Students and professors from the University of Montana learn about how people are dealing with life and livelihoods under dynamic conditions

Archive for December, 2010

High Tide in Ho Chi Minh City

Wednesday Dec. 29, 2010

Story By Kevin Radley

Photos By Kevin Radley

My shoes squeaked from Seattle’s damp winter weather as I walked into my relative’s home holding a honey-baked ham. I watched my Aunt fearlessly light candles and straighten decorations for our annual Christmas get-together while my immediate family stumbled loudly through the door.

We exchanged hugs and kisses with one another and initiated hasty small talk until my vocal and class-clown of an uncle interrupted the already heightened sound level.

“So…..I hear you’ve been drafted”, he said chuckling, creating an uproar of laughter among my relatives in the kitchen.

“No, no, no ”, I said proudly correcting him. “I am going to Vietnam to study climate change.”

The room fell awkwardly silent as if they were searching for questions they have yet to fully grasp or understand.

My relative’s silence created an interesting tangent three days before my official Vietnamese departure. I am about to study a science that is deemed by many controversial, but why?

Climate change is complicated. It requires an interdisciplinary scientific approach and explanation that is sometimes misrepresented or misunderstood. Yet, the reality that exists among today’s society is an absence of a concrete understanding creating various contorted perceptions.

That is the reason for which the University of Montana’s Climate Change Studies minor exists and the reason two professors, myself, and eight other UM students have traveled to Vietnam. We are searching for solutions and experiences of adaptation and mitigation in a climate that is already changing, the Mekong Delta.

Three days after my interesting family experience, I left for Vietnam. Our group experienced a shaky beginning of delayed and canceled flights, but I arrived with most of my fellow students Tuesday night around midnight nervous, uneasy, and exhausted.

Nevertheless, early the next morning we were ready to start our Vietnam study abroad. The day began with a hearty breakfast of beef stir-fried vegetables and rice, a side of toast and maybe a danish (at least I think it was).  We then were introduced to our foreign home by Dr. Nguyen Tuan Khanh, a lecturer at Vietnam’s National University, who carefully explained Vietnam then and now in about an hour.

We felt a sense of guilt and frustration as Khanh described Vietnam’s 20th century of foreign occupation and fighting resistance.  Khanh made it clear the Vietnam War is referred to as the American War on this side of the Pacific.

We dragged on through the afternoon jet-legged, wide-eyed and somewhat deafened.  The loud organized chaos of motorbikes, buses, and a small number of cars representing the constant rush hour of Ho Chi Minh City kept everyone’s attention on our way to the U.S. Consulate General.

Our U.S. diplomats explained Vietnam is one of the fastest growing countries in the world.  Many of the skyscrapers that engulf our surroundings were built in only the last few years. The swirl of activity that stuns us is Vietnam’s reality of growth happening before our eyes. It is the visual aid of Vietnam’s new economy.

Despite decades if not centuries of war, people here are interested in looking forward to new opportunities. While most Americans concentrate on the past and the war, Vietnam focuses on increasing their growth and looking to the future with a great sense of possibility and optimism.

An optimistic attitude may help the Vietnamese create a catalyst for adaptation to climate change for our next destination the Mekong Delta­­–one of the most vulnerable areas in the world to climate change.