Sunday, December 3, 2006

It just takes a little time

Immediately upon returning home, I was hit over and over with the questions, "so, how was it?" and "what was your favorite part?" I was surprised how hard those questions really were, and realized that it had been such an experience that had changed me enough that it was going to take some time to let things sink in and reflect on what really happened while in Viet Nam.

But was it a worthwhile trip? Absolutely. It just takes some time to find the right words.

I didn't have too many expectations coming into the experience, mainly because I really had no idea what to expect. I had little idea what our daily experience would be like, and so I had to make myself ready to just go with the flow. That's hard for me, but I was successful to the extent that I was surprised by how things went down. I knew our week would include some interviews of various APEC and ABAC (the APEC Business Advisory Council) officials and various business leaders from around the Asia-Pacific region, but I didn't know what to expect from the conference itself.

We were fortunate enough to be present during the CEO Summit for the addresses by the various heads of state and heads of government representing their nations at APEC. We were able to listen to Secretary of State Rice, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, Chinese President Hu Jintao, New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, Australian Prime Minister John Howard...and the list goes on. It was truly an amazing experience to hear all of those voices, too often blurred together in the static of international relations, to be talking with one voice about free trade, the Asia-Pacific, and the future. We all (these leaders and we the student of Voices) bring different issues to the table and different reasons why there will be no easy answers to truly uniting our voices, but a forum like APEC shows that we are trying, and that is sometimes all that we can do. The Economist published an article during APEC’s Leaders’ Week criticizing the forum for too much talk and too little action. It is fortunate that globalization is becoming an accepted position in world economic relations, but we cannot assume that the train will inevitably reach the station. But we have seen the WTO stall, and our hope is that a more measured body like APEC, working with consensus, can break the globalization stalemate of today.

I was struck by the stark beauty and shocked by some of the conditions of Viet Nam, like Kristen and Ke mentioned. But to an American, it was somewhat disconcerting what seems like an identity crisis. Viet Nam is progressing so dramatically due to opportunities like APEC and more recently, the WTO. But there is something problematic about these developments being accompanied by a one-party government system, a morph of the command economy that allows foreign direct investment, and a people that do not value dissent as highly as, at least, we Americans. Viet Nam will have to change in many ways other than allowing the free market if it is going to continue to compete in the world market. But these issues are not just Viet Nam’s. All nations, including the U.S., will have to be willing to adapt to a new world if we are to take globalization and the rest of the world seriously. To often we all underestimate the demands change places on us, and that will be the struggle for the future. To find these common solutions, we need to be able to do more than balance our interests and point of view with those of the rest of the world. We need to have dialogue that will, at times, be awkward. We need to revisit our past just as we students met with an ailing Gen. Giap. We shouldn’t take these developments for granted. We assume we have common interests, and that dialogue, as painful as it might be at times, is necessary if we are to find solutions that will work.


Back to "reality"

It's strange being back at Furman, but Vietnam seems like a lifetime ago. When I was in Vietnam, I thought that it was refreshing to see a country that had such positive feelings about globalization, free trade, and the WTO. Many other countries I have been to in the Americas and Europe have espoused more skeptical views. But, on my return I realized that not only does Vietnam not have a free press, but also we did not have the chance to talk to the average person on the street. Rumor has it that beggars and undesirables were paid to vacate the general conference area. Nevertheless, maybe Vietnam has experienced such great benefits that the people will generally favor globalization.

It was exciting to be in Vietnam, because so much is happening. Construction is taking place everywhere. One gets the sense that in six months familiar landmarks will be gone and the place will look quite different. I like the dichotomies of Vietnamese economic growth. For example, along a Japanese-built highway there were signs demarcating some lanes for cars and mopeds and other lanes for bicycles and ox-drawn carts. Below the highway were shacks and people farming by hand.

It's nice to be back in the States. I can definitely see myself going back to Vietnam in the future. There is still so much to see. Thanks Riley Institute for presenting us with such a great opportunity!!!


Saturday, December 2, 2006

Totally Worth the Jetlag

It has indeed been 2 weeks since we were in Vietnam, and it is still hard to fathom that I was actually there. It’s been a rather difficult adjustment coming back to America, not simply a 12 hour time difference. I actually miss weaving through the traffic of motorbikes, bargaining at fruit-stands, listening to the crazy Mexican students, and yes even jumbo shrimp the size of my head. The whole week was filled with exciting events, and we must have gotten only 4 or 5 hours of sleep per day. I loved being able to attend the CEO Summit, interviewing people in positions powerful enough to manipulate the economic prospects of a developing region. It was such a privilege to see and hear so many world leaders; I watched in awe as they debated the prospects of the Asia-Pacific region. Though the U.S. is just one of the 21 member economies of APEC, it was often the topic of conversation. From the problem of our immense deficit to the Democrat control of Congress, everyone talked about issues concerning the United States. Just before Condoleeza spoke, the room was filled to capacity and abuzz with excitement. Only the Chinese president was received with as much anticipation. I was extremely proud to represent a country that others looked to for direction yet at the same time embarrassed that we are not as aware of other countries.

