The Bittersweet Farewell

IMG_0003         It seems strange to be writing my last journal entry for the trip. It feels like so long ago that we were meeting in the classroom at St. Mary’s talking about leaving, and now our trip is coming to an end. Every day has started early, ended late, and felt long and full, but the trip has gone by in the blink of an eye. In the last 20 days we have been too hot, too cold, too tired, too hyper, too big, too small, too hungry, too full, and just about anything else you can think of, and I wouldn’t trade a single second of it for anything. We have done so much and learned so much every day here that going to back to normal life will be a bit of a challenge.

       I thought I knew a lot about Vietnam before I came here, but obviously I was wrong about pretty much everything. I thought that the people were all going to try and rob me or rip me off, the only food was going to be pho, and the whole country would be a series of villages in the jungle. While I did have one small run-in with a local man in Hoi An who believed that somehow he had dropped all of his cash into my wallet and was not very kind in trying to get it back, I have discovered that Vietnamese people are some of the most welcoming individuals I have ever met. One night while we were out exploring whichever sleepy town we were staying in, a shop owner insisted that we sit for a while, share a few drinks, and meet his family. We ended up staying all night and talking, joking, and laughing like old friends. The language barrier completely disappeared, age meant nothing, race and background ceased to exist, in that moment we were nothing more than two groups of people brought together by fate, or luck, or God to remind us that the world is full of good, even if we hear more often about the bad. I can tell you, there is no greater feeling in the world than being 7000 miles from home and meeting someone who treats you like their oldest friend.IMG_0894 

         The one thing that I guessed correctly about this country was that it would not be clean. Saigon ( Ho Chi Minh City) was as clean as any western city, the streets and shops were well kept and the food seemed professionally prepared, but as we moved farther north, Vietnam’s status as a third-world country became much more apparent. Some things I was prepared for, others were far worse than I would have imagined. While walking through an outdoor market, I saw hundreds of pounds of raw meet sitting out in piles on the dirt floor of a market stall next to other lives animals living in their own filth crammed into cages small enough to dig into their skin. I could not imagine seeing those conditions in any western country, but people here had no problem buying the meet to feed their families. One stall had puppies in similar cages, several of which appeared to be dead already, presumably ready for sale to eat. The most striking experience of my trip happened the same night that I mentioned before, spending the evening with Mr. Hung and his family. After finishing some drinks with our new friends, I asked Mr. Hung if I could use his restroom, and I was utterly unprepared for the series of events that followed. Mr. Hung says a few words to his wife in Vietnamese and she waves me over to a small open doorway in the back of the shop. When I look inside I saw several things, first there were pots, pans, and silverware soaking in a wash bucket on the floor, next I noticed a small kitten chained to a bar on the window, and lastly I noticed the urinal in the corner of the room. I absolutely could not comprehend that their restroom was in the same room that they wash their dishes that they use to serve food to people, it was mind-boggling to me. After I left I noticed another problem, there was a urinal, but no toilet. When I sat back down I let my curiosity get the better of me and asked one of the girls in our group how they had used the bathroom in that room and she explained that Mr. Hung’s wife had told her to go on the floor and wash everything down the drain with a bucket of water. Growing up in any part of any developed nation, there is a certain standard of basic sanitation that you come to expect, and when it was no longer there, it created a moment of deep appreciation for everything that I take for granted in my life.

       Overall, this trip was perfect. 14 people started off as complete strangers and 20 days later we have conquered every challenge Vietnam has thrown at us and we are already starting to plan for our next trip together (probably to Yosemite). I am excited to be home soon, but very sad to leave such an amazing place. Rachel said it best at breakfast this morning, “Today is the end of an era.” After we leave this place it will never be the same for us, but we will tell the stories forever.

