Friday, October 30, 2015

Union Chants Echo in the English Zone

"Ain't no power like the power of the Union, Cuz the Power of the Union don't stop!  Say What? Ain't no power like the power of the People cuz the power of the People don't stop! Say What?"   The English Zone of TDTUniversity resounded with this US Union Chant yesterday, 30-11-15, when we met with students from our department: Labor Relations and Labor Unions, to work with them in an English Only environment.  The over-all concept is for students to be immersed for an hour and a half  for up to four times a week in the English language with an emphasis on vocabulary, correct speaking, and HAVING FUN DOING IT.  On the white board Hollis put up the words of the chant and then Leanna and Hollis taught the rhythm as it is chanted in the US.

As the poster at the entrance makes clear, this is a place of exploration and learning from each other as the work progresses. This means we also learn from the students about their reasons for attending university, why they have chosen labor relations and union work, and what they see as their careers.  We ask that the students work in groups for most of the time.  Working together to formulate and explain concepts or ideas.  Then, of course, we respond in English and get a conversation going that includes everyone.  The English Zone is available to students from all the departments on campus and when we are not meeting with students from our "faculty" (everyone in the LDandCD) we meet and talk with students from English, Business, Finance, the Sciences and so on.  Any one group working together during a time period may be a mixture of students from several disciplines.

 In this picture two students are presenting to the larger group around the table.  As an ice breaker we used the each one introduce one after dividing into groups of two.  In the English Zone there is only success and we like working with our student colleagues where there is no grading to worry about -- just using English and having fun.

At the end of our  session with our Labor Union/Labor Relations Students we taught them (they learned in a few seconds or maybe they already knew) our Union Clap performed at the end of union meetings.  We made some happy, solidarity racket for the EZ.



Thursday, October 29, 2015

The BIG Wedding -- Hue's Traditions

While one of our reasons for returning to Vietnam was to attend our dear friend Vinh's wedding (Vinh is the TDTU Labor Relations Lecturer with whom we worked so closely when teaching last visit), we expected to be able to attend the parties that are hosted first by the bride's parents, then by the groom's parents and then often by the couple (see a pattern here -- make every one happy!).  In fact, Vinh and her family as well as the groom's family all invited us plus Helena and Joe (they are at TDTU teaching two Labor Relations classes this semester) to attend ALL the ceremonies -- both traditional and modern.

Vinh's family is from Hue.  Hue is often called the heart and soul of Vietnam as it is the location where most of the emperors lived (in amazing splendor).  Hue seems to take special pride in maintaining ancient traditions (many are Vietnamese Buddhist) and in preserving the ancient history, pagodas, temples, etc. of Vietnam.  Hue is where the Forbidden City/Imperial Palaces are located.  Much of this history was destroyed in the American War with fierce block-by-block fighting and USA bombing, but is slowly being re-built.  The Perfume River, the large traditional town market and other historical sites make Hue a real favorite not just for foreign tourists, but equally for Vietnamese on vacation.

We all arrived a couple of days early so we got to watch as Vinh's home was decorated, extended family arrived and special food was prepared.  The day before the wedding we eat a special meal with Vinh's family and Thinh (the spouse!) consisting of traditional foods that were also offered at the family ancestral shrine located on the top floor of the house (most Vietnamese houses strive to have several floors -- first floor for family gatherings and eating as well as oldest generation bedrooms, second floor with smaller living space and "parent's" bedroom, top floor for youngest generation and family ancestral shrine).  Bit-by-bit house was decorated in red with lots of beautiful floral birds, drapes, slogans. The families had a special joint lunch to finalize all the wedding plans -- more great food and fun.  The families had already met as part of the traditional engagement events -- even extended family, so the tone was way more fun than planning.

The day of the wedding we gathered with Thinh's family at the hotel lobby at 7:00am - in the morning - where all the groom's attendants (dressed in traditional men's ao dai) were assigned different traditional/symbolic offerings to carry (via car caravan) to Vinh's family house.  At this point Hollis got recruited (in his suit and tie!!) to carry one of the items as part of the procession.  Lots of photos were taken and we all loaded up into the caravan.

When we arrived at Vinh's street, every one climbed out (not easy for an old lady in an ao dai!) and Hollis and Thinh's oldest relative went to Vinh's house asking permission for us all to enter.  With permission, the entire procession entered the house and made our way up to the top floor to gather near the ancestral shrine -- Vinh's family on one side, Thinh's on the other side.  The father of each family made formal introductions of all family and both parents exchanged symbolic gifts.  At this point Vinh made her entrance wearing an incredibly beautiful red ao dai with an embroidered peacock.  Most elder family members (mostly grandmothers -- also wearing gorgeous ao dais), parents and Vinh and Thinh conducted a simple ceremony (of commitment).  Then the gift giving began in front of the shrine -- gold is traditional in Hue, so both Vinh and Thinh received rings, bracelets, etc.  At that point Vinh moved to the side of Thinh's family.  Wow!  For someone who does not do weddings, this was quite the experience -- we really do feel honored to have the families include us!

