Sunday, 2 August 2015

Field trip for Flooding and Drainage project

WACC & ArcAsia colleagues

I have the feeling that I get hardly time to settle in HCMC. Just about discovering a few coffee places near my house, a possible route to go running and a Yoga studio in town, when we already went on the next field trip back to the Mekong Delta to Soc Trang. I really liked to get to know more rural places in Vietnam. Soc Trang has a nice size, around 150.000 people and life seems to be pretty relaxed compared to Saigon at least ;) 

Local Bridge in Soc Trang

It was lovely to meet the architects from ArcAsia, Yves, the landscape architect from Belgium and Eva from GIZ. 

Eva, Kerstin, Loan, Yves and ArcAsia colleague

We had meetings with the department of construction and also with the people’s committee. It was a bit unfortunate that hardly anybody took the time or effort to translate for me during the meetings what was going on. I had been so excited about the flooding and drainage project to be honest, but after a few days I realized that this was a very ‘political’ engagement, especially how the different project sites were chosen. I had in mind that this will help the local population, neighbourhood areas that might have been severely affected by flooding in the past. However, it turned out that 3 out of 5 sites were actually in front of the department of construction, mostly the pavement areas. 

Tam & Kerstin

Coming back to Saigon on a Friday and leaving straight away on Sunday again for the other 4 coastal cities Tuy Hoa, Nha Trang, Quy Nhon and Quang Ngai. I was excited to visit new places and to spend time with the architecture team. The girls Loan, Xuan and Tu were so entertaining. We flew into Tuy Hoa, where we stayed in a beautiful hotel and the first thing Ha and myself did was going for a discovery walk to the beach before we all had dinner. 
Tuy Hoa beach at sunset

The beach turned out to be only a 15min walk away and it was gorgeous. Really unspoiled, no tourists, only locals around. I decided to go for a run in the morning! Finally I was able to run again :) I woke up with a gorgeous sunrise at 5.30am and went for a run at 6am! Lots of locals were already awake, some selling breakfast, coffees and baguette on the pavements; others were swimming in the sea. I ran along the beach and enjoyed every moment. I loved this town. No traffic, almost no cars, just a few motorbikes and some bicycles. So peaceful :) Back in the hotel I changed into my bikini and walked back up to the beach to go for a well deserved swim before breakfast! After our official meeting with the department of construction we went to visit the site. This was an interesting project. The area was in a residential neighbourhood and the plan was to enhance the wide green strip between the two streets. 
Project site Tuy Hoa

We were able to speak to a few neighbours and the people’s committee had agreed to a neighbourhood meeting in the evening. We had to change location in the last minute as there was a power cut in the venue and therefore we went to a nearby coffee place instead where the meeting was held spontaneously. 
Neighbourhood Meeting - Tuy Hoa

We presented the project and landscaping ideas to the neighbourhood committee and we got 15 questionnaires filled in. However the neighbours had more concerns than just the landscaping project. They were complaining about the unpaved road and the dirt and dust caused by it. I really loved this little town. Rice fields in the middle of the city, some hills and the ocean. 

Rice fields in the city and a small hill

The next day we recorded the data from the questionnaires and were able to go for a quick visit up to the Nhan Tower. 

Nhan Tower

What a beautiful view onto the city! 

Then we all drove in a small minibus to Nha Trang. I wasn’t looking forward to this, as this city was so touristy. I had only been there once but promised myself not to come back! It was a long tedious bus trip with one beautiful stop in-between at the most easterly point in Vietnam, Southeast of Tuy Hòa in Phú Yên Province. 

Most easterly point in Vietnam

That’s the first time I saw a lighthouse in Vietnam!!! 

Nha Trang was busy with tourist, especially from Russia. There were even menus in Russian and shop front had signs written in Russian! Not the most relaxing place on earth ;) The site in Nha Trang nevertheless was interesting! A busy street in a local neighbourhood packed with different businesses, shops and small little pavement stalls springing up every morning and evening to sell local food. We did a first site visit after our official meeting with the government and we were also able to interview some local businesses. 

Official meeting with the Department of construction
Interview with the locals

Interview with a local guitar shop

Another community meeting in the evening, this time with not many participants, but the ones who did show up were interested. 

Community meeting Nha Trang

Next stop was Quy Nhon. We stayed in a very strange hotel from the late 70th, but it was directly across the beach! 