-Casey

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Connecting and Creating

      After a much needed full night of sleep following our overnight train, I woke up this morning energized and ready to see what Hanoi had to offer! We jumped on the bus and headed to Touk’s alma mater, Hanoi Open University. We were greeted warmly by the students and teachers who were eager to meet and talk to us. The majority of the students that we spoke to are majoring in a hospitality and hotel management or tourism based major. Although our majors, language and country of origin are different, I found many ways to connect with the students. Two of them being through a mutual love of dance and music. One of the students performed “Butterfly” for us and then AK and I were asked to dance on stage to break the ice for a dance party! Although this was so much fun, what I really took away most from this experience was what Suzie said about talking and connecting with our fellow youth as being the only way to make peace in the world, which really resonated and rang true to me. It was such a pleasure meeting and learning a little bit about the life of a Vietnamese college student. Before leaving I got a chance to take some pictures with some of my new friends and added them on social media! IMG_0057.JPGIMG_0727.JPG

Our next stop was the beautiful Bat Trang Pottery Village where we had the opportunity to make ceramic bowls and shop in their markets. I was really impressed by their attention to detail and craftsmanship. Seeing all of the pottery reminded me how much time and effort goes into each thing I buy and gave me a better appreciation for hand crafted goods! For dinner tonight e went to a 300 year old house where we shared a typical Lunar New Years Meal. I am definitely going to miss Vietnamese cuisine when I get home! FullSizeRender.jpg

-Lauren Valory

Peace, History and Family Culture

Today was a calm day despite the gloomy weather. Our group went to the Cat Tuong Quan Zen House to do mediation. When we arrived, I was surprised how calm I already felt being in the Zen House after arriving. We were greeted by three attendants who were happy to see us. I was amazed by the beauty of the place with its architecture and the lush green gardens surrounding the four buildings. We were introduced to Qigong, a series of body movements that are meant to help with your posture and breathing. After that we were given a tour around the place, there were four buildings set up in a square layout with a water pool in the middle. One house had a Buddha temple, another was the library, also a dinning room for guests, and lastly the mediation room. With the exception of the dinning room, these buildings also had simple bedrooms in adjacent rooms for overnight guests at the Zen House. Our guide explained how the some parts of the architecture had specific meanings such as the number of pillars inside the house or the symbol of “many years” was everywhere in the buildings, including the bricks used to build the buildings. It was obvious that the founder of this business put a lot of effort and thought into her buildings and how they represent the Buddhist culture. We learned 6 steps of Qigong along with mediating for about 30 minutes before eating a delicious vegetarian lunch. I think a lot of us needed that peaceful time at the Zen House after many days of continuous traveling around.

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Looking towards the Buddha temple from the mediation room

After the Zen House, we went to the Imperial City in Hue City that used to be the capital of Vietnam during the Nguyen dynasty. There was a walking tour through the intact temple and through the ruins of what was left of the Imperial City. This Imperial City had the Citadel, Imperial City, and the Forbidden Purple City. I was amazed by the colors and details on the entrance gates and on the buildings that hadn’t worn away over the years. There were details of dragons painted on the walls outside of the temple in red while there was yellow dragons on gates. A lot of color and carving was used to make these buildings and gates beautiful. We got to go inside the temple where we learned about the leaders of the Nguyen dynasty since there were altars dedicated to them. One emperor had 500 wives and 142 kids!

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One of the many colorful gates we went through at the Imperial City

 

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Outside the temple – no pictures are allowed inside 😦

After that we went to dinner. Dinner was special since we were eating at a local family’s home where the family would be preparing the dinner for us. It was the Quy Nga Family. They were very welcoming when we arrived despite our language barrier however the oldest son spoke great English. He was able to introduce us to his parents and show us around their home. We got to watch his mom prepare the dinner for a few minutes and she explained to us what she was making. All of the dishes were delicious! We got to try these soft rice cakes with dried shrimp and seasoning drizzled in chicken broth, beef soup with noodles, and other dishes. Throughout the meal, the son explained some family customs such as how the eldest son has to take care of the parents until he is unable to then the responsibility is transferred to the next oldest child. He also explained wedding customs and showed us his wedding photos along with other family albums. It was a great way to learn more about Vietnamese culture.

