How's that Working Out For You?

In order to translate the core assumptions of collective bargaining for Vietnamese undergraduates, I have had to turn my attention to the way democracy is actually practiced in our own country.

Library, Research Club — August 29, 2017

Library, Research Club


Main entrance to the new library. An elevator for disabled students exists. 

We go to bed at night saying, “Well, we did some work today!” Now if we could only get some exercise….

So this post will be about the library, research, and the faculty research program. I have a lot of photos of the library, which I hope will speak for themselves. But the research program? The current state of our role in their research can be summarized by saying that when two complex culturally-rich systems smash into each other, little fragments fly all over the place.


For the protection of the new floors in this hot, wet, climate, people exchange their shoes for slippers down a spiral staircase at the entrance of the library. Joe is a 47; the biggest slippers are 43, which is OK for me. 

A call for proposals

I saw a call for proposals on the Vietnam Studies Group list promoting a conference to be held in HCMC in December-January 2017-18 that was linked to the Journal of Vietnamese Studies. The call came from a Liam Kelley at the University of Hawaii. This was a second or third time around call, so it had a short deadline, Thursday August 31. This was Monday August 27, so that’s 3 days. I wrote him a quick email and he replied that they could be flexible but that it would be a good idea to send in something, which is the answer I hoped for.

The Journal Club at TDT

That same afternoon there was a Journal Club meeting scheduled from 2-4. This meeting was going to be in a “presentation room,” in the new library, equipped with a flat screen and set off from the main floor by glass doors and a code.

The reason the Journal Club has been created is because it is the intent of TDT to become known as a research university. This is in addition to its goal of having all the lecturers learn English, plus teach in English and using the TOP 100 curriculum, which I have described. The astonishing thing is that this seemingly impossible goal seems to be happening.  For example – just a note – Mr. Triet came walking down the road on the way to the Journal Club and he greeted us in English with a truly credible, rather Oakland-ish accent. He has been studying in a class called “Little UK,” where one teacher is a Scandinavian named Anders, from Denmark, who teaches English using African dance. But Mr Triet probably has a particular gift in this way. If you don’t remember, he is not only the Labor Protection (health and safety) instructor but he performs internationally (in Germany, Eastern Europe) as a clown and magician. We have seen several of his performances and he is truly great.

So the Labor Relations and Trade Unions Faculty wants to get organized and do some research and Dean Hoa called the meeting of this LRTU Journal Club to do this. Joe and I decided to propose that we respond to this call for proposals at this meeting.

However, there is the looming issue of where or work should get published.


Lots of high-graphic English signage

The approved lists of places to publish

We have already been made familiar with the TDT official policy, promulgated by DEMASTED, or the Department of Management, Science and Technology,  of “counting” only papers published in journals that are listed on a certain database. First, I understood the approved list to be SCOPUS. I got an Excel sheet showing all the journals on SCOPUS (I forget how I got it). I went through it and did not see Labor Studies Journal or WorkingUSA (now called the Journal of Labor and Society) on it. I emailed the editors of both and asked if their journals were on the SCOPUS list. At first they didn’t know what I was talking about but then they both said yes. Since both Joe and I have published in those journals, we would know how to shape an article for submission. We are also both on the editorial board of JLS. I mentioned this to Ms. Vinh and we did apparently get permission to submit LRTU research to those journals.

But there are other lists, and we also hear that it isn’t SCOPUS, it’s ISI. I have accounts at and passwords for Taylor and Francis, which maybe the same as Scholar1, Wiley, E-Journals at McGill and I seem to remember Emerald.. So what about Sage, the publisher of Labor Studies Journal? I began asking, “What are these lists? Are they in some way an indicator of quality of research? Or are they just a database of all the journals published by a certain publisher?”


Open stacks, reading room — similar to other floors. 

I begin to look into the various lists

Publishing journals is a huge business, one business among many that sees education as a vast, well-organized, rich market, comparable to healthcare. In fact, education can be viewed as a “desperation” market like healthcare in the sense that academics have to publish in order to get promoted or keep their jobs (see the tenure system in the US). The vitality of this market is demonstrated on the one side by the huge loans that people in the US are willing to take out in order to pay tuition, often at second-rate for-profit colleges and universities. It can be seen in the cost of textbooks ($100 or more) and the frequency of new editions (so you have to replace the old one). In micro, you can see it in the moment when I observed, in the mail room at the University of Illinois, a senior professor joking with pride about being asked to pay $800 “fee” in order to submit a paper! There are innumerable ways to milk money out of the free work of researchers, editors and peers who produce these articles. The prices charged to libraries to subscribe to certain journals is so high that some journals are being dropped.

