Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Morning Rituals at the Temple of Heaven

This morning I visited the Temple of Heaven. The gardens were filled with many people exercising. Everything from Tai Chi, Ballroom dancing, ______ (like Da Ca in Vietnam_ and Tai Chi Rouli – with racket a ball. In addition there were people playing cards, performing Opera, playing musical instruments/ Basically, it seemed that people were in the park, participating with others that had similar interests to them. All seemed very relaxed and peaceful within the park. We were even invited to try out several of the activies.

We then continued to the Temple of Heaven, which had been restored for the Olympics. The massive dome was constructed without the use of nails. (Much more intensive than my old treehouse!). I learned about some of the symbolism – like the blue dome representing heaven and the round circles of the heaven being connected to the square base of the courtyard symbolizing the earth and connecting it to Heaven. We were also told that walking around the base was considered lucky. So we all made several trips.

Later today after visit to a local hutong for lunch, we’ll board overnight train for Xian. The journey continues.

New Friends in Beijing

I picked up my package at the IBM Office at Pacific Century Tower today – and had opportunity to meet with a few of my HR peers here in Beijing. Its nice to have HR family around the world. The team was very helpful and I enjoyed the opportunity to compare HRPartner roles. I was also able to share a little about my CSC experience in Vietnam. Thanks again to the team on the 26th floor!

Opera School and Opera

We visited Opera School today - and got to stand in classroom as students worked with masters to develop their skills. We got to see various ages, from HS to first year students in dance class. After watching these classes it gave me more apreciation for the Opera performance I saw in the evening. The opera signing is not what I'm accustomed to - but the control required was obvious.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Snow at the Great Wall

I climbed the Great Wall today -- in the snow!

Not at all what I would have expected. The section we visited is referred to as the Wild Wall – an area being maintained -- but not rebuilt. We passed several sections that had been rebuilt - but were told they were not real. It’s really massive - and when you think about all it took to build up & down the mtns -- its even more massive. Quite an opportunity to climb to one of towers and gaze out over a number of towers in the distance. I really recognize the difficulty involved in the initial construction. It was even tough to climb up with the add of steps, let alone carry material to construct the Wall.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Welcome to Bejing, Eh!

After landing in Beijing, I was welcomed to Beijing with the above greeting. Just goes to show you how small the world can be. My seat mate on the place, while I Chinese native, spends time in Vancouver and Beijing. I really got a kick out this greeting - and it was delivered totally naturally. We were walking to baggage claim thru new section of Beijing airport - and I just started laughing and told 'George' that wasn't a greeting I had expected. I was very grateful to his assistance as well. I had my own personal guide that helped me get to baggage claim - and also helped get the Chinese name for my hotel and point me told taxi stand. Safe arrival in hotel and even met other members of tour group in the lobby. They had just arrived as well. What a great beginning.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Dinner with my Interpreter and family

My last evening in Haiphong, I was invited to the home of my interpreter. We arrived by motorbike, through narrow roads winding thru residences. Once there I joined in preparation of our dinner of chicken hot pot. I’m glad I was given job of peeling potatoes and carrots – rather than cutting up the whole chicken. I was introduced to members of the family as they arrived home from work and several cousins and aunts. I also got out my balloons and made swords and cats & dogs for several kids. (both young & old).

Dinner was served traditional style sitting on floor in family room. We feasted on a number of dishes – continuing to cook some of dinner in hot pot. I was able to sample new wines as well - two varieties. One was made from banana that was very mild. The other one I think had variety of roots /medicinal ingredient. Was told it was very healthy.

The family also had a couple of cats that were very talkative – reminded me of cats at home. All in all – this was excellent way to conclude my experience in Haiphong.

Farewells and Pictures

It was very hard to say good bye to my new friends in Vietnam. I was presented with a flute from my client to remember Vietnam. They knew this was something I was interested in and I was very honored to be presented with such a thoughtful gift. I will have to practice and learn some traditional Vietnamese songs. The director’s husband told me had played when he was very young. He proceeded to demonstrate. His daughter’s had never seen him play – so that made it even more fun.

As I prepared to depart, I was also presented with a uniform shirt that had been made in the factory. I will wear it proudly and will never forget the time I’ve spent in Haiphong.

