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!                   

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