Day 12 – So Long Saigon

The day began with a grand victory for team USA. At the 2016 Vietnam Summer Olympics, we brought home the victory in three legendary events. Woman’s soccer, an internationally respected sport. Tug of war, the completion that brings out the hero in all of us. And the herald Sack Race were men and woman work together to achieve great change. Unfortunately we tied with UEF in men’s soccer, and ruined our complete sweep of the sporting events. The UEF students played well, and we all had a bunch of fun playing with them! The entire event was extremely fun to both watch and play in. The performances by the Martial arts and Dance teams were both amazing, the students at UEF are full of amazing talent! After the games we had the chance to exchange some gifts with each other, and say some farewells to our friends we wouldn’t see later that day. It was a great time, but it was extremely difficult to say goodbye to all the friends I’d made over these past two weeks.

The day ended with a beautiful dinner buffet at the top of a hotel. The dinner had a beautiful view of the city. Ms. Yen told us that she loves the view from the hotel, as it’s a perfect image of Vietnam and Ho Chi Mihn. She spoke about how the skyline shows the entire array of the city. The skyline has old buildings, rundown buildings, and brand new buildings. It’s a beautiful example of Vietnam. Vietnam is growing rapidly. It has one of the fastest growing economies, and is on the fast track to becoming a global power. But as much as Vietnam moves towards the future, they preserve their past. As Vietnam continues to grow, I look forward to seeing what happens next, and how they will continue to preserve their history and their culture.

It’s hard to believe the two weeks are already over. I don’t know exactly what I expected coming into this trip, but I certainly didn’t expect to love my time there, and cherish the people I met as much as I have. To everyone at UEF, I would like to say thank you. Thank you for organizing our trip, and helping us make it through our itinerary without any casualties. Thank you for showing us your culture, and leaving us with a love and respect for the Vietnamese people.

From our landing two weeks ago, to our Airport farewells today, we’ve been through a lot, and we’ve made an amazing amount of memories. To end my blog, I want to share some of my favorite pictures, I hope you enjoy them, and thank you for taking the time to read my blog.

Day 11 – Finding the Optical Solution

On our second to last day here in Vietnam we had two company visits. Our visits were to the Vietnam Singapore Industrial Park (VSIP) and to II-VI, which is located within VSIP.

VSIP is an industrial park just slightly outside of Ho Chi Minh. The park is a joint venture between the Singaporean and Vietnamese governments. The first park, VSIP I, began construction in May of 1996, and is nearing its 20th anniversary. VSIP I, the industrial park we visited today, is the most successful industrial park in Vietnam, and contains major corporations such as Vinamilk and II-VI. Following their success here VSIP has since expanded to 7 industrial parks, each promising a unique benefit, ranging from lot space to resource availability. They provide their tenants with multiple benefits, such as power generation, waste treatment, and residential availability. Within VSIP, consumers have the opportunity to either purchase a pre-built factory, or to purchase a lot and construct their own.

After our brief look at VSIP, we had lunch at the mall AEON, which was recently completed within the commercial district of the park. For lunch we went to a Japanese hot pot restaurant, which had endless amounts of meat and vegetables to cook in the hotpot. The buffet setup was spectacular, and rivals many of the amazing lunches we’ve had on this trip. Unfortunately despite the amazing arrays of vegetables in front of us, I could never cook them right. I made multiple heart wrenching attempts to cook a simple carrot, but they fell short each time, being pulled out just before reaching culinary perfection. We left lunch filled with glorious Japanese cuisine, and proceeded to our tour of II-VI.

II-VI is an company that specializes in a large range of industrial areas. In Vietnam II-VI specializes in optics and small electronics, specifically thermoelectric modules. Thermoelectric modules are small devices that create a warm surface on one face and a cold surface on the other when a current is passed through. Additionally having one face warmed by a hot material, and the other cooled by the air or something similar, will cause the thermoelectric module to generate heat. The factory at II-VI was extremely interesting, and even mentioned several pieces of my past curriculum such a electrolysis, reflection, and refraction. We were unable to take pictures of the facilities interior, as many of the process as are kept secret in order to protect their IP. Today served as a perfect wrap up for the engineering and business aspects of the trip, giving both types of students a taste for their discipline when applied internationally.

