Monday, January 25, 2010

Friday, January 22nd 2010

After a terrific night, during which some of us enjoyed jamming with the band members of American Hitmen at the Hard Rock Café, we woke up grudgingly early and not quite ready to embark on a full day of business meetings. However, after about an hour nap on our bus ride to Phong Phu Corporation, we were refreshed and anxious for our meeting with the world acclaimed textile corporation.

Energized from our bus ride we finally made it to Phong Phu Corporation to meet with the Vice General Director, Mr. Pham Xuan Lap.  Phong Phu Corporation, whose former name was Phongphu textile Company, was founded in 1964, known as the manufacturer of various kinds of textile and garment products such as towels, fabrics, yarns, sewing thread and garments for the latest years.

Together with the powerful economic development in the way of international integration, Phong Phu has gradually extended the main business and production structure of textiles and garments to areas such as finance, real estate business, infrastructure of industrial zones, trading centers, services, hotels.

With Phong Phu’s competitiveness based on consistent high quality, powerful capacity, proactive and professional services, they have exported successfully to United States, European Union, Japan, Korea and other Asian countries.  In Home Textile area, they have developed successfully high quality towels and bathrobes.  Additionally, they also manufacture garment products from casual wear, work wear to fashion wear like: pants, jacket, skirt, shirt, polo shirt and sweater in diversified designs, trimming and finishing decorated.

Phong Phu has joint-ventures with other local companies throughout Vietnam; thus, 10,000 employees work either directly and indirectly for Phong Phu. Besides the economic development, Phong Phu is the leading enterprise of Vinatex in constructing enterprise culture, paying much care of workers and community.

After listening to Mr. Lap share this information with us, we got the grand tour of the company. We saw firsthand the process that it takes to make the fabrics on our tour of the factory. As we walked through each section we were greeted by his friendly staff and shown beautiful towels and sheets. Much of the work that was done by hand verse machines. It made the tour more interesting to see the employees stich and sew together the fabrics.We also saw the finished products which were going to be imported to the United States.

Following our tour we said our goodbyes and headed to town to get some lunch. Surprisingly, our tour guide took us to a shopping center that had KFC in it.  Many were delighted!

Once finished with lunch, we boarded the bus and headed off to Theodore Alexander, a fine furniture manufacturer with manufacturing and distributing facilities throughout the world. Our meeting began with a presentation given by Antony Smith, the president of Theodore Alexander. He introduced us to the history of the company, their operations worldwide, and their operations within Vietnam.

Paul Maitland Smith, a pioneer of the furniture industry in Southeast Asia, founded Theodore Alexander in 1996. The company acquired a plot of land in Linh Trung II, an export zone in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Since this area is its own “land” as far as customs is concerned, the area is duty free, a major money-saving advantage of having a major manufacturer within the zone. In this Vietnam location, Theodore Alexander has 660,000 square feet of manufacturing space, 80,000 square feet of warehouse, and 50,000 square feet of office space. The company employs 3,500 employees in Vietnam, but also implements small local manufacturers, providing another 1,000 workers.

One of Theodore Alexander’s primary initiatives is employee welfare. With regards to this area of interest, the company not only advocates adherence to international standards, but also goes above and beyond these standards. The facility is equipped with its own clinic and ambulance, follows strict health and safety procedures, undergoes quarterly audits, and has a near perfect safety record.

As mentioned previously, Theodore Alexander is profoundly involved in the global market. With 800 retailers in North America, the United States is the company’s largest market, but certainly not its only. Theodore Alexander has distributors in Spain, the UK, Russia, and South Africa and retailers in Southeast Asia, India, South America, and the Middle East.

The product line at Theodore Alexander consists of 4,000 different products, which include furniture, accessories, and lighting for all areas of the traditional home, with the sole exclusion of the bathroom. The products incorporate both traditional and transitional styles and are exclusively handcrafted. Although, in most cases, handcrafting can cost a lot more than using machinery, in the end a successful tradeoff is made: handcrafting differentiates the Theodore Alexander line as well as fulfills societal duties since it allows the company to employ many Vietnamese artisans. In fact, nearly all employees are local people as opposed to foreigners.

