Tuesday, November 24, 2015

More stuff from Vuang Tau

 While our previous posting gave the round of activities, now we'll share some impressions...

While we can't claim to be fully-experienced Vietnam travelers, Thi's neighborhood seemed similar to many others we have visited or walked.  Within easy walking or bicycling distance there were plenty of services such as fresh seafood and meat market, (outdoors with covered roof and ice storage),
 fresh vegetable and fruit stands (sidewalk), small clothing stores, pharmacy, lots of coffee and pho shops, restaurants.  Rather than park on the street, most small businesses provide parking on the sidewalk for customers' motorbikes -- with some minimal security.

Often above or in back of such small businesses there are residential apartments or homes.

Day care centers, primary and secondary (middle) schools are usually also within easy walking distance.  Often even in medium-sized towns, students tell us that one of their parents will drive them (on motorbike) to and from school -- usually Father in the morning with Mother getting them from school in afternoon.  It is normal for students to go home for lunch and a quick nap!

Because many industries were originally state-owned, these enterprises obtained and developed land for housing -- both apartments and single-family houses -- which were then offered to workers at low interest rates.  Workers like Thi's Father have been able to buy their housing over time (loans at first payable to industry or enterprise -- now maybe to state-owned bank?).  With many state-owned-enterprises now being equitized (privatized into joint stock ownership), we are not sure what impact there will be on affordable housing for workers and their families.

Thi's family owned a nice motorbike, an electric bicycle and a regular bicycle -- all eventually parked just inside the downstairs entrance when it was time to shut-the-door at night.  Most homes or buildings have a permanent or temporary ramp to make such indoor parking easy.

In addition to Thi's Father working for the petroleum industry (we think as a mechanic), Thi's Mother sells her beautiful embroidery and also helps families find and buy or rent housing -- jobs she can do while still being at home to raise her young son until he gets older.  Like most parents and families thee seems to be much discussion about home care vs day care centers.

Thi told us an interesting story about worker rights and her Father.  Obviously her Father has many years working in the petroleum industry.  Recently Thi's little brother was ill, so his Father requested special time off from work to help take his son to the doctor.  When the family saw the doctor, the doctor asked to confirm that Thi's Father had received proper paid leave from work -- which Thi's Father did not even know was his right!  The doctor gave Thi's Father proper documentation, which Thi's Father then gave to his company.  Thi was frustrated both with the union and with her Father that workers did not know about this paid parental leave and right.  Thi knew about these rights because she is studying labor relations.  We all had a good discussion about the challenges for unions in both our countries -- as well as challenges for workers -- to be and stay educated and ACTIVE about our rights.

Just two days later in the English Zone meeting with labor relations students to practice English, we heard another story about a student's friend who got unfairly fired with no real help from the union.  Again we had a good discussion about what makes unions effective and accountable back to the workers -- ACTIVE MEMBERS!  It's a sobering discussion when you all recognize really no one else but us collectively can protect our rights and win better conditions and wages!  

A final story...as we give away various solidarity gifts from different USA unions and political groups, we get to have wonderful conversations with students.  Yesterday, one student wanted to know why there were so many languages on a UE button "Unity!" -- just had not occurred to students how many languages people in America speak and how important immigrants and immigration are to USA.  And students are starting to check-out Black Lives Matter and $15Raise on social media -- a big connection to Vietnam where state will implement a 16% minimum wage increase in 2016.

So as before when we visited Vietnam, the people here are sure teaching us a lot about development, learning, working, transportation, and the different scale of living day-to-day.

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