Sunday, September 22, 2013

An Amazing Week of Friendship and Caring in Vietnam --- Love the Children

What a Week!
This past week your blogging friends shared three great events: Mid-Autumn Festival with the HCM City residents of Ward 10, District 8;  Graduation Ceremony with the latest TDT Graduates and Welcome New Students Day with all the TDT students.  Each event was memorable in its own way and continued our education and appreciation of the Vietnam people and culture.

Sharing the Mid-Autumn Festival with the children and parents of District 8 and student volunteers from TDT was one of the most remarkable and spirit lifting of our Vietnam expeirences seeing the children have SO MUCH FUN!  Similar events take place all over Vietnam sponsored by all                                       types of organizations and volunteers.  Clown and students.

Above --  The Vice President of the
Peoples Committee for Ward 10

 Below -- the group of students from TDT
that worked so hard to create a wonderland for
the children of District 8., HCM

In preparation for the Festival each year the students of our department at TDT,  Khoa Lao Dong - Cong Doan, (Labor Relations and Trade Union Department) cut and assemble close to 200 traditional red star lanterns using bamboo sticks as the frame with red plastic as the star and a candle holder in the center to light up the star.  In addition goodies are collected to put into gift bags to be handed out to children at the Festival event.  The students also plan and perform skits, songs and games (traditional and not) to entertain the children and families.
 On the night of the September full moon (even though clouds and a little rain kept the moon out-of-sight), the street and sidewalk in front of the People's Committee District 8 Ward 10 offices were transformed into an outdoor theater with amazing lighting, stage and sound systems for the Mid Autumn Festival event.  We arrived just as the main part of the performances were beginning and thought we would blend into the crowd to watch but within moments the Vice President of the Peoples Committee had us escorted to a row of chairs at a table in front of the stage where we were honored guests seated next to the VP who made us very welcome while she took care of her duties (organizing last minute details, giving the welcoming address, etc).  We had not expected to be treated in such a welcome fashion by the elected government official and it was a very humbling moment as well as one of pride in being a guest of the people of Vietnam and the local Peoples Committee.  Every row behind us was filled with giggling and squirming children of all ages (mostly grade school age, of course) surrounded by a standing crowd of smiling parents, grandparents and older sisters and brothers.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated across Vietnam to recognize the nation's  children (what a GREAT IDEA!) with special sharing events arranged for poorer children so that they share in the wealth of the nation.  There are traditional stories, songs and games for the Mid Autumn Festival. The crowd as you will see in the pictures included folks of all ages from babies in mom's or dad's arms to teenagers and parents hanging out with the crowd.  The event was down-home non-professional and very heartfelt -- the audience LOVED IT ALL.  There was lots of humor and music and funny costumes.  The children hung on every scene with plenty of gasps and laughs as students acted-out traditional stories -- the man and beautiful woman of the moon, numerous animals being stalked by wolves, two fairy tale characters who constantly tricked each other.  A beautiful  traditional Angel dance by several women in white ai dai was performed using fans for wings to flutter about the stage and convey their story.   The last act was a  Clown who entertained and engaged children using Simple Simon and other games with his helpers the Man and Woman in the moon.  All contestants received a prize -- books.  Finally for the grand finale, children were called forward to climb up on the stage and receive their gifts of a Red Lantern and a bag of goodies.  Previously the People's Committee had distributed special invitations to the event for the children -- so they were the honored guests.  Impressive way to handle such a detail!  When the first group of children were called to the stage, the People's Committee VP (a woman probably in her 30s?) called Leanna and I up on stage.  When she pointed at us to come up we were surprised and taken a bit aback but we followed her instructions.  At first we were concerned that the students would see us as interrupting their role of distributing the lanterns and gifts to the children, but we were immediately included in the process and felt truly welcomed and honored.
THIS QUICKLY BECAME A MOMENT TO BE TREASURED FOR A LIFETIME --- WORKING THE STAGE WITH THE TDT STUDENTS, THE VP, AND OTHER VOLUNTEERS DELIVERING THE LANTERNS AND GIFT BAGS.  LEA AND I WERE GIVEN THE JOB OF HANDING THE PRESENTS TO THE CHILDREN ONE BY ONE AFTER THEY LINED UP ON STAGE ABOUT 30 OR SO AT A TIME.  When we finished gifting one contingent then they would leave stage while more youngsters climbed the ladder at the front of the stage.  Volunteers and parents made sure that the children safely navigated all stairs with their bags of goodies and their lanterns -- a lot to juggle if you are young!  It was quite a production for so many children to be on stage with all the stage lights and music and crazy adults.  Everyone did get ther lantern and gift bag and lots of loving attention.  We think everyone had fun -- we sure did and were honored to be invited to help share the fun and joy with the children.
[ NOTE]: The Peoples Committee Ward or District is the institution of local communist government and is very close to the people's lives --- the members are elected in neighborhoods and are accountable to the neighborhood.
The second great event took place less than 12 hours later when we attended the Graduation Ceremony for the latest graduating class of TDT - 2,000 students in total.  TDT pays a lot of personal attention to each student, so the ceremony is divided into 2 sessions on 2 different days.  This event was held in the TDT beautiful auditorium with all the pomp and circumstance we are used to at these events: speeches by the President and Department Chairs; special honors presentations for the highest achieving students; and the presentation of diplomas to the graduates with parents' and friends' applause (more respectful than at our USA ceremonies), as the graduates crossed to the center of the stage, received their degree, posed with the TDT President or Department Dean for a picture, and then exited as the next grad stepped forward.