This makes academic research seem like a hustle. But an undistorted (is there such a thing?) research culture, which supports collaborative exploration of matters that are of shared interest to an intellectual community, followed by sharing the results and debating and evaluating them among one’s colleagues (peers) is the product of centuries of trial and testing, and I actually do believe that it can be counted on to produce an understanding of the real world. Thus the true value of good research exceeds anything money can buy. Yes, it has been infested with rent-seeking, but that only distorts it; it does not invalidate it.

If I am a bit hot under the collar on this topic, it’s because of the anti-intellectual wave sweeping the US under Trump, along with his appointment of Perry, a climate change denier, to head the Environmental Protection Agency, where he is dismantling an already weakened regulatory agency. (We worked with the union of scientists at the Chicago EPA and heard horror stories about recommendations ignored or disputed by Bush administration – appointed managers.) The news is full of this while Hurricane Harvey dumps three to five feet of rain on the oil refineries in the harbor of Houston, Texas. I also saw that the requirement that employers keep records of worker injuries for 5 years has just been eliminated, to “ease the burden of regulation on employers.” This is like running a bulldozer over a crime scene. (We’ve been watching a lot of police procedurals on Netflix.) It is like looting the museum in Baghdad or destroying Palmyra.


View from presentation room window; that’s Building E across the terrace


I am writing this in the midst of Joe’s class on leadership. The students have just made a presentation and it was really good. I have to say, I am surprised at how good it was. In their written report (in English) there is a section titled “Analysis” which actually does analyze the commonalities among 10 different interviews. This is followed by two exemplary stories. Also, there are a lot of challenging questions from the floor, which appear to be answered by various members of the team, not just one person. Two years ago when I taught a previous version of that class, their reports were full of data and graphics and totally lacked analysis. They were also shy about discussion after the presentation. Something has happened! This is the early face of research.

Back to the research question – leading up to the meeting of the Journal Club.

I have passwords and accounts at the following websites where journals get peer-reviewed: Francis and Taylor, Wiley, Scholar1, Emerald, and E-Journals McGill. I put all these into a search and found out, more or less, that Wiley owns Sage, that Thomsonreuters owns Elsevier and Emerald, that Francis and Taylor, which includes the Routledge list, merged with Informa in 2004 and consolidated their lists of publications. The ISI list was originally produced by someone named Eugene Garfield at the Institute for Scientific Information, which became Thomasonreuters and is now “Web of Science” which hosts Clarivate Analytics that tells you the impact rating of your research, based on the number of citations that your article gets. Merge, buy and sell, trade journals as commodities.

There are also Scopus and a set of sites called SCI (Imago), SCIE, SSCI and ISI. There is a website to go to if you want to know whether a certain journal is found on one of those lists

Philippe Fournier Viger, if he is a person, is located at Harbin Institute of Technology in Shenzen, which is probably another university that prizes publications in high-ranking English language journals. Also on that website is an ad trying to get people to submit their articles for a data mining activity. For free!
And then here is a blog that makes it look as if I can submit actual questions to people who know about this stuff:


Going out the front door down the temple stepsResearch grp

So, what to do at TDT?

My position, of course, is that the main task for these researchers at TDT is to find a way to enter the discourse – join the discussion, have their voices heard among people who care about workers’ issues around the world. This includes not only academics but also – here’s an example of a place where Vietnamese workers were definitely not part of the discussion – for example, the AFL CIO, when it took its firm stance against TPP.

So now we move back to the Journal Club meeting. Present were the two young women who earned MAs in Taiwan, who are both graduates of TDT themselves, Ms. Vang and Ms Truc, Miss La, Dean Hoa, Mr Triet, Vinh, Joe and me.

Joe and I had a powerpoint. First, we talked about working collaboratively. Then we talked about our first overall proposed project: What are the changes that have taken place in worker education over the last 80 years? Ms. La said that 50 years was more appropriate. She’s right. We discussed collecting numbers (who received worker education, how many, where, etc) and interviewing teachers and workers. We talked about the difference between training (job skills for productivity) and education and the difference between classes for union leaders, union members (who are partly workers and part-time on union staff) and workers. The latter is mostly about the law and how to make sure that the law is being followed.

This was all followed with head nods and smiles but no one seemed excited. It seemed like work.

Then we went on to the Vietnamese Studies Journal proposal, and talked about writing about the workers’ experience in the tourism industry, especially hotels and restaurants (Miss La’s suggestion), maybe picking one major hotel chain that would be accessible in HCMC. Dean Hoa volunteered to work on numbers and demographics; Mr. Triet could work on health and safety issues; others said they could interview workers. Someone volunteered to do a scan of existing materials in Vietnamese about this topic. Of course, Joe and I had in mind the work of Pamela Vossenas at UNITE HERE regarding muscular- skeletal injuries of housekeepers, and the efforts to get CALOSHA to adopt a standard.