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Mrs. Quy Nga, left, prepares our meal with a friend while Mr. Quy Nga looks on

 

Claire Huebler

 

The DMZ

 

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This morning we Dong Ha to go to the Demilitarized Zone. The DMZ is significant because it marked the line between north and south Vietnam after the end of the First Indochina War. The DMZ approximately follows the 17th parallel and the Ben Hai River. We had the same guide as yesterday, Tam, who told us more stories about his life during the war. He told us about a time his cousin served in the South Vietnamese army along side his comrades, but was taken shortly after and interrogated because the army suspected he was a NVA spy. The very men that he had served with interrogated him. Paranoia that anyone could be a NVA spy was common, because the North Vietnamese used guerilla tactics that made it almost impossible to know who the enemy even was.“

Tam also explained that many families were separated by the DMZ, including his own. Many Vietnamese had very large families spread out all over Vietnam. As we read in The Sacred Willow, filial duty is extremely important to the Vietnamese, so being cut off from their loved ones living across the border was extremely difficult. One of Duong Mai Elliot’s sisters was a devout communist who lived in Hanoi during the war, and so she was not able to see her sister for many years because attempting to cross the border was too dangerous. Families with young men would often have family fighting for both sides of the war. We stopped at the Hien Luong Bridge, which spans the Ben Hai River and officially marks the border between North and South Vietnam. Today, anyone may pass over the bridge without fear, but during the war, families would be risking their lives to attempt to cross over without authorization.

Next, we drove to the coast to visit the Vinh Moc Tunnels. These tunnels were not used by the military, like the Cu Chi tunnels near Saigon were. These tunnels were constructed during the war by local villagers to escape the relentless bombing by American B52s. The Americans believe the villagers were supplying NVA troops and wanted to force the villagers to leave the area. The villagers were incredibly resilient, and instead built tunnels 10m deep to avoid the bombing. When Americans designed bombs to penetrate 10m underground, the villagers pushed the tunnels even deeper to escape. The villagers built a complex network of tunnels that had everything needed to survive, including living rooms, schools, and places for health care. I could hardly spend 10 minutes in the tunnels without getting claustrophobic from the small spaces and stifled air, so I couldn’t imagine living down there for months without being able to go outside for fear of the bombing. These tunnels are another example of the incredible resilience of the Vietnamese we learned about before coming. In the movie A Path to War, we saw LBJs growing frustration at the ineffectiveness of the bombings, and the Vinh Moc tunnels are prime example of why the bombing was ineffective. The US dropped more bombs by weight in the Vietnam War than all of World War II combined; yet the bombing was of little benefit to the US.

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American B52 bombs dropped over the Vinh Moc Tunnels

After we had lunch on the beach, we drove back to the city where we waited to board the train to Hanoi. We left for Hanoi around 6pm and spent the night aboard the train. We all crammed into one cabin and played games to pass the time. The train was not very comfortable; it was cramped and the bathroom were disgusting. We met another group of travelers from Australia in the cabin next to ours. They were having a good time and invited us to come over and chat with them. I went to bed early, but couldn’t sleep. The train was loud and the bed was too small for me, so it was quite an uncomfortable night. We arrived at 5am in Hanoi and drove to the hotel. I immediately fell asleep. I felt as if all the travelling had just caught up to me at once.

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Trang An

This morning we drove to Trang An World Heritage site. Though our itinerary did say we would be going on little boats through caves, I had no idea what to expect. Most people were asleep for the two hour bus ride, because the night before was, um, a little bit of a late one. I tried to sleep, but it didn’t work, so I looked out the window instead. After a while I was glad I couldn’t sleep because I would have missed the mountains inch closer and closer. Not mountains like we think of though, huge green hills. Like skyscrapers, they just sit on their own or in tall clusters. A few of them have temples halfway up, meaning someone had to climb all the way up and build there. Yikes. Imagine trying to lug wood and paint up there, not to mention tools.

