It is now the evening of Monday, April 30. Having caught up on a number of lingering items both physical and mental, it’s a good time to address the final points of my trip and put this blog to bed. And, of course, start to write new e-books about Armenia and Vietnam.
It is a joy to actually have daylight extend past 8 p.m. again. There is little variation in daylight hours in Hanoi….sunrise is uniformly 6 a.m. plus or minus 15 minutes, and sunset 6 p.m. plus or minus 30 minutes. While winter days in Columbus are short and dreary, the extended summer nights make up for it. In Hanoi, unfortunately, it is relatively rare to get out of the office, back to the hotel, and changed before darkness descends. That tends to make one stay close to the hotel…the streets are confusing enough in the daylight!
I received quite a few comments on my training classes (2 days of product development, 3 days of sales skills, and 1 day of sales management). Evidently, the training “norm” there is to put everything on PowerPoint (already off to a bad start!), hand out copies to each student (3 to a page), and sit while the “instructor” reads each slide to the students. Of course, there are 2 or 3 quizzes each day to make sure students don’t nap too long. It truly sounds like the same educational philosophy that prevails among our politicians.
Anyway, I spent more than half of the time in each course on group work, and a significant portion of the remainder in discussion, calling directly on those who didn’t volunteer. And the students truly responded. While I have slim hopes for the success of this immediate project, perhaps there will be some innovative teaching or mentoring approach invented by one of my students in the future, and it will spark others to learn better. Too bad I’ll never truly know, but that would be a true measure of success for the effort.
The training rooms were absolutely sweltering, especially for the sessions held offsite. We couldn’t get the A/C working properly, and the fans were only able to go at about half speed. I found out later that particular building is programmed to have air conditioning start on May 1, regardless of the ambient temperature. My jacket and tie lasted less than ten minutes into the first class.
It was better in the bank’s training center…perhaps word of my aversion to heat and humidity preceded me. By then, I had also learned to get to the classroom by 7:30 and set all five of the A/C units down to 16 C. That kept it reasonably bearable for the day, even when all 32 bodies crammed into the room. Interestingly, I wasn’t the only one glowing in the 114 F heat index we experienced on my final training day.
One side benefit of training is that the cafeteria in each building prepares and serves lunch for all participants, saving us a bit of money and a lot of time hunting around for a decent place to eat in unfamiliar neighborhoods. Sticky rice and bun cha are daily staples, augmented with several additional dishes such as shrimp, sautéed Viet cabbage, green beans, pork, chicken skewers, and the like. I was constantly being asked if I would like a spoon, but managed to reasonably master chopsticks by the end of the trip. My slowness at eating did seem to unnerve a few others in the class. I also found it notable that nobody consumes beverages during a meal….and after-meal drinks are either hot tea or tepid water, regardless of the temperature in the room. At times, I had to walk a couple of blocks to find a grocerette with sodas in the fridge.
As on my first trip, my tipping habits threw some locals for a loop. The local advisor told me to never tip a taxi driver, but several whom I did tip got to recognize me and more than gave me extra service later in the trip. Of course, we’re typically talking about bumping a taxi fare up by about 50 cents, which makes a tremendous difference for someone who might make $10 on a good day. Restaurant servers, while still not expecting to be tipped, seem progressively less surprised when it does occur. A minor benefit is that it also avoids receiving a bunch of 2,000 dong (10 cent) notes in change.
Employees of and guests in the hotel continued to be thoroughly impressed by my work ethic – I never went to meals without my laptop with me. Everybody assumed I was working, while I actually spent 90% of mealtime chatting online with Nancy. Several guests also told me that the laptop at meals was the first hint that I was American.
The final day of the project was rather laid back. It started with a meeting at the IFC office (the IFC-head of this project flew in from New Zealand for the meeting) where we finally agreed on what went wrong, what needed to be fixed, and a sequence of tasks for fixing the project. Unfortunately the project will need to be extended if it is to succeed, but any intelligent being knew that a year ago. The political games being played with the original schedule at the IFC and Bank level were ridiculous…they actually wanted me to complete all of my marketing training, mentoring, implementation, and analysis in one trip lasting six weeks. Two trips totaling eight weeks were already too short.
The remainder of the day (10:30 on) was spent with the SME department head, Huyen, as we went over all of the pending and completed tasks in minute detail. There was a nice break in the middle as she took all of us from the meeting to a local restaurant for lunch….fried tofu, pan-roasted catfish, 6-inch stuffed shrimp, salads, etc. The highlight was watching the chef deliver oven-roasted rice cakes….they are made in thin clay containers, and the cakes are liberated by the chef tossing the container in the air, striking it with a stick, and catching the rice cake before it hits the floor along with the clay shards.
Huyen also arranged for one of the bank’s drivers (they have dozens…profit margins on loans are quite fat) to pick me up at the hotel at 9 p.m. to depart for the airport. Much appreciated….and easier than grabbing a cab.
So I am now finishing this final blog post on the afternoon of May 1. Were I still in Hanoi, this would be the end of a 4-day weekend….Monday, April 30, was the anniversary of our retreat from South Vietnam (Liberation Day), and today is international Labor Day for those jurisdictions that recognize the importance of everyday laborers over financiers. Of course, I would not have gotten paid for either day off, one of many reasons why it is better to be home. If the project is extended, there may be another trip to VN in the fall…but this time Nancy will be coming with me and we will make side trips to Ha Long Bay and Ho Chi Minh City. Until that possible re-start of this dissertation, thanks for reading, and know that you have missed going to a beautiful country and fascinating culture.