Tuesday, 24 July 2012

7th VUS-TESOL Conference, City Hall, Saigon - 14th July, 2012

This was the first time that I had attended a conference such as this in Vietnam and I wasn't sure what to expect.  However, with Alan Maley as the keynote speaker, my hopes were high!

We travelled into the city straight from work on Friday night and enjoyed dinner at our favourite Indian restaurant, Baba's Kitchen.

Early the next morning, Mark went off to do his own thing and I took a taxi to the conference venue.  It was an impressively large building and there was no mistaking that we were in the right place - there were huge banners everywhere and a steady stream of attendees pouring through the gates and up the wide marble steps.

We were greeted by friendly looking security guards who directed us to the appropriate desks for registration.  Having pre-registered online, the process was quick and efficient.  I then picked up a bag of literature, free pens and a very impressive glossy brochure.  I was enjoying spending time looking at books and talking to representatives of the publishing houses when my colleagues arrived and urged me into the main hall which was filling up fast.  So fast, in fact, that the only available seats were right at the front of the auditorium.  We took our places and arranged our papers and bags and sat with notebooks and pens at the ready.  We were, however, soon moved on, being told that the seats, despite not being marked as such, were, in fact, reserved for dignitaries!  We were shown to the cheap seats upstairs, not nearly as comfortable and without the convenient writing desk in front of them.  At least we were early enough not to be condemned to the ubiquitous small red plastic stools which were hastily being arranged on the peripharies of the room!

'Crackerjack' - childrens' TV show 
Proceedings got under way a little late, as is the norm in Vietnam, and then were delayed further by a seemingly unending stream of speeches and presentations.  The people being honoured were party members, local dignitaries, lesser politicians, the conference speakers, publishers, sponsors, representatives of VUS and so on and so on.  Each presenter and recipient was sporting a lavish corsage and was accompanied on to the stage by loud applause and rousing music.  Once on stage, they were given framed certificates, elaborately wrapped gifts and bouquets of flowers.  As they stood in line for numerous photos, I was reminded of the final game of the popular 1970s kids' TV show, Crackerjack, where children were loaded up with presents until you could no longer see them behind a pile of goodies, and what they didn't drop, they could keep!!  It made me smile!

Alan Maley
With the formalities finally over, the conference proper could begin, with Alan Maley's plenary on 'Standardisation: Interrogations and Implications'.  It was very interesting, but seated, as we were, in 'the Gods', some of his message was lost on us.

That said, the day was very successful.  I made a couple of poor choices of sessions to attend, but, fortunately, my colleagues made better selections, so they were able to fill me in on what I'd missed.  Between sessions, there was an opportunity to chat to some of the other 2,000 attendees, browse the wide selection of books on display, talk to presenters and publishers, or partake of the very generous variety of food and drink on offer.

As the day drew to a close, there was a raffle draw which followed a similar drawn-out pattern to the early morning presentations and then a mad scramble to acquire a certificate of attendance.

As we emerged into the bright sunshine and heat of a Saigon afternoon, I felt it had been a worthwhile way to spend a Saturday and I'm already looking forward to next year's conference!

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