A Travellerspoint blog

Second Week in DaNang

Work progresses and insights into the culture continue

sunny 34 °C
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We are making great progress with our clients. Everyone did presentations on scope and initial recommendations. We are also getting positive feedback. This week we did a seminar on Thursday for all of the companies on technical topics and next week we will host a seminar on marketing and sales. I have taken two members of my team who have technical backgrounds to my customer to work with their programmers in improving their processes.

We have broken the code with the hotel and now get a menu and select our food for the next day. They never offered us that option and they have been preparing similar menus every day which do not offer much variety. We have now discovered grill salmon and are delighted to eat that every day. It is delicious.

The water and beach are lovely and several of us spend Sunday evenings at the beach at the Furama Resor. The warm is warm and the setting with the mountains surrounding the bay is beautiful.

Friday we went to an orphange that is assisted by a group of volunteers from the University of DaNang, Humanity for Orphans for DaNang. They put on a party for them and had a stage with lights, music, decorations, etc. There was karaoke, aerobatics, dancing, guitar playing and singing as well as games. The children were in high spirit and had a wonderful time. Scholarships were provided for some of the students for their education. They have to pay fees for elementary and secondary school. Afterward we met an IBM'er from Saigon who is reponsible for finding business partners for IBM that we can outsource work to. He has only been with IBM for a year. He went to the University in Belgium and his English is very good.

This weekend is the Full Moon Festival - Autumn. It is a Chinese tradition that the Vietnamese adopted and modified to make into a children's day. It reminds me of Halloween. The focus is on the children with gifts of mooncake, chocolate and games. There is a lion dance with costume and a lot of beating of drums. They marched in the street last night carrying lanterns.

Several of us spent the day in Hoi An Saturday. We took a boat ride on the river and some of the inlets. It was fun to see it from the water. We returned at 10:30PM after leaving at 8 in the morning. It rained again on Saturday.

Today, I called the tailor to get a cotton shirt made. The synthetics are nice for quick drying and light weight, but they do not breathe and are every hot for this climate. It was hard to find a good quality cotton. I bought the best the tailor could find. I anxiously await the finished product.

Posted by goodearth 20:19 Archived in Vietnam Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Motorbikes, Traffic, and Food

sunny 33 °C
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We have adjusted to the sounds and sights of the city. Motor bikes outnumber cars 20 to one and there are no Rules of the Road. There are very few traffic signals. No yield signs at intersections. The bikes, motorbikes and cars all merge and most of the time manage to avoid accidents. It is similar to an amusement park bumper car experience. People do U-turns, ride on the wrong side of the street, merge incorrectly and somehow it seems to work most of the time with bicycles, motorbikes, and cars all traveling together. My interpreter oftens takes me to work on the back of her motorbike. I have a video link on the photo site that shows a major intersection in Saigon and you can hear the sounds of the city. The major cause of death in Vietnam is motorbike accidents, so it is dangerous.

We eat our meals family style at the hotel. Soup for breakfast or western eggs along with a French baguette. At lunch and dinner, there is usually a small bowl of soup served and then another larger bowl of soup along with rice, fish, chicken, pork, green beans, cucumbers, and tomatoes. It is nice not having to order and eating family style at the hotel, but we are beginning to tire of the lack of variety and have requested a per diem that would allow us to eat some meals outside the hotel. We have had some wonderful grilled grouper at one of the beach restaurants and wonderful salmon at the hotel.

Da Nang is a wonderful city. The beach is 15 minutes from downtown. I have photos of a resort on the beach, Furama. My photos might not do it justice, but you have to put it is perspective with the typical street scene in Da Nang and then appreciate that you might think you were in Hawaii or the Caribbean at this resort. I understand that Koreans are the major foreign businessmen here, though Americans are coming. Hyatt is building condos on the beach and there are two other resorts under construction on the beach road. There is a World Trade Center under construction and the city is developing very quickly. People are open and friendly and very eager to work with us or assist us. There are not as many tourist as Hanoi and HCMC and that is also very pleasant.

They have their first English movie this week at the cinema..Mama Mia. Many of the people learn English from BBC and CNN.

