Today started early – a 5am alarm call to be picked up at 6am. The three of us heading off unaccompanied into early-morning Hanoi in a silver people carrier with a driver who didn’t speak any English was a little disconcerting, but we soon stopped to collect Tram (once she’d found somewhere to park her scooter) and Dung. We joined the motorway south of Hanoi, destination Nam Dinh Province about two hours’ drive away.
The less said about some of the driving we saw around us on the road the better, but by eight o’clock we had reached Nam Dinh, a small leafy green city with a visibly slower pace of life than Hanoi. There we met the rest of the group, who had arrived in two other cars ahead of us and had already parked themselves at a roadside cafe. Squatting on the little red plastic stools one sees all over Vietnam, we enjoyed a morning coffee of the hot variety with condensed milk, and – for those who had not had breakfast – egg rolls.
It was then a short walk to the first interview stop of the day, the Nam Dinh Provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development offices. Now most interviews I have done have involved two or three people, six at most. Today we had almost twenty. Five representatives of DARD, led by their Director-General, had arranged to be available – and from our side there were the twelve IHGeo researchers plus ‘Team RGU’. In case you are wondering what a twenty-person interview looks like, it goes something like this. The various team members give us an overview of their policy frameworks and activities for climate change adaptation and socio-economic development. We than ask questions in a rather haphazard manner, picking up on things that interest us and chipping in by using the desk mic that is at each of our seats. The relevant team member then provides an answer, which is translated back to us. In Japanese social science research I have heard different words used for different types of interviews, and this was definitely closer to what would be called a ‘hearing’. Still, the data we got was useful, and when we debrief tomorrow and Friday we will talk about the importance of being able to make-do, adapt and think on one’s feet when in the field.
This process continued for nearly two hours until our time is up, but it was good natured with healthy discussion emerging the more we spoke. What was clear is that climate change is a very serious issue for Nam Dinh Province, which is low-lying and right on the coast. Sea level rise, deposits of salt in soil and increased storms are all posing a serious risk to the region, and there is a real awareness at municipal government level of the problems. This is supported with attempts to respond to the challenges via adaptation planning at provincial level, and also training and skill-building among government officials.
The morning ‘interview’ was followed with a typically extensive and sociable lunch (including the delicacy of snails) before we loaded back in the cars and moved onwards to Xuan Thuy National Park, a further hour and a half away from Nam Dinh. The Deputy Director and his team took our questions, during which it became apparent that climate change is a major risk to both biodiversity and people’s livelihoods, and that finding ways to conserve biodiversity in the face of climate change is crucial for continued social and economic development. All of this was conveyed without anyone one using the term ‘ecosystem services,’ for which I was rather grateful.
Then came the rewarding part. We broke into three groups, each with one RGU researcher and 2-3 of our IHGeo counterparts, and spent an hour interviewing local residents whose lives had been affected by climate change. ‘My’ group had come with their interview schedule prepared and translated into Vietnamese (bearing in mind that at the end of the workshop yesterday we had some bullet points on flipcharts in English). Our IHGeo colleagues led the interview, and a full hour’s discussion followed with only minimal translation and input from me. The three groups heard – in different ways – how climate change was having negative effects on people’s lives in Nam Dinh right now, contrary to the discourse of ‘far away’ climate change we often get in the UK. Having to work longer to catch seafood, needed to change the type of produce farmed or caught, suffering stress and similar health effects.
Last stop of the day, after loading up on honey from the Xuan Thuy National Park office shop, was the coast of the park itself for a bit of field observation. Some of us climbed the crumbly and rather rickety concrete observation tower to look at the encircling rain, others stayed around to watch a boat unexpectedly coming in and landing a catch of oysters. Much shouting among the IHGeo contingent, followed by the production of plastic bags. About half the group had decided to buy some oysters and take them back Hanoi. 10,000 Dong for a kilogram. That’s about 40p for a kilo of freshly-landed seafood.
The three cars set off, first under a sun making a good effort to put on a glorious sunset behind the passing rainstorm and then under deepening darkness, back towards Hanoi. We stopped off again in Nam Dinh to hunt for tea, a process that caused much frustration as it transpired the three team members from Nam Dinh knew nothing about their hometown. Tomorrow we will work towards techniques for drawing themes out from our initial reflections on the fieldwork (plus from IHGeo’s findings in Nam Dinh to date), and in the afternoon the RGU researchers will be giving a seminar on their own latest research.
Our activities in Vietnam are supported by the British Academy International Partnership and Mobility Scheme.