My first realization that I am a very long way from Oregon was when I walked off the plane into what felt like a hot, wet blanket. I remember thinking, “Boy this jet way sure is stuffy. It will be nice to get out into some fresh air.” I am still waiting for that moment, but it’s surprising how quickly one can get used to sweating all the time. As our program director Ellen Schmidt-Devlin advised, the local people respect a foreigner who may be uncomfortable but doesn’t complain. So you make a game out of it by seeing how much sweating you can take and act like you don’t notice anything. Before you know it, you start to genuinely not notice it. I never thought “fake it till you make it” could be applied to soaking wet clothing, but here I am.
The location of the factory is quite rural in Tay Ninh province about two hours away from Ho Chi Minh City. It is largely surrounded by rice paddies, bordered in the distance by jungle. From the balcony outside my room, I can see several paddies with cattle, chickens, dogs, and geese freely wandering them—a very serene and surreal sight to welcome me here. At night there is a chorus of frogs and crickets, intermingled with the chirping of lizards that post up on walls and ceilings for an evening dinner of insects. A couple smaller ones have made it inside my room, but given how badly mosquito bitten I was during my first few nights here, Pedro and Maurice (as I have named them) are efficient exterminators and, therefore, welcome guests.
The factory facility itself is 26 acres of former rice paddies, with several large production and support buildings, a main office, an employee canteen, and a scooter parking garage. On the far end are the dormitories for expats, most of whom are Taiwanese. As much as I’ve worked on the basics of speaking Vietnamese, I’m learning Mandarin may be more practical. There is a football (soccer) field and a large grass hut where workers can play games or get a drink after work, and an artificial pond that is packed with fish. The pond serves a rain and wastewater recycling function, and once a year hosts a fishing contest for the workers.
The dormitory and room itself is very simple but nice, clean, and much larger than I expected. I took it as a good sign when I walked into the building and everything was in Oregon Duck green and yellow! Before I left I was advised that it would be very much like a college dorm room and, while still very basic, this is nicer than mine was! There is a private bathroom and partial kitchen, with laundry and cleaning service provided. And air conditioning. Oh sweet, sweet air conditioning. Sleeping would be an outright impossibility for me without it.
There is also some basic exercise equipment in each building and a basketball court that the Taiwanese expats spend most nights on. But for me, the highlight has to be the pool, located in the center courtyard of the main office building. At times it’s very hard to walk past it into an office for work on a hot afternoon. I was prepared for the more American style of recreational swimming: splashing around a bit, shooting the breeze, posting up on the edge, and generally finding respite from the heat. When the two people I went with donned swim caps, goggles, and nose plugs and started stretching, I knew I was in trouble. Once in the water I don’t know what was more challenging, the lengths of the laps I was trying to swim or the bats I was dodging as they skimmed the water catching insects. On second thought, it was most certainly the bats. Trying to splash enough to ensure I would be echolocated and avoid a bat smacking into my forehead, was definitely a first for me. I also found out my voice goes at least one octave higher than previously thought. If Eleanor Roosevelt believed that you should do one thing every day that scares you, then that experience should cover my first couple weeks. And I really wouldn’t have it any other way.
—Brian Warner, MS '17, UO Sports Product Management
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