Thursday, July 26, 2007

missing the burgh

After a night of Kennedy School kids including one Harvard undergraduate from gasp! Pittsburgh, I got to daydreaming about my home away from home.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A Taste of Phnom Penh: moto style

While I found the motorcycle world calmer than Ho Chi Minh City, Phnom Penh traffic is still hard to navigate :)

Strange music to the video....

Monday, July 23, 2007

A delayed synopsis in pictures: Ha Noi

Update: I've returned to Sai Gon/Ho Chi Minh City after detours in Ha Noi, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Although there was a lot of activity involved (which mainly included negotiating with xe om/cabs on my next destination), there was also a lot of sitting in front of papers, computers and general managers of MFIs or NGOs.

It's nice to be back in Ho Chi Minh City. There's a rush of comfort in accessing the habitat-sg wireless network. yes, I know. I'm spoiled.

Now onto the rest of the story:

I had left off after my return from Kien Giang Province. After oh so many pictures of adorable children, maybe you don't need to see more. But I guarantee nothing.

We went to Ha Noi because Habitat will expand its housing microfinance operations there after market research.

This is an image from the training we received on market research for housing microfinance product development. While CARE-Vietnam had its workshop across the hall, we had four dedicated security guards between us, making sure we weren't going around overthrowing governments. This is a consistent image throughout travels in Vietnam.

Classic images of Ha Noi. I spent a week in Ha Noi mostly cooped up in this tacky communist hotel on West Lake. Ha Noi was beautiful in its own right and the poor Tay Ho Hotel did not do Ha Noi justice. Ha Noi had a vibe separate from Viet Nam and at times it was hard to not believe I was in the same country. Aside from accent changes, Ha Noi exuded an innocence and tranquility in the Old Quarter and dreaded bureaucracy in its government buildings.

Plenty of museums with tanks and fighter jets.

After my return, we created tighter bonds with our compatriots--ex pats! Going to bars in thebackpacker district was just a small taste of the strange world I would encounter in Phnom Penh. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining about the 2 dollar caipirina. But for VN prices, that is pricey....I could get three meals on my street for that.

The weeks are winding down. The heat is intensifying and my market trips are becoming far more successful. These are my small measurements of success in this place so far away.

Wait for these questions I'd like to explore next!:

What are all of the hidden transactions going on in the infamous MGM club in HCMC?
What the the banana leaf dessert I ate weeks ago and have no way to find out how/where to get that item in a land of banana leaf dishes?
Why does Phnom Penh love Jack Johnson so much?
How did I survive navigating Phnom Penh with a tourist map and non-existent Khmer skills?
When will I stop my obsession over Monokuro Boo, a Thai piglet akin to a"HelloKitty" character?


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

See Sai Gon in action

Our Habitat engineer created this website. The best is Disco Bowling, an activity I wimped out on purely because of laziness.

Happy Viewing!

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Habita Work: Kien Giang

Everyone who knows about Habitat for Humanity-Vietnam, calls it Habita. Here are some pictures of my week in Kien Giang where Habita works.More on my week in Ha Noi soon.

motorcycle ferry on the Mekong Delta. I was too tall for the boat when I sat on the xe om. I'm too tall in Viet Nam!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Agent Orange

A Habitat staffer from Kien Giang encouraged me to meet the family with two children suffering from the consequences of the herbicide war during the American-Vietnam War. We may know it more commonly as "agent orange." This was a surreal experience.

Here's to another day in Vietnam. I've started to embark on a strange journey to understand the Vietnam War from a unique place: the countryside, Saigon and Hanoi. More soon.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

all for a children's crusade

I sped past markets, rivers and bounced on top of bridges today as my translator driving our motorbike says to me: I would like to do something for these children.

In my journey to learn more about housing microfinance and hopefully provide something of use to Habitat for Humanity, we hopped on a boat to Rach Gia--the main city of Kien Giang province. KG is next to the Cambodian border and is HOT and HUMID.

So today, like yesterday, I interviewed various Khmer families in the Kien Giang province: two different communes. With the help of my fellow public policy intern, the Women's Union, a translator and a motorcycle helmet I got a small glimpse into a world few have access to and are unaware of.

I think we all tend to compare every moment to some experience of the past. The ones I have are minimal and I am taken back to the days I volunteered for Habitat for Humanity in Philadelphia. One 5 PM was visually memorable--children marching back towards Girard Avenue in their ironed uniforms after my day on the construction site. I awaited the end of the day to go to NET, a juvenile detention center to talk to kids about staying in the law's boundaries. There's just something truly inspiring about children living fearlessly in the face of adversity. Yep, I'm hopeful!Today, two children returned from the hospital after being bitten by mosquitos and experiencing symptoms of dengue fever (I think from what they described).

They are due to recover but were sound asleep when I called on the house. Today was a day of joy for the children throughout the hamlet.

Here are some of the lovely ladies that made these housing loans possible in one commune.