Though it is a difficult choice, I think my favorite part of the trip was the chance to interact with students from the different APEC economies. It is always interesting to hear about your country through the perspective of students from other countries. It was a lot of fun to talk about the common misperceptions of our respective cultures. I especially enjoyed getting to know the two students from Brunei. It was interesting to find out that they have similar activities in their university. They also liked going out for coffee and shopping. The Vietnamese students were also very welcoming, always eager to answer our questions and introduce us to their culture. From the Buddhist temples to the boat tour to the national heritage caves, we were amazed by the rich Vietnamese tradition.

Like Kristen, I think this was one of the most amazing and eye-opening experiences I’ve ever had. The week in Hanoi brought to life a lot of the theory I learned in class about free trade and economics. It’s always humbling to visit countries less privileged than the United States, especially realizing how much we take for granted. Coming home, I was more appreciative of the fresh air, streets congested only by cars, and litter-free public spaces. I also realized just how important cultural interaction is to peace. It’s difficult to have conflicts with people or places you have gotten to know and love. This is certainly an experience I would do all again, especially since, 2 weeks later, I am still operating on Vietnam time.


Friday, December 1, 2006

Missing Vietnam!

Hi everyone! I have been home for almost two weeks now, but all of the questions I have been getting about the trip have been taking me down memory lane! I had such a wonderful experience that I wish I could share with everyone! One of the most memorable parts of the trip was Ha Long Bay because of how unbelievably gorgeous it was. Pictures and words cannot describe the beauty of this place. But hopefully the picture will give you some idea.

I think I was most struck by the conditions that many of the people lived in where our hotel was located and out in the more rural part of the country. I have never been to a developing country before and so to see the people living literally off of the streets was such a culture shock. The women were cutting meat and cooking food on the sidewalk in downtown Hanoi, and in the fields the men were working the rice paddies with their single mule and plow. I just can't imagine life like that. The extremely low prices of goods also amazed me. I regular bottle of water that would cost over a $1 here was less than $.25. I only exchanged $40 in currency the entire week I was there! My sister made the comment, "I want to go over there just to shop!" That is how much stuff I brought home with my $40.

Motor scooters were everywhere! I cannot even recall the number of times I almost got hit! There was only one extremely close call when Daniella had to save me! Haha. They don't really abide by traffic signs which is a problem. And the pollution was awful as well. When we first stepped out of the airport the smog overwhelmed me. When the Vietnamese ride their scooters, they have masks they wear over their faces because of the pollution.

One more interesting fact for all of you who know how picky of an eater I am. The question I am constantly getting is "How was the food and what did you eat?" Well, I basically ate my weight in shrimp. I had no idea how many different ways you could cook shrimp (well I guess I had an idea from Forest Gump, but still...).

The actual APEC CEO Summit was unbelievable as well because of the people I got to hear speak! I will just list a few--President of China, President of Chile, Prime Minister of New Zealand, President and Prime Minister of Vietnam, President of Indonesia, and of course our very own Secretary of State!! And I was about 50 yards from all of them! Maybe I'm just an economics and political science dork, but I absolutely loved every minute of it! And so much of what was said applied to my Urban Economics class that I am currently in with respect to human capital, labor pooling, amenities for international businesses, etc. The economic potential of Vietnam surprised me, and it will be interesting to see how they progress in the future both politically and economically.

Well, it was truly a wonderful experience that I would do all over again in a heartbeat!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Home Sweet Home!

The Furman Crew with Ms. Fulbright

Our Vietnamese Team for the week!

Well well well, we have arrived back to the USA! It has been one looong week (not to mention a veryy long plane ride!). Since our last posting, we have done a lot of really cool things! Saturday was a very busy day for us. We arrived at the National Convention Center early in the morning to hear PM John Howard of Australia speak at the summit. It was really neat to see him, because his office will be running APEC next year when we travel to Sydney.

This was the podium that all of the HEADS OF STATE spoke from!!

PM of Australia, John Howard

Following his speech, we participated in more interviews with ABAC leaders and CEOs of businesses who regularly participate in the summit, including Timothy Ong, the founder and CEO of AsiaInc Forum (and AsiaInc magazine--huge!) and Bob Prieto, the CEO of Fluor (as in Fluor Daniel!). These interviews were really neat, because we were able to get to know these leaders on a more personal level.

