Motorbikes line the streets of Ho Chi Minh City

Environmental Crises, Development, and Sustainability Highlight Buffalo State University’s 2024 Southeast Asia Week

Headshot of Mark Frank
Mark Frank

Buffalo State University is honored to welcome a group of international scholars who will draw attention to the multi-pronged challenges of environmental crises and sustainability amid continuing global economic development during the 13th annual Southeast Asia Week March 18–21. 

Mark Frank, Ph.D., assistant professor of history at Fulbright University Vietnam, will present this year’s international guest lecture, “Saigon Motors: Motorbike Mobility and the Futures of a City since 1967,” on Tuesday, March 19, from 12:15 to 1:30 p.m. in Bulger Communication Center 214.

Frank specializes in the environmental history of the twentieth century, including the history of science and technology, the history of ethnicity, and human relations with the environment. He holds a Ph.D. in Chinese history from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

His talk will explore the history of the Honda Cub motorbike in Vietnam from its late-1960s introduction onward to examine the interplay of individual human subjects and broad, systemic forces: namely, market development and the urban environment of Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon). A 1963 advertising campaign for the 50cc Honda Cub aimed to sell that bike to American families as a fun, practical way to motor around with a child, dog, or houseplant in tow, promising, “You meet the nicest people on a Honda.”

Headshot of Vida Vanchan
Vida Vanchan

If that image was doomed to a short shelf life in the United States, it had long legs in much of Southeast Asia, where the Honda Cub (and modified versions thereof) remains among the most popular vehicles for all demographics from teenagers to the elderly. Increasingly, urban travelers are in a position to choose between motorbikes and cars, including the growing supply of electric cars manufactured in Vietnam. Green capitalism has become a significant influence on personal choices, and yet attitudes toward the environmental sustainability of low-capacity motorbike engines are varied and often contradictory. This talk draws on oral history interviews with Saigon residents to chart changes in the ways that people choose to get around as they weigh myriad factors, including affordability, safety, environmental sustainability, and personal style. 

For more than a decade, Buffalo State University has celebrated Southeast Asia Week with free presentations that explore timely economic, social, cultural, and geopolitical topics. All events are free and open to the public, but advance registration is required.


Headshot of Mitch Aso
Michitake “Mitch” Aso


“Southeast Asia Week is unique to our Buffalo State University campus,” said Vida Vanchan, director of Buffalo State’s Global Studies Institute and professor of geosciences, who founded the university’s celebration in 2012 and continues to organize it every year. “The event not only helps educate audiences from the campus community and beyond on Southeast Asia but also helps foster interactions and connections within the Southeast Asian community locally, nationally, and internationally.”

This year’s speakers for Southeast Asia Week also include Michitake “Mitch” Aso, associate professor of history at the University at Albany; and Peter J. Marcotullio, professor of geography and environmental science and the director of the Institute for Sustainable Cities at Hunter College, CUNY.

Aso is an award-winning global environmental historian whose research focuses on Vietnamese and French agriculture, medicine, and health in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He holds a Ph.D. in the history of science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Headshot of Peter Marcotullio
Peter Marcotullio 

Marcotullio studies urban transitions, urbanization, and environmental change. He has held previous positions as a lecturer and professor of urban planning in the Urban Engineering Department at the University of Tokyo, and several positions at the United Nations University in Japan. He earned his Ph.D. in urban planning from Columbia University.

This year’s event has received funding support from the New York Southeast Asia Network (NYSEAN) Partners Fund of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute at Columbia University. NYSEAN works to promote research on and awareness of Southeast Asia by fostering collaboration among academics, artists, policymakers, and other professionals working on contemporary Southeast Asia or U.S.–Southeast Asia relations.

All sessions will be delivered in person and broadcast live, as well as recorded for national and international audiences. Individuals interested in attending any of the talks for Southeast Asia Week must register by Wednesday, March 13.

The complete lineup of talks taking place during the week is as follows:

Panel Discussion: Environmental Crises and Sustainability of Southeast Asia
Speakers: Vida Vanchan, Mitch Aso, and Peter J. Marcotullio

Monday, March 18
6:00–7:30 p.m. 
Bulger Communication Center 214
Register by March 13.

This panel explores environmental crises and sustainability in Southeast Asia through economic development, agriculture, and climate change. An overview of the region focusing on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and economic development over time will shed light on the balance between economic development and environmental sustainability. An overview of recent literature on agriculture in Southeast Asia to examine how the production of commodities such as rubber, palm oil, and shrimp has changed over time because of rapidly shifting environments will also be included. Responses by various entities including governments and policies will also be discussed.


Saigon Motors: Motorbike Mobility and the Futures of a City since 1967
Speaker: Mark Frank 
Tuesday, March 19
12:15–1:30 p.m.
Bulger Communication Center 214
Register by March 13.

This talk explores the history of the Honda Cub motorbike in Vietnam from its late-1960s introduction onward to examine the interplay of individual human subjects and broad, systemic forces.


Preliminary Workshop on Understanding Climate Change and Development through a Multidisciplinary Lens
Speakers: Mitch Aso, Peter J. Marcotullio, and Vida Vanchan
Tuesday, March 19
3:00–4:00 p.m.
Bulger Communication Center 422
Register by March 13.

This workshop explores climate change and development through a close examination of their contributing factors from a multidisciplinary perspective.


Climate Change and Development in Southeast Asian Countries 
Speakers: Students in GEG 360: Geography of Asia Course 
Thursday, March 21
10:50 a.m.–12:05 p.m.
Science and Mathematics Complex 106
Register by March 13.

Join us to discover issues and impacts of climate change on development in Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Thailand.


Global Studies Pedagogy: Reflections on Southeast Asia, Local and Global Connection*
Speakers: Global Studies Institute Core Faculty
Thursday, March 21 
6:00–7:30 p.m. 
Bulger Communication Center 214
Register by March 13.

This panel will discuss global studies as a way to explore a regional study through reflections on Southeast Asia and examination of local and global connections. Multidisciplinary perspectives will reinforce and enhance the understanding, learning, and pedagogy of our perplexing yet connecting world. 

*Reception provided

Download the conference flyer.