Today was sadly our last day in Nam. I’m sad to see the trip end but I’m happy to finally leave this heat and return to the cool and comfortable weather of Pittsburgh. We started off today with sports. We played soccer, tug-of-war, and sack racing. At first we played (guys v. guys and girls v. girls). We lost the first game 4-3 with was actually a tie because one of their goals should not have counted. The second game we won 4-2. I had a total on 1 goal and 2 assists. The girls won both of their games too. I was surprised because Jeff who went on the trip last year said that they were all really good and they lost everything. We also destroyed them in tug-of-war which was not a surprise to me because of their size. Finally we won the sack race too. At the end we all exchanged gifts and it was cool to see how happy they were when I gave them a Pittsburgh Pirates lanyard which to someone from the US isn’t that much.
Later, after lunch at the hotel, we went to UEF for our presentations where we all wore our Ao Dais and some of the Vietnamese kids showed up to watch. They were pretty uneventful because they were very similar to the first presentation but with added info from the site visits we were all at. To end the day, we went to dinner at this hotel roof top. It was really cool and tasted good but we all were sweating so badly from being outside and now I feel gross about to board the plane. Overall, this day could have been planned a little better because I would’ve rather packed after dinner and gotten a shower before the flight. Overall the trip was solid.
Today was the last real day of the trip meaning no more company visits or classes which I’m happy and sad about at the same time because it means we have to go home but also means we don’t have to sit through some of the not so interesting presentations. The first place we went to was VSIP or Vietnam Singapore Industrial Park. The second company was actually also located within the park. VSIP is a company that has created and opened 7 different industrial parks and we visited the industrial park located about an hour away from Ho Chi Minh which was also the first one created 20 years ago. We did not get to tour the whole park because it is over 700 hectares. After the presentation from VSIP, we had a presentation on II-VI which is an engineering company that produces a variety of products all over the world but this branch specifically produces optics other raw materials used for heating and cooling. We got to see a tour of the production of all of their products. It was really cool because they are vertically integrated so they produce all aspects of production. They start with raw metals and go through spate processes of coating, cutting, and separating to get exactly what they need. They then go into even more steps that I can’t remember because there are just so many and they got very technical with the descriptions. They did show us some of their products. One was a sheet that they put in the seats of cars which allows us to have heated or cooled seats. They also produce models for beds so you can control the temperature of your mattress. Finally, they talked about how they are making a new model with new motion sensing and other sensing technologies for your bed so it will be able to record data while you sleep which will provide benefits medically.
Today we started off by going straight to the Reunification Palace because we are finally done with the Vietnamese classes. The palace was formerly known as the Independence Palace but was changed when the north overtook the south. The palace itself is pretty cool. It has three floors and a basement. The first floor just has a large conference room and a large banquet hall. They also mentioned that they still hold government meetings occasionally in the conference room. The second floor was where they had the offices of the president and vice president. The third floor was the entertainment floor with a pool table, movie theater and a few other things. The basement was essentially a bomb shelter and that is where the president conducted his work during the war. The visit was very cool but I was dying from the heat the entire time because it doesn’t have A/C which you would think the president of a country would have.
That afternoon after lunch, we visited the Tan Cang – Cat Lai Terminal which is a very large shipping port off the Saigon River. They took us on a brief tour of the port and showed us the machines used to load, unload and transport the large shipping containers. We also saw where the boats dock and learned that the port is capable of working with 7 ships at one time. After, we saw a presentation that explained to us how the port works and overall how the whole company works. The port itself is ranked 29th in the world as it has heavy traffic and is located along a main maritime route through the East Sea. So the main service they provide is shipping containers via ocean but they also own and operate 10 separate trucking companies so they can transport goods to adjacent countries by land as well. The only raw materials they really need is machinery in the forms of trucks and loading/unloading vehicles. They do, however, have to follow some governmental regulations because they are transporting things from all over the world and customs always has to get involved. Another reason the government has a say is because the port is owned and operated by the Vietnamese navy. I don’t believe that there are many safety concerns because there aren’t many ways people could get injured. The works must also have skills with heavy machinery and some must be trained in the navy because they are operated by the navy. Environmentally, the only issues that could arise would be from cargo from ships spilling into the waterways or maybe when building new ports, the destruction of part of an ecosystem.
We finally had a break from business casual clothing because there was no site visit today which gave us a well needed break to stay a little cooler in the heat. We started the day with classes per usual. The first was a continuation of the history class. The same teacher came in but this time elaborated on the different cultures around Vietnam, mainly in the south due to time restrictions, and the varying religions. Some of the things about the Vietnamese culture he talked about that I found interesting were the yin and yang, along with numbers. I never knew that yin meant women and was associated with squares while the yang was meant for men and associated with circles. I also found it funny that the yin, women, are considered bad while yang, men, are considered good. The other thing I thought was interesting was the perception of numbers in Vietnam. All even numbers are bad and all odd numbers are good. To take it even farther, numbers 1 and 9 are the best. The like 9 so much that when they need something in large quantities, like stairs, they will always use multiples of 9 so 18, 27, 36, etc. A man also came in to discuss Buddhism and then took us to a statue and a pagoda. The statue was really cool because it commemorated the monk who burned himself alive. The pagoda was cool because it was just a different experience being able to visit the site of worship of a different religion from my own and just learning how they practice.