Our last speaker of the afternoon was Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. Given the fact that she was 20 minutes late at the podium, she did give an awesome speech and left all of us wanting more. The question and answer session she led after her speech included issues such as the importance of global education, women in politics, and the US' confidence in its foreign policy.

Then we were whisked away for a very special interview, one to wrap up our time in Vietnam. We were on our way to interview with GENERAL GIAP...the one and only! General Giap is a Vietnamese four star general, who was the military leader of teh Viet Minh guerrilla group under Ho Chi Minh's government. It was such an amazing opportunity to see him in person, as he is approaching 100 years of age. He spoke with us and even took some of our questions about how he was able to join the army and make such a difference in the life of Vietnam. He charged us with taking our own leadership roles and making a difference in our communities.
The General with Ms. Fulbright...the group was crowded in a small room in his house

We finished our time at the conference with some more shopping in the old quarters, followed by a closing gala dinner, in which we were able to see the people we had met throughout the week and wish them safe travels. All in all, it was an amazing night to end a wonderful week!
Ms. Fulbright with Dr. Shi's book

Now I sit back in my chair at Furman thinking about all of the amazing opportunities we were just given, as well as the chance of a lifetime to see Vietnam. I cannot believe the amazing contacts that I just made in one week, and who will remain my friends and colleagues for a long time. I am so thankful for the Riley Insitute giving me this opportunity and this ability to network in a way that is unforgettable.

Yay airplane pictures!

And so now, I will pack my things and head home for Thanksgiving break...and to catch up on much needed sleep! Until next year...APEC 2007: Sydney, Australia!


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Getting caught in the stream of things...

Sorry for this post being late, but last night was a late one...

Yesterday we began our real business in Vietnam. We made our first tripto the Convention Center and attended the "Doing Business with Vietnam" forum. It was an opportunity for business leaders in Vietnam to advertise to the world as well as foreign investors to network. Vietnam's recent growth is staggering, and we saw much of that on ourvisit to the industrial zone Wednesday. There are so many changes, but it leaves so much to be desired, as it is impossible to ignore the stunning economic gap between those that have caught up with the international economy and those that have not. But much of the purpose of the Doing Business with Vietnam Forum was to bring exposure to these issues as investors consider coming into Vietnam and Vietnamese business peoplec onsider expanding their markets.

The assembly opened with an address from the Prime Minister of Vietnam, Nguyen Tan Dung, and he expressed the desire for Vietnam to become truly engaged in the Asian, APEC, and world economies. Following his speech, we listened to some other speeches and panel discussions, including representatives from BP, Intel, the UNDP, GE, the EC, and Oracle. They expressed their perspectives on the current state of the Vietnamese economy and the possibilities for further expansion in the future.

Later that morning I had the opportunity to listen to an interiew between Bloomberg TV and Susan Schwab, the U.S. Trade Representative. It was interesting to hear her optimism on the restarting of the Doha talks and the concern that the U.S. is not moving on granting PNTR with Viet Nam as quickly as APEC would like. Our group was able to interview a Vietnamese farmer-turned-businessman that exports food to Asia, North America, and Europe. It was a different perspective on Viet Nam joining the world market than we had seen the entire conference as the company was Vietnamese, not a foreign industry coming in and setting up shop. He works with peasant farmers in rural areas of the nation and helps to include them in the global market.

Later last night we participated and watched the Cultural Night put on by the students of Hanoi University. We heard a few speakers including Mrs. Fulbright and watched a concert and other cultural demonstrations by the Vietnamese students. I was interviewed for Vietnamese television (who knows how it will turn out). We did not return to the hotels until almost midnight, so this post is just not being finished.

Today so far I have seen the Vietnamese and Chinese Presidents speak and are looking forward to getting even busier...and seeing Sec. Rice...

Later today we will be posting some more pictures to catch you all up with the visual experience.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

We are so importante!

Well here's a midday posting...

Today we have moved to the National Convention Center, a building that was built just 6 months prior to the APEC CEO Summit. Today is the "Doing Business with Vietnam" program, where high profile business leaders and CEOs come to discuss foreign investment issues in Vietnam. I decided to wander a bit with a few of the Mexicans around the hotel. We came upon an area where there was a large group of media. We stood with them just to see what was going on...and out of the blue, US Sect of State Condi Rice was lining up with ministers of governments from the 21 economies for a photo cool is that? Now I can return to the USA and say that I came close (100 feet) from the Secretary of State!

Gosh I love APEC..and Voices...and the Riley Institute...

Hasta luego,