Whirlwind of Activity

Last few days in Haiphong were a whirlwind of activity. From a project perspective, I wanted to be able to come to closure and deliver a summary report of the month’s activities. In addition, more and more topics were being brought up by my client. More discussions around HR topics – like developing new hires. Handling performance issues with factory workers, as well as developing management skills for team lead and factory manager. In addition, we got into developing business strategy about changing the mix of the products and potential to open up store front in downtown Haiphong to sell, display and develop new clients. As we discussed school uniforms, I went back to my CSC team and go more insight to usage of uniforms. Client was interested in designs as well as distribution channels.

There are so many other things I would have liked to have had more time to do, but time was closing in on me. By mid-day. I was able to deliver a presentation in English – and a version my interpreter had translated into Vietnamese.

For a social perspective, the CSC team hosted a dinner for VCCI and our interpreters Tue evening, Wednesday evening we ended up at one of the client’s for a kind of cook out. Thursday I was invited to my interpreter’s home for dinner. All this and I had to pack!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Da Cau and Tennis

We got more practice in late today on Da Cau - the shuttlecock kicking game. We are making progress - I think Gosia has had the most improvement. We were joined by the Manager of the hotel - who added significantly to our skill level. At one point we were joined by foreman of the site construction. (They are working on swimming pool that may be complete in about a week.) After over an hour - we got tour of the site - seeing caves that were created for showers and the landscaping. We even went over to golf driving range and then to tennis courts. We ended up playing tennis for over another hour. We were very happy to get a little exercise. I played a little - but was being very careful with my knee. During this practice session, we were joined by the Director. All had a fun time. I think we all have much better skills at tennis. But the practice must continue for both.

Halong Bay Experience

Our team adventure to Halong Bay - one of Vietnam's most recognized travel destination ended up being very relaxing. The 1 1/2hr bus ride gave us another opportunity to witness the contracts rapidly developing growth market. We saw traditional style markets / farmers working in rice paddies/ buffalo/ cows /pigs/ goats -- side by side with major construction sites in various stages of progress. It seems typical for billboard signs to be put up displaying the vision for the site, be it a hotel or grand plans for major conference center / casino / amusement park. There was also evidence of a number of large industries

Once we got to Halong Bay, we boarded our junk boat named 'Baby Dragon'. This was fitting because folklore legend is that a dragon came down from the mountain and its tail gorged out valleys and crevasses, then plunged into the sea. The result was the the nearly 3000 pinnacle islands that exist today.

Our junk boat motored out to the mail channel from Harbour and then wove in out out of the islands. We ended up in a protected area, designated by the government for tourist boats to drop anchor. I think we had about 25-30 junk boats scattered in the bay.

We had very nice dinner on boat, and really enjoyed each others company on our private boat.

Friday, March 20, 2009

A Vietnamese Man?

Had another very nice lunch with my client. With director’s husband being retired, they often take turns cooking, Today, it was the Director. Lunch has always been a traditional Vietnamese lunch with bowls of rice, one or two kinds of meat, vegetables, and broth – followed by several types of fruit. Have had a variety of seafood, but often not sure what kind. It may be better that way. As one of my team mates put it – broth can be friend or foe – you never know what may be lurking in the depths of the bow1.

After lunch, we ended up with 5 women talking around the table. (The Director, One of the daughters and a univ, friend, my interpreter and me). Some how we got onto the topic of what souvenir I’d like to remember my visit to Vietnam. I asked what was suggested – and the director jokingly suggested that maybe I should bring a man to US from Vietnam. There was much laughter and kidding around. As the discussion continued somehow the Director came up with the suggestion that I could take her husband back with me – for free – no strings attached. I was even reminded that he was a very good cook as well. I know I didn’t follow all of the discussion – and I’ll never know - but we all had some great laughs!

Some of the comments I was told were ‘secret’ – because my interpreter was laughing too hard to translate! By the end of the conversation – I think it was decided that I should be the ‘2nd wife’.

Inventory Management

Several members of the team are helping our clients with inventory / record management. Many records in small business are kept on paper in notebooks. While my initial reaction is to migrate the records to the computer – its important to consider the availability of computer and the skills to utilize.

