Military training, other celebrations

Military training starts at 7 am in the soccer stadium behind our room, sometimes accompanied by orchestral music or commands played on a powerful loudspeaker. New students are inducted into the military right away, issued camo uniforms. After a few days they of mass training they break into groups of 20 or 30 that line up along the road around the stadium, including right in front of our room, and practice marching. One of them calls out one-two, one-two in Vietnamese while the others learn to swing their arms and step out. We’ve seen them bandaging each other and practicing with rifles and AK-47s that look fairly real.

This morning while I ate my pho on the terrace of the canteen I looked out at a group that was stalking step by step through hypothetical trees and bushes, then crawling back on their stomachs, sliding their rifles along beside them. Girls and boys in the same group.

Some catch-up: We went to the Ho Chi Minh memorial museum on Sunday with Thi. It’s a classic two-story building with verandas all the way around, next to the Saigon River and overlooking an extensive manicured garden and park. The breeze off the river comes in through open doors and cools off the inside. All the exhibits are on the upper floor. It’s photos and documents all the way, so it’s like reading a biography of him. Many documents are in French, such as the report on his activities in France by the French secret service agent who was assigned to watch him. It’s thorough and single minded: this is the story of this person. You are immersed in typewritten reports of meetings; requests for money; cloudy photos of groups of people, mostly men, with Russian, French, Chinese, African names; handwritten lists of people who are in prison and scheduled to be executed (including Ho Chi Minh); rooms in different countries where he stayed and worked. Each room has a map up high with red light bulbs that mark places Ho Chi Minh travelled. All over Europe and Asia; even the US. This is a story that goes from the 1890’s to today.

The rooms were quiet and mostly empty except for us and a few other older people. Thi said that the older men who were making their way one-by-one through the exhibition rooms were all speaking languages other than Vietnamese. They looked Asian, however.

Dean Hoa tells us that he’s looking for academics from the US who would work with TDTU for 2 months a year here in Vietnam and then consult with their program the rest of the year, and cooperate with them on research projects. This is part of the President’s goal of bringing TDTU into the ranks of the top 100 universities in the world, including starting a new curriculum for international students which would be taught entirely in English.

The job would include writing or helping people write research that would get published in ranked journals. “Ranked” refers to the journals that get many citations in other journals. We have asked Dean Hoa to write up this announcement with specifics including pay, status, duties, deadlines, etc so that I can put it out on the UALE or LERA lists. There should be a number of people who would be interested in doing this, although no one can guarantee what gets published where, and the ranking system is iffy to say the least.

I wrote my 40 multiple choice questions for the Cross Cultural Leadership class (20 for each version of the exam) and sent them over to Hiew who will put them in the correct format. The class really ran away with the assignment last week: they made up their own scenarios to demonstrate cross cultural encounters. Lots of laughter.

Three days of major celebrations this week. First, Founder’s Day: Praying at the gold statue of Ton Duc Thang, followed by a celebration (songs, dances, a terrific karate-kickboxing demo, speeches) in the giant auditorium in Building A. In the front row sat the President, who gave an extended speech, and one person away from him was Mr. Tung, the head of the VGCL, a handsome man with a gray buzz cut in a brown suit.

Then today we attended the graduation in the same auditorium. This was for the students who completed their studies last spring. More songs and dances (girls in blue, white or red ao dais, boys in white with sparkles on their collars; the dances involve lifts and silk scarves). Then every single graduating student came on stage, hundreds and hundreds of them, had their name read, walked up to a red-swagged podium, shook hands with the president or appropriate dean, received a medal (some), plus diploma and some other framed item, plus a bouquet of flowers. Then a pause while the photographer shoots the student and the administrator. We left after about 3 hours; other people had left as well. Dean Hoa was still waiting for his students to come up.

A sense that the event becomes real when it’s photographed. No other evidence required, such as a program listing names of classmates.

Sitting behind me in the auditorium was a girl who contacted me a long time ago to correct an email she wanted to send to get support for a “No Money” journey. Turns out she and three friends did it. They made $800 dollars to give to a charity. They got as far as “you could see China”, hitchhiking and staying in people’s houses and eating whatever they were given. They were gone 24 days and just got back yesterday. Apparently hundreds of other kids did it, too.

Tomorrow will be an event in which the new students are welcomed. We have special TDT T-shirts to wear to this. It apparently involves a fishing contest.

Joe has a bad cough which keeps him up at night. I think it’s related to our taking evening walks near traffic. In our room and on the campus it’s not too bad, but on the sidewalks along the street the pollution is considerable. You can feel it stinging your skin. We’re going to get those masks that everyone wears.

Got a good cautionary message from Jocelyn.

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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