Sunday, December 13, 2015

Miscellaneous Musings - or Leanna's stream-of-consciousness

As we're getting ready to hit-the-road for some traveling around the NorthEast provinces of Vietnam, I'm sorting through observations and impressions from this most recent visit to HCMC as well as what we've learned with students here at Ton Duc Thang University...

Students in the non-credit Simulation class for
Collective Bargaining
In just months (our last trip here was less than 2 years ago!), the traffic and air pollution has increased here in HCMC even while work is happening BIG time on increasing bus service, building over passes and expressways to separate motorbikes (THE preferred mode of transportation here) from cars, trucks and buses.  At rush hour sidewalk vendors and pedestrians really have to watch out for motorbikes ON THE SIDEWALKS.  Major intersections can't get unclogged without BRAVE traffic cops.  There is lots of debate going on about the new subways being built (who will they really serve as commuters, etc.) but for sure Vietnam is working on a major issue for HCMC and other growing cities.  We see and ride on smooth, paved roads and walk on wider sidewalks (not just in HCMC but in smaller towns as well), but as in USA such infrastructure only seems to invite more congestion and pollution.

Living here on TDTU's campus puts us within easy walk (except for when it's 90+degrees and 60% humidity!) for shopping, delicious restaurants, a great bookstore.  What we see is an expanded western-style shopping center as well as a nearby very upscale mall (never made it inside).  Prepared foods are increasing in popularity.  I notice way more cosmetics and skin treatments for sale and wonder if combination of pollution and "fast foods" are starting to have an impact on young folks' skin?

Building the new library here
at our University -- Modern
construction techniques but also
a use of physical labor
Distressed jeans and brightly-colored hair highlights are here on TDTU's campus alongside the traditional ao dais.  Helena and Joe report students complaining about the dress code (shocking!) while Hollis and I talk to students who take great pride in wearing the ao dais and admire the traditional dress of lecturers and professors.  We find students who are not into knowing history sitting next to others who can tell story after story from Vietnam's 1,000s of years of history.  Many students know about the TPP and seem to be following the debate here in Vietnam -- but certainly not everyone!

We've also talked with students who seriously need the discounts and grants for the dorms and canteen food while wearing the TDT t-shirts and sweatpants instead of having to buy lots of clothes.  Food at the canteen is still a deal -- 60 cents for a meat-filled sandwich, 76 cents for a great bowl of soup, less than $1 for rice-meat-veggies-soup combo.

The campus is still spotless with sculpture everywhere you look.  And students who don't keep their rooms clean and safe can be seen (women and men) picking up trash -- after getting called out with bulletin board postings.  Again, some students see the standards and discipline as off-scale, but we've talked to many (included graduated students we've maintained friendships with) who support this "TDTU culture".

As students and their families have opened their homes and visited with us we've really come to appreciate the openness and willingness of these friends to talk informally.  Some times it is heart wrenching and can leave me speechless -- can I possibly believe that the amount of Agent Orange and the number of unexploded ordinance settled so deeply into the soil here can ever be removed?  Does such technology really exist?  I'm getting to know folks who moved from family, villages and home provinces to a town or city (with different accents, versions of traditional foods) in order to eat, work, send home money.  Some times it seems like the Vietnamese move as much as we do in USA!  But often the pull of home village is very strong, even for our young students.

Because we spent a chunk of time working with students at the TDTU English Zone, this time we've met more students from other academic departments - electrical engineering, physics, language (Chinese and English seem popular choices here), international business, applied art and design.  The number of students who work part-time is impressive -- and their stories sound a lot like students and young workers in USA.  Except the student debt issue bewilders them -- how can USA government allow private banks to exploit students like is happening?  I've been impressed (again) with the number of students who are active in "running" projects like the English Zone as well as those who participate so actively in Music Club, Art Club, Youth Union.  Rock concerts and traditional songs -- what a range.  While not all students are so active, the ones who are really do show leadership skills, political commitment and learning motivation that inspires.  And TDTU students do know how to have fun very inexpensively!

We are fortunate to build these friendships with people of all ages and home towns...means we're developing at least the beginnings of appreciation for the diversity and richness and

Ho Ho Ho!
depth of the people, culture and society.  Sure challenges our own USA filters!

