End of October

Last Saturday was my birthday: 75, according to Vietnamese counting, but 74 the way I count.  Joe with Ha Do’s help made reservations at a restaurant named Zenbay, not too far from TDT, and we invited some friends including An and Vy, John, Vinh and That from our faculty, Mai the Assistant Dean of Sociology, Joe Buckley, and Ha Do of course. The food was great and the setting gorgeous, up high on a terrace as the sun set. Many conversations took place at the table. Not everyone knew each other before the meal; that was in part the point.

all good

From the left: Vinh, John, Ha Do, Joe Buckley. Me at the bottom of the table. Down the right side: An, That, Mai, Joe, Vy.


This is our last week. The next entries will be a mix of big and little items. We have had a busy week.

Earl Silbar and Sue Schulz from Chicago were in town for 2 days as part of a 5-week tour through South Asia. We went over to their hotel- the Intercontinental –  Sunday morning to visit. Sue was going out on the walking tour to the Cathedral but Earl had been getting sicker and sicker day by day and stayed behind in their room. When we went up there, it didn’t take us long to persuade him to go to the French Hospital, where they took blood, did an x-ray and CT scan, discovered double pneumonia and checked in him.


They pumped him full of antibiotics and kept him until Thursday afternoon but is now better enough to be allowed to go join Sue in the new hotel in Koreatown (District 7, the Bien Vien which has several buildings, 280.000 per night) that the tour guide set up for them while the rest of the tour went on to Rangoon. Luckily they have plenty of insurance of various kinds. Thursday night he felt well enough to go out to dinner at the Beef Noodle place  Pho Kim Hung at 510 Nguyen Thi Thap.

Earl and Sue


The small fuzzy creature under the bushes is a puppy, one of a little of 5. Two are brown, two are black, and one is a very pretty with black and white spots. The mother is one of the skinny mean-looking yellow-brown dogs that roam the campus. They appear to have been born and actually live in a hole dug under the steps. The security guards feed them by sharing street food with them in styrofoam take-out containers. Any attempt to get near the puppies will send the mother dog into a mania of shrill barking. She barks at night, too — Maybe when someone goes their rounds. It’s often about 2 am and it can go on for an hour, making sleep impossible. No one is petting the puppies or training them. Now I see how the dogs on campus got the way they are; less domesticated than the cats that prowl the canteen under the tables, un-pattable, and not pretty. Feral, not friendly, not pets at all. But one of the men who staffs the management and maintenance of the dorm told me that the dogs “belong” to the President — the president of the University. “He likes dogs,” I was told. There are indeed more dogs here this year than in the past, probably a dozen that just wander around. Another person says that the President thinks the dogs keep us safe.



ILO Collaboration

Thursday morning there was a small ceremony in which Chung-Hee Lee, the ILO Country Director, signed a cooperation agreement with Ton Duc Thang, represented by Dr. Vo Hoang Duy, to cooperate on 1) Holding an industrial relations summer school for researchers and teachers every year, like the one this last summer that Greg Murray and Do Quynh Chi led; 2) Provide textbooks from ILO — written materials — to TDT Faculty of Labor Relations and Trade Union; 3) send professors and scholars from the ILO (recruited from Australia and other overseas places) to hold classes with faculty at TDT and 4) have internships at the ILO for PhD candidates from TDT who want to do research. Chung-Hee Lee noted that it was not common for the ILO to have this kind of collaborative relationship to do labor research in a country.

Dr. Vo asked if I had any comments on the agreement and I said that it was hopeful and possible and opened a good path in the right direction; also that in order to develop Vietnamese faculty researchers, the library had to provide access to international journals and the workload for faculty had to be lightened.

After taking a quick tour around the campus Dr. lee came back to the conference room where Daniel Helman, joe and I were waiting, and he asked us what exactly we were doing at TDT; we reported our teaching and research projects. He also asked whether there were a lot of other foreigners on campus — especially Europeans. In fact, there are — we have met a Ukranian, an Estonian, several Brits and Aussies, some from India, and today I met a man from Bulgaria. Lee made it very clear that the ILO objective is to develop Vietnamese researchers. He mentioned his years in China; over the course of 6 years the world of labor research there had gone from being in the same condition as Viet Nam now to being as good as anywhere,with its own good journals.

