Day 12 – How Lucky I Am

Friday, May 20, 2016

Today was bittersweet. I had an amazing time today but, at the same time, the knowledge that today was my last day in Vietnam loomed over my head. We had played several games today. It felt like the Olympics but just between the US and Vietnam. We began by watching some of the UEF girls and a few of the Pitt girls dancing to a medley of songs. It was very entertaining to watch the Pitt kids trying to dance along. After their dance, we watched several Japanese martial arts performances. The move that they kept doing but that I loved was when one of the people jumped up and grabbed the other person’s neck with their legs. Then, the attacker brought down the other person. It was so neat to see and, then, they were bringing down two people at one time. Then, we played soccer. That was fun. And, I scored a goal! To be honest, I don’t remember scoring but people have reminded me that I did. I always had a tendency to forget what happened in a game. We played tug-of-war and sac hop racing.

Then, we exchanged gifts. I wish I could’ve given all of the UEF students an island or something grand. They have done so much for us during our stay in Vietnam and I am forever grateful to them. Seriously, no amount of ‘thank yous’ could cover how much they did for us. From getting a cab to crossing the road to ordering food, they were our help. And, on top of that, many of them missed class to be with us. They went out of their way to host us and went above and beyond. If any of the UEF students are reading this, THANK YOU SO MUCH.

After games, we went back to the hotel to eat lunch, pack up, and shower. Then, we went to UEF. At UEF, we did our company presentations. Some of the UEF students joined us and we took a lot of pictures since all of the Pitt kids were in ao dais. After presentations, we headed to dinner. We had dinner on the rooftop of a hotel. It was very nice but I was hot in my ao dai, very hot. We took a decent amount of photos there as well. I cannot wait to see my glistening forehead in those pictures. We, also, got peach tea for the last time in Vietnam. Peach tea here is amazing. They put actualy peaches in their tea. Delicious.

Then, we took the bus ride to the airport. All was well until we had to get off the bus. There were tears. We all tried to stay strong but it was hard. A wise bear once said, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” I am lucky to have met so many amazing people on this trip both from Pitt and from UEF, and to have learned and have seen what I have about Vietnam is priceless. However, this is not goodbye. I will see you soon Vietnam. Hen gap lai Vietnam.

Photo Credits: UEF and Cao Tan


Day 11 – School TAUGHT Me Something

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Today, we went to VSIP and II-VI, which was located in VSIP. Of course, the last day was the engineering day. Patience has been very key on this trip. It was very exciting to see how the engineering concepts I have learned are actually applicable in the industry.

VSIP stands for Vietnam Singapore Industrial Park. VSIP has seven industrial parks in Vietnam located in North, South, and Central Vietnam. We visited the most successful park thus far. In regards to environmental regulations, VSIP requires that 30% of the place be composed of greenery. VSIP was similar to Phu My Hung but focused moreso on having manufacturing companies. However, they are in the process of constructing a residential area.

II-VI’s name was inspired by the periodic table. Initially, the company worked with elements in the periods IIB and VIA. However, now, they work with more than ten elements. I greatly enjoyed this trip, which was our last site visit. They used concepts that I had learned in physics II and chemistry II this year in school. They plated metal by applying a current through a solution, electrolysis, or just allowing a chemical reaction to occur spontaneously. In addition, their sketches of a process they used was similar to that of a circuit drawing, which we learned about in physics. We, also, had a tour of their optics unit. The first unit was Marlow, which dealth with thermoelectric modules and transferring heat (which metals are good at due to being conductors). The optics unit’s chief engineer was our tour guid. He gave us a “window” tour of what happens. The number of inspections that may be required before shipping a product are intensive. He said that for glass to be used in lasers for lasik eye surgery must have no scratches on it due to the glass actually touching the eye of a patient.

Today was heavily engineering-based, which I greatly enjoyed. I understood the concepts II-VI applied and was happy to be able to apply my knowledge from the classroom to the real world.

Day 10 – Two Becomes One

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Today, we visited the Reunification Palace (also known as: Independence Palace). This was where the president of South Vietnam had stayed and worked, similar to the White House in the United States. This was, also, where the Vietnam War ended. A tank busted through the gates of Independence Palace, leading to an unconditional surrender of South Vietnam to North Vietnam.

We took a tour through the palace and saw many different rooms. We saw the bunker where walls were at least five meters thick to protect the president and important officials from bombings. We, also, visited the kitchen, which had many out-of-date machinery.The Independence Palace had many different rooms. There was a cinema theater which seated about one hundred people. In addition, there was a game room. In the game room, one could play Mahjong. Outside of the game room, there was a piano as well as a pool table.

