Too much going on


This is at the “new” restaurant that had just opened two years ago, down the street from TDT, the place where the huge eel escaped from the tank and the chef had to go chasing it under people’s tables and brag it and whack it like a whip. It has by now settled down into a sports and seafood place where they do hot pots for whole teams of soccer fans. The waiters are boys in their early teens wearing red T-shirts. A TDT student works there and helps us order.


This is the menu from Ho Lo Quan at #78 Vo Van Tan Street in HCMC where we met Jonathan Luu for dinner on Thursday last week. We had the mango salad, deep fried pork ribs, something called “chicken knees,” and several other things that don’t seem to be on the menu, and it was wonderful. He works at an asset management company (he’s from Austin, TX but went to Temple in Philly, was a PhD candidate there in Philosophy but came to VN to investigate community organizing here; speaks some VN but was not raised to speak it) and “leads two lives” — the other one in Hanoi where he works out in rural areas with a friend who organizes a pepper-growing cooperative. Stories of the contrasts between these two lives will emerge eventually.


This is a barn near Vy’s grandmother’s home in Cu Chi. Brown cows are for meat, the black and white cows are for milk, and just down the street is a building with the sign saying “Bring your raw milk here and we will take it to Vinamilk,” which is the big milk company. Also down the street and out back are fields of grass for the cows to eat.

There is almost too much to say about that trip. It was wonderful to see Vy and An again and spend some extended time with them. Vy’s family is a whole story in itself. An met us at TDT and we rode up to Cu Chi in an Uber. It took 3 hours and I could hardly breathe going through the city because of the pollution, even in the car. The drivers’ story:  His other job is transporting water hyacinths from the Mekong delta, where they are grown (in the water, of course) up to a more central province where they are dried and woven into baskets, mats, just about anything you can imagine. He showed us a photo of one of the final products: a basket that I actually bought at Target in Massachusetts as a wastebasket, two years ago, for about $17, off a shelf full of products from Viet Nam. The total return is 30,000 or about $1.20 per basket, which is split among the weavers, the driver, and the people who haul the water hyacinths out of the river and dry them. Cost of an Uber each way: 600,000 – 650,000 or about $27.

Below is an ad for workers to come and work in a textile factory, posted on the road near Vy’s family’s home. The employer will send a bus to pick them up. Men and women over 18 should apply. Wages are in millions of dong per  month. Current minimum wage according to is 3,750,000. Living wage for an individual is 4,011,373 and for a family it’s 5,790,475.

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We can use this photo in the collective bargaining simulations which we will start this coming Friday. The class plan will be a version of what we did in Ms. La’s class. In Ms. La’s class, we told a simple description of a factory (handbags, so that we could have some health and safety issues with cutting equipment and needles) and then asked them to develop a plan for handling 13 different kinds of things that have to go on pre-bargaining.  Here is a photo of them putting their plans on the board:


And here is a closeup of the last one before bargaining starts, creating a pressure campaign — there was some question about whether these were legal in VN or not.


When we start the simulation series we’ll do 1 session on preparation for bargaining, then maybe three on actual bargaining (including one on caucusing) and then two on  enforcement. The point is to emphasize that collective bargaining is not just table skills; it is an arc of activity that goes from one contract to the next and involves constant internal organizing of the “collective.”

We are also each teaching our own class, plus these 2 sessions of Ms. La’s class, two of Mr,. Triet’s class on health and safety (sounds as if there is a lot about PPE in that one — maybe we’ll do body mapping), one in Vinh’s class on labor relations, and then the Journal Club and…

Cafe LaRotonde

We were going to meet Lien Hoang, the journalist, at the Cafe La Rotonde at 77b Ham Nghi but it has been closed. The sign remains. Must have been quite a place.

La RotYou can’t quite hear the music or the clink of tea cups…

Every morning we hear “Mo, Hai!” — one, two! – outside our door, and walking to class we go past groups of about 40 students in various degrees of military clothing and equipment. This has been going on all month. They are getting military training. First they were trying on their uniforms, then marching, giving each other orders, learning to bandage heads and legs and arms, then taking guns apart and putting them back together, then stalking along with their guns through what looks like high grass, and also creeping along on their stomachs with their guns pointed. The teachers are mostly older men wearing uniforms with a certain amount of red and gold decoration.

It is definitely something to think about, as the Ken Burns movie impresses its version of the war into the setting plastic of popular memory, when you have to step over girls racing to beat each other assembling rifles, on the way to breakfast…

girl rifles

The “V” with fingers stands for Viet Nam, I was told. Also “victory,” and so maybe the upside down “v” that the boy is displaying is like that whispered comment made to me once when I remarked on how hard the students worked: “That’s why we won.” In this case, the teacher saw me taking a photo and invited me, quite effectively, to be part of the picture, which was exactly the right thing to do. I am happy to be in this picture, flashing the V sign.






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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