The second half of the day, we visited the Vietnam or “American” War museum as the Vietnamese call it. It was really a humbling yet solemn experience because they obviously portray Americans as the villains of the war. They showed different ways the US tortured some of the Vietnamese and some of the pictures they used to show it were very graphic. The hardest part was going into the Agent Orange room. If you don’t know, Agent Orange was a chemical sprayed all over the jungles of Vietnam to kill all the vegetation so the Vietnamese would have nowhere to hide. However, it had major side effects on humans causing physical and mental deformation. It still even occurs generations later because I assume it alters your DNA and genes. We’ve seen pictures of the aftermath in history class but never some of the gruesome pictures they had on display. I understand that everyone views the war differently but it was still hard to see. 3/10 would not go back to the museum.
So today went a little off schedule because one of our companies, VinaCapital which was originally assigned to me, cancelled so we had a different company fill in called TVS which I’ll get into later. We actually started off the day by going to a local market to practice our Vietnamese bartering skills which ended up turning in to me using English and having UEF students help me out. It worked out for the most part, I think I got ripped off once for some shot glasses but it was only like $5 more so not too bad. Also got some rice hats and a cool art piece made out of rice that I’ll give to my mom. I may have to go back though and find a Tiger Beer shirt and maybe get a couple of jerseys because they are so cheap.
Lunch today was also really good. We went to a Japanese sushi restaurant and it was exceptional. I’ve never really been in to sushi or sashimi but I really liked it. There was one piece I tried that was just fish eggs and rice wrapped in seaweed and it was fantastic. 11/10 would recommend going there.
So the company we went to after lunch called TVS is essentially a full-service investment banking company. Some of the services they provide include brokerage, proprietary trading, securities investment consulting and securities depository. The presentation was kind of interesting to me. As you know I study chemical engineering and not business so this area isn’t particularly my forte. One think I took from today, however, was how they interact globally with other nations. They don’t work directly with other countries but companies within those countries. They have investors from many countries including the US, Singapore, China, Russia and many others. An economic/political factor that I think plays a role in their company is the limits on trading. You have to wait three days to dump your stock where as in the US you can do it almost instantly. Another thing is that a stock can only go up or down by 7% per day in Vietnam so that could limit foreign investors from partaking because of the limited returns they could see. This could be due to the fact that Vietnam is a communist country so that is probably why they are essentially limiting financial gains because, as many know, the original communist ideal was that everyone is equal and people should have the same of everything. So that could be why they limit it. Tomorrow we go to the Vietnamese or “American” War museum so will continue to provide updates as the days progress.
This day was definitely one of the more interesting days. The main part of the day was visiting the Cu Chi tunnels which is located northwest of Ho Chi Minh. The Cu Chi tunnels were used by the Vietnamese during the war as basically a living space. They dug out elaborate tunnel systems that allowed many of them to live underground to avoid being killed by the American army. They had to do this because the US napalmed everything so if someone was above ground, they would be easily seen and then shot. We did get to crawl through some of the tunnels they actually used which was really cool. Apparently they widened them for tourists and I could barely squeeze through so I can’t imagine being crammed in that small of a space for an extended period of time. I also learned from lunch that I was getting extremely sick of fish sauce and the smell is just starting to throw my stomach. After lunch we visited a war cemetery similar to Arlington cemetery. It was a really cool experience and I would have been fine with just going there to walk around but we had to light incents and essentially pray for the dead soldiers which I personally was not comfortable with. I understand that what America did was wrong but those people still killed Americans and for all I know, one of them could have killed my two great uncles who died in the war. So going and looking around would have been enough for me.
But to go on to the topic being discussed, some cultural aspects that affect interactions with the citizens include obviously language barrier, but also how we dress. For me personally it isn’t a big issue but for others in the group, they couldn’t experience going up into the Jesus statue at Vung Tau because they didn’t have pants/shorts below the knee. That same rule applied at the cemetery which to me is just an odd rule that doesn’t really happen in America. I’ve also noticed that time schedules are pretty flexible around here. If a meeting goes long or someone shows up a little late, it doesn’t seem like that big a deal. Another thing I noticed is living situation and financial differences between the Vietnamese and American citizens. Some of the people are very poor making only around $2000 a year which is significantly less than the average American and some of them even live in the back of the shops they run which never happens in America. However, some are wealthier like those in Phu My Hung where they have some pretty nice housing and a nice community that is similar if not better than something you would find in America. Finally, I think the average person on the street has a very positive view of Americans. They always seem very friendly and helpful if you ever have a question. One the first day we couldn’t find an ATM and a man who could barely speak English took us to one. We also play a game of saying xin chao to random people on the street to see if they say back and many times they did. So in conclusion, Vietnamese people and citizens are really cool and friendly. 10/10 would recommend coming.
Today we went to the Mekong delta. After we got there we first went to a zoo/snake farm. There were a bunch of different animals from birds to monkeys but mainly snakes. They farm them for various purposes, even for eating. We also all got a chance to hold a python which was really cool expect when it snuck behind my head and almost licked my ear. After that we went to the actual river where we got on a boat that took us all the way across the Mekong. When we got off, they showed us all these different coconut products that they make, one of them being chewy candies which were terrible. I had to spit it out. After, we got on a smaller boat that took us down a canal which was beautiful (I’ll put a picture below) to go get lunch. They served us elephant ear fish which in my opinion did not taste that good. They did give us seafood fried rice that had squid which was really good. After lunch we got back on the boat and went to the island based around coconuts. They people who originally lived there began to worship coconuts and the “coconut man” but the government decided to ban it because they were all nudists. The worship area was really cool though because they had different statues and a shire. They actually have the only living ex-coconut religion worshiper living in the temple which was cool. After that island we went to another when they grow fruits and raise bees. They made us honey tea and let us eat honey right off of the board the bees live on. We also got to try a bunch of different fruits, one of them being a dragon fruit (Picture below) which I thought was okay. It just tasted really watery. And after all that we went back to the dock and went back to the hotel. So it was a really fun and eventful day.