The Leadership at the college

Mario Deschamps's blog - December 6th, 2015 2:43 AM

My first day and introductory meeting with Leadership at Kien Giang Technology and Economics College (KGTEC) in Rach Gia. I was also invited to attend an English class with Teacher Tho and Long term Volunteer John.

first weekend

Mario Deschamps's blog - December 6th, 2015 2:42 AM

My fist weekend led to a little touring o the town and a visit to Mr. Dang family in a nearby town. Oh, an I can't forget an evening out with our fellow teammate. Take note, Mr. Dang and his son are supporting UofG. An everlasting partnership through WUSC.

Class time with English students

Mario Deschamps's blog - December 6th, 2015 2:41 AM

Just to add a little classroom time aside from my assigned mandate.

First arrival

Mario Deschamps's blog - December 6th, 2015 2:39 AM

Can't go without saying that I had a great visit with Kim Chi in Ho Chi Minh at the start of my mandate. She arrange a city tour with local students where they got to practice their English. Two great students. They even gave me an opportunity to take a few photos. Also thanks to Trevor (another volunteer) for the great afternoon.


Mario Deschamps's blog - December 6th, 2015 2:32 AM

What a great week at Kien Giang College in Rach Cia. I've been treated so well and have been working with the group in setting up their syllabus in preparation to expanded their Tourism program. After work this evening, I had th privilege of celebrating Mr. Dung's (driver and head of site security) birthday with his family. They have invited me into their home and lives. Awesome family.

First Day on site.

Mario Deschamps's blog - November 29th, 2015 9:49 AM

My first day and introductory meeting with Leadership at Kien Giang Technology and Economics College (KGTEC) in Rach Gia. I was also invited to attend an English class with Teacher Tho and Long term Volunteer John.

Off to a great start

Mario Deschamps's blog - November 29th, 2015 9:39 AM

After a flight from Toronto to Hong and then to Ho Chi Minh city, I finally with some sleep. The plane ride wa great and I was able to get a half decent sleep believe it or not. After getting through customs and security, I exited the airport to find my taxi driver. He turned around and made me wait as we were also picking two other volunteers from Canada. Trevor and Kelly soon arrived and we were off to the airport. We had time to relax for a bit before meeting up with Kim Chi for the start of my mandate. We had dinner and then we planned for our initial mandate training. She arrange a city tour with local students where they got to practice their English. Two great students. They even gave me an opportunity to take a few photos. Also thanks to Trevor (another volunteer) for the great afternoon.

2015 Vietnam Departure

Mario Deschamps's blog - November 21st, 2015 6:08 PM

Well everyone, I'm off to Vietnam once again. I made my flight with Cathay Pacific from Toronto to Hong Kong. It is now 5:30am and what a flight it was. 15h40m. I still have a 3 hour wait before boarding my next leg to Ho Chi Minh city. Once I get there, I will have a few hours to unwind before meeting with other local volunteers and my coordinator. Keep checking for by the minute postings.

hoi An Final Day

Mario Deschamps's blog - August 25th, 2013 8:00 PM

On my last day, my host decided to take me to their family restaurant. My final meal consisted of rice with a bed of shrimp in a sweet glazing.

Hoi An final mealHoi An final meal

What a meal. I wanted to pay my compliments so they took me to the kitchen where I saw her continue to work hard at preparing such fabulous meals.

Hoi An Chef momHoi An Chef mom

When I was done, I returned to get my belongings and jumped into a taxi back to the Danang Airport. My host saw me off.



Mario Deschamps's blog - August 25th, 2013 8:00 PM

On the 20th, it was time to go up to Sapa to assist at the Baguette and Chocolate restaurant, bakery, and mini hotel which is operated by How Sua school. Everything was planned by WUSC and M. Ha. I took a taxi to the train station. I had already received my voucher and was waiting for the train at gate 4. I had already asked to make sure I didn't need anything else. As they started to board, the ticket agent said something in Vietnamese and then said "No" and pointed in a different direction. I had to quickly go get a different ticket to board the overnight coach. I met my suite mates which included a lovely couple from Hungary and Claire from England. We each shared some of our stories from our trip and eventually turned in for the night. With the shaking of the train and the noise, I didn't end up sleeping at all. When we arrived the next morning in Lao Cai, we parted ways and said we'd try to connect as some of us were going to be on a similar schedule for the train ride back.

I boarded a bus full of tourist and started up a winding road up the mountain towards Sapa. The views I experienced were amazing. One can never imagine this if I had even attempted to describe it. These are just some of the views I experienced.