Posted by goodearth 01:44 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Saturday in My Son and Hoi An and Sunday in Da Nang

Exploring My (pronounced Mi) Son and the colonial town of Hoi An

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I am looking forward to exploroing these new places. We left on the bus at 7:30. Our first stop was a special restaurant for breakfast, Tru Clam Vien, in Da Nang. I have pictures on http://community.webshots.com/user/splendrous The restaurant is a favorite for coffee and breakfast. It reminds me of a Japanese garden. You enter over an arched walkway bridge. There is a traditional Vietnamese house with all the walls open to the garden. Many water features and lots of plants.

We then continued along the beach road to My Son passing many markets with chickens, ducks and vegetables for sale. We also saw rice fields and rice drying for the seed crop for next year. We traveled about 60 KM.

My Son is a group of temple-towers of Cham people. In 1999, the complex of My Son Cham Towers were recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. There was only one small wooden temple built by King Bhadresvara I in late 4th century. In the 7th century, King Sambhuvarman had it rebuilt, using more durable materials From then on, successive Cham kings, when enthroned, had their temple-towers constructed as offerings to their gods. During seven centuries (7th to 14th century), the temple-towers mushroomed in My Son, turning this land into a cultural, and religious center of the Cham Kingdom.

My Son was a complex of constructions, including different temple-towers and stela in various architectural styles. French researchers listed some 70 temple-towers in the mid 1800's. However, time and war together have taken their toll. Now, only 20 temple-towers remain intact. The rest have been reduced to ruins. Though less impossing than the Angkor in Cambodia and less diversified than the Pagan site in Myanma, My Son is unique in Southeast Asia.

On our drive to Hoi An, we passed many lotus fields and stopped to see them close. We also saw the children riding their bikes returning from school on Saturday morning. The girls were wearing jackets on top of their long sleeve Vietnamese style dress to protect their skin from the sun. They also wore masks, like they do in the city as they walk and ride their motorbikes and bikes to keep their skin from tanning. White skin is prized.

Fai Fo, (Hoi An), was a bustling port in which Chinese and Japanese merchants traded silk, lacquer and porcelain with Indians and Europeans, worshipped at ornate temples and met at splendid clan houses. The streets were filled with traders from East and West, and Vietnamese in conical hats going about their daily business.

Hoi An is an old town of narrow streets, lined with chic restaurants, pretty guest houses, scores of art dealers and tailors' shops, ornate temples and clan houses. The streets are filled with tourists from East and West, and Vietnamese in conical hats going about their daily business.

Fai Fo and Hoi An are the same place, with a few centuries and several culture shocks between them. But if an 18th century Fujianese merchant were to rise from his grave and walk into the street today, he would recognise a great deal of what he saw, give or take some blue jeans and motorbikes.

Hoi An was collapsing into ruin before doi moi (Vietnam's new economic policy instituted in 1989). It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Few towns in Asia boast such a well-preserved history and a strong economy.

Most of the town's visible history dates from the late 18th to the early 20th century. But Hoi An's zenith of wealth and power came earlier than that. It existed during the Kingdom of Champa in the 2nd to 10th centuries, recorded as a busy seaport in Persian and Arab documents.

By the 16th century, Hoi An was a major Portuguese trading centre, in the same league as Macau and Malacca. Chinese and Japanese merchants made its fortune, setting up waterfront trading houses which developed into expatriate colonies. The Japanese, however, disappeared during the 17th century after the Shogunate withdrew into isolation, whilst the Chinese continued to expand. Dutch traders came in and French missionaries appeared, foreshadowing the French colonial takeover two centuries later.

The Tay Son rebellion of the 1770s and 80s destroyed most of the town. Rebuilt after that, Hoi An retains a distinct Chinese atmosphere with low, tile-roofed houses and narrow streets; the original structure of some of these streets remains almost intact. The best houses were made of rare wood, decorated with lacquered boards and panels engraved with Chinese characters.

During the 19th century the Thu Bon River silted up, blocking the passage of ships, and nearby Danang with its deepwater harbour supplanted Hoi An as the main seaport of central Vietnam. Losing its raison d'etre, the old town began to stagnate. As in the old days, Duong Tran Phu is the main street. A row of vibrantly ornate temples and clan houses face south towards the river, built by the various Chinese communities of Hoi An.

We saw silk worms and how the threads are pulled from the cocoons and woven into cloth. Much embroidery work is done on purses and tablecloths. Framed work looks like a photograph. The towns is organized for tourists and has many shops and tailors. The river runs through the town and the architecture is very pretty. The restaurants are quite good and it is a delightful place to explore. We returned at 9PM and had rain for the first time since we have been in Da Nang. Many of us plan to return next weekend. It is only 40 minutes from Da Nang.