Theodore Alexander’s primary differentiator is the company’s breadth of home furnishings. The line includes a wide variety of product and styles. The furnishings are also composed of a plethora of different materials. The company’s primary competitors are Maitland Smith (a company previously owned by Paul Maitland Smith), Jonathon Charles, and Baker. Maitland Smith is the only of these competitors that comes close to having variety similar to the line by Theodore Alexander.

After listening to this information in Mr. Smith’s presentation, we were ready to see exactly how the manufacturing of these fabulous furnishings works. We split into three tour groups and each were led through the different divisions of the factory. The tour as a whole took near two hours, but we saw how each piece begins as a piece of timber, steel, veneer, or nearly any other building material, and is transformed into a beautiful piece of art and fine home décor.

Our experience at Theodore Alexander truly reflected the importance of innovation, quality, employee welfare, and marketing in maintaining a successful business. After being captivated by the work that goes into each furnishing and the beauty of the final product, I’m sure everyone fanaticized owning a piece by Theodore Alexander one day when we are all successful business men and women.

Theodore Alexander was our final scheduled event for the day, so most of us split up for a night on the town. Some headed off for Apocalypse, a trendy bar in the city, others went straight to sleep, and a large group of us were antsy for another round of Hard Rock. The Hard Rock was holding a red carpet event for its grand opening. The band scheduled for the event: Run DMC. Somehow, the reason is still beyond me, a large group of us were able to work our way into getting invites. We rocked the night away with Run DMC, American Hitmen, and our awesome professors.

By: Daishae' Pope and Kelsey O'Leary

Saturday, January 23, 2010

January 21st : Ho Chi Minh City: Reunification Palace, War Remnants Museum, Central Post Office, Notre Dame Cathedral, Hard Rock Café

We visited the Reunification Palace, which was built on the site of the Governor’s Palace. The Vietnamese took control of the Palace in 1954 when the French surrendered to the Viet Minh after its defeat at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu. The Palace was formally handed over to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam by the French General Paul Ely. In 1962, the Palace was bombed by two Vietnamese Air Force pilots who were trying to assassinate Ngo Dinh Diem, the President of South Vietnam. The Palace was badly damaged during the bombing and was ordered to be rebuilt. In 1966, Independence Palace, which was designed by Vietnamese architect Ngo Viet Thu, was completed. On April 30, 1975, a North Vietnamese tank bulldozed through the main gate of the Independence Palace, ending the Vietnam War. After the negotiations between South Vietnam and North Vietnam were finalized, the Provisional Revolutionary Government renamed the palace, Reunification Palace.

Then the group proceeded to the War Remnants Museum (previously known as Museum of American War Crimes), which primarily displays exhibits relating to the United States phase of the Vietnam War. Although difficult to handle viewing the exhibits, the group felt it was important to learn about the war from a different viewpoint.

Notre Dame Cathedral was finished in April of 1880 and subsequently the blessing ceremony was held on Easter, April 11, 1880. The French architect J. Bourad originally designed the Cathedral and in 1895 two bell towers were added. During October of 2005, a statue of the Virgin Mary was reported to have shed tears and as a result many people flocked to the statue forcing authorities to stop traffic around the Cathedral. However, the top clergy of the Catholic Church in Vietnam confirmed that the Virgin Mary did not shed tears, which nevertheless failed to disperse the crowds flocking to the statue days after the incident.

Located in the heart of the city, the Central Post Office has long been a prominent feature of Ho Chi Minh City. This grand old edifice was constructed between 1886 and 1891 by Gustave Eiffel. The architectural design of the Post Office represents the French colonial style which was popular in Vietnam at the time. The Central Post Office in Ho Chi Minh City is the largest post office in Vietnam and is well known for the huge portrait of Ho Chi Minh on its back wall.

After a long day of traveling and fortunately passing the Hard Rock Café on our bus ride back to our hotel, a majority of the group excited for American food got ready for a nice American dinner. Little did we know that the night would go above and beyond a nice cheeseburger and french fries. Quickly upon arrival the manager told us how this was the soft opening of the restaurant and a rock and roll band, American Hit Men, would be playing for nearly two hours. After meeting and enjoying some food with the band members, we now can say we were able to experience the first rock and roll band to play in Vietnam in 36 years. The combination of great food, great friends, excellent music, and watching a transition unfold in Ho Chi Minh provided an experience that we will never forget.  