There was one student question that still has me Vietnamese-American workers get to take a week or two (paid) off to celebrate Tet?  The answer is easy -- none of us in the USA gets paid time off like that for ANY holidays!  Most folks in USA don't even have that much paid vacation each year!  So here we all are working in a global economy where increasingly we're becoming immigrants or working for a corporation with either another country's culture or its own inviolate corporate culture.  What's our alternative to the horror of global capitalism on this human scale of celebrating Tet wherever we may be living AND working?  Vietnam's experiencing the "culture clash" right now of abusive foreign supervisors in foreign-owned companies mistreating Vietnamese workers as well as many of the same companies not paying the legally required social insurance taxes to cover their Vietnamese workers.  Students quickly get beyond "culture" to talk about worker rights and the interests of the larger community.  As Vietnam continues its dramatic development and becomes more and more of a global player, these students will be engaging us and other union and political folks in some serious discussion and shared building!                   

Saturday, December 12, 2015

A Simulation Class where students practiced Negotiation Skils

The last 10 days of the semester we were asked to provide 3 simulation sessions on bargaining skills for students in Labor Relations and Trade Union department.  It was appreciated by the students who commented that practicing listening and analytical skills, conflict resolution and negotiations: considering the issues and coming up with proposals, planning how to present them, gathering evidence or planning the evidence gathering, making and modifying the proposals AND planning communications systems and organization for the workplace really made it clear that this is not easy work, that it is on-going work to build and have an effective union.

 The green (black) board writing gives some idea of the concepts and work that were discussed and made use of by the students.  Each session included different students -- with a mix of class room and workplace experiences.  Groups ranged from 10 students to just three.  So we all learned together based on Vietnam workplace "case studies".  As we learned last visit, students have great ideas about what makes for good leadership and quickly "see" workplace connections.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Fifth Birthday Celebration of the Dormitories

 This week has been full of students cramming in final class sessions, starting to STUDY BIG TIME in small groups clustered all over campus and "final" celebrations.  A really great celebration was the 5th Anniversary of the TDTU modern dormitories.  We knew when we stayed in the dorms two years ago that they were new-ish and modern, but did not realize just how recent they were constructed.

The dorm Birthday Party this week was also an event to hand-out dorm "scholarships" -- grants or subsidies for student rent based on both need and scholarship.
 Along with other campus leaders we got to help hand-out the grant recognitions to students -- what an honor for us.

The students also prepared a beautiful drawing of the dorms for Mr. Heiu who has been the primary administrator for the dorms for the entire time.  There was a GREAT video showing him and earlier students "surveying" the ground before construction started, observing progress, moving into the dorm rooms, etc.  IT was a real treat to see the connection Mr. Heiu has made with so many students! Having the dorm rooms and affordable or free dorm rooms makes the difference for students from all around Vietnam being able to attend university.  And having support from staff like Mr. Heiu makes such a dramatic move from villages and rural farms do-able in the midst of also experiencing university and city life.
No TDTU celebration is complete without student singing and dance performances!  There were modern songs, outrageous soccer ball " freestyle" handling, traditional songs and even a student skit about respecting rights of the disabled.  Several of the performers "testified" about their own dorm experiences at TDTU either currently or in the past.  The whole evening was very "homey" where we often felt like adults glimpsing students talking to each other.

Never did get to see how that BIG cake tasted!  

Cookies Buffet

Okay, this is a party, let's have fun!
December 9th we celebrated a "Cookies Buffet" final gathering at the English Zone with the students we have been meeting with weekly providing them with a chance to practice English with an American accent.  It was hard to get a real accurate estimate but there were about 30 students and four teachers -- Helena and Joe joined in the fun.  We sang songs together, were entertained by students singing and played charades as well as munching on cookies and other Vietnamese snack foods .
Joe, Helena and students.

Our co-workers, volunteer instructors in Labor Relations and Labor Unions at TDT, Helena Worthen and Joe Barry chatting with students at the end of the semester Cookie Bash.
Waiting for our Karaoke music to start up and chattering.

One, two, three, digital memories!
We had hoped that it would be a little cool and breezy by our start time of 5:30pm but no such luck. Instead it was about 90 some degrees with 50% humidity but we got through it.  Most everyone had a wonderful time although when we sang "This Land is Your Land"  Karaoke style, it was not complete with the radical words of Woody Guthrie. When you download music from online sources you may not get everything you want but you get what you get.

When we taught USA political songs like "This Land" in the English Zone, it was with the radical lyric.  We also discussed with the students explanations of the depression times or political struggles in the US when Woody Guthrie and other artists and singers spoke out to help organize for depression relief, an end to racism and in support of  union organizing.   How great to get to use music to talk about USA politics in the 30s and again in the Civil Rights movement in the 60s and 70s and now!  The stickers and buttons from #BlackLivesMatter and other current struggles were also real popular with students.


y special moment of the evening occurred when the students performed a song that is a big favorite here.  It reminds one of a folk song and brings a warm, wonderful feeling as we instructors appreciate the welcome we have received here.  The song is HELLO VIETNAM or Banjour Vietnam.  Here are the lyrics of the version that they sang to us. Attached is a video of the students performance it may take a while to load when you hit play.