The challenge goes all the way down to simple data collection: there is no one single office in Viet Nam that collects and organizes labor statistics. It is all spread around the country in different offices where it is used at the functional level but is not ready to provide a basis for research. He noted that the ILO does not have the capacity to be VN’s BLS.


This is consistent with information from Katie Quan about her upcoming training at Hansae to follow up on what we did last month. She is going to do a train-the-trainer session (maybe more than one) and asked for names of Vietnamese people who might be good.

My last class in Globalization

last H class

Their final activity was responding to the question raised by the authors of the textbook, Katz, Kochan and Colvin: “Is there a role for national IR systems in a globalizing economy?”  They considered this question and three alternatives to national IR systems:  a global system run by a tri-partite organization like the ILO, a global system run by global unions or GUFS or world federations ot labor; or a global system run by multinational corporations.  Only three or four students took up the argument that multinational corporations were going to be running things, but they had a lot of evidence to support their points. They were clearly the voice of the realists. The discussion got quite heated and students were really debating back and forth, until the bell rang.


In every hallway there is someone sitting at a desk with a book in front of them. These are the people who can call someone to turn on or off the air conditioning, fix the microphone or the power point projector, supply chalk, and who also keep the books in which there is a record of the class.  I think the man in this picture is a professor.



Art and Design Department Display

ao dai

An AoDai with incredible embroidery.


A history of Asian women’s fashion. To the right, another display of the same for Europe.



Three large prints: Title, “Three Friends.” Very real-looking, faces that look real.

Joe’s last class, on Tuesday

Joe did a lecture with exercises using Andy Blunden’s Origins of Collective Decision Making. At the end, he gave the students a set of decisions and asked them what kind of process would be appropriate. They appeared to have got the idea!  The numbers represent groups.


It so happened that his last class was also a demonstration class, to demonstrate western teaching methods. The people in the back of the classroom are other lecturers. General response was “Good. ” They only saw the first half of the class, but they liked that he began the whole class with a group exercise and report from the floor. In a separate room during break, a real discussion about the challenge of working through translation developed.  I was happy to hear that their concerns about oversimplifying and losing valuable class time are the same as mine.



Last week when I went to the library to see the 6th floor, I offered to do an open mini-talk, kind of like a book club reading, because I wanted to demonstrate and also experience what it would be like to move a book from the special restricted collection out into the room where they get processed to go into the main collection. I suggested The Odyssey, and the young librarian Mr. Truong ran into me in the faculty dining room on Tuesday and reminded me, whereupon we set it up and he announced it and 20 plus people showed up.

Most of them were students from International Business, with one Electrical Engineering. We did the story of Odysseus and Polyphemos, the Cyclop. Mr. Truong found about 15 copies of the Odyssey scattered among the restricted book shelves. They read a lot of the story aloud, taking parts for Odysseus, Polyphemos, the Cyclop friends and the sailors who try to get Odyseus to control himself when they are trying to escape. I then narrated the final homecoming scene, making guess at the  number of axe heads through which the suitors had to shoot the arrow. They liked it.


And these books have now been liberated into the general collection.

Next up, Little Women? Or Capital? Classics, of course.

It was not possible to move from this reading exercise to the “Achilles in Vietnam” significance of the story — and that’s the Iliad, anyway.

Food packaging

Other end-of semester display, this one from the industrial design department, all about green packaging for Vietnamese food products. I do not know what would be inside these little green packages.  Most of the other displays are more self-evidence: coffee, cashews, etc.

food pkg

Le Ciel Rouge

Friday night we went over to Koreatown with That, met An there who had bought tickets ahead of time, and went to a movie. As usual, we were almost the only people in the theater. (Our most recent experience was at Blade Runner, perfectly horrible movie, at the Lotte Mart last week.)

