A Travellerspoint blog

tam biet (khong mai mai) & cam on

goodbye (not forever) & thank you

It feels so strange to be writing this right in my own room, where Vietnam and my last week there seem so far away already, but I wanted to get one last entry up to recount my last few days.

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Monday night, Patrick, Tam, and I went out for some ping-pong at a little place right on the route to the supermarket. Basically a part of the owner’s home, the family sat right outside watching, entertained by our terrible skills and our game of red dot. After a half hour or so, I was invited to play with a young Vietnamese woman who was taking lessons. An English teacher at the Quang Nam Medical School, she had some amazing spin serves.

The following night, after a lemonade at one of Tam Ky’s crazy cafes (it was like being in a jungle that was sloppily decorated for Christmas), Patrick and I went on a long bike ride. I think it was my favorite bike ride so far… when you got into an open space, there seemed to be more stars than sky.

Wednesday brought too quickly my final day with the Social Support kids. To do something a bit more fun, we decided to bring some water balloons. Though they understood the concept of a water balloon toss, most of the kids quickly learned they didn’t want to participate in fear of their precious balloon breaking. About five of them simply sat on the steps, carefully cradling their balloons. One in particular firmly refused to give her little red one up, holding it for nearly the entire hour and a half until hers accidentally dropped inside. I rode away blurry-eyed, missing them more with each push of the peddles.

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Thursday only meant more goodbyes. At the Home of Affection, I finally made use of the hemp and pretty beads I had bought at home. I snuck them into the older girls’ room first but it was only a matter of minutes when the boys discovered them and eventually everyone got into them in some way – even if it was only a bare string tied around their wrist.

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Despite knowing it was impossible for most of them to know I wouldn’t be back the next week, there were a few moments that I wondered if a few of them maybe guessed. Regardless, I couldn’t have appreciated more the rare hug I received from my favorite little guy and the little sniff kisses upon the back of my neck from the youngest girl. I hung around later than usual and sitting in the girls room again where after helping them understand I was saying goodbye, they gave me little gifts of peppermint candies and a braided bracelet. Waving “tam biet” to everyone eating lunch in the room next door, it was my favorite little boy who gave me the last wave, sitting from the very spot I remembered him on my first day at the Home of Affection. It was appropriate enough.

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Later that day I was off to Tam Tanh Beach for teaching at the Education Center. Each Thursday (minus the first) I basically acted as Tam’s assistant for the younger class in the afternoon. The kids all came to these classes voluntarily – some to the morning and afternoon sessions. With their extremely limited English and my extremely limited Vietnamese, I was usually only good for pronunciation, not to mention high-fives, thumbs up and laughs. Every class ended with a game of BINGO consisting of the words we introduced that day. That day, the little dimpled girl I found most adorable lingered long after class was dismissed – waiting for more and more high-fives.

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We skipped the beach that day because that evening we had planned our very own Tam ky beach party, Mrs. Hanh and her husband included! Kim even made it back from her Da Nang university exams to join us… she said it was just for me ; ). We ate dinner alongside the beach at the “resort”; even under the night sky we were sweating. Dinner was interesting – the rice paper and fish was excellent, though Danielle was surprised to realize she had eaten the brain and later Mrs. Hanh slurped down its eye. After eating, we all changed into our suits and went for an ocean swim. Mrs. Hanh even ventured out in her little black inner-tube. It was magical – the light from the shore reflected in such a way that each movement made bright luminous bubbles beneath the water. Of course there was some skinny dipping later and a certain volunteer suffered an unfortunate injury caused by a naked handstand. Back to our beach “bungalow,” we all eventually found a place to sleep on the 2 beds, couch, or floor.

Kim and I woke early and while the others were still sleeping, we took a walk on the beach. After, we sat in the resort’s little seating area, eating junk food for breakfast and drinking the tea a handsome Vietnamese boy served us. Sitting there with Kim, the moments of silence came so comfortably. She is truly my Vietnamese soul mate. Though tired, the whole gang accepted Me Ba’s (a mother @ the Baby Orphanage) invitation to her house for lunch that day where she had prepared a beautiful meal.

