I had a week of visiting local government officials, extension workers, farmers and potato traders in Hung Yen and Hai Duong provinces. As none of them spoke any English, I had to rely on my fellow researcher/interpretor/friend Mr Hoi. It was a little bit more difficult to stay in control of the discussion, buy Hoi did a great job. And so did most of the respondents, in general I think it is save to say that Vietnamese are rather talkative. I especially enjoyed the farmer group discussions we had, the farmers were able to recall their farming practices of several decades ago in great detail, and they made a good effort of being as precise as possible on prices, yields, subsidies and any other info they were asked about.
After a short but great weekend of playing tourist in Ha Long Bay I’ve left Hanoi for Dalat. It is like being in a different country. You can already see it from the plane, plots are bigger (plots around hanoi are incredibly small, about 360 m2), you see greenhouses and terraces, and an incredible diversity in crops. And in the taxi on the way to the hotel I saw more differences, sophisticated irrigation systems, sprinklers, tractors and other machinery, well maintained roads, and modern shops selling fertilizers, seeds, and pesticides. The area breaths productiveness and innovation.
I had a nice meeting with Fresh Studio, with whom I’ve been wanting to meet for some time, because I’ve been hearing so many good stories about them. I’ve seen many companies that include the term ‘innovation’ in their name or slogan, only few of then can live up to the expectations this brings, Fresh Studio (‘Innovations Asia’) seems to be one of them (as is the BoP Innovation Center of course).
My other meetings were a little bit tougher, people would say that English would be no problem for them, but during the interviews it sometimes turned out to be quite hard for them to understand my questions and to provide an extensive answer. One meeting even had to be cancelled, as there was no one at the site that spoke any English. Still I’m quite happy with my trip to Dalat, which was short, but productive nevertheless. And I also really enjoyed the beautiful surroundings. During the weekend I made a motorbike trip through the mountains and the jungle, it was not only stunningly beautiful, and also showed me a side of Vietnam which I had heard about, but did not see before. Ethnic minorities live in small, remote, mountainous villages. We visited one family, where we drank some lemonade with the women. Most man were off drinking as it was saturday. The minorities struggle to get by, one of the reasons contributing to their hardship is that most of the hill-tribes fought on the American side during the war, which is not easily being forgotten by the Communist government.
I’m now waiting to board for Hanoi. I will have a couple of last interviews and farewell dinners. On thursday I will fly to Hong Kong, and take the train to Guangzhou from there on friday to visit a friend for a couple of days. On tuesday the 15th of may I will be back in Utrecht.