Vietnam holiday 2010

A holiday in Vietnam. A first visit for us both. 2-weeks January 2010 leave, with the Lonely Planet guide.

Vietnam lived up our to our expectations and stories we heard.
I like to start with cities. So for those who have not been to Vietnam, this introduction is as a tourist, inner-city Ho Chi Minh City; the sea-side Hoi An; near the ancient Citadel in central Hue and in the Old Quarter north Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi.
2010 is Hanoi’s 1000th birthday

Not long ago these cities were quiet with bicycles. Now it’s thousands of beeping scooters slowly surging around.

We soon learnt with a little courage to directly walk across into crowded motorbikes knowing they are going to give way, as opposed to cars that don’t. We navigated through noisy street-sellers, hawkers and stalls and scooters.

Halong Bay
At another time it’s quiet and relaxing on misty winter Halong Bay – shrouded in dragon mysteries.

With the GFC even Halong tourists are down. It’s winter, a little drizzly, clouds. Our one night on board a modern style ancient Junk had us gliding through the winter mists. With the sun lifting, walking into ancient limestone caves, kayaking and drinks at sunset before mooring for the night on your place – with only the glow and sounds of tourist boats nearby.
One of the 1900 bays spotted with limestone pinnacles and islands, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is worth voting for. More needs to be done to keep the bay in good shape with the tourist millions rising. Where the dragon descended into the sea is worth visiting.

I was able to meditate in the mists – doing Tai Chi. I saw campaign T-shirts Save the Lemurs

My partner was returning from an international education conference in London.

You are never really away from emails these days even on annual leave. Communication was good in our 5 hotels. We watched the Melbourne Grand Slam on the way and arrived back Sunday night to see Federa triumph, again.

Leave time goes quickly. Back to Canberra for 2010. We were exhausted after a noisy flight home from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City and into Melbourne, with audio music not working with screaming Vietnamese children.

The Year of the Tiger

Ho Chi Minh City
I had flown to Ho Chi Minh City for a few days staying inner market area and joining in the square and park early-morning exercises.

You are met with the distinctive smells, bustling roads, thousands of sellers and the delightful food. I was soon plunging into the street side eateries on the market edge and at the noodle restaurant where President Bill Clinton eat. The Vietnamese had opened up to the international capitalist system.

I record political observations whilst visiting war museums and the Independence Palace.

The War Remnants museum in Ho Chi Minh City dramatically snapshots the American war, in displays and images with photos and graphic illustrations of the US barbarism. You can see a few of the photos of the American torture of Vietnamese. US armaments are on show. Photos of the bombed out consequences.

You have a re-learning of how millions of Vietnamese were killed.

In one spot are photos of the effects of Agent Orange. Amongst the few photos of American horrors, it is reasonable to see photos of beaming heroic faces of young Vietnamese women and men supporting each other in their fight for independence.

I was pleased to see on display Australians amongst the many internationally protesting with the strong anti-war movement in the late 60s and early 70’s.

I bought ˜War Moments“(2001) photos of Giap’s final war of resistance campaign 1970-72. This was by the army’s official photographer Tinh. These and other famous photos captured these most interesting times and are of the highest quality, ˜an artist-fighter in Giap’s words.

Vietnam Vets are still in the local news returning ˜to see the grim legacy of war™ Vietnam News January 24 2010. Project Renew helps victims and where landmines are still littering the landscape. Vets recounted the past war. They appreciated the Vietnamese reception.

I met up with my partner in upgraded rooms in the romantic 1930’s Majestic Hotel on the waterfront in Ho Chi Minh City. We eat at up market Temple restaurant.

It is different now – from the times of Saigon intrigue and romance. Michael Cain in the movie ‘Quiet American ‘ the love story, and where the covert to overt CIA is coming into Vietnam.

The Chu Chi tunnel.

This guided tour for tourists is one special relic of Cu Chi District Party committee.

The VC and Giap successfully used the tunnel complex in the war, from Saigon to the Cambodian border. Snaking at different levels in networks over 200 kms, in three depths.

Here is a glimpse of their living, moving armaments and soldiers and fighting and hospitals. TV and film records some of the life from 1960 to 1975. They were constantly bombed.

I was not keen on the dark when I went down a tunnel for a few moments. I had a shot with an AK 45 and a brief introduction to fighting. It was not just guerrilla warfare, but with weaker but conventional means and a combination; how peasants are trained to bring down some B52s.

Hoi An and Hue.

We flew to Da Nang and stayed at the see-side village of ancient Hoi An for special noodles, the tailoring of clothes and a suit for me, with winter drizzle. Tourist life was on the agenda. But I had a 24-hour bug in bed watching tennis.