Day 10 – Clamouring for Peace

The day began with a visit to the Reunification Palace. The Reunification Palace was built during the U.S. occupation of South Vietnam, and was taken and renamed by the North Vietnamese when they took the Palace at the end of the war. The Palace is an amazing building, full with retro fabulous furniture. The architecture is really unique, having modern architecture, while also having an oriental twist. Our visit to the palace was interesting, especially the short documentary that covered the war. One thing that I always find interesting in these documentary films we’re shown is the use of the world liberated. They say that the palace was renamed after it was “Liberated” of course this is different from our view of the war, but is definitely something interesting to note.

After the Palace we went to lunch at a spectacular hotel. There was a buffet at the top of the hotel, and it was filled with both American and Vietnamese food. The American food was a treat to see, and was greatly appreciated. Two of the items at the buffet were clams and snails, which seemed to be extremely popular items. We would often look over at the buffet and see someone shoveling loads of clams onto their plates, not leaving until their plate was brimming with shellfish. You know what they say, People love their clams.

Following our wonderful lunch, we went to Saigon New Port where we got a brief look into their daily operations. It was interesting to get a glimpse into their business, and how they handle thousands of shipments daily. I would have preferred to get a better tour of the terminal, but it was still interesting to drive around and get a look at the all the shipping crates and ships in the port.

To wrap up the day a few of us ventured out for some bahn mi, a delicious Vietnamese sandwich with ham, cucumber, tomato, coleslaw, and some sort of sauce. It was a culinary experience. One that only exists in the streets of Ho Chi Minh City.

Day 9 – War what is it Good For?

Buddhism is the most popular religion in Vietnam, with over 70% of the population being Buddhist. Today a Buddhist came and spoke with us about the religion, shared some information on the history, and brought us to a memorial and a pagoda. The memorial was for the burning monk, who protested the religion inequality by burning himself to death in public. Recent laws had limited the freedom of religion, so in a grand spectacle Thích Quảng Đức offered himself as a martyr, in order to bring about the change he desired. The image of the flaming monk is not easily forgotten, and will always serve as a humbling reminder of human rights, and people will do to protect them.

After our lessons in Buddhism, we went to the War Remnants Museum where we learned about the Vietnam war, and specifically America’s involvement at the Vietnam war. The tour covered a basic history of the war, along with more specific areas such as Agent Orange and war crimes committed by U.S. soldiers. Agent Orange, a chemical weapon used to destroy forests that were sheltering the Viet Cong, was used heavily and has resulted in millions of mutations in the Vietnamese people. In addition to the war crimes involving chemical weapons, mass graves, executions, tortures, and massacres were all scenes depicted in the museum. 3 Million Vietnamese died in the Vietnam war. Of those 3 million Vietnamese only 1 million were soldiers. I left the museum with a sobered outlook towards the war. Understanding why it begin, but also understanding that there are limits and laws during war, that we chose to ignore.

Day 8 – Market Madness – Required topic 3

Banh Thanh Market is at the heart of Ho Chi Mihn. It’s a popular destination for tourists to visit and find souvenirs to bring home. This morning we set out to the market in order to put some of our Vietnamese language skills to the tests, and see if we can do any bartering in Vietnamese. As Banh Thanh Market is a popular tourist destination, most merchants can speak English, so no Vietnamese was necessary. Still, we tried to use a bit to make the merchants laugh and lower the price for us.

In the afternoon we visited TVS, a Vietnamese investment firm. TVS specializes in providing investment guidance to Vietnamese companies, for trading and investing on the Vietnamese stock exchange. TVS provided us with detailed information on their business, their strategies, and their business culture in general. TVS like most Vietnamese companies employs primarily local Vietnamese, with only a few expats on staff, this is done in order to dramatically reduce operating costs.

