HCMC/Saigon and Foss Asia

Trip Start Oct 14, 2009
Trip End Dec 31, 2016

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Where I stayed
Au Lac Hotel Ho Chi Minh City
Read my review - 4/5 stars

Flag of Vietnam  ,
Friday, November 11, 2011

I am in HCMC/Saigon for the FossAsia Free and Open Source Software Conference. Oh this city is an adventure for sure!

My first impression of HCMC from the taxi from the airport was that of a modern city with some  lovely architecturand relative affluence, and lots of neon.  I booked the Au Lac Hotel (2) Saigon in District 1 on Agoda. I chose it becaue it was newly opened and the neighborhood looked to be quieter than some, on the map. I had arranged an Airport transfer directly with the hotel. The very nice Au Lac Hotel Van and driver met me with a sign with my name on it. The hotel is lovely, and only a few months old. My room is bright and cheery. The modern central AC is very quiet & works great. The shower is also very good, very hot, but you do have to let the water run for a while for it to become hot. The staff is very attentive & the breakfast buffet is ample. Choosing  lodging in Saigon was intimidating. I feel lucky as I prepaid all 5 nights and I am happy with my choice.. That's a good travel tip: New hotels are usually clean, and the staff, while sometimes still learning, are very earnest to please the guests.

When I arrived at the hotel, Jonas (the Debian developer from Denmark was waiting for me. I had come in a day early so it was a pleasant surprise to have an enthusiastic colleague to share dinner with.

We walked to the night market area and found a sort of Pho restaurant. We ordered vegetarian noodles Pho, broken rice, & spring rolls with rice noodles. Yes, it was a lot of rice with our coconut water.:) But it was fun! The next afternoon I took a 1/2 day city tour which helped me learn my way around. I am being warned to be careful of muggings walking alone and am being extra cautious, taking taxis and tours in lieu of my usual style of exploring on foot for hours on my own.

The Foss Asia event began on Friday evening with a gathering in the rooftop at The Spotted Cow in the District 1 backpacker area. We were able to meet the other participants in an informal setting. It was great to finally meet Lilly who had brought a laptop over for me last year, and Mario who originally organized the OLPC Vietnam website. There are many student volunteers from Von Lang University warmly welcoming us. I was excited to see 11 attendees from Cambodia, 2 from France, 2 from Hanoi, 1 from Singapore and I know I've missed a few too. Thank you Hong Phuc for organizing a great party!

We began this morning at Van Lang University, gracious hosts of the 2 day presentations and workshops. We had a full schedule of presentations by speakers from all over the world! I presented early in the schedule and spoke about the OLPC mission and the XO laptops. I gave an overview of the Vung Vieng Village XO project and our OLPC Vietnam group, And introduced the Undercover UXO Health Risk Landmine Education Game.

We "Speakers" are being treated as royalty and I am totally enjoying every minute. Lunch was served in one room, and we have a "resting room" with water, coffee, tea and sweets, where we can gather informally.

In the afternoon, I manned a very popular table with XOs to demo. Many students were interested and excited to see and handle our cute rugged green laptops. I was busy all afternoon. I had great helpers. Several of the student FossAsia volunteers helped in many ways. They manned my table with me, quickly learning  the XO, giving good demos and explanations in Vietnamese. That's something I couldn't do! Thank you Hiew and friends for all of your help!

The day culminated in a most interesting delicious banquet of traditional Vietnamese foods. This was held at a beautiful restaurant not far from the University. The multi-course meal provided time for a lovely social evening. I had the honor and pleasure to be seated with Mr. Tam, the Founder, Vice President, and Rector of the Van Lang University. He and his university colleagues warmly welcomed us. We can see that the University staff is thoughtful and passionate about offering their students exposure to many avenues of learning. I know I speak for all of us when I say thank you for the warm welcome and lovely dinner evening.

We have another full day planned tomorrow. I have to mention how impressed I am with how professionally this conference has been organized. For Hong Phuc, who has been in charge, Mario, Lilly and everyone else who has helped, your hard work and thoughtful preparation shows. Today was wonderful for everyone attending and presenting! Thank you!

Day 2 at Van Lang University was equally successful! In the morning, I participated in the Women and IT meetup! So many confident students shared questions and concerns about whether VN companies will hire women IT graduates or not, out of concern that women will quit to have & care for children. There was a lively discussion about the need to balance home, family and work, issues that are common also to professional women in the west. Each student presented their reasons for choosing the IT course and I have included some of their photos.
In the afternoon, I had a strange wifi problem with one of the XOs. I could swear that the wifi worked on that previously XO. I reflashed and it still didn't see any networks. With help from Kevin Mark on OLPC IRC help, we ran the hardware diagnostics and the wifi was fine. Lam came to the rescue, working in terminal to replace the missing wifi "network" file by copying it from via a USB drive from another XO.

I am pleased to send 3 XOs that were re-donated in the USA for Vietnamese children with Hong to Hanoi. Adding those to the 3 previously delivered, perhaps the Hanoi OLPC volunteers will start a small project in a shelter or orphanage to teach children who would not otherwise have the opportunity to learn with a computer. A project in or close to Hanoi can be more easily supported by volunteers with open software skills than in a remote location. Phu, my new friend who teaches at Van Lang U in HCMC, will receive the 2 old XOs that Mario has, for use with his University students on translation projects. They may even tackle localization of the Undercover UXO game, and that would be the first translation outside of English and Khmer.

Saturday evening we met for dinner at Lilly's cousin's place and once again had terrific Vietnamese food. We celebrated Jonas' birthday with a beautiful cake.

On Sunday, I enjoyed walking on the Dong Khoi, window shopping. I had really good french food at Cafe Ciao and I recommend that restaurant for both food quality and atmosphere!

Oh, And I made PC Magazine ONline Vietnam. You can see the article at:

The FOSSAsia conference was so very successful. I am grateful that I was able to attend and participate.

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kevix on

It's great that you got to meet Jonas, as he's involved with Debian-edu which packages Sugar for Debian. He's very energetic as I saw him when he visited NYC for Debconf in 2010.

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