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Sharing My Experience of Vietnam as a Leave for Change Volunteer
Updated: 7 years 4 months ago

Houston, we’ve got a problem!

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…

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

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!

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.