We saw the office of the president as well as the vice president. An interesting fact our tour guide told us was that one of the presidents was in office for only one week. Then, the president of South Vietnam had resigned. There definitely was a lot of pressure on South Vietnam’s president due to North Vietnam closing in on the South during that time. In one of the meeting rooms, the display for the meeting room showed a picture of President Nixon meeting with the vice president of South Vietnam. Also, one of the president’s rooms had an escape door that led to the bunker. That was very neat. Unfortunately, we were not permitted to go down those steps into the bunker.

We, also, visited Tan Lang – Cat Lai Terminal. This terminal, and many others in Vietnam, are owned by SNP (Saigon Newport Corporation). SNP is part of the Vietnamese navy which is controlled by the government. While there, we had a presentation. The man discussed the businesses involved with SNP. For one, they receive and ship cargo internationally as well as locally. SNP is a major area for port operation, logistic services, and domestic shipping. In fact, they were ranked number one in logistic companies in Vietnam. The Cat Lai Terminal has almost reached full capacity and, in response, SNP is designing a port upstream that will be open in 2018 to accept overflow from Cat Lai. The reputation of SNP has grown to become a common name to many Vietnamese and exemplifies the development of Vietnam.

Day 9 – The American War

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Today, we visited the War Remnants Museum. What a different perspective the Vietnamese show their citizens. Sadly, it makes me question how honest the content I learned in high school is in regards to important matters, especially war. We began on the top floor and went down from there with a tour guide. The first floor discussed the history leading up to and through the American War (or what Americans call the Vietnam War). There, we learned of how Vietnam wanted to reunify after French invasion. However, the United States invaded Vietnam, preventing the reunification of the country. Then, for over a decade (and arguably almost two decades), America fought Vietnam, disrupting the lives of all. And afterwards, the repercussions of the war were felt. Their land was in ruins and in a dangerous condition due to hidden bombs located everywhere.

The second floor was dedicated to informing people of the inhumane treatment of the Vietnamese due to Agent Orange. The depictions shown were upsetting and you could see how everyone looked at them in disbelief. I had seen the one photo before but had not known where the photo (click on hyperlink below to view photo) had came from. The photo had upset me before but, now, upsets me more because now I know why she is running. She is running from the Americans.

How confusing and frustrating to see all of the damage we had inflicted on these people, these innocent people whose only crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I can see why our American History books would not shed light on these matters but at the same time I believe to understand the history of the American War, and war history in general, it is necessary to hear both sides of the story.

Outside, we went into a part called “The Tiger Cage”. There, we saw torture techniques employed by the US military to Vietnamese patriots. There was an entire list of about fifteen torture techniques including: burning, whipping, and hitting. Many Vietnamese were disabled due to the harsh conditions they faced in the war prisons. I, also, saw that guillotines were used in prisons. In addition, some Vietnamese were put in cages, tiger cages, that were barely able to permit one to sit up in.

The museum tells one that America is at fault. We had committed a serious war crime. I had never thought to look at the Vietnam War in such a way. Now, I know about the American War.

Previously, I had believed this photo had come from the war in Cambodia.

Day 8 – A Penny Saved Is A Penny Earned – Topic #3

Monday, May 16, 2016

*Disclosure: I am not a business student and am not well-versed in economics; as a result, I apologize for any misuse of business jargon in this blog post.

Today, we met with TVS. TVS (Thien Viet Securities JSC) is mainly an investment bank. TVS also offers services such as brokerage, research, and asset management. At TVS, a woman along with a man talked to us about the company.The woman had studied in Russia and had worked in the United States for about a decade. The woman discussed how their company is involved with the Vietnamese stock market and the role the company plays in the economy.

It was clear to see the importance of maintaining a highly-organized business at TVS. Due to TVS dealing with money daily, they must remain up-to-date on changes within the economy and, also, within the government. For example, they have to be aware of how the value of a dong fluctuates. In addition, TVS must stay informed of changes the government makes in regards to the stock market as well as the economy in general. For example,the government intends to permit the people to have more control of the stocks rather than having government control. Also, TVS must remain current so as to provide their clients with the best options which will help TVS to compete in this industry, alongside other businesses such as Vina Capital. However, the business remains open-minded, providing its employees with a relaxation room in order to help calm the mind of the hard workers. In fact, we had the opportunity to have a five to ten minute session in the relaxation room.