We planned to slip into a balcony seat to observe part of the ceremony knowing we had to leave early to teach a class.  BUT we were spotted and immediately invited to the main floor of the auditorium and seated in the front row with the  Department Deans.  Luckily Hollis had worn black trousers, a white shirt and tie and black shoes rather than his running shoes.  Following protocol Hollis did not shoot pictures until we were leaving so you won't find many photos of graduation unless I can find them elsewhere on facebook or a school website.  The picture with Leanna does illustrate the beautiful front of the auditorium but it does not show the balconies above and behind the main floor -- FULL of the families of the graduates.   We were really glad we got to see two of the Labor Relations students we know recognized for their special academic achievements.
We left the Graduation early to teach our simulation class on Labor Conflict mediation from 9 am to 12 noon back in our 5th floor classroom (that's 6 flights of stairs!).  In virtually each of our classes we practice "social dialog" with simulations covering issue bargaining, collective bargaining for contracts, grievance handling and other conflict resolution techniques.  This past week students studied and then practiced the role of mediators in a labor issue.  Leanna and I played the parts of Union and Employer while the students developed specific plans for talking with us to learn the facts, and process tactics to get us talking with the understanding that mediation is voluntary and non binding -- the Mediator is neutral and does not devise  solutions or make the final decision as in arbitration.  The class was a sparkling success but more about that in another blog.  We do have some pictures to share at some point.
The 3rd great event in three days started at 7 am on Saturday morning -- Welcome New Students Day.  The first event of the day was a 7:30 am a parade of the 13 departments and many student clubs/organizations into the football stadium.  Each group arranged or dressed themselves differently to give character to their group.  Our group of Lao Dong - Cong Doan looked great and marched smartly on the rain soaked field [We had one heck of a rain about 5  am with strong  winds, etc.].  Our fairly large contingent in the stands cheered our compatriots when they were announced at the reviewing stand and again as they passed by us -- we all wore special t-shirts.  Our group was lead by Professor La, an educator with a Labor Union background who was one of the VGCL founding persons of the TDT University and the head of our Department of Labor Relations and  Trade Union.  Just before our contingent took the field, we were invited to march with the contingent and/or sit with the other faculty in the reviewing stands.  We quickly decided we'd get better photos (plus we were not properly dressed -- our t-shirts!) if we just continued to hang out with the students.  We really appreciate the respect we're shown here as faculty.  It's a balance for us of honoring the role of faculty here in Vietnam and also figuring out how to hang-out with students.

