What happens in Vietnam...

I entered the room exhausted, drenched in a layer of sweat that I no longer tried to conceal. A three-hour nail-biting, hair-greying ride from Ho Chi Minh brought me here, deep in the Vietnamese jungle, to Tra Vinh University (TVU) where I would be documenting national Teachers' Day and my own institution's deep ties to helping build the educational model framework to support economic development in the region.

But first, I would rest. It had been a long day. 

The room was quite large; a space normally occupied by international students in residence. Everything was painted pale yellow, culturally symbolic of good luck. Throwing my small bag down on the couch, I took a moment to catch my breath and collect my thoughts. I regretted leaving my main suitcase - with the majority of my clothing and toiletries - back in Ho Chi Minh; a colleague told me I wouldn't need it though as we would only be gone overnight and there wasn't much room in our driver's vehicle. This made sense. As the photographer, I would be in the background anyway. A fly on the wall. My camera equipment thus took priority over a change of pants. Speaking of which, mine were now sticking to my legs. The humidity was insane! I walked over to open a window but noticed there was no glass, just an opening overlooking the campus below. Brushing the curtain aside to survey the landscape, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. 

There was a lizard sharing the room with me. It scurried faster than I could follow. Where did it go? I went back into the living room area to ponder my situation further. Then I saw another one. 

And another. 

And yet another. 

Their chirpy cries enveloped the room, communicating the plight of having a giant in their living quarters. I (eventually) came to realize the lizards were harmless but couldn't escape my mind from racing to the snake farm our group visited several days prior. Big snakes, poisonous snakes … but mostly big and poisonous snakes comprised the tour. We were educated on identifying and handling them, and also informed, prudently, that one of the only medical centres in Vietnam that treated venom injection was located next door. The guide's words of "if this snake bites you, you have 10 minutes to live" rang in my head … as did the fact that I was now at least 3 hours away from that medical centre. 

Between the heat and the thought that there may be more slithery creatures hiding in my room, I started to wig out. I decided to call upon an individual I met earlier in the day. An employee of TVU, he was one of our Vietnamese/English translators and joked that he was considered "the most handsome man in Vietnam". This went beyond ego when every female I met also referred to him as "the most handsome man in Vietnam". Yes, he was cute but could he conquer the rogue cobra I believed was hidden under the mattress? I told him of my concerns and he laughed; the issue was obviously recurring amongst westerners visiting the remote campus. A quick but thorough 10 minute search resulted in nothing. I could rest somewhat easier.

If those damn lizards would stop talking. 


Read the full article in the Spring 2015 issue of Designer Magazine. 



Partners

The latest issue of Partners, an annual publication detailing news, events and milestones at SIAST, was recently distributed throughout the province of Saskatchewan. Photographs from my deployment to Vietnam covering the institute's brokered overseas programming and the Gov.Gen of Canada's visit to our partnered graduation ceremony with Ho Chi Minh University of Industry are featured. You can view the online version below: 

The Joy of Travel

Vietnam has left quite the impression on me. Beautiful country. Wonderful people. I hope to one day return and explore the country further with one of my newfound friends who've kindly offered to help me navigate the maze of streets in Hanoi, experience the world-renowned endless caves and further perfect the art of haggling at one of their many markets. Shopping just isn't as much fun back here in Canada until I get the price down a nickel. #foreverafrugalWinnipegger. Travel is what I live for. Once you get a taste for it, it's really hard to remain stationary. 

A few years ago, I backpacked throughout China. There was almost immediate culture shock. In the Western world, we're somewhat enveloped by the false belief that our way of life is the only way of life (or at it's worst, the "right" way of life). I was completely guilty of the former during my first Asian excursion; this ignorance allowed China to kick my ass. Thoroughly and deservedly. After having the metallic taste of pollution on my lips for weeks and being hit by a motorbike, I returned to Canada with the worst cold of my life. I was bitter...I didn't grow to hate it though. In fact, the longer I reflected upon my journey it intrigued me. China was an adventure you don't get by traveling to, say, the safety and familiarity of Disneyworld. It was exciting. It was dangerous. It was young Marlon Brando beckoning you from across the bar, or in this case, Pacific. You know you are going to be up all night; half sleep deprived from jetlag, half pure wanderlust. The sights, sounds and colours leading you down a rabbit hole of discovery that may include the revelation that your tastebuds are really keen on octopus. Mine aren't. But crocodile ain't so bad. The other side of the planet is glorious. 

