I recently had the amazing opportunity to visit two technical libraries in Hanoi one at Hanoi University of Technology (HUT) and the other at Vietnam National University (VNU)-Hanoi not to be confused with the largest university in Vietnam with the same name in Ho Chi Minh City. Both universities have over 30k students. My visit was in conjunction with an outside consulting project where I’m the library representative on a team charged with planning for a new technical university to be built 60 kilometers outside of Hanoi.
Hanoi is an enormous city with an estimated population of over 6.5 million and I think I may have seen nearly half of them. It was the rainy session so if you think about what Houston would be like on serious steroids then you’d have a sense of the temperature and the humidity. I was told how lucky we were since it didn’t rain much (only 20 minutes one day) during our visit. But it was kind of weepy at times.
Sadly there wasn’t much time to be a tourist but I did see and learn a number of things. Cars and motor bikes are everywhere and only cars need to follow road signs such as the one way sign and no driving on the sidewalks. How do I know? Our driver got a ticket for driving down the wrong way on a one-way street. The motorbikes did not. We saw cars of all types from BMWs to Daewoos to Cadillac Escalades to Fords. I was surprised to be driven around town in new Ford Explorer. Probably the most interesting aspect of transportation was to see a guy with two front doors tied on to his motorbike just zipping down the street.
All these two-stroke engines means the air is quite polluted so nearly everyone on a motor bike is wearing a face mask. I never saw anyone out of the probably 1m motorbikes not wearing a helmet so this must be an enforced law. Hanoi is a city on the go, everyone is moving all the time and building are being build and remodeled all over town at an enormous pace. Everyone has a cell phone and everyone is calling all the time even during meetings with what we were told were “high officials.”
The food is great. Phở the national dish is a bit different from what we have here in Austin but having tried had 6 different versions I can say it has a much more flavorable broth and the greens are quite different. Most had square stems so that makes them a member of the mint family. One local told me, “be sure to drink the water of the soup it’s the best part.” Yes, this is true.
We also were serve one fruit a number of times that’s pretty unusual looking. It’s called the dragon fruit. Wow what an amazing looking fruit. It is sweet in a melon-like way, slightly juicy and crunchy. The crunch comes from those black seeds. I later looked it up and it grows on a succulent plant that looks a lot like a Christmas cactus.
Well back to the real reason for my visit. The purpose was to meet various officials and visit two technical universities and their libraries. I was very closely interviews by the “high officials” about libraries and electronic prices. Other members of my team we closely questioned about why they suggested specific classes for a downstream degree program. Once this was done were driven off to HUT to see some labs, classrooms and visit the library. What a surprise! The campus was built by the Russians in the 1960’s. The library on the other-hand was built in 2006. It is very modern and up-to-date and has everything you’d expect to see in a modern library. See picture of their new library exterior of which they are justly proud.
The VNU library on the other hand is in an older building with limited air conditioning. Still they had access to several electronic products and nice study space which was air conditioned. The staff of both libraries were very gracious and interested in why we were visiting Vietnam.
Two high points of the trip were a visit to the old part of Hanoi and our dinner invitation to a private home where we had dinner with our local contact and his family. We were told that dinner was a traditional Vietnamese meal for honored guests. The only unusal part was we were served Heinekens and dried squid as an appetizer. Our host told us that beer and dried squid were a common appetizer and that dried squid goes especially well with Heinekins. It turns out Heineken is one of the major beers in Vietnam. The rest of the dinner include spring rolls made by his mother-in-law, whole fried yellow river fish, shrimp in a wonderful sauce and Vietnamese candy and tea. It was a great meal.
Hanoi and Vietnam were not what I expected. Hanoi is a modern, jumping big city with 5 universities. This was the trip of a lifetime and I’d definitely go back in a heartbeat.