Can’t be Contained

It’s always a good morning in Vietnam, no matter how sweaty I am before noon. I am sure I have mentioned it before, but just in case I haven’t… it’s SO hot here! There are no words to properly describe it, but oppressive is pretty close.

This morning’s agenda entailed a visit to Cat Lai Terminal, one of the largest ports in Vietnam. I, as well as every other person on the bus, snoozed a little and woke up surrounded by a serious operation of boats, trucks, and containers. Containers are the big metal boxes that you see on barges and trucks. (Fun fact: containers have been the most important invention in the shipping industry – yes, other than the boat).

In terms of volume, Cat Lai is the biggest port in Vietnam. They own 50% of the market share and handle about 4.5 million TEUs, which is the unit to measure carrying capacity. The acronym stands for twenty-foot equivalent unit, which is a typical container.

As a student studying supply chain, it was quite interesting to see how the terminal manages the logistics of everything. They have a control tower that monitors all aspects of the port. We got to see and learn how to decipher the schedule, the map, and the details of each container. They have the process so streamlined that it appears almost simple, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It was impressive.

Cat Lai has even taken the step to incorporate technology. They have developed an app for use by their customers. However, the terminal is apprehensive to move too much towards automation. The labor force and wages are a main selling point of Vietnam, so automating system would essentially take this special characteristic away. Despite this, however, Cat Lai serves as a critical part of the development in Vietnam. The port is booming, which therefore drives the economy to as well. I guess you could say, in terms of globalization and development, Vietnam can’t be contained.

Beyond the sheer massiveness of Cat Lai, I also really enjoyed the atmosphere because it felt very tropical by the water. It might’ve been just me, but I was getting some serious beach vibes, even though it was an industrial madhouse.

We continued our adventures in the heat with a tour through the Reunification Palace, a landmark in Ho Chi Minh City. It was home to the president of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Two North Vietnamese tanks crashed through the gates of the palace in 1975, officially ending the war with the fall of Saigon. Today it remains a tribute to the reunification of the country.

It might’ve been the heat, exhaustion, or more likely, my obsession with HGTV (interior design), but I was considerably underwhelmed by the interior of the palace. I was expecting something much fancier and grandiose to match the exterior we have driven past so many times. However, the details were honestly quite simple with just a small amount of adornment. Overall, the architecture was impressive but I guess the president lived humbly. It was very large, with five levels and each of the many rooms had it’s own purpose. It reminded me of the white house, except with a more open, indoor-outdoor floor plan. From a historical standpoint, it was super cool to see and explore. It is a genuine, authentic piece of history. We got to see everything from the walk-in closets all the way down to the bunker. I was not disappointed, just expecting something more.

Realizing how off my expectations were from reality, I was able to feel for myself the influence of globalization and development here in Vietnam. Even at their fanciest all of those years ago, they were still kind of behind (things like those paper thin mattresses on the beds). Of course for back then I’m sure it was top-of-the-line, but it was very simplistic nonetheless. It really caught me off guard, and made me see how much I have to learn about the world.

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