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!

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