Friday, February 9, 2018

Last Day (Until We Meet Again)

The last day was by far the most emotional day in Vietnam. We started the day off right with arbitration simulations led by Mr. Fincher. It was interesting to have a first-hand experience on the proceedings of an arbitration case, and gave us a clearer idea of the expectations of an arbitrator. We had time to complete two cases before we got a break before the farewell party.

At the farewell party, we spent the first half of the session exchanging fond memories and final thoughts. We then split up in groups to collaborate with the TDTU students on how to remain in contact for future visits and friendship. A lot of amazing ideas were thrown out there, but nothing topped Daniel’s spirited idea to buy a communal jet that will transport students to both the United States and Vietnam. We are currently looking for investors. After the brainstorming was complete, we had previously rehearsed YMCA dance moves from Just Dance to perform for the TDTU students. We even bought the University’s gym uniforms to give the performance a nice spark. The TDTU students loved the performance, especially when we pulled in front of the classroom to join in on the chorus with us. Our dance was over, but the TDTU students still had something up their sleeve. They memorized a song to sing for us, and even grabbed us at the end of the song too to join in. The song was in Vietnamese, but we definitely tried our best catch on. 

TDTU students' farewell performance
After the performances, we exchanged gifts with the TDTU students and ourselves, and I received some letters that I’ll never forget. They’re incredible people, and I wish I could show that in more than just a Cornell banner and some pens. Good thing we brainstormed on pen pal ideas!

After the party, we rushed over to a large auditorium to try and catch the labor school’s performance in the traditional dance recital. Some of our friends like Minh Anh and Hoa did an incredible job! We stayed a little longer to see some more performances, and then headed to dinner at a proposed restaurant by Mrs. Vinh. 

Minh An and Hoa performing in the competition
The final dinner


The restaurant and amazing food, and included a hotpot, but the most interesting cuisine I experienced comprised of a boiled, fertilized, quail egg. Not bad!

The night ended with the renowned karaoke experience. Taylor Swift was the star of the selection, but the TDTU student’s cover was way better than the original. They had fruit platters and bottles of water to keep us sustained through the singing. Unfortunately, the night had to end at some point, but no one was prepared to say goodbye. We must’ve hugged everyone at least five times apiece, but I think we all can agree that still isn’t enough. We took a taxi cab home, and a few of us offered to take Nhu home since she lived a few minutes away from the university. It was a great final send-off before heading back to Cornell. — Olivia

Business school, GAP, and Arbitration in China

Bright and early, as usual, we marched to class. In a turn of events, rather than the labor school classes, we found ourselves with the business school students. The business school students at TDTU were definitely much more visibly ambitious and inquisitive of us American students. We were probably the very embodiment of their goals and aspirations in the major. Nearly every student wished to move to the US and to speak English and work for a foreign company. It was a very fun class as we actively discussed in groups what it meant to be a global citizen and a global business man or woman. What fascinated me was how many languages the business school students were studying besides English. The students I met were heavily involved in clubs both on and off campus, as well as participating in research projects and part-time work in order to enhance their resume. These students were definitely on track to become successful business students and global citizens and it was such a pleasure to get to know them.

Selfie with some of the business school students
Afterwards, we went into District 3 in order to meet with a sustainability officer at the GAP. This was an invaluable meeting to help our research and to help our understanding of Western brands' CSR initiatives. It was an important meeting because of all the 1st hand information she was able to share with us about the GAP. I was intrigued when comparing the information about CSR and auditing at the GAP to that of the information we previously learned from the BetterWork representative we met and from our factory tour experience. Afterwards, we had a very relaxing lunch and then we walked lunch off at a park nearby.

Later, after a much-needed break, we came back to have our class discussion about China and arbitration. It was interesting to get a little bit more of a look into the topic and field that Mr. Fincher himself specializes in. China is an incredibly important country to study if one wants to know more about nearly every other Asian country because of the incredible influence China has had in Asia over the course of history. At the end of the day, we were finally able to return to District 1 to get some last-minute souvenirs and trendy Vietnamese clothing. The night ended with us finally getting a gorgeous night time view of Ho Chi Minh City from the top of the Bitexco tower. 

View from Bitexco Tower

— Veronika

Mediation Simulations, VGCL, and BBQ Dinner

We began this day by joining TDTU labor relations students for a lecture on alternative dispute resolution taught by Professor Fincher. After learning about the basics of mediation and arbitration, each Cornell student engaged with a group of TDT students for an interactive case study on workplace dispute resolution.
Mr. Fincher leading the mediation simulation
After class, the Cornell students left for a private class with Ms. La, a retired high-level labor organizer for the VGCL and current member of TDTU’s Faculty of Labor Relations. After an interesting discussion with Ms. La, whose words were translated into English for us, we had a short break prior to our next class, which focused on Cambodia and international war crimes with Mr. Fincher.
Ms. La explaining the complex structure of the VGCL
The session exposed us to some very important history and stimulated vibrant dialogue on international citizenship and the role of international war crimes tribunals. The evening concluded very pleasantly, as we were invited by Ms. Lien, an English professor, director of cultural exchange programming and friend of Mr. Fincher, to enjoy a barbeque dinner at her house. We thoroughly enjoyed the barbecue party with Ms. Lien. Much of the meal was traditional Tet holiday food, and it was all very delicious!