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Going to work at the Baby Orphanage that Friday afternoon, we found we suddenly weren’t the only ones who visited the orphanages. That coming Sunday was Children’s Day, the one big day of the year that the city recognizes the orphanage children. Our bananas no longer appealed to the kids, as they clutched their presents of large bags filled with junk food. These governmental organizations and big companies who came over the weekend all brought the same thing – and they stayed long enough to maybe meet one child, sometimes getting some video footage of their great deed. When you have been visiting the orphanages every day and actually come to love the kids, it’s hard not to see Children’s Day as a big joke. Still, we were happy the weekend was so special for the kids because we had just received news that for the kids over age 6 this was to be their last weekend in Tam ky. They were being moved to an orphange in Hoi An. This news hit hard for us Tam ky volunteers, especially Carrie who’s pride and joy has come from these particular kids and now knows she’ll be making quite a few more trips to Hoi An on the weekends.

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As our gift to the Baby Orphanage for Children’s Day, we took them out for a little field trip Saturday – an excursion to the Tam ky supermarket’s arcade room and then its cafeteria for a big meal. It doesn’t sound that impressive, but for these kids who never even get the opportunity to venture outside of the orphanages walls, it was an amazing day.

Suddenly, come sun-down, it was my last night in Vietnam. Mrs. Hanh had everyone over to her home for a very special good-bye dinner. She had bought a beautiful cake and made her best meal yet. We were happily accompanied by Mrs. Hanh’s husband’s family and later Me Ba and her son. I was filled with a million emotions this night – I nearly started crying when Grandma left, and our relationship had only gone as far as “Hello” and “Good-bye” and sniff kisses. There couldn’t have been a better way to spend my last night – in the midst of such wonderful friends who in one month had come to feel like family.

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Returning to the house, I finally made Tam adhere to his promise to teach me how to ride the motorbike. Getting started was a little shaky, as well as getting comfortable with turns, but I could have made loops around our street all night. Patrick tried after me… but didn’t do so well. Hehe

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And like always, we were all back up on the roof. As the night lingered on, everyone said goodnight except Patrick – he stayed up talking with me till 4:30 a.m. There was no time for even a wink of sleep because the taxi was coming for me and my bags at 5. I showered, snuck my little goodbye notes into everyone’s room, and departed the Tam ky house along with Kim and David who were going to Da Nang that day for orientation. I understood then, why the Vietnamese go to bed so early and wake so early. At 5 in the morning, I had never seen the rice fields more beautiful. The sky was a mix of light shades of pink and purple, reflected flawlessly in the pools that the rain had formed in the paddies.

David and Kim were so sweet to me. David stood in line with my luggage as Kim walked me over to the cheap airport souvenir store and unnecessarily bought me a bracelet. “To remember me,” she said. Though how could I forget her. We made a plan to meet in Singapore or somewhere someday.

To my luck, another GVN volunteer was on my flight to Hanoi and when we arrived at its airport, we spent our layover reflecting on our trips. Checking in for my flight, I found myself in line with many new parents, carrying their Vietnamese babies home. It’s weird when you think that Vietnam will always only be their birthplace. Especially when the parents seem so relieved to be leaving it and find it to be “simply so hot!” International adoption certainly has its own tragedies.

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As this second pane took off and rose above the land called Vietnam, I felt the gravity of my experience and the easy joy it brought me. Memories rushed through my mind as Vietnam shrank from under me – the kids, the volunteers, Mrs. Hanh, Kim. In that short month of May, I lived a whole lot. And I had found that little confirmation I was looking for – love and happiness exist universally. People are same same.