Vietnam did not shock me. I oddly felt right at home admidst the insane traffic and neon lights of Ho Chi Minh - God, I love tacky neon. It's like a city made of lite bright™. The constant noise and hustle of the city uninterrupted by cloak of night. I often complain about the illegal dubstep club my neighbours operate, but for some reason, the racket here didn't bother me. It was actually comforting. A sign of life (my neighbours can still f*$# right off though). Vietnam is a country in transition and as such, there is much positive energy in the air. Architecturally, the modernist, boxy structures reminded me of Tokyo...another country that was forced to let go of a part of it's heritage by means of war. I admit, I was not previously educated on this particular facet of near-recent history. An hour spent at the War Remnants Museum changed that. The very graphic images shocked and saddened me and also reminded me of a man I encountered on the subway of Shanghai. Scurrying on all fours with a peculiar gait, he appeared to be half simian. The museum taught me that his condition was a a result of exposure to Agent Orange, the horrible, disfiguring side effects of which are still found in this part of the world.  

I didn't have much time to explore outside of the general vicinity of my hotel, however, I did travel to Tra Vinh Province in the southern part of the country for an overnight stay. The approximately four-hour journey meandered through urban sprawl into the thick of the jungle. Our driver was a bat out of hell, doing 100mph in the wrong lane while traversing blind corners on what appeared to be blind luck but was actually the highly organized chaos of the roadways here. Despite reciting prayer and preparing a final Tweet to my loved ones, I had faith in him. I was also thankful that this was the only vehicle I was in all week that had working seatbelts.

The boom of modern Ho Chi Minh: 

War Remnants Museum: 

Regular day on the job - this guy was doing construction on the edge of the 14th floor of Ho Chi Minh University of Industry (not a helmet or safety harness in sight): 

Meat market, Ho Chi Minh: 

Lunch at Mekong Delta (giant riceball in background): 

I want to adopt this wee guy: 

If a cobra like this bites you, you have 20 minutes to live: 

Miss Saigon

While strolling the streets taking photos of modern Ho Chi Minh, I was beckoned over to buy coconut water from a street vendor. It was delicious...but he made me work for it. I have newfound respect for their hard work; that load was H-E-A-V-Y.  

SIAST in Vietnam

I have been really honoured to attend the 2011 graduation ceremony for SIAST Business Administration students in Vietnam. I have no doubt that the many friends I've made here will go on to great success in life. Here I am the day of the ceremony with (from left) SIAST Provost and Vice President, Academic David Walls; Business Diploma Program Head Rick Wagman; First Year Program Head, Business Division Graham Chute; HUI Manager of International Education Bui Dinh Tien; and, Project Coordinator Miles Fahlman. 

Konichiwa!

Today was a long day. A really long day. 

I awoke at 3:00am Friday morning (Central Time), my mind racing. Too excited to slumber, too stressed that I was forgetting something. I'm now writing this almost two days later and haven't gotten a lick of sleep, despite being in a predominanty stationary position on an airplane for 15 hours. And it probably won't change anytime soon ... for my stopover enroute to Vietnam just happens to be the most exciting city in the world: TOKYO! While I'm not here for long, just letting my soles touch the ground is enough to feel re-energized creatively and spiritually. 

My last visit here was two years ago, just prior to joining the SIAST Marketing and Communications team. The trip gave me an insight into the future of design and marketing that no western frame of reference could possibly match and has since inspired much of the work I produce for the institute. Japan, and many other parts of Asia, are much more technologically advanced than North America. As the world continues to shrink, it's important to stay current with what is happening in other markets as it will no doubt influence you locally one day whether you are employed in the arts, business, health care or trades. A good website for research is japantrends.com 

It's easy to get lost here - lost in thought, lost in wonder. You become one of 35 million+ individuals lost in the crowd in the greater Tokyo area. Good thing I won't have to ride the subway this time. In fact, I'm off to get some sushi and cucumber-flavored Pepsi. 

When in Tokyo...

To read more on my trip to Vietnam, please visit goSIAST.com/Vietnam