Today is sadly our last day in Vietnam. I am very sad to have to leave all the new friends I’ve made and Ho Chi Minh City. I am ready to head back to the US though, but I will miss Vietnam, even the crazy motorbike drivers! This morning we went to a gym where we watched dances, played soccer, played tug-of-war, and did a sack race which the Vietnamese call the jumping hessian. We won the girls soccer game, tug-of-war, and the jumping hessian, while the Vietnamese won the boys soccer game. It was a lot of fun, but very hot as there was no air conditioning in the gym.
After we finished playing games we gave out presents to the Vietnamese students. It was very emotional and I am going to miss them so much. Jacie was so sweet and gave me a lucky cat that she told me to always carry with me so I have luck and a mickey key chain to remind me of her. I gave her a pitt t-shirt that even though it was a small, swamped her. I gave out the rest of my presents to Jen, Bunny, Ariel, and Abby. I really wish I would have had more to give to May and a few others! Jen was so confused when I gave her the Thin Mint . She had no idea what they were, but with the agreement of other American students that they are in fact the best cookies in America she was delighted to receive them. We had lunch at the hotel and then went to our rooms to pack and take a shower. Later today we are going to give our final presentations and then go to our farewell dinner. Then it’s off to the airport and on our way home. Goodbye Vietnam! I am going to miss you!
Today we visited Vietnam Singapore Industrial Park (VSIP) and II-VI. VSIP is an industrial park where companies like II-VI buy land to house their businesses II-VI is an optics company that also creates a thermoelectric cooling component. Both the optics and the thermoelectric cooling component are produced in a factory in an assembly line fashion. The raw materials required are rare earth metals, glass, nickel, gold, and silver. They ship these materials to Vietnam and get them checked at the custom station in VSIP. They don’t have really any customers but is a middle step in the process of making the final project, so it is shipped to another II-VI section. The contingencies that II-VI must consider are labor cost, because their products are very labor intensive to produce, and taxes/government problems in the countries that their facilities are in. Safety concerns mainly deal with the chemicals that are used to produce their products, and these are taking care of by wearing eye protection, gloves, aprons, and face masks when needed. The hot environment in Vietnam is very concerning, so all of their facilities are completely air conditioned to counter this. The work force at II-VI has to be very skilled. They train some of their employees for 6 months to a year before they can do specific jobs like quality control and mounting. This makes the high turnover at the country a big problem that they have been working to fix by creating incentives for their migrant workers to return after the lunar holiday.
I can’t believe that this is my second last day in Vietnam, but I am also excited to head back to the states. It has been such a busy and fun 2 weeks!
Today we started the day with a few lectures at UEF. The first class was the 2nd half of the history and culture lecture. The lecturer was going off topic quite a bit so we unfortunately did not make it through the whole lecturer. Next was Vietnamese language class. We learned how to say basic phrases today like “I would like noodles,” “Where are you from,” and “What would you like to eat.” Since it was the last class, we got together with our instructor for what seems like the 1,000th group picture. We then had lunch. Ms. Ha and Ms. Yen got us Vietnamese baguettes that were extremely delicious. Vietnemese baguettes are like pannies with an asian twist. The ones we had today had pork, cucumber, chilli sauce, asian slaw, spiced mayonnaise, and lettuce. They were very good.
After lunch we had a lecture on the origins of Buddhism, which was pretty interesting. Then we went to a memorial for a buddhist monk who set himself on fire to protest the war and his heart did not burn. Then we went to a gorgeous pagoda, where the professor taught us how to pray. Afterwards we headed to the War Remnants Museum. It was very difficult to get through. Walking through the agent orange exhibit was really hard. The pictures of all the victims broke my heart, and to think that my country who prides itself on freedom and human rights could do something like this to civilians who live in the countryside was a bit of a shock. The prison exhibit was the worst though. Seeing the conditions that the Northern Vietnamese prisoners were kept in was shocking. While walking through the exhibit I had to stop looking at the pictures of the tortured prisoners, and at the end I could not get through the list of all the types of torture that they did to these prisoners. I honestly did not think things like that could have happened only a short time ago. You imagine those torture techniques and execution techniques like the guillotine have not been used since the middle ages. It was a really hard place to get through but I am glad we got to go and experience it.
