Ho Chi Minh City Skyline

Ho Chi Minh City Skyline
Ho Chi Minh City Skyline

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Day 14 - Hẹn gạp lại Việt Nam

This morning we went to UEF and listened to a lecture by the Pennsylvania trade representative in Vietnam. She works specifically with Pennsylvanian businesses looking to expand their business into the area. PA is the only state that has a trade office in VN; a unique and beneficial service to the companies that choose to utilize this service. Not to mention that the service is 100% free, what more could a growing PA company ask for? Remember II-VI from an earlier company visit? They are a Pennsylvania based company and I'm sure that they used the state commerce office's insider connections to establish their location in Vietnam. The economic service can also connect PA businesses to local markets for its products or services.

After our lecture we had our final language class. Today is test day; we studied a little bit the previous night before falling asleep due to exhaustion (can you I'm exhausted from my writing?). After our long review it was finally time. I was partnered with Tim and we were to carry out a brief conversation.

Language Class! (Instructor to the far left)
I forgot one small part and as a result I got a 90% on the test. We all posed for pictures with our language instructor before heading down to the canteen (cafeteria) for lunch. The food was great as always, and in the afternoon we went to a soccer field to play games with our UEF friends. If I remember correctly, Pitt won the soccer match. It was brutally hot outside and teammates from both sides were very sweaty. We also played some other games including a sack race. I was partners with Tam and we took first place! Whooo! For our victory we were awarded a stuffed animal duck.

Hanging out in the hotel before departure
After we went to the hotel and cooled off, we boarded the bus which took us to a familiar port. Our journey to Vung Tau started from the same location except this time our boat only took us up and down the same part of the Saigon River as we ate dinner. Towards the end of the ride, we took pictures with all of our adult UEF counterparts. After we got to the hotel, our UEF friends joined us around 9:30. We had to sneak them up to our rooms in small groups because our hotel specifically warns us not to "receive guests in hotel rooms". Even though they had school the next day, they decided to stay up with us until our flight left at 3:30am. They also brought us gifts personalized for each of us. Our UEF friends left before we did for the airport so they could say one final goodbye to us. Tears were shed by many as we hugged our friends for the final time. I purposefully walked slowly into the airport. As I was walking, I turned and saw through the glass my friends to the left of the window and Trân sitting on the railing. I waved one last time before making my way to baggage check in.

One last group picture
I had an amazing experience in Vietnam and I cannot wait for the day I am able to return. I wish I didn't have to leave. Hẹn gạp lại Việt Nam. (See you soon Vietnam)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Day 13

Today was the earliest day of the trip by far. We were on the bus driving to Our destination by 7am. In the morning we were scheduled to visit Cu Chi which is the general area of the biggest underground tunnel network of the Vîet Cong. There are nearly 200km of tunnels that the Vîet Cong held out in in Cu Chi. It is a quaint rural area with sparse population in some parts complemented by small developments in others. The part of the tunnels we visited were below a dense jungle and there were several partially underground hugs. While we were watching the introduction video we were greeted by a millipede longer than my entire hand. It crawled peacefully by my feet while I realized I have never seen anything like that before.

Next we approached some tunnels and had an opportunity to crawl around inside of them if we wanted. First was the entrance to the tunnel which was simply a 15x10 inch rectangle. We had the opportunity to enter the tunnel through this entrance which I took advantage of. First you remove the cover to the tunnel. Next you place leaves on top of the entrance so that it blends into the jungle floor. Finally you extend your arms fully above your head with the cover on the palms of your hands. As you go down the cover rests in place and disappears into the jungle floor. Below the entrance is a hole about 4.5ft deep and it turns into a ramp; the ramp reminded me of the ocean floor in the manner that it gradually goes deeper and deeper. This ramp leads to level one of the tunnel system which is about 3-9 feet deep (there are 3 levels).  The tunnel network was about big enough for me to crouch and walk as a method of transport. The tunnel size varied in girth and at one point I had to army crawl through a section. After emerging from underground unscathed we walked out of the jungle and got back on the bus.

A Tunnel

Cu Chi is about 1:30 outside of Ho Chi Minh City and as I mentioned before it is a rural area. There is a stark contrast between the lifestyles of the city dwellers and the rural farmers. Firstly they are poor which means they make below the national average of $1250usd per year. Secondly they make most of their money trough farming where a lot of the city is service based. Here are some pictures of the landscape.

The country side!

Our second and final destination on the countryside tour was a Cal Dai temple. Caodaism is a religion that exists mainly in this area of Vîet Nam. Its founders took elements from each major world religion and formed their own religion. Here is a view of the temple from a balcony.

The Temple

In the evening we went to purchase the last of our souvenirs and we went to dinner. Dinner tonight was at an italian restaurant that was very good. We had Creme Brulee for dessert and then outside the hotel we said good-bye to some of our friends for the last time. When we came inside, our suits were waiting for us! We tried them on and got some pictures. I’m waiting for the pictures from a friend, once i get them I will put them online.

Lookin' fresh in the t-shirt shop before dinner!

Day 12

This morning we visited Siagon Newport shipping company which is a state owned shipping corporation. They own several ports and their market share of all goods entering the country is 50%. This makes them a very powerful company because they are able to manipulate the shipping business in any way they desire. The port visited is close to the city and it services small and medium sized cargo ships. The port is populated by many ships each holding 1000-1500 boxes of cargo. They have some advanced software that they use to run their port. It allows them to tack every single box of goods and where it is in the shipping yard at all times. The operators of this software stay in the control tower where they oversee the entire port.
The view from the control tower

The local government of Ho Chi Minh City owns an area of land that they developed into the "Quang Tang Software City". This development was very similar to VSIP that we visited earlier. Within this software city we visited a specific company "TMA solutions" that is a software outsourcing company. Clients come to TMA and tell them what type of application or program they want, then TMA produces it for them at a low cost. Employing mostly computer scientists as programmers TMA is very flexible and can accommodate many different demands from mobile applications to full fledged desktop programs. They had a few posters around the programming room that I particularly agreed with.

Model of the Software City

Inspirational posters for the programmers

Tonight for dinner we went to different kind of restaurant. You were supplied with a pot of broth and you then cooked your own dinner. Items flowed past on a converter belt and you took whatever it is that you wanted off of the belt. I took noodles, carrots, chicken, and vegetables for my pot. After the items were cooked you take them out with your own personal ladle and place them in your bowl. I got a mild bowl in terms of spiciness and it was nearly too much for me to handle. Thankfully my friend next to me let me have an extra water to cool down my mouth. Overall, today was a relaxing day.