More enthusiasm was generated by the conference vetting process. The organizers are going to divide papers, after the March 31 2018 deadline, into “A” papers and “B” papers. “A” papers are those suitable for going out to peer review as is; the “B” papers would be invited to come to a workshop in the summer of 2018 to learn how to make papers more peer-reviewable. We communicated this information to the Club and it was received with curious interest. I would actually hope that the papers from the TDU Journal Club would be “B” papers and get the benefit of this mentoring.

After the meeting, however, Truc (one of the young faculty) came back to our office and asked us to come to Dean Hoa’s office right away, because he had looked up the Journal of Vietnamese Studies and found that it was not on the ISI list. Both Joe and I went over there. Let me summarize by saying that I got quite hot under the collar and made some arguments. His question was, is it worth it for the whole faculty to do all this work if it was going to be submitted to a journal that was not on the approved list? Isn’t that a waste of time? I said, among other things, that for the administration to fail to approve this project on that basis was to put an obstacle in the way of young faculty who were trying to enter the global conversation about the conditions of workers and the role of unions, etc etc.

At the end of my heated presentation, he agreed with me. But there are still steps to be taken.

Two sides to the broad question

For future discussion of this highly charged and important matter, it is critical to keep the broad question of what the lists actually represent (a publisher’s bundled inventory? a sign of quality?) separate from the short-term question of the value of submitting something to this particular conference.

Challenging and discrediting the authority of these lists does not leave one with a practical alternative. After all, there has to be a way for a university that has not been accumulating endowments for 400 years (like Harvard) to enter the global education game (sorry…there are aspects of it that are a game). Also, it’s going to happen, so there has to be a way for it to happen, even if we break a few eggs in the process.

So there has to be some way to give guidance to young researchers, or new researchers, so that they don’t waste time writing for pop-up journals or trying to go to conferences that are really just a perk for people on a big grant. There has to be some quality control. If you don’t read English, and if every time you go to the library to look up an article, they have to create a budget for you to access each journal, what are you going to do? Wouldn’t it be great if you could trust these lists?

Submitting a proposal to this conference is an act that expresses the position that the measure of quality is created in an ongoing way through participation in the discourse, over the course of many years. What is desirable is meeting people, listening to new authorities (and old ones), venturing new ideas, picking up hints in the course of informal discussion, collecting business cards, remembering faces, getting on discussion email lists or into research groups, developing the shared vocabulary (register, discourse, at whatever level) of the discipline, learning the edges and norms of the discipline.

This is the long term, for sure. And the long term is hard to incentivize. From the administration’s point of view, how would you incentivize this? Right now, they are saying that if you publish an article in the approved journals, then the next semester you will get a reduced workload as a reward and can sign up to keep researching, in the hopes that you will publish another article. But lecturers are teaching 4 classes per semester; they are busy. What would incentivize them to carve research time out of their schedules in order to do this? Is it even possible?

To be continued.

The New Wrapped in the Old Wrapped in the New — August 22, 2017

The New Wrapped in the Old Wrapped in the New



Us on the stairs going up to our office in C building. The spots are on the mirror, not on either the camera or me.


Joe’s class starts at 9:25. It is now 9:48. The reason why it hasn’t started yet is because the publicity people came to his classroom right at 9:25 and asked if they could video the class. Why not, sure? I mistook the question, “May we film your class?” to be a question about copyright, permission to record your face and words, as in at the beginning of a theater performance, when they tell the audience that recording of any kind is prohibited. The work of the artists belongs to them.

No, that’s not what this is about. It’s about moving us to a room on the 4th floor of Building A, with fixed but purple cushioned seats and microphones installed in the tables, Joe up on a podium above the room. It’s the same room in which we made a presentation to lecturers two years ago. The computer has to be set up again to show the powerpoints.

Joe has prepared a pretty dense class with a lot of activity, closely timed, including reporting back on the interviews, so losing 20 minutes plus is pretty serious. There is a great deal of chaos at first, with new students (people who missed last time) having to form two new groups, and the other students not realizing that they are supposed to sit in groups. But the class gets going. The camera, I see, starts filming when Joe is talking. It does not film Vinh translating. The “camera” I am referring to is mounted on a frame, which is held up by a thin, tall, strong man; the frame seems to use a gyroscope to hold the focus steady even when he is swooping and dipping around Joe.

But despite this, once the class gets going it feels as if this is actually a better room for the class, at least for the teacher. Joe can stand down low below the screen and walk around.

Except that….. ooops, there is no blackboard. No place for students to write and collectively read material, construct a collective text, work on building an image, etc etc. Lots of wall, but no flip charts. No whiteboard. Joe wants to write “Freire” and “For whom, by whom, and for what purpose?” somewhere, but that’s not going to happen.