At my client, I think there are 4 or 5 computers – two of which are laptops on the daughters who are university students studying in Hanoi. My client is developing new format/forms to track raw material / work in process / and finished goods. I’ve been asked to review the format/procedures in Vietnamese and make recommendations. As you can imagine, this is a challenge. It is crucial that we are able to really accomplish a ‘skills exchange’ so the client can be self-sufficient when my assignment is over – and I only have 4 more work days!


Early on in my visit, we discussed ages. It was discovered that the director and I were close to the same age – I at 47, and she at 49. Her husband had recently retired at mandatory age of 56. As we have continued to learn more about each other – we were both a little surprised when we discovered that the director and I were both actually born in 1961 – in the year of the Buffalo. ( I bet this explains my fascination with the water buffalo and the boys riding them playing flutes!). From what I understand, the differences are based on how ages are actually calculated. For example, when I was born, I was 0. I believed when person born in Vietnam, they are one. In addition, I think the age in increased at Tet – the New Year. I’m glad I’m still only 47!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Water Buffalo

On the way home today - I had another motorbike ride. I wanted a picture of a water buffalo - it was very easy to do on ride home.
My interpreter, who was my driver for the day, said she rode a buffalo when she was small.

Change in Perspective

Its amazing what a matter of perspective can change. At street level - we feel very far away from things in Hai Phong. But the other day I went to the roof of our 10 story hotel. The river is about 1 block away - and we have many ship builders across the road.

The second picture is taken looking the other direction - where the hotel property is adjacent to rice paddies. The contrast are often dramatic. In fact, the hotel even has a golf driving range under construction.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Da’ Cau

After dinner tonight – several of team members went out under the lights in the parking lot to try to practice this new found game that involves a kind of shuttlecock (like badminton) kicked with you feet. We have enjoyed watching others in parks playing, We got to try it at the SOS Children’s school – but need practice. We were quite a sight! One of the doorman from the hotel came out and played with us for few mins. Then as we continued, I looked up and saw a number of staff watching us from the window. I think they we see us out there again. Gave us all some exercise and also a few laughs. So far, out record is 4 kicks. More to come.


Beep! Beep!
Instead of road runner – this is the noise you hear along the road. Horns are sued a lot as cars / bikes /trucks share the roads. The horns are varied – high / low/ long tones / etc. The bus we were on the other day had a backing up indicator – but it played happy birthday. Who would have known there was such a variation?

Monday, March 16, 2009


My brother would like all the motorbikes here. They significantly out number cars. My first motorbike ride was in Hanoi to the police station. I have now had a couple of rides to return to the hotel at the end of the day. Not surprising, but you do notice more details around you when on a motorbike. (By the way, both trips I wore a helmet – as so most of the riders). I’ve been watching families ride on bikes, Not unusual to see 2 adults and 2 small children riding on one bike. You also see infants being carried in arms of passengers on motorbikes/motorcycles. A little scary to see – particularly given all the safety car seats / booster seats I’m used to in the US. Today I noticed a couple of safety items. One was a mother with toddler strapped to her waist – sitting behind her on the bike. Another way kids ride is standing between the handle bars and the seat – with parents legs on either side of the child.
I’m still amazed by the number of people on motorbikes – and all the supplies that get transported. (50lb bags of rice / cases of soda / propane tanks – you name it – anything goes.)
Oh – one more thing to mention about motorbikes – many people wear face masks. After my few experiences – I understand. Without the mask – you end up tasting grit in your teeth from the road. Its best to keep you mouth shut.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Cultural Exchange

In addition to learning about Vietnam, we have had a number of conversations about life at home. Everything from our favorite foods, family life, daily activities – to arranged marriages. While we are all IBMers – we come from very different backgrounds. Its fun talking about perceptions and increasing our awareness of how different cultures are viewed and gaining more in depth perspective about traditions. Who knows –if we had arranged marriages in the US – I bet my grandmother would have gotten me married many years ago!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sunny Saturday

Today was nice sunny day – we have had several dreary rainy days – but this was one of best so far. The day started with a meeting with the Anh Long, the IBM CGM for Vietnam. We all appreciated his willingness to travel from Hanoi to Haiphong to meet with the team. We shared information about our assignments and experiences in Vietnam. Long also gave us more insight into IBM Vietnam and some of the challenges faced in the Vietnamese culture.