We drove up the coast to China beach a US army base now a multi-national hotel resort base. We visited their Marble Mountain and their carvings of their Buddhist and Vietnam culture, seeing pagodas and Buddas. We wound up the coastal country to Hue, the ancient capital.

Not far away I imagined the little village of Ky La where 12 year old Le Ly saw the US helicopters land and then was recruited as a spy by both the VC and government troops and her growing up in the war, fighting and surviving and returning home from the US.

Her lucid and touching war story is beautifully told in “When Heaven and Earth Changed Places. A Vietnamese Women’s Journey from War to Peace” by Le Ly Hayslip (Plume, 1990).

The boat trip down Hues Song Huong River was relaxing. Then onto the Tombs and Majestic Palaces and Pagodas of Hue.

You can see how the ruling rich of empires past, the kings and emperors and courtiers ruled in their splendour“ now on display. Some decaying citadels remain despite American bombing.

I could understand why this regime had to go. Thousands of construction workers were driven to death through work and starvation and the rest taxed. I witnessed the strength of Kung Fu cracking of bricks with hands and feet – based on the ancient guard training. Kung Fu exercises are taught in schools.

You see how the Vietnamese struggled against these ancient regimes and then against the colonial French from the 1880s to 1945 -54. Again the recapturing of Hue against the Americans in the 1970s. We fly Hue into Hanoi.


We pay respects at the ˜Womens Museum” to women soldiers and ancient scholars at The Temple of Literature.

We learn of the long struggle at the Museum of Vietnamese Revolution.

We note Hanoi’s greenness, and public recycle bins.

Then we pay our respects to ˜Uncle Hoe’ with a quick glimpse. Tourists complained they could not loiter or take photos in the mausoleum.

I appreciated the Ho Chi Minh Museum in Hanoi.
I saw stylish displays seeing how interesting Ho was, his earlier life overseas and then back to Indo-China; against the French; and being photographed; and as President. The legitimacy of his victorious Communist leadership and the history of the struggles is interesting.

I had an argument with a tourist who said it was just propaganda. Yes, but from their view. It is a valid historical recording and political story telling for Ho’s fight for peace. Ho was the politician. Giap the military man.

The structure of the museum itself is striking. Built as a monument as well as a museum, it sits beside the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum at the birthplace of the Vietnamese communist state on Ba Dinh Square. A Soviet influence is obvious in the building. A giant Ho Chi Minh statue welcomes you, as the inspiring leader of the revolution to free Vietnam from French rule.
This homage to Vietnam’s late leader highlights the life of Ho Chi Minh and his nation’s revolutionary struggle against foreign powers. The museum details his early upbringing and travels across the globe to try and rescue his country from colonial powers. As a result, some travelers say Ho Chi Minh Museum reads like communist propaganda, designed as a tool to preserve his legacy. Historical artifacts and personal effects account for the majority of the museum’s collection, however modern art and contemporary pieces have also graced the walls since its opening in 1990.

One of the most resourceful museums in Hanoi and undoubtedly in the country, Ho Chi Minh museum is conveniently located in the Ho Chi Minh complex. It can be combined in your day trip to visit Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, One-pillar Pagoda, Ba Dinh square and the War Memorial. The whole museum is a elaborate description of Ho Chi Minh’s life, with 8 chronological topics. The first one, from 1890 to 1910 modeled after his upbringing, hometown and youth. The second topic concerns the next ten years where Ho Chi Minh travelled the world to find out a way to rescue the country from colonialism.
The next three topics, covering 1920-1945, depicted how Ho Chi Minh had translated the influence of Marxism and Leninism ideal into founding Vietnamese Communist party and striving for national independence. From 1945 to 1969, which was the time-frame portrayed in topic 6 and 7, the national hero was primarily discussed in his political life up until his pass away.

The museum is a collection of artifacts, miniatures and various gifts gathered nationally and internationally. There is also description written in English and France, as well as guided tours on request.

General Giap’s answers the question ˜how did you win?™ This is with Vietnamese military history and philosophy. Over thousands of years battles were studied where ‘to win great victories with small forces’ and ‘to oppose a numerically greater force with a smaller one’.

The Vietnamese have a long history of the struggle against the slavery under the yoke of Kings and Western and French colonialism from 1880s to 1954. And US imperialism. I was keen to re-learn about the heroic struggle of the Vietnamese people against all invaders, China or who-ever and for reunification.

And as for Australians? What had the Vietnamese ever done against Australians? Zero. Defence Minister Fraser used crude lies about so-called threats from the north.

General Giap’s successful war against the French is on display. Other sections are photos of the American war.