Lastly, we would all like to thank Professor Benson and Professor Gupta for planning an unforgettable and informative trip. Thank you also to our families for providing us with the opportunity to travel on a trip of a lifetime; we are all greatly appreciative and look forward to seeing you soon.

Posted by Roger Waesche and Doug Williams

Thursday, January 21, 2010

January 20th: Demilitarized Zone, 17th Parallel, War Veteran's Grave Site

Today, January 20th, we traveled two hours from our hotel in Hue, Vietnam. Our journey was interesting to say the least. The bus ride was a quick change from rural city to an eerie country side full of bomb craters and miles of vegetation to our destination for the day, the Vietcong system of tunnels. Our tour guide quickly went through some of the history of time and gave the group some scary facts to provide you with some incite:

-The number of deaths from bombs in 1975 was around one million
-Bombs dropped in this area 7,000 tons
-Total tonnage of bombs 750,000
-80% of deaths can be attributed to bombs or starvation

We then got the unique experience of exploring a place once thought to be defying and now viewed as uniting. The 1700 meters of tunnels was absolutely shocking. We only explored 200 meters and thankfully so as we were hitting our heads on the “ceiling”, feeling awfully claustrophobic, having shortage of oxygen and in absolute awe of the situation. I’ll try and paint you a picture…

Prior to entering the caves, we walked along stone paths and saw lots of bamboo and bomb craters in addition, the weather thankfully or not so thankfully gave us more insight into what the soldiers experience was really like, with constant overcast and rain.

As we descended 15 meters into the ground via entrance 8, we immediately were questioning our decision to journey into the depths of this dark, miniscule hole. The five foot clearance was the first obstacle to overcome. The system could be compared to an ant farm with many levels; the top being used as protection and the lower levels for living. As our guide was explaining the intricate system of tunnel and how 350 people would share one toilet, yes one toilet, or how each family got a massive three square meters to live.

The palpable feeling of relief when we finally exited was overwhelming. We just experienced a glimpse of lives of these Vietnamese people who might have spent upwards of three years in this situation. The ten minute walk through gave us an extremely quick look at their life and it was not bright, literally and figuratively.

After departing from the tunnels, we made a pit stop at the 17th parallel. This stop was a very humbling experience; showing us the dividing line of the two fighting forces.

We then traveled to our final destination for the day, a Vietcong grave site. This site, although still under construction depicted the respect the Vietnamese have for their fallen countrymen. The center of the grave site stands a large pillar “TO QUOC GHI CONG “. This message basically means thank you for the giving up your life from the government.

As the Vietnamise say: "Cam on ta thu chung toi hy ving ban thich no"
Translation thank you for reading our post, we hope you enjoyed it.

Posted by: Ben Hoffman and Jim Bulsiewicz
Photographs by: Ted Wetterau

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Hanoi! Ford Assembling Plant and American Chamber of Commerce

This morning we woke up to the sound of the communist propaganda news radio. Refreshed from our trip to Ha Long Bay, we embarked on another business trip to the Ford Assembly plant. When we arrived, the general director Mike Pease and a few of his colleagues greeted us. Throughout the presentation, Mike highlighted that he has been working in Asia for over 20 years and specifically with Ford for 15 years. He explained that economically Vietnam is one of the smallest areas for the auto industry; however, its growing middle class is creating a platform for great success in the future. Currently, cars produced by Ford are considered luxuries in Vietnam. Because of the taxes, a car sold in Australia may cost around $25,000, while a car sold in Vietnam may cost $50,000.
Another key part of the presentation explored one of Ford’s initiatives, Project 30. Project 30’s goal is to improve the regulatory environment in Vietnam by reducing the costs and risks of administrative procedures, producing concrete results, and transforming the government’s ability to effectively manage the market economy.

After the presentation, we took a tour of the plant. From the frame of the car to the placement of the seats and accessories, we saw how the car was made from start to finish.  Thirty minutes later, we found ourselves eating in the canteen with some of the local plant workers. The visit ended with a group picture with Mike and another bus ride back to the hotel.

