Friday, November 22, 2013

*****  AMAZING Teachers Day in Vietnam  *****

Student Dancers from LDnCD
First of all preparation for Nov. 20 Teachers Day starts BEFORE the actual day.  Handmade cards, banners, flower decorations were ALL over the campus.  Monday night (18-11-13) we attended a student performance on campus that featured groups from several departments who “competed” to perform the best songs, dances and art showing honor for teachers and learning.  The students write and produce their own shows: choreography, costumes, select songs, lighting, staging, audio and then direct the performance.  Although I will admit to some (actually a lot of) bias, I felt that our Labor Relations Trade Union Department had one of the best, probably the very best presentation Monday night. The judges agreed and we found out on Teacher’s Day that our department’s troupe won.  Our department's players used as their theme “We are one” and sang, danced and acted with a variety of costumes reflecting the wide range of cultural images of Vietnam: traditional songs and dance, modern student dress from casual through a variety of uniforms: military, Youth Union, and student volunteer uniforms.  Another element of the event was each department “competing” to have the loudest and most visible audience  -- and the Business Administration Department sure made a lot of noise (this is a HUGE department).  We sat in the midst of our student body in the audience and everyone cheered, clapped and hollered for each and every performance.    Although every department's performance was excellent the runner up, in our opinion, used the American War as the scenario for a patriotic performance.  And yes, there were Vietnamese fighters dressed in “black pajamas”, a form of dress based on traditional styles and that provided excellent camouflage in the jungle, forests and rice fields where the shadows are black against the multiple shades of green that surround you in VN.  Then followed Teachers Day…

*********    National Teacher’s Day – Wow!   ***********

Teachers Day begins with a ceremony at the front of the University
Wednesday this week (20-11-13) we celebrated our first national Teachers Day with the faculty of the university (FYI: In Vietnam the word faculty is very inclusive and includes the instruction staff (Professors, lecturers), Administrative staff and the staff that we refer to in the US as the Support or Classified Staff (Facility services and other services), and the student body.  The day could be divided into 4 main sections depending on the type of activity and the timing.  At 7:00am the instructional staff, administration and classified or support staff gathered in front of the administration building facing the statue of Ton Duc Thang.  After singing the Vietnam National Anthem and words from our Administration we filed up in columns with burning incense which we stuck into a large ceramic pot in honor of teachers and education.  This was a very dignified and serious measure highlighting the esteem of National Teachers Day in Vietnam. After we completed our incense placement we returned to the ranks we had formed earlier to wait for all the departments to finish.  There were no classes – all day teachers, workers, administrators, students interacted and shared fun OUTSIDE the classroom.
Then, almost magically a group appeared carrying signs on sticks and people began lining up by the signs.  Leanna and I had no idea what was happening and then Vinh, our extra-ordinary friend/fellow lecturer/interpreter/translator explained now people were forming up in new lines to take part in the athletic competitions among the entire faculty (except for students).  It was strongly suggested that I join the “running” event and after some cajoling (yeah, right – Leanna commentary) I consented.  The course was probably 2/3 of a kilo and I enjoyed running with my new friends from Vietnam.  I won a prize as the eldest competitor.  Students began joining in the fun as spectators, fan clubs, helping with logistics, etc.    
Ms Vinh and Hollis on tandem bike.
  Next Ms. Vinh and I competed as a team on a bicycle-built-for-two in a race that was probably about 2 ½ miles in length with 12 sharp turns.  We almost fell over at the start and ended up dead last out of six teams out of the gate so to speak.  We pumped hard and began to catch up by the first turn and made up our first place into 5th on the 2nd stretch.  Ms Vinh yelled to me to save energy for the end so we could finish.  We sprinted the last half lap and Ms Vinh brought us 2nd place victory with her power (I was bushed.).
Our Dean, on the left, playing football.
Now it was time to watch others “sporting” and we watched our    Dean, Professor Hoa, play football ( aka soccer in the USA) for the Biz Adm team since he also lectures for them. The game was fought furiously and it was getting hotter and hotter out on the field but after about an hour the other team pulled out a victory.  Final event was the “fishing contest” where Mr. Quang (LRTU Administrator) and Ms. Hien (recent graduate and probationary worker)   represented our department.  The fishing event was a wild affair held at the canal that cuts across the campus.  Alas our fisherman was assigned to the southeast side of the canal and the fish weren’t biting.
Our Fishing team,Mr. Quang in front of  Leanna and the
woman to the right side in high heels,  Ms Hien.