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    We walked from the bus to what was really the only large building there, a set of ancient style pagodas with arching roofs and dark wood interior. On the other side were stairs leading to tiny flat boats on the lake. We were split up into groups, given life vests, and pushed off of the stairs, by a guide of course. All of the rowers were women. The job was crazy tough too. It was freezing out, we weren’t exactly the lightest of passengers, and the route ended up being a two hour tour. One lady even used her feet to row a group. I doubt I could row that well even with my hands. I’m curious why only the women are in charge of the boats. But there was no way to ask because we don’t know a lick of Vietnamese.image3 (1)

    We must have visited a total of nine different caves. The first one was my favorite because it was all so new. We paddled up to the side of this hill and went straight into the black opening. Most of the time you had to duck because the ceiling was so low, but the place was well lit. (I wonder who got the job of doing that, stringing all the wires…) Our guide, who is a big fan of music, played the theme from Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones, and a bunch of other adventure films. There were fat stalactites (made as the water drips down the ceiling, because it carries minerals to then form rock) and patches of white crystal.

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After the tour of all the caves, we were off to lunch at a small family restaurant whose specialty was goat. I’ll be, honest, we weren’t sure what to think of goat for lunch. But on the other hand, anything warm sounded fantastic. First we were served stir fried goat, then barbequed goat, beef stir fry, vegetables, rice, and egg drop soup. The goat was actually pretty mild, not gamey like I expected. One of those don’t-knock-it-till-you-try-it sort of dishes.

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Finally, we had a short tour of a local temple in Hoa Lu, where the capital of Vietnam was located through the 10th and 11th centuries. It was gorgeous, but I feel like I was too distracted by the cold. Next trip I’ll learn and pack layers even if I don’t think I need them.

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Khe Sahn Airbase – Day 12

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          This morning, we left Hue and traveled west to Khe Sahn, which is south of the DMZ (demilitarized zone). On our way, we picked up Mr. Tum, a former Vietnamese soldier who shared many stories of his experiences during the war.

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Some interesting facts about him include:

  • Before he joined the war his village was taken over by marines, who sent him to a refugee camp.
  • His village was carpet bombed by American aircrafts while he was gone (sometime between 1970 and 1975).
  • His father was killed in 1972 during the East Offensive
  • In 1972, when he was 18, the South Vietnamese army drafted him. And during his service he lost two of his toes.
  • He watched U.S. helicopters shoot many people. He said that U.S. Huey’s would hover over his village and the rice fields around it, looking for VC. If anyone ran from the helicopters they were easily gunned down, because they assumed these people were VC.

And a random tidbit:

  • He told us that when artillery muzzles got too hot from firing and started to turn red, soldiers would pee on the muzzle to cool it off.

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On our way to Khe Sahn we made a couple stops, including at a rock pile overlooking a canyon that used to serve as a vantage point for American troops. The other was a bridge that was built during the third phase of the Ho Chi Minh Trail (which the Vietnamese actually call the Troung Son Trail, since it borders the Troung Son mountain range), about 34 kilometers east of the Vietnam/Laos border.

Once we got to the Ta Con Airbase, a thick fog engulfed us. It was difficult to see about 20 yards in front of you, and practically impossible to see anything beyond that. The airbase itself consisted of a small museum, an old runway, multiple U.S. aircrafts and tanks, and a set of bunkers. Walking through the field felt very ominous, as if anything could be lying behind the curtains of fog. And down in the bunkers it was even worse, because, as a soldier, you wouldn’t be able to see what was coming from above you. Our class could only imagine what this area was like during the war, with the threat levels being very high and the visibility so low.

