Microfinance and the Millennium Development Goals

May 20, 2009
The Millennium Development Goals...what impact does microfinance have on them?

The Millennium Development Goals...what impact does microfinance have on them?

Microfinance, while not the cure-all tool for development, is a very powerful tool for poverty reduction in the developing world. We’ve all heard the effect it has on poverty as portrayed in numerous academic studies and from sources like Muhammad Yunus. Because of my infatuation with microfinance I started wondering what other impact microfinance has had on development issues such as inequality. After a quick search on UC Berkeley’s academic journal search tool I only found one (one?!!) article which even mentioned inequality. This was evidence to me that microfinance is still in its infancy as an academic subject.

Prior to becoming a Kiva Fellow I decided that I wanted to go back to graduate school and study economic development with an emphasis in microfinance, if at all possible. Because I discovered the lack of scholarly attention towards microfinance and its impact towards other development issues I decided that I wanted to study what impact microfinance has on all aspects to the UN’s Millennium Development Goals besides just poverty reduction. Thus I will attend the University of San Francisco, beginning in Fall 2009, to get my M.A. in International and Development Economics.

The Millennium Development Goals are eight international development goals that 192 United Nations member states have agreed to achieve by the year 2015. While it is very debatable that the goals can be achieved by that date, they are nonetheless goals worth fighting towards for a long time to come. The eight goals (which have more specifics than shown below) are as follows:

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. Achieve universal primary education
  3. Promote gender equality and empower women
  4. Reduce child mortality
  5. Improve maternal health
  6. Combat HIV/Aids, malaria, and other diseases
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability
  8. Develop a global partnership for development

My question for these goals is simple: does microfinance have a significant impact on any of these goals besides poverty reduction? My theory, as of now, is that yes it does impact at least five, maybe even seven of these goals; however I need to run statistical models to test the significance. In short I believe that since most clients are women, goal 3 has a major impact and since a goal of microfinance is increasing credit to hopefully increase family income, the other goals will be affected as well. Think about it like this: extra money means maybe another child will get to continue their education, or there is now money available to afford the medicines required to fight a child’s malaria bout to keep them alive past the age of five (goals 4 and 6), etc., etc…

As an anecdotal case, here in Vietnam with my MFI SEDA, I know that the vast majority of borrowers are female. According to the women I have interviewed, the majority have seen an increase in their standard of living and income (whether this is due to a real increase in income or income simply mirroring inflation is another topic that needs to be studied) and many who still have school age children use their extra income to pay for their kids tuition fees and hope that their children will be able to go to university and further increase their standards of living, especially for eldest sons (who take care of the parents when they get older!). Furthermore, many of the women now have extra income to also buy medicines if their children become sick. Just from my interactions with the borrowers here, I see a potential impact going beyond just poverty reduction…I see Millennium Goals 1-6 being affected. Thus there is reason for further study into this impact!

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The Cambodian-Vietnamese Love-Hate Relationship

May 14, 2009
The Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Monument in Phnom Penh, Cambodia; frequently vandlaized and defaced!

The Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Monument in Phnom Penh, Cambodia; frequently vandlaized and defaced!

On an anecdotal level, after traveling in Cambodia I’ve concluded that the Cambodian people as a whole are friendlier than the Vietnamese people. It may be that they are a lot more relaxed than the Vietnamese and thus more aware of the affect they have on people around them. In Vietnam, it’s not uncommon for people to be in such a hurry (on their motorbikes, of course! They wouldn’t be caught dead walking anywhere!) that they’ll get to their destination any way possible…including driving on the sidewalk causing the pedestrians (usually foreign) to jump out of the way like a fat kid trying not to get pummeled in perverse and sick elementary school dodge-ball.  Further proof of how much more relaxed the people of Cambodia are revolves around their farming techniques in comparison to Vietnamese farming: the Vietnamese literally have rice or produce growing on 100% of the tillable land, whereas in Cambodia it was common to see trees everywhere and fallow fields throughout the country side. Don’t get me wrong however, because on the whole the Vietnamese are a friendly people too,  but just a little bit more wound-up than Cambodians.

Why does this happy and friendly Cambodian man dislike the Vietnamese so much?!

Why does this happy and friendly Cambodian man dislike the Vietnamese so much?!

While I found Cambodians to be nice, I’m not so sure how nice they are to Vietnamese people and that’s because they literally HATE the Vietnamese people. When I told many Cambodians that I am currently living in Vietnam, the common response was a quick in-take of breath, eye brows quickly raised followed by a short comment like ‘oh do you actually like it?’ I had been warned by the other fellows in Cambodia about this aversion, and remained skeptical until I actually arrived and heard it first hand from many Cambodians that they disliked the Vietnamese.  On the flip-side however, it appears that many Vietnamese are completely oblivious to the fact that Cambodians dislike them. When I returned back to the office and told my co-workers about this aversion, they were skeptical too!  They seemed to hold the Cambodians and their country in high regard! Seeing this stark difference sent my brain a-working.

Now, I’ve been pondering this dislike for a the last couple weeks since I’ve come back from Cambodia. I’ve concluded it’s more than a love-hate relationship. In reality it’s a Cambodians-hate-the-Vietnamese-while-the-Vietnamese-are-completely-oblivious-relationship. Which has had me wondering what the cause of this dislike is…and I’ve come up with two theories so far:

Maybe Vietnam needs more of these protector statues along it's border with Cambodia to ward off evil thoughts!

Maybe Vietnam needs more of these protector statues along it's border with Cambodia to ward off evil thoughts!

1) Cambodia’s past is frequented by Vietnamese invasions whether they’re cultural or physical (think war); with the most recent physical invasion in 1979 when the Vietnamese invaded and toppled the Khmer Rouge regime. Thus, while this war ended a brutal dictatorship, it was decried by Cambodians everywhere because it was an invasion of their own soverign nation and was a reminder of all the previous invasions by Vietnam as well. Most peoples don’t like invading forces in their countries; think the Iraqi people after we ‘liberated’ them from Saddam. It simply doesn’t sit well, especially if there is a history of it!

Simple markets like this Cambodian one are controlled by Cambodians, but the big 'markets' are frequently run by Vietnamese.

Simple markets like this Cambodian one are controlled by Cambodians, but the big 'markets' are frequently run by Vietnamese.

