The problem with going back home doing research is that going home feels so natural and as-a-matter-of-fact that one can easily forget to prioritize her “main” objective of returning in the first place: doing research.

Case in point: it rained cats and dogs again yesterday, stopping me from going to the World Bank Building looking for reports on Vietnam’s education transformation as planned. For the second time since I was back, the city is drenched in refreshing but noisy tropical monsoon. The air before the rain feels like an ever-expanding water balloon, until the downpour finally comes, sweeping away all the evil heat, dust and mugginess, to people’s relief — like how the balloon finally surrenders the humongous pressure and bursts out.

There is nothing I love more than an after-the-rain Hanoi. Thus, instead of making necessary phone calls and scheduling upcoming appointments, I spent the entire morning wandering around my beloved Hoan Kiem Lake people-watching. The hydrophilic willow trees become ever more graceful and slender after the rain, greening the background for early Hanoi birds in funny-looking outfits, hardcoring their morning exercises. Maybe I should do one clip about Hanoian’s morning routine at some point later…

Anyways, I’ve been back for almost a month now, but never could effectively use my sudden specks of inspiration to write an entry for this supposedly “academic” blog. There are so many questions swirling in my mind, begging for a decent direction towards the answers. Before going back home, I thought I have well solidified the plan for the project: survey questions made — check. Interviewees to contact — check. Side-project plans — check. Summer agenda — check. And come on, what can go wrong? I’m going HOME!

Yet, the familiarity of sharing daily meals with family, the peacefulness of slowly biking around the crowded city with my brother, the fun of exploring a different coffee/food place every day, the excitement of meeting old friends and reciting old stories, and the sheer fact of being surrounded by what I have always grown up with — embraces me like a blanket of comfort, making it incredibly hard to get out. (The metaphor though, is inappropriately out of place. Hanoi’s summer heat and humidity make one want anything but a blanket)

With that being said, the research is slowly rolling. The Creative Kid Project — a side project that Evan and I have been planning since receiving the fellowship, is enjoying good momentum. Other team members and I have met weekly since I got back, and each of us takes care of different tasks including calling for sponsors, meeting with the three partner schools, inviting guest speakers, building project content, and PR-ing. It never fails to amaze me how my once very faint idea of organizing something meaningful that involves kids is actually developing and forming shape.

At the same time, I’ve also come to learn many things about working with Vietnamese education system, or any Vietnamese system for that matter. Having made phone calls and scheduled and rescheduled meetings with school officials and potential interviewees for the past weeks has taught me the first lesson of organizing anything in Vietnam, which I will use to end this messy entry and continue in the next one.

Vietnam 101: Bureaucracy rules

Originally published at www.globalconversation.org on June 20, 2012.

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