Today we went to the Ben Thanh Market. It was nothing like I’ve ever experienced before. The sellers were very aggressive and actually grabbed us. I’ve observed similar behavior from the Vietnamese students. They love to give us hugs and put their arms around us. This is totally opposite to what the culture smart said. The culture smart said that the Vietnamese avoid physical contact, which they definitely do not do. The culture smart was also wrong about the eye contact and smiling. All the Vietnamese kids, even the guys look us in the eye from the moment they meet us and smile at us when their happy, not embarrassed. The culture smart was correct about the birthdays. Bunny says that she is 19, but if she was in America she would say she was 18. I think most of the information in the culture smart applies more to the more conservative northern Vietnamese.
The market was really cool and I got a lot of cool souvenirs for my friends and family. After that we went to language class and learned how to count. Everyone was super into counting in Vietnamese and it was super fun. We then went to TVS, a financial company. I only understood about half of what the lady was saying because she used a lot of jargon and stock market slang that none of us understood. I understood more than most people because I have had some economics classes but a lot of the other engineers did not understand anything the women said.
Today we went to the Cu Chi Tunnels and a cemetery with all of the veterans from the Vietnam/American/2nd IndoChina War. We first went to the Cu Chi Tunnels. The tunnels were very small and hard to navigate. They also had many traps so one wrong step and you were dead. I could not imagine living in such a small, hot, dangerous space without any light, but the citizens of Cu Chi did not have a choice. The guide told us that there main diet consisted of steamed tapioca, which we tried and was disgusting. I honestly don’t think I could live in those poor conditions. We also watched a documentary about the Cu Chi Tunnels and it was very strange seeing America depicted as the bad guy and have the movie praise heroes for killing American soldiers to support the “noble communist cause”. After we left the tunnels, we went to a local restaurant to have another very delicious lunch and then headed to the cemetery. It was very strange seeing a place honoring soldiers that took many Americans’ lives in order to support the communist cause. It was very sad to look out and see endless rows of tombs though. They had 8000 soldiers in the cemetery and that is only a small fraction of the total loss from the war. I felt conflicted walking through the rows of tombs. I was torn between feeling awful that the Americans took so many Vietnamese lives, whose families were left devastated, and a little angry because all of these men have taken american lives and are being celebrated for that.
Today we had a day trip to the Mekong Delta. We first went to a snake farm that was pretty cool. You could definitely tell that you were no in the US though. They had monkeys that weren’t in cages but tied to the trees and the cages that were there were overcrowded and barren with respect to toys. It made me very sad to see that. They feed the animals through the cages too and had a huge python that people could take pictures with. The python of course snuck its head around the back without Addie or me noticing when we took a picture and hissed in my ear. It was so terrifying. The snake farm had more than just snakes. There were monkeys, crocodiles, a weird looking Chinese bear type mammal, and many other animals. After that we got on a boat and went to see the coconut candy factory that was just a pavilion in the middle of a random island. We then went to lunch on another island and it was very good, especially the rice. After that we went to Phoenix Island and learned about the coconut religion and meet the last follower of that religion. There were fresh coconuts on the boat for us that were so good. We went to Unicorn Island next and drank honey tea, ate local fruits, and heard traditional Vietnamese songs. After that we got back on our boat and headed for the main land and got back on the bus and headed back to Ho Chi Minh City.
Today we got to sleep in a little compared to yesterday’s 6:15 start and I certainly needed that extra almost 2 hours of sleep! I think I am finally getting over the jet lag/lack of sleep from our 33 hours of travel. We arrived at UEF at 9 where we had a culture class. The lecturer was so dynamic and entertaining that the first class flew by and the next thing I knew it was time for language class. Language class was again hard but we were learning how to barter which I’m going to really need when we go to the markets on tuesday, so I tried my best to really pay attention and learn. After that we got our ao dai and all tried them on. They were all gorgeous and I especially liked the purple mine was. We then had lunch and went to the US consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. I had no idea what a consulate actually did, so it was really interesting hearing about the consulate and about the foreign service in general. I thought it was super interesting that they were only in a country for 2 years before they were re-assigned. I also found the temporary visa process very interesting. I can’t believe that they interview every single person who applies for the temporary visa. The lady giving the presentation told us that they have almost a 1000 interviews a day. After the consulate we when back to the hotel and tried on our half-made suits from the tailor to make sure they fit.