Our second visit of the day was with members of the American Chambers of Commerce in Vietnam. We met with representatives from the Associated Press, T & C Investment, Indochina Capital, ExxonMobil, and VNCI (Vietnam Competitiveness Initiative). This meeting was more of a question and answer session. We discussed various topics pertaining to lobbying in Vietnam, the Communist government, corruption, taxation on foreign goods, and their relations with other foreign countries. One of the biggest points we discussed was the overlapping of Confucianism and Communism. Both entities focus on controlling the population. Confucius believed that people should be less educated so the Communist government can have more control over them. Because the Communist party is so controlling this prevents efficient business practices in Vietnam. We ended this meeting with eating dinner with the American Chamber of Commerce members. After this meeting we were free to do explore Vietnam.

Some headed back to the hotel while others ventured out to interact with the locals. While shopping for North Face bags and Jackets, a couple of us encountered a group of little girls selling postcards. The night consisted of everybody cramming their bags for our next adventure in Hue, Vietnam!

Ashley Gill & Lauren Beckham

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

January 19th: Hanoi and Hue

Good Morning Vietnam!  January 19th started early for the group as we had a 7:15 AM wake up call for our flight from Hanoi to Hue.  However, prior to departing Hanoi, we had one last city sight to see, the body of Ho Chi Minh, who is regarded as the “Father of Modern Vietnam.”  During his time as president of Vietnam, he achieved respect from his allies and his enemies, both domestically and abroad.  His body is embalmed in a mausoleum in Hanoi and because of the honor the Vietnamese continue to give to him, our visit was met with strict security.  There are certain days and times that visitors may enter and there is no photography allowed inside.  Thus, we have no interior pictures for you but we will try our best to use our literary skills to describe what it looked like on the inside.

Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum

We entered the front (brown doors), walking past military personnel who provided one last security check, including telling us to keep our hands out of our pockets.  We entered a “foyer” that had two staircases, one to the left and one to the right.  There is minimal decoration and all the walls and floors are made of granite.  There is a cold feel to the air and minimal light, presumably to help preserve the body.  Walking on a red “carpet,” we took the staircase to the left which we walked up into an approximately 20’x20’ square room.  We entered the room from the rear and then proceeded to make a U-shaped loop around to the front of Ho Chi Minh’s body.  His body is contained inside of what is best described as a casket.  The coffin’s sides are made of glass however, which allowed us to see his embalmed body, at our eye level.  His body is lying down with his hands folded over his chest, much like traditional burial positions.  There are four military guards around the coffin, one at each corner.  Above the coffin on the wall, there is the star from the flag of Vietnam and a hammer and sickle.  His body is very well preserved, especially considering he has now been deceased a little over thirty years.  After completing the U-shaped loop around the body, we took the staircase down the right and exited the mausoleum out the right side (the right side of the above photograph). 
After seeing the Vietnamese leader’s body, we departed for the Hanoi airport, where we had a 12:30 PM flight to Hue.  The flight was only an hour and was enjoyable until the landing, where rainy conditions prompted us to have a very hard landing.  After retrieving our bags from the only baggage carousel in the airport, we were on the road into rainy Hue.  Once in Hue, we were given a half-hour for lunch, which most people used to eat at Western-style restaurants.   After lunch, we went to the Citadel and Imperial City by the Perfume River (we couldn’t sense the perfume smell).  The Citadel continues to protect The Vietnamese people since its construction in 1804.  There is a Vietnamese flag flying overhead, attached to Vietnam’s tallest flagpole, which you can see below.

The Citadel

Inside the Citadel is the Imperial City, which was Vietnam’s capital until 1945, when Ho Chi Minh moved it to Hanoi.  In 1968, during the Tet Offensive, the Vietcong took over the Imperial City as it was a strategic location in the middle of North and South Vietnam.  During the attack, the Vietcong burned the city and the United States bombed much of the city.  Due to this violence, much of the city was either damaged or destroyed.  UNESCO is now in the process of rebuilding the city.  Although construction was evident, it was very interesting to see the old capital and the palace where the Nguyen emperors governed.  Again, pictures were not allowed inside the palace, but there was a very impressive gold throne inside that overlooked the Imperial City.

Imperial Palace

Remains of Imperial City

Upon completion of our tour of the Citadel and Imperial City, we boarded the bus for a short drive to the Thien Mu Pagoda.  Built in 1601, this pagoda is one of the oldest in Vietnam and is still used by Buddhist monks to this day.  Although it was raining, the grounds were still very beautiful to walk around.  The Pagoda is on top of a hill overlooking the Perfume River. 

Thien Mu Pagoda

 Adjacent to the Pagoda, there was a small dock, where we boarded a boat to take a 35-minute ride down the Perfume River. 

