Thursday, October 31, 2013

Youth Union at the HCMC Zoo, Team building of Lao Dong va Cong Doen Students

Off to observe student “Team building Exercises” and tour the HCMC Zoological Garden and Park.

Yesterday, Sunday in HCMC and Saturday in the US, Leanna and I had a chance to observe and take a little part in a “team building” exercise of Youth Union (FYI -- the Youth Union is a national political association of young adults) members of Lao Dong and Cong Doen students, students from the department where we are guest lecturing in this semester.  We weren't quite sure what the Youth Union team building would be like although our colleague and translator Vinh, also a lecturer for the University, told us that it would be a many hours long activity that is designed to bring the students together and develop a loyalty to each other and the department and University.  The Youth Union student activity took place at the Ho Chi Minh City Zoological Park, the Zoo and inlcuded students working as teams competing to find hidden items or information – we remarked that it sounded like a treasure hunt to was and wasn't.
Anyway, Sunday 8am we met Vinh at the front gates of the University with two big bags of fresh fruit hanging from her motorbike.  She stopped, hefted the bags over to us, told us to wait and then zoomed off to park her motor bike in the underground faculty parking.  She was back quickly, we hailed a cab and took off for the Zoo.  I estimate it was about 7 or 8 kilometers to the Park where we bought our zoo visit tickets – 3 tickets cost 36 dong or a total of $1.60 for three adults (two old farts plus 1 regular).

 The Zoo was full of students, families with lots of little kids, teenagers, young lovers,

Leanna and Vinh with "decorated" students.

 grand parents, and parents pouring into the park on buses, taxis, motorbikes and walking.  Everyone was out to have a day at your all purpose zoo and park.  It wasn't just taking in the animals and birds, crocodiles and great apes, rhinoceroses and giraffes but lots of small lakes, a bandshell (with free entertainment for the kids that included learning to play traditional instruments and a magic show), lots of shade and grass where families set up picnics and teenagers and young adults vogued for their cameras.  The Park also included play stations for children learning to paint, fish toys, from shallow pools and carnival rides. There were happenings going on in all directions a cacophony of sound, light, the noises of happy and excited children and action.
So, in the midst of all this and using every inch of the zoo park the Youth Union Organizing Team of some 12 students had planned out a full day's activities that they refer to as “team building”.  With ten teams of ten students each they worked together to complete tasks, play games, score points (or lose points) get to know each other better and have FUN.  Each team selected a color in advance and a slogan, planned their own food, drink and snacks for the day, elected a team leader and showed up wearing their colors.  And in other ways visibly showing their team identity from a glance we could see that each team included both new and senior students and both men and women.  The older students had the responsibility to break in the newcomers to being team members.  

The 12 organizers let the first two rules be know very straight forward to start.  Rule 1 – Organizers are always right. Rule 2 – If you consider questioning the organizer refer to Rule 1. And that was the rule book except for rules made up on the fly by organizers.  The teams tore off through the zoo in quest of the “treasurers” that would earn them points.  The complication was that the organizers were the ones who decided whether points were earned or not! 

We watched for a while and got some pictures with the students, but then took off on our own and toured the Zoo.  Now I am not a big zoo pusher – I always wonder if the caged bird sings but I was happily surprised.  The animals were in large spaces, well cared for and loved by the zoo goers.  Yes, the animals were still in placements or settings and not running wild but they weren't eating the spectators either.  We were amazed to see a white tiger with very light gray stripes lounging in its enclosure.  It was the biggest cat I have ever seen – an immense fellow bigger than any lion I have seen.  The crocodiles were pretty lazy and no wonder the temperature was probably at least 35c or about 95 degrees and 80% humidity.  The signage was in Vietnamese except for the species and common name, that was in Vietnamese, English and Latin for the scientific names.  It was nice that the year of known discovery of different species was listed.  At 11:30 we felt it was time to go to the History Museum but alas it was closed for lunch hour!  Next trip.  We snared a taxi and went out for lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant that features traditional food from Central coastal provinces of Vietnam.  We ate special dishes.  One was yet another incredible pancake that you wrapped in green vegetables and then dipped in a mixture of three special sauces.  The second dish was a “fish” soup that had the best broth and unique noodle with delicious fish; mackerel and another fish prepared as a type of sausage.  Our lunch was scrumptious and filling.  After lunch we headed back to the University by taxi though we had the cab drop us off at our local supermarket where we bought food, bakery, books and a pair of sandals for Leanna to go with her new silk ao dai in turquoise and white (picture soon).  The ao dai is a gift from the President of the University that was made to order for Leanna by a seamstress that came to the University to get measurements and then craft the outfit.
Later in the week we got a chance to attend a Youth Union meeting here on campus and really enjoyed the mix of political history (great SHORT documentaries), culture -- KAROKE and practical skill building.  The students' plan all the content and conduct the meetings completely.  Vinh is the faculty sponsor, but seems to just review generally what is planned -- encouraging students to keep themselves motivated as they grow and hae fun.  Very impressive!

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