Today was our last day and I don’t want to leave Vietnam yet! Today we played a bunch of games with the UEF student. We watched some dance and martial arts routines. We also played soccer and tug of war and had a sack race. I had a lot of fun playing and competing with the UEF students. I used to play soccer high school and I am very competitive so I was very happy when I heard that we were playing soccer.
After all of the games, we exchanged gifts with the UEF students and started to say our goodbyes. I got the UEF students Pitt t-shirts and the UEF students got me really nice bracelets. We took a bunch a pictures with the UEF students. I think this was probably the only time any of us were excited and eager to take group photos.
I loved this trip and I loved hanging out with the UEF students. The UEF students are all so kind, generous, and easy to talk to. I’m going to miss talking with them, asking them silly questions, and hanging out with them. My favorite parts of the trip were visiting the Mekong Delta, the beach day at Vung Tau, bargaining in the Ben Thanh market, and the company visits to Glass Egg, VSIP, and II-VI.
One of the interesting cultural experience I had was people mistaking me for Vietnamese local. Addie and I found that we were able to blend in and stand out at the same time. We were constantly being asked by the UEF students what our origin is and if we were born in the U.S. or somewhere else in Asia. Also there were a lot of moments in the restaurants and streets where someone would try to speak to me in Vietnamese and all I could do was give them a blank, apologetic smile. Even in the airports on the trip home, I’ve had a few people come up to me trying to ask questions. At this point in the trip, I’ve gotten used to these encounters and I find them really comical. It’s sort of become a game between Addie and I to see how many people will come up to us speaking in Vietnamese or some other Asian language.
I want to thank Brian Hogan and Moriah Mock for selecting me to go on this trip and giving me an amazing opportunity to experience a new culture and make new friends. I also want to thank all of the students of UEF for being extremely kind, welcoming, energetic, and generous. The students that we met from UEF are all wonderful and I hope to stay in touch with them and see where they end up in the future. Lastly, I want to give a huge thank you to my parents for encouraging me to travel and for supporting me and my education.
Throughout the course of this trip, we visited six companies. The six companies were: Phu My Hung Corporation (PMH), Glass Egg Digital Media, Thien Viet Securities (TVS), Saigon Newport (SNP), Vietnam Singapore Industrial Park (VSIP), and II-VI. Most of these companies had the same “organizational culture” – that is, the company is very formal and highly organized. For companies such as PMH, TVS, SNP, VSIP, and II-VI, a highly organized company is necessary in order have efficiently produce and sell their products.
Glass Egg is still very organized but has a less formal office atmosphere. Glass Egg has an open office floor plan and the workers are grouped by game company and project. This open floor plan allows the teams to easily coordinate and work together on projects. Additionally, the meeting rooms have glass walls to go along with the open and transparent atmosphere. And the doors to the offices of the higher level officials are always open, creating an open and friendly environment.
II-VI is highly organized both at the production level and the corporate level. It is necessary for II-VI to have an organized and efficient production line because they are creating thousands of glass and thermo-electric components each day. On top of being highly efficient, II-VI must be accurate and precise when creating their products to reduce the amount of imperfections on the product.
II-VI was my favorite company visit because we got to tour the facilities and watch how the product is made. I was surprised by the number of females in the II-VI Marlow division. According to our tour guide, 98% of the employees are female because females are more precise and pay more attention to small details. I was able to understand some of the science behind the chemical and physical processes and properties; I felt so nerdy and cool because the concepts that we learned in the classroom were being applied in the production of II-VI products.
Today we visited the companies Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Park (VSIP) and II-VI. The company was founded in 1996 and is run by Becamex in Vietnam and Sembcorp in Singapore. The governments of Vietnam and Singapore work together to develop townships and industrial parks. The VSIP business model focuses on customer service, management board, park management, amenities, full infrastructure, on site customer service, and technical training VSVC. The management board members are senior officials from key Vietnam Ministries; this makes VSIP an attractive place to open a company location because VSIP is empowered by the government to give out licenses and has its owns customs which makes it easier for companies to produce and ship their products.
