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Arrival in Vietnam 19 June 2008

Posted by uggclogs in Happiness, Life.
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As you all know, we were supposed to go to Vietnam for my partner’s work.  We learnt this fact in December 2006, and we have FINALLY, a year and a half later, arrived in this crazy, magnificent, bustling country, and I can proudly say that I survived my first week here. There is so much to do and see and eat here, that it is hard to know where to start. But we threw ourselves in at the deep end, and as far as I know, we are still swimming, head above water.

Tuesday night we left the sunburnt country of Australia, and we arrived in Vietnam many hours later, after a stop over in Brisbane and Bangkok. Stepping off the plane, we were hit by the humid heat which is Asia, and I admit, it will take some getting used to. Wednesday we spent discovering and rediscovering the capital on foot, dodging motorbikes and looking at the sights, and being looked at by the locals.

Thursday, we were invited by my partner’s old Vietnamese teacher to come with her to a province outside of Hanoi, which meant piling into a minivan, and driving for hours. First, we went to the area where Ho Chi Minh (or Uncle Ho) spent a year in 1945 planning the liberation of Vietnam from the French. Everything Uncle Ho ever did is something that instils great pride in the Vietnamese. They have preserved every hut he ever spent time in, and are even trying to preserve trees he held speeches next to etc.. Not far from the hut where he planned the attack on the French, was the building where the first Assembly was held, attended by local elders. All these places are worshipped and revered, and incense sticks are perpetually burning to show the respect that is felt by the Vietnamese for the man they see as the saviour and liberator of their country.

We left the village to go to the child care centre that my partner’s teacher is funding, as she had not yet witnessed what it is becoming. The city that she has chosen for her project is, according to her, continuously in the news due to its drug addictions. Poverty is prevalent, and she wants to make a difference for both the children through education, and for the parents, so they can work instead of dealing with childcare. At the moment, there is still no roof on the structure, even though they have teachers ready to start next term, and many enrolments already. It has been facilitated by the catholic church, as this is the safest way to get money into the area, and they have land available to build on. We had the pleasure of meeting many of the children, who asked my partner if he was the tallest man on earth! This was lots of fun, and I hope to be able to learn Vietnamese soon, because I wish to be able to communicate with the children. They were so happy to see us, and very interested in speaking to those crazy Westerners who speak Vietnamese.

The night was spent in a local hotel, where the bed was surprisingly comfortable, and the lack of electricity provided us with a good, long sleep.

The next day we went to a local resort, which was very kitsch, and amusing; there was a water puppet show without water puppets (so just water), rides that did not go because there was a power blackout, large statues that represent local legends, but without anyone to explain the legends to us, because no one seemed to know them, and lots of Vietnamese that spent their entire time there looking at the tall westerners. All fun and games.

We went back to the nunnery (where the childcare centre is) for lunch and to meet the priest, and after that, we were off again, each with a massive bag of local tea as presents.

This time, the destination was the first childcare centre that my partner’s teacher has financed in Vietnam, which has now developed into a massive operation with 140 children coming every day. It looked very impressive, although the children mostly sat on the floor, and had very limited facilities. This centre was also built next to a church, and after eating the nicest meal we have had so far in Vietnam (and I may want to add here that I am yet to have a meal that is not nice, because the food is just magnificent), we were invited to see the local tradition of worshipping the Virgin Mary. Young children, dressed in white and with plastic flower arrangements and candles, sing and dance near the altar of the church. Amusingly, once the tall foreigners arrived, many of the children were staring at us rather than concentrating on the performance. But they looked very sweet. Children here are very inquisitive and love asking questions. We left before the service started, but after church finished, all the children came to sit with us, and have their photos taken by us. They all thought we were mighty tall, and they loved talking to my partner. They were very very sweet indeed.

After sleeping at the nearby cathedral, we were served breakfast with a quartet performance of local singers in our honour, which was fantastic.

Back in Hanoi, I hope to be able to start learning Vietnamese on Monday. I have already contacted a Volleyball team, so I can start getting into that as soon as my sneakers arrive, and we have already had dinners and met people. I am very excited about being here, am loving it. I only have very small issues with Hanoi belly and a few blisters from walking so far (cross fingers) and we have managed to avoid dodgy taxi drivers as much as possible, although you do come accross them once in a while. Anyway, I hope I will continue loving it for some time to come, although I am sure there are things about this place that will get to me eventually. But for now, I am smiling and nodding. 🙂

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