The branch of TVS we visited today was much smaller compared to their main office in Ho Chi Mihn. This gave our visit a much more relaxed nature, as there were fewer employees and less chaos to work around in general. The woman we met with also provided us with some interesting insight into the Vietnamese stock exchange and the U.S. stock exchange, and the government involvement in both. Vietnam is growing rapidly, however government is still nervous for the future of the stock exchange, and impose trading limits to keep it stable. She told us how this is drastically different from the U.S. system, and that she hopes with time that some of these limits will be lifted, so the market can grow even faster.

While I didn’t understand most of their business, as I’ve only had one course in Macroeconomics, it was interesting to see the investment world from the inside, and to gain a new perspective on the government of Vietnam and its role in the economy.

Day 7 – Cu Chi Culture

They say that history is defined by the victor, and today we had our first glimpse into how the Vietnamese view their victory.

The Cu Chi tunnels played a major part in the war, and in turn their victory. The tunnel systems in Cu Chi and other regions of South Vietnam, were a tool used by the Viet Cong, the Northern aligned gorilla warfare group. These tunnels are well hidden in many locations, and are amazing complex. We had the opportunity to walk through two, both of which had been previously widened but remained difficult to maneuver through. Through the squelching heat we visited several sites in the jungles of Cu Chi. Most of the trees in this area are small, as new trees had to be planted after the use of Napalm in the VIetnam war.

After visiting the tunnels, we visited a cemetery of martyrs. Here the heros of Cu Chi are buried, in honor of the work they did in the war. It’s difficult to fully grasp the situation, and to see the war from a different perspective. We often see war memorials in the United States, and having the chance to see one of our “enemies” was a truly humbling experience. It isn’t easy to look past the reality. The reality that everyone in this cemetery of martyrs is celebrated for their war efforts, their efforts to kill Americans.

After today, I feel that it’s important to look at the war from the right perspective. Last week the Vietnamese history and culture lecturer told us something that has stuck with me. He told us how the Vietnamese do not hold grudges about the war and its consequences. They understand that we were at war, and that neither side would have killed or destroyed under normal circumstances. It was war, and while it’s hard to view America as the villains, it is truly humbling, and will forever change my perspective on the war.

Day 6 – Cuckoo for Coconuts – Required Topic 6

The Mekong Delta is a beautiful and vibrant area in the most southern region of Vietnam. The Delta begins in China, and then flows through Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos until it finally reaches Vietnam where it flows out to sea.

On our trip to the Delta begin with a visit to a snake farm, where we saw a large variety of snakes, along with several other animals, such as porcupines, a bearlike creature, and peacocks to name a few. After this brief stop we went to a small port along the Mekong Delta, where we boarded a small boat and began the second part of the trip.

This portion of the Mekong delta has four islands, one for each of the mythical creatures, Dragon, Phoenix, Unicorn, and Turtle. On our tour we visited both the Phoenix and the Unicorn islands. Across the two islands we saw a great deal of Vietnamese people, who had adapted quite well to the sudden growth in tourism over the years. The lives they live are far simpler than any in the U.S., so it’s amazing to get the chance to see their world that is so different from ours. Along our day we visited several small locations where we tasted fresh honey tea, and various local fruits, such as Pineapple, Watermelon, Dragonfruit, Papaya, and some other spiny red fruit.

In addition to our tasting sites, we went to the Coconut village along the Mekong Delta where we learned about the strange Coconut Religion. The Coconut religion is founded on the basis of consuming only coconuts, along with other aspects such as encouraged nudity. The religion was shut down for being a cult, however there is a single practicer remaining. She is the only Coconut monk remaining, and is tired after her years of following her religion.

Religion here is similar, yet quite different than in the U.S.. A lot of mentalities span both cultures, such as the importance of family and tradition, however the Vietnamese tend to be more rooted in culture, as we learned from the remaining follower of the Coconut Religion. Interestingly, these differences don’t appear to separate our people, as I have met several Vietnamese on the streets who are excited to greet us as we pass by. Vietnam is a beautiful country, something I never would have imagined, or understood, if I never had this amazing opportunity.