Sapa - Up the mountain roadSapa - Up the mountain road

Heading towards SapaHeading towards Sapa

Upon arriving, I was met by students and staff members at the school. They invited me to relax for the day as they had planned a little touring around the Village on my first day. After settling in, the manager Thus and I went on a journey through the market. He showed me a few shops along the way and then headed for Dragon Mountain in the central part of the village.

Dragon MountainDragon Mountain

While up on the mountain, I noticed a few gardens, limestone rocks, and spectacular views. Oh yeah, also bumped into a couple new friends. Well, just a couple of people walking around that I decided to ask to have my photo taken with. As it is custom to ask how old you are, if you are married,etc. I decided to do the same. One was 23 and the other was 26, believe it or not. They don't look their ages. There were a few other people but not too many to be overwhelmed with crowds. The weather was slightly overcast but looked like it was opening up.  A little cooler then Hanoi. And far from being so humid.

Sapa - Dragon Mountain with new friendsSapa - Dragon Mountain with new friends

Sapa - Dragon Mountain gardenSapa - Dragon Mountain garden

Sapa - Dragon Mountain pathSapa - Dragon Mountain path

Sapa - Dragon Mountain rocksSapa - Dragon Mountain rocks

Sapa - Dragon MountainSapa - Dragon Mountain

After lunch, I was off on a trek to the village of Cat Cat with the Bakery teacher. We started off walking through the village of Sapa and strolled through the market area where I saw a lot of foods that we are not used to. But overall, it was crowded and unlike what we are used to. We eventually made our way through its winding roads and started downhill. We walked along the side of the mountain while being followed very close behind by two Mong women trying to sell us small embroidered pieces that they had made and it took them several weeks to make. We entered through the gate that led us towards the village. We were walking along the side of the mountain which was quite steep.

Sapa village of Cat Cat - viewSapa village of Cat Cat - view

I asked if we could actually see the village and they said "look down there". I looked over the edge and still saw nothing. It was a long way down. It must have been a couple thousand feet down and a long winding road down. As I looked into the valley, I could not believe my eyes. I was thinking just how lucky I was to be experiencing Leave for Change and able to share my experience with people so far away. Helping complete strangers that I now consider close friends as they have accepted me into their lives. All at the same time, they are sharing their life and experiences with me. As I looked into the distance and saw such a beautiful site, I can only imagine how to explain my journey to all of you. The only way is to just keep describing this experience, the people, and show you pictures. Unless one day you get the chance to also experience this yourselves.

My journey downhill continued to the gate of the community. A guard pointed towards the side of the road which lead us onto a walkway. A much shorter route but yet straight down many steps. As we trekked through, I visited several little shops and Mong homes which they allowed me inside to visit. Other buildings incorporated basket weaving, a forgery where small children played with knives and hammers, and another included weaving flux into silk. All this within the beautiful site of rice layered fields along the way down to the valley.

Sapa village of Cat CatSapa village of Cat Cat

Sapa village of Cat Cat - stone pathSapa village of Cat Cat - stone path

Sapa village of Cat Cat - children playingSapa village of Cat Cat - children playing

Sapa village of Cat Cat - weavingSapa village of Cat Cat - weaving

Sapa village of Cat Cat - walking the pathSapa village of Cat Cat - walking the path

Once at the bottom, my guide informed me that there was a surprise that awaited me. I think she said this because I was admiring her village so much. She was right, the surprise was a beautiful waterfall in amongst the trees in the depth of the valley. I can't say anymore than what my pictures show. Just put yourselves in my shoes, if you can, and imagine what was going through my head.

Sapa village of Cat Cat - waterfallSapa village of Cat Cat - waterfall

At the end of our trek down, I was told that we can either take a bus, motor bike, or trek back up. My guide said she always walks back up. So I agreed. Oh my....Straight up, no water, a sweat filled shirt, and I still had to climb this mountain. Although it was some 2000 feet, I made the journey up one step at a time. It was easier than I thought.

The next day, my presentation was given and they loved it. They love to learn and get involved. I also added a couple of classes for new menu ideas which is what the school is all about. I showed then how to make french toast, a chicken and vegetable wrap, and a french sugar tart that they know call Mario's french tart. In the afternoon, I jumped on the back of a motor bike with the general manager and he took me to the next couple of villages called Lao Chai and Ta Van. Let me just say that this trip was just as exciting. A 13 kilometer trek for most people with overnight home stays that we did in a few hours on a motor bike. Next time I go, I'll be on foot for sure. Just look at the photos.