The most popular song version is sung by Pham Quynh Anh, an overseas Vietnamese born in Belgium who values her parents' homeland and life and wants to share Vietnam. Hello Vietnam was written by Marc Lavoine and Yvan Coriat.

Hello VN
Tell me all about this name, that is difficult to say,
It was given me the day I was born.
Want to know about the stories of the empire of old.
My eyes say more of me than what you dare say.

All I know of you is all the sights of war.
A film by Coppola, the helicopter's roar.

One day I'll touch your soil.
One day I'll finally know your soul.
One day I'll come to  you.
To say hello ... Vietnam.

Tell me all about my colour, my hair and my little feet
That have carried me every mile of the way.
Want to see your house, your streets.  Show me all I do not know.
Wooden sampans, floating markets, light of gold.

All I know of you is the sights of war.
A film by Coppola, the helicopter's roar.

One day I'll walk your soil.
One day I'll finally know my soul.
One day I'll come to you. To say hello ... Vietnam.


And Buddha's made of stone watch over me
My dreams they lead me through the fields of rice
In prayer, in the light ... I see my kin
I touch my tree, my roots, my begin


One day I'll touch your soil.
One day I'll finally know my soul.
One day I'll come to you.
To say hello ... Vietnam.


One day I'll walk your soil
One day I'll finally know my soul
One day I'll come to you
To say hello ... Vietnam.

The End.

Hope you loved it as much as we did.  Vietnam has come to you to say hello! Come here anytime, it is a wonderful land to visit.

Hearts and Friends.
After the songs we played Leanna's version of charades and there were some really quick and accurate guesses for the winners.  Each contestant had to draw a word and then they had to act out the word.  Most of the players elicited the right or correct response within 30 seconds or even though the game was in English. The fun evening continued with lots of photographs, compliments, and just good times for couple of hours.  Then we all cleaned up and the students headed back home or to their dorm rooms to study.  We returned to our room already missing these incredible Vietnamese students.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Journey to downtown Ho Chi Minh City City Square – the People’s Committee Building

The People's Committee Building with the statue
of Ho Chi Minh that looks east across the large
Public Plaza.
A few days ago we had to go to downtown HCMC to make some changes in our Air Vietnam reservations.  The Air Vietnam office was in a very major, attractive, modern building in District 1, across the street from the historic old building referred to as the Opera House under French colonialism that is now the National Theatre of Vietnam.  We took a walk by the Theatre after we finished our business at the Airline.  Incidentally, the airline staff were efficient, quick and thorough in helping us solve our problem. Note:  change of date, departure city cost a whopping $35.)
The Spacious and lovely Plaza in downtown
HCMC facing to the People's Committee Building.

We walked around downtown for a bit and really enjoyed the several block long plaza that has recently opened as a foot traffic area facing the People’s Committee offices – a beautiful French colonial era building that has been either restored or perhaps has always been kept up very well. On several streets around us we could see the evidence of the very large construction project taking place down town.  HCMC is building a very large subway system to help handle the commuter population of a city of 11,000,000 and growing.  Yes, motorbikes are and will continue to be a major method of personal and family conveyance, but to meet the needs of the city without contributing immense amounts of pollution the subway is needed. 
The People's Committee Building

I wish I had the time to find out how they will deal with the ground water in the soil since the city is near sea level but that is a question for another day.  Obviously since they are constructing skyscraper size buildings all over the city they have got this all figured out.  We didn’t get any pictures of the subway because it is under construction and the work area is walled off for safety...maybe next time.

Leanna and Thao on the Plaza
We hope that the pictures in this post give you some appreciation of the beauty of the People’s Committee building.  In the US we would refer to this as “City Hall”.  It is the seat of the elected government.  Each ward in the City also has a People’s Committee Ward office with easy access so citizens can meet with their representatives and keep their eye on the progress made by the government working for them.  

Couldn't resist throwing in a few more pictures from the English Zone and a couple of shots from a Social Dialog simulation session that we held with labor studies students yesterday, Friday the 5th of December. 

Students getting prepared to practice Social Dialog
as another workplace tool in addition to collective bargaining and
negotiations in labor union work.