Today we headed off to the beach at Vung Tau. On the pretty long ride there, I sat with Tram and talked about the Vietnamese and American cultures. While we were at the Jesus statue at the top of the mountain, many people wanted to take pictures with Janea, Vanessa, and Devon which I thought was strange. One Vietnamese lady stopped me while I was walking down the mountain to ask me where we were from and if I was enjoying my time in Vietnam. Even though I expected all of the Vietnamese to be nice, The ones I have encountered so far have been so much nicer than I expected. It has been somewhat challenging to interact with some of the students though. They all speak english very well, but they speak so softly that I can hardly hear them and then they get so nervous and embarrassed when I ask them to repeat themselves and speak even quieter.
While I was talking with Tram on the bus ride to the beach she was telling me how important and close to her family she was even though her mother is very strict and tries to make her conform to the traditional Vietnamese ways. She said she cried every night when she first moved to Ho Chi Minh to attend school. She also has been dating a boy for 3 years, but her parents still don’t know because she is afraid they will not approve. She told me that she will tell them in 4 years because that would be considered an acceptable age by her parents. She told me that her boyfriend’s family is very rich, but that in american terms that his family probably makes around the US’s national average or a little below. He is also in the Navy and stationed on the island that China and Vietnam are fighting for control of in the South China Sea. Tram told me she is very worried about him.
After our bus ride ended we walked up almost 900 stairs to the top of a Jesus statue. The girls were not allowed to go all the way up to Jesus’ head because they said our shorts were too short, but Sam and I borrowed some of the guy’s shorts that went past our knees and were able to get to the top. The 900 steps were worth it for the gorgeous view! We then went to a 5 star resort where we relaxed by the beach and the pool. It was a rice relaxing day that we all needed on this crazy trip!
Today we started our day with a lecture on the Mekong Delta at UEF. I did not find that topic particularly interesting but it was important to learn about since we will be visiting the Mekong Delta later this week. Then we again had language class where we started to learn how to barter in Vietnamese. I found the language class pretty difficult because our teacher has speed up the pace of the class and they’re not as many Vietnamese students to help us as there has been in other classes. After we ate lunch, where I had a very good Vietnamese baguette, which was similar to a panini sandwich with an asian twist, we visited the company glass egg digital media. The industry is an outsourcing 3-D modeling company that mainly does video game vehicles. There are 3 major product categories in video game designing, vehicles, objects and characters. While Glass egg is the world leader in vehicles, they also do quite a lot of object work and some character work. In addition they also do 2-D modeling for video games, and 3-D modeling for companies like nuclear power or oil and gas for employee training purposes. They are just one of thousands of studios that do this but they are one of the three oldest and biggest. The company’s main competition is in China where they have almost 2000 studios and the biggest studio in the world with 1200 employees and 7 locations.
Glass Egg is currently facing the challenge of trying to expand but they think that they may have reached the limit on how big there studio can be while still being the most profitable it can be. Most other studios besides a few exceptions are only a few dozen or so artist big, so expanding beyond 300 artist while still keeping everyone busy may pose a challenge to their business. The video game industry is also a lot more time focused than most other industry, so they have to ensure that they deliver their product on time and do not overbook their services, or they could risk being late and losing a lot of business. Glass Egg also faces a unique challenge with working with Japan because they require them to have an in-house native japanese working for them. There is also a lot of opportunity in this industry with the option to expand into developing mobile games and apps, which if successful can produce a huge yield even with a lower quality product.
The business environment at Glass Egg is pretty informal and flexible. Before this year, the company had an open work schedule, where you did not have set hours and also did not have to check-in or check-out, this was getting a little out of hand with employees not coming in to work until 2pm and leaving at 4am, so the company made it a little more strict. They now have an encouraged time to come in around 9-10 am but are still very flexible and informal.