The good news is that Thi from Vung Tau is in the class – looking older and sophisticated. When Joe asks a question about the difference between leadership and management, she answers well, in very good English. Composition of the class today: over 50, of whom 8 are young men.

By 10:15 or sooner, the cameras and publicity people are gone. I had actually expected that they would film the whole thing so that students could watch it and take the class or review it that way. I assumed that what they were interested in was the logic and method of the whole thing.


It occurred to me this morning that between Joe’s class (this time around; the Northouse text plus the Handbook that we wrote, combined into a class about leadership from top down, leadership from bottom up) and my class, we’ve created two full classes that are now in the system, being offered on a repeated basis. Not unlike writing a play, that gets produced once here, then there, then in other places, each time with a new audience. You write it once and it is re-produced many times. So we are writing the shows that get produced in these classrooms (or at least two of them), with enrollments of 80 and 90 students. We are also writing guest lectures for Miss La and Mr. Triet’s classes, and an arc of 6 simulations about collective bargaining that will be offered on Thursdays or Fridays later in the semester.

I think this is what Dean Hoa actually meant two years ago when he would say, “We want you to help us create a curriculum.” This plus all the material Leanna and the UALE people have gathered, which hasn’t been integrated yet.

Website, E-Learning

More technology adaptation: the e-learning website is up and running, so for my class the whole Katz, Kochan and Colvin book is being scanned and all my powerpoints, class plans and extra handouts are being posted. Students will have a great deal of material to read on line. Will they do it? Yesterday Joe and I reviewed and edited the website blurb for the Labor Relations and Trade Unions Faculty and sent it back to Vinh and the two new teachers. The new text, at least at the moment, describes the subject matter of the Faculty as being interdisciplinary and designed to prepare students for work in unions, enterprises, and government. This is comparable to what I heard while doing the interviews with labor programs back in 2014 – I’m thinking of Cornell and Athabasca – when I asked, “What do your students do?” Answer – they go to law school, into government, into unions, into businesses as HR managers, and into NGOs. Missing here in VN is the NGOs.


I will have to take a lot of pictures of this library. It has a name: INSPIRE. From outside, you see a huge orange column, wrapped in blue and gray tile, and bands of blue windows. The actual entrance is like walking up to the top of a Mayan pyramid, only in bright orange, blue, gray, and wood. Before ascending this tower you have to go down a narrow spiral staircase to the basement (which we are told is open 24-7, for students to study all night) where you put on some soft gray clogs, which we are assured are washed once a month.

The library inside is a dream of lime, lemon, cream, glass, smooth bright floors, labels in English. We go into a “presentation room”, one of many which we can apparently book, with a flat screen TV and risers made of bright smooth wood, in a “c” shape. The young man who delivers the presentation shows us the home page of the website of Hollis, the Harvard University website; tells us that the TDT website and software were designed in Israel; that the interior of the whole library was designed by industrial design students at TDT (and it is the most student-friendly hive of spaces that you can imagine), and that books are filed on shelves in alphabetical order by title, because the title is easier for the students to read (bigger letters) than author. This stumps me for a while until I go into my email to send a message to Dean Hoa and see what happens when you look someone up by “Nguyen.” Our group includes two other Asian men and a young woman from Estonia who is here for a year and we are told we do not have to take a test. It may take a month to get a library card, however. The young presenter assures us that someone will deal with all our needs and questions. A goal, working with Julie Brockman at Michigan, would be to set up some kind of international partnership for improved access to academic material.

There is a museum in the library. At its center is an architectural model showing the future of TDT. That whole piece of land beyond the second canal, it turns out, is going to be TDT. That land that was being bulldozed and excavated and drained two years ago, and now is overgrown with head-high tropical grasses (elephant grass?) is going to be full of giant white university buildings. The vision is gigantic. It makes the existing TDT right now seem tiny. There will be more dormitories, of course. ONe of the big buildings is a Finnish-Vietnamese high school, being planned jointly with Finland.

Construction has been held up by “red tape,” says the library presenter. We had also heard that RMIT was going to build on that land.

Weirdly, this place does not really feel foreign any more. Is it because there is so much new, high-tech stuff? So much evidence of hard work towards developing this into a real major university? I don’t think it’s just that. I think that having read the Appy book, American Reckoning, helped me find a place in the history that has brought me here. But also, the traffic doesn’t astonish me this time. The food of course – pho twice a day, with something with rice and spinach soup for lunch – is a change from what I eat in the US, but it does not feel foreign. Maybe a little too much fish.

