Verne Harrison's blog
I can't believe my time in Hanoi is almost over. But, as I suspected, the time has flown by. I had hoped to do many more blog entries than this but every day has been jammed full. My mandate was very successful. The workshop I presented was attended by 44 people from six different colleges. We had planned on the session going for about an hour and a half which ended up to be two and a half hours. The good people at North Thang Long College had studied my credentials thoroughly before I came and I ended up being put to good use on organizing several initiatives. Everything from designing the layout of the new library, to colour schemes, lighting, and of course, proper installation of artwork and not only the library, but the conference/meeting room and the main office area, as well as including plans for exterior signage. My days were filled with producing floor plans, schematics, concept drawings and accompanying documents and guidelines. I had a wonderful room all to mine own with long tables to produce my rather large scale plans.
The college has a large kitchen where lunch is prepared for the students and I was presented at 11:00 am precisely, each day, with a delicious variety of dishes. I enjoyed grilled fish, eel and squid, pork in an infinite variety of variations (my favourite was thinly sliced pork wrapped around fresh shredded coconut) chicken and beef. Soups, various cold teas, tofu in every shape and form, and a mind boggling variety of vegetables and of course rice. So, while I laboured away, I had the opportunity to taste a different meal of traditional Vietnamese fare each day! Then, my favourite part of the day, after lunch a quick jaunt over to a local cafe for a single cup drip coffee poured over ice. Delicious beyond words.
Wednesday was a wrap up meeting with the college. All parties were extremely pleased with what had been accomplished and promises went all around to stay in touch and follow the progress of the plans that have been made.
I have completed my reports. There is a final debriefing tomorrow before a lunch with the amazing Hanoi WUSC crew and the gracious staff of the college. It will be difficult to say good bye.
Just into week two. It's Tuesday night and everything just keeps falling magically into place. Sunday night I got a message that the driver that had been arranged to take me back and forth to the college was not going to be able to transport me and another driver had already been arranged. Monday morning a taxi arrived at my hotel, and showed me my name on his cell phone so off we went. My placement is north of Hanoi, about a 40 minute drive- so to answer Patty's question, no, I can't walk, it is a bit of a journey and it seems a bit of a journey as well for taxi drivers who have never been there before. So, I actually helped the taxi get me there. A couple of wrong turns... but we made it. At the end of the work day, there was another driver showing me my name on his cell phone as he explained that he was my driver but could not pick me up this morning so he had a friend come for me. It would never occur to anyone here to just leave you hanging.
That said, car rides are almost as heart thumping as trying to cross the street on foot. Rush hour, with all the motorcycles and cars and almost no stop signs or street lights, easily rivals any of the more thrilling rides at Disney World. As an aside, my technique for crossing the street (equally heart thumping) is to feign indifference, step off the curb and keep going until I reach the other side and start breathing again. It's worked so far anyway. Later, in my hotel room, solitary and contemplating poetically about the streets of Hanoi, I imagine the traffic as blood flowing through the veins of the city and if stopped, the city would cease to exist.
At the college, I am focused on preparing for a workshop where about 20 peolpe will be taking part from 4 different institutions. We are going to try and tackle a wide variety issues everything from looking at on-line library management systems, to effective layout of library spaces, to making those spaces engaging places to be in -including my fail safe system for displaying objects (like artworks).
Yesterday was actually my first day at the college, but it was more of a welcome and introduction day. We had a special visitor who came along with us to the college, Dr. Can Viet Anh, who is Head of Division for the Hanoi People Committee with the Foreign Affairs Dept. He came out to see the college but also to observe the Leave for Change programme in action. So, it was very special day for everyone. This was also when I got a much clearer idea of how I could be of assistance and everybody was able to get on the same page with respect to my mandate. As Library Management Advisor, I will be showing some library management systems but also, I will be helping to plan a new library area for the college, a currently an underused classroom, that will encourage increased usage of the library by both teachers and students. Along with that, the college is looking for assistance in the redesign of a multi purpose board/conference room, as a well the main office area that has recently been renovated and that they wish to tie into some recent branding that are implementing. It's really very exciting to be part of the growth of a young college, to see limitless possibilities.
Before I jump into my adventure this far I just wanted to mention how incredible the WUSC team has been. They have done everything possible to make sure that every aspect of my Leave for Change experience; getting me to Hanoi, into a great place to stay in the heart of the city, and to my placement at North Thang Long College has run as smooth as clockwork. My sincere thanks especially to Sonia in Canada and Ngoc here in Vietnam.
It was about 28 hours of travel from the time I left home in Guelph until I was in my hotel in Hanoi at 1 AM (11 hours ahead of Guelph time) slightly disoriented as my head finally hit a real pillow. The first day of my placement was spent at the WUSC office where I finally got to put faces to names after a spectacularly thrilling ride through the city weaving in and out of thousands of motorcycles, trucks and cars, never stopping (stop lights or signs are almost non-existent) or ceasing the constant bleating of horns as each driver announces their position in the swarm. Ngoc and I went through the logistics of WUSC's programmes, procedures and reporting. Everyone at the offices shared lunch together prepared in the staff kitchen which was a wonderful introduction to Vietnamese cuisine. But, just as exciting, after lunch we took a short walk to a cafe for my first iced coffee ... legendary.
Today, Ngoc escorted me out to the college, along with a special guest, Dr. Can Viet Anh, Head of Division for the Hanoi People Committee with the Department of Foreign Affairs. He was very interested to see how the Leave for Change program works. Today's meeting was essentially for introductions and for me to learn, in more specific terms, how I might be of assistance. More about that later, after I have developed a work plan.
I am a little under 2 weeks until departure for Vietnam. What I can tell you so far is this- I am becoming totally pre-occupied with the whole adventure. It's probably a good thing I'm leaving soon, I'm sure my family will heave a sigh of relief. Speaking of family though, they have been able to supply me with all manner of help. I'm going to help set up a library system and I have a sister in law who just happens to have a Masters degree in Library Science and has provided some very useful information. My father in law just happens to have a friend who spends 6 months of the year in Vietnam and has a number of acquaintances who work at the University in Hanoi. I also shared a coffee break with Kian, a past U of G participant who was placed at the same college I will be going to. Kian was able to provide some valuable insight into the logistics of staying in Vietnam..Thanks Kian.
I have one shot left...2 days before I go. I have my flight itinerary and my e-ticket. The folks in Vietnam have my profile. Staring to work on the essentials I need to take with me. It's almost like I know what I'm doing!