Following the visit, several of us went on walking tour to the Metro – a large shopping store. Here we purchased a football (or soccer ball to some of us), candy and notebooks for our visit on Sunday to the SOS Children’s’ village, we also got some snacks. We were quite an attraction at the market – you could just see people moving toward the aisle we were in so they could see us. Its quite surprising how few foreigners we see. Plus we are a rather ‘international group’ ourselves. Smile, saying Hello /Xin Chao (sin jow) and Thank you /Cam on seems to go along way.

After a brief rest at the hotel, Arjan, Ashok, Murali and I set off for Sat market. We basically wandered the streets, taking in more of the sights and watching daily life. There are so many shops along the streets, selling various items – most grouped by the type of products. One area had nuts / bolts / compressors /power tools/ wires/cable / rope. Other areas had metal / clothes / shoes/ etc.

As we wandered, we spent time in a park with families with kids on bikes; women exercising, men playing a checker type game, very competitive badminton, more of the game with folks kicking the shuttlecock. (We are still planning to learn how to play!). The weather was so nice – I think many folks were just out to enjoy.

Friday, March 13, 2009


I got the day off – or at least not going to the factory/office because my client and family are going to a family celebration in Ninh Binh. I have been taking the opportunity to review my notes and try to consolidate ideas & plans.

Also, took opportunity to communicate with our ABV contact on behalf of the team.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Lunch is always a great experience. Trying new foods – and new styles of rice wine. Today I had one I was told was made with bees. I asked if it was like honey –and told no – it had bees. Well, it tasted pretty good. I was sweet, but was rather strong. Sipping it is fine – but on occasion- I have to do ‘bottoms’ up. My client’s husband likes – but luckily, I don’t have keep up with him. It lots of fun to share his rice wine. The family is also very relaxed and laugh a lot!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Had another meeting with our local ABV contact this am, It is challenging for IBM team to understand the proper channels, We are not getting clear indications regarding who needs to be informed or given opportunity to approve our activities. I think we just need to keep trying to understand the relationships around us.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Challenges with Excel

Today I met another member of the family, The director has twin daughters – both are working on their final thesis’s for university. The family must be very proud to have such ambitious, successful daughters. Both can communicate well in English and are quick to pick up new concepts. We are working on utilizing Excel to help produce summaries of orders for student uniforms. Each step forward, I learn of new requirement that would be beneficial to add. While I’m very accustomed to using Excel, I’m not as accomplished at designing worksheets. Am progressing thru trail and error and ‘help’. Arjan and I spent some time on Monday and ended up adding an array that appears to be successful. As I reviewed today with the client, I have a few more conditions to account for. In addition, I need to draft detailed instructions to explain what the formula means so that it could be maintained and updated as required.
This afternoon the team will visit the SOS Children’s village. I also have an invitation to stay overnight with my client family. I’ll be sure to share my experiences.

Monday, March 9, 2009

I got phone call from my client late Sunday saying that she was out of town and I should not go to the factory of Monday. As result, Arjan and I took the opportunity to remain at the hotel. Arjan and I were able to work together to create an excel summary for my client and also look for project management tools that we felt several of our clients could use.

Instead of a nap today, Arjan and I took a walk around the hotel. We found the swimming pool –its under active construction and will be very nice. Very reminiscent of a resort pool with fake rocks in the background – I wouldn’t be surprised if it ultimately has water falls. There is also a large structure that we finally figured out will be a golf practice range. About 100 yds away, across a railroad track are rice paddies being maintained in traditional manner. Again, the contrast between current lifestyles is very apparent. This continued as we walk down the road. Access to the port is only couple blocks away. Across the street from our hotel, we can see tugs and ship building yards. Again, a lot of construction, but also the street cafes and beer vendors. Also very obvious that every object has a second life. Lots of metal / machine parts / ship propellers are evident in shops along the road. Also, work is done along the road. Whether this is repairs to bikes, mopeds and rebuilding and cleaning of truck engine parts – you will see all.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A little down time - and sharing of blogs