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After leaving Khe Sanh we dropped off Mr. Tum and headed back to our hotel in Dong Ha City for our last night jumping hotel to hotel. Tomorrow we will explore the DMZ before we take an overnight train to Hanoi and say, “See you again” to Southern Vietnam.

– Keaton

Buffalo Soldier

IMG_0416.JPGWe woke up to the sun rising over the horizon in the South China Sea (known as the East Vietnam Sea to Vietnamese) bright and early. Since we weren’t leaving until late morning, we had plenty of time to enjoy the warm water with the stunning Vietnamese coast as our backdrop. Departing the beautiful beach resort at Sa Huynh, we were bound for a town 180 kilometers north called Hoi An. Along the way, we stopped for coffee and a lunch at a few local spots off of Highway 1 to take a break from the rough road and our bus seats and even got a special surprise from our tour guide Touc.

The bus stopped off on the side of the road in the middle of some rice fields, and he led us down a small path through the fields, were we met a local man riding a water buffalo. At this point, the class knew exactly what

the surprise was: a ride on the large bovid. Everyone was ecstatic and in no time we were all taking turns cruising down the path back to the bus with big smiles on our faces.

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Though we had a lot of fun, the most significant part of this day consisted of Mike’s narration of the Duc Pho and Mo Duc areas, which is where he spent a lot of his time in the war. He explained that the Montezuma and Liz army bases were set up not too far off the highway, but as we drove through these places, not even a hint of US military presence would ever let one know there was a war here. In that way, this trip continues to be a once in a lifetime opportunity to hear the person accounts of someone who was there, even as that point in history gets more covered up with time. Mike even pointed out the beach where he and his fellow soldiers had Thanksgiving dinner in 1969 and pointed out Que Son, where he spent over a week camping out in the mountains. We could almost hear the relief in his voice when he shared with us the day he hopped on his last helicopter ride to head back to the States. Paralleling Mike’s trip in the 60s with ours is truly mind blowing, as those were surely different times.

In the late afternoon, we arrived in Hoi An to settle into our hotel for the night and departed soon enough for another delicious meal on the rice fields. Before returning to our rooms, we were able to walk around the downtown area of Hoi An to explore all the

small shops and restaurants, as the town is popular among tourists coming to Vietnam. As a result, it had a more European aesthetic to it and was bustling with many different travelers into the night.

-John Hayes

Paint a Picture When Lost in Nam

        Wake up at 6:30 in the morning in Pleiku, jumping out of bed to get my stuff together aka pack. Time begins to fly by and plop I’m sitting at breakfast with the gang eating an omelette. The language barrier in this country has been an or deal at times. For instance, when I went over to the cooking stand I tried way too hard explaining that I wanted three eggs (visually picked them up) and said egg whites to her. She picks up something that looks to be just that, no yolk, but somehow I find myself eating a regular omelette. Good Morning Vietnam!

        We depart the hotel in Pleiku after an, always too short night here and continue pushing North. Along the bus ride we are exposed to new sides of Vietnam. Climbing in altitude, the green rice paddies flood across the landscapes that we all can peer into from our windows. We drive into what feels like the outback of Vietnam, seeing natives live a much simpler life. Given the war devastation just fifty years ago it is hard to find traces of the war beyond the stories we hear of the aftermath. The mentality, I strongly believe to be confident in the people here is to trust that times will improve, no matter the horrors and all the gory sights that many Vietnamese, Americans, and anyone else who fought experienced. It is crazy to think that these people still walk their, no longer war beaten path now, all around us as we journey thru this beautiful country.The community in this country stood right back up, brushed the dirt off, and kept going.

        Today we spent a lot of time hopping around on the bus over potholes and what not. Our driver appeared amused as he looked back, smiling after what was one of the largest air time trips I’ve ever had riding on just about any form of transportation. Some of us even hit our heads. Thankfully he got the message, acted on it, and slowed down. Shifting it back to our surroundings, I note the exquisite easiness of the architecture today. A lot looked barely put together, even in shambles, but seemingly flawless in its colorful rays encomposing the seemingly boring and dull rest of structure. The houses, basically on chunks of wide range plotted land made me feel at home.