Sapa Ta Van VillageSapa Ta Van Village

Sapa Ta Van VillageSapa Ta Van Village

Sapa Ta Van VillageSapa Ta Van Village

Sapa Ta Van VillageSapa Ta Van Village

Before turning in, a few staff, teachers, and students were heading for a walk through the village and asked if I would join them. Of course I said yes. And I decided to treat them to a beer which we ended up in a karaoke bar. We sang Vietnamese songs, had some laughs, and finished off the night with Pha which is a traditional chicken noodle soup.

The next day I trekked about on my own and later awaited my bus back to the train for the overnight ride. The students, teachers, and staff all stood at the front of the building on the porch and saw me off. We took a group photo before I left.


I got on the bus way in the back seat and then the driver loaded the luggage. Directly in front of me where I was jammed in tight. LOL. And then as we drove back down the mountain, the person next to me said she didn't feel good. Oh no.....She eventually took some medication and a few minutes later she was drowsy and fell asleep. Phew.

Sapa TrainSapa Train

I boarded the train and eventually fell asleep only to wake up at 4:30 am and already arrived in Hanoi. I took a cab to the hotel only to learn that they had no rooms available till after checkout sometime around noon. They let me sleep a couple of hours on the couch in the restaurant. Then I left my luggage and went for a stroll through the streets.


Since Halong Bay

Mario Deschamps's blog - August 24th, 2013 8:00 PM

Well hello everyone. Sorry for the delay in getting my blog up. I've been really busy and now as I go to turn my laptop on, it's telling me that Windows won't start as it's missing a file. Great. Just a little sarcasm on my part. At least I still have my phone. Lol! It might take a little longer to type but well worth it to show everyone my adventure.

I got back from Halong Bay after a three hour bus ride. What a trip that was. I ended up getting on the bus last and got the wheel well which my knees were up by my face and then I had my backpack on top. I was glad to stretch a little when we finally stopped an hour and a half into the ride. We stopped at a souvenir shop which I found way too expensive. Tourist trap of course. I noticed a little cocktail drink that is pretty popular here. I don't know the name but let me explain a little. A little snake and a little scorpion. Have a look.

a little tastea little taste


Since Halong Bay continued

Mario Deschamps's blog - August 24th, 2013 8:00 PM

Well, my weekend ended and I had to get back to work. I arrived in Hanoi around dinner on Sunday and got my things organized for the next day. I worked on setting up a presentation for all the teachers and staff and also some activities with the students.

One of the English teachers Uyen asked me to join her English class to have dialogues with the students. They wanted to learn how to pronounce different fruits, some vegetables, and we just asked each other questions about our daily lives. It was very exiting to see the smiles on their faces and the laughter within each of the classes.

I continued to work on the presentations for my mandate. Fire Prevention, Health and Safety, First Aid, CPR and I added a little on Hygiene. Proper hand washing is critical for them as they are doing a lot of cooking and baking. A little extra was hygiene for proper brushing and flossing. This was an added extra as a dear friend of mine was able to convince two companies to donate 16 dozen tooth brushes and dental floss. When I told them here, they though it was a great idea. I will add more about the presentation on this when I actually involve the teachers and students.

Every morning and night as I arrived and left the office, I made it my mission to go and say hello to the students in the embroidery and sewing classes. These students made me feel so welcome when I first got here. They are deaf and mute or have been exposed through the second generation to the effect of agent orange which was used back in the war. They have physical deformities however have developed excellent skills in embroidery. Every time they see me, they have these awesome smiles from ear to ear and they wave at me by putting their hands next to their faces. It just warms my heart to see them every day. They were even more excited when I asked them if they would be willing to make me some clothes. I ordered two pairs of pants and two shirts. I have yet to see them but when I do, I'll make sure to do a fashion show.

Oh yes, I can't forget that on the 14th, we celebrated M. Ha's birthday. Have a look. We had black rice in yogurt and ice cubes to keep it cold.....and cake of course.

Happy BirthdayHappy Birthday

On Thursday I flew to Danang in Central Vietnam and was picked up by my driver who drove me to a bed and breakfast in Hoi An. Village Riverview is a quaint B&B where a young couple run the place. Ms. Gna and her husband share the chores and run a great ship. They have two children. They are the sweetest people and would do anything for you. When I arrived on my first night, it was around 11pm and they were waiting up for me. Bed time is usually around 9:30. I had asked if there was a restaurant nearby and he said I'd have to take the bike in for 1.5 kilometers. He then said wait and came back with a great bowl of Pha or in my world (chicken noodle soup).