A look at the dinner spread provided by Ms. Lien

— Mitch

Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts

Today we slept in late, well deserved after an exhilarating yet exhausting week packed with activities, meetings, and classes. Upon waking up, we were craving American-style brunch, comfort food if you will. We traveled to District 1 to a brunch restaurant which served delicious Moroccan-style poached eggs, toast, and omelets. We couldn’t resist indulging in some classic Vietnamese drip coffee served black and sweetened with condensed milk. The food was outstanding and satisfied all our cravings for familiar American breakfast dishes.

Much needed American brunch

Our next destination was the Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts. We decided to take the long way, walking from the restaurant to the museum, and passing the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica along the way. The church was currently undergoing restoration so unfortunately we were not permitted inside, but the church was still magnificent on the outside. The church is located in a quiet corner of District 1 and stands as a relic from another time where French still occupied the city, motor bikes did not line the streets and the sidewalks, and the city was still officially referred to as Saigon.

Candid portrait at the Fine Arts Museum
Notre-Dame Basilica
We continued our journey on to the Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts. The museum housed a truly captivating and beautiful collection of Vietnamese art. Beautiful sculptures and paintings lined the walls and filled the halls of an equally beautiful, sun-soaked, restored mansion from colonial occupation. Much of the art was inspired by Vietnam’s rich history, its colonial occupation, and its revolution. The collection showed a side of Vietnamese history and fine art that many of us had never been exposed to in the US. The art was thought-provoking and exquisite in both medium and subject matter.
After the museum, we met up with some of our Vietnamese friends. They took us to some of their favorite places to shop for clothes in District 1. After hitting an array of stores, we went to a large old building that was filled with more shops, coffee shops, and restaurants. To end the night we enjoyed a light dinner and iced tea on a balcony of a small restaurant overlooking Saigon. — Devon

Visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels

It’s our last Sunday here in Saigon and we have not yet been to Cu Chi Tunnels, one of the most famous (and tourist-filled) attraction here, in South Vietnam. After some last-minute planning, we finally decide on a tour company that would take us to the tunnels and back. We got to District 1 with a couple hours to spend, so the only sensible thing to do is try out a Vietnamese McDonalds! If you didn’t know, McDonalds in different countries has varying menus that cater to the local population (for example, the McDonalds in India doesn’t serve beef!). I got a Spicy McChicken on rice, which comes out exactly as it sounds like—a Spicy McChicken patty and a side of rice.

Spicy McChicken on Rice
We then got on a van and headed to the tunnels. It’s just us and the tour guide who is pretty funny and knows a lot about the area. After about a 90-minute drive, we arrive and head to the attraction site. The Cu Chi tunnels are a set of tunnel networks right outside Ho Chi Minh City that were used by the Viet Cong (North Vietnam soldiers) during the war. The tunnels were used for everything – hiding, fighting, communicating, living, etc. One of the first things we saw was the entrances to the tunnels. These trap doors were completely camouflaged on the forest floor and were definitely a squeeze to get into. We also see a multitude of traps employed by the soldiers to use on the Americans—generally a form of swinging trap door that led into a pit of spikes. I could only imagine how painful it would be to fall into one of those. We also witnessed the ingenuity of the Viet Cong as they learned how to problem solve disguising their tunnel vents from American soldiers and dogs. We also got to go in one of the tunnels for about 1000 meters. The tunnels were tiny—maybe only about three feet in height; and they were enlarged for tourists! Think about having to live in this vast network of cramped passageways with minimum air or light, all while fighting for your life. These tunnels not only contained bunkers for the soldiers, but also hospitals, gun production sites, kitchens, weapon and food caches.

In all. the Cu Chi tunnels site has been pretty developed for the ease of the tourists, but it still provided a good picture of the resourcefulness of the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. Itwas pretty cool to see firsthand the experiences the war put men, women, and children through; truly engaged learning at its finest! — Nate

Cultural Exchange and Debate Finale

The day began on a more lively note with us being placed at the center of a cultural event in front of the TDTU student body. 
Hundreds of students filled the auditorium for the event
Though a bit overwhelming, it was an exciting prospect to be able to do some cross-cultural exchange with the TDTU students. Though it felt a bit staged with the questions having been chosen prior to our arrival, it was still immensely enjoyable to get to learn some unknown and fun facts about the traditional Vietnamese Tet holiday. We got a celebrity's farewell at the end as well when we were swarmed by eager crowds of students, lining up to take selfies with us.