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Posted by jageiger 09:04 Comments (0)

weekend in nha trang & the beginning of the end

Nha Trang turned out to be a fun trip, though we missed Patrick who came down w/ a little stomach bug before leaving and stayed home. Leaving on the sleeper bus @ 7:15 in Tam ky, we arrived in Nha Trang around 6 in the morning. I hadn't known exactly what a sleepr bus would look like, but it was quite cool & comfortable -- 3 rows of bunk-bed style reclining chairs. I sat directly behind the driver in the top bunk, which was fortunate since I got his air conditioning as well as mine. I was also next to two extremely cool Swedish girls who were heading to Da Lac... just one of their many stops on their 4 month long southeast asia journey. They were awesome, but we didn't start up conversation until about 11 and this caused the driver to dramatically pull over the bus to a complete stop -- only to turn around & tell us w/ one finger up to his lips, "Sh!" And then we were off again.

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Nha Trang's beaches were truly beautiful, and its restaurants and shops seemed to be a little step up from those we found in Hoi an. Our hotel was called "NICE hotel" and it was verrrry niiiice (borat voice). After enjoying an ocean swim in the pouring rain, we all took advantage of the 10 dollar parasailing -- Carrie and I went up together. The next day we took the cable cars over to "Vinpearland!" This was an island who's name was pasted to the side in a very hollywood fashion and that contained the ultimate amusement park -- waterpark, dry rides, and an arcade. The last day was a bit of a pamper day... I received my first full body massage. Both nights we went out to the beach and met a couple fun english/irish/danish people. Once again... not so much a weekend focused on culture but it was a great little vacation. On the bus ride home, we were the 1st on the bus, so the 5 of us filled the beds in the very back top row making it a very cozy ride.

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Back in Tam ky is when I realized how soon I have to go home and leave all the beautiful faces I've come to love here. It's a stomach sickening feeling because they have brought me so much gratification this month. I almost think that if I were to stay longer, it would be more for selfish than selfless reasons. It's not that I feel that my presence here doesn't matter, but I do feel that it has done more good for me than the children.

Yesterday at the Home of Affection, we brought along a boom box and Danielle's pump up cd. Initially, the kids were hesitant to dance and watched us with embarrassed smiles as us volunteers danced around. However, within a few minutes they were all up and jumping around. Some of the older boys began break dancing and I'm not gonna lie.. they were pretty darn good. They told Tam they learned it on TV.

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It's been getting hotter here.. the last couple days have almost been unbearable. Maybe it's a good thing I won't have to suffer through a Vietnam June.

I don't know if Vietnam is the most beautiful country, but I have certainly seen in that way. I think it's beauty is found in smaller places... not in its landscape or architecture or fashion. It's difficult to put into words. As a foreigner, I notice even the most minute glimpses of everyday life. One such occassion occurred during one of our first night bike rides in Tam ky, as we pedaled past a woman praying. She was old, a lighted stick of incense pressed between her hands, and her light blue robe matched the flurescent blue of the walls behind her. She faced the road as if on a stage -- her open home standing out of the darkness which surrounded it -- and yet she was so utterly unaware of her audience. She simply stood there, which such a stillness and her lips seemed to spell peacefullness.

I won't forget those kind of moments. I'm not sure if being a complete tourist in Vietnam would have given me the same impression of the country.. and for that I am thankful to have experienced the country in the way I did. Somehow as a volunteer, I felt just a little bit more a part of everything. It was never really about the sites... and I'm not sure if it ever is, really. Hopefully I'll get one more entry up before leaving... but otherwise, I'll be home 5 am on the 1st and meanwhile will be trying to fit in as much as I can in the next 4ish days. I love you all, and thanks so much for caring and taking the time to read this thing : )

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Posted by jageiger 05:41 Comments (0)

the roof, buddha, uncle ho, and some tea in the mountains

it's amazing that in my last entry... going home felt so far away. now as i finally get to writing another entry, i realize it's already the 20th and i have only 10 more days in vietnam. it's hard to believe i have to leave this gorgeous place, yet i know there's much to be done and discovered this summer still at home. i'm looking forward to home after a year away at school.