Afterwards everyone headed back downstairs  for tea and a light snack.  And lots of photos!  The entire day was photographed and videotaped to the max!

Finally we all headed to a large banquet hall where all the family, friends, co-workers (Vinh's father works at a bank in Hue, Vinh's mother is a renowned doctor of herbal and traditional medicine who also teaches) in Hue and beyond gathered for entertainment (professional and family -- seems like a lot of the men in this family SING WELL), food, drinking and more FUN.  It was one hell-of-a-party.
By 2:30pm we headed back to our hotel to collapse.

Next we travel by train to Thinh's home town to celebrate with his family as host.  So stay tuned!


What's different this time?

While the Vietnamese people are still incredibly friendly, open with their opinions, cooking outrageously delicious FRESH food and answering all our questions, we are observing some changes.  Like we shared with our friends during our earlier trip 2012-13, Vietnam is moving forward so quickly that dramatic changes happen overnight.  We can now SEE these changes BIG TIME.

For example...
The Ton Duc Thang University TDTU campus here in HCMC has two brand new classroom and office buildings with very modern equipment and amenities.  All of the canteens (cafeterias) have been re-modeled plus now there is a new canteen just for lecturers, professors and administrative staff.  We're eating with the students still!  Because the University plans to start construction of "the largest library in Vietnam" in the near future, motor bike parking has also been re-located and expanded.  There are more air conditioned classrooms.  And enrollment continues to increase.

BTW the ONLY smart way to travel is via motor bike or bus or train -- way too much traffic for cars!  And we are thrilled to notice that in a few locations (one being right in front of the TDTU campus) that there are lighted crosswalks for pedestrians!  It is still an adventure to cross in front of any and all traffic.

The Labor Relations & Trade Union Department (our "home") has grown from 400 students when we were here 2013 to more than 600 students!  The university entrance exam score has risen more than 4 points in just a couple of years -- this means the department's students have increased their academic averages and the disciplines' standards significantly just in 2 years.  "Our" department now ranks very close to other departments much older than Labor Relations!

The entire University is implementing what they call "Top 100 Program" drawing from global higher education standards (something some of us might want to debate!) so there is SERIOUS intent and specific goals to be reached by teaching and and research and administrative staff as well as students ranging from English language proficiency to research.  Part of our work here is to help design some of the new Labor Relations courses.  There now is more flexibility with course content, teaching methods and exams (often moving away from multiple-choice to essays and case studies.

Students still impress us with how YOUNG they are and SERIOUS.  We have seen several slogans though bragging that study hard also means play hard!  While male students still wear black slacks or jeans and white shirts and women wear the traditional ao dai two days-a-week, we are definitely seeing shorter skirts, ripped jeans, colorful "sneakers", tights, layered t-shirts, English slogans and brands -- global fashion is certainly here. 

Final observation for this posting is that TDTU has launched the "English Zone" -- a great physical space located in one on the breeze ways between buildings (protected by new glass doors for frequent rain storms).  While there are a couple of lecturer/professor mentors, the Zone is completely run by volunteer student coordinators, open daily from 8am until 5pm.  OF course, the idea is that students from any and all departments attend in-between classes and jobs to practice English speaking, listening and writing.  The emphasis is on FUN learning with library (any one want to donate books at all reading levels, let us know!), games, art, music, group activities, parties, etc.  We are concentrating our English Zone work with the Labor Relations students starting this Friday.  Leanna and Hollis having FUN with students!  We'll try to post some photos!


Meet the YOUNG TDTU Communications Department

When we were here two years ago we met an incredibly talented and energetic student -- senior -- who was EVERYWHERE on campus photographing and videotaping students, activities, academic events, sports, major historic celebrations.  Ahn really made an impression on us.  He is now the director of STDTU (communications/PR) here on campus, reporting directly to one of the University Vice Presidents!  The department has 3 employees plus they work with lots of student interns.  Some of the interns are majoring in communications, but others are just interested in photography, film, etc.

We met with Ahn to get re-acquainted and learn more about what he's up to.  The department office is not large and is an "open floorplan" with enough room for two desks (with latest computer hardware and software), one meeting table, bookcase (some books but mostly equipment), whiteboard for planning and scheduling and handmade decorations.