View from outside of our hotel in Quy Nhon!
Quy Nhon beach
 So back to my morning run and swim before work. Quy Nhon was a city with a lot of green areas, parks and in general very well kept! I think this city will develop in another famous tourist spot in the future. The flooding and drainage project was questionable in my eyes as there was no flooding occurring and the area where the project should be implemented was just newly developed in a really nice wide green park strip. Anyhow, I did learn a lot from Yves, the landscape architect. I finally was able to distinguish between palm trees and coconut trees by the trunk and I learned that trees can have vertical or horizontal roots. Horizontal roots can or most likely will destroy the pavement over time when used in this area. Thanks Yves for this insight! 

Interviewing local people was fun in Quy Nhon. We talked to a local fisherman who was repairing his net, an elderly man who comes to the park every day for a walk and an owner of a local coffee place. 

Interview with the local fisherman

Interview with a local visiting the park every day

 We had the chance on the last day to visit the International Center for Interdisciplinary Science and Education and the ‘Quy Hoa Leprosy’ town. The architects were all excited visiting the center, as a famous architect had designed it.

International Center for Interdisciplinary Science and Education 
Peaceful spot!

Having a good time with Loan!

Quy Hoa Leper Colony

We visited the ‘leprosy town, where a hospital was built in the past for treatment of leprosy. 

Old sign posts

It was a very awkward feeling walking through this picturesque small little town, the streets lined with coconut trees on both sides of the road, cute colourful doors, window frames and house walls. 

Small little sandy trails were leading to a beautiful beach and people were still calling this place their home. It was striking that the locals had left all the old signs on buildings, streets and abundant sheds. I even found one sign in German saying ‘Wurzburgstrasse’! 

The hospital is still in operation, not only for leprosy treatment but also for HIV/AIDS and other diseases. This small little town had left an impression on me for sure!


We had only spent one night in Quang Nhai, had one meeting in the morning and left in a rush at lunch time to reach Danang. I had decided to stay for a few days in my old hometown to see old friends and to have a break.  Coming into Danang with the WACC colleagues was strange. I was actually a bit shocked, seeing all these new high-rise hotels along the beautiful beach. At least 10 new hotels with 15-30 floors each sprung up, lots of new small hotels everywhere, new food places, coffee places and dozens of people, mostly Asian tourist flocking along the beach. Well it was 5pm, so no surprise, that’s the main rush hour for swimming in the late afternoon as the sun is setting soon. As we had arrived one day earlier as planned in Danang, I needed to find a place to sleep for the night. My hotel was fully booked, but I found a nice room close to the beach on the 5th floor in the Mango hotel. 

Gorgeous view from my hotel!

So all was good and I could hardly believe I was back in Danang. A feeling of joy, excitement but also sadness came up. How much has it really changed? What happened to the sleepy beachfront? Well, it is July and yes that’s the major tourist season. But I was still shocked how much it had changed in just 2 years. Will it develop into a 2nd Nha Trang? Hopefully not :( Anyway, my first highlight was to see Trang! I haven’t given her a hug for over 2 years and I was about to walk to her house from my hotel. I would not only meet my really good Vietnamese friend, but also her newly wedded husband and her daughter Mya. 

Mya & Trang & her husband

Mya & Kerstin

We did spend a lovely evening together, chatting about what had happened in the last 2 years and had delicious food at Loc Chau - ‘cheesy oysters’! So tasty :) Life was good.

During the last few days I did catch up with some Vietnamese students of mine, some teachers from ELI and some Vietnamese and Western friends. It felt strange to be back, seeing that some things haven’t changed at all, lots of memories came back and I clearly knew and felt again why I had decided to not come back to live here. I was proud of myself that I had spent the last 2 years investing in my education and career change. Yes, soon I will be ready to work as Sustainable Development Practitioner. Keep your fingers crossed! 

Beautiful and tasty Vietnamese 'My Quang' homemade by Tin 

I did spend my last day driving up Son Tra Peninsula in the morning. I loved that motorbike ride along the coast, winding roads, passing by the beautiful and impressive Lady Buddha statue and meeting some wild monkeys on the road. I stopped for lunch at my favourite place ‘Tam’s Pub’ and had a delicious pineapple pancake.  As my flight only left in the evening I spontaneously decided to drive up Hai Van Pass. I did what I love doing – riding on a motorbike through amazing nature, landscapes and stunning views!

View from Hai Van Pass

I just love riding a motorbike up Hai Van Pass!

