Salt making in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Name of village: can thanh
Location:

Vietnam HCE LeX 2016 (Storytelling component)
This was a trip of self discovery, of adventure and friendship. On this trip, 25 people forged lifelong friendships, made everlasting memories and gained cultural experiences in Vietnam. We were fortunate enough to be selected for this trip to Ho Chi Minh Vietnam where we had the opportunity to learn how to work in a team to help a community in Can Thanh improve their work conditions.

We went to Ho Chi Minh city from the 3rd of April to the 16th of April, to Ho Chi Minh college of Economics (HCE) and worked with the lecturers and students there to innovate products to help with the efficiency of work in Can Thanh village. Due to the language barrier, we were shy with each other at first but eventually, we were able to bond with both the students and the lecturers in HCE as we spent more time with each other. The kind and hospitable lecturers at HCE also facilitated the bonding with special thanks to Ms Thanh, the overall in charge and the lecturer in charge of our group, Mr Tieu.

Figure 1: A group shot at the jetty with the HCE lecturers on the way to Can Thanh Village (Credits to Mr Neelesh Bhatia)

Design thinking training:
We were able to collaborate with the students at HCE to practice our skills in empathy studies, to interview each other and find out more about each other and understand each other’s lives. The aim was to be able to ask questions that are able to trigger open ended responses, to understand the person’s mentality and behaviour. The rest of the design thinking training was a recap of what we did at Singapore Polytechnic as well as a discussion for the plans at the village homestay.

Figure 2: Discussion for homestay with the HCE students (Credits to Samuel)

Homestay
Our aim here was to find a viable solution for the salt farmers living in Can Thanh village in Ho Chi Minh city, who were struggling to farm salt more efficiently and increase the profit earned from the salt, as they were struggling to make ends meet due to the salt market not doing well. Some o fthe farmers were in debt from the cost of renting their salt fields from the government, and they needed to pay their debts on top of their profit, so in the end, they did not have enough profit left to survive on.
The needs of the community was the constant need to maintain a fixed revenue, enough for the families in the community to be selfsufficient, to feed themselves without any outside help. As the salt prices fluctuated, and were not fixed, the profit varied and dropped. On good days, they earned a lot of profit from the sale of salt to the middleman, but on bad days, the bosses in the community made losses. On top of losses, the bosses of the salt farms had to pay for the wages of the farmers, or the bosses did not have enough to pay the wages of the farmers, causing farmers to have insufficient revenue. On the fourth day, when we visited the village, we did sense and sensibility, where we went to all five of the families to observe and find out more about their situation, before we can proceed with the empathy studies. On the fourth day when we went to the hotel, we rested for 2 hours in the room, and had lunch after before heading out to the salt fields to meet the families that we were supposed to conduct empathy studies with. We were split into 5 subgroups. As there were numerous salt fields and they were big, we had to take the bus to meet each of the families. Not all of us had an equal amount of time to conduct sense and sensibility, but as the group got smaller and smaller and we each chose our family to conduct empathy studies with, the rest of us took the chance to observe the other families and find out common traits that we would be able to use for our ideation. My group was the last to meet the family that we were supposed to interview. Although it was a brief encounter, the man we met, Mr Hien seemed to be a very friendly and approachable man. He was very polite and agreed almost instantly when we mentioned that we would be back tomorrow morning at around 7am to ask him some questions regarding his work.

Figure 3: One of the villagers that my group interviewed, Mr Hien. Breaking the salt apart to induce more crystallisation