The next morning, I was met by long time guest Tanya who is volunteering with a group that aids children how to swim. Tanya was our go to person for tour advice as she knew everyone in town now. Soon after breakfast, I was off to the old town where I did a little sight seeing and visited some museums.

Hoi An beachHoi An beach

Hoi AnHoi An

Assembly Hall of the Fujian Chinese CongregationAssembly Hall of the Fujian Chinese Congregation


Hoi An - a view from the restaurantHoi An - a view from the restaurant

On one of my afternoons, I also decided to put my feet up and hit the beach. As I approached, I happen to see beautiful palms trees, white sand, and a gorgeous mountain range far into the sea. Most of the people were under the trees and in the water. No one was on the sand. I tried to figure out why and soon found out. I could not walk across the beach as it was way too hot. I sat with new found friends from England who had just graduated from University. Great conversations were had as well as a great dip in the sea. The water was so warm. Just around 5, we decided to have a beer before we would ride the 4 kilometers back into town.

Cua Dai BeachCua Dai Beach

Cua Dai BeachCua Dai Beach

Cua Dai BeachCua Dai Beach

As I started riding the bike back, I crossed a bridge and found a couple fisherman in the bay as the sun was just settling in.

Cua Dai Beach bridgeCua Dai Beach bridge

While in Hoi An, I decided to visit an orphanage to play with the children. I spent some quality time with several children but two in particular touched my heart. One little one was laying on the floor next to her bed when I saw a taller boy stomping on her chest. She started to cry but neither of the three staff came to her aid. I stepped in and move the child off her and I stuck my arms out to her. She reached out and cuddled herself to sleep in my arms. I eventually put her down and went to play soccer with a boy who played alone in the back yard. He didn't say anything but he surely enjoyed me playing with him because he had the biggest smile on. I'm sure he was pretty happy but he brought joy to my heart.

Hoi An OrphanageHoi An Orphanage

Just as I started to leave, I said my goodbyes and started off for the door. I had maybe 100 meters to walk before hitting the gate and I had a little hand reach up and grabbed mine. It was my new little girlfriend. She heard my voice I suspect and saw me leave and I guess decided to walk me all the way. Once at the gate, she hid behind a tree, looked around and had a little tear in her eye. I gave her a hug and waved. She waved back with a smile on her face. What a sweetie.


First Days in Vietnam

Mario Deschamps's blog - August 11th, 2013 8:00 PM

On Sunday morning I woke up and decided to go off on my own to learn a little bit more about the city. I made it around the corner and observed my first major intersection where I needed to cross. Having spoken to many people about this adventure, I decided to stop at the intersection first and take a photo. That's when it happened. My first attempted theft. A motor bike came from around the corner on my left and grabbed my phone right out of my hand. At this same time, my right hand came up and i grabbed the guy arm but it slid up to his wrist and over his hand due to the speed he was traveling. My hand grabbed the phone that he just took from my and it went flying into the middle of the intersection. The motor bike was now disappearing in the distance. I immediately reacted and dove into the intersection and grabbed my brand new blackberry that I had just bought before leaving for this trip. That's when I realized how many motor bikes there were on the street. I had them flying around me every which direction. As you can imagine, my first crossing was now real simple.


Once across the round about, I happen to come across Hoam Kiem Lake. This lake is just south of the Old Quarter where a night market is typical help on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. The lake itself is a small body of water in the center town. It is known as Turtle Lake as legend says that in the 15th century, Heaven sent Emperor Le Thai To a magical sword which he used to drive the Chinese out of Vietnam. After the war, he happen to come across a giant golden turtle that was swimming on the surface of the lake. The turtle took the sword and disappeared in the depth of the lake. Since then, the lake is known as Ho Hoan Kiem or also Lake of the Restored Sword because the turtle restored the sword. Every morning, locals gather around the lake to practice the traditional t'ai chi.

Hoan Kiem LakeHoan Kiem Lake

In the afternoon, I met with my prearranged volunteer tour guide Ms. Trang. She volunteers as a tour guide so she can practice her English speaking skills. She was also accompanied by her cousin Ms. Trang. We started off by going to the Temple of Literature. This temple is dedicated to the Khong Tu and honour's Vietnamese finest scholars and men of literature. While entering through the south, one will proceed through four yards/gardens to the Khue Van pavilion, then to a square pond known as the Well of Heavenly Clarity. Upon graduating through the program, you end up in the north side of the courtyard where one will find a pogado housing a statue of the Confucius and four of his disciples.