        It felt as tho we drove up and down this mighty ‘mountain’ for food, but I realized that it became a day of sightseeing on the bus. First we saw a ginormous Ho Chi Minh statue in a park. He is the same guy that started the Communist Party, lighting the match for the Vietnam War, and fun fact, is on every single currency bill for the country. Wow, when is enough enough for this man? Next, we pass by, Mike’s voice in our ears, a hospital in which the victims of battle wounds from the war were treated. I can only imagine the scars that still linger. He speaks up about how he was in the 25th infantry, number one pick, and how he couldn’t imagine being anywhere else..and make it out alive considering the possibilities.

        As we drizzle across some more landscapes, we see coffee plantations.  When the French came over to conquer they brought their coffee with them to be assimilated into Vietnam, now the number two seller of coffee in the entire world (Brazil #1). Skimmering my eyes across the countryside everything has a much greater sense of traditionalism: kids riding their bikes, locals sporting rice hats, working hard out in the fields, and a general closeness of one another. A simple life filled with care for one another.

         Moving on, we arrive at lunch place #1 to be (possibly jokingly) told that they ran out of food..on to #2, a quaint little joint nestled in one of the hearts of communist propaganda. Before hand we stop at a church for a moment of tranquility. Now back to the food: we eat rice, rice, and more rice! I’m just kidding, however rice, and while I’m at it pho, coffee, and coconuts are a big deal here. The people serving are friendly as I appreciate they make an effort trying to communicate with me. I don’t know who makes the talk more confusing, them with their accent, or me just being me. The food as always is glorious, filling my stomach like a blanket in the winter, nice and warm in the belly. Being in the presence of my fellow Gaels out here in a country none of us would venture to alone gives me such a burst if joy every meal. It’s a fun challenge to think that all of us will basically be sharing 60+ back-to-back meals together with Susie, our worldly professor and Mike, the war vet.

        After lunch we head towards our next overnight in Duc Pho. Along the way, another moment that shocked me about education here was that when Duke was discussing the education system here, he said that to get into college here, where you go is dependent upon the score you get on one test. It is as though I would go thru the K-12, and all it would come down to would be the SAT as the only say in where I went for college. That is too much pressure for a teenager to have on their shoulders. Also, it shocked me how Duke said people in Vietnam look at you as if you’re stupid if you do not go to college. This I found very offensive because everybody learns differently, and to put them all in a systamatic box would be like communism. Not everybody is meant for college and not everyone can go, so by default there is the‘frowned upon’ population.

        Crossing over railroad tracks we will later be going on, overnight, further North, we learn that Mike was stationed here for about 8-9 months. We pass Mount Montazuma where thousands of troops were stationed at for quite some time. We manage to get a shot of all of us in front of the mountain. Later we also stop and take a shot immersed in the rice paddies, with a team of workers behind us plowing away at the wet dirt eager for planting. Also, did I mention there were water buffalos? Yes, fully grown ones along with baby calfs, and little kids running around. It was such a lovely sight.

        A long, stimulating day’s worth of adventure’s closing in, I briefly reflect on our gang’s journey and how it has been a blessing in disguise. At times eager to fight in such close quarters, but none the less a blessing to continue onward for the rest of our time all together. Every single one of us has grown on me thru every outrageous story told. I see more now that we (the unofficial Breakfast Club) are all a lot more similar, or polygenic in how we think. Fascinating individuals to get to know in our present reality, Vietnam.

-Nicole Taylor

Day 7

Dear Mum,

How is everything going back home? Are the dogs behaving well? I hope they’re not causing too much trouble. Did you buy a Powerball ticket? I heard it is over a billion dollars!! I can’t believe it- that is just a ridiculous amount of money. Like what is one supposed to do with all the money?! I can’t even wrap my head around that huge of a number.