Last Sunday night we had dinner with Vy and An. They have grown up a lot. They wore elegant little dresses (a particular Vietnamese style that depends on being slender) and have interesting jobs. An left the furniture store and is now a vegan and at her new job (something about social media that has a lot of connections with France) she is assigned to create a “green office,” which she is taking very seriously. (We went to a vegan restaurant.) Vy, who gave herself a trip to Hanoi last spring by herself, teaches in a pre-school but is applying for an HR or purchasing job. They looked older; I felt older; I am just glad they are both well.

The Big Difference

The biggest difference is that we are actually teaching collective bargaining and using that term. I don’t hear the word “social dialog” around at all. Joe’s class, half Northouse and half our Handbook, really got down to the contrast between corporate and union perspectives today, explicitly. You could see that when the students reported how they filled out a version of Fred Glass’s contrast table (his is about communication; Joe adapted it to leadership). There must have been a sea-change somewhere. We are doing collective bargaining simulations (a series of 6, with only 3 dedicated to table skills), two classes in CB in Miss La’s class, two in Mr. Triet’s class and session of my class in Vinh’s class. Then we will be meeting with faculty to discuss research, and it seems as if we will be able to devise a research project (such as how labor education has evolved here over the recent past) which will involve them. If we have their participation, this research might actually be possible.

The photo below is the air conditioning unit, which inspires me a lot, too — maybe as much as the library. This morning it was groaning and overflowing, with torrents of water pouring down the steps.




First day of semester, August 2017 — August 16, 2017

First day of semester, August 2017


The semester starting at TDT is like a huge machine coming to life. Outside our door starting soon after 6 am there were classes in the swimming pool, tennis classes, something else in the background, martial arts in the gym. Lots of mothers sitting on the benches while the young students found out where their rooms were. Suitcases were all over the place. The cafeteria ran out of food — nothing left but eggs and bread! Next to our room is the copy shop, which was going great guns into the night; I could hear them pounding the leaves of whole books into glue-backed covers, boom boom boom! and can vouch that they go home at midnight. Our classes will be huge — Joe’s is 70 but the first day it was 45, mine was supposed to be 99 and was 82. 

Joes 1st class

Joe’s first class, on Tuesday morning, went very well, after the technology got set up. About 45 students showed up, overwhelmingly young women.

As an exercise he asked them to make a list of the characteristics of good leadership. the winner above all was “democracy” or “democratic.” We didn’t actually expect this. Hmmmm. Things are moving along.

Vinh translated for both of us. There were two microphones. She stood in the back of the class.

My class, today, also went well. I’m using Katz, Kochan and Colvin’s Labor in a Globalizing World (I think I’ve mentioned this before) and trying to get students to focus on “Who is ‘us'”?  WHo can act? Who judges? Who enforces? And follow those questions through the various IR systems that we study. We will start with trying to understand the work experience of the elders of some of them. There were 82 students in the class, who formed into 13 groups. Here are some pictures of them doing the first group exercise: figuring out what else is produced at a workplace other than the product — things like jobs, benefits, a place to meet people and make friends, a way to make a decent living — etc.  The idea was to make the maximum list, then divide it into things that workers want and things that employers want.

group d 2group dis 3Group disc

Then they went up to the board and sure enough, they got it!!


We drew lines from things on the “workers want” list to items on the “employers want” list, and back again, to show how come things are a shared concern — things like training and health and safety. But wages and profits did not get a connecting line. A good job is a place where there is a lot of overlap. In a bad job, anything from slavery on up, including some of the bad workplaces in Viet Nam, there is little or no overlap. Very little of what workers want is also wanted by the employer. My argument is that labor wants the maximum number of their needs to be negotiable — to be in the “labor peace” zone, where the two lists overlap and you don’t have to be fighting all the time. When the way these issues are handled are settled through negotiation and agreed to in some enforceable way, there is labor peace. Workers want that because they want to have steady jobs and a decent life. Employers want it too, but not if it cuts into profits, so unless labor takes up some of its economic weapons, everything but profits will go by the way. So what are these economic weapons? Both sides have them, and they can use them to manage the size of the zone in which there can be labor peace. Sit-ins, strikes, demonstrations, lobbying, political leaders, public shaming, going to court, showing solidarity — these are the weapons of labor. On the employer side, capital flight, lockouts, layoffs, replacement of workers with automation, and then individual penalties like demotions or suspensions.

Now we can talk about the way countries develop IR systems to regulate the conflict between workers and employers over these issues.

Their first assignment is to interview an elder worker and see if they can understand his or her work experience using the questions, Who is ‘us’? Who can act? Who judges? Who enforces?

We’ll see what happens. These students are very sharp. Also, I notice that they come to class with pens and notebooks. This is new. Two years ago, students didn’t take notes; they had phones but no note-taking equipment.

