Day 9 – 5/15 – VinaCapital-izing on What the City has to Offer

What a long day. While it wasn’t our earliest start time of the trip (we actually got to sleep in until 7:15!!), we had a more jam-packed, sweat-inducing schedule than any of our previous days. In the morning, we headed to UEF for our final lesson at the school. Today, we were told about the history Buddhism in Vietnam and we learned that at 8% of the population, it is the most highly practiced religion in the country. The lesson was surprisingly filled with a great deal of comic relief as our guest speaker continuously restated Buddhism’s emphasis on dukkha (sorrow) and the four noble truths with a modern flare.

Once we’d finished with our lesson, we took a trip to a local pagoda to experience the temple feeling firsthand. The bright, intricate artwork of the pagoda was fascinating to analyze, and I was impressed by the large Buddha statue as well. When we removed our shoes and entered, we had the chance to light incense and say a prayer for our families. While in the neighborhood, we also got to sightsee around the corner where the famous picture was taken of a Buddhist monk lighting himself on fire in protest of the war. Again, the statue was marvelously crafted, and the location paid tribute to his life and his cause.

For lunch, we went to a Vietnamese food court and were given a 200,000 dong card to spend (just under $10). Not to be wasteful, I spent 195,000 of the money, and subsequently ate two meals. In addition to my banana and peanut butter smoothie – which I was quite impressed by – I got to eat some good, old-fashioned steak and fries as well as spring rolls and spiced pork with noodles. I may have forgotten to take a picture before my meal, but I think the picture attached still conveys the sheer amount of food that I ate. As I have many other days, I enjoyed every aspect of my meal. While I anticipated fearing many of my meals here, I have come to look forward to trying everything (except shrimp – especially with heads).

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In the afternoon, we had our second-to-last site visit of the trip. We had a visit with two strands of the same company – the VinaCapital Foundation and the VinaCapital group. Due to Vietnam’s low-income population and still developing technology, many poor families do not have access to medical care for children with life-threatening health issues. Through donor funding, the VinaCapital foundation helps provide services to these families and children. Their flagship program is Heartbeat Vietnam which last year was able to pay for 906 kids with congenital heart defects to get life-saving surgery. VinaCapital sources donations from global partners in addition to domestic, and they have received help with their Hearing Mission from US donors. The primary goal of the VinaCapital group is to raise money for and invest in the foundation. Despite the company’s best efforts, they still have a challenge ahead of them. Horribly, 40,000 rural Vietnamese children die every year because of a lack of health services. As we learned with many of our other site visits, the modern increase in development and urbanization has assisted local companies by increasing worker productivity among other things. For instance, with both II-VI Vietnam Co. – who we visited yesterday – and VinaCapital, employees have been hired from farming lands, and these employees are much more beneficial to the country in this professional setting.

As an interesting side note to our visit, one of the three employees who spoke to us about VinaCapital is a “Shark” on Shark Tank Vietnam. Everyone was shocked at that revelation. I was unaware that spin-offs of Shark Tank existed, but I may check this one out now.

Our last stop of the day was at the Bến Thành Market. As I wrote this post, I realized that I forgot to take any pictures in the market – that’s how overwhelming it was. The market is pure chaos. Stalls upon stalls of cheap knick-knacks, unique souvenirs, and knock-off jerseys, shoes, bags, and jewelry towered in every direction. With no more than a couple feet between any given “shop,” there was minimal space to move and the humidity was choking. The real challenge of the evening was bargaining with the shop owners – a common and necessary practice at Vietnamese markets. All prices are inflated, and confident buyers have the power to walk away with decent deals. My one challenging bargaining experience came with my largest purchase, a Vietnam soccer jersey. The list price of 400,000 told me I should try to pay no more than 200,000 (again, under $10). After requesting this price and receiving numerous offers from the owner, each slightly lower than the last, I had the price at 280,000, but I decided to walk away. As I left the range of the stall, he called, “250!” but I kept walking. Three steps later, he shouts, “Okay!” and I got my jersey for 200,000. Patience pays off. Honestly, I loved the bargaining experience, and if we had had more time I would’ve walked around the market for a good hour more.

All-in-all, it was a very successful day, and this evening the guys on the trip are going to be going out for a to-be-determined meal while the girls get their nails done. ‘Til tomorrow!

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