Team Dried Fish
Name of village: Cần Thạnh



Initially the reason why I sign up for this programme is just so that I can clear the module in just two weeks instead of a semester and also partly because I love travelling. I went through the Design Thinking workshop and despite doing the research on Ho Chi Minh City before flying to Vietnam, I still do not really know what to expect during the trip. Before the trip, one of my fears was not being able to communicate well with our Vietnamese buddies due to language barrier which may affect the progress of the team. Another concern that I have was meeting my group mates. This is because I am afraid that I might not be able to click with them as much as I wanted to and I take a while to warm up to people. I really hope the bond and the friendship we had with the Vietnamese buddies will continue to last and also to see each other again someday. My dreams would be I really do hope that my team will successfully come up with the best solution to help the villagers to improve their lives. My impression of the group was good, everyone seems to be different in their own ways and honestly speaking I think I am very lucky to have them as my group mates. Initially we only had one facilitator, Mr Bhatia, to oversee the whole trip and I thought he was pretty strict for an overseas programme. However, two more facilitators was introduced and Mr Kah Keng became our facilitator for the trip. He was very friendly and very approachable. Design thinking training was good because it teaches us the different stages we had to go through before we can actually come up with the solutions and provides us with lots of insights along the way. As for learning journey, each team had to do a short presentation on their research about vietnam and our assigned projects (dried fish).
- Cheryl Tan (2016)

Figure 1: An SP group photo taken in the Singapore Changi Airport before we left for Vietnam.

I first joined the programme thinking I could shorten the whole module from one semester to a mere two weeks, but then when I heard personally from the seniors about the opportunities of helping the villagers in the assigned countries, I asked myself, "Should I really be bringing this mindset over to Vietnam?" After researching more ton the country and the village, I gradually got rid of my initial thoughts and replaced it with the determination to come up with a solution that will truly improve the villagers' lives. One main fear I had was not having clean toilets to use and shower, especially during the homestay, because I am a person who takes cleanliness quite particularly. Another fear I had was the problem of language barrier between the Vietnamese buddies and us, because their input was vital to the project and if we could not understand them, information would be long along the way. I hoped that the friendships we built in Vietnam would last for years to come and that we would have the chance to go back often. My dream for the project was to successfully come up with a beneficial solution that the villagers are accepting of.

Figure 2: Our dried fish group in Nhạn Trắng Hotel, located close to the village in Cần Thạnh.

I found my group dynamics great, considering we had every type of person in our team. There was the extremely loud one (me), the play ful ones, the serious one and the quiet ones; honestly I was just thankful for the grouping. At first, we only had one facilitator overseeing the whole trip, Mr Bhatia. All of us thought he was very strict and fierce, and we were quite afraid of him. Afterwards, two mroe facilitators were introduced to the trip, and we got Mr Tan Kah Keng as our in-charge. He was very friendly and gave off the "parent" vibe right at the start. Design Thinking was helpful, it taught us the steps we needed to take in order to find the root of the problem so we could think of a solution that would best solve it, or our efforts would be in vain. For our learning journey, each group presented a short introduction of Vietnam and what our assigned villagers do -dried fish for us- before settling some administrative matters and welcoming two new members to our group. It was a great buildup to our trip, and I think our team was very bonded when we set off for Vietnam.

-Vernice Tan (2016)

Figure 3: Our Singaporean team members along without lecturer, Mr KK.

Learning Express seeks to promote Design Thinking and Social Innovation. Our group was supposed to help the villagers who dry fish as a method of earning income in Cần Thạnh. In the research we did before embarking on our trip, we thought of a few possible problems the villagers might face. Through our empathy studies, we found out that they were all affected by the bad weather conditions, thus we were to come up with a solution to solve the main problem they had.

Figure 4: A few of our team members had the opportunity to prepare the fish. Figure 5: A female worker slicing and gutting the fish

Figure 6: The process of preparing the fish for drying.

Figure 7: The fish are dried our in the sun, which made them prone to adverse weather conditions. If it starts raining, the fish will be ruined and they will have to be thrown away.

The need of the community is that they need to come up with a way to dry fish during the rainy season to ensure that their business can be better or continue. Every day, the input of fish Every day, the input of fish of the businesses is the same because if they stop taking in fishes from the suppliers, in the long run they might stop supplying. Even in the rainy season, they have to order the same amount of fish each day, although they are unable to produce the same output as during the dry season. When it rains, the businesses will stop the drying and preserve the fish but there is a limited number of times they can repeat the preserving process, so once the fish can no longer be stored, they are forced to throw away the fish. This affects their income greatly in a negative way and they are unable to earn revenue for most of the rainy season.