Group picture after interacting with the crowds of students
We then proceeded to have back-to-back meetings with a representative from Betterwork and 2 US Consulate representatives in Vietnam. Both were enlightening and interesting discussions about current events in Vietnam. It was interesting to ask questions on the same topic to both representatives, as they both worked for two similar, yet different institutions. The Better Work Representative was perhaps the most enlightening speaker of the trip thus far as she provided information about its 2 main goals of improving working conditions and improving the adherance to labor standards by companies and factories enrolled in its program. This meeting was aptly placed as we had just had a Factory Tour at Fashion Garments Ltd. We were all buzzing with questions in order to compare our first hand experience at the factory to Better Work's standard. The approach that Better Work takes is to focus on continuous improvement, as it offers advisory, assessment, and training service, unlike a third-party monitoring company. What makes this information so crucial is the fact that it makes change more sustainable and it will be critical to help Better Work eventually help factories be compliant, sustainable and equitable employers on their own.

The most exciting conclusion to our day was the final night of the debate camp. Our exhausting week of work finally came to a fruitful conclusion when we all gathered for the final debates. Though the topic was a bit confusing, it was an apt topic that embodied the studies of both the TDTU and Cornell students (should unions become compulsory by the state). There were many students and faculty, including the Dean of the Labor School himself, that came to watch the final showdown between Olivia and Veronika’s team. There was laughter, crying, yelling and cheering as the final argument and rebuttal came to a close and we could finally conclude the Cornell Debate Camp at TDTU. A close call, Olivia's team came out on top as the debate workshop champions. I really enjoyed this particular part of the program because it was so unique and it is perhaps the reason why all the Cornell students were able to become so close with the TDTU students. This program will also, in my opinion, be of great value to the TDTU students as it will surely help them gain immeasurable confidence in not only their English, but their critical thinking, analytical and public speaking skills. We had such a wonderful time and although we would all agree that it was a long and exhausting journey, the end result was more than worth it. We ended the night at our favorite vegetarian restaurant right across from the campus. — Veronika

Strikes, Debate, and English Zone Students

Today was an exciting day to delve more into the labor relations of Vietnam. We began by waking up early for a class with Mr. Fincher about Vietnamese labor law and collective bargaining agreements. The conversation ranged from the history of anti-government movements, to trade unions, to the difference between written rule of law and practiced rule of law that is influenced by foreign investors. We then discussed how Vietnamese law does include striking. Under law, all legal strikes must be approved through a state process that is days long. Since the structural barriers are so high, workers engage in illegal wildcat strikes instead. We also discussed typical paid vacations or bonuses that employees receive for Tet Holiday, and other regulations that brands usually include in their codes of conduct and responsibility. We concluded the discussion summarizing the collective bargaining agreements Mr. Fincher had asked us to read earlier in the week, and this gave us new insight on typical Western agreements.
Lecture with Mr. Fincher
Furious preparation for the final debate
After lunch, we had the opportunity to join a conversation between the Dean of the TDTU Labor School and a group of union organizers and union-side labor lawyers from the United States. The dean explained the current political arrangement and labor-union relationship and how that differs from the West. It was interesting to hear the changes, past and present, that these union activists have made for the United States and I thought it would give them an interesting perspective to look at Vietnamese labor relations.

It was the second to last day of debate, so we dove directly into case structure and argumentation upon entering the room. Ming, Nelson, and Ryan did a fantastic job on explaining the expectations and guidelines in a standard debate. It was the first time many of these TDTU students debated, and we were all so proud of their enthusiasm and confidence! The TDTU students I talked to had very innovative and thoughtful ideas that were extremely impressive and well-constructed despite English not being their first language. We received our official debate teams and final debate topic for the tournament on Friday. Who knows who will win, guess we’ll find out tomorrow!

To conclude the day, we met up with the English Zone students for dinner at a local vegan restaurant—they are some of the nicest people I have ever met. They were excited to show us around District 1 a bit and gave us their opinion on their favorite Vietnamese restaurant dishes and street food. They brought homemade shrimp and pork dumplings with them that were honestly the best rice dumplings I have had. The vegan restaurant served authentic aloe juice that was incredibly refreshing. 

Enjoying delicious vegan food with the English Zone students
Our conversations ranged from traditional dishes and desserts made in their villages during Tet Holiday to the differences in language and culture between north, central, and south Vietnam. Afterwards we created a groupchat on Facebook messenger to keep in contact that included our name-game, fun adjectives, and we all made plans for the next week to hang out again. What a nice way to end such a busy day! — Olivia