VSIP currently has seven locations in Vietnam. The place we visited today, VSIP I, is the largest and most successful industrial park. Within the industrial parks, there are plots of land ready for development and already built factories that can be leased to companies. In addition to creating industrial parks, commercial and residential projects, VSIP is also devoted to charity activities. VSIP offers scholarships and helps with school projects. VSIP also builds homes for poor people and has free medical facilities.
After the VSIP presentation, there was a presentation by David Baker, the chief engineer of II-VI Photop. II-VI has seven buildings located in VSIP I for the II-VI Marlow and II-VI Photop divisions. II-VI is the global leader in engineered materials and opto-electronic components. The company was founded in 1971 in Saxonburg, PA. Currently the company has 8,500 employees and has branch companies located in fourteen different locations. The company is vertically integrated which gives them an advantage over their competitors because they control their material supply to keep production costs low.
II-VI expanded to Vietnam in 2005 for high production and the low labor cost. Additionally, Vietnam offers tax incentives, has a solid education system, and has a stable currency because the Vietnamese dong is pegged to U.S dollar. II-VI has developed a strategy where they expand to countries with low labor costs to block competitors from low end product market. II-VI’s goal is to move faster than their competitors to utilize the worldwide workforce.
The II-VI branch in Vietnam gets its raw materials from another II-VI branch company in Dallas, Texas and from a Telluride mine they own in the Philippines. Additionally, II-VI Photop gets some of its materials from China. When making their products, II-VI makes sure to check every single component and product that they make. As such, II-VI only has a 2% product failure rate; the products that fail inspection are either thrown away or are recycled.
Today we visited the Reunification Palace and toured the Tan Cang – Cat Lai Terminal. The architecture and design of the Reunification Palace is not what I imagine a palace to look like. When I think of the word palace, I imagine Buckingham Palace or something that looks more castle like. The Reunification Palace looks more like a government building and the interesting window features makes it unique from other palaces and buildings around the world.
The palace had a very open and spacious floor plan. The palace had a modern cubical design and the interior design was both a mix of modern shapes and more traditional patterns. I was expecting the palace to have an older “feel” to it and for it too have more ornate and ostentatious patterns. Because the palace didn’t match my perception of what a palace should look and “feel” like, I was kind of disappointed with the visit.
The most interesting part of visiting the palace was touring the basement and bunker. I didn’t realize how large the building was and it felt like we were in a maze when we were in the bunker.
After visiting the palace, we went to tour the Tan Cang – Cat Lai Terminal which is owned by Saigon Newport (SNP). SNP works under the Navy which is controlled by the government. Tan Cang – Cat Lai Terminal is the largest terminal in Vietnam and can accommodate seven vessels at one time. Some of the products contained in the shipping containers are: textiles, rice, seafood, fruits, electronics, and clothes. The terminal is strategically located near the main and secondary water routes used to transport products. From the terminal, the ships have easy access to the East Sea which is the second busiest maritime area with access to China and Japan.
Today we visited the Xa Li Pagoda and the War Remnants Museum. Prior to visiting the pagoda, we had a class on the theory of Buddhism. We learned about the history of the first Buddha and we discussed the values and practices of Buddhists. The Xa Li Pagoda had one room with a giant Buddha statue in the center decorated with flowers and fruit. There were no seats, just a large empty floor for the people to sit, reflect, and worship.
My family and I are not religious but we do occasionally follow the teachings and beliefs of Buddhism. For example, for my aunt’s wedding, there was a traditional Cambodian wedding ceremony and the wedding party all wore red, gold, and white to respectively symbolize life, stability, and longevity. Another Buddhist belief my parents and grandparents follow is the idea of reincarnation. My grandparents strongly believe that the actions in this life will affect the next life.
