On the other hand…

I wrote this on September 21, four months ago. Only a couple of weeks ago did I find out what Hoc Mon is. It’s not just any small commune located out in the country west of the airport but east of Cu Chi. It’s at least two other things. It’s a crossroads, for one thing, where the French used to take resisters to get shot. It was an execution site. Second, it was the site of an ambush ( google The Hoc Mon Bridge Ambush) that killed 58 US soldiers during the American War.


I had heard that “there was a lot of fighting around there” but I had no idea how much. It was just a battleground. And if you go on YouTube and look at movies of the period, you can see that some of the trees were defoliated and have that distinctive ragged look.

So far, the most engaged students I’ve seen are the ones in the English Zone, who are desperate to learn English but draw a blank on labor or unions, and the ones who came to the collective bargaining simulation on Friday morning.

Here are two photos: One of the management caucus and the other of the two teams meeting at the table. Did they actually bargain? No – they squabbled. But at least they got interested and want to try it again.

     Mgmt caucus 2

  At the table 2

What they learn in the English Zone and in our series of simulations will not show up on the exams. The results of the exams will not reveal what the students are learning. But judging from what we saw on Saturday (yesterday), out at a village called Hoc Mon, they are learning something – somehow, and not from us.

My sense that the students are ahead of the system is growing stronger.

Yesterday, Saturday, Joe had had to go into District 1 to find a hearing aid service store because the wire on his hearing aid broke. He did find a place, and they are fixing it, but he wasn’t here at 1 pm when Nghia and Thy, two students who volunteer to help foreigners get around, came to pick us up. This was a planned event, something about an Autumn Moon festival out in a village 20 km north of here. Vinh told us, “It is beautiful, you will like it.”

Phone calls between me and Joe ensued: not only the wire on his hearing aid was broken, but also the battery, in this humidity, was going bad. But the driver of the TDTU van was willing to find him at the service center in District 1. It was near the Post Office, so we stopped there and I mailed cards to Lorenzo, Massimo, Theo and Isabelle and Amelia Crockett in Vermont.

Mailing letters

When Joe finally came and got in the van, we headed out a long, long narrow road, two lanes of heavy traffic leading north of the city about 20 Km, Hoc Mon.  Eventually the traffic thinned out and it started to feel as if we were in the country.

Hoc Mon is a village, once small and surrounded by open agricultural land but now on the edge of the city. The reason we were going there is because every year the students in the Labor Relations and Trade Unions faculty prepare a celebration for the children of the village. It’s the Autumn Moon festival, the day in the lunar calendar that is in the middle of the month of the autumn moon.

The event took place in a large high-ceilinged cement building with a metal roof that is the community meeting and activity center of the village. Inside the building, which was all one room with lines painted on the floor for volleyball or badminton courts, the students had set up games like throw-the-coconut-at-the-water bottles, or toss the bamboo hoop over the cans. There was a stage at one end of the room. Adorning the stage were many stars made of colored paper glued to a bamboo frame and decorated with gold and white paper. Vinh had told us that the students had made all these stars themselves, even down to making the bamboo frames. They would give them to the children at the end of the celebration, and they’d light candles in them and the children would walk around the village in honor of the Autumn Moon.

The whole thing is planned and carried out by students, although Ms La, Mr Quan who works in the department office, and another woman whose name I will learn to spell later, were the original contacts and help. We were the only faculty there. Mr. Quan came and took pictures. Students were running the games, talking to the children –ages 3 to maybe 11 or 12 – dancing with the children, everything. I recognized most of the students from our classes. There were about 20 of them. They all seemed to be whole-heartedly engaged in playing with the children and making sure they had a good time. There were a few grownups around, but it was really all students, all interacting with each other very creatively and being wonderful with the kids. Like a whole team of big brothers and sisters, and having a good time.

Little guy 2Costume, stars_1

hoop gameAngry birds shirt

I thought, “Well, here’s organizing.”

pick up baby

The noise in the room was deafening: the hundred children running around, laughing and clapping and playing, plus the music and the announcements from the microphone.

After playing some games we — Joe and me and 4 or 5 students, including Nigha, Thi, and Vy and Anh, all students we have spent some time with – walked down the road outside to see what the surroundings were like. Trees, ditches, houses behind the trees. The community center is in the back right of this photo.


A tiny pretty woman with very short gray hair, wearing jade earrings and a purple blouse, came out through the trees and climbed up to the road and talked with us. She told us she was 80 years old and had lived there all her life.

We came to a small commercial building which turned out to be a plastics extrusion factory that employs 15 people. We went in and talked with the manager; we’ll talk with him again, I’m sure. He spoke functional English and said that they have a union, that the union is very important. This might be someone we could learn a lot from.

Suddenly it started to rain so we hurried back up the road. Nghia ran from tree to tree. I put on my plastic gear.


Inside the community center, the ceremony had begun and two of our students were up on the stage, one dressed in a gold shirt who was the Man in the Moon and the other dressed in a beautiful white gown with lace and blue beads, who was the Autumn Moon Goddess. They called the children up on the stage in groups and gave them each a star and a bag of presents. Joe and I were called up to do some of this, too.

Joe stars bags

We met the woman who is the Activity Chairman of the village – a young woman with a big smile.

The rain was the hardest and loudest I have ever seen. More than what I’ve experienced as hurricanes.

Bottom line: pure fun, completely organized by students, who obviously put a lot of work and some of their own money into this. Not the slightest evidence of cynicism or falseness. Simply: “We want to do something for the children so that they have a good festival.” Offered and received on both ends with complete sincerity and unreserved good will, a pleasure for both the children and the students.

I will let pictures tell the rest of the story.

Published by helenaworthen

Labor educator, retired from University of Illinois, taught at TDT University in Ho Chi Minh City in the Faculty of Trade Unions and Labor Relations. Co-author with Joe Berry of Power Despite Precarity: Strategies for the contingent faculty movement in higher education, forthcoming (August 2021) from Pluto Press.

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