After, we went back to the hotel to have a short 30 minutes break in the dining area, before breaking up in our subgroups to gather our findings about the respective households. We then had a meeting together with Mr Bhatia, the student coordinator and all the subgroups to discuss about our findings and craft some specific questions about the things we wanted to find out to use in the interview on Day 5. On the 5 th day, we headed out to the fields to interview the farmers. Mr Hien was already there in the morning and we interviewed him and asked him some questions regarding the process of making salt, the equipment they needed for making salt and how accurate the equipment for measuring the salinity is. He was very approachable and taught us everything he knew. My group mates and I were also able to try out how to harvest salt. We used a rake made out of a piece of metal and a wooden rod to gather salt into piles. It was a very tiring but interesting experience. Tiring in the sense that we had to stand in the hot sun, holding a very heavy rake and use a lot of force to gather the heavy salt into a pile. The farmer who was working for Mr Hien, completed the job under the hot sun and we were amazed by how he did it. Although the sun was scorching hot and the salt and rake was heavy, he finished his tasks without any breaks and complaints. After we tried harvesting the salt, we were invited by Mr Hien to his house to wash our feet, take a rest and discuss the information we gathered from the farmers. After which, we took a group photo with Mr Hien and headed off to the bus to meet the others and return back to the hotel.

Figure 3: Vietnamese coffee :)

At the hotel, we had lunch and had a small break and we went to the coffee shop nearby to try some vietnamese coffee. The way the vietnamese coffee was brewed was rather interesting. Instead of using an electric coffee maker, they used small metal strainers to make the coffee. We really enjoyed the coffee there in the sense that it was really different from coffee in Singapore, the coffee in Vietnam was more fragrant and less bitter compared to coffee in Singapore. When we went back to the hotel after the coffee break, we had small discussions in our small groups to categorise and make sense of the findings from empathy studies before sharing our ideas in a big group. We then found out that almost all the families had one same problem, and that was the inefficiency of the equipment which in turn caused a very high cost of operation and very little profit. Mr Bhatia noticed that there were flaws in each of the equipment causing ineffectiveness. The conclusion was that we needed to focus more on the efficiency and energy needed to operate the equipment. The questions that were crafted after that was directed towards how the equipment works, what the equipment is made off so that we could modify and improve the equipment for higher efficiency. And my group was focusing on the manual chain pump.
On Day 6, when we returned back to our various salt farms, we focused more on how the chain pump works, what are the farmer’s (Mr Hien’s) concerns on the chain pump and what material it was made of. We then got another opportunity to try how to separate the salt so as to induce a higher rate of formation of salt. The tool which we used for our job, was a rake made of wood and nails. It was similar to the one used for harvesting salt except that it was lighter due to the lack of metal pieces at the bottom of the rake. Soon after,, we went back again to Mr Hein’s house nearby to rest and discuss our ideas and after, we went back to the hotel again to have lunch. After which, we had a small meeting with the student coordinator to discuss with him the data we had collected, as he acted as a stand in for Mr Bhatia, as Mr Bhatia was sick. We sat down with Mr Bhatia at 4pm to discuss our information as a whole. We gathered that the problem for the farmers was the equipment used for harvesting salt and farming salt. They were inefficient, for example, the manual chain pump had its chain slipping off, backflow of water and it was made of wood so the wood corrodes easily. Another problem with the equipment was the roller used to even out the ground in the salt fields to farm salt, it was unable to be turned easily. So the conclusion was that the root of the problem is the inefficiency of the tools. After which, as we had more questions, some of us went back to the salt fields to ask more questions whereas some of us stayed to arrange all of our information on a chart using post it notes.

Figure 4: A picture of us doing data clustering (Credits to James)

Ideation
On the day of ideation, we started off organising the post its again on another vanguard sheet as it was very unorganised and did not look aesthetically nice when we did it at the hotel in the village. Using the information we gathered, we discussed about the traits which our persona would have. Some mentioned that he would have short unkempt hair, would smoke, have crooked fingers, be tan and he would have many other traits. Finally we were able to create a persona called keen Kien.

