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.

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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