Wednesday after my class we went swimming (pool open for lecturers from 5-6 pm) and then took the 86 bus into center city, the Ben Than Market. I had heard abut the diggings for the new Metro but what’s going on there surpassed my imagination. It’s a vast mess, but the Market is still there. We at dinner on a balcony at a Hue Food restaurant up an alley  overlooking the market. On the way home in a cab I began to have a very sharp sore throat, which I attributed to the pollution, but it turned out I was actually sick and spent the next 36 hours on my back in our room, sniffling and feverish. Vinh brought oranges, Ensure and kiwis and some kind of Vietnamese oatmeal.IMG_0121

It’s all good.

Sunday morning after sleeping nearly 18 hours, maybe more — August 13, 2017

Sunday morning after sleeping nearly 18 hours, maybe more


Coffee shop in the Duong So 8 neighborhood; houses worth $1M, occupied by state employees and businessmen. Along the river; across it, we could see the orange-red tower of the new TDT library. 

Friday was very full. We “the foreign experts” have a very fancy, brand new office over in C Building, room 206. Four comfortable armchairs, beautiful dark wood desks, new computer WITH PRINTER, padded desk chairs! And the elegant tea set that I thought only Department Chairs had. View right out onto the new Library, of which more later.

We met with Vinh at 8:30 am and she set us up with TDT email accounts and then dove into Joe’s class, which is a combination of the Northouse-text-based Leadership class (all management-side perspective) and the Handbook that we wrote with Vinh last time but never quite finished (it needs another swipe of translation and some cuts, plus Joe is hoping that Vinh and Ms. La will put a chapter on VN labor history in the front.) I learned the email system while they went week by week through the class. I mention this because this is a different way of vetting the class than last time. Very cooperative and productive, and Vinh has VERY good, fresh and positive teaching ideas.

Classes still have to be submitted and approved by the representatives of the Ministry of Education and Training office, so everyone being on the same page about the purpose of each session is critical.

Dean Hoa came by about 11:30 and organized us all to go to lunch, via taxi, at a very good Hue-style restaurant down in a neighborhood somewhat to the southeast. We were joined by Kim Scipes and Valerie (Vandy) Wilkinson who is here in VN on a research venture and wanted to report on her teaching experiment last March with the English teaching faculty. She teaches in Japan, and had never encountered a situation in which she was asked to teach a group of 300. She split the groups into 60, drew 90 for each group, did 6 different presentations and managed, using “dojo” one-on-one conversational exercises, to actually get some participation despite the size of the group. She took this plan back to Japan and used it in an engineering program, then wrote it up and will present it at a conference in Romania!!! The theoretical value of this process was a little opaque to IR people but it is a recognizable unit of analysis for sociocultural-historical people. We ate phenomenal food; Vinh and Dean Hoa ordered something that was encased in lotus blossoms.

Then back to the office where I went through the same vetting process about my class, with both Dean Hoa and Vinh. My class was originally approved based on a different text; last April, when I started working on it, I decided I would just plunge ahead and “do it first and apologize later” rather than try to get permission for something pretty fancy. I chose the 2015 Katz, Kochan and Colvin text on Labor in a Globalizing World. I sent Dean Hoa a copy and he approved it; from then on, I simply wrote the class the way I thought it should be done. We sat together with Vinh and went through the whole process. I was very happy that they both approved the class student research projects  which begin with interviewing the oldest working person in their family. Vinh stepped forward to pick up the aspects of comparative labor relations that are specific to Viet Nam, which will be a share (30 minutes plus) of each class. The overall result is that our approach was approved, including making the Katz book the official  class book, but Dean Hoa has to re-submit some paperwork for approval. I have a lot of work to do this weekend (I had not finished the powerpoints) and Vinh volunteered to put them on the TDT logo slides for me, which is asking a lot, since she’s supposed to be away and busy all weekend.

Altogether it was quite exciting. I felt that an entirely new level of flexibility and possibility had been achieved, in the matter of accommodating the MOET approval process and allowing innovations from someone from outside. I have also NEVER had a Dean be as genuinely interested in the design of a course I was teaching! Mostly, as long as I took care of everthing, they were happy to know nothing about what was going on.

Friday night we had dinner with Kim Scipes at one of the street food places across from TDT, then came home and crashed. Saturday (yesterday) we sat with our computers all morning, trying to get our classes under control, and then took the bus to the Lotte Mart to spend some of our 9M dong wages! I bought a pair of comfortable leather sandals with thick padded soles, for about $48, much like the ones I bought last time which I  now wear daily, but which cost 900,000 dong or $39. Followed by dinner at the Beef Noodle place that is always a fallback favorite and a short walk around some of the streets surrounding. Almost every street front seems to be a coffee shop now, with lots of greenery under the awnings.

