My name is Hiroki Suyama and in January 2015 I took part in the Bloom Microventures program in Vietnam.
I began my trip on the 10th of January two days before the beginning of the program. First stop, Singapore! Entering the mustard coloured interior of the budget airline, Scoot, is what I think marks the beginning of the trip. Seeing the small spaces between the chairs, I began dreading the 8 hour flight. Luckily for me, I had paid that extra amount to get a window seat. My flight was improved ten fold when I realized there was a free seat next to me. Sprawling all my carry on luggage upon the two seats, it was absolute luxury. The pilot over the PA said something inaudible and perhaps in another language. Landing in Singapore, I braced myself for the humid heat that I had been warned about. But the heat was quickly forgotten, due to the beauty of Changi Airport. I couldn’t help but smile at how pleasant this airport was, and so I was walking through grinning from ear to ear like a true tourist. Stayed at a dingy hotel but that was fine as I was leaving early in the morning. Next stop, Ho Chi Minh City!
I arrived at Ho Chi Minh City for a change over to head to Hanoi. I had originally asked the woman at check in, in Singapore, whether my checked luggage will be automatically transferred onto the next flight. She assured me it would be so as I got to Ho Chi Minh City, I just headed straight to the Domestic terminal. I lined up for the security check and was informed that I need to go back to the check in counter to receive a new boarding pass. So I went over to the check in, not really worrying as I still had an hour or so until boarding the flight. After lining up for what seemed like hours, I reach the front to be asked ‘where is your check in luggage?’ So back to the International terminal I journeyed. I frantically scanned the baggage line but the entire thing was empty. I went to the lost baggage area and informed the officials of my situation. As I was about to give up and deem the bag lost, I spotted it on the middle of the floor a few carousels down. With no time to lose, I swept it up and half ran, half walked to domestic. Then the treacherous lining up process commenced again. This time, as I got close to the front of the line, a man behind the counter calls out something in Vietnamese and so I questioned the person next to me. Apparently people heading to Hanoi (which was where I was going) were to move out of the line and over to him to get checked in instantly due to the nearing departure time. So I left my place in the line, which had become my home, and received my boarding pass. But then I ask him what to do with my check in luggage. After receiving a confused look, he informed me I must line up again to check it in. Frustrated, I began the lengthy wait once again. After that, the rest was smooth sailing or should I say… smooth flying. Checked in luggage, up to the security checkpoint, through to the boarding area, a crammed bus to the plane, twenty-minute wait in a crammed bus, boarding the plane. Again inaudible, untranslatable static murmur by the pilot and we were off. To end the stress from check in, I was awarded with a magnificent view of the multitudes of lights, which was Ho Chi Minh City. In that moment, all the waiting and running back and forth was definitely worth it.
There were buses that were organised to pick us up from the airport at Hanoi. As my flight was delayed, I assumed it had already left and so I took a cab to the hotel. I would later find out that the bus had not left and so I put another student in an awkward one on one situation with a creepy taxi driver. I arrived to find the hotel, to my delight, was absolutely beautiful. And this is where I met a few of the others on the program as well as our coordinator, Ly.
The highlight of my trip would probably riding around through the village of Hoa Binh on the back of a tractor waving at the residents. It was an experience like no other. It was as if we were kings and queens having everyone race out and smile and wave. We did a gratuitous amount of waving followed by exclaiming one of the only word we knew ‘xin chào’ meaning ‘hello’.
Due to the program outlining that we will be staying at a ‘traditional stilt house’, I was expecting to have it rough for the days we were in the village but we actually stayed in a brilliantly beautiful wooden house. We rode bikes around the village daily, which was really nice for me as it was almost a blast from the past when I used to do an unnecessarily large amount of bike riding.
It was intense seeing first hand the way that these people were living. Hearing some of the stories were absolutely heartbreaking. But observing the operation of companies such as Bloom Microventures, helped restore my faith in humanity. The complexities of the methods and the work that goes into seeing who shall get a loan and who wouldn’t were quite extensive and very interesting to listen to and learn about.
A close second to the main highlight would be the boat cruise around Ha Long Bay. We had the whole boat to ourselves bar the honeymooning couple and one elderly man. The views were utterly exquisite. A few of us woke up early in the morning to practice Tai Chi, which was a new experience with the towering rock formations and the swaying deck of the boat (not that I’ve ever tried Tai Chi before).
After three weeks had passed, it was time to leave. Typically enough, it felt like the time had gone by so fast. Getting back to Australia, it was nice to go to the beach, eat vegemite toast and down a cold Carlton. I will miss the cheap cabs and the cheap food in Vietnam though. I would recommend this program to everyone. I would definitely go back in the future.