After the parade and formation on the field event was finished we joined Professor La, lecturers Triet and Vinh and toured the booths set up on streets around the dorm area by the various student organizations: labor studies, environment and ecology, Youth Union, health sciences, engineering, and so on.  The groups were recruiting new members as well as raising funds to support their activities, so there were food, crafts and games aplenty to enjoy for a very small contribution.  The display for Labor Studies highlighted the programs for field placement of labor students with unions.  Naturally (we think we're now in the second HCMC season -- rain and hot), it started to rain as we trooped around participating and watching the activities.   One big attraction was a traditional "game" played by having bamboo poles arranged on the ground and then rhythmically clacked on the ground and together.  As they are moved the jumper tries to hop between the poles in the open areas and then move on before getting caught --- sort of like hop scotch or maybe jump rope with moving squares of bamboo that can catch your feet.  You will see a little video of that event which neither Leanna or I chose to take part in -- for once our common sense kicked in.  It was great fun to watch the students (and a few faculty) succeed.. or not!
In the afternoon the various student volunteers representing the departments, performed in an extravaganza in the new Arena.    Remember this is the NEW arena, so this was a first-time production for TDT students.  There were thousands of students in attendance and we sat with our students again --- we like being in their company and it gives them a chance to chat with us in English, or not.  I got some pictures of many of the performances including some video which we will display here or on Facebook.  When the Labor Relations group took the stage we cheered as loud as the loudest group in the house (maybe we were the loudest) and then we charged out of the stands to sit on the stadium floor in solidarity with our performers.  It is really fun to watch some of your Labor Principles and Conflict Resolution students strut their stuff signing and dancing.  There's a lot of performance talent in this student body -- and the students really appreciate and enjoy it all whether on stage or in the audience.
Bottom line...we had a great TDT week and are now exhausted!  Got to get some rest quick before we head to class Monday morning at 6:50 am!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Southern Vietnam Women's Museum --- A must check out Blog post!

MADAME NGUYEN THI BINH in her jungle office.  Madame Binh went on to lead Vietnam's diplomatic works and and negotiate peace to end the American War.

Too often when history is written it is all about him and herstory never gets told. But this isn't the case here in Vietnam and last week-end Leanna and Hollis toured the Southern Vietnam Women's Museum.  The museum is housed in an older building in District 3, near downtown Ho Chi Minh City, aka Saigon.  The museum tells the story of the women of southern Vietnam (the Vietnamese talk about the southern region, central region and northern regions of their country -- food varies and language accents vary) with different displays highlighting the civil life of southern Vietnam and many cultural groups that have flourished here for 4,000 years including stories about such heroes as the Trung sisters, warriors long ago who were adept at fighting for freedom using elephants.  On each floor of the museum there were gorgeous sculptures and art pieces celebrating southern Vietnam's women.
Photo Women's prison cell and items about the prison and prisoners.       

The first floor's displays focused on the technology used by women over the course of time to create such traditional fabrics and special clothing as cotton and silk.  The display of spinning machines and incredibly diverse looms with examples of work in progress also showing traditional and historic versions of clothing really helped explain the many different peoples who are Vietnam.  You were left with an understanding of the hard life of labor women lived and the critical role they
PhotoWomen's personal items.
 played in sustaining family while also contributing significantly to the economic welfare of their family and village.  The top floor exhibits were about modern working class women in all facets of Vietnam's life: diplomats, the People's Assembly, government agencies, education, factories, etc. and was quite inspiring.  The importance of international solidarity was an on-going theme.  The hard work of Vietnam's women continues!   After carefully looking this are over with our two student guides, two women studying in the Labor Relations and Trade Union Department, we moved on to the second of the three floors of exhibits.
PhotoConfrontation of Women and soldiers.

Immediately we were ushered into the history of the three long wars that Vietnam has had to endure during the last century and a half starting with the struggle to force the French colonialists out of Vietnam.  The women tended the home fires while the men were fighting --- like happens in most every society --- but went way beyond and became armed fighters, organizers and carried on propaganda and other activities including massive strikes and demonstrations demanding freedom for their peoples.  This experience provided some of the back bone for the resistance that eventually won against the French in 1945 when the Japanese who had occupied much of Indochina were defeated.
NOTE:  If you'd like a Hollis-review of the history of Vietnam from 1945 until late 1970s, feel free to read final paragraphs of this posting.
The remaining floors of the museum contained powerful displays of the stories of individual and groups of Vietnamese women illustrated with the personal belongings that had been donated by women and their families.  The stories which spanned the wars with first the French, then the Japanese occupation during WWII, continued war with France and finally the war with the USA were amazing testimonies to the power of women!  Stories included women fearlessly organizing for workplace and economic justice, directly confronting French and USA-puppet soldiers, hand-producing (with VERY BASIC printing and paper materials) leaflets and posters and then at risk-of-death distributing such literature, growing and harvesting and then transporting rice to soldiers fighting for Vietnam's freedom, hiding freedom fighters...on and on and on.  To read the names and stories, see pieces of clothing or shoes or water cans or eye glasses used by these women was moving.  These women were members of the "long hair army" and many of them sacrificed their lives for freedom.  In addition to these important roles, women also served in the military  and were important in shooting down USA aircraft carrying bombs and Agent Orange/napalm.  Women played an important role in many war battles actually fighting for Vietnam's independence.  Even young students (we saw photos of the women students) mobilized at great personal risk.
Although it was a painful part of the exhibit, we also saw displays of how the French and USA treated women prisoners -- horrible tortures, terrible prisons with little or no food (many women gave birth to children or had very young children with them while in prison).