What I found interesting was how the stock market is regulated in Vietnam. One is only permitted to buy one stock one day; then, after three business days, the person is able to sell his or her share. In addition, one cannot lose or gain more than seven percent of their share. The government is slowly permitting foreigners to have more control over stocks. Currently, some areas only have forty-nine percent of the control of the stocks, and the government has the rest. However, the government plans to allow the companies to have all of the control in the near future. In addition, the PE and PB in Vietnam are better in comparison to other east Asian countries. This means that the price of an iPhone of the same quality in Vietnam is better than in China.

Day 7 – The Other Side

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Today, we went to the Cu Chi tunnels. The Cu Chi tunnels are an elaborate maze, so to speak, of tunnels where the Vietnamese lived and were used by the Vietnamese army. It was eye-opening to see the Vietnamese view of the war. The Vietnamese were so clever during this war; it was amazing to see the strategies the Vietnamese deployed to beat the Americans. The Vietnamese hid in the tunnels in order to avoid gun fire from American aircraft since the Vietnamese would be shot on the spot if seen from the air. It was very interesting to “walk” through one of those tunnels. In fact, the tunnel was actually widened in order for tourists to fit. So, the tourist tunnel was very small and the actual tunnels were even smaller. And, what did they use to build all of these tunnels? They used their hands and a shovel. I was impressed to see the product of the determined Vietnamese. In fact, this determination is why the Vietnamese won the American War. Along with the tunnels, the Vietnamese built an assortment of traps. One was made of bamboo and was similar to a hidden door, but the hidden door opened up to many spikes. Another trap was called a fish trap. When a soldier stepped into this, they got caught on several hooks, causing them to bleed out. The Vietnamese, also, tricked the US as to where their tunnels were located. The smoke from their kitchens in the Cu Chi tunnels was sent at least 100 meters away to prevent the enemy from locating their hiding place.

Following the Cu Chi tunnels, we went to a cemetery where the remains of over 8,000 soldiers were put to rest, 3,000 of them were unknown soldiers. We payed our respects by each putting incense in front of several of them. It was an interesting activity for me because I kept thinking about how my grandfather had fought in this war but had been on the other side. Several decades ago, our relationship with Vietnam was one of fighting and war. Now, Vietnam is an ally of the United States. Still, the war has defined who Vietnam is and will remain as a reminder to the Vietnamese as well as the United States.

Day 6 – The Dam Issue – Topic #1

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Today, we went to the Mekong Delta. It is located in southern Vietnam. Throughout the years, political and technological factors have shaped the area. For example, the boats we saw in the river all had engines on them. Previously, boats were powered by hand. Boats powered by an engine are stronger and quicker, enabling fishers to have larger catches within one day due to travelling farther. Another example is the production of coconut candy. Prior to electricity-driven machines, workers had to use several hand tools in order to make the candy. Nowadays, coconut powder is made with a machine and the candy “batter” is stirred by a large mixer rather than done by hand. This has increased thep production of the coconut candy which has also increased sales of the candy.

Technology has, also, enabled the Mekong Delta to become a tourist attraction. Without amenities such as clean, running water or electricity for fans and other devices, tourists would be deterred from coming to visit the Mekong. As a result, technology has helped locals attract more people to their shops; in addition, it has facilitated the daily lives of the locals. Either with engine-powered boats or machines that make coconut powder, the use of more developed technology in the Mekong has helped to boost the economy of the nation.

Vietnam has grown to a prominent political figure globally. However, it still has troubles when it comes to settling issues. For example, the Mekong River runs through several countries such as China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Currently, China has built several dams and Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia are considering the construction of dams as well. Although the dams provide power to the specific country, the dams are reducing the nutrients in the water and preventing fish from migrating to breeding grounds. The effects cannot be seen in China but Vietnam has seen devastating effects from the dams on the Mekong Delta. The delta’s sea level is rising due to nutrients not being deposited into the soil which increases the level of the land. This has resulted in rice paddies, as well as other plants, such as fruit trees, dying due to not being able to handle the salinity of sea water.

Vietnam has tried to work with the countries that share the Mekong River to stop the construction of more dams but to no avail. China’s government will not cooperate with the Vietnamese government which has increased the tensions between China and Vietnam. As a result, other countries have followed China, disregarding the pleas of Vietnam’s government, building dams where they can. The Vietnamese government has received support from the United States and environmentalists for this crisis but it has been hard to argue the production of dams for the benefit of one country over the preservation of a delta in a country that could be 2,000 miles downstream.