Figure 8: Our team members hard at work at the ideation stage with out Vietnamese buddies. Although we did not experience their problems firsthand, we understood their pain that drove us to create something beneficial to the community.

Therefore, we came up with a prototype called the PHÁT ĐẠT (success in Vietnamese) smokehouse. By using the resources and the materials that can be easily found in Vietnam, this allows them to actually build one on their own without the worry of not being able to afford the machine or sustaining it longterm. Basically how our smokehouse works is that there is a stove made of bricks at the base, with metal rods connecting the fire to the actual drying space. Charcoal is burnt in the stove, the heat from the fire will be transferred to the metal rods and to the air around the metal rods. The air near the metal rods is heated up, and since hot air rises, the air in the whole machine is heated up gradually from the bottom to the top, eventually drying the fish rack by rack. This machine can be used indoors, which means rain will not affect the output of dried fish.

Figure 8: The first prototype we made in Vietnam with our buddies.

Figure 9: The improved prototype we made in Singapore after co-creation.

LeX programme is truly an eye opening experience and an unforgettable trip. I think this trip really brings me out of my comfort zone for example not having a clean toilet because I really dislikes it when the toilet is dirty because it makes me really uncomfortable. I think this trip makes me realize that it’s actually okay to just be who you are and don’t have to change anything but to improve on being a better me. The people whom I met through the trip makes this trip a memorable one, there are ups and downs but I am glad that we managed to solve the problems and all. We all have our own individual personality and despite that, I think that what makes my group fun to be with. Honestly I was dreading to go back to Singapore because I really like the companion I had over at Vietnam and the thought of not able to go back anytime soon makes me not want to leave even more. Even though we had some minor language barriers with our Vietnamese buddies but we all tried our best to understand each other and we even used google translator to help us translate the things that we wanted to share. I really do hope that the friendship we had will be able to last and one day I am able to go back to Vietnam together with some of our group mates to meet our buddies again.

During the homestay, we stayed at a hotel instead of the villages due to some political issues. I think it’s a pity because we can’t experience how it is like to live like how all the villagers do and hence we didn’t have much chances to interact and be closer with them.The first impression I got when I arrive at the villagers was it does not smell as bad as I thought it would be. I realized that most households in the villagers have dogs as their pet and while I was there, it makes me miss my dog back in Singapore. When we came back from the villages after conducting interviews with the different households in the villages, my teammates and I shared about the informations gathered and we realized the hardships those villagers went through and all those makes me want to come up with a solutions to help them. Now that we had our solutions, I wished that it can be make into a workingmachine that can help the villagers. The two weeks I had spent in Vietnam is like a roller coaster ride, it was fun yet difficult for me to handle at times but I truly thinks that it was all worthwhile.
- Cheryl Tan (2016)

Figure 10: The dried fish team at the Gallery Walk on day 12.

Nearing the end of the LeX Programme, I did not look forward to my return to Singapore because I really could not bear to leave Vietnam and all the friends I made in that country. The Vietnamese buddies were very hospitable from the start and they were all extremely friendly to us. Even though there was a language barrier at times, we took the effort to understand one another and we never gave up until the end. When I hugged the buddies for the last time before I left Vietnam, I was sobbing because the thought of not being able to interact with them anymore for a long time saddened me. For me, I think that our solution can really help the community, making the whole two weeks worthwhile and if given the chance, we will definitely go back to build the real machine for the villagers and teach them how to build it for themselves.

Figure 11: Team dried fish at one of the recreational sites.

We did not get to stay with the villagers, we stayed in a hotel instead because Vietnam is a communist country and there was a fear of the Singaporean students talking about things we should not mention, which had its advantages and downfalls. It was definitely more comfortable in the hotel, but it prevented us from further interacting with the villagers to know more about their lifestyle. The smell of the fish was actually not as bad as we expected, it smelt nice in fact! I did not have any deep impressions of the community, but one of my group members thought otherwise. One of the villagers poured out her sorrows to my team member’s interview group, which strengthened her determination to come up with a solution to help the community, which was facing the same problem as said villager.

Figure 12: We took a photo together with the villager, she really liked our prototype.

The process was tedious, draining all of our mental energy, especially during ideation and prototyping. However, looking at our final masterpiece and the smile on the villager’s face when we showed her our solution, that was when we felt all our hard work was worth it. The people we met and the people we worked with definitely made the whole trip more enjoyable.

Figure 13: The smile on the villager's face was enough to brighten our whole day and we were simply elated when she said she wanted the real working version of our solution.

- Vernice Tan (2016)

Day 1
After we touching down in Vietnam, we realize that the Vietnam students hospitality was very good, they helped us w our luggages without asking and they tried their best to help us with our needs. We weren't expecting to be sleeping in a big classrooms and the amounts of stairs we had to climb. We heard that the mattress has fleas and stuff but it wasn't that bad, though it does met our expectation at first, but it gets better and they even helped to get us water and fans to make our stay better.