Women at the Rubber Plantation  The exhibits both showed the horrible suffering and the inspiring strength and power of the women of Vietnam.
At this point of our viewing the museum, it really struck Leanna that these were the stories and lives of women who lived and worked with their families in the southern towns and villages of Vietnam.  What a counter to the myth that somehow Vietnam was a divided people!  Diverse, yes.  Divided, not!
The top floor of the museum was filled with a beautiful large mural as well as the displays of women actively building Vietnam society, culture and art, business, economy, science and technology today.  Again it was great to read and learn about individual women and their contributions.  This is a museum where you feel like you're meeting actual people.
As has been the case with other museum visits shared with our students, we had some great conversations about the lessons each of us was learning, what was emotional, what was inspiring.  The students explained to us that most of the students who grew up in HCMC had already seen the museum, but since our two "guides" were from other provinces much of what we saw at the museum was new for them as well as for us.
One other interesting note about this museum the ground floor level there was a rather large meeting room.  As we were entering the museum it was obvious that there was decorating going on for some kind of an event.  We asked and the students found out for us that a young couple was having part of their wedding celebration there at the museum.  Might not have been the hippest location in HCMC, but Leanna especially thought it was pretty great if you were going to get married that you also celebrate in some way the southern Vietnam woman!  
Here's Hollis's version/rant of key elements of recent VN history (the American War):
After the September 2, 1945 Declaration of Independence and the  establishment of  the new nation of Vietnam, the French tried to reassert their colonial hold on Vietnam with help from the US who supplied France with money, weapons, bombs and the other implements of war.  This US assistance allowed France to carry on their attempt at re-occupation untill 1954 when they were defeated at Dien Bien Phu by the successful Vietnam peoples war strategy.  As history records, the US decided with the support of the Roman Catholic Church to pick up the gauntlet and invade Vietnam after preventing the 1956 elections that were to re-unify the nation.  The Church had gotten involved because they wanted to maintain their power base under the dominion of western european power.  The Church did not send troops but rather supplied a religious cover for the atrocities of the SVN puppet government --- the Diem regime.
The South Vietnamese people who were organized over the years by the liberation movement [Lead by leaders such as Ton Duc Thang, Pham Van Dong,  Madame Nguyen Binh and Ho Chi Minh to mention only a  few, yes that is Madame Binh a revolutionary leader, organizer and the Provisional Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Liberated southern VN, and Vn representative at the Paris Peace Conference.] were an unbreakable force aligned against the most powerful military force the world has ever known.  These women leaders and woman-next-door-warriors were steel-minded fighters who refused to break under terrible treatment by the SVN government and their US allies who allowed and trained the torturers, troops of the SVN government.  Viet Cong liberation force women were not just the fighters who lived in the tunnels but also the women organizers in the hamlets, towns, and cities who organized and demonstrated against the puppet government and the US aggressor  forces  who killed with Agent Orange, napalm (both chemical weapons), daisy cutter bombs and other weapons of mass destruction --- the weaponry of a military who had no answer to the strategy of people's war and therefore undertook the use of weapons of mass destruction in an effort to gain an upper hand through terrorism and genocide --- a strategy devised by befuddled generals in the Pentagon and inept leaders in the White House directing a subservient officer corps in the field to prosecute a doomed strategy. This leadership and the intelligence agencies of the US destroyed the futures of 4,000,000 Vietnamese and about 55,000 young Americans whose lives were thrown away like trash, not counting the wounded on both sides.
  Women at the Barbed Wire

Part of this campaign was also the imprisonment of women, men, children and senior citizens in concentration camps referred to as "strategic hamlets" --- removing the sea in which the fish of the guerrilla warriors swam.  Of course this strategy didn't have a chance and those of us in the  peace movement knew by 1964 or so because we read and learned from Mao, Lin Piao, Ho Chi Minh, Nkrumah and others including Che, the theory and practice of people's war.  Looking back it is amazing to realize that  Presidents JFK, LBJ and Dirty Dick Nixon didn't do their homework,  declare victory and just get the hell out of Vietnam.  If any of them would have even read the book or watched the movie of  "the mouse that roared" they might have gotten a clue.