Day 5 – Seeing is Believing – Topic #7

Friday, May 13, 2016

Prior to coming on this trip, we were all required to read Culture Smart: Vietnam. This book, as the title suggests, talked about the Vietnamese culture. For the majority the book was fairly accurate. The book said that the Vietnamese smile to show emotions such as anger and embarrassment. I interpreted this as the Vietnamese do not smile unless in an awkward situation. However, the Vietnamese smile just as much to show happiness as an American would. In addition, Americans also use smiling to hide our true feelings at times but it is less common. A discrepancy in the book is how the Vietnamese view age. When I asked several Vietnamese their age, they said they were nineteen. I then asked if they considered themselves to be one when they were born because Culture Smart had noted that the Vietnamese consider themselves one at birth. They looked at me a bit oddly and said no. I followed with the question “Do you celebrate your birthday?” because, according to the book, the Vietnamese celebrate Tet (the lunar new year), which encompasses their birthday and where all of the Vietnamese are a year older. They said they did celebrate their birthdays. I believe there is this difference between the book and actual culture due to the younger Vietnamese beginning to adopt parts of Western culture that are not regulated by the government and regulated moreso by tradition.

One fact that the book is accurate about is the difference between north and south Vietnamese culture. In our history and culture class today, the professor noted how the north is more conservative whereas the south is more modern and open-minded. In fact, the two regions have such different ways of thinking that north Vietnamese rarely tend to marry south Vietnamese. Furthermore, the book was accurate saying that the majority of the Vietnamese are literate. In fact, since the book was published, the number of literate Vietnamese has increased. As of now, ninety-six percent of the population is literate. The United States literacy rate is about eighty-five percent. In my opinion, education is much more valued in Vietnam due to the growing economy and how a student only has one of two options upon graduating from high school: college or army. That creates incentive for students to further their education because I have heard that army training, like in the United States, is tough.

The book was also correct about the Vietnamese being very gracious hosts. Since I have arrived, the UEF students and supervisors have been more than hospitable. They have gone out of their way to make sure that we are taken care of during our time here. For example, when we went out to eat one night, one of the UEF students, Ariel, did not eat anything because she was too busy making sure we received our food and were satisfied with the meal. Another example that is very memorable happened today. Shun (most likely not how you spell it) saw me in the hallway and stopped to talk to me. He asked how I was and if everyone was treating me well or if anyone had been mean to me. I said everyone was great and so kind. Still, he insisted that if anything was wrong to talk to him and he would fix it. I thought that was very thoughtful. I have one more week in Vietnam and I am already dreading it. My trip here has been too fun. I have seen so many interesting things, have eaten great food, and have met amazing people. And, the girls got their ao dais (a traditional Vietnamese dress) today.

The girls clad in their ao dais (I’m in the red dress)

Day 4 – I Saw Jesus – Topic #6

Thursday, May 12, 2016

In my opinion, I have not seen a lot of cultural differences between the Vietnamese and us, or at least the UEF students, which surprises me. The older generations seem to be a bit more conservative but I can see that the younger Vietnamese generation is parting from their norms. I can see them easily adopting the ways of the Americans for better and for worse (I see the American culture every day and some of it does not look promising). The younger Vietnamese have Facebook and Instagram accounts. Many of them wore bathing suits rather than covering themselves from head to toe, but I saw that Ms. Ha (one of our supervisors for the trip) did that. As of now, the only blaring difference I have seen culturally is an obsession of being white. Yesterday, I heard the phrase “I don’t want to get black” many times. They don’t want to be tan. They prize being white, as well as tall. It’s strange how no matter what we have, we want something else. I suppose that is a universal problem that can never be completely solved.

The people handle conflict similar to how we handle conflict in the US. Generally, they discuss the problem and how to go about handling it, providing suggestions. However, if you’re on Vung Tau beach playing a racing game with a bunch of young adults, there will most likely be a bit more arguing and less negotiating. The majority of the Vietnamese are punctual; I have seen a few Vietnamese be late but I believe they have had valid excuses for their timing. I am not sure if this is accurate for any foreigner but the Pitt students have been more than welcomed to Vietnam by the UEF students. They have been so warm and hospitable. On the roads encountering the citizens of Vietnam, I believe they simply look curious about us (we travel in a huge pack) and slightly annoyed with us (we may be a bit loud sometimes – a stereotype about Americans that is true). However, we have not been treated harshly here as one would think due to the US getting involved in Vietnam’s war. Prior to travelling here, the Vietnamese do not hold a grudge with the US, which is very evident in the shift of Vietnam’s culture and development. The Vietnamese still hold being respectful to elders and remaining loyal to their country but these values may be decreasing as more Vietnamese are introduced to cultures such as ours and have not lived during the American War.