Saigon has been a pretty amazing city so far. We did a few touristy activities such as visiting the war remnants museum, the Reunification Palace, and exploring the Cu Chi Tunnels.

To take a break from all the walking around and listening to tour guides we were able to have the opportunity to volunteer at the Christian Brothers school. Honestly, it was such a great experience. I remember when we walked in the smiles on the students’ faces just glowed. You definitely could tell that they were very excited to see us and interact with each and every one of us. What really stood out to me during my time at the school was this little girl who sat next to me in the class. I was observing her geometry class and I pulled out my journal and pencil case. The little girl asked to see my pencil case so I handed it to her to look at. I will never forget the look on her face when she opened the pencil case. She was amazed by the amount of pens and markers as well as the different variety of colours. I felt so bad because here I am with a pouch full of writing supplies and on her desk all she had was ONE pencil, ONE pen, ONE eraser, and ONE white-out pen. That is all she had for probably the whole school year. I’m assuming her favourite colour is purple because her face definitely lit up when she saw I had a purple ink pen. She started writing with it and she expressed this type of interest that for the pen. She gave me me back my pencil case, but I told her she could keep the purple pen. Her reaction when I told her is permanently tattooed into my head. She was unbelievable happy that I let her keep it and wouldn’t let me leave her sight for a second. I know we always donate items to the less fortunate and feel good about ourselves for doing a good deed, but this was different. I personally delivered it to her and was able to see face to face to see her reaction when she receives it. It was just a very touching moment.

Oh em geezy, Mum- you would not believe what kind of restaurant we ate at last night. We basically had dinner in the dark. It was definitely an experience. The cool thing I liked about it was that it actually opens job opportunities for people who are blind. All the servers that worked in the dark room, which was the dining room, are blind. It really made me appreciate that fact that I can see but also it was cool to be able to strengthen my other senses for once.

Anyways, I’m on the plane now on our way to Pleiku. Our flight was delayed by an hour or so, which was relaxing in a way that we didn’t have to rush to get to the gate or to eat something before getting on the plane. Pleiku is a small city in the central highland, which apparently is an important location for the U.S. military during the war. This is where the American Army and Air Force was stationed. Pleiku is also near the border line of Cambodia where the Viet Cong was stationed and did a surprise attacked on the Pleiku airbase anddamged it completely . Till this day there is still some remains in the grounds from when the U.S. was there.

All in all, I have been having such an amazing time her in Vietnam so far. The food, the culture, and the war history that it holds have been fascinating to be around. In Saigon, I surely made lifelong memories that I will never forget and learned a lot that I can’t wait to get back to tell you all about it. Thanks so much for letting me experience this trip. Hope everything is going well at home- miss you! We’re about land soon in Pleiku and need to turn off my computer so I’ll talk to later.

Love,

AK

2nd Day at the Christian Brothers School

Today we enjoyed our second and last day working at the Christian Brothers charity school in Ho Chi Minh City. We started by getting dropped off by our bus driver and following Mr. Hue through the maze of alleyways that you need to walk through in order to get to the school. When we arrived, the students instantly filled with excitement and you could tell by the way the volume rose inside the building. The kids fondly remembered each of the volunteers that had spent time in their classrooms the day before and we were approached with smiles, hugs, high fives, bows, and peace signs.

Today I got a chance to spend time in a classroom with a more advanced group of kids (I will guess Grade 3). The reason I say “more advance” rather than “older” is because I came to the realization that grade levels are not based on age like they are in the United States. They are based on academic level instead. For example, a sixteen year old could technically be in the same class as a six year old if they are starting school for the very first time. I taught in this class with Mariela and Juli (with Mike quietly observing in the back of the classroom). I would say that out of the five total sessions that I taught, this was the most organized and productive—we were a great team!

