Home again…

All back safe and sound, if you don’t count killer jet-lag.

All in all this was a good and successful trip.   Tokyo and Ho Chi Minh City were new locations for us, and they did not disappoint.  Over 17 days we saw 3 very different Asian cities with very different cultures and climates.  We met business professionals from local companies and multinational companies.  We sampled the food, and interacted with the locals.  We visited popular tourist locations and often simply just wandered around.  We stepped way out of our comfort zones, especially with the food, and enjoyed it all.  Well done and thanks to the students, to Kim for trip coordination, and to all the folks we interacted  with along the way.

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The last hurrah.

Today was our last day in Vietnam.  Some went to the beach while some of us went to the Mekong Delta.  All in all, Vietnam gets high marks from our students.  A robust business environment, friendly people and low cost of living make for a great place to visit, live, or work.  We will definitely be back.

Guannan relaxing, and Dennis, kind of relaxing, in hammocks at a rest area on the way to the Mekong Delta.

We saw hundreds of boats today, of every conceivable shape and size, transporting everything from dirt to fruits and vegetables, to live animals.

We travelled by bus, big boat, little boat (above), on bicycles, and on foot today.  It was an amazing experience.

This is someone I’m calling South Korea Guy, since I didn’t get his name.  He was an entertaining companion on the tour.  He knew a number of English words, but not really how to string them together.  So he communicated with one word bursts.   Hot (he said this a lot)!  Fruit!, Eat! Hat! Gum!

Travellers from America may hesitate to visit Vietnam, given our unpleasant past with this country.  But we never felt a moment’s unwelcome in Ho Chi Minh City.  People gladly welcomed us, especially the little children, who were eager to greet us and have their picture taken.

This is the last post until after we return from the states.  There will probably be one more post to wrap up the trip.  Until then.

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Two businesses

We visited two businesses today, very different.  In the morning we visited the Vietnam Consulting Group, which provides a full range of business consulting for various local and multinational companies.  Thanks to Mr. Duc for giving us a great deal of useful info about the business climate, and the nearly incomprehensible financial system in Vietnam.

In the afternoon we visited Saigon Tan Tec, a leather tannery north of Ho Chi Minh City.  STT is known as an eco-tannery.  Traditional tanneries are smelly and toxic places.  And while the STT facility was not odor free, it was remarkably clean.  In the years I have been doing these visits, I have never encountered a company so open about its processes, even to its competitors.  STT uses a variety of green technologies, such as wind, solar, natural lighting, wetlands, etc, to vastly reduce energy costs and wastewater emmissions.  Thanks to Calder and Dirk for a great visit.

This is typical Vietnam outside our hotel.  A woman brings her little girl to help elicit sympathy with foreigners, hoping they will buy things.  In the center, a little boy shines Jameson’s shoes instead of going to school.  Jameson is a sucker for these people.

Mr. Duc explains Vietnam business to the group.

Our group with the folks from VCG.

Dirk explains the early stages of the leather tanning process to the group.

Our group with Calder, Dirk, and ??? (sounds like Scooby) from Tan Tec.

We have an all day tour tomorrow to the Mekong Delta.  Check  back then.

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HCMC: Day Two

Did I mention that Vietnam is hot?  Yes, it’s hot.  I’ll probably mention that a time or two more before we go.

We visited Le & Associates this morning.  L&A is a human capital consultancy firm.  It is always a treat when we are able to visit a local company and see how business is done from their perspective.  Traditionally most of our visits are to multinational corporations.

Ms. Tran introduces herself to Taixu.  She was our main host today.

Here is the gang with the folks from Le & Associates.

In front of a helicopter at the Vietnam War Museum.  A sobering place and a look at the conflict from the Vietnamese perspective.

Here is the gang in front of the Reunification Palace, the site of the end of the Vietnam war.  I told them to look wise.  This is what they came up with.

This little tyke was helping her mom sell fruit on the roadside.  These little roadside stands are everywhere, selling nearly everything imaginable.

This is a taste of the traffic in Ho Chi Minh City.  There are no rules, and yet it all seems to flow.  Cars, buses, and motorbikes come from all directions in all lanes.  It is insane, and it works.  To cross the street, you simply walk out into traffic, slowly and steadily, with no sudden moves, and traffic simply flows around you.  Run or bolt, and you’re roadkill.

That’s it for today.

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Ho Chi Minh City

Well here we are in Vietnam.   We have kind of done our own thing this afternoon so I don’t have any pictures.  It’s hot.  Really hot.  The people are extremely friendly.  The traffic is insane.  The city is certainly a little grittier, a little less well developed than Tokyo and Taipei.  But this is an up and coming country for international business and that is what we are here for.  Stay tuned.

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Taiwan: Last day

Today is our last day in Taiwan.  We leave for Vietnam early tomorrow morning.  It was a free day today so the group scattered for last minute shopping and sightseeing.  I will chronicle my own day later in this post if anyone is interested.