Once the fishing contest was over we rushed back to our room (everyone else used offices and bathrooms! )and got into serious clothes again to be ready for the 3pm Convocation where honors were handed out to many of the instructors by the University President and Vice-Presidents after a moving student performance including several from our department.   Leanna and I were presented certificates for our contribution to the internationalization of Ton Duc Thang University as part of UCLA Labor Center’s ongoing international solidarity work– it was such an honor in front of the faculties and students.  To work at a University named for the first President of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam who was also an educator and a comrade in arms with Ho Chi Minh – wow!  Ton Duc Tang is known as a revolutionary leader who taught literary and politics to fellow revolutionaries while imprisoned by the French.  You can jail the revolutionary but you can’t jail the revolution!
Thêm chú thích
At the conclusion of this stately celebration that included many special guests seated at the front of the auditorium: guests such as VGCL leaders, VCP dignitaries, retired instructors, government members and the Board of Directors members of our University we all went to a hosted dinner in the newly constructed Sports Arena. (dinner photo).  

  The buffet was an amazing selection of seafood, fish, vegetables, beef and pork, bamboo sprouts, and on and on plus excellent Saigon Beer for toasts to teachers, education and Vietnam.  It was a real gala event for everyone on campus.
Our Table Salutes Teachers Day
We share all these details to try to convey to you, dear friends, that education and learning are CELEBRATED and VALUED here in Vietnam in a way we have never before experienced.  While there still exists a formality in some teaching methods, we observe an underlying cultural (which includes the impact of the Vietnamese Revolution) and societal and economic respect for integrating learning into one’s life.  Increasingly this underlying respect and integration influences teaching methods, workplace organization (which is part of the challenge of Vietnam’s economic development, in our opinions), the role and structure of people’s organizations, evolution of academic policies – this is significant!  This is such a contrast in context and theory and practice to our experience of education in the USA.    We knew when we came to Vietnam that we would probably learn more than we had to share with faculty and students here at TDT.  We had no idea!  We now hope we will be able to share some of the education insights and practices we have gained here in Vietnam with our teacher and organizer buddies in the USA as we all continue our work for a better world of peace and justice for all workers.  Celebrate teachers and learning!

Check out the Ton Duc Thang University HCMC website,,  where you can click on the British Flag in the upper right hand corner for an English translation.  Not only will you see information about Teachers Day but you can get other information about TDT.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Typhoon/s in the Vietnam Area.

Shelter: Filipino residents sleep on the floor of a gymnasium turned into an evacuation center in Sorsogon City in the Bicol region

A weather picture of Haylan
 note the well formed storm center
and the density around the center.
As many of our readers are well aware there was a horrendous typhoon, Haylan, that a few days ago devastated parts of the Philippine Islands and then veered north by northwest across the East Asia Ocean and swept across the eastern part of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam before heading into The People's Republic of China. 

Devastation: Debris which was washed in by the storm litters the road by the coastal village in Legazpi city. Residents now face a long clean up operation to repair the damage to their homes
Note the dead animal amidst the debri

A few friends have asked whether our area was affected and the answer is no with a clarification.  A tropical depression/storm did come our way a few days before Haylan did its damage and that storm caused some flooding in downtown HCMC but not in our area as far as we know.

Downpour: As well as strong winds, the typhoon brought with it torrential rain which caused landslides in rural parts of the country

  In other words the hit area was north and west of the campus.  Streets were flooded and we saw some pictures that showed some places that it looked like some downstairs open front stores might have been flooded, but no deaths that we heard about.  In the north a reported 13 people died in the swath cut by the storm on its way north and there was flooding and wind damage.  There were some more deaths in China but neither country had the terrible death toll and damages that occurred in the Philippines.  Although we have no positive way of knowing for sure my opinion is that is while there are the disaster groups trying to raise money for typhoon relief and they mention only the Philippines and not Vietnam or China [Or at least we have not heard of any relief being sent this way from other countries.].  On the other hand Vietnam sent $100,000 in emergency aid to the Philippines immediately, reportedly the same amount sent by the US government.

A picture of the typhoon from space
that again illustrates the power of the
storm and its strong construction.

