Just spent the last 3 days in Can Tho City in the heart of the Mekong Delta attending Can Tho University and although the exercise was in many ways a tortuous one I’m hopeful that it will prove to be fruitful in terms of my research.
Can Tho Uni provided a bus for travel from Sai Gon but the 5 hours that it usually takes to travel the 180 Klms was extended to about 6 when a truck broke down on one of the many narrow bridges. Add to that that it was an extremely hot day and the buses air con was not effective gives you torture number 1.
Day one was a conference on “Globalisation and Integration in Higher Education” and was interesting within itself however if the sameness of each presenters papers was an indication then globalisation surely does point to homogenisation. Torture #2 was the air con in the lecture theatre which had everybody freezing and caused the flu i’ve been battling for weeks now to go on the rampage.
Day two was the 40th anniversary celebrations on Can Tho University and this proved to be a new form of torture. 3.5 hours sitting in a packed and stiflingly hot auditorium on narrow hard timber seats with no lower back support and so little leg room that our knees were pressed firmly against the seat in front listening to speech after speech via headphones and an interpreter interspersed with music and dance.
Sunrise over the S?ng H?u branch of the Mekong River at C?n Tho
After this ordeal there were excellent exhibits from the various faculties to view and I now know a lot more about rice growing in this region and how to dry cocoa beans using a solar technique developed by the DPI in Qld.
The Rector of the Uni invited the large crowd to a fabulous lunch in the uncomfortably hot student canteen where at least we were able to dispense with our ties and roll up our sleeves. Strange mix of people there as we rubbed elbows with consul generals of various countries, professors, deans, vice-chancellors and whatever else from uni’s all over the globe along with high ranking VN govt. officials, army and police.
The Vietnamese have a habit of making you drink copious amounts of alcohol at events like these so there was constant encouragement to drink the hot Sai Gon beer with a large lump of ice and, even more potently the Anise Liquor that is exclusively produced within Can Tho University itself and must be downed in one gulp from small shot glasses. Its impossible to refuse of course particularly when its the Rector who is instigating the drinking at each table.
At this lunch while I was in a state of total dishevelment my appointment with Vice-Rector Tuan was confirmed for 5.30 that afternoon so I went back to the hotel for some quick repairs and a nap but when the taxi driver picked me up to return to the Uni he didn’t have a clue where to go, despite instructions from Ms Lan the Deputy Director of International Relations.
Consequently I ended up with a tour of Can Tho City while trying to explain where I needed to be via the two way radio in the cab, the drivers mobile and my own and when I finally arrived at the office of the Rector, Dr Tuan had left for the day. As if that is not enough on the way back to my hotel the driver hit a child on a bicycle and knocked him off.
Strangely my best contacts here have come in an interesting manner. The first morning I went for an early walk along the bank of the Mekong River and afterwards sat down at a pavement cafe for my morning hit of VN coffee. A group of Vietnamese gentlemen asked me to join them and plied me with Q’s about where I’m from, what I’m doing in Can Tho etc. To cut a long story short it turned out that most of this group are staff at Can Tho Uni and there are some directors of faculties amongst them. I met up with them every morning and also at the Uni itself and have firm invitations to visit them upon my return to Can Tho next year.
I’m looking forward to visiting Can Tho again and conducting some research here.