Figure 1: Having our dinner at a restaurant near HCE.

Day 2
During the school tour we realize the campus is actually quite small and humid. Our buddy brought us around showing their office department around the school and we also went into one of the classes to take a group photo together and we felt so welcomed. The environment was very different from Singapore, projector was very small and they didn't really know how to use it. It was hot and humid and there's no lift. They present with a microphone hence they didn't really did much voice projection but they slowly open up and became louder. During lunch we played the game 7Up with the buddies to break the ice and everyone in that table had to clear the food and drinks as a forfeit since we can't finish the food / drinks. After lunch we had some free time hence we began learning the dance move from Vernice for our end of ceremony performance. They tried their best to provide hot and cold water for consumption and fans so that the rooms will not be as stuffy as we feedback that it was hot at night even though there is fans already. Our buddies were very friendly and I think we spoke too fast but we then slowly understand how to communicate with them. They also listened to those common English songs. When we were conversing in Vietnamese, it was so hard to pronounce and remember. We went to a family mart in the afternoon and we found out that the prices were so much cheaper over there, also we found out that we shouldn't be so insensitive by saying that it's cheap and we can throw after using ( pillow ) and that's when we started being insensitive
Day 3
We had our little interview session with our buddy so that we can get to know them better, language lessons in the afternoon followed by some group discussion where we think about the questions we wanted to ask the villagers for our empathy studies. We separated into 3 parts, the basic Infos, the likes and the detailed ones. We then split into three groups and assign the roles for the interview and our buddies also got us traditional hats. The questions we have were quite good and we then comply all together. During design thinking, we found out that our buddy actually can't keep up with what we were saying because we are too fast and they were not very familiar with the process. After that mini interview session some buddies improve their relationship. That night, we got to go to the lotte mart and we tried some food and we also ate kfc for dinner. When we were all about to have our dinner,we realize that it was difficult to order because of the language barriers therefore we actually had to use google translate to communicate with the cashier.
Day 4
We woke up super early and call time was at 0530 to have our morning circle after that we met up with the local authorities but we don't understand anything. We check in our hotel and we found out our room arrangement and only then we found out that our roommates were friends from the other groups. At first we were very reluctant to follow but then we went along with it and realized that it wasn't actually that bad as we get to interact with other people from the other groups. We went around the village and actually the smell wasn't as bad as we expected. The shrimps smelled like fried prawn noodles (hokkien mee) and the hotel was nice because it has aircon and a refrigerator. The only thing that was quite troublesome was that we were only given one set of keys. Although it can help us bond with the other groups, it was quite troublesome because the keys was constantly being passed around. After we came back from the village for our sense and sensibility, we fine tune the interview questions and we also include our buddies and explain to them what the questions means so that we all will be familiar with the interview process.

Day 5
The day where we have our empathy studies and we went to the village again according to our three groups. One of the grps actually got the chance to do the preparation for the dried fish. While we were doing the clustering of the interview answers & the observations we had, we shared about the stories we got from the interview and we cried because we realize we were all taking advantage of the things that were given to us and we complain over every small little things back in Singapore but yet the villagers living in Vietnam, their living conditions and hardship is so much worse than what we had experience. Since we had two rounds of interview, we compiled all the interview answer into one laptop so that it will be easier to be read through.

Day 6
design thinking ( clustering & problem statement ) , celebrated vernice bday, went to supermarket near the hostel, out for supper w the buddy Since we got a lot of interview and we had gotten a lot of answer hence we didn't go back to the village for a third round of interview and we manage to finish our empathy studies by lunch time and we identified our problem statement and we basically just rest for the day. Since we got a lot of free time, we went to the supermarket to get our necessities and fruits for the villagers to invite them to our closing ceremony. We had a birthday celebration together with the Vietnamese buddies at night. We even went out at night to have supper tgt w our buddies thinking that we were going to have pancake but ended up with seafood but it was good actually.

Day 7
After the ending ceremony and lunch party, some of us went to visit the Vietnamese heroic mother while some of us stayed behind to rest and some last minute packing we proceed to checkout to move to the mangrove forest. Weather that day was super bad and more people had gotten sick on that day. The bus was so stuffy at first but when the bus started moving it was so windy and all of us were asking the driver to speed up. We had a tour around the mangrove park and we saw monkeys. the hotel was super hot and the toilet was very dirty. and the shower heads was so small that we couldn't take a proper shower. The game that the Youth Union planned was quite dangerous as we have to bring around a pot of fire and boiling water. We were quite worried about the hygiene because they put the corn directly on top of the charcoals and they also put the cooked food on the newspaper expecting us to eat it. After that we had a campfire but a lot of people fell out because many of us fell sick. However we were quite upset because they were very insistent about wantingus to join them when we were sick. We had supper and it was so delicious because previously the dinner was quite bad and many of us didn't finish it. After that we went to sleep and surprisingly there weren't many mosquitos maybe because we applied a lot of mosquitos repellent.

