Well today was our last day in Vietnam and I can fully say I am ready to go back to the states. As wonderful of an experience as it was it is definitely enough time. My experience at Victory Hotel was a decent one the first few days, but then you realize it is a mediocre continental breakfast and the room is never cold enough. The Vung Tau beach was a great day until realized I was as red as a cooked lobster. The Mekong Delta trip was my favorite by far. The boat rides were great along with the exotic lunch and the introduction of the coconut religion. The last coconut monk was very interesting. She was quoted saying “I want to die, but I can’t”. All the coconuts she eats just made her too healthy I guess. The next trip, the Cu Chi Tunnels, was the hottest I have ever been. Apparently it was a whopping 113 degrees at the time we were there and with a 100% humidity. The company visits I thoroughly enjoyed, except for II-VI. That was definitely geared towards the engineering folk because I had no idea what was going on with that process. The independence palace visit was a little underwhelming. I expected it to be more elegant than it was. I really enjoyed the consulate visit.Those employees sounded like they enjoyed talking to us and it was a pleasure listening to them. Overall, this trip was amazing and even if I never come back to Vietnam, I will not forget the experiences, the fun, and the friends I have made here.
Today we had two company visits, which made for a long day. The first one was at Vietnam Singapore Industrial Park (VSIP) and the second, which happened to be located in VSIP, was II-VI. The VSIP presentation and offices were very impressive. They had a scale model of that entire industrial park. They have many other locations and have basically the entire market share in Vietnam. They can produce these parks thanks to foreign investors as well as domestic and foreign tenants. For the most part the lease the land to the company and then the company can build whatever they want on it, but in II-VI’s case they continue to lease building already built for future growth needs. The park has an extremely green environmental footprint. They have many water treatment plants. This allows the buildings in the industrial park to recycle water. The skills needed to work for VSIP is most likely a finance background. You need to have a good idea of how the economy works because of the property you need to buy. I did not understand much of II-VI but, I am sure it was a good experience for the engineering majors. Lunch today was one of the best we have had. It was a kind of cook it yourself type of deals and I enjoy that. Also it was air conditioned which is a plus. As the trip comes to a close I have come to enjoy Vietnam way more than I thought I would. I may never come back, but I will always have this experience to remember.
We visited the Reunification Palace today, which is the palace of the former Presidents and Vice Presidents of South Vietnam before the country “reunified”. The first name given the the palace was Independence Palace because it was built after they had gained their independence. The palace as a whole was a little underwhelming to be honest. I imagined it to be as elegant and fancy as the Buckingham Palace. I probably had my hopes up a little too much. Obviously the President and Vice President, along with their families, were living in lavish compared to the rest of the Vietnamese population, but still. After lunch, we visited the company SNP, which deals with logistics, warehousing, and shipping by boat. This company goes right in line with the political trends of Vietnam because it is owned by the Vietnamese Navy. I do not think this effects their business in a bad way though because they have reached almost full capacity at the terminal we were at and are opening a new one in two months. The party is allowing the market to become more and more of a capitalist economy so the changing trend of the communist party is benefiting the economic trends of the country without a doubt. This port is the 29th largest in the world with most exports going to China and the second most coming to the U.S. Interesting fact, my Dad owns a national furniture wholesaling business and during the summer I work for him. I have actually ordered product that goes through the port we were at today. This actually helped me a lot so I can get a little bit of a better idea of what the containers have to go through to exit and enter the country.
Today felt like the longest day by far. We finished up our Vietnamese culture and history class. It was a lot of information to process in a little amount of time. I would have liked it better if the class was a little more spread out. After we had a buddhist come in and give us a little history and rules to buddhism. I found it extremely interesting, but the speaker’s english was very poor and he spoke quietly. I still enjoyed the lecture though. Then we visited a famous buddhist statue with a wall behind it. I think the wall told the story of the struggles of the Vietnamese people through buddhists’ eyes. After we went to pagoda, which is a buddhists’ place of worship. Everything was made to seem very calm I thought. The pagoda was preparing for Buddha’s birthday (I did not know that was a thing), so we got to see a little bit of a very important tradition for the buddhist people. We also visited the Vietnam War museum. This was a pretty eye opening experience I believe. We see a little bit about the Vietnamese side of the war, but for the most part we only see the damage the Vietnamese caused Americans. This was a great opportunity to get a clear perspective on the war. Both countries endured hardships from that war, but the effects of it continue to be present in Vietnam now way more than America. Although, it was a much more important war for Vietnam than the U.S. It was for their independence yet again and that is a big reason why i believe the war is more prevalent than in America.
Today started out with the unforgettable experience of bargaining with some locals at the biggest market in Ho Chi Minh City. If I learned one thing from that its that you have to play hardball with the merchants. They are ruthless in ripping you off. After we went to a restaurant called Tokyo Deli. I believe that was our best lunch yet, but I love sushi so that could be a little biased. The food, once again, did not stop coming. Easily one of my favorite parts of Vietnamese culture. Then after a long break we went to a company visit at TVS. This company is in the investment banking, brokerage, and asset management industries. The only service the firm is really selling is their knowledge about the economy and stock market. This firm does not have many competitors because it is a relatively new market in Vietnam because of less and less government regulation in the stock market. That actually is one of the biggest challenges TVS faces. In order for the firm to grow the government needs to sell their stakes in some of the most profitable Vietnamese companies. That will provide a little more depth in the market because of now the top 50-75 companies have the majority of revenue. This is also a unique opportunity for the firm. This lets them know that they have an enormous amount they can grow. The immaturity of the Vietnamese stock market has its challenges but also provides opportunities that firms in the same industry from the U.S. do not have.