2) A commercial invasion: many of the biggest companies and most export/import, is run by Vietnamese or Vietnamese firms. (Cambodia’s rice industry is actually very dependent on Vietnamese buyers/exporters as well as Thai, which is another country that has historically invaded Cambodia even taking over the Angkor Wat area for some time) Having your economy more or less run by an ethnic minority, usually doesn’t sit well with many people. If you haven’t read Amy Chua’s World on Fire I highly recommend it, because she makes an argument about how some strife in countries is caused by ethnic minorities running the economy (plus some other conditions as well such as a sudden move to democracy and free markets). It is very plausible that Cambodians are jealous that much of the money being made in their country is going into the pockets of Vietnamese, and futhermore this money is then being taken out of the country! This is sort of similar to anti-semitism around the world, especially in the early 20th century when many people thought Jews ran the economy in the US (Jewish people did run many banks at that time, as showcased in World on Fire).

This post may be my first controversial one, but I really am curious to know the reason behind the Cambodian aversion to Vietnamese, especially since the Vietnamese seem oblivious to it. If anyone else out there has any theories, please feel free to share! I’m all ears and want to know the truth! Let the comments begin…Cheers.

Sa Pa Travels, Part II

May 8, 2009
Jeff and me: looking cool with our Motorbikes!

Jeff and me: looking cool with our Motorbikes!

It has been awhile since I’ve posted anything and by popular demand I am now attempting to write Part II of my Sa Pa travels. As you all can recall, the first part was about the trek I took with my friends through the hills. Part II, is a bit different and is about my experience renting a motorbike with my friend Jeff.

The Respol and the Wave, posing with a waterfall!

The Respol and the Wave, posing with a waterfall!

Upon arrival back to the town of Sa Pa, Jeff and I decided to rent motorbikes. We’d talked to this one man, Tom (probably not his real name!), who said he’d rent us motorbikes for $5 a day. We were sold. The catch is that whenever you rent a motorbike, they never have fuel. My guess is that when you bring the bike back, they siphon out the fuel for their own use or to sell it, as it is very common to see people sell 1 liter bottles of petrol on the side of the road.

Jeff and I are not necessarily experts on motorbikes; in fact I had only ridden a motorbike twice before this trip and that was once on the empty night time streets of Hanoi and another time on the narrow and winding roads of a rural Vietnamese village. Nonetheless, those two experiences led me to belive that I knew what I was doing. Cocky? You betcha! Prepared? Mmmm, not so much! However, the show must get on the road…so we went.

The beautiful scenery north of Sa Pa and less traveled by tourists.

The beautiful scenery north of Sa Pa and less traveled by tourists.

We headed north, to the less touristy parts of the Sa Pa area and visited several villages and a few waterfalls. We traveled over every terrain imaginable: paved roads, gravel roads, mud wallows, dirt tracks, over stones, steep descents, and even steeper ascents. By the end of the day, we figured that we had become versed in they ways of motorbiking! We’d used every gear imaginable to help us over the various terrains and we went from walking our bikes to riding them up to probably 50 to 60 km/h.

After riding for around 5 hours we were nearing Sa Pa proper again. We were coming home on the same road we came out on so figured after all we’d been through we would be fine. Little did we know, we were wrong. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but I remember that I was leading and I took a fairly sharp turn on a paved road going down hill, probably a bit too narrowly. Maybe I was even going to fast. I’m not sure. All I know is that one moment I was up riding confidently, the next I was sliding on the ground with the bike on top of me!

Jeff 'sleeping' on his bike, like a waiting moto-driver in Hanoi or Phnom Penh.

Jeff 'sleeping' on his bike, like a waiting moto-driver in Hanoi or Phnom Penh.

Jeff saw me take my spill, so he started breaking thinking maybe I had taken the turn to fast…and then he did the same exact thing! We had bothed crashed or bikes on the same turn, in the same fashion! As I was laying on the ground I heard his crash and looked over my shoulder to see him sliding off towards the edge of the road. I quickly assessed my own state, afraid of the large trucks that we had seen passing up and down this road. I didn’t want to get run over on a blind curve so I quickly got up and pushed my bike off the road and urged Jeff to do the same.

I wasn’t, at this point, aware of any injuries and was too worried about any damage to the bike instead of myself! I was thinking that I could not afford to pay for a new bike. Thankfully, adrenalin had taken over my bodily movements and thoughts and I wasn’t feeling anything yet.There seemed to be no real damage to myself, only a few scrapes and bruises. My jeans had saved my leg from getting torn up, and took the brunt of all the scrapes. It wasn’t until the next day did I really appreciate my injuries as I felt them and saw the large bruises blooming on the entirety of the inside of my left leg from where the bike had laid itself on me.

Workers north of Sa Pa working in a field on the edge of the road...mostly women, no surprise since men always seem to be asleep, drunk, or doing nothing!

Workers north of Sa Pa working in a field on the edge of the road...mostly women, no surprise since men always seem to be asleep, drunk, or doing nothing!

Just as the crash happened, a few kids had popped their heads outside of a nearby gate to see the accident, and I assume after seeing we were fine got bored and went back inside. Then an old, old man, walking with a stick came over to us and pointed to our injuries, chuckling to himself and looking for damage on our bikes. We weren’t sure what he was saying, but we let him know we were aware of our state. My crash had broken the left foot rest off and I noticed scrapes on the body and a tear on the seat cushion. Jeff’s looked better than mine, with only a few scrapes. We devised a plan of action for when we gave the bikes back: We would pretend that only my bike had been in an accident and show Tom the broken foot rest, hoping that would distract him from Jeff’s bikes damage. Boy were we wrong.

An example of the road we drove on. This one is being re-built and covered in large stones to later be crushed by a steam roller.

An example of the road we drove on. This one is being re-built and covered in large stones to later be crushed by a steam roller.

When we drove back into town (rather gingerly and afraid of turns I must say!) I showed Tom the damage to my bike. He was a little upset, but figured he could pass all the cost of the damage on to us. We didn’t want that to happen so we figured we’d haggle to reduce the price arguing that he was in a business where he should expect damage to happen and should intigrate that cost into his rental fee, and he should take a deposit from his renters (we paid no deposit, nor did we give him anything for the rental except our $5. If we were bad people we could have just left the bikes on the street somewhere!). He wanted me to pay 250,000 VND (roughly $15) for the damage done to my bike. Then he noticed the scrapes on Jeff’s bike.

We were soon quickly surrounded by many Vietnamese men who all were inspecting our bikes. Tom quickly said we had to pay 300,000 VND total for my bike’s damage and the scrapes on Jeff’s bike. We still tried to haggle, thinking it was ridiculous. Suddenly one of the men squealed! He had found more damage on Jeff’s bike that we had previously been unaware of: part of the frame had cracked! Tom was unsure about how much this would cost Jeff, so he said he had to go ask his body shop guy. Jeff agreed and went along with him, and I quickly decided to cut my losses and just paid the 250,000 because Tom had yet to see the torn seat cushion. I didn’t mean to leave Jeff hanging high and dry like that, but he understood afterwards.