Reflections on Taiwan:   Our group is unanimous that this is a great place to visit.  The people are extremely friendly and helpful.  The predominant culture here is obviously Chinese, but influenced by many other cultures, such as Japan and Southeast Asia.  The food is terrific, the infrastructure is modern, and it is a pretty inexpensive place to be.  The traveller can quite easily get by with English but boning up on a half dozen Mandarin phrases will endear you to the locals.

Wulai:  I spend the day in Wulai, a mountain village in the north of Taiwan.  It is a popular spot, boasting hot springs and a magnificent waterfall.  It is the home of the Atayal people, an aboriginal tribe dating back 7000 years in Taiwan.  Once a tribe of fierce warriors, they are also master craftsmen and weavers.

The sign says it all.  It takes about 2 hrs to get to Wulai from Taipei, if you go on the cheap, which is by subway and bus.

Once in Wulai, you walk through the village lined with people hawking various goods and foods.  After a quick snack of wild boar sausage, I started the 2 km trek up the mountain to see the waterfall.  It was well worth the trip.

This is a young woman in traditional Atayal dress, weaving.

This is Charles and Kathy, and there is a story behind our meeting here at the waterfall.   On the long bus ride up the mountain, we were packed like sardines.  I was near the door, and at one stop along the way, a very elderly Chinese man asks me, in English, if I am Swedish (??).  I told him I was from the US, and he proceeds to begin a conversation with me, most of which I did not understand.  What made it awkward was that he was supposed to be getting off the bus, but he seemed quite happy to stand on the steps and talk with me.  After a little while, someone who I assume was his wife reaches up and hauls him down.  His parting question was to wonder if I was an engineer (or banker, or something.  I forget).  I mentioned that I was a professor, he seemed content with my answer, the doors shut, and he was gone from my life.

In Wulai, on the trek up the mountain to see the waterfall, I hear someone saying “hello professor”, and there is Charles and Kathy.  Well, Charles obviously knows me, but I can’t seem to recall him.  I rack my brain, but can’t remember him.  Slender Chinese guy?  That hardly narrows it down.  Well, it turns out I don’t know him.  He was on the bus, and heard me tell the old gentleman that I was a professor.  We had a pleasant chat, they offered me some of their fruit to eat, and we parted.   After I left them, I told myself that I should have taken their picture. Well, upon coming out of one of the shops in the little village outside the waterfall, there they were again!  So I got the picture and added two more folks to the list of friends we have made here in Taiwan.

That’s all.  Next post from Ho Chi Minh City.

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Today was a free day, as is tomorrow.  Most of the group went out to Taipei 101 the first thing.  Taipei 101 is a landmark skyscraper in Taipei’s financial district, and was the world’s tallest building from 2004 to 2010.  It was designed to withstand earthquakes and typhoons and also incorporates Asian cultural elements in its design,such as a bamboo look from the outside.

The group split up after this, some staying and shopping in the Taipei 101 Mall, and then going to the Taipei Zoo, and some of us going to the National Palace Museum.

The Taipei Zoo is the largest zoo in Asia, founded during Japanese sovereignty in 1914.

The National Palace Museum is an art museum in Taipei which houses one of the largest artifact collections in Asia, spanning 8000 years of Chinese History.  The museum was originally housed in the Forbidden City in Beijing, China, but many of the artifacts were moved to Taiwan to protect them, first from the Japanese, and then from the Communists.

I hung out with Jason, Shanne, and Robin today, so that’s why all the people pictures feature them.  The rest of the students did the shopping /zoo thing, while we went to the museum.  We encountered a couple of what appeared to be the Chinese version of the tin man in a little park on the way to the skyscraper.

Here is Robin next to a mural of Taipei 101.

The expense and wait for going to the top of Taipei 101 was too great for us, but Jason discovered that there is a little known Starbucks on the 35th floor that offers a terrific view for free, assuming you buy some coffee.  Jason ran us around and asked about 63 people for directions to this Starbucks while I explained to the girls what is meant by the American term “wild goose chase”, which they got a kick out of.  But being persistent paid off and we finally got to the hidden Starbucks and got some pictures.

Here is our crew with our “Starbucks Only” passes that got us through tight skyscraper security (no joke).

This is outside Taipei 101.  I got this same picture with last year’s group, so this will have to be a tradition as long as we come to Taiwan.

View from the bottom.  The unique jade-like color not only gives the building an Asian look, but blocks up to 50% of outside heat from entering the building.

Here is Jason in front of what are meant to look like Chinese coins (not Taiwan coins, oddly enough)  He is holding up his index fingers to represent the 1’s in “101” (yes, I had to ask).

That’s it for today.  The Museum did not allow any photos, so that’s all I have.  See you (virtually speaking) tomorrow.

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