Boat in Hue

The boat ride was not as scenic as our previous boat experience in Halong Bay.  However, it provided a nice contrast as it showed the economic disparity that exists in Vietnam as the river shores seemed to be poverty stricken.  After docking back near downtown Hue, we had a short bus ride to our hotel, which offers both a poolside bar and a nightclub as amenities.  We will all be getting to bed early tonight…Good Night Vietnam!
Posted by: Luke O'Rourke and Michael Nachajski

Monday, January 18, 2010

Halong Bay and Perusing Hanoi

The fabulous day of January the 17th began in the wee hours of the a.m., for the now vastly cultured Elon students.  While some chose the safety of the hotel from the extreme culture shock in Vietnam, others opted to hit the insanely crowded streets of Hanoi and check out the nightlife.  The city proved to be our first real run in with problems regarding the language barrier as at the end of the night cabs were no help for a ride home.  However, some students were lucky enough to run into a fellow American at 3 in the morning who offered a lift home on her motorbike.  The students were very appreciative of her gesture and had no hard feelings with regards to a minor accident half way through the ride. 

The next morning the students had an early morning wake up call to take a 4 hour trip to start our unforgettable experience at Halong Bay.  For those that could stay awake on the bus ride, this was unforgettable in itself.  If you think NYC traffic is crazy, you haven’t been to Vietnam.  With the estimated 35 million motor bikes in the country (not to mention a family of 5 crammed on the small vehicle), traffic lights and rules are nonexistent.  With a blowing horn every 2 seconds or gridlocks every 300 yards, traveling even a mile can be a life threatening adventure.  

Upon our arrival to Halong Bay, we boarded one of our 3 cruising vessels while enjoying a local cuisine lunch and beautiful deck-top views.  We can show you as many pictures as you’d like, but I think it’s safe to say as little pictures as we took could never do justice to the unbelievable feeling of Halong Bay’s physical presence.  After lunch, we checked into our houseboat staterooms and the more adventurous of the students got the opportunity to take a few hours exploring the bay’s magnificence from a different perspective, through kayaking.  This mesmerizing experience multiplied the wow-factor of the tour through this city of floating mountains.  Some students even decided to take a kayak adventure to our distant anchoring area headed by our passionate and fun-loving tour guide “T”.

   Pacific Ocean Grocery Stores
After a short cruise and dip in the cool water, the boats docked up alongside each other for dinner and our nighttime extravaganza.  We were able to enjoy the entire group in a social setting, rather than knowing each other only by where we sit on our everyday bus rides.  Following the fun filled night, a few students embraced an early 7 am wakeup call with one last opportunity to kayak. A few handfuls of students were able to take in various exotic cave underpasses filled with “mischievous” monkeys and into a picturesque natural environment.

Following the amazing trip to Halong Bay, the hectic schedule of our travelers refused to stop there as we drove right back into Hanoi and continued with a short tour of the city.  We got the opportunity to make two stops; one at the burial shrine for Ho Chi Minh and another at an ancient Confucius temple.  We learned about the life and ideals of Ho Chi Minh, further understanding their love for the fallen leader. We were able to grasp the idea of a developing government, learning from the ever changing Vietnamese people

After the tour, most of the group was taken to a Water Puppet Show, a popular local activity native to Hanoi.  While live authentic music played on stage, men and women maneuvered an assortment of puppets through water in front of an Asian themed staged.  The show gave many of the students an insightful perspective of the music and culture of Vietnam.

To end the night most of the students perused the streets of Hanoi where they haggled for gifts and personal items.  Speaking with the locals in the capital city of Vietnam was an interesting experience for all.  On one specific incident, some of the students spoke with a 14 year old girl who was selling shoes at one of the vastly abundant street shops.  Because the store wasn’t capable of providing any of the shoe sizes necessary to fit the students, they proceeded to talk with the young girl about her vast educational goals.  The extremely intelligent Vietnamese young girl was able to speak 7 different languages and talked   about moving out of Vietnam to Singapore.  She asked the students why we would come to such a dirty, heavily populated area and was shocked we’d choose to study abroad here.  After coming to this part of the city I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all have a newfound appreciation of the life we’ve so luckily been given.

Post by John Palermo & Phil Manning
Photos courtesy of Ted Wetterau