Ahn is having a great time with his work and mentoring students.  He gave a us a "tour" of some of the Youtube videos TDTU has posted (probably close to 200!) some of which are clearly aimed at recruiting high school students and their parents to consider TDTU for higher education.  Others are targeted to various academic disciplines here in Vietnam and globally.  Quite a few are pure entertainment for the TDTU students -- "flash mobs", cultural performances, sports, interviews, reports on student clubs.  The development of technical skills, design, editing (audio and visual) -- it's exciting to see such young staff and students moving forward so quickly!  Ahn seems to really enjoy the drone photographic and filming.

So for example, posted with this blog are some of Hollis' photos from recent student performance competition and the National Vietnam University Soccer Tournament (hosted by TDTU).  IF you check out TDTU on Youtube you will see great videos posted even quicker than we could post these photos!  BTW, the entertainment at the soccer tournament (TDTU came in 2nd place) was a Vietnamese heavy metal rock star!  So we had TDTU's modern soccer stadium, students wearing traditional ao dai, dignitaries from the state-owned-enterprise Viettel who sponsored event -- and a Vietnamese heavy metal rocker!  Gotta love this place!

Sunday, October 18, 2015


Sunrise on the way
With a long overnight fly, we flew from LA International on a  mid-night Wednesday morning flight arriving in Vietnam on Thursday morning - lost a day! We were tired but feeling the adrenalin power when Ms Vinh met us with a wonderful smile, as bright as the sunrise that flooded our airplane shortly before we touched down in Taiwan. We had last seen Ms Vinh 20 months ago in February of 2014 if you don't including skype(ing) with her.

Towering Clouds to the South
And it was a spectacular dawn as these photos show with a colorful display of cloud formations that constantly changed as we jetted along at about 540 mph over a dark ocean. Here are a couple of pictures pushing the dream to reality.

 Our ride was a Boeing Aircraft 777, one of the newest ships flying on the co-share airline of Vietnam Airlines-China Air-Delta.  FYI: Economy met our needs and we flew 13 plus hours on the first leg of our journey.  The second leg on down to Ho Chi Minh City was pretty much 4 hours from lift off to re-entry so we spent somewhere over 17 hours airborne.  Leanna slept a fair amount but truthfully I didn't get much shut eye even though I attempted sleep.  My big excite for many hours was watching the life "Three D" video presentation of our progress complete with the miles traveled, elapsed time, and other not very important data that didn't shorten the hours or the trip.

A little earlier.

Enough of that.  Once we reached HCMC and jumped into the waiting van with Ms Vinh we were off for District 7 of the City and our University, Ton Duc Thang University (TDT) named for the 2nd President of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and a hero of the Vietnamese people. As we approached TDT we could see the two new buildings that have been completed in our 20 month absence.  These buildings are next to Building B, where we worked on our previous visit and where we will have office space again this time.  Ms Vinh accompanied us to our new dorm room that is situated under the football stadium seating.  We moved in a little bit and then walked through the new buildings and visited the new student Canteen/cafeteria on the 10th floor of one building.  More on that in another article along with pictures.  Dean Hoa of Lao Dong and Cong Doan took us to lunch -- first taste of delicious food! We wandered about the campus for a while finding some old friends and just appreciating the opportunity to work again at TDT. Then we CRASHED to sleep.

Friday morning (which was Thursday for us) we felt a lot more refreshed and ready to go.  At 9am we met two friends who are teaching labor studies here, Joe B. and Helena W., and attended a collective bargaining simulation starring their students using a Vietnam plastics factory scenario written by Joe and Ms Helena.  It was well played out by the students and was both interesting and fun to be there as visiting instructors.  After the class was over Ms Leanna and Ms Vinh took off to go buy material for a new ao dai for Leanna and arrange for tailoring.  About 4pm we all attended a pre- Women's Day activity sponsored by the Union. The activity was a cook contest where the male staff of the many departments had to cook for the female staff.  It was fun to watch the men work away making food and hoping to win the award for their department.  The food was delicious and good looking.  Of course, after the judging we also ate the food and it was fun to go from table to table sampling and enjoying it.
Ms La and Leanna
LD&CD food contest preparation team
In the picture to the left we have Leanna and Ms La, one of the directors and founders of the University and the former Dean of our  Faculty of LD&CD. On the right you see the staff of our department who prepared, without Leanna and my help, our entry in the competition.

Helena Worthen and Joe Berry

Dean Loan, Union President

Saturday we watched part of the football (soccer) match going on in the stadium.  TDT won their game and are still in the running in the 10 day tournament that is taking place here at the U.  Early evening we watched TDT has Talent contest/show and watched hours of the student competitors vying for the prizes.