The pace finally had to slow down today. After a slow start, many of us met in our common room. Very relaxing day. I took opportunity to look at others blogs. I feel very inadequate compared to some of the others, I hope to learn some tricks to make my blogs more exciting. You’ll have to stay tuned to see if I am successful. In the mean time – here are the links blogs of the other members of the team. Feel free to comment on any of them.
(A few will test your foreign language skills – so enjoy. I sure am.
Gosia - http://gosiadaniel.blogspot.com/

Jo - http://joannapyle.blogspot.com/

Arjan - http://arjanvegter.blogspot.com/

Monica - http://30diasenvietnam.blogspot.com/
Debbie - http://debbieperry.blogspot.com/

Murali - http://muralicsharma.blogspot.com/

A new game

Sunday afternoon, part of team decided to go wander the streets of Hai Phong.
In park, we came across a group of adults playing a game we have seen from a distance at many schools. I believe it’s called da Cau. It looks like a cross between hacky sack and badminton. Using their feet, the participants kick the shuttlecock – kind of like hack sack. In the park, we witnessed a group of men playing a very competitive version with two individuals on each side of a badminton court. Very intriguing – and a game we have decided we want to try. (We have asked our translators to teach us how to play,)

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Very Full Saturday

Team boarded mini bus at 6am for an excursion to Ninh Binh. The 2 ½ drive took is out of the city, to a double lane/divided highway, and ultimately for majority of the trip to a narrow dirt road, We also got glimpse of large factories, major construction of rather modern complexes – contrasted with miles of rice paddies, water buffalo and rural communities.
Tam Coc is referred to as Halong Bay on the Rice Paddies. We climbed into boats and were paddled down the Ngo Dong River thru a series of 3 caves, with the rock formations towering above. Notice in the picture that the woman rowing the boat is actually using her feet.

It was a very unique methodology that I wouldn’t have believed if I hadn’t witnessed it myself.
Next stop was Bich Dong Pagoda. This pagoda is built of series of 3 levels – connected by step stone stair cases that rise quickly from the level of the delta into the sky.
The final destination was Phat Diem. A real demonstration of the blending of cultures. As you see from the picture, this is a Catholic Church, but the architectural style still continues to display Asian influence.
The drive itself was also an experience. I have yet to understand the traffic patterns and rules of the road.

Saturday evening the team attended at wedding celebration. We were welcomed by the bride and groom and had a toast. Then we were served a family style feast of many dishes. Our contact from Chamber of Commerce and one of our clients joined us, as did a couple of our interpreters. You wouldn’t believe how grateful we are to our interpreters. Without out them we smile and try to follow along with our hosts. With the interpreters, we can get much better understanding of the culture and be able to interact. Non –verbal communication is getting better and we are learning a few words - but nothing helps like a brief explanation in English!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Singing along with the Radio

Now I have experienced that my client’s husband has a very nice voice. He sang along with the radio on our drive. I tried to sing alittle, but its hard to do when you don’t recognize words and melody. The phrases and sounds are hard to follow – but I hope to get better.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Challenges providing content for the client

I was very anxious this am. I really want to be able to provide useful material to my client / family, Yet much of the content is unfamiliar. Over breakfast, Jo shared a summary she has created for her client that I may been able to use as well. I really have to remember to go one step at a time. The husband of my client picked me up again this am. His English is better than my Vietnamese – but that metric doesn’t really measure up. He can say good morning / hello /. Goodbye. We are using more non-verbal cues that anything. I’m very appreciative of how welcoming everyone has been.

When I arrived at the home business – Ngoc greeted me. She had worked on idea I had the prior day to help with a card/label for individualized uniforms. This cards have been hand written in past, and contain student name along with various items. We worked on it alittle more, and have ended up with a pretty decent version of an automated process to create this document. It felt like a little win – between us, we got it figured out. Next step for the day was experimenting with a pivot table for summarizing data – but not sure this is the better solution. I think we may need a template that can automatically create the summary – rather than needing to understand pivot tables. Time will tell as I understand more.