Temple of LiteratureTemple of Literature

Temple of LiteratureTemple of Literature

Temple of LiteratureTemple of Literature

Temple of LiteratureTemple of Literature

Temple of LiteratureTemple of Literature

Temple of LiteratureTemple of Literature

Temple of LiteratureTemple of Literature

Temple of LiteratureTemple of Literature

After finishing the tour, we took a taxi to the Museum of Ethnology where exibits of tribal art, artefacts are displayed. On the property, there are beautiful traditional village houses that still found today in different part of the country. Examples are stilt houses, Bahnar communal structure and a Yao home.

Museum of EthnologyMuseum of Ethnology

Museum of EthnologyMuseum of Ethnology

Museum of EthnologyMuseum of Ethnology

It was getting closer to dinner time so we decided to stop for a drink on a street corner while sitting on little plastic stools. We sipped on a traditional ice tea and learned more about Vietnam. We eventually made our way across the street to have street food consisting of Pho and spring rolls. Following dinner, we decided to part ways and I slowly made it back to my hotel room for a good night rest.

On Monday, I made my way by taxi to the WUSC office where I met with the entire team. I was first met by Ngoc my Sector Program Officer and a coordinator by the name of Meagan Smith who in fact is a First Responder at the University of Guelph. What a small world. She introduced herself and said that she was hired with WUSC for her summer employment here in Vietnam. I then proceeded to meet Uyen the Accountant and Administrator as well as Michael Emblem the Director and another volunteer by the name of Claude who was also at Hoa Sua School as a Chef. What a fantastic group. I was given an orientation on the program and an open discussion about the school.

The following morning, I was picked up and taken to Hoa Sua School to meet with Madame Ha who is so pleasant and welcoming. She is sweet as pie and does anything for you. A welcome meeting was initiated where a plan and schedule was agreed upon. A final farewell was given to Claude as his mandate had just ended. We gathered in the dining room and had a great lunch. And if you haven't had true Vietnamese food, it is amazing flavours.

 Me, Ngoc, Claude, Madame HaLunch at Hoa Sua School: Me, Ngoc, Claude, Madame Ha

As the week went on, I was given a tour of the facilities. These youths are just amazing. Although they don't know who I was, there smiles and waves are just so welcoming. The sewing class consists mainly of young females all of which are deaf and mute. The teacher got there attention for me by flicking the lights on and off. When they were told by sign language who I was, they all smiled and gave me waves. Every morning and every night I walk by the building and here they are just waving at me. They smile from ear to ear.

Hoa Sua SchoolHoa Sua School

Hoa Sua SchoolHoa Sua School

Hoa Sua SchoolHoa Sua School

Hoa Sua School - Cooking area for studentsHoa Sua School - Cooking area for students

Hoa Sua School - Female ResidenceHoa Sua School - Female Residence

Although L4C is my mandate, I decided to still get out on weekends and see a little more of Vietnam. This weekend I decided to board a bus on a three hour ride to Halong Bay. One of the wonders of the world. On the bus I met some pretty interesting people from all parts of the world including Germany, France, Switzerland, England, Scotland, and Canada. Once we arrived at the port, we were transported to the cruise ship by a small platform boat. Upon boarding the ship, we were given a small introduction and assigned our cabins where we were going to stay the night. Once we checked in, we were provided a gourmet lunch while the ship slowly made its way towards the vast 2000 limestone Islands, floating village, and cave.

Halong Bay - Cruiser ShipHalong Bay - Cruiser Ship

Halong Bay - IslandsHalong Bay - Islands

Halong Bay - IslandsHalong Bay - Islands

Halong Bay - IslandsHalong Bay - Islands

Halong Bay - Floating VillageHalong Bay - Floating Village

Halong Bay - CaveHalong Bay - Cave

Halong Bay - IslandsHalong Bay - Islands

Halong Bay - IslandsHalong Bay - Islands


My day of travel

Mario Deschamps's blog - August 2nd, 2013 8:00 PM

Over the past few months I haven't really written anything as I was basically just preparing for the trip.  I had ventured out to get my first set of immunization shots and awaited contact by WUSC in respect to my travel arrangements and my mandate.

A couple weeks before my departure, everything started to fall into place. I received my last immunization shots, received confirmation regarding my mandate, received a copy of my flight arrangements, my hotel accommodations, and my contract detailing my work in Vietnam.  I started to feel good about my mandate and real excited of course.

Six of us from the Leave for Change program 2013 met at my home for an evening of gourmet food and a little welcome back for Mary from Nepal. What a fantastic night. Thanks everyone and sorry to those who missed out.