Pictures from the Mural.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Trip to Nha Trang ---

PhotoAt 12 minutes to seven on the morning on August 28th we loaded ourselves, Vinh, Leanna and I, into a van and headed for the train station to board the 8am train to Nha Trang. We were on our way to visit a second Ton Duc Thang University campus, enjoy a holiday, and experience and learn more about VN. Part of the adventure was the unexpected train trip. The original plan had been to travel to Nha Trang by van but there was a change of plan from six travelers to three so a nine passenger Van was superfluous.
When the change was made 2 days before departure we were caught by surprise but excited by the idea of traveling by train as you sit up higher and can see a lot more of the country. Our expectations were fully fulfilled. We loved the train ride both going to Nha Trang (NT) and returning three days later to HCMC. One of our sponsors at the University Prof. Hoa met us at the Saigon train station to see us off. He wondered if we were used to train travel or that it would be perhaps uncomfortable for us, but we assured him that we were looking forward to the trip and that train travel was fine. Prof. Hoa commented that we were typical of foreign visitors to Vietnam with our interest in old trains. Our accommodation was a room with 4 bunk beds so we could sleep if we wanted or watch the scenery pass by.
     The trip to the train station was the first adventure. The main road to downtown HCMC was clogged with traffic because of a wreck somewhere ahead of us so our driver made a U turn after a few minutes and took us an alternate route through a working class neighborhood and then across two bridges that we hadn't been over before –- as time began to creep close to train departure time and we were still driving we had some moments of wonder –- would we make the train or not? The driver joked that if we missed the train then he would drive us to NT, no problem.
Of course the short cuts and alternate route worked out just fine (the driver clearly knows HCMC very well!) and we got to the station with 12 minutes or so to spare. Our train was called within minutes, we said goodby to Prof. Hoa, we boarded, and we were on our way through the city and out into the lush, green countryside with rice farms, industrial parks, rubber plantations, dragon fruit orchards and on and on. Crops included corn, scallions, sugar cane, lotus, bananas, coconuts, grapes. It really reinforced our knowledge that 70% of VN lives and works in the rural areas and produces not only food for the country but also provides major export income for the national VN economy. We got to see more of the traditional step-down roof houses, water buffalo hard at work plowing and pulling loaded carts, women carrying water, creative access to electricity – all the scenes of a developing country. We also noticed lots of craters amongst the fields – some filled with water, some just adding to the variable contour of the fields. We're not sure, but we suspect this may be a legacy of USA 1960-70s carpet bombing by B52s [Carpet bombing involved dropping massive amounts of daisy cutter and other very large bombs in carpets across the landscape to kill anything that moved: women, children, grand parents, water buffalo, cattle, goats. There are still thousands of tons of un-detonated ordinance.], a result of warmongering. The sleeper train cars on the trip north were from the French art deco era kept in very good shape with lots of wonderful design features.
     We reached NT only a few minutes late and the car from the campus was waiting for us. Since it was rush hour, our driver did not take us through downtown NT on the way to the University. Instead we got our first view of NT with the very modern tourist section right along the gorgeous, LONG beach. Besides tourists, fishing and construction industries are the key economic sectors for this city which is about 1/3rd of the way to Hanoi from HCMC. This is serious fishing – fisherman fish both daily as well as with 2 week journeys out into the deep sea. A major recent development has been the formation of fisherman unions both to improve ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore communications for weather safety and for sharing info about good fishing locations and coordinated fishing. This also unites the fishermen in dealing with markets and negotiating fair prices! The beach was spectacular and the fishing fleet was bobbing on emerald green and blue waters. The city is surrounded by mountains and itself is hilly and rocky. Lots of rocky islands scattered all around the HUGE bay – small and large islands with what seem to be fishing villages, one is a small pagoda and others are just beautiful. One of the larger islands is where VinPearl Land, an amusement park is located – more about VinPearl later.