We started off figuring out what English words they knew and were presently surprised at how many animals, numbers, body parts, and etcetera that they could correctly name! We then moved on to show them how to make paper cranes out of small pieces of colored construction paper. This project was intended so that the students would have a small reminder of their day with us, but in the end most of the students ended up giving us their cranes as gifts. Finally we played a bunch of games with them including “hangman,” number patterns, and an animal noise guessing game.

During the second session of the morning, I went to the Grade 1 classroom for a third time—I just couldn’t get enough! The teacher was present this time around, but had us run the class. We decided to teach them the English words for the members of their family. We wrote the words down on the board, pronounce each word as a group, and then write down the words in their journals. The three of us walked up and down the aisles checking out the students’ work and as I did so, almost every student pulled on my arm to show me what they have done and ask to practice pronouncing the words with me one-on-one. In doing so, I even learned the Vietnamese pronunciations for these words! We then taught them a couple of songs to which the students responded by singing a song to us. Later the teacher explained to me that the song meant, “Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Please, don’t forget about us.” At the end of class, the students enjoyed covering our shirts with stickers again and drawing pictures for us to keep.

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We all made our way downstairs and crowded in the alleyway beside the building. One of the boys who had been in my first class of the day visited with us and we were shocked by his comprehension of a fluency in English. He told us all about his interests, sang us some songs (such as “See You Again” ft. Charlie Pruth– video coming soon!). He told us that his dream was to move to New York in the future and that he would be seeing us again one day.

Because I am on my way to becoming a teacher, it is safe to say that the past two days have been a very emotional experience for me. I have learned to be appreciative of everything that I am entitled to based only on the circumstances under which I was born. I only wish that I could spend more of the time on this trip helping these students to learn, and more importantly, learning from them.

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Saint Mary’s College students and Christian Brothers Charity School students (some of us were not ready for the photo!)

After we went to the school, we enjoyed a meal of pizza and pasta. All of our stomachs have been longing for some Western cuisine and it was just what we all needed! We then went to the Central Post Office to buy post cards and stamps to send to our family and friends. This is one of the oldest buildings in Ho Chi Minh City and is right across the street from the Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral. We enjoyed walking through the gift shops as well.

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Central Post Office in Ho Chi Minh City

After a long break in the hotel, we were off to our surprise dinner! We were dropped off at a restaurant called Noir and noticed immediately how fancy it was. We were led upstairs to a small room with couches and tables that had blindfolds and puzzles on it. After ordering our drinks, we were instructed to put the blindfolds on and try to complete the puzzles—much more difficult then we thought it would be! We were eventually led into the “dark room” (which was completely pitch black) and were each seated. We were served a meal consisting of eleven different items, but were not given any information about the courses before eating. As excited as I was for this experience, I discovered how fond I am of being able to see my food before consuming it! Later, we were brought back to the room upstairs and were filled in on what was served to us and informed that the waiters and waitresses in this restaurant are all blind!

When we got back to the hotel, we had to bid farewell to our tourguide and new friend Mr. Hue (“Huey”). This would be our last day with him as tomorrow we will fly to Pleiku to continue our journey north. We are so lucky to have been able to spend almost a week with Huey, as he is a fountain of information, a great source of stories, and a kind man. Our next tour guide will have some large shoes to fill!

 

We are only about one-third of the way through with our trip and I feel that I have already learned so much. Because this is my very first adventure outside of the U.S. it is my first time being exposed to how massive the world is and how many people are in it. When I look out at the sea of motorbikes covering the streets of HCMC, it is difficult for me to wrap my head around how each one of these individuals has a completely unique life story that I will never know about. Being outside of my little Bay Area bubble is very humbling in that I get to see, first-hand, the way of life for people who live far away from me and appreciate that every life is just as significant as my own.

 

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Pleiku, here we come!

 

~Taylor Brazil