Anyway, my first day started on August 2 at 6 AM. I got to the airport and checked in.  When I got to the gate, i eventually heard that the flight was delayed due to severe storms in the Chicago area.  After a couple hours of waiting, the first flight got cancelled.  Mine was still on.  They called me to the desk and said that I had been switched to a direct flight to Tokyo so I could make my other connection.  I was thrilled as I know didn't have to have two layovers.  Oops, hold on. Wrong, they said I now wouldn't make that flight either.  I was reverted back to the original flight however leg two was switched to a later Tokyo flight with another airline. I got to Chicago and had about 45 minutes to get to the other plane.  Good thing I didn't have to pickup my luggage like they had said originally.  Got on the Tokyo flight and got myself settled in for the 14 hour journey.  Met a couple guys sitting next to me that had just graduate from law school at Harvard.  They were trekking to Vietnam and Cambodia before heading of to work in New York City.

Once in Tokyo, a was greeted by Japanese Airlines who said to go have dinner and a beer on them as the flight to Hanoi had been delayed for yet another three hours due to a typhoon that hit the city that afternoon.  Yes a typhoon.  lol  So my new friends and I sat and had a nice cold beer to pass the time.

Once on the flight, we realized the flight was going to be yet another several hours and then a 45 minute trek to the hotel.  Once we got to Hanoi, I started for the exit and got stopped by customs.  I realized when I got my suitcase that i had several little stickers of happy faces on them. I figured they had already checked them and put stickers on them.  NOPE. It meant check this guy.  After a quick x-ray and them asking what was inside, they let me through.  phew. lol

About 45 minutes later, I found my taxi driver who didn't speak a word of English.  I reverted to my handy Vietnam book and introduced myself.  He had to read the phrase as I wasn't saying it correctly. Along the quiet ride to the hotel, my driver pointed and laughed at a tiny little motorcycle carrying food to the market. It was about 10' and full of baskets of food.  I was surprised he could balance that thing. Oh yeah, someone was sleeping on the top and the bike had no lights. lol

We pulled in at 2 AM on August 4.  Yes about 30 some hours of travel.  Tired but still going, I sent a couple of emails to say I was here safely.  At 6 am I was woken to the sound of beeping mopeds in the street.  And my journey begins.  Sorry no photos yet. It was dark out.

What to expect while in Vietnam - Oh my......

Mario Deschamps's blog - June 6th, 2013 8:00 PM

During my recent orientation training in Toronto on June 1 and 2, several people spoke to me about safety while crossing the street.  They informed me to ensure that I cross at the intersections.  Well, I decided to do a little research and to my disbelief I figured out why they were saying what they said.  However, my next question was, where are the crosswalks.  See for yourself. LOL


See video



So all my paper work is in and I am now waiting further details.  I will be starting my immunizations next week which will consist of Hepatitis A & B, Japanese Encephalitis, and Typhoid.  Oh yeah, I can't forget the Malaria medications.

In respect to my mandate, here is a video I found and would like to share.


See video



Again, thanks for following me along my journey.  I will be arriving in Vietnam in early August.

My mandate and preparation

Mario Deschamps's blog - May 15th, 2013 8:00 PM

Hello all,

This first blog is to inform you that I will be based with the community partner Hoa Sua School in Vietnam as a Fire Prevention and Health Safety Advisor.

I am in the beginning stages of preparing for my mandate which will entail training, back ground check, and of course vaccinations.

I will add blogs and photographs along the way.

For those who comment on my blog, please ensure to add your names at the bottom of your comments so I see who has posted the comment.

Looking forward to hearing from you.


Houston, we’ve got a problem!

Kian Merrikh's blog - June 7th, 2011 1:16 PM

So I ventured out on the weekend to see Hanoi, in scorching hot weather.  On Saturday, it was 37 degrees + 94% humidity = 50 degrees Celsius!!  Sunday felt even hotter!

I managed to survive the hot and humid weather, but regrettably, my “el cheapo” Nikkor kit lens did not!  Yes, I know, you’re all going “oh no,” knowing my “relationship” (yes, I use that term deliberately), with my camera.   This could not have happened at a worse time!   I’m on a once-in-a-life-time trip, in a beautiful country, and my lens bites the dust.   The 18-70mm lens, for those of you who care to know, is jammed and stuck on 24mm.  I do have my pro lens with me, you know, the one I can use for self-defense if I ever had to, and Nikon’s pro equipment have not let me down thus far.  So, perhaps, if my lovely wife is reading this blog post, she is thinking that perhaps Kian should buy that really nice lens he’s been drooling over for so long… after all, she is so understanding!  (nudge, nudge, wink, wink!)  Yes, surprisingly, I am taking it better than I thought I would.   Thank you for asking!