District 7 - Saigon

Back in Saigon I’m trying to discover some new neighbourhoods and forcing myself to drive on my motorbike through unknown and jam-packed streets, discovering new neighbourhoods but mostly focusing on traffic. It is a different cup of tea here in Saigon, driving through a 1 km long tunnel, coming out the other end not knowing where to go next ;) The lanes in the tunnel are separated for cars and motorbikes and that is indeed needed. There was surprisingly no traffic jam in the tunnel, thank god, and people drove a steady and relaxed pace. Not such a bad experience and it seems like I’m warming to the idea driving through this tunnel a bit more often. It does close so between 10pm and 5am, so I was aiming to be back then before 10pm after meeting Loan for coffee and Ursula afterwards for some Vietnamese dinner. I crossed different bridges, drove through congested roads and finally ended up in District 7. Wow, that felt like you just entered a different country all of a sudden. This area looked like Singapore, seriously. I’m not sure what I wanted to feel or what I did feel. It did look amazingly beautiful, the new modern buildings, clean roads, some green strips and a beautiful lake with shopping mall and restaurants around it. Puuhh, welcome to posh Saigon!!! 

Lake - District 7
I parked my motorbike and decided to have a stroll around the lake until Loan showed up. Beautiful walk, very peaceful, however nowhere near was any bench to be seen.  Unfortunately, no place where you could sit down and look at this lovely lake. I decided to check out prices of two coffee places at the corner and I almost fell over – 80.000VND (4US$) for a coffee! Ok, that was a no go for an unpaid intern. Loan arrived and we both decided that we would try to find a cosy Vietnamese coffee place instead. After walking around for a while without any success we decided to get some drinks from a street vendor. I got a tasty café sua da (Vietnamese Iced coffee with milk) for take-away for just 10.000VND (50cents)! That was much better :)

Wake Up Saigon

Wake Up Saigon with Ha, Trung, Nguyet, Hiep

I have found two different meditation groups in Saigon and I’m very grateful for this. It helps me to stay calm and to feel happy. The people in both groups are so welcoming and it is really nourishing to spend time with them all. One group meets every Sunday afternoon for 1.5 hours. We do some silent sitting in a beautiful pagoda and then sing some Plum Village songs. Sometimes we have a vegetarian dinner together in a beautiful nice café. The other group meets more sporadic and we had a chance yesterday to do some rubbish clean up in a park at ‘Pham Ngu Lao', in the middle of Saigon.

Birthday celebration

Lovely crowd!

Such a lovely cake!

Thanks for all your kind birthday wishes from all over the world! I feel so touched and very grateful :) Two years ago on my birthday I was sitting at the Summit Pub in Howth in Ireland with close friends, when I checked my emails and got the confirmation for my Master program. Last year in Malawi 'Joy', the neighbour’s daughter was born on my birthday and I was able to hold her, when she was only a few hours old. Today it seems like I might the opportunity for an internship, which I am more than passionate about with an organisation I would love to work for and a location, which is very close to my heart! I feel so grateful & happy and can hardly believe that this is all happening to me and it is my birthday again ;) I did spend a beautiful day here in Saigon with an interview close to the opera house, a lovely aroma massage followed by a visit in the Zoo, a nice coffee and tiramisu in my favourite coffee place before I met up with some friends in my favourite Vegetarian ‘San May Café’ for a tasty dinner. 

Opera House Saigon

Saigon Zoo

La Rotondo Cafe

Cafe Sua Da & Tiramisu!

My birthday wish
San May Cafe - District 1/Saigon
It felt really nice that colleagues from WACC, ArcAsia and from the two different meditation groups shared this time with me. We had so much fun & a beautiful time. Thanks everybody for coming and for my birthday presents! Binh from the meditation group asked me what I usually do on my birthday. This question made me realize that I actually had been in 5 different countries for the last 5 years on my birthday! 2010 – Singapore, 2011 – France, 2012 - Nepal, 2013 - Ireland, 2014 - Malawi and 2015 – Vietnam. Let’s see what 2016 will bring ;)

Thanks you WACC & ArcAsia colleagues! Look at the gorgeous pillow I got :)

I'm glad I came back to Vietnam. The internship is not what I had hoped for, but it is a good experience to live in a city like Saigon with 12Mio people, driving a motorbike and trying to find your way around!!! However, I for sure prefer a more rural area ;)! 12 Mio is a little bit much for my taste. Anyway, the Water- and Climate Institute is a bit small and most of the work has to be done in Vietnamese. 

Therefore I have started to look for another internship and busy applying for different positions. Please keep your fingers crossed for me that I find the right organisation and place to go to!

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