     The TDT campus was impressive. Founded in 2008 there are already close to 2,000 students and the campus is a major training hub for the provincial VGCL union leaders and staff. We got to briefly speak with a VGCL class – they were in the midst of taking 2 exams for their class. The campus not only has modern classrooms and labs (computer and hospitality training) but also a activities/sports building, canteen and dormitory. Every Monday morning all the faculty and students gather in a big courtyard to salute the VN flag and hear about important political news and topics, review upcoming activities and school policies, recognize outstanding students and give not-outstanding students opportunity to take responsibility for their non-outstanding activities. 
     Mr. An, Assistant Rector, was not only generous with the complete tour of campus but also took us swimming at the beach and to breakfast one day. The bay is so clear and clean, the morning waves so gentle (afternoons can get windy) that you can really enjoy the WARM water and swimming. We didn't hit the beach until about 6:00am – when it was clear many VN had already had their swim and were headed back home and to work. NT is famous for snorkeling and diving.
VinPearl is reached by either ferry or the longest cable car over open sea. We made the cable car trip both during the day and then at night – breathtaking views. The park is a mix of scary rides (of course Hollis enjoyed every damn one of them), children-speed rides, arcade games, live performances, aquarium (really well done), delicious restaurants (we had the traditional VN dessert “che” which we loved), lots of shops and an outrageous laser water show choreographed to both traditional VN and classical music. The laser show was a highpoint. There was also a water park, but Hollis and I just couldn't move fast enough to fit that into all we did at VinPearl Land. Everything was translated into English, Russian, French and VN – so this is a real tourist attraction. While we were there on a Friday afternoon/evening, it was not particularly crowded, but we're told week-ends are really popular so the snaking-wait lines are a necessary feature. While there were some Russian tourists, most of the others sharing the fun were VN families.
     NT is a much more relaxed pace than HCMC – to which we quickly adjusted. The city feels like at least two cities – the modern city is spread out along the never-ending beach and bay with lots of hotels, restaurants, fancy shopping mall, bars, beach-front parks with plenty of sculptures and trees. The older NT has a great traditional VN market that has so many fresh and dried seafood stands I can't imagine how local shoppers decide where to buy. As a typical market you can buy everything from clothes to kitchen and household goods to spices to seafood. We missed the early morning crowds, but were still impressed at how busy the place was – but still not with the crowds, motorbikes and pace of HCMC. We often heard the comment that people who have moved to NT from the north (like Hanoi) do better financially than the local NT residents...VN from the central and southern parts of VN often see themselves as hardworking but not into saving for the future. Interesting conversations with taxi drivers and sales and wait staff.
Of course NT is famous for seafood, so we filled up every chance we had! We tried a typical restaurant where you pick out your wriggling, fresh seafood (we enjoyed squid, octopus and shrimp), tell the staff how you want it cooked and then EAT! Great! We also tried banh xeo which is a type of VN pancake made with egg, sprouts, scallions, cilantro and SEAFOOD. Delicious. Typical little eatery with a shortlegged table, little plastic chairs and several hardworking women cooking by the street on two small, old cast iron ovens.

     Just across from the small eatery was the historic Cham temple. While we're not into religion, these 7-12th century restored temples were impressive. The Cham lived all around VN and build the temples starting in 2nd century. The VN government and private individuals all cooperated to restore and protect these ancient, historic structures and sites which sit on the top of a hill with a very strategic view of the harbor. I may be wrong about this, but the beautiful weaving and traditional clothing typical of the Cham people reminds me of Khmer people. The site in NT was an interesting mixture of worship, historic information and displays, cultural demonstrations and tourist sales – and an incredible view of the city and bay.

     We also got to visit the Oceanographic Museum which has been around for a long time (as has the Pasteur Institute which is famous for its public health work in VN) and combines important on-going scientific work –which is available to VN students – with a good aquarium. While the facilities are old, it is a great experience, well-maintained and very popular with VN tourists.

     Another unique NT experience for Hollis and Leanna was a fish pedicure...check-out the photo. Tourists are expected to be ridiculous, correct? It tickled, got us into a fun conversation with a young VN family and an Australian couple walking by us with our dangling, fish-covered feet. And we both had many less callouses! Anyway, you can now see we both are doing our best to well represent progressive USA folks here in VN (if you're worried, you can emphasize we're from CA).