Venturing out on Saturday, I came across blocked roads, and the Vietnamese riot police out in full gear.  Yes, never a dull moment here…  As it turns out, there has been a dispute between Vietnam and China over Chinese naval operations in the South China Sea.  A protest was expected and the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi was sealed off, causing traffic chaos.  For those of you curious about this development, between the two countries, you can read about it here:

Saturday and Sunday I finally jumped in with two feet and rode on a scooter like 90% of the Vietnamese do.  It was a great way to see the city, and keep cool in 50-degree weather.  As I write this, I have a mosquito in my room that has bitten me at least 3 times, and for the life of me I can’t find it to give it a taste of his own medicine!  I have one light turned on in my room to attract it to a corner of the room, but it seems too smart for that and is not falling for my trap.

Thanks to my translator, I got to see some of the most interesting sites in Hanoi over the weekend, such as, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.  This is the site of the large memorial for Ho Chi Minh (Uncle Ho), where he read the Declaration of Independence.  He is revered in Vietnam.  So we got here to line up to go in, and, there were over a thousand people lined up to go in!  And I thought having 10 people in front of me at Tim Horton’s was bad enough!  We could not even get to the grounds around the building.  But my wise translator from the College, who is now also a good friend, managed to convince the guards to let us through the gate, and we managed to make our way to the perimeter area.

We also went to Hoan Kiem Lake, a beautiful and popular place to visit in the center of the city, to the One Pillar Pagoda, one of the two most revered and iconic Buddhist temples.   We walked outside the Presidential Palace, visited the Temple of Literature, the first University to be built in Vietnam, and last but not least, the Ethnology Museum, where you learn about various ethnic tribes of Vietnam.  Of course, there was some shopping, a chat about work over ice cream and the most amazing tasting iced-coffee, while overlooking the lake.  I should also mention that two very sweet girls joined us for our tour, the daughter of one of the Department heads at the College and her friend, and they took us to the best and cheapest places to eat, and we had plenty of opportunities to practice our English!  I was impressed by how well these two young ladies spoke English and both of them will soon be off to England to attend University.

Enough words…here are some scenes from the weekend:

Click to view slideshow.

Some Reflections on Life in Vietnam…

Kian Merrikh's blog - June 3rd, 2011 9:35 PM

…as a Trainer


I have been meeting with a number of people such as deans and faculty over the last few days.  Discussion and training vary from topics on marketing strategy, the 7P’s of marketing, service quality management, curriculum for marketing and hospitality programs, and best practices in education, and the list goes on.  It is amazing how much my work at the University and academic training has prepared me for this mandate, and I feel that I am making some valuable contributions here.  Having said that, I am convinced I am learning as much, if not more, about the Vietnamese culture and norms, business and marketing, and life in Vietnam in general.

I must also say how impressed I am with the dedication of the people here , especially those whom I meet with at the College, in wanting to make a difference and their desire to help educate the Vietnamese population.  I find people whom I have come across incredibly caring and hospitable, honest, hard working, and always happy to provide insights and a helping hand.  Of course, I have also had my share of issues, for example, a cab driver who wanted to charge me 14 times the actual fair, a pickpocket (who, regrettably for him, was unsuccessful in getting my wallet), and other much smaller issues like a 3″ cockroach trying to chase me down in my hotel room (unsuccessfully and we’ll leave it at that), and tiny tiny ants in everything from my kettle, to my iron, and even my pill box. How they manage to get in the latter is beyond me as it is closed tightly.   Of course, these things are to be expected when travelling to other countries.  I had my wallet snatched in Germany a few years ago (and I am not careless with my wallet), but I have learned that it is best to be vigilant about these things no matter where you travel.   Having said that, all of the positive experiences and the interactions with the wonderful people in Vietnam far outweigh the few inconveniences.  I must also extend a special thanks to the representatives of WUSC (World University Service of Canada) in Hanoi, who have been wonderful hosts and have gone out of their way to make sure I have a smooth transition and a positive experience, and helped me to manage the nuances of the Vietnamese culture when needed. You know who you are…