so much as happened in the last 5 or 6 days. thursday night brought a party on the roof. one of the first nights without rain, we took the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful night by pulling out some mattresses, cards, and the ipod dock up onto the balcany. we all stayed up talking way too late... i of course got way too happy about the moment and pulled one of my "i love you guys" scenes. it's just that it's been amazing how quickly i've come to love the volunteers and feel so at home and myself around them. kim, patrick, and i even ended up camping out up there. we put up some mossy nets, and spooning with kim, i slept very soundly until the 6 am sun and tam ky bustle woke me.

not surprisingly, friday turned out to be a tired/lazy day. at the baby orphanage that morning i ended up spending my entire time playing with the girl who has cerebral palsy (i forget her name... she is one of the only disabled children in the orphanage & because the facility isn't equiped to help her with physical therapy and merely lets her lay in her room or sit on her bucket of a toilet seat after eating/drinking, her leg & arm function have only continuously worsened). she really got a kick out of me hitting myself and falling over & this led to her getting a kick out of hitting me herself. the headache afterwards was definately worth it.

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friday night we drove to da nang to meet up with the volunteers there. it's about an hour drive and before the sunset, everything had a peachy haze. after checking in to a hotel, we went with the others to the "bamboo bar." there wasn't much to it... we sat out side and enjoyed food & drinks & a walk along the river. the bar was followed by the phung dong dance club. there was an amazing light-up stage here which made for grrreat dancing & we even met the club's dj who happens the be the only black guy living in da nang & definately the first black guy i had seen since arriving. we danced "old school" and then he tried to tell me he lived in south africa & then vietnam where he is now making shoes? he seemed pretty american to me.

saturday morning we went to the neatest restaurant called pizza plus. opened by a christian family (from australia, i think), it hires only deaf or disabled employees. AND a 17 year-old girl who grew up in the baby orphanage now works there. she and another waitor taught us vietnamese sign language during our meal, which included cheeseburgers... my first western food this month. later we got to check out the social support in da nang. it was out of the city a ways, near the hills/mountains and was incredibly different than the social support we're used to (they're both run by the same organization). it consisted of not only baby & street children, but also children with disabilities, and some elderly. i got peed on by the cutest little baby ever and was touched by the warm welcome we received just by being there.

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saturday evening & yet another taxi. we drove to hoi an because all the volunteers were meeting there... mainly for the beach party that night. we went out to dinner & then to the "before & now" bar & thennn to the beach party. it was a long night. good dancing, & a beautiful ocean, but not a speck of vietnamese culture & it ended just a bit too late. that sunday we rode bikes to the hoi an beach where we bought a soccer ball. as tam and i played w/ it like a volleyball, about 5 random vietnamese teens joined in our game. the body surfing was excellent that day as well : )

riding back to tam ky was yet another gorgeous drive. nearly completely dark, a full moon lit thesky covered in whispy clouds. the houses looked like little doll houses -- all lit up with their white flourescent lights -- giving their bright teal colored walls a green sea-glass look. you could peer in and see the buddha shrine & family alter front and center & families sitting on their floors with bowls of rice & chopsticks in hand. david, ang, & lucy also got home from their trip up north that night. it was an exciting night for tam ky... apparently buddha day?! there was a huge parade down our street with about 20 colorful lit-up floats & a swarm of motorbikes alongside. lots of people took pictures right back at us.

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monday was ho chi minh day. after work, took a bike ride to the tam ky market for the first time. lots of fruit, spices, tacky purses, shoes, & jewelry. cat and carrie went to the sandal store to buy about 30 new pairs of sandals for the home of affection kids!! todayyy was yet another adventure, because the tam ky volunteers were treated to an all-inclusive trip to the mountains near the boarder of laos. in the mountains are beautiful streams and the residences of one of 64 vietnamese ethnic groups. a tourist industry is attempting to market the area, so they wanted some westerners to come for the opening ceremony. the bus ride was long... we were quite packed in.. but the mountains were wonderful and i enjoyed the drive. again it was raining, so though we couldn't see how the tea on the mountains was made, we got to stop to drink some of it. we even got free gift-bags w/ the green tea leaves.