After visiting the Cu Chi tunnels I have a whole new respect for both sides of the Vietnamese war. The tunnels might have been the most dangerous place in the war for both sides. First off, it is the jungle so its 95 and humid all the time. Then the boobie-traps the Vietnamese created made danger lurk around every corner. I only went through one tunnel and it happened to be the shortest out of the ones everyone went through, but that is all it took for me to appreciate what both the Vietnamese and Americans went through. Lunch was great again. We ate lunch right on the river for the second day in a row. It is unreal how cool it is. The students from last years trip did not lie. They keep bringing more and more food. More than anyone can eat. Like today we had two huge tupperware containers full of rice. An insane amount of rice we have did not even make a dent in it. I have yet to eat any white meat from chicken. I find that odd considering it is a huge thing to eat white meat and white meat only in America. The trip overall was great today, but one thing that rubbed me the wrong way was the service we had at the Vietnamese soldier graveyard. I am all for showing respect to the dead, but those people buried there killed thousands of Americans. Other than that it was a beautiful place with the tombstones and huge statue and monument in the middle of the graveyard. It was extremely well kept.
Today we visited the Mekong Delta. This area has the largest output of agricultural in Vietnam and maybe the world. We learned there are three islands: Coconut, Phoenix, and Unicorn. The only way to get from island to island you have to take a boat. For lunch we had to get out of the one boat and get in smaller boats just to reach the restaurant. Just about the most secluded you can get. We probably had the most interesting meal yet. We had a full fish on our table when we arrived. Scales and all. Then the waiters tore into it and made fresh spring rolls right in front of us. Besides from being the hottest day since we have been here it was a great time. We saw the process of making coconut candy, tried some honey fresh from a beehive, and tried some local fruits. The Mekong river ride to the restaurant honestly reminded me of a Disney World ride. Everything looked so beautiful that it looked fake at the same time. It was surreal. Then, we even got coconut water still in the coconut. I wish we could have spent a little more time in the area a different day. I feel like there is still so much we have yet to see. All the locals once again were welcoming. They might even be a little more welcoming because they do not see foreigners as often as the people of Ho Chi Minh City. It was a great trip for sure.
Today we started out by listening to a lecture on the history and culture of the Vietnamese. Out of the three lectures we have had this one was by far the most interesting. Maybe it was because the guy could speak the better english than the other two, but I think he just had a more outgoing and personable personality. He also gave some facts that college students would find more interesting like the hierarchy of Vietnam. I thought the lunch we had was okay. Not the best one we have had. The chicken was a little too fatty for my taste. My favorite part of the day was visiting the American Consulate. Which is like an embassy but just not in the capital of the country. We talked to a few officer and their supervisor. It was pretty cool because the one graduated from Pitt in 2011 and the other went to high school in Pittsburgh. Anyway, they talked to us about the process to get tourist and student Visas. The types of questions they ask as well as the alerts to show that they should not receive a Visa. Also, since the President of the United States is coming to Vietnam they gave us a little insight to what is necessary to prepare for his visit. The process to become a foreign affair officer is pretty rigorous. They have to go to an all day interview as well as make a group presentation and a one page memo from a 60 page problem in 90 minutes. That job is not for me, but seems like one of the most interesting professions one can have.
Today was the most exciting day yet. We took a two hour trip to Vang Tau where we spent the entire day at a five star resort. We had a three course meal, a humongous and refreshing pool, and a perfect view of one of the most popular beaches in Vietnam. We had a three course meal that might have been the best meal we have had so far. There have not been any cultural differences that has effected our interactions with the students drastically enough to really stand out. Like, the biggest difference at the beach were the girls wore less revealing swimsuits. That’s it. They seem like they take really good care of us compared to just Vietnamese. They are always on time with us. It is us who causes us to be late. I think it has something to do with their value system of respect. If respect someone enough you are not going to cause them much strife. Obviously the weather is a huge difference. The Vietnamese actually said it is even too hot for them. The economy is very different. Here you can negotiate price almost every where you buy a good. I think that is the biggest difference (also the coolest). The communist government has not really effected this trip yet, but I think that may change when we visit the consulate tomorrow. I have gotten the vibe that as long as you do not slander the government, you can do just about anything you want here.
Waking up today after 12 hours of sleep was a great way to start the day. We traveled to UEF for another presentation. This one on the urban development of the Mekong Delta. I found it more interesting that the previous day’s presentation because it was geared more towards business. We had our third of six Vietnamese language classes as well. I am unsure I will retain any of the words, but it is still an experience going through the process. After, we visited a company called Glass Egg Digital Media that focuses primarily on outsourced video game development. I enjoyed this visit a little more than yesterday’s because we were able to talk to people at the head of the company. I believe this gave the group more insight into what the company was doing along with the future of the company. After being here for three days I can see a few things about Vietnamese culture that stands out. In the Vietnam- Culture Smart book they mentioned the timidness of Vietnamese people and I believe it almost the exact opposite. Every student has come up to us and starting a conversation. Also, I have shaken plenty of women’s hands when introducing myself and they made it seem like it is a regular occurrence. One thing that does line up with the book is the friendliness of all Vietnamese people. Everyone is welcoming with open arms. The values and the attitudes section of the Culture Smart book had the biggest and best impact on me personally. It gave me a real appreciation for the people in general and me take a step back and look at my own values and attitude.