Interesting Developments

With another goooood morning in Vietnam and some more Pho in my stomach, today started with a lecture from Dr. Dang Le Hoa, an economic expert on the Mekong delta. She spoke to us about the unique culture, economy and challenges that give the people of the Mekong delta their identity. With the communist system in place in Vietnam, those who “own” land actually just have a permanent loan for it from the government, which is ratified by the possession of a red book, a deed of sorts. Those in the Mekong begin to prepare for the morning market trading and transactions as early as 2 am and the markets stay open for business through midday. Because those in the Mekong exist as family farms or traditional product makers, everyone runs their own small business, which brings about problems as climate change and other environmental factors could soon devastate the region. The government of Vietnam works to educate and train the citizens of the delta about the imminent threat and try to implement new policies, such as crop rotations, to mitigate the effects of climate change and upstream development, such as salinization, which can destroy an entire season’s worth of harvest. With these challenges approaching, the government and people work hard to make sure that they have a plan to move forward and prosper in the face of the looming threat.

After Dr. Hoa’s lecture, the Vietnamese students took a few of us to one of their favorite coffee places near their campus. Normally, I don’t much enjoy coffee, but the strong coffee flavor of Vietnamese coffee and condensed milk worked for my tastes and I actually really enjoyed it. Our class picked up where it left off in our language lessons. With my partner/tutor from the previous day at her job, another Vietnamese student took her place as my one on one teacher for the day and helped me learn the subtle differences in tones in the Vietnamese language. The language can be very daunting because these tones make homographs completely different words, such as the same spelling of a word meaning to wake up, but with a different tone meaning to die. With a little bit more language under my belt it was time for lunch.

In between the lecture and language class, we ordered our lunch from a Japanese sushi restaurant in the same complex as the company we would be visiting later in the day, Phu My Hung. Upon arriving at the restaurant, the waitresses asked us to take our shoes off and sit at a table that was maybe 8 inches off the floor. Thinking I was about to be eating raw fish while sitting on the floor was not exciting until I sat down and the table was actually above a hole in the floor and I would sit at it just like any other table. The sushi was delicious. I have been waiting to try sushi until I found a place that was good enough for a first sushi experience, and i think a traditional Japanese restaurant in Vietnam was exactly the experience I was looking for.

Walking only a block or two from the restaurant, I found myself outside of Phu My Hung, but I had actually been inside Phu My Hung the whole time while eating lunch. During my preparation for this trip, my understanding of Phu My Hung was that it is a joint venture real estate development firm funded by the Vietnamese government and the Taiwanese. While the company is that, it is also the city that they are making from the ground up in Saigon South, a region of Ho Chi Minh city that was previously deemed too swampy to develop. Phu My Hung proved the governments and people of Vietnam how short sighted that prognosis was because, with the assistance of a master plan drafted by an American designer, they have developed one of five planned sites, the New City Center or Site A, to completion, along with a highway that runs through what will be sites B-E. The process has taken decades of hard work, with recognition for their ambition from international architecture organizations around the world.

At first I worried about the impacts on the people and environment that this enterprising project would have, but Phu My Hung has taken much of that into consideration. Firstly, the area being develop was only previously inhabited by a handful of shacks, so only a handful of families would be displaced by the construction. They also have gone to great lengths to ensure that the development is sustainable and green, such as studying the tide patterns of the river over the past 100 years to determine at what elevation the foundation should be laid and making sure that the riverbanks are entirely lined by parks, with at least a 30 meter buffer of natural land between the bank and any sort of development. They also have designed the area to quickly drain rainwater in order to avoid flooding during the rainy season.

With all of these lofty goals for a more modern and sleek Ho Chi Minh City, I worried about the affordability for those looking to live in Phu My Hung but the lowest starting price for an apartment in the are is $600USD, which is not much more than my rent in Pittsburgh next year. This whole process has taken years investment, both monetarily and in time, from firms in dozens of countries, including the US, China, Japan, Malaysia, and Korea. Overall, I have been thoroughly impressed by the first company I visited, and am excited to see what the others have to offer.

But for now, I am off to dinner reservations with the Vietnamese students, and maybe a little taste of the Saigon night life after that.

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