Jeff and me posing along our journey, using a timed camera shot

Jeff and me posing along our journey, using a timed camera shot

Jeff wanted to make sure that he wasn’t being swindled and had control of the situation, so the entire time Tom had the conversation with his ‘body shop guy’ Jeff recorded it using his Flip cam, unbeknownst to the other two men. After their discussion Jeff was quoted 400,000 VND for the damage, to which Jeff thought this was ridiculous. He told Tom he wanted to go check the price of that part on the Internet back at the restaurant that I was at with Katie and Bernice. His real motive, however, was to play the video for some employees at the restaurant, and then later at our hotel.

Trying to look cool with the Respol, unfortunately it out-cooled me everywhere we went!

Trying to look cool with the Respol, unfortunately it out-cooled me everywhere we went!

After playing back the video to a few people, Jeff realized that the price I was quoted, was more or less correct. The body shop guy told him my damage was around 230,000 VND, but Jeff’s was less than 300,000. Jeff used this knowledge to catch Tom in his swindle, and proptly said he’d pay 250,000 VND, no higher. Tom readily accepted this, because we could tell he wanted to close the issue.

The next day we joked, rather gingerly because we were so sore!, about what happened. We had a great time and decided we would do it again if we had the chance. My injuries were now becoming painful. I had a cell phone shaped bruise on my hip, and the entire inside of my left leg was one giant yellow bruise which lasted for two or so weeks. Boy, was Sa Pa an adventure! It was the best trip I’ve taken so far in Vietnam, and probably the most beautiful part of Veitnam. If any of you are ever here, don’t miss it!

Sa Pa Travels, Part I

April 17, 2009
The Four Kiva Fellows: Katie, Jeff, Nate, Bernice

The Four Kiva Fellows: Katie, Jeff, Nate, Bernice

This past weekend I had the pleasure of going on a trip with three other Kiva Fellows to Sa Pa which is in the mountainous north-western part of Vietnam near the border with China. So far I would rank it as my favorite place in Vietnam and the best time I’ve had so far! My traveling companions, Jeff, Bernice, and Katie, are all Kiva Fellows and you’ve met Bernice before (she’s who I went IN the field with). Jeff and Katie are fellows in Phnom Penh, Cambodia whom I will be visiting in just about a week.

Not the kind of transportation that we took, but transportation nonetheless!

Not the kind of transportation that we took, but transportation nonetheless!

To start, we almost didn’t make it! Jeff was flying into Hanoi the night we were leaving after already taking a bus for 6 hours from Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh City (where he had an interview for Berkeley’s business school) followed by a rush to the airport to arrive in Hanoi at 7:30-ish PM. Our train was scheduled to leave at 9:50 PM (and they are surprisingly on time, I’ve never had a late train yet in Vietnam) and it takes an hour to get into Hanoi from the airport. That meant that Jeff at best could be at the train station by 8:30-ish. Not surprisingly, we didn’t hear from Jeff until around 9:15 PM when he called us to say he was at the train station. Since Bernice, Katie and I were already there we went looking for him…and couldn’t find him! It wasn’t until five minutes before the train was to depart did we have Jeff in hand; apparently he had been taken to the other side of the station because there are 9 platforms and our train was on the 7th one. That side of the train station has its own entrance, albeit a much smaller one; however I had Jeff’s ticket so he couldn’t just run across the tracks to our side to meet us and furthermore we had no clue there was the other side!

Because the trip to Sa Pa (actually Lao Cai, Sa Pa is 40 km away from the closest train station) took around 10 hours we purchased sleeper car berths. The cabin had 6 berths and we took up four. The top two berths were reserved by an older French couple. We chatted away for several hours catching up and telling stories. Finally we could tell we were annoying our cabin-mates and we settled into our ‘hard-sleepers.’ I would say that a hard sleeper is like camping; you have a camp pad on a hard surface. I slept fine, except for the fact I felt like a menopausal woman all night: hot flashes suddenly followed by cold flashes.

The cute street scene in Sa Pa

The cute street scene in Sa Pa

After arriving in Lao Cai and catching a bus we finally arrived in Sa Pa. Sa Pa is nestled in the Hoang Lien Son mountain range (the eastern most part of the Himalayas) at 1600 meters (roughly 4800 feet). We had decided to ‘wing-it’ on this trip and had no plans or a fixed itinerary. We had ideas of things that we wanted to do, so the first thing we did was look for a trek to go on. Sa Pa is famous for the trekking from ethnic village to ethnic village amongst amazing hanging gardens of rice paddies surrounded by breathtaking mountains. We went to a few travel agent shops to compare prices (because everyone offered the same trips) and settled on a hike south for $22 which took us through Black Hmong (black b/c of the dark indigo-dyed clothes they were) villages and Red Dzao (Red b/c of the red-dyed headscarves they wear) villages until we stopped at Ban Ho village for a night home-stay.

Our guide was a very gentle and friendly Tay (another ethnic minority) named Minh. Having a guide is essential to travel the numerous paths and gain entrance to many of the villages. With out Minh we would have never made it to our home-stay with day light to spare!

An incredible view from the ridge of the region we were about to hike.

An incredible view from the ridge of the region we were about to hike.

When we started our hike we were let off at the top of a breath-takingly beautiful ridge looking down on terraced field after terraced field and several Black Hmong villages. The problem, however, was this was the drop off point for all hikes in the region including day hikers. We weren’t alone basically. This also meant we would be followed by Hmong women trying to relentlessly sell us their crafts. We had heard stories that these women would follow you for at least a kilometer to make a sale, but we were skeptical of this. Boy were we wrong! We went probably at least six (!) kilometers with the same group of three Black Hmong women following us! At first they kept trying to sell us the bracelets, and small colorful purses they had for sale, but after awhile they gave it up and just followed us. Finally, after reaching a waterfall, they tried to sell us things again and after refusing again they went off on their own. We were amazed that they would follow us for at least four hours just to try and make a sale. That made us believe that they must make HUGE margins on their items or it wouldn’t be worth it to follow someone for so long and not make a sale.

One of the few men we saw working; animals are the most efficient way to plow here because machines can't work on these steep slopes.

One of the few men we saw working; animals are the most efficient way to plow here because machines can't work on these steep slopes.