The movie was Le Ciel Rouge (Red Sky) and it was new, French-made, in French with VN subtitles, about a love affair between a Viet Minh girl who has been captured and is being tortured by the French. Then a young red-haired French soldier releases her and then deserts from his unit, travels with her high into central and northern VN and eventually joins with the Viet Minh himself. He acts as bait to scouting parties of French soldiers by coming forward into open fields and announcing himself, which leads the French to come running out towards him, Whereupon they get shot down by the Viet Minh who have been  hiding. Eventually he himself is captured by the French. We expect him to be shot on the spot, but instead they tie him up and the last moment of the film shows the girl, Thi, who has managed to sneak past the guards. She is close by him, almost invisible in the high grass, and will untie him and then they will both escape. Terrific images of wild central and northern mountains.

movie pho.JPG

We went and had pho afterwards. That and Vinh said that the movie was a ‘Landscape movie” to show tourists about the landscape of Viet Nam and increase tourism, with love and war for a plot.  Some history, but it was French soldier, not a US soldier. Probably not much chance for a landscape movie about love during war to be made about a US deserter, as a way of showing off the stunning mountains of northern Viet Nam.

There is also a wonderful, chilling Vietnamese book with a title something like “Lost,” which is about a young North Vietnamese army soldier who, only a week or so into his duty, gets separated from his unit in the mountains and found by a montangnard clan. First they imprison him for a while, then slowly, as months pass, induct him into their way of life. He becomes one of them and is respected for being able to shoot accurately and kill jungle beasts that they can eat (wild boars, for example). Their “work” is to receive assignments to go down into valley villages and murder chieftains who have gone over to the enemy. With them all this time is a US soldier who is, compared to them, huge, and is treated as a beast of burden. His job is to carry heavy things, like the clan grandfather, from one camp to another. This soldier has some kind of illness, maybe tuberculosis, or maybe it’s a wound, which eventually kills him – they take his body to some place where it will be found and leave him there. Not a “landscape” story for US viewers.

HCMC Research Group Presentation

Joe presented on how higher ed unions in the US developed, beginning with the NEA as a management lobbying group in 1857 up through the founding of the AFT in 1916 and the way teacher unionism developed outside the law (and still does) — with no enabling legislation in state after state, as a result of teacher activism and behaving ‘like a union” even when there was no legally established path. The link to the present is the continuing degradation of higher education under the pressure of global neoliberalism, of which contingency is a symptom.

The announcement of this event went out about 10 days ago to the general research group. In other words, late, as far as I am concerned, because people plan weeks if not months in advance — or do they? But the day before the Research Group meeting we heard that a meeting had been called by the university  which all lecturers were required to attend. It was going to be a 2-day meeting. This meant That, for example, could not come.

However, Saturday morning in fact Vinh and Dean Hoa did come. We had a very good group that engaged in a good discussion afterwards.  Central ideas included how the NEA had to get the managers out of the union after the rise of the real union, the AFT, and how the 1960 NYC strike pushed forward the enabling legislation for CB.  Lots of talk about the VGC and what kinds of working conditions issues might be bargained for higher ed teachers in VN.  Vinh not only showed people where to sit and poured the tea, she also asked the three best questions: What states have the best CBA for higher education? Why don’t Harvard and Yale have unions (since we were talking about quality)? And would most adjuncts prefer flexibility or a full-time job?

A man who is a compliance officer from IKEA came and wants to join the group. There was also a man who teaches labor history at TDT, who doesn’t have much English, but was accompanied by a man who does, who is doing research on garbage workers in HCMC for a social welfare/community development group. He says that garbage workers are invisible, have no way to access social benefits, are below the radar of the labor code. I sent him a link to various Martin Luther King Jr videos about Memphis and the sanitation worker strike.

Sat 1

So tonight That will pick me up on her scooter and take me to some place where we will get our nails done.

Here is me, after a shampoo and facial, with pink finger and toenails, about to have my entire face shaved with a straight-edge razor. They use a razor instead of wax; wax is for men. My eyebrows got shaped, too. I am very happy with the way this turned out; I will go back to this salon, which is on Van Luong Street nearby, when we come back to Viet Nam.


VAn Luong Street is long and narrow; on Saturday night it is wide open with coffee shops, salons, music, many scooters zipping around like a country fairgrounds; a sense of Saturday night fun everywhere.

Tomorrow afternoon we fly back to Berkeley. We arrive Sunday night about 9 pm.

Last picture: the pianos “for use” on the bottom terraces of the TDT towers. Someone is always playing them. I have never seen one without someone playing it — at least not on this trip.

piano for use




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.

One thought on “End of October

  1. Re: The “monitors.”
    I certainly don’t know — my experience, like Helena’s, is that every day in Vietnam produces more questions than answers for a visiting American — but I was told that some of the folks in the hall are keeping an eye on political content in the classrooms.

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