Today at lunch, I was invited to spend an overnight with my family/client. Not sure when that will be orchestrated or what experiences that will bring, but I’m afraid singing and rice wine will be involved. Sounds like my client’s husband enjoys signing and I don’t think he is the only one. I have shared that I like to sing as well. Regarding the rice wine - somehow I’ve been recognized as enjoying rice wine and they have observed that I can drink it! So far, this has been a daily part of lunch at the family home. (of course followed by a nap before we get back to work).

Finally started my personal blog

Hi all- Finally getting my personal blog set up -- also have one on the IBM Corporate Service Corp web site -- www.ibm.com/corporateservicecorps

I'm going to add a few items from the begining of my adventure.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Spa Experience and Dinner at Street Cafe

Last night the ‘girls’ had the opportunity to go the a spa as guest of Monica’s client. We all had facial massages and a cleansing process that was quite an experience. After – we had a analysis of of skin via a technical imaging system. According the the info, I need to be more careful with my sunscreen and use my daily moisturizer more. They suggested that if I used their products – I could look 10 years younger and would reduce the wrinkles. Even so, they thought I looked much younger than 47.

We had dinner at a local street cafĂ©, Noodles and pork in hot broth. Was pretty good. As you look around Haiphong, there are significantly less Westerners than we saw in Hanio. The look and feel of the town is very different. Our hotel is really on the outskirts of town. My client in also in a more rural area about 10 mins away. So I’m not seeing as much of downtown areas yet. In general, HaiPhong is much more of on industrial town. We wake up to sounds of fog horns and can see out to port. The streets are filled with folks on motorbikes and bikes, but also with heavier equipment mixed in. Its also interesting to see how much can be carried on a bike. Last evening, I saw a bike loaded with about ½ dozen sheets of particle board. The bike was heading up a ramp to go over waterway and was assisted by a guy on motor bike who basically put his foot out on bike to help it get up the ramp. Have also seen sheet metal / tubing / and variety of construction material and a frig .carried in similar manner.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Lunch and a Nap!

I have spent the last 2 days getting to know my client – a family run business that is a member of the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce in Haiphong. The family busy is growing – they recently moved to new location that includes their family home and the factory. Its all very comfortable, with open spaces, courtyard and all brand new. The new factory is ready for growth and they plan to increase the workforce to about 130 in the factory, along with the additional support they get from employees that work out of their homes. I am trying to understand the challenges they are facing and determine opportunities to contribute to their success.

I have joined the family for a home cooked traditional Vietnamese lunch each day. Following lunch, I have been escorted to a bedroom for a brief nap. This sure beats lunch at my desk while I’m on conference calls!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Meeting our Clients

This was our first day meeting with the clients. We all meet at the VCCI and were joined by our interpreters. Then went back with our clients.

Monday we were treated to a Vietnamese feast by the VCCI. There was a variety of dishes from clams. Vegetables, and variety of other seafood – many of which we didn’t recognize. After each course came out- it seemed that it was followed by another, We made spring rolls that were very good. Overall, I do not think I need to worry about finding enough food to eat.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Arrival in HaiPhong

We all boarded a minibus for our trip to Haiphong. When we arrived in Haiphong, our first order of business was meeting with the student interpreters. The are about 22-27 years of age and are students at a local university studying English. We introduced ourselves and then had 5-10min discussions with 3 of the students. Then we were asked to select the student we thought we could work with. The levels of comprehension varied. Most of the IBMers were uncomfortable with the process because this is such a new territory for us. The students had some difficulty with the accents, so we tried to be sure that where that was an issue – we made sure that we thought the interpreter could understand the speaker, They are all strong with conversation – but we can tell that as we get to business terms – this may be more difficult. At this point, we still haven’t meet the clients. That will be this morning at a 10am meeting. Then we will go with our clients to their business. Until them, we don’t know how far away they are – or what kind of transportation arrangements will be required.

Our hotel is very nice. Much better than most of us expected. The first hotel choice was changed due to security issues. So we basically ended up in a 4 star hotel because timing was short. We are hearing more about how quickly the assignments were identified and selected. ABV had tried to delay to give more time, but IBM wanted to get Team 3 out.

My interpreters name us Hau. It is pronounced more like Waa and it means flower.