Anyway, we weren’t quite prepared for how rigorous the hike was. No one warned us that we would be constantly changing elevation by the hundreds of meters at a time up slippery and muddy slopes and through even muddier rice paddies. However, once we were past the distance day trippers trek it was thoroughly enjoyable because we were the only people on the path except for the random Black Hmong or Red Dzao person. (A side note–we saw a lot of women working, but very few men working. There is obviously a gender inequality problem here. Women were the sellers, the farmers, and the manufacturer of the handicrafts, whereas men mostly seemed to be sleeping or drinking when we saw them. A few were plowing fields, but we saw women doing that as well! A prime example of this working disparity was a Red Dzao village we went to: first we saw a group of little boys carving swords out of bamboo and playing with them, then we saw girls of the same age bent over in the fields farming. Why couldn’t the boys be helping?! Even if it is a cultural thing, that is still not acceptable!)

One of our descents led us to the Golden Gate Bridge...of Sa Pa

One of our descents led us to the Golden Gate Bridge...of Sa Pa

As it was getting late, we had to abandon our regular path to Ban Ho. Minh said it would be long after dark if we continued on the path through the bamboo forests and the random villages here and there. We then quickly descended to the valley river and then just as quickly ascended out on the other side to the main road. We followed the road for about 6 km until we hit a village and made a bee-line right back down into the valley. Along the road we saw the un-touristy inhabitants. For the most part, where tourists go, everyone was wearing traditional clothing, but here only a few people were wearing traditional clothing and the ones who were, we hypothesized, were either really old and holding onto tradition or workers who went into Sa Pa or followed the day-trippers selling their crafts. Before the dark was really setting in, we descended at least 2000 feet to a village tucked on the river but surrounded by construction scars on the landscape. This was where we were going to spend the night.

The scenery around Ban Ho Village (you can see it barely where the river on the left side disappears)

The scenery around Ban Ho Village (you can see it barely where the river on the left side disappears)

Ban Ho is a popular place for two day trekkers like ourselves to have their home-stay, thus we weren’t the exception. The reason why there was so much construction here is that the government is building a road down to the village from the main ridge road to eventually build a hydroelectric dam. Maybe in the future the red-clay roads and scarred landscape will heal, but for the time being it was ugly but beautiful at the same time. Being thoroughly tired we ate dinner and relaxed sitting on the covered porch watching a massive thunderstorm pass over the valley. (It reminded me a lot of my childhood in VA, when I would sit on our covered porch and watch the storms go by! Oh childhood memories!) At one point a bolt of lighting illuminated the entire sky, struck the nearby mountain and caused all the power in Ban Ho to go out for a few seconds causing the dramatic difference between tons of light and complete blackness! It was simply amazing.

A 'waterfall' draining out of a rice paddy.

A 'waterfall' draining out of a rice paddy.

After a very good nights sleep we woke up early and started trekking around Ban Ho to see a few other ethnic villages and meet some of the villagers. (Unfortunately, and fortunately, we didn’t get to meet any of the villagers our guide knows which was bad that we didn’t see them but good to know that they don’t depend on us; they were in their fields working!) The previous night’s rain was evident everywhere as the paths were even muddier and the paddies were overflowing with water. The day before, we had noticed water draining from paddy to paddy and we were confused by this…it seemed that that would be counter-intuitive to fertilizing the paddies as the fertilizer would just wash away. Today, however, we realized why the draining was there: to quickly get rid of excess water from the storms. Rice grows best in a certain level of water, and if there’s too much or too little your crop yield suffers. Because this region gets storms frequently, they have to be able to have an easy water management system, and the little waterfalls from terrace to terrace are the answer.

A Red Dzao village tucked in amogst the greenery of the mountains.

A Red Dzao village tucked in amogst the greenery of the mountains.

Our trekking was cut short due to an impassable path, which was fine by us because after trekking and visiting the local waterfall we knew we had a visit planned to go to the local hot spring! This meant we could just get to it sooner. However, Minh wanted us to eat lunch first since it was being prepared for us. Jeff and I decided we weren’t quite hungry yet and went for a run up a gravel road towards the main ridge road. This was a tough run for me! I only made it twenty minutes before turning around because it was so tiring and steep. We probably gained almost 1000 feet in only 14 or so minutes. I limped back to the house alone (Jeff kept running) for lunch, and exhaustedly sad down, ate, while impatiently looking forward to the hot spring.

Vietnamese watermelons (look at that mighty find torpedo shape!) and a chicken who has no idea what it's getting into...

Vietnamese watermelons (look at that mighty fine torpedo shape!) and a chicken who has no idea what it's getting into...

The hot spring, unfortunately, was disappointing in scope but very, very nice at the same time. We felt cleansed as we hadn’t showered yet in probably two days and the water was warm and comforting. The ‘spring’ was like a big concrete tub right next to the river, but overlooking the ugly red-clay road being built. Nonetheless we enjoyed ourselves and played with a watermelon that I had bought on the walk to the spring. We pretended that the watermelon was a rugby ball and we were throwing it to each other and tackling each other in the water; next it was a torpedo and being submersed, spun, and pushed towards each other (this was my favorite game!), and finally it was a snack.

After the hot springs, it was time to go back to Sa Pa, yet we still had the rest of the day and the next day to explore. Instead of hiking back, we took a minibus, and our next adventure simply awaited…Stay tuned for Part II!

Grub Wine to Dog…Man’s Not-so-Best Lunch!

April 8, 2009

It’s been a while since I have posted anything, but yesterday saw some events that you all should know about: dog really doesn’t taste that good. Whoa, wait a second, maybe I should relate the story first…

Yum, yum! Only if they knew what happens once they pass that gate...

Yum, yum! Only if they knew what happens once they pass that gate...

I’ve been regularly going out into the field now interviewing borrowers, so it’s nice to actually be doing some good work. After riding the bus for an hour and sitting on the back of a motorbike and cruising down a dike road my translator and I arrived at the house of a one Ms. Nguyen Thi Chien. Her story isn’t that exciting: she raises pigs and has a fish pond. While the fish pond is different than most borrowers, it wasn’t that exciting. What was exciting and a curve ball I wasn’t expecting was how I was received at the house.

To preface it, I arrived to her house with Tuan my translator and another borrower who showed us where to find her. This woman yelled into the house to find Ms. Nguyen, and instead a a girl around the age of 5 waddled out of the house with her big toe sticking through her right sock, crying her head off. Apparently we woke her up…wouldn’t you cry too if it happened to you? and she wanted her mommy. A few minutes later Ms. Nguyen came running from somewhere, where I’m not sure.

After sitting down like a typical interview, next to the family ancestral altar, her husband joined us. Typically I am served green tea in shot glasses, this time I was served lotus tea, which was quickly replaced with wine, rice wine that is. The husband wanted me to try some wine he had made, so as a good guest I accepted. This was no wine I had ever seen before.