     The train trip home to HCMC was part of the fun. This time we rode in a newer sleeper which had a higher ceiling with beautiful wood paneling. While we traveled at night, we stayed awake long enough to enjoy the design of sleeper night lights, comfortable but thin mattresses, quilts and pillows, TV (which did not work – thank goodness!), PA system with patriotic music (Independence Day is September 2), “European Water Closet” – very comfortable. Both our train and the train headed in the opposite direction further north to Hanoi were FULL as folks have a long week-end to celebrate Independence Day. We will never be able to fully express our gratitude to TDT for all the opportunities that they have honored us with as they share their country with us.  

First teaching days! We are now in the thick of it and loving it.

   August 19th was the first day of classes for the new semester and Leanna and I jumped right into the “thick of things.” Our first Labor Relations class began at 6:50 am (yes that is six fifty am) and lasted till 9:35 (2 hours and 45 minutes, OMG!  This class time is referred to as the first shift rather than first period. There are four day shifts and a night or evening shift. Our second class is a 3rd shift class on Tuesday from 12:30 pm till 2:55 pm and is in a VERY WARM classroom on the fifth floor. Though there are elevators we walk up. The height to ceilings in the rooms is about 15 foot so walking up five stories is at least a 75 foot elevation change. The student desks/benches are wood with two or three students sitting together at one desk, yet we didn't hear any complaints. 

The LR class has 108 students registered as of today (28-8-13) and registration is open for a few more days. The Conflict Resolution class has close to 60 students so we have a handful. In addition to the classes we will give faculty, staff, and students practice with English native speakers as well as conducting staff seminars on labor relations, collective bargaining, and so forth.  We're also conducting a series of popular education classes utilizing labor issues as topics so students experience popular education exercises and activities.  The campus is now FULL of students and lots of activities from early morning until mid-evening.  The weather does deserve mention. The hot temperature each day is about 93 to 95 degrees with humidity in the range of 90% to 100%.  Most days it rains for a bit and we often have a thunderstorm. In the evening/night it cools down to maybe 78 to 80 degrees so we get up at 5:15am almost every day and take a very brisk walk.  We really appreciate the air-conditioned apartment and office TDT provides us.  We've adjusted some to the heat (Leanna is known for her hand fan and handkerchief), but find the air-conditioning a welcome break. 

Our students are about 70% young and female and all seem very capable and committed to gaining a good education. They expect a lot and we intend to provide what they want. We are using a popular education model in our formal classroom instruction with lots of role playing and group activities utilizing simulations of working class culture in factories and other work places. The roles make people have to play the part of management as well as of workers and union leaders in collective bargaining, grievance handling, social dialog in Win/Win Conflict Resolution and Alternative Dispute Resolution. We also have groups of students undertake research on labor questions and then make a presentation to the class followed by critical analysis. 

    The popular method we are using is based on the work of Paolo Freire in Brazil and others who have found it a strong tool to create critical consciousness of economics, culture and the struggle of working people for a livable standard of living. A good number of the students plan to use their educate here to work in the union movement as organizers and staff and that is exciting! 

 It is a different world working in a developing socialist society rather than in a super developed, individualistic, alienated consumer society run by the .2% and Wall Street. In the long sessions on collective bargaining we will stress organizing tools as well as agitation in the movement and to use Conflict Resolution in a manner that resolves contradictions with gains for workers as well as for the profit making businesses that are bringing money into the nation through direct foreign investment businesses and other business activities. It is interesting to find that here in this developing economy that human resource majors are taught to think how they can use their position within a corporation or business as a platform to build a socialist society with more equity for the working people and the community within a market socialist economy that allows for capitalist enterprise.

In other words we are asked to stress the concept that human resources can be part of the process to serve the working people and the community not just the business owners who pay the wages. This exposes the contradiction offered by capitalism of “human resource as a tool of management” to control employees and to carry out business dictates that may have only the maximization of profits and is inadequate and against developing a society of harmony, stability and progress: the goal of human action.  Human resource can be used for benefit of workers and society!

These posted photos are from Open Day showing the engineering students demonstrating their inventions and Labor Relations Department students meeting with new students to help with orientation to the campus and academic work.