Now, having said that it is important to realize the difference in the governments of the nations involved.  Vietnam is a Socialist Republic and takes as its first responsibility the security and safety of its people and therefore several days before the typhoon reached this area there were some extensive evacuations.  Then the people's army of Vietnam began moving large amounts of rice and other food stuffs into the areas along the east coast and the northern areas that were hit to provide immediate relief and life saving.  This is not a particular political criticism of the Philippines, no country could have escaped without widespread damage and desolation from a typhoon, a Pacific Ocean Hurricane, with winds of 195mph with gusts close to 250 mph.  If you have any doubts about global warming and the havoc it  is creating around the globe just consider what this storm did to the Islands.  At this  point we are hearing numbers like 12,000 dead, hundreds of thousands of housing lost, 800,000 people displaced and the tolls and the devastation will probably rise because of illness, malnutrition or starvation, and the like.  Our own nation has been having more hurricanes although from what we have heard and seen here this year there was an unexpected absence of hurricanes but the drought is still severe for the third year in big parts of the US including in our home town of Los Angeles.

It needs to be  added that we donate money almost ever day for disaster relief for the two typhoons that hit the central coast of Vietnam about 6 and 8 weeks ago respectively with great losses of crops, infrastructure, and some lives.  In the housing, dorm, where we live there is a box set up where we all drop money in to go to the areas that were flooded and suffered catastrophic wind damages around and north of Hue.

There have been large and regular blood drives here on campus along with the donation collections mentioned above.  These repeated typhoons do significant damage to Vietnam's infrastructure of electricity and water, flood crops and agricultural land, destroy rural housing, etc.  The level of systematic organization and mobilization in Vietnam is impressive -- advance monitoring and warnings, evacuation alerts and transportation (includes release of children from schools), collective sandbagging, mobilization of medical supplies and care as well as food, etc.  Since we've been in Vietnam the fishermen in some provinces have organized their own union -- citing improved boat-to-boat and harbor-to-boat communications for weather alerts as one of the motivations (other reasons include cooperative fishing to improve catches and better preserve the long term health of fishing stock environmentally and also to better deal collectively with brokers/middlemen).  Evidently already the fishermen are seeing results on the safety/protection of boats issue.  The issue of these serious storms hits close to home here on campus as many of the students come from the impacted provinces with working class/farmer families.

We know the scale of devastation in the Philippines is horrific -- and we know many of you are joining us and the people of Vietnam in sending whatever each of us can to our Filipino sisters and brothers as they meet the challenges ahead of finding surviving family, friends and neighbors, mourning the dead and rebuilding their lives and communities.

Our understanding of the critical importance of global warming and climate change is now more real.   Our sisters and brothers of the Asia Pacific region are strongly leading and calling us to action way beyond immediate disaster relief.  Our future's are shared!    