Grub Wine! Look closely and you'll see the grubs throughout...mmm

Grub Wine! Look closely and you'll see the grubs throughout...mmm

Mr. Nguyen brought out the rattiest, dirtiest, and weirdest looking jug of stuff I’ve ever seen. Who knows how strong it is, 80 proof, 120 proof? He opened it and poured some into my shot glass. It smelled…a lot like strong alcohol and herbs; but it was the appearance that was interesting: it was a syrupy yellow steeping in what looked like various roots and plants. As I was holding the jar, I noticed something else in the mix: hu- mother-fing-mungous grubs. Eyes, legs, and all. They were at least 4 inches long and consisted of about one-third the mass of stuff in the jug.

But don’t get me wrong! This didn’t phase me at all. I sipped that stuff down and in fact had seconds, thirds, fourths, and fifths of it through the rest of my stay. Drunk with grubs. Yay!

After the interview was finished we were invited to stay for lunch. I’ve had a few traditional Vietnamese lunches in homes, but after the grub juice, I should’ve realized this lunch would be different from others I’ve had. Word quickly spread around the village that a foreigner was having lunch with the Nguyen’s (one of many, Nguyen is actually the most common surname). One man told me he was a dog meat vendor, and told me I needed to eat dog meat, it was good for my virility. With that, he matter-of-factly sent a boy to his shop to bring back his favorite dish: dog curry with cooked bananas.

Could you ever eat a face like this?! I won't ever again! That's for sure. Poor, poor Mr. Sanchez

Could you ever eat a face like this?! I won't ever again! That's for sure. Poor, poor Mr. Sanchez

The bananas looked inviting, and I enjoyed those, but it was the dog meat that was weird for me. I’m pretty sure when I was in Africa I had dog meat at one point, so I thought I’d be ok with it this time. In Vietnam, apparently, the best pieces of any animal are the weirdest ones. For example, Vietnamese love eating the butt of the chicken. Why you may ask? It makes your hair blacker. Blacker? I thought their hair was black enough? Meh! Anyway, the first bit of dog meat plopped in my bowl I quickly refused: the paw of he dog! Nails, skin, hair, and all! It was too reminiscent of, well you know, a dog. I like dogs too much, so I requested non-descript meat, because then I don’t know where it came from off the animal and thus won’t picture in my head a dog running around with his paw chopped off.

The next piece of dog meat offered to me: the tail…still not non-descript! And furthermore, there’s meat on the tail? What was I suppose to do, gnaw on the spinal cord, which is exactly what the tail is? Mr. Nguyen, took that one off my hands. It wasn’t until my third piece of meat, that I finally agreed to taste the dog. Who knows what part of the animal it came from, possibly somewhere on the leg? Anyway, dog meat has a very unique flavor; it’s quite rich and definitely doesn’t taste like chicken. It tastes simply like nothing else, so I guess you could say it taste like dog. As I was eating the meat I just kept thinking about Caymus and Massena, my dad’s two dogs. I’m not made to eat dog, for us dogs are family, here dogs are food or pest control.

Trứng vịt lộn: Hard-boiled, fetal duck eggs. Make sure you get the tone right; if not, 'lon' is the word for pussy, and not the cat kind.

Trứng vịt lộn: Hard-boiled, fetal duck eggs. Make sure you get the tone right; if not, 'lon' is the word for pussy, and not the cat kind.

The entire time we had lunch, we were also putting down shots of the grub wine. When that ran out, Mr. Nguyen reached under his TV stand and pulled out a big 5-gallon jug of some more wine which he still poured into the grub jug. Since I was closest to this jug I saw what was inside of it: a snake! Snake Wine is actually a Vietnamese culinary delicacy, but this snake was giant; it was coiled up inside the entire 5-gallon jug. Turns out it was a cobra that Mr. Nguyen had found in his field. He waited for it to come out of it’s hole and killed it so he could make snake wine. Yum. Unfortunately, I didn’t try this wine because I was already getting drunk and had two more clients to interview after lunch. I would’ve tried it otherwise though!

Vietnam is known for it’s crazy food, and this day was a prime example of it’s famous fare. If you’re ever in this country you should try all of this for on your own, and I’ve barely touched upon what else I’ve eaten here: fetal duck eggs, animal intestines, pig heart, stir-fried silk-worms…

An Atypical Borrower: From Riches to Rags

March 26, 2009
An atypical borrower: Ms. Nguyen Thuy Minh

An atypical borrower: Ms. Nguyen Thuy Minh

One of my main roles as a fellow with SEDA in Vietnam is interviewing borrowers and then writing a journal update so that lenders can see how the borrower is doing. I have many questions that I like to ask most of the borrowers and one of my favorites is quite simple: What did you do before you started this particular business? This question is great because it really helps me learn about the person I’m interviewing; their previous jobs tell a lot about them. Take for example Ms. Nguyen Thuy Minh.

The community cultural center where Ms. Nguyen makes her loan payments.

The community cultural center where Ms. Nguyen makes her loan payments.

Ms. Nguyen, 45, currently runs a mobile phone business which she started four years ago and helps her daughter-in-law raise animals. Six years ago her husband was killed in an accident and that accident changed her life as she knew it. When most people think of microfinance they think of a poor person trying to empower themselves out of poverty and thus we assume that person was always poor and that microfinance is the opportunity they never had before. Ms. Nguyen’s case, however, is completely the opposite.

Prior to her husband’s accident, Ms. Nguyen’s job was running a confectionary factory for 16 years with her husband which employed over 60 workers—now that’s a favorable impact on a community, a locally owned business which creates jobs! She and her family were very well off until her husband’s death. For some reason or another his death meant the closure of the factory (I didn’t want to pry into all of her personal details about the accident and accompanying results but I assume her husband had many debts) and quickly propelled Ms. Nguyen and her family into the type of poverty they had never known before.

The scenery near the community cultural center (shot from the back of a moving motorbike!)

The scenery near the community cultural center (shot from the back of a moving motorbike!)

As Ms. Nguyen described her situation, she said her best option was to start a mobile phone business in her hamlet but it meant that she had to work harder than before for less money to simply get by. To help her business along and to help begin increasing her standard of living she decided to apply for a micro-loan (before, with the factory, her credit was good enough to get loans from traditional banks). Her loan has since helped increase her daily income and has allowed her to purchase more new phones in bulk, thus reducing her overall costs.