Giap, Vo Nguyen (1970). Military Art of People’s War: Selected Writings. New York: Monthly Review Press. ISBN 978-0-85345-193-8.
In 1994 I read an account of Giap by Peter Macdonald, some of which I find is not accurate.
As we had at the time believed, he incorrectly described Giap as the author of the famous TET 1968 offensive, changing US public opinion. In Giap’s memoirs it is more nuanced, he was tactically opposed at the time to the TET uprising and was in favour of more step-by-step.
I read Giap’s final stages of the war starting in 1972. Plans for evacuating Hanoi had been made. Anti-aircraft guns were required with Nixon’s bombing up until the settlement. But how with the TV world the downing of B52s in the defence of Hanoi was news. The Vietnamese suing for peace obviously played this up big on the world stage. And step-by-step up to 1975 Giap went forward. Peoples War Peoples Army by General Giap.
Interview with Giap

I read “Last Night I Dreamed of Peace The Diary of Dang Thuy Tram.” (2007 Harmony Books) – a heart-rendering true diary just published of a young female doctor sent from Hanoi to doctor and struggle and dies but her words don’t.

Even if it is the revolutionary line of the Vietnamese Communist party, it is their culture.

They were learning from military campaigns and had victories.

In the end, it was a Vietnamese People’s war with a People’s army that worked, the Ho Chi Minh strategy.

Aren’t the Vietnamese entitled to present this to Westerners and to the generation growing up today?

Giap is alive and well at 98 years old. He is back in the political contest. He added his voice to the community opposition and environmental criticisms to the bauxite mining developments.

Giap as well as criticising the environmental impact raised the national interest argument. A key player is the giant Chinese developer and the national interest had to be raised. The Chinese bring their labour.

Debate inside the policy rooms apparently gives some recognition of Giap’s points. The environmental issues and the nationalist issues will not go away. With more of such economic developments, the political debate continues – not unlike other countries debating Chinese capitalism coming into mining sectors.


I met briefly APHEDA Vietnam, continuing through new periods.

Regional Manager Phillip Hazelton is leading the projects, Deborah Nicholls from Adelaide is ‘training the trainers’, and Hoang Thi Lee Hang the Vietnam Program Manager..and others.

This is an impressive intervention, with a good history. It means work and credibility amongst NGOs and for socially responsible investing. Specific projects are on AIDS and female and child trafficking; as well training and OHS issues.

“It is no longer possible to protect workers’ rights in one country, while in neighbouring countries with whom we trade, workers face exploitation and sweatshop conditions. The fight for workers’ rights in one country has to be a fight for workers’ rights in every country. I urge you to sign up as a regular donor to Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA, as a part of the Make Life Fair Everywhere campaign.” ¨Sharan Burrow, ACTU President.

Shopping meant dodging nearly all of the mad throng of retailers on the inner streets.

Deborah Nicholls recommended and we did so the Craft Link, two shops on Van Mieu Ha Noi. NGOs internationally assisted, to give retail opportunities to poor and marginalised groups. Good for raffles back in Australia and supporting street people and minority groups in remote areas.

VGCL Vietnam General Confederation of Labour.

I had an introduction to Vietnamese unions, the VGCL from the Deputy Director of the international department, Chau Nhat Binh.

He was well briefed on Australia’s unions and the Rudd government. I interviewed him on their current challenges.

As readers of this blog know I research strikes and the right to strike.

Waves of strikes in the private sector have occurred in recent years in Vietnam, such as against oppressive Taiwanese owners.

The government’s response, I did note, was an acceptance of the grievances. ˜Wild-cat strikes were by desperate workers against employers flouting legal obligations to their employees. The Party officials and the VGL see clearly these companies are in direct violation of the Labour law. They support workers winning. Public discontent such as marches on Party offices can be quietened.

Such strikes over the non-payment of the annual TET bonus (our annual leave loading) were again breaking out when I was there.

The 2005-8 strike wave was spurred on by chasing high rises in inflation, with no wage increase.

After the GFC, increasing factory closures see protests over lost entitlements as the Taiwanese employers flee the country.

The Vietnamese IR system is examining details for changes to Labour law. The unions seek greater powers to intervene in disputes by non-unionists and in the private sector. Compliance to the basic minimum labour norms and ILO obligations is required. Socially Responsible Investment includes adherence to labour standards.

Our Labor government has such ‘wild-cat’ strikes made illegal, strikers threatened and unions fined. A more positive response such as supporting the strikers’ grievances with an end to the stoppage is preferable.

NILP National Institute of Labour Protection

While in Hanoi last week, Dr Hai introduced me to Vietnam’s National Institute of Labour Protection. He is in charge of one health department, and external relations.

NILP’s scope covers the field of health and safety in the working environment as well as environmental protection, such as lead pollution.

