To be honest, of the three countries we visited on the LEAD 31 International Seminar, Vietnam was my favorite. At its core, Hong Kong is similar to almost any other international metropolis. Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, on the other hand were completely different than anything I had ever experienced.
Upon leaving Hong Kong, we flew into rain drenched Hanoi. I had some preconceived notions of Hanoi as a communist block city of bare, minimalist concrete, covered with banners of socialist propaganda and in that respect, Hanoi did not disappoint. However, I was surprised to find the street level of almost every building housed a family-owned shop selling anything and everything from freshly hung meat to all your hardware needs. Entreprenuership at the local level thrives in Hanoi.
While in Hanoi we met with several U.S. delegates at the U.S. Embassy, toured the Hanoi Hilton, and the Hanoi University of Agriculture. From an agricultural perspective, I found the exchange with the Vietnam’s Famer’s Union (VFU) to be the most educational. The VFU serves the dual functions of distributing information, technology and modern farming practices to the millions of farmers in Vietnam and serving as the farmers’ voice regarding government policies and regulations. Although the VFU’s director tows the communist party line, it became clear in our exchange, that the government understands the need to bring its agriculture production up to modern standards if it is going to participate in the global market.
Ho Chi Minh
From the city dynamic to the weather and everything in between, Ho Chi Minh city (aka Saigon) is a different world from Hanoi. The city is humming with western social and economic influence, and without question, retains the wealth in Vietnam. In Ho Chi Minh we had the opportunity to meet with several more U.S. delegates to discuss the hurdles and opportunities U.S. companies face when working and investing in Vietnam. The delegates confirmed that although the government is centralized out of Hanoi, the economy is ran from Ho Chi Minh. Thereafter, we visited the infamous tunnels of Cu Chi, consisting of the immense network of tunnels constructed by the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong during the Vietnam war. The tunnels were a sobernig and educational experience for the group but we soon realized the war (American War as referred in
Vietnam) does not have the same grip on the Vietnam population the way the war still has on the U.S. Our last stop was a tour of the Hi Tech Agricultural Management Park which provides an educational and technological launchpad for agricultural businesses.
The Lead 31 International Seminar moved pretty fast and you had to keep up or get left behind. But getting left behind in Vietnam might have been worth the price of catching up as there was a lot more of the country and culture I wanted to experience.
Pictures and more information of the Vietnam leg can be found on the University of Nebraska LEAD website.