Ms. Nguyen’s story is a perfect example of an atypical borrower, but nonetheless microfinance has become a valuable tool for her. With that in mind, I think her role as Group Leader is also valuable to microfinance in her community because she can share her knowledge of business management with her other group members and possibly with many others in her community. In fact, one of my goals now is to see if Ms. Nguyen could possibly run a work-shop on business management with the other SEDA borrowers in her community which perfectly answers another question I like to ask borrowers: what impact do you and your business have on your community? And my oh my, what a potential impact Ms. Nguyen can have!

The Rice Paddy and the Commune

March 16, 2009
Bernice and Tinh with a Commune water buffalo

Bernice and Tinh with a Commune water buffalo

Malcolm Gladwell, the author of the book Outliers, wrote that because rice farming is the hardest type of farming and the most time consuming, Asian people are better at doing math than all other peoples. While I do not belive his argument in terms of Asians and math, I do agree with him that rice farming is extremely difficult!

This past weekend I went to Thanh Hoa province to visit my fellow Fellow in the field, Bernice. She had many things planned for us to do in her ‘boring’ town which I was extremely excited to do, even if I almost drowned in the process of getting from the train station to the hotel because of the torrential rain. Amongst the many things we did, we went to her favorite food stalls, we had dinner at a Vietnamese friends house, we went to a beach resort, and best of all we went to her translator’s home commune to visit and help weed a rice paddy!

Tinh's family house in the rural commune.

Tinh's family house in the rural commune.

After hopping on the back of Tinh’s (Tinh sounds like ‘Ting’ and is Bernice’s translator) motorbike and her boyfriend’s, we arrived at Tinh’s home commune. First off, commune housing is very different than the housing found in cities. In the cities property taxes aren’t based on squared footage as we know it, but instead are determined by the amount of frontage space the building takes up on  the street. Thus houses are built to be narrow and tall to cut down on taxes, but still have decent square footage. I’m not sure if this property taxing is the same in the rural communes, but here houses look like regular houses; they’re much sorter and much wider with yards and patios.

Tinh’s house was a very busy house indeed. There were animals running around everywhere including four dogs (one was the cutest puppy in the world that was purchased only the day before), a rooster, numerous hens and chicks, four ducks, a cat, and roosting pigeons. It’s also common for some houses to even have cows or water buffaloes in the yard! Not to mention people are constantly coming and going, but maybe this was due to the fact that there were two foreigners visiting.

Looking for the supposed grass in between the rice, and with a cow as company. Bonus!

Looking for the supposed grass in between the rice, and with a cow as company. Bonus!

After helping make spring rolls for lunch, we were taken to the rice paddy belonging to Tinh and her family. For those who don’t know, growing rice is very difficult and requires a lot of work; up to 3000 hours a year vs. regular farming’s 1800 hours a year. The good thing, however, is that small rice paddies can yield a lot of rice due to the efficient farming methods developed for wet-rice cultivation, and thus there isn’t a lot of land that an individual has to worry about. This paddy was roughly 500 square meters and very close to the cluster of houses in the commune. Before stepping into the paddy we were quickly breifed by Tinh for what we were looking for: grass growing amongst the rice.

The grass that grows in the rice needs to be weeded because it steals nutrients from the rice, however the specific grass we were weeding for has evolved over time to look almost exactly like the rice. Bernice and I were very confused and couldn’t differentiate between the two while Tinh in her best English tried to explain that the two look slightly different and feel slightly different. Alas, we never figured it out, but years and years of experience would probably help us out in the end. Instead, we weeded the types of grass that did not look like rice and were much smaller and easier to spot.

The result of Bern's fall in the paddy: muddy

The result of Bern's fall in the paddy: muddy

Two hours into weeding and in between the croaking frogs I  heard a scream quickly followed by intense laughter. Bernice had fallen over in the paddy! Bernice was extremely embarrassed and very upset because she had crushed several plants. Tinh on the other hand was laughing hysterically and trying to say that it was ok because the rice will just grow back up as this happens when the field gets over flooded by hard rains. It was at this point that we decided to call the weeding for the day. As we dragged ourselves out of the paddy, I saw that Bernice was covered in mud from her waist on down!

When we arrived back to Tinh’s house Bernice was muttering that she was afraid to confront Tinh’s mother and would buy a bag of rice for the family. Tinh and I tried to calm her down and tell her everything would be alright with Tinh’s mother and it wasn’t until Tinh’s mother got a good look at Bernice that Bernice felt better. After seeing how muddy Bernice was, Tinh’s mother immediately bent over laughing while clutching her stomach and pointing at Bernice! I’m serious, that’s exactly what happened. I couldn’t believe it, and started laughing too as did everyone else.

The puppy trying to 'help out' in the spring roll preperations!

The puppy trying to 'help out' in the spring roll preperations!

While rice farming is difficult we sampled the least labor intensive parts, however we were thankful for the cultural opportunity we were granted by going into the paddy and to Tinh’s family house where we helped cook. This will be a memory that we’ll never forget and has turned into a great story that I’m sure Bernice will tell to everyone she knows! (and I will too actually!) If any of you ever gets the opportunity to work in a rice paddy, try it out and see how fun it can be…the oozing mud between your toes makes it all worthwhile and brings you back to childhood memories of mud puddles!

And now, for your entertainment pleasure the animals of Tinh’s house and commune!

Adventures in Halong Bay

March 4, 2009

Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is also one of the most popular tourist attractions in Vietnam. The scenery of the bay is simply breathtaking and really makes one feel small and humbled. The bay is dominated by the roughly 2000 towering limestone mountains which jut spectacularly out of the ocean with tops of dense jungle vegetation. According to wikipedia these limestone mountains have been in the making for the past 500 million years and is geologically a karst topography (please don’t ask me what that means. To me it means pretty.)

Bernice and Me on our 'romantic' cruise of Halong Bay.

Bernice and Me on our 'romantic' cruise of Halong Bay.

After not working for the previous week due to the failure of my translator being available, I decided to do some traveling. My fellow Kiva Fellow in Vietnam, Bernice, opted to come along with me! She met me in Hanoi on Friday morning where we went from one travel ‘cafe’ to the next looking for the best deal that seemed legitimate. We opted for one actually on a block away from Bernice’s hotel. The trip was e as a ‘romantic one night/two day trip’ on a classic Chinese junk. For the most part, everyone else who was on the boat was indeed with a significant other except for a Chinese-American woman (I could write a whole blog on just this woman’s adventures, she had some very amazing stories) who brought her Chinese parents along. The parents only had their daughter, and to their surprise, Bernice to talk to since Bernice knows some Mandarin (She’s from Hong Kong, but they speak Cantonese there).

In a cave where an example of a classic junk can be seen.

