Our trip to Vietnam: Igor, Fidoras, Ambien, Tears, and Memories
Our trip to Hanoi, Vietnam for the summer Tem Lab started like any other group trip across the world. Our departure time to our first leg of the trip, San Francisco, was 7:40 am, which meant we had to leave Thunderbird School of Global Management before the break of dawn. Initially the Vietnam Team was going to ride the Super Shuttle to Sky Harbor at 5:20am, however we decided to reduce expenses and welcomed some team members of China Team Lab team to ride with us given their 30 minutes difference from their departure time. Of course this did not go as smoothly as planned because we added another layer of difficulty: inter-group coordination. Finally Lauren Sanne, our master planner, was able to schedule a bigger shuttle that would fit all of team Vietnam, along with team China to the airport. Eight hours before our scheduled departure we had a ride, we had a plan and, most importantly, we had twice as many jokesters as previously planned.
One thing we have learned at Thunderbird is to not always trust our deeply engrained stereotypes. So, as departure day arrived, one punctual and extremely good looking team member, Rodrigo Castillo, even though Latino ;), is the first to arrive at the awaiting van in front of the Pub. Being the only team member there, I am the first to meet our driver Igor, who, by the look of things, is not a morning person. After saying hello and giving him my luggage, I am impressed by his athletic performance. After lifting (read: throwing) my 53 pound bag into the back of the shuttle as if it was a tennis ball I realize that Igor is not only not a morning person but also not an afternoon or a night person either!
Our sporadic arrivals after the scheduled time was not at all amusing to Igor and when he learned that we’d be picking up our Chief Efficiency Officer, Sean Kelly, off campus in front of the Greentree apartments, well, lets just say that veins popping out of one’s temple do not often indicate joy or pleasure. In my head I’m just hoping that I’m not about the suffer the same fate, being tossed around like my paltry 53 pound bag!
We are finally in the Van and heading to the airport. The trip went pretty well, with Dong and Lemon jokes aplenty (as team China about the latter). The general consensus is that Nick Ford will be the first (hopefully the only?) to require the services of our wonderful compatriots in the US Embassy abroad. Now, we’re not saying that he is going to specifically get kicked out of the country, but… well, lets just leave it open at that!
Ok, airport, arrival; see ya Igor! There are more people in the airport that I had imagined at this hour. Nonetheless, we hop in line and I await my turn to check in said heavy bag. Hmm, weight limit 50 lbs. My bag, 52.9. The ticket later will probably just let me slide right? Nope, that’ll be $70 extra please. At this point, I am having a wild west showdown with this not exceedingly polite woman waiting to see who’s gonna blink first. Yea, of course, I am going to pay $70 extra for 3 pounds, that’s a good value right? Or, I could just shift some extra weight into my other bag and avoid the hassle. I mean, I am getting my MBA right? People, word of advice, there is almost always a loophole, you just have to find it!
After check in we all regroup and our Efficiency Director directs us to gate B3. We all look at him like he is a complete stranger. It turns out all of us had the same departure gate but him; uh oh, something must be wrong. After looking back at his boarding pass Sean tells us “well, you guys are right after all my name is not Cindy.”
Ok, first major crisis averted (though I must admit that it would have been pretty funny to see Sean explain this one to airport security). After all this is 7am and Lauren, our Chief Cautionary Officer, and I are in dire need of coffee. We are in the line waiting to order when two dudes approach us in their fedoras, bermudas, sandals, and tropical shirts…they totally looked as if they popped out of a magazine catering to American CEOs spending their “golden parachute” money somewhere in the Cannery Islands. Turns out that these guys are Tim Brown and Matt Werner doing their best to not stand out upon their arrival to China. So I’ll ask the readers, what do you think of this plan??
Anyway, we say goodbye and wish the China team best of luck as we prepare to board our flight from Phoenix, Arizona to San Francisco, California. Actually, this trip was very uneventful and not worth saying much.
However, we did experience some excitement pre-departure from SF Airport. We lost sight of our fearless leader Riley and when we found her it seemed she was having a last briefing with her CIA handler back in Langley. I mean, shhhh dont tell her we know!!