Many Vietnamese college students live with their parents during their time in school. As a result, they are kept under close watch. In addition, although they are legally old enough to drink, many Vietnamese students opt not to drink for fear of being scolded by parents and for fear of ruining their future. For the majority of college students, this does not apply to them, for one reason being that American college students generally do not live at home with their parents. Some Vietnamese students also rent a house due to having a home further from their campus. Economically speaking, the Vietnamese are still a developing nation. Our middle class is “richer” than Vietnam’s middle class. When we went out to eat once, they believed that one of the items on the menu was too expensive whereas the Pitt students believed we were getting a great deal.

Prior to coming to Vietnam, I was under the notion that the Vietnamese would be tightly controlled by the government. My stereotype of communist countries most likely stems from all of those times learning about communist Germany in American history classes. Of course, coming to Vietnam, I realize this is not the case. From what I can see and hear, the Vietnamese do have some freedom to do what they want. There are limitations such as if a student does not go to college, he or she must go to the army for two years. These differences are due to the types of governments in place in both countries. The United States does have restrictions on their people as well but these restrictions, generally, do not interfere with life choices made by Americans.

The day in general:

We saw Jesus and went to Vung Tau beach today. The trip began at 6:45 AM. The bus trip was about two hours long. Then, we climbed 847 steps up to see Jesus. It was a beautiful but tiring walk. Everyone was tired and sweating profusely by the time we had reached the foot of Jesus. Some were able to go up to rest on Jesus’ arms to look out over the whole city and see the ocean but you had to have pants that covered your knees so many, especially girls, did not go up. After the climb, we took a quick tour of the city that led to the hotel we stayed at for the day, Imperial Hotel five stars. I believe the five stars were well-deserved. The place was beautiful. They had an awesome pool which I could stand in for the majority of the time unlike in American pools and they had their own part of the beach. It was a great day of relaxation that ended with some beach games [that ended up being very intense. AJ, I’m sorry tagging you resulted in me pushing you into the sand]. While there, we were full of energy and excited to go out to eat that night. Upon arriving back to the hotel, that was not the case. We were exhausted. The heat, and perhaps beauty, of the beach had taken its toll on us.

Day 3 – Glass Egg – Topic #2

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Today, we visited Glass Egg Digital Media Company. When asked why the name Glass Egg, one of the founders replied, “It was unique. People will remember Glass Egg because it’s different. They won’t remember ‘3D outsourcing firm’.” Thus, Glass Egg was “born”. The company began in 1999, stemming from Morgan Interactive, which made educational games such as Jumpstart. Glass Egg Digital Media is an outsourcing business for the gaming industry, designing much of what we see for games such as Forza and Need for Speed. The gaming industry has categories such as console games (Play Station, Xbox, etc.) and mobile games (apps on phones). Glass Egg Digital Media is more focused on designing cars for racing games – fifty percent of the work they do is cars – but are capable of designing race tracks, characters, and other animations.

Currently, a challenge yet benefit for Glass Egg is how their clients have different time zones than Vietnam. At times, it can be hard for representatives to communicate with each other due to differing time zones and miscommunication but Glass Egg likes to view the differing times as an opportunity. For example, the Vietnamese can have a meeting with their US clients during the Vietnamese morning and American evening. Then while the clients sleep, the Glass Egg designers work to create the product that the clients requested. Then, when the Americans wake up the next day and the Vietnamese are going to sleep for the day, the clients will be able to see the progress of the project and see that their requests were met. Another challenge Glass Egg faces is that many potential clients see Glass Egg as only being capable of creating cars. As a result, they have less business in non-racing games. Thus, if one of their main clients changes to a different outsourcing firm, Glass Egg loses much of their business. In addition, since many view Glass Egg as only being capable of designing cars, it may take time for Glass Egg to take on projects from other companies that may not deal with racing or games in general. One more challenge Glass Egg, like many outsourcing firms, faces is cultural interpretation. As Glass Egg works on more subjective animations, there becomes a difference in how western culture and eastern culture view the same object. For example, a Vietnamese artist could design a dark knight but a potential customer in the United States may not perceive the dark knight to be a dark knight. As a result, Glass Egg asks clients to provide more information on what the characters should look like.

As of now, Glass Egg is considering the opportunity to expand their company internationally to have an office in North America. It is under heavy consideration and there is a great likelihood that Glass Egg will have an office in Canada in the next several years. Due to having a loyal, trustworthy work force, Glass Egg will be able to capitalize on opportunities provided to them such as expanding to North America and building a stronger reputation of Glass Egg as an outsourcing firm for any type of animation, not just racing cars.

Just a view of the city from UEF