In a cave where an example of a classic junk can be seen.

After an uneventful four hour bus ride we arrived at Ha Long Bay’s, well, marina. The classic junks weren’t very classic in the sense that they all were motor powered and none of them had their sails up! I was totally looking forward to the classic sails which really help make a junk look like a junk. In fact, I only saw one the entire time with its sails up. Before getting on the boats we had our passports taken away from us. This is actually a very common practice in Vietnam, despite initial hesitance to do so. Basically, the government wants to track every single foreign person at all times to know where they are going and for how long. Our passports are registered at hotels, and at main tourist destinations. I freaked out at first because I wasn’t aware of this until Bernice made a comment to me about it.

Unfortunately for us, we went on a very hazy, cloud/foggy day so the views weren’t as amazing as we’d hoped; however the views we did see did give off an air of mystery and eeriness. After cruising along with the other hordes of junks, our first destination on the romantic cruise was a pretty awesome cave tucked away in a protected cove surrounded by islands. Apparently there are caves on a large proportion of the islands. The cave had three main chambers with two of them being very, very large with at least room for one or two football fields inside them. These caves are still growing, unlike the Perfume Pagoda, because tourists are allowed only to follow a designated track with railings to keep us back.

The cove where we went kyaking and where the cave is located; beautiful!

The cove where we went kyaking and where the cave is located; beautiful!

After the cave was what me and Bernice were looking forward to the most: sea kayaking. We had 40 minutes to kayak anywhere we wanted. We were given life vests which were simply accessories since more than half the straps on the vests were broken; surely if I had fallen in the water it would have popped right off of me! There was one small problem, however, with the kayaks: we were not give a kayak skirt. The result was two very soaking wet people. Unfortunately for me, I had kept my jacket on and while technically it is waterproof, the amount of water it encountered soaked it meaning I had nothing to wear for the coming cold night. Along with my jacket, my pants became soaked too. Later that evening all I had to wear was my pajama pants and a t-shirt and that was not enough to keep warm!

The next morning we left the cove and went to a floating fishing village where we could take a boat ride into ‘water caves.’ In 1997 the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies was partially filmed in the floating village. According to the tour guide, Pierce Brosnan toured the very same water caves and asked that his ticket price be used to support the local school for the floating village. Our guide also told us that our ticket price of 50,000 VND would do the same as this was now the tradition. Bernice, me and two Kiwis decided that this sounded pretty scammish as there was no visible school and the junk obviously had an agreement with two very specific men to guide us in the caves. We thus opted not to see the ‘water caves.’ We apparently made a very wise decision because after only 15 minutes of seeing the said caves everyone who went said that there was nothing to see and that they wished they hadn’t paid the VND to see it. Instead of seeing ‘water caves’ we watched a woman kill live eels for dinner!

The floating fishing village.

The floating fishing village.

The floating village was the last part of the cruise and we headed back to the city of Halong where we ate lunch with a bunch of other tour groups. By this point, however, I was feeling really ill and had a fever and bad body aches. I’m not sure what I had but I did not enjoy the bus ride back even though I had the best seat on the bus: I actually had leg room! Now, the bus itself is a great story because if there were an accident there’d be no way out. The isles have folding down seats that when in use make it impossible to move around the bus. Literally we were crammed in like sardines, but not nearly as bad as the tro-tros in Ghana!

Halong Bay is definitely worth seeing and is incredibly beautiful. Anyone who visits Vietnam must see it, but we have to be careful: The increased tourism could have a potentially devastating effect on the ecology of the bay because of pollution and the oil that inevitably seems to seep sometimes from the aging junks (which by the way don’t seem to be that important because when docking they always ram into each other as bits of the old wood breaks off and falls into the ocean!) Nonetheless, see this marvelous place if you get the chance.

The Perfume Pagoda

February 27, 2009

While religion is technically not sanctioned by the government of Vietnam, people here tend to be very spiritual, if not completely religious. The beginning of spring is marked by a very large festival called the Tet Festival where the symbol of the spring awakening is the arrival of the Lunar New Year with the blooming of kumquats and peaches. Unfortunately, I missed this festival by just a week or so before arriving in Hanoi. While I missed the actual Tet festival, the festivities do not stop that soon: every year for one or two months after Tet, Buddhist pilgrims (many of which I would equate to Christmas-only Christians) flock to the Perfume Pagoda, aka Chùa Hương in Vietnamese.

The flags of the Tet Festival and the gate towards the Pefume Pagoda

The flags of the Tet Festival and the gate towards the Perfume Pagoda in My Doc, Vietnam

My guide book says that the Perfume Pagoda, which is 60 km south west of Hanoi near the town of My Doc is found in picturesque limestone mountains and is one of the prime places to visit in the located Hanoi area; however, the book warns about visiting it for two months after Tet due to the crowds. I must say, the warning was completely justified! Nonetheless, this was a cultural experience I am glad I partook in!

Prior to my trip to the Perfume Pagoda, my co-workers asked me for 70,000 VND which is roughly $4. I was unsure why they wanted this money, maybe it was for lunch for the week? I soon found out that they actually wanted me to join them on their annual pilgrimage to the Perfume Pagoda to pray for wealth, health, and prosperity for the new lunar year. We left on a Sunday at 5 AM, for a long but incredible day.

The row boats and the first glimpse of the scenery to come

The row boats and the first glimpse of the scenery to come

After a sleepless 1.5 hour bus ride to the town of My Doc, we finally arrived at the river filled with row boats that would take us to the foot of the mountains. The town was crawling with people and vendors of cheap trinkets and stacks of small denomination bills for offerings to the Buddhas. I could sense the urgency and the excitement in my co-workers who were non-stop chattering in Vietnamese. While they were so joyful, I actually felt very, very lonely. I was surrounded by thousands of people, but I couldn’t really enjoy what was going on in the same capacity as everyone else. I was sort of forgotten, maybe because I don’t know any Vietnamese and everyone wanted to talk about what was going on and obviously they’ll do that in their own language. Who knows; it was still odd feeling so lonely, but with so many people around. Only after quite a bit of alcohol and walking did I begin to feel apart of the group.

The Buddhist offering also known as lunch!

The Buddhist offering also known as lunch!

To get this party officially started we purchased a whole cooked chicken, plopped him/her on a pile of sticky rice, stuck stacks of money under it and added a few flowers (maybe for color?). We then marched the chicken and a platter of fruit into the first temple and put it on the altar with incense burning. Everyone was praying by this point, asking the Buddhas for prosperity. I assumed this was an offering, possibly even a lame sacrifice, but as soon as it began the chicken and fruit platters were quickly back out the door of the temple. Apparently they were lunch for the boat ride ahead…

Wouldn't you like to row here everyday of your life?