Under the VGCL, the NILP is able to research, design, test and manufacture OHS technology. They promote an integrated structure. NILP meets with overseas OHS specialists and Australian OHS activists. They are aware of Australia’s good OHS laws and the role of unions.

The OHS issues are very similar with focus on Vietnam’s industries, textile and garment, construction, manufacturing and in 2010 food processing, mining, and sea-faring. Chemicals, silicosis, hearing are common health problems.

Overseas capital has surged in the past 25 years into Vietnam for greater exploitation and profits. Many private sector companies flout OHS regulations. This means continuing deaths and injuries at work.

The unions and government have to play a greater role in compliance for workers’ OHS rights.

Dr Hai gave as an example the APHEDA project on asbestos (PowerPoint- slide 25). Dr Hai will also be the Director of the Asbestos Resource Centre when it gets off the ground.

I said there were lessons from the experiences of Australia’s victims, OHS specialists and unions and the ACTU and labor councils campaigning on the dangers of asbestos “including me for 25 years.
Matt Peacock’s expose of James Hardie in
˜Killer Company” gave me more information.
I left the promotion of Humphrey McQueen’s ˜Framework of Flesh” (in International Union Rights Vol 16 Issue 5 2009, p24, ICTUR).

As well as research, NILP wants to increase OHS training for managers, union leaders and workers.

As well some attempt at public education is needed. It will be interesting see what happens in Labour protection.

Socialist road?

And is Vietnam still on the socialist road since 1986 and Doi Moi, Renovation, opening to capitalism.

At least it is a different political discussion – on building socialism in a market economy. Wouldn’t that be a good debate for Rudd/Gillard to pose!

First impressions visually, the cities don’t appear to be the overwhelming impact of capitalism and ads that you see in the major Chinese cities.

Vietnam is still poor and rural with majority of workers labouring and still many years for industrialisation. State guidance from the VCP in the opening up to capitalist world market continues.

I read reports of VCP in the world organisations such as the World Economic Forum. Pressures are still to conform to the Washington consensus. As well, socially responsible foreign companies are pressured to invest adhering to human rights and labour standards are developing.

More capitalism is one trajectory in the VCP. Certainly as urged by the corporates in the Vietnam Economic Times. When so (?) I hope the cars replacing the motorbikes are smaller and not polluting!

Vietnam has the people pressures for human needs of this generation to be met.

Vietnam’s economic growth will still be with greater state intervention and is/will not be unlike other East Asian capitalist-alliance growth success stories – with strong states. A planning alliance with capital is being grown.

A danger is already the corruption issue, raising its (political) head.

Tipping to crony capitalism and with rising inequality and new middle-classes may be likely.

However, again a specific Vietnamese culture may see a combined nation-building model that is now politically likely, as capitalism is sorely dented with the crisis.

With development, industrialisation and employment and raising living standards, the challenges are great and will take a long time. The equality standards are solely to be tested.

Freedoms are restricted by political repression. I read reports of recent gaoling for anti-government views posted on blogs. This includes e.g. from Human Rights Watch union activists jailed.

I observed that the global warming debate is prominent. The Vietnamese are to be in real trouble with global warming. The Mekong flooding and cities under water.

On return seeing my copy of the Monthly Review, ˜Why Ecological Revolution™ by John Bellamy Foster was given in Hanoi December 2009.

˜A principle of world justice is the wealthy countries owe an enormous ecological debt to poorer counties, due to the robbing by the imperial powers of the global commons.

Like the lies in Iraq, I remember then US war elite lied to their people and the world. As a 20 year old in 1968, studying politics and history at University including Vietnam, I was one of many who soon actively campaigned against the war. Like many Australian youths, I had been conscripted, but did not go because of my opposition and deferment due to university study (and poor eyesight).

But studying the French revolution, the Russian revolution, Chinese, Cuban and Vietnamese, I with many others was drawing conclusions about the necessity of opposition to the capitalist regime and support for nationalist and socialist and liberation struggles. We were active in the left anti-war position.

So years later, I felt vindicated for organising rallies chanting ˜Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh, the NLF are going to win!”.

I am glad we prevailed in assisting the Vietnamese.

Delicious food

As photos show, we loved the food – it was delightful. For us down-market soups or up market ˜The Green Mango™ in the Old Quarter Hanoi, near the famous Minhs Jazz club; The Qhan An Ngon in Hanoi; in Hue The Tropical Garden; the noodles in Hoi An; The Temple restaurant up market in Ho Chi Minh City, the fish and the noodle bars were our favourites, and Vietnam beer. We got good wines, and we had some Penfolds for the holiday “ a bargain from London and very nice.

Next time we will stay longer and travel in the regions. And crossover to Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Malaysia are warranted.


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