Sunday, I went with Pradeep, from India, to the Catholic Church. We discovered that their services are in the afternoon. So we went to the Caodai Temple. We looked around as a man was sweeping the floor and as we were leaving he told us that a service would be in 5 minutes. So we waited and met a young woman who is an accountant and spoke English. The men are on one side and women on another. I went in with her and very much enjoyed the music. She asked for our phone number and wanted to meet with us again. In the afternoon I went with Pradeep and Marc, American, on the back of the motor bike to enjoy the beach. It is a lovely setting with the mountains surrounding the water. The water is very warm and a swim is most refreshing. The perfect end to a wonderful weekend.

Posted by goodearth 01:01 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

First Week in Da Nang

Getting acquainted with the city and working with Da Nang Telecom

-1 °C
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After a nice breakfast of beef noodle soup and coffee with evaporated milk, we met at 9AM for a mini bus tour of the city. It was 86 degrees with a beautiful sky. We saw the city park and lake and many lovely landscaped medians and broad streets. We went back to the beach where we were the day before. We saw former US helicopter hangers on the beach road. We also stopped at the factory for marble items that are made from the marble of Marble Mountain. They had statues of all sizes. We went over a mountain and to another local resort. We enjoyed seeing the fishing boats and Cham Island in the distance. We may take a boat trip to Cham Island.

We saw the U. of Da Nang and several buildings of the businesses we will be working with. There are many hotels along the river front and they are quite lovely.

At 2pm Monday we met our clients. Thuy (water in Vietnamese) is the VP of IT and has been with the company for 5 months. Thai, cut in Vietnamese, is the IT director, has been with the company 7 years and the company celebrated its 9th anniversary today. The company is Da Nang Telecommunications, a provider of web hosting and DSL service. They are a part of Vietnam Telecom. We had a social visit and all shared information about ourselves. Thuy is getting married this weekend. It was difficult using the interpreter since they are not familiar with IT or business concepts or processes.

My client is Da Nang Telecom and I spent my first day with them Wednesday. They are a subsidiary of Vietnam Telecom which is a $3B company. Da Nang Telecom provides DSL, web hosting, and cell phone service. They have 10 programmers and the deputy director said their number one problem was working on the quality controls and increasing productivity. They are not allowed to hire additional staff and the workload is more than they can manage. I have an interpreter assigned to me as do most of the team. This presents difficulty when the interpreter is not versed in business terms and also does not understand the client's business. We would have challenges communicating directly but added complexity with the interpreter in the middle. We will work through those challenges. It just takes time. After many hours yesterday that I am sure were as frustrating to my Vietnamese client as it was for me, we agreed on some issues and will start again today. Sometimes I am told foreigners believe they have agreement with their Vietnamese colleagues but they have not really agreed. So the test will come as we continue.

The IBM team had a discussion on our meetings with our clients that will continue in the morning, Tuesday. We only have 3 1/2 weeks and the first step is to scope a meaningful piece of work. We have agreed that we will meet 5-7PM every day to discuss our day and any assistance we might want from others on the team.

Tuesday was Independence Day, celebration of the removal of the French. The flags are flying and everyone is enjoying a holiday.

We are all making progress with our clients and have a good understanding of their current situation and what they are facing and how we can assist them in our time here. In addition to my client, I have also worked with Peter from Hungary with his client the Institute of Business Technology and the Chamber of Commerce. They had a conference, Use of IT in Construction Industry, on Friday AM and I attended with Peter. Afterwards we had dinner with the speakers, sponsors of the conference and the officials of the Chamber of Commerce. They had taken many delegations to the US and Europe to pursue business opportunities.

We took a walk along the river front Friday evening. They have a lovely promenade and some of the French government colonial building face the river and are beautiful. The Koreans have a major development under way on the river front with office buildings and condos planned. There were some young teenagers doing rap and dancing on the promenade

The end of our first week in Vietnam. Noone has been ill and we are making progress with our clients. A wonderful introduction to Vietnam.