Figure 5: A picture of our persona (Credits to James)

After which, concentrating on the needs of the persona, we thought of the need statement for the project and the equipment we focused on was the baskets used to transport the salt, at that time, we had a backup plan, and the other need statement was regarding the rollers .The reason why we chose the baskets was due to the way they transported the salt was by carrying the salt using 2 baskets on a pole and the pole was to be placed on the shoulders. Excluding the baskets and pole, the salt had a weight of 80 kg estimated. This was really detrimental to the health of the farmers as they had to carry the harvested salt almost every other day. The baskets had bad durability as well. We then thought of ideas such as pulley systems, using a wheelbarrow and using a fan to blow away the salt, but all of these ideas were not feasible as they needed money and they were unrealistic. We had to think of 5 possible ideas before 4pm and we were stuck in a rut, we had no choice but to ask Mr Bhatia to help facilitate the ideation process. He came down 15 minutes later and looked at our need statement, he was appalled as to why there were two need statements. And he said that we can only choose one because we need a focus for the project. He gave us some time to think about it and we finally decided on the baskets for our project. We then continued with the discussion for the 5 prototypes two of them were a holder for salt with a detachable handle and a wheelbarrow with a continuous track. We then did a presentation of our ideas to the two other groups. When the presentation ended, we came up with a list of materials of what to buy for the prototype we had decided on, which was the tyre with detachable handles.

Figure 6: A picture of some of our ideas (Credits to Wee Kiat)

On day 10, The Vietnamese buddies, together with a lecturer from HCE, Mr Hieu first went to scout for the materials, when they came back, our group leaders, Wee Kiat and Esther and the student coordinator, Noven went out to buy the materials. When they came back, we started on the prototype, initially using only glue to secure the parts. But we found out that that was impossible, as the parts kept falling apart, the glue also took a long time to dry. Therefore we decided to switch to using not only glue, but screws to reinforce the door hinge, door lock as well.

Figure 7: Some of our vietnamese buddies, Mr Tieu, the student coordinator and Esther discussing ( Credits to Wee Kiat)

Figure 8: Esther, Samuel and Brandon at work (Credits to Wee Kiat)

Figure 9: Working on the door hinge of the prototype(Credits to Wee Kiat)

Figure 10: Our prototype (Credits to Wee Kiat)

On day 10, The Vietnamese buddies, together with a lecturer from HCE, Mr Hieu first went to scout for the materials, when they came back, our group leaders, Wee Kiat and Esther and the student coordinator, Noven went out to buy the materials. When they came back, we started on the prototype, initially using only glue to secure the parts. But we found out that that was impossible, as the parts kept falling apart, the glue also took a long time to dry. Therefore we decided to switch to using not only glue, but screws to reinforce the door hinge, door lock as well.

Figure 11:One of our vietnamese buddies explaining the prototype to the

villagers (Credits to Wee Kiat)
Gallery walk
On Day 12: We had the gallery walk whereby we showcased each of our ideas and prototypes. There were other students who were not involved in the SPLeX programme who came to look at the displays and ask questions.

Figure 12: Version 2 of our prototype (Credits to Wee Kiat)

Final thoughts
This journey was definitely not easy. It was very hard for us to come this far in spite of our differences and the numerous conflicts that occurred, but in the process, I have met some people that I know I can count on to complete their work , who are loyal and caring and it was definitely a valuable experience. The people whom I worked with, although not perfect but each of them shine like a star in their own way. Like uncut diamonds, they have the hidden potential to shine once polished. The process of coming out of my shell, the process of self discovery is very precious to me and I really am glad that I went through this process during the trip. To know that I have grown during the trip makes the trip all the more worthwhile. We did not do homestay as it was not allowed, but rather, we stayed in a resort nearby, which I felt was a pity as we did not get a chance to really experience the Vietnamese’s way of life and that is one of the parts of the trip that I really regret not experiencing. The impressions that the community have given me is that the vietnamese are really kind and friendly people, they are approachable, helpful and hardworking as well. Most of these qualities that I have mentioned, I do not possess, so after this trip, I hope that I have learnt to be more friendly and approachable. After joining this programme, it really reminded me that I was living a sheltered life in Singapore and was very unappreciative of the things that I possess in Singapore. It is really a life changing experience in terms of being able to experience the culture of the Vietnamese, learning Vietnamese and learning to live life the way they do.

Written by: Lee Hui Ting (DCHE/FT/2A/04)