Day 8
We came back from the mangrove forest and we finally tried phó but according to some of our Vietnamese buddy he said it wasn't nice and authentic. After breakfast we continue our journey back and when we are back in the hce campus, we had a rest and had lunch after that we pack and bring our dirty clothes for the laundry services. After lunch we just rest and we slept for a few hours before we had our dinner. We went to the pharmacy and family mart after dinner to grab medicine and some snacks. Then we head back to we have our short interview with our own lecturer before calling it off for the day.
Day 9
We split our group up into two one for ideation and one for persona partly because we felt like it would be more efficient this way and also group member could work on something they are better at. Another reason is because the vietnamese buddies had to do a vietnamese version of our persona, so we allocated more vietnamese buddies to work on the persona. In the persona group, we involved the vietnamese as much as possible as we felt that they understand the villagers better so the profile would be better crafted with their knowledge. In the ideation group, most of the ideas were contributed by our singaporeans members, but we realised we should have involved the vietnamese buddies more as they mentioned a few key flaws our solution had at the end of ideation, which was vital to improving our prototype. On top of that, in the ideation group, some vietnamese buddy actually started the ball rolling for our ideation. They gave very good ideas, such as using the bad weather to run our product, and from that idea, our product evolved to what it is. Then, the 3 groups had a mini presentation to share our ideas and opinion. Afterwards we came up with a list of materials we needed for our prototype the next day.

Day 10
Six of us went out to buy the materials (three singaporeans, three vietnamese), and they came back with donuts in addition to the required list. One of our group members mentioned that we didn’t get to walk around vietnam enough because it only truly felt like vietnam when they walked past the streets and shops. While the shopping team was out, the ones who stayed in school came up with the blueprint of our prototype with the help of Mr kk. We had lunch after the shopping team came back and we threw ourselves right into creating the prototype. We split ourselves into four groups (structure, bricks, racks, human figure) and let our vietnamese buddies choose which group they want to join and started work. Everyone was stressed from the previous day and more stress piled up in the face of problems that sufficed during prototyping but we managed to complete everything within the time given to us. Some of us injured our fingers but it was all worth it in the end. Afterwards we went shopping at vivocity, which wasn’t very far off from our own vivocity in singapore prices there were comparable to singapore’s.

Day 11
We woke up early that morning and went back to the village for cocreation. When we reach the hotel that we stayed for our homestay, we were first quite disappointed that the villagers won't be coming over and hence all of us went back personally to the village with our prototype to explain to them the solutions that we had come up with that we think will be able to help them, and of course with the help of our buddies. After explaining to our stakeholder about how the solutions could help them, we all saw a smile from her and we all felt assured that she likes the product that we had come up with. She even wanted a real size working version of our prototype and we were thinking of ways to get funding for the project during dinner time.

Day 12
We prepared for gallery walk and set up accordingly to our different groups. We met a few important figures and many other hce students too. There was a performance stage nearby as well. Afterwards we had our closing ceremony where all of us performed and cried. Then we took portraits and rested for a bit before leaving for the night market with our buddies. We got lost and took a taxi in the end but we got to try real vietnamese food which was great. The traffic on the highway was just crazy and all of us were just worried for our lives.

Day 13
First we went to the independence palace which was like a white house. Then we went to the war remnants museum where we saw the effects of agent orange on the people and their descendents, it was tragic. We could see that our vietnamese buddies were feeling down because it was the last official day in vietnam so all of us tried to smile even if we were sad. We then went to ben thanh market and bought a lot of souvenirs although they were expensive. We finally got to eat at lotteria as well.

Day 14
It was our last day and everyone's mood was down as the time to say farewell is nearing. We finally get to eat what the locals normally had for breakfast and we also get to choose what we want to eat with the choices of beef noodles, pork rice and beef phó. After that we manage to get permission from the lecturers and our buddies brought us out to the family mart for a last minute shopping before heading back to hce. Back to hce we were given a short amount of time to pack and bring down our luggages before going to the airport. When we reach the airport we immediately say our goodbyes to our buddies and some of us cried and after bidding farewell we continue to proceed with our check in and boarded the plane at 1150 am to head back to Singapore.

Storyteller: Cheryl Tan

Assistant-Storyteller: Vernice Tan