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Special Dinner and TDT's Got Talent
A night shot in District 7 taken from near our room.
     A few evenings ago we had dinner at a great restaurant in District 1, downtown, Ho Chi Minh City with several friends from the college including the Vice President, the Director of the Office of Science-Technology, Cooperation and Graduate Studies, an assistant from that Department and the two of us. Driving to the restaurant in the TDT  we discussed our impressions of Vietnam with one of our hosts, a scientist and administrator for the University. We let him know very directly that we would work hard to try to attract other scholars to come to Vietnam and the University to teach and learn. 
The dinner was a classic affair in an exquisite private dining room with four or five courses as well as bottles of delicious "good for your health" red wine.  With such great food and wine we worked hard to protect and improve our health of course. The dinner facilitated a great discussion about our time in the land of the Lotus and the Dragon: how do we like Vietnam? “We love Vietnam.”Do we like the food? “Yes, we love the food, too, just as our friends in the US said we would.” Is our room at the dorm okay? “Our room is just fine, and it is close to the canteen when we want to get food.” Have we tried snake soup yet? "No, not yet but we will have an opportunity soon, when we visit the MeKong Delta next week." and "In Hanoi we ate the famous West Lake escargot, prepared in the Ha Noi fashion, very good and the sea food in Nha Trang at an outdoor restaurant was just fine."  How do you like teaching at our University and was it hard to get going? “Well, it is turning out very well we believe. It was some difficult learning what our curriculum should cover. We prepared before we came but that always has to change once you know the situation and are living and teaching in it.” And so on for quite a while.  We were paid a giant compliment when our hosts allowed that we had adjusted to living in Vietnam very quickly.  
Meanwhile the first course of dinner was a delicious serving of small pieces of pork with a green vegetable and a plate of another leafy green vegetable that seemed to glow like it was luminescent, but it wasn’t, and that you dipped in a sauce to eat. My gosh how good they both were. Then they brought out about 40 large shrimp for 5 people. The shrimp had been cooked in coconut juice and were arranged around the top of a cut off coconut like hooks hanging on a pole. You would just pluck a big old shrimp off the top of the coconut with your sticks, shell it and dip it in another sauce to eat and enjoy. I thought this was probably the main course so I ate a lot of shrimp or prawns and had some of that red wine to go with it. 
 Meanwhile the conversation was continuing with discussions about the different areas of the nation that we had traveled to and our impressions of the areas: Nha Trang, Dalat, Ha Noi, the Saigon Resort and all around Ho Chi Minh City and so forth (soon we go to the Mekong Delta and then Cu Chi and who knows where else). Watch for blog posts on those travels (FYI -- This just made me remember, when we were in Ha Noi we drove twice across the fabled Red River and through a swampy area flooded by the Red River.).
Then a flat rectangular hot pot was served with a big ol' wonderful tasting white fish that was cooked right there on the table over a candle burner while we waited for it to be ready. Meanwhile we ate more shrimp or prawns and celebrated a couple more toasts with red wine. When the fish was ready our table hostess served us nice servings of the fish in our bowls and we ate it up with our sticks dipping each piece in some sauce or just eating it straight, it was supreme either way.
After we had eaten our tender white fish there was ANOTHER COURSE: A POT OF A THICK RICE SOUP, LIKE A PORRIDGE I THINK, with fish in it and a taste like there might even have been some corn for flavor. By now we had consumed a fair amount of healthy red wine and so even this last course goes down really well with a host of toasts to the University, Vietnam, Friendship, and whatever else as well as the wonderful dinner. Mot hi ba Zoe or Yo! One two three, down the hatch.
At about this point the general conversation focused for a long bit of time on the American War and its effect on the way that American people either do or don’t even think about Vietnam now. We ventured the thought that sometimes we wonder if Americans don’t feel comfortable about Vietnam because of the destruction that we wrought on the country. Our host, the vice president of the University, a man of sixty, stated that he was a veteran but that he like others in Vietnam have put the war behind him and Americans are welcome and safe here. 
 He said that you can’t live in the past but must build the future for the younger generations that are now Vietnam. We allowed as to how that is true though Leanna made the point that Americans must not be allowed to shove things like Agent Orange under the table to be forgotten when the damage goes on from generation to generation and the US government isn’t doing much to help. A striking statement our friend made was that during the years as a soldier it had been very difficult because it did not seem that they could win their war of liberation, but they did. Leanna and I spoke then to the fact that their victory broke the back of colonialism and for the entire world – that the people of Vietnam are true internationalists, heroes who changed the history of the whole world when a super-power discovered it couldn't occupy another country that was determined to fight back.
A very humbling moment occurred when the Vice President stated that we were the first Americans to be invited to spend an entire semester teaching at the University.  We feel so honored and privileged to be the first but it is also a bit scary -- we can only hope that our performance leads to many more Americans coming here and contributing to this growing university.  

The evening finished with a ride back to the dorm room, warm good nights and off to bed to be ready for work on Wednesday at 7:30am.

The Phamtom of the Opera
Sing it out!
TDT has Talent!  A student talent show at the University displays the wealth of talent of these young Viet students.  In the past 8 days Leanna and I watched and listened to about 7 hours of a talent show held on campus with magicians, dancers, guitar/singer duets, solo singers, break
First Image
dancers, traditional songs and dances and current music, acoustic guitars and box drum and bamboo flute and group dancers.  It is hard for each of us to decide which was the best performance since the arts displayed were so varied.  However, we did get some pictures of an artist whose performance was painting a three layered picture in five minutes or less using a variety of spray paints, some tools for spreading and moving the paint on the surface.  The piece was made in three sections.  The first two were on a regular opaque surface and the third was on glass. 
Artist working on Second Image

Image on Glass--3rd image.

3on one, the Work completed
Each section was a work of art in itself but then the two on opaque surfaces were inserted in the frame behind the glass image and low and behold the three combined for an even more finished painting. The images are a blit blurry, indoors, no flash and enlarged for this posting.  I will try to upload more to facebook.
Artist holding picture and friends around him!

Pictures of the art will illustrate this better.  Several singers and dancers were stirring in their performance and now we must wait till next Saturday night to find out who are the winners in the competition.  One of the more unusual was a woman who performed the phantom of the opera with a mask and cape and we got a picture of her, too.  But who proceeds to final competition? We'll find out next week!