The second leg of our trip from SF to Seoul, South Korea is a whole different animal. Something about locking people on a plane for 12 hours really pushes them to do some silly things. Of course, you must have a strategy, right? I mean, 12 hours on a flight, you’ll probably want to maximize your sleep so as to make the trip go as fast as possible. So, sometimes sleeping pills will help in this goal. For Sean, the plan was to pop a couple Ambien and dose off.
I guess the trip must not have been going quite according to his plan, because after six hours of what I think he felt as being in solitary imprisonment, he decided to pull out the camera loaned to us by the IT department and get the filming started. Seeing Sean in this condition can be best pictured as a volunteer at a circus giving his best shot, and failing, at balancing on a 20 meter high tight rope; his head must have felt super light because he just could not seem to find any balance. First he decided to contribute to piracy and record the movie he was watching, however surprise surprise he was wearing headphones and the movie was recorded without audio. After he was bored of this he moved into filming our first confessionals right on the plane.
Of course he decided to tape my first confessional while I was sleeping, thus the first 10 minutes of the clip I am trying to figure out what was going on and why do I have a bright flash light right in my face. After he moved to film Lauren, who for the look of things does not like cameras because she couldn’t keep the tears from her eyes. We would later come to find out that she was watching “We bought a Zoo” which apparently is a very sad and emotional movie. Let me guess the lion eats the family. Who would have thought that a bunch of amateurs could just buy a zoo and not have any trouble with wild animals? (For full disclosure purposes I have never watched the movie nor do I plan on it, but please feel free to contact Lauren for a full review. However, the teams asks that you to wait until we are finished with our TEM lab because it took us a few days to put her back together…heheh.) The filming came to an abrupt end when the Korean man seated between Lauren and Riley jerked awake, utterly confused by the bright light being shone his way. Though admittedly he was in a bit of an Ambien fog, Sean did eventually realize that his filming endeavors are probably better suited for dry land when more of the team (besides just him) is awake.
Finally we land in Incheon International Airport in Seoul. Upon landing our team leader and Chief Insight Officer, Riley Roberts, made the comment “What a short trip I think it would have taken a lot longer” To which I replied, “oh, it took a full 12 hours, but when you “nap” for 10 hours of it, everything seems to pass very fast”.
I must say that I have traveled to many airports and seen many well designed places but this airport is truly phenomenal. Nice comfortable couches, tons of lighting, and a swing set and slide right in the middle of the terminal. A children’s paradise after being trapped in an airplane for an often seemingly insurmountable amount of time.
The last leg was another four hour little hop to Vietnam. A nap or two (and maybe one Scotch) later, we were descending into Hanoi. Not much lighting outside but the pilot seems to have no problems. We’ve touched down without even a hiccup. I wish all trips could go like this.
After passing customs and picking up our luggage Mai Luong’s family received us with cheers and beautiful flowers. Mai, who looks just like her mother, is our Chief Cultural and “Get you out of Trouble” Officer. Her family’s warm welcome eased our minds, showing us how kind and welcoming are the people of Vietnam. The ride to the hotel was coordinated by our contracting company, VNN PLUS, and took just about 30 minutes. We made it to the hotel, flowers and luggage in tow and were each lead to our individual rooms. I must say that the rooms looked a bit fancier on the web, but all in all, it looks like it will be a comfortable and safe home for the next five weeks.
Of course we know that we will have many challenges in both our cultural adaptation as well as our complex strategy project, but I honestly feel like we have the best team I could have imagined and I know that, while I’m sure we will get into our fair bit of trouble, there is nothing that we can not figure our way our of. With support from our family and friends back home, our TEM Lab leaders Professor Mike Finney and Program Manager Charles Reeves, and our new friends and family here in Vietnam, we are now embarking on a journey that none of us will soon forget.
We hope you enjoy our adventures in Vietnam and will keep up to date and in touch with our blog. Our experiences are yours and we look forward to sharing them with you. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for funny stories, shocking videos, business revelations and cultural curiosities.
Oh yea, and one last thing….Good Morning Vietnam!!!