After visiting the pagoda, we went to the War Remnants Museum. I thought it was interesting to see the Vietnamese perspective of the war. The Vietnamese people call the war between America and Vietnam the War of American Aggression. The torture and damage that the Americans inflicted upon the Vietnamese people and land is horrifying. Thousands of innocent people were caught in the crossfire of war – they were beaten, starved, tortured, and killed. My throat closed and my heart felt heavy when we looked at the pictures of the victims of Agent Orange and other chemical weapons. The mutations and disabilities that were caused by the chemicals looked absolutely horrifying.
I think it’s a little surprising how countries such as Vietnam and Japan are able forgive the United States for the crimes and damage inflicted on the country. The affects of Agent Orange in Vietnam and the nuclear bombs in Japan are still being experienced today through birth defects and environmental damage. And in Vietnam, there are still active bombs that buried in the countryside that continue to kill people when they are detonated. I think that the U.S. should’ve helped the Vietnamese to clear and clean up the remaining debris and active bombs from the war.
Today we went shopping in the Bến Thành Market and got a chance to use the Vietnamese we learned in class to bargain with the shopkeepers. Walking into the market was both overwhelming and incredible. There were so many shops and products sprawled out that it was hard for me to focus on one thing. My senses were overloaded with sights, sounds, and smells.
I walked around with Thomas, a student from UEF, and he helped me bargain with the shopkeepers. I was able to ask the shopkeeper the price for each product and understand the shopkeeper when they were telling me the price but I wasn’t very good at bargaining. Thomas helped me buy souvenirs for a really great price. The shopkeepers were really aggressive and would grab my arm, dragging me to their stand. I tried to be polite and decline the offers but they were very persistent. Thomas told me that it’s okay to be rude to the shopkeepers and that it’s better to just walk away from the stand. Today I bought a scarf, four wallets, a t-shirt, three ink paintings, and a pencil case.
When I was shopping with Thomas, a lot of the shopkeepers spoke to me in Vietnamese and were very surprised when they found out that I didn’t speak Vietnamese. The shopkeepers all said that I looked Vietnamese. After finding out this fact, the shopkeepers would then say to me: “Oh, I give you good price because you look like nice Vietnamese girl. Where are you from?” And then they would lower the price by about 50,000 dong but even after this price drop, Thomas was able to help me reduce the price even further. Being Asian and shopping with Thomas definitely helped me to get great deals on the souvenirs.
I find it amusing when the local people try to talk to my in Vietnamese. There have been a few times where I was able to understand the general context of what they were saying and was able to get away with a few head nods and hand gestures; however, the majority of the time, the Vietnamese person spoke way too fast for me to understand and my only response is a blank and confused look.
Today we visited the Củ Chi tunnels and the Củ Chi Cemetery. During the Vietnam War, the villagers and soldiers of Cu Chi built tunnels and rooms underground to protect themselves against the American bombs and gun fire. The tunnels have three levels and have traps within them to protect the people of Cu Chi from any foreign visitors who are trying to gain access to the tunnels. The traps were not elaborate and usually ended up with the intruder impaled in some shape or form. The Cu Chi people were resourceful and used the debris left from the American supplies and machinery to create their weapons and traps.
The tunnels and rooms underground were smaller than what I expected. I’m not usually claustrophobic but I did feel a little anxious and uncomfortable when I had to walk through one of the longer tunnels to get to the meeting rooms underground.
After visiting the Củ Chi tunnels, we went to the Củ Chi Cemetery to pay tribute to the fallen soldiers of the Vietnam War. About three million Vietnamese people died during the war. The cemetery we went to had about eight thousand graves and about three thousand graves contained the remains of unidentified soldiers. The visit to the cemetery was a very somber and sobering experience. The cemetery was very beautiful and well designed but it was really sad to see so many graves.
When we walked among the graves to place the incense on the graves, I thought about my grandpa’s recent death and the Cambodian song we song at the ceremony. The song kept playing in my head as I visited each grave and walked among the graves, I prayed to my grandfather, my ancestors and the Vietnamese soldiers in the cemetery. I extremely grateful for everything my parents and grandparents have done to escape Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge. Its crazy to think about how my parents could’ve ended up in a similar cemetery in Cambodia or even worse, the mass graves, if they never made it out.