Posted by goodearth 02:35 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Traveling to Vietnam, first in Saigon & then Da Nang

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I left Atlanta on 8/28 traveling 15 hours to Seoul, S. Korea, changing planes for a 5 hour flight to Saigon arriving at 10:30PM on Friday 8/29. The airport in Seoul, S. Korean was very impressive. The nicest airport I have ever seen. Upscales shops like Dior and US fast food restaurants. I had a couple of hours in the airport and visited a Korean Cultural exhibit that allowed foreigners to decorate a box with rice paper and also get instructions on playing a traditional instrument, similar to a flute. I never mastered making any sound from the flute!

I met an interesting German on the flight to Saigon. He is now living in DC, but has worked all his life abroad spending 18 months in Vietnam in the 1970's in a humanitarian role. He had some interesting stories to tell. He was in Vietnam to moderate a scientific conference and was to be in Saigon as well as Hanoi for a couple of weeks. He was interested in how IBM could assist him in creating an online archive of historical information that the Vietnam government was making public. We arrived on schedule in Saigon and immigration was quick. My visa was for the 30th and I was an 1 1/2 hours early before the 30th. My immigration agent was not inclined to let me in. Not sure what he would do with me. But after some wait and repeated discussion on it not being the 30th, he decided to stamp my passport and let me through. I had arranged a pick up at the airport for the hotel which went smoothly. There were not a lot of horns or noise even though it was a Friday night. It was quieter than I would have expected.

I did not sleep on the plane, but found myself to be very alert. One of my IBM colleagues knocked on my door as soon as I was in the room and we talked for 45 minutes (Peter from Budapest). The next morning I discovered that I had a wonderful balcony with lounge chair and lots of plans. A sauna and an outdoor shower! The view of the city was great and I liked all the tropical plants. I met three of my IBM team for breakfast the next morning. Two were headed for the airport for their flights to Da Nang and Peter and I set out to explore the city. We navigated the streets with the throngs of motor bikes and cars. I learned how to cross the street without being hit, by keeping a steady pace and the vehicles going around you. Visited the market and the Reunification Palace, seat of the S. Vietnamese government.

There are many fake items in the market..North Face backpacks as well as clothing items. The tour of the Reunification Palace included the conference rooms and meeting halls on the first floor as well as the basement which had a war room with maps covering all the walls. They said they were the best maps of Vietnam. A lot of old telecom and office equipment from the 1970's as well as desks. The Presidents war time bedroom was in the basement also.

The weather was very hot in the afternoon and very humid. In the middle of the day there was a shower. The streets are very clean with people sweeping all the time, even in the rain they put on ponchos and continued to sweep. I would like to know if they are hired by the businesses or work for the city government. People greet you as madam.

I left the hotel for my 4PM flight to Da Nang. The taxi left me at the International Terminal instead of the domestic and after some confusion found my way to the correct terminal. On the plane, the lack of sleep hit me and I passed out for the short 1 1/2 hour flight. It is Independence Day (liberation from the French) on Tuesday and many Vietnamese were traveling for the long weekend. The plane was full. I was picked up at the airport by our local contact and taken to our hotel. All the team arrived safely and our accommodations are very nice in a typical Vietnamese business hotel. ($20 a night) with AC, internet and TV. Not a typical hotel for IBM business travelers. We all had a wonderful dinner in the hotel and an opportunity to visit and know each other. Julie Coyne, IBM Australia, responsible for the Corporate Service Corp in SE Asia including the teams in Vietnam and Phillipines was here as well as David Hill from the Australian Business Volunteers.

Sunday - August 31, 2008
We had a breakfast of traditional noodle soup with Vietnamese coffee and tea. Very good. Then we went to the supermarket located in upscale shopping mall a short distance from the hotel. You check your backpacks at a desk before entering. New vegetables and fruits I am not familiar with and lots of fish and items from the sea, squid, sting rays, eels, ducks, frogs are some of the items I recognized.

Back for lunch at the hotel. Rest and then to the local beach for a swim and dinner. Hyatt is building a resort on the beach as well as two other companies. A golf course is also being build. We went to the Furama Resort. A first class luxury holiday hotel. Several of the team were anxious to ride a motor bike and experience the open road and rented bikes for the ride to the beach. I chose the safe route via car. The motor bikes arrived safely and after a swim in the waters of China Beach, we went and had dinner at an open air restaurant. We ate several seafood dishes, as well as rice and french fries.

Our first day in Da Nang comes to an end.

above site for pictures

Posted by goodearth 00:38 Comments (0)

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