an early morning as we headed to the Vietnam Singapore Industrial park, which is run by the governments of Vietnam and Singapore as a way to provide space allocated specifically for industry. The visit was interesting with the planning of industrial space in VSIP compared to that of commercialized Phu My Hung, which has much more residential space. This however is starting to change with allocated space for apartment buildings and a mall on the VSIP property. For lunch we ate Japanese hot pot with beef and veggies. It was delicious and incredibly filling. After lunch we toured the factories of II-VI where we saw the process of creating thermocouples and telecommunications equipment such as C-Lenses for fiber optic amplifiers. It was interesting to see the amount of quality control in the different processes for creating the products. It’s hard to believe that our time in Vietnam is almost over. This experience has helped me grow as a person by adopting cultural norms vastly different from the norms I’m used to, and a cuisine and language that is complicated and beautiful. Most importantly I’ve become friends with many Vietnamese people eager to learn about American culture as much as I wanted to learn about Vietnamese culture. Although there were learning curves along the way, this experience overall has been very positive and will be something that I will never forget. It seems like just a day ago we were saying xin chào Vietnam, but now have to get ready to say chào tàm biệt.
Today started with yet another baguette from co.op before we headed to the Reunification Palace for a tour. The Reunification Palace was beautiful and has remained intact and basically untouched since the reunification of Vietnam in 1975. I enjoyed looking at the complex war maps and figuring out if the places we went to had any military importance. I also admired the hilariously inaccurate French translations in the palace. After the palace visit we had some free time at the hotel before heading to lunch. During this free time I searched the aisles of the co.op mart looking for interesting candies and foods to try. For lunch we had a buffet of Vietnamese food, some with western influences which was a pleasant surprise. I tried different Vietnamese desserts that I didn’t recognize and didn’t have a taste for. After lunch we went to the Saigon Newport corporation Cat Lai container terminal. It was interesting to see the importance of mid sized terminals in inter-Asian trade and learn about the customs process as well as the expansion plans of the maritime terminals around Saigon. What I found most interesting was that the customs process can take up to 10-15 days to complete for a full inspection. The weirdest part is that the companies have to pay for storage while they wait the 10 days in customs. I think this is a strategy to encourage the shipping companies to do their paperwork properly to possibly be chosen for expedited customs and border control processes. Although my time in Vietnam is coming to an end I am still excited for what is in store for the next 2 days !
Today started with another Co.op baguette, this time funded by a 50.000 dong bill we found on the floor. After our quick breakfast we headed to UEF for Vietnamese culture class where we learned the difficulties of creating a unified vietnamese population and culture due to the fragmented nature of the country’s ethnic groups. After Vietnamese culture class we had our last Vietnamese language class, which was a relief, because of the difficulty of the language. After Vietnamese class we ate banh mi kebab and had pineapple juice which was very delicious. After lunch we had a lecture on Buddhism and its underpinnings. Then, we went to the famous spot where a buddhist monk set himself on fire in protest of the Vietnam war. Afterwards we went to an ornate Pagoda where we saw people worshipping buddha. Next, we went to the War Remnants Museum which was a difficult yet powerful experience. The hardest part of the visit was the perspective of information, as we rarely see information that is not presented in a pro-American perspective. By far the most powerful part of the visit was the agent orange room, with pictures of the many birth defects caused by this dangerous chemical. The room was painted a bright orange increasing the intensity of the visit. After the powerful visit we decided to relax a bit and pursued the aisles of the Co.op mart for interesting things we could buy like interesting candies and cookies. Overall I am sad to see that the trip is coming to an end, but at the same time I could really use a chipotle burrito. I am excited to see what the next few days have in store and I will surely miss this serene but chaotic country.
Today started with a Co.op baguette that cost a bit more than 30¢ and immediately took me back to eastern France, without getting rid of the oppressive heat. After the quick breakfast, we headed to Ben Tanh market to practice our bartering skills and buy some souvenirs. The sellers were aggressive and pushy, with hard bargains in sight. My best bargain was bringing down the price of mother of pearl coasters from 1.000.000 VND to 300.000 VND. The sellers were hard to understand, with 50 and 15 getting mixed up on both ends. In the end, even if it took walking away from a seller 4 times we eventually got the deal. After some hard bargaining we decided to take a break from the hot and crowded market and grab some iced peach tea to cool off and relax a bit. After the market we had more Vietnamese class at UEF where we learned yet another song that we don’t know the meaning of in Vietnamese. After class we went and had sushi for lunch which was incredible, with plate after plate of sashimi, nigiri, salad, udon and seaweed rolls . Each dish was radically different from one another. After lunch we went to the HCMC stock exchange which was rather difficult for me to understand conceptually as an engineering major, however I still tried to understand a small amount of the discussion. It was interesting to see the issues that the market faced, because of how small it is. The market is very vulnerable to insider trading and is easily manipulated. It was also interesting to see the hints of socialism and heavy governmental regulation within the markets, with non-Vietnamese investors being able to invest in only a handful of the approximately 900 companies on the market. Inevitably the market will continue to grow at unbelievable rates for the next few years.
Today started with a slight change of morning plans, instead of a hotel breakfast, we ate Vietnamese coffee buns at PapaRôti next to the Co.op. These buns were cheap at 12.000₫ and delicious, as they are filled with butter. After a filling breakfast we rode off to the Củ Chi tunnels, north of HCMC along the Saì gon river. The Cu Chi Tunnels were the hideout and stronghold of the notorious VietCong (VC) guerrilla resistance group for over 26 years. The tunnels were first constructed as temporary hiding spots during the war with the French and slowly grew to an underground stronghold filled with booby traps and hideouts for the VC during the Vietnam war, when it was home to thousands of resistance soldiers. The tunnels were hot and cramped despite having been widened to accommodate larger foreigners, such as myself. The tunnel systems were so intricate and the entrances were indistinguishable on the jungle floor. After eating lunch along the Saì gon river we went to the martyrs cemetery which was an interesting experience. From the moment we entered the cemetery there was an ominous feeling like we didn’t belong, like a hatred of America that lingered in the air. We paid respects to the soldiers and the mothers of the soldiers by placing incense on their graves which seemed to lighten the mood, as if we were asking for forgiveness and they gave it to us. While we were at the cemetery one of the vietnamese students talked about the censorship within the country. It was frightening to hear that in this friendly country dissidence can be punishable by death or lifelong imprisonment and re-education, eerily reminding me of George Orwell’s 1984. It is interesting that such a seemingly lawless country where one can freely run red lights and drive motorbikes on sidewalks can be so harsh when it comes to freedom of speech and expression. On the bus ride I noticed every propaganda poster that lined the roads broadcasting the party’s message, something I hadn’t seemed to notice before. The idea of censorship was something that I thought of before traveling to Vietnam, but in some ways I was in denial of it’s existence based my American worldview. Tomorrow I am excited to finally be able to practice my Vietnamese at Ben Thanh Market and find some unique Vietnamese souvenirs.