Changes, the appearance of new wealth

Which leads me to the issue of money and wealth. In the nearly 2 years since we were here, there seems to have been quite a bit of money flowing around, at least in this district. The physical plant at TDT is maybe 20% larger, with two new buildings including the library which specifically is like something from a Hollywood movie. There are other signs: more cars, compared to scooters. Only a few silver bikes, ridden by old women carrying loads of various kinds of goods. Seemingly less traffic overall, and less pollution (maybe we just were out at the wrong time.) The Lotte Mart is significantly up-scaled! The upper floor of the market has been re-habbed into a high-end coffee pavilion with wooden floors. The lower level is fully built out into a deli where people are sitting and eating. The fish market is where the fruit market was. And all the little shop spaces are full — no empty ones. While it’s true that some of the checkout clerks still look as if they didn’t get enough good food while growing up, the general appearance of people is healthy and well-fed. Fewer women wearing “women’s clothes” are on the street –there were so few that I started noticing it. Also, the sidewalks seem to have been cleared. I read something that said there’s a campaign to get small vendors off the sidewalks, with a controversy thereabout, but it sure is different to be able to walk along the sidewalk instead of having to go into the street and dodge traffic.

Then Monday we got another perspective on the sidewalk-clearing issue from a friend who lives here and speaks Vietnamese. He says that the way it works is that someone makes a phone call and says they’re on their way, so everyone throws all the tables and chairs back into the restaurant and people help the vendors try to clear things away, but if it’s not all clear when they come, “they” being police, things just get swept away.

We had dinner last night at 24/24 Pho down the street. Nghia took us to this two years ago. Taxi drivers eat there, and sure enough, there were taxis pulled up on the sidewalk. Two years ago it had concrete floors, a few tables, and a metal cart out near the sidewalk where the pho was cooking. A bowl of pho was 25 dong. Last night we saw a place with white ceramic tile floors, walls that went from floor to ceiling and were clean, maybe freshly painted, there were at least 2 new long shiny aluminum tables with plenty of chairs plus two long wooden tables, real furniture, with chairs. The cooking table had been moved back into the shop and sat on one of the nicely-made wooden tables. The young man who brought us the pho, which was excellent, looked well-fed. A child about 4 years old came hopping down the spiral metal staircase from what must be a living space above. And the pho was now 35 dong.


Notice the huge pots on the stove. That’s how you make pho. It cooks forever.

So maybe the economic growth rate is spilling some money into the denizens of District 7. How far this goes we can’t see, and I can only guess what is going on in the mountains and outer provinces. The big worry, of course, is inequality. In the US I am so used to seeing everything get worse as inequality increases. You just know that streets won’t get re-paved, libraries will have to rely on private funding, parks will charge fees, no one is repairing the bathrooms in public schools. To see things actually looking better makes me blink. But what else is going on? Is it possible to manage inequality?

Christian Appy’s Book, American Reckoning

Last point, and then I’ll quit — On the way over I read Christian G. Appy’s 2015 book, American Reckoning: The Viet Nam War and our National identity, Penguin/Random House. This is an essential book for Americans. It places the Vietnam War in our history in a way that makes sense to me in a way that nothing else has. It tells a coherent story about US national identity starting post WWII (my era; my dad fought in the Pacific, in the Navy) and up through Obama, with the “Vietnam experience” as the pivot around which our economy and culture tilted. It is a much better way to understand Trump voters than, for example, the awful Hillbilly Elegy. Appy wrote Patriots, a compendium of interviews with people from all sides of the war; out of this he taught a class in the Viet nam war at Amherst, and you can tell that he has really hammered this topic through conversations with students, many of whom probably had no idea how their own sense of being American had been formed by the Vietnam war. This is the first time I have ever read a full history of the last 60 years in which I could place myself consistently as a participant and actor, warts and all, and the lives of people I’ve known, from draft resisters to college classmates to hedge fund hoppers and people who couldn’t tell whether they were for or against the Iraq war — all into one coherent story. I really hope that everyone on this list buys that book and reads it. I feel that it changed my sense of who I am here in Viet Nam –it kind of drew a boundary line around myself as an American. Maybe it’s putting things a bit strongly, but I feel less guilt and more admiration; it frees me to smile when I think of one particular student who, when she came up with something that must have taken a whole lot of work, whispered just loud enough for me to hear: “That’s why we won.”

Ha Do came by and picked us up to go to a lovely coffee shop along the other side of the river, and tonight we will get together with Vy and An. In the meantime, I have to make a whole bunch of powerpoint slides.

RIVERThe curved rooftop shape in the distance across the river is the gymnasium at TDT.

