Friday, October 4, 2013

Just an FYI, people in Cambodia felt that Vietnam would take over Laos very soon and Cambodia not much after that.  Apparently, the Vietnamese have a stronger economy, the people are more aggressive (I didn't notice that), and they have a much bigger army.  And Laos and Cambodia have significantly fewer people.

Vietnam, officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, is a communist country of nearly 90 million  people (13th most populous) and is 5000 years old. Government provided health care is not adequate, nor is there much in the way of social security, thus the need for a lot of small shops which people operate until they are too old to do so.  But senior citizens are highly respected and its felt that the older you are the more knowledge you have, so therefore you are more important.

Our hotel while in Vietnam was very close to St. Joseph's Cathedral, so we passed it every time we left or returned to our hotel.  It always had a six foot hi metal French surrounding the front of building, just below the stairs.  So we were very surprised on Sunday at about 4:00 PM to see a section of the fence open and the doors to the church open.  So we decided to go inside and take some pictures.  The place is beautiful, and there were people scattered about in pews and by the candles, all praying!  There are about 6 million Catholics and 1 million Protestants.  About 85% of Vietnamese identify with Buddhism, but only about 7 million are practicing Buddhists.  The government says it recognizes religious freedoms of all kinds, but doesn't always practice what it preaches.  The government controls the media.

The second picture is from when we walked by the church at 6:30PM on our way to dinner.  The church was full! The large area on top of the stairs was full of people in plastic chairs, and the people closest to me and all around me were sitting on their motor bikes listening to the service which was being broadcast outside, also.  After dinner, the scene was exactly the same for the next service!

There were no fitness centers in either country, but I also didn't notice anyone, I mean no one other than other Americans, that was even 10 pounds overweight.  But there were numerous times when I saw older people doing tai chi or in couples dance classes, all held on sidewalks or in small parks.

As a parting note, my experiences visiting the Hagar clients will always have an affect on me.  Their stories were painful to listen to... it's amazing how bad people can treat each other. We all need to do whatever we can to uplift the lives of people we meet who have been abused, disrespected, and especially trafficked.  Hagar is changing lives one at a time, and has been for twenty years.  Their approach to their clients, and their business approach, are the best I've ever seen.  Other NGO's could learn a lot from Hagar's approach and their management team.  If you would like to help Hagar carry out their work, visit their web site at

Thank you for sharing this journey with me.  I hope I've been able to pass along some of the emotion I've felt and knowledge I've gained.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Saturday - Last Full Day

Bang! Clang! Clang! Clang!  BANG! Clang! Clang! Clang!  My sleep is broken by the ringing of the Cathedral bells at 5:30 AM (They've messed up daylight savings time here as it also gets dark at 5:30 PM)!  The sun is shining between the high rise buildings directly through my sheer shades.  Feels like I'll have to be satisfied with another night of five hours of sleep.  At least today we won't have a full day of meetings, so I won't have to be totally alert.  In fact, we've planned a day of cultural exposure... site seeing.
We traveled to Bat Trang, a village on the edge of Hanoi that is known for producing ceramics.  Bat Trang is  about fifteen blocks long and wide.  Seemed like every shop in town either made or sold ceramics.  The variety was amazing.

Excuse me for being a novice at adding pictures via my iPad.
Besides the ceramic village we saw the Museum of Cultural Diversity - there are 54 different ethnic groups in Vietnam, but the Viet make up 85% of the total population.
Also did a paid tour of the city and then walked around the old part of town. Every 15 feet there's another store front. Many of the store owners live in the back of the store and merely draw a curtain to close off their bed during the day.  Other store owners live in relative luxury by having a room in the back or upstairs.  Though none of the stores are air-conditioned, so living conditions are difficult in more ways than just lack of space.  I don't have any pictures of the smaller stores.  The ceramic stores pictured here are not normal as they are located in a village dedicated to tourists.

This is a typical side street in Hanoi with stores, but no outside restaurants.  The patrons of outside restaurants generally are sitting on stools about twelve inches high and take up all the space between the building and the curb, so people walking have to use the street.  Locals probably navigate that scenario better than we did as we were always being honked at.
 Notice all the electric wiring.  None of it is underground.

There will be one blog after this one.