…as a Photographer

I am absolutely fascinated by the visual stimuli in Vietnam.  As a photographer, I am always looking for images that convey something about who people are, what they do, and something about their life to provide context to my images.  I am in awe because although I have not had much time to photograph here thus far (that is about to change, I can promise you that!), nevertheless, I continue to see hundreds, if not thousands of images a day in my mind’s eye.  I am referring to the thousands of commuters I see every day on my 40-60 minute taxi ride to the College.    You can virtually peer into people’s lives as they go about their day.  Because most ride on scooters as opposed to cars, you can readily capture a snapshot of people’s lives, and who they are, what they do, etc.  For instance, you see kids that just attended a birthday party because there are several huge balloons tied to the scooter, you can see who is expecting a baby in a few short months, who recently had a baby ( I saw a mother driving a scooter with a sleeping 6-month old baby in one arm, and you guessed it, with no helmets!), you can see who works in a professional office environment by the way they are dressed, you can see who is coming back from the market with loads of groceries between their feet or hanging from the scooter, you can see who makes his living selling goldfish or bread on his mobile store, you can see who is renovating his house as he carries 12-foot long metal pipes or 6-foot long drywall while driving a scooter…you get the picture! (pun intended)

Many of you are asking for more photos, and I intend to deliver on that request soon…Our partners have been working me hard (and I have enjoyed every minute of it) but it is weekend now, and time to play a little!   Until then, hopefully you’ll enjoy these few images…

Click to view slideshow.

And the Work Begins

Kian Merrikh's blog - June 2nd, 2011 11:16 AM

Meeting with the College President

After one day of orientation, I travelled to the partner College on Wednesday to meet with the College President and to discuss my mandate, their expectations, and what I could offer in terms of my skills and training.  I also took the opportunity to express my expectations, and what expertise I could bring to the table.  The President was very eager to have me work with various groups in the College, including the College’s Board of Directors, business and hospitality faculty, the Director of Student Recruitment, Director of the Career Placement unit, and a couple of other groups. (Photos will be coming soon…)

Today, I hit the ground running and had an all-day meeting with the Directors of one of the departments, with the help of my translator, to assess their current recruitment strategies, so that I can provide some insights next week to help them better promote the College and attract more students.  It was an exhausting, but productive day nevertheless.

A Close Call

On Tuesday, we were driving to the College, which is  located about 20 km North of here.  It is about a 40 – 50 minute drive depending on traffic.  I was sitting in the front seat, going through the crazy traffic, when the car in front of us rear-ended the car in front of it.  Luckily, it was not a scooter that was rear-ended!  Our driver had to swerve and brake in order to avoid the accident, and I am happy to say he managed to do so, and I am very appreciative of his driving skills.  He got a big tip that day!

Needless to say my ride back to the hotel was not as exhilarating.   I am amazed at how expertly the scooters veer through traffic, with 3 people on a scooter, the mother in front, a 7 or 8-year old daughter at the back, and a 2-year old brother sandwiched between the two!  To make things more interesting, the 2-year old sibling has fallen asleep, and the sister is very lovingly holding him up from behind so he doesn’t fall over.  Oh, did I mention…NO HELMETS!!

Below are a few images I have captured thus far.  A few were taken out of my hotel balcony on the 7th floor.


Click to view slideshow.

Baggage Arrived Today!

Kian Merrikh's blog - May 31st, 2011 9:17 AM

It was an exciting day as my two suitcases found their way to my hotel today!   On my first day here, I received an orientation to Vietnam by the WUSC (World University Service of Canada) staff , and learned a great deal about the country, its people, and the Vietnamese culture.  I was also treated to an amazing lunch by two of the wonderful people here at WUSC.   It was my first authentic Vietnamese food after enjoying several “fine cuisines” of various airlines.

I must admit I was a bit taken a back when the waiter walked in with a live duck in  hand, showed it to the guests a couple of tables over, and left.  I asked why the waiter had done so, and I was told it is the sign of a quality restaurant to show the meals were made-to-order with the finest and freshest …  Well, I do not believe this requires further elaboration!

I learned about the three pillars of Vietnamese society.  Any guesses?

Family, Family, and Family.   Yes, the society is built on a strong sense of family, and there is great respect for one’s family members, especially the elder members.   Foreign guests are treated as the “extended family,” and if you are visiting Vietnam and make some friends (very easy to do given the kind-hearted people here), you will be invited to attend events such as birthdays, weddings, and even funerals of loved ones.

No photos were taken today, but here is a video of the traffic in Hanoi.  I have not dared to ride a Scooter Taxi (xe om) yet, but I intentionally ride shotgun in car taxis to get my heart rate up.  It is more thrilling than a roller-coaster ride.  We had a very close call today, or two, or three…I lost count but it is amazing how organized the chaos actually is on the streets.