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then was another ride further into the mountains to the ethnic group's village. the people of the mountains did have an appearance distinct of that of most of the vietnamese we're around in tam ky -- most noticable is their darker skin. sadly the opening ceremony was quite dampered by the rain.. us guests were quickly decked out in colorful ponchos. the most enjoyable part of the day was our meal. herded into a little hut, a good 50 places were set upon the floor & plates of food we weren't quite used to --- lots of interestingly cooked rice (bamboo rice, rice in banana leaves), fish, really bony chicken, & an oddly shredded beef. they kept forcing upon us this wine-like drink made from mulberry juice. it tasted fine.. but you wouldn't want to follow their commands and cheers to drink "100 percent!!" (bottoms up). of course the night ended in singing.. a more instrumental karaoke. somehow i got convinced to sing a song -- they claimed it was only fair to share each other's cultures. one of the older men i had been talking to surprised em with a rose made from a napkin. after taking a little nature pee, we left around 7:30 for the 2.5 hr ride back.. very glad we went.

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well a couple more usual days of work and then we'll be traveling once again for the weekend. this time we're taking a sleeper bus all the way to na trang, a famous beach spot in vietnam. part of the reason for the trip is because gvn is opening an office near na trang.. apparently the orphanages there are in bad shape. i'm excited, but i most enjoy my time in tam ky and with the kids. love y'all at home, i'll write again soon!

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Posted by jageiger 08:54 Comments (0)

best job ever

i just got back from the Home of Affection! they were so good today, we had a ton of fun. but honestly, i have been having fun every second of this trip. the kids only get cuter and cuter. there's been a lot of rain this week, which is very unusual for this time of year. i've been enjoying it because it's given my pores a little break. my hundreds of mosquito bites below my knees are finally fading away... though i do have the most zits i've ever had in my life. none of that stuff phases me because i am so happy every single day here.

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i still have been spending more time w/ the babies at the baby orphanage, however tuesday we stayed longer than usual beause mrs. hanh cooked a feast for the children and we kept them all busy till she arrived. it gave me a chance to meet some of the older kids. i had fun trying to teach a couple of the girls some ballet and then the macarena (sp?). now that we have received some more funds for the nutrition program, we're able to do this once each week. it was amazing. even the smallest kids finished their entire bowl of soup along w/ a couple big rolls of bread. they were so excited, especially when we had ice cream for them for desert!

i'd probably say my favorite kids are the ones at social support. to me they seemed to be a little more focused and gentile. and some of their faces just make me melt. there's a little girl named ny who just bites her lower lip and looks up at you with these big eyes.. i can't let her go! the boys there are adorable as well... sometimes they just all pile up on top of me. we've been doing a LOT of piggy back rides.

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today i get to go to the education center near the beach to teach a younger kid's english class! i'm so excited. more to come later. i'm keeping the victoms of china's earthquake, margie and megan, and crosby's grandpa in my prayers. love you so much.

Posted by jageiger 20:43 Comments (0)

weekend in tam ky

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it was a fun weekend in tam ky! recently, carrie helped mrs. hanh buy a new house, but she was still struggling to pay the rest of her mortgage. so when she came over ready to go out w/ us friday, tam surprised her w/ the last 600 dollars! it was amazing, she was so happy she balled her eyes out. carrie had bought champagne and angie made a great chocolate cake along w/ some chocolate fondu.

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we went to the new "bar" in tam ky that also happens to be the only dance club in tam ky. it was actually the same place i went w/ some of the university students the other night. we had such a great time. the dance club's music was incredibly loud, techno of course, and we all got into it. what made things a little more entertaining though, were the 4 or 5 vietnamese men who kept pushing us into the center of the dance circle and yelling drunken things in our ears. one in particular would not give up on me, and i ended up with his number. he kept yelling "chenny pleassse!" it was sweet... but, needless to say, i wasn't very interested. for some reason at the end of the night, the music switched to slow songs like some junior high dance. kim and i enjoyed a romantic slow dance, then tam and i. we all walked home... pretty much the only