Saturday, October 26, 2013

Flying Vietnam Airlines to Hanoi, Hanoi on the Quick

Hanoi recently (2010) celebrated its one thousand year anniversary as a City so going to see Hanoi made us feel very young indeed. Of course there have been organized “civilizations” for many thousands of years before the birth of Hanoi as a city. Like on our own continent these were tribal peoples or clans that had their own identity and culture reflecting their relationship to the world around them and many of those cultures still function here and are usually recognized by the Vietnamese government.

At the VGCL in Hanoi
Presenting at the VTU University
Our Hanoi trip lasted a too brief 5 days – but were they ever FULL! We were able to meet with faculty from both the Vietnam Trade Union University (which we learned was visited 3 different times by Ho Chi Minh) founded by the VGCL and the University of Labor and Social Affairs (which has an official relationship with MOLISA, the government ministry responsible for labor and social affairs). Later in the week we gave presentations – kind of like demonstrations – of how we are using popular education/active learning to teach students about conflict resolution and collective bargaining. The VTU presentation was to faculty and students who were labor leaders from Laos and Cambodia. USLA's presentation was a different experience with more than 150 students, faculty and a link to 2 other campuses! We learned a lot and were really made to feel welcome by both faculty and students. All three trade union universities (TDT included!) are in the process of exchanging curricula and training materials about conflict resolution and collective bargaining, so our modest collection of materials will get included.

Discussion at ULSA
When we weren't busy preparing our presentations (and getting GREAT support from translators!), we got to visit the VGCL headquarters and meet with representatives from the international section and policy/legal sections. The VGCL discussion was really inspiring – one of the union brothers (and his daughter) later took us to the War Museum and talked with us over delicious coffee next to the Hanoi Opera House. We also met with a representative of the VCCI – the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce – which seems to play a different role here in Vietnam from what we experience in USA. We also got to meet with two Australian labor activists who are doing amazing work with VGCL – we hope to connect further with them and their work. They were two impressive women! We spent a moving evening with a leader of the Vietnamese Agent Orange Victims Association VAVA who not only shared his own story of involvement but also a history of VAVA. The reach and depth of this organization throughout Vietnam is incredible as is their ongoing battle for justice for the now fourth generation of children and families living with the poison of such toxics.

That's Orchids for a special Women's Day
A great statue honoring women!
A special note is that Oct. 20 is Vietnam Woman's Day (declared by the Party to celebrate the founding of the Vietnam Women's Union in 1930), so Friday afternoon at one of the presentations Leanna was presented with a beautiful orchid bouquet – wow! We also celebrated Woman's Day at the Hanoi Women's Museum which was incredible – got to share that experience with Julie Brockman of Michigan State University who is here teaching and doing research as a Fulbright Scholar.

Perhaps the most moving Hanoi experience was our visit to the Ho Chi Minh Museum – which brought Leanna and Hollis to tears several times. The museum is an amazing collection of historical artifacts about his life and the Vietnamese revolution but also art which so effectively depicts and illustrates the culture, world history, people, economic and technological events that shaped Uncle Ho's life and thinking. While there were plenty of tourists, the museum was full of Vietnamese, especially families with children. We walked around the exterior of the mausoleum where there is a big open park. One of the Australian women had described to us how when she observed the flag ceremony at night at the mausoleum she thinks of Vietnam putting Uncle Ho to bed. One of the Vietnamese women we got to know in Hanoi had another comment about the open space/park at the mausoleum – when she sees all the children and families playing and relaxing there she imagines that Uncle Ho enjoys hearing the laughter and happiness of today's Vietnamese children. Now you know why Leanna gets teary-eyed.

Having a good time in Hanoi
No way we can talk about Hanoi without mentioning FOOD. Hollis found some of the best pho to-date. We ate these beautiful, small, translucent pancakes from Hue and West Lake escargot among other delicious treats. All our new Hanoi friends were just wonderful making sure we appreciated some of what makes the food of “the north” different from HCMC.

With all the incredible work we learned about and gracious, committed people we met during just 5 short days, one thing we definitely learned is our trip to Hanoi was way too short of a visit. We are so grateful to everyone who shared their Hanoi with us – and we sure as hell hope to be able to spend more time in Hanoi before returning to USA.

Unfortunately Hollis' photos somehow disappeared, so one of our Hanoi friends shared some his great photos – thanks to Tuyen!

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