Which Side are you on, SISTER! Which side are you on, BROTHER! Which side are
you on STUDENT! Which side are you on, TEACHER!
Well, here is how you
do social dialog, the things that
you must keep in mind.
Students at the EZ

 With you on our side and a little help from our friends we can find our way to progress and a better world.

BTW...Hollis recently bought a smart phone 3g SIM card and 6 GB of data for around $8 USD. Vietnamese can't believe folks in USA   deal with "contracts" and pay the prices we do for technology. 

Friday, December 4, 2015

Some More English Zone

As we have mentioned in a previous post the English Zone is a special area on the campus where students gather to practice listening and talking in English.  It is all voluntary and not graded so that students can learn without any pressure.  The Zone is actually run by the students themselves: they not only learn English but they set up the equipment, help raise funds to keep the place going, volunteer and help each other practice their English, decorate the area and in general just keep it up and running.  One staff person, Ms Vinh, a lecturer from our Labor Relations and Labor Union department, acts as a mentor and works with the students.

  This week while we worked with a group other students were painting Christmas Themes, singing songs, practicing their English -- Christmas is increasingly celebrated here, mostly by Catholics.  Since we attend the Zone four times a week, twice a day on two days, we regularly teach union and USA political songs as well as informally converse
Working the board for a simulation on Social Dialog
between Workers and Management in an enterprise
with the students, some times focusing on union jargon.  Our songs this week were "With a Little Help from Your Friends" and the second was "Which Side Are You On".  Each time with these songs we tell the story about how they were used or the special significance.  Our story about "a Little Help" covered some about the anti-war movement and John Lennon and the second we used to talk about the coal miner's struggles for justice and safety.  In both cases we made sure to mention that these songs are used in a wider context of the progressive movement and progressive thought in the US and in other parts of the world.  

We do not sugar coat our homeland -- how could we do it even if we wanted when the leading candidate for the GOP as I write is Donald Trump?  No, we speak truth in an effort to lift the blinders placed on  people in other countries by Hollywood.  Our films make us look like either a nation of idiots or as one that glorifies violence and militarism -  think Sanberdoo, Califa.  George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush threw the seeds in the winds.  Oops, I forgot that sadistic fascist Dick Cheney. 

It is a strange feeling to not be able to explain Trump, Rubio, Bush3, and the other half wits who are receiving appreciable market share of the voter confidence for the GOP at this time. Looking from a far the Democratic side looks better. The Bern is good but those in control of the party are going to do everything they can to push Clinton in as the candidate and Bernie out.  And then Clinton will deliver her soul to Wall Street and the militarists, she has done before, and we won't be one step ahead of the mess we are in now.

New Library being built at Ton Duc Thang University -- December 4, 2015
Oh for a change of pace and here is one.  The picture to the right below is of the hole for the new library here at the University.  It will be the largest University library in Vietnam and the newest when it is finished!

Why is the library and all the building that is going on significant?  Well, Vietnam and the rest of the formerly colonized and then neo-colonized under neo-liberalism are finding their own way into living in a more developed world.  There cultures are older than those of Europe but because they were plundered by the British, the French, the Germans, the Italians, the Portuguese, and the Americans and their wealth and intellectual property moved to the "West" their countries and economies are playing a rebuilding game.  Now, with the US instigated wars in the middle east  even more plundered countries are going to find themselves with destroyed infrastructure.  How will they survive and rebuild their countries in this century when most wealth is in the hands of the financial oligarchy of the West.

We must all hope for and build for peace in the world and the ascendancy of working people as the ruling class in society.  Only the leadership by the 99% offers a chance for peace, prosperity, and the end of militarism.  You can bet your boots that the industrial-military-intelligence (oxymoron) complex won't do it.  Even with both hands and a strong flashlight they couldn't find you know what so they are hopelessly out of depth trying to bring together the peoples of the world to share equitably the wealth of the world and create a world of food, medical care, housing, education, culture and love for all.  And you know all the people want those things so that their children, grand children, and all of us can grow up and live with dignity.  When we are lead by the greedy that all the prophets disdained and hated then you know where we are at.  And I am not even one who believes in the prophets -- I believe in evolution and our species though at times I get a bit pessimistic. 

We now appreciate the value of email and social media (Facebook is our limit) to stay in touch with all the hard organizing going on as USA movements mobilize. analyze and grow together fighting against the systemic criminal and oppressive powers challenging our rights.

Here in Vietnam, the students and professors at Ton Duc Thang University also inspire us that people want justice and peace and that together we have the capacity, strength and smarts to work as one to build a world that serves the needs and aspirations of workers.