Wouldn't you like to row here everyday of your life?

The boat ride lasted about one hour and I was placed squarely in the middle, probably so I wouldn’t fall into the water since we were drinking beer the entire trip? The boat was rowed and directed by an extremely small but buff woman and a companion man. Her strength and nimbleness was incredible. Apparently all the women in the town of My Doc, aged 13 to about 65 row the throngs of pilgrims up the river every year, all year long. Not a single obese one amongst them.

The scenery on the river was literally awe inspiring. Too bad it was cloudy, because I bet with a blue sky and a blazing sun the limestone and lush green mountains would be phenomenal. Despite the clouds it was still pretty. As our boat made its way amongst the other boats my co-workers broke out into traditional Vietnamese songs until we made it to the docking point where the hike up the mountain would begin.

Roast...dog?...done seven ways, or just one. For now.

Roast...dog?...done seven ways, or just one. For now.

The hike up to the Perfume Pagoda is several kilometers and quite steep. It doesn’t make it easy that the stone-paved path has been trekked on so many times that the rocks have been rubbed smooth and thus are insanely slippery. All along the path up the view was blocked by more of the same vendors selling tacky trinkets and various over-priced food and drink stalls. This was a shame because I would rather see the amazing nature than horrible commerce, especially in a supposedly Communist country!

This is a Metallica concert, right?

This is a Metallica concert, right?

With roughly 1/3 of a mile to the cave, our ability to walk normally stopped. Suddenly I was at a rock concert back home: we were in a mosh pit. The throngs of pilgrims had finally all converged on one narrow path to the pagoda with intense pushing and shoving. I swear, at one point my feet were no longer on the ground and my body movement was only because of the sway of the crowd! Fortunately for me, I was a head taller than everybody so I was able to get fresh air, while everyone else must have been suffocating. At one point I began contemplating whether this trek to the pagoda would be worth in or not and if I should turn around and join the mass of people going back down since their side was actually moving. I am glad I decided against this.

The cave entrance to the Perfume Pagoda

The cave entrance to the Perfume Pagoda

The pagoda itself was breathtaking. After walking down about 120 stairs I found myself in a wide-open cavern with a giant pillar of stone in the middle. Behind the pillar was a grotto with several Buddhist altars where people were doing a number of things including praying, trying to catch ‘lucky water’, aka drops from stalactites, and stuffing money into fissures of the rocks (a sacrifice in hopes that wealth will surely be had this new year!). The intensity of the spirituality simply washed over everything in the cave. I was left without words.

While I was literally one of only four recognizable foreigner I saw the entire time (I only saw the other foreigners on my way back down the mountain) amongst the at least 100,000 people, I would surely visit it again during this time of the year. If I could I would edit the guide books to say “do not visit the Perfume Pagoda for the first two months after Tet, unless you want a truly unforgettable cultural experience that you’ll probably keep with you for the rest of your life.”

Vietnam Military History Museum

February 19, 2009
Vietnam Military History Museum

Vietnam Military History Museum

Vietnam has a long history of fighting in wars and has been invaded numerous times in the past. According to my guidebook, all the invasions utterly failed and for the most part Vietnam was its own entity even with the huge military might and strong culture of China just north of the border. Beginning in 1946, Vietnam started fighting for independence from France. By 1954, independence had been won with Uncle Ho leading the country to victory. As we all know, the US was mighty afraid of this turn of events because of the fear of Communism which ultimately led the US to invade Vietnam in 1959. For the most part, Vietnam was up in arms from 1946 until 1975!

In the US, we simply call the war with Vietnam, the Vietnam War. As one could guess, here in Vietnam the war with the US is called the American War. To celebrate and commemorate the victories of the First Indochina War and the American War, the Vietnam Military History Museum (formerly the Army Museum) was built and filled with war related artifacts. For a scholar of the Vietnam War, this museum provides the Vietnamese slant on things!

I arrived to the museum with less than 40 minutes to view it (the museum closed for 1.5 hours to accommodate lunch breaks for the staff) which meant that I had to view it in a rush. I didn’t get to see everything nor did I get to read much about the artifacts, but what I did see was pretty cool and even better were the descriptions of many of the tanks and planes. A typical exert on a placards was like this:

Operated be the 4th company 273rd brigade, this heroic company participated in the assault to seize the Saigon army 23rd division headquarters during BuonMaThuat combat (April 1975) and also in the battles at Bayhien cross, Saigon (April 1975) and at Tasanh, Cambodia (1979)

Operated be the 4th company 273rd brigade, this heroic company participated in the assault to seize the Saigon army 23rd division headquarters during BuonMaThuat combat (April 1975) and also in the battles at Bayhien cross, Saigon (April 1975) and at Tasanh, Cambodia (1979)

Which is the actual description of the tank you see above. A simple tank. This is a very nationalistic way to view things. Even better, some of the objects even said how many enemy tanks or planes they shot down. I imagine much of the information is fabricated, maybe to strike nationalistic pride? But I could be very wrong. Maybe they actually know that the MIG fighter I saw did indeed shoot down 3 B-52 bombers. Furthermore, many of the planes and helicopters were ‘captured’ on April 30th, 1975 in Saigon…That’s the day the war ‘officially’ ended. I imagine instead of being captured they were just left there by the US and Saigon governments because the US had been pulling out for quite a while. So if it makes them feel better to write ‘captured’, I say let them; we couldn’t beat them in the end anyway!

Below is a picture guide to my trip at the Museum. Cheers!

Maybe these failed to explode when we dropped them?

Maybe these failed to explode when we dropped them?

This art installation was put together with scavanged bits and pieces of planes, helicopters and bombs. Kinda cool actually!

This art installation was put together with scavanged bits and pieces of planes, helicopters and bombs. Kinda cool actually!

This tank was probably used to invade Saigon, I think. Notice the flags behind it, they were the flags flown by the North during the war.

This tank was probably used to invade Saigon, I think. Notice the flags behind it, they were the flags flown by the North during the war.

Vietnamese people are pretty short, or were back when this was built in 1812. The doorways inside it are only about 5 feet tall! This is the Flag Tower. I'm surprised it survived two wars...seems like a big target to me!

Vietnamese people are pretty short, or were back when this was built in 1812. The doorways inside this tower and its building are only about 5 feet tall! This is the Flag Tower. I'm surprised it survived two wars...seems like a big target to me!

This US helicopter was 'captured' on April 30th, 1975 in Saigon

This US helicopter was 'captured' on April 30th, 1975 in Saigon