Back to Viet Nam August 2017 — August 12, 2017

Back to Viet Nam August 2017

Last image from San Francisco, taken out of the window of the bus as we go to the Viet Nam consulate to get our visas (business, $110 each): it’s an ad for “FREE CITY,” which refers to the fact that for San Francisco residents tuition at City College is free this semester (and for the future, too, maybe). This was an idea that actually occurred to Alyssa, recent past president of the AFT2121 teachers union, out of the blue. What do to for an encore, now that so many of the battles against the ACCJC seem to have been won? What would winning really look like? Well, it would look like a whole lot of students coming back to CCSF and being able to afford it!! So a whole lot of lobbying and arguing and organizing took place and it happened. Apparently, the phrase “FREE CITY” is well known and seems to mean not just free tuition at City College but also that the college has been liberated and maybe the City itself is experiencing some new freedom.


Then we packed (I forgot several important items) and took a Lyft to the airport (this is new since last time) and got on China Airlines to Taipei. I was listening to the book about Daniel Ellsberg — The Most Dangerous Man in America by Steve Sheinkin — on my phone (this is new — using Overdrive from the Berkeley library to download books). I listened, at vegetarian airplane food (good) and slept until dawn broke over Taipei:


.. a feeling of being nowhere in space and time, among a lot of other travelers floating here and there … and then a quick 3 hour flight to HCMC where we easily went through customs and out onto the sidewalk in front of the airport, where we waited only a few minutes before Vinh came running up, very excited and happy to see us.

I have too much work to do to prepare for my class to spend much more time on this, but  here are a few things. It feels overwhelmingly familiar. But they’ve done a lot of work. Everything seems a bit, or a lot, upgraded. Here’s a photo of the new library as seen from our fancy new office (four armchairs, two revolving desk chairs with arms, nice heavy wood furniture, new printer and computer, good internet and air conditioning):



The orange and blue are just a hint of the explosion of color once you get inside. It’s kind of French; makes me think of the Pompidou Center when it was new. Makes me think that it might win prizes for architecture. You climb brightly colored stairs to the entrance (like climbing the Mexican pyramids). But at the top, you have to put on slippers to go inside. You also have to take a class and pass a test before you can use it. We are signed up to get the training a week from yesterday.

The work dedicated to making Ton Duc Thang a top-ranked university seems to be paying off in more than just physical plant, however. They have hired two new teachers — lecturers –for the Labor Relations and Trade Unions program, young women who comes with MA’s from Taiwan. They introduced themselves as Rose and Vivian. They are going to hold a research workshop that Joe and I will conduct. I’ve see one of Dean Hoa’s research papers so far, and talked a bit with Vinh about the topic for her dissertation. We got up Friday morning and went to our new office and met first with Vinh about Joe’s class (working out all the why’s and wherefores of the combination of textbook chapters with the chapters from our Handbook). Then Kim Scipes (yes, our friend from Chicago) and Vandy Wilkenson (from Japan, from XMCA, who teaches English and had a research project at TDT) all went to lunch with VInh and met Dean Hoa at a Hue-style restaurant. This was followed by my meeting with Vinh and Dean Hoa about my globalized labor class, which, as a completely new class with a new main text, took quite a lot of discussion but worked out well. I was very glad that I had made a decision back in April, when I started working on it, to try to really do it right according to my way of teaching. There is an important co-teacher role for Vinh in it, which she stepped into happily.


More computer work — getting on line in various places, getting a TDT email address, figuring out what has to be done in the next couple of days, getting keys – and then we went swimming. The same fuss about male bathing suits, but the Swimming Pool Boss let us swim!  Dinner at a place down the street where we ate last time, the place where a giant eel escaped from its tank and the chef had to run all over the restaurant chasing it in order to kill it and cook it! – except that like everything else it has morphed and become more complex. It seems as if there is a lot more money here than there was two years ago. Joe noted more cars, compared to motorcycles.

I am going to spend some time recommending Christian Appy’s book, American Reckoning, The Vietnam War and Our National Identity (Penguin, $18.00). I couldn’t put it down. The magic of it is that it makes sense, it tells a coherent continuous story that carries us all the way from the end of WWII through Viet Nam and into the Reagan and Bush years, the Iraq War and up into the Obama presidency. I have never heard this span of history told as one continuous story that made sense, that carried me along in a way that I could find a place for myself at every point. I was saying, “Yes, that’s what it was like! I didn’t know that but now that you mention it, it makes sense, I remember wondering about that…” Etc. I feel as if I’m looking at Viet Nam today with new eyes.

I actually finished it on the Vietnam Airlines flight into HCMC. I am extremely glad that I read it; it helps me understand my own feelings about the war, the men and boys I knew who fought in it or fled from it, and also my parents’ role as protestors at the time.

Enough. I’ve been up since 4 am. Joe is still asleep. I’d better wake him up and go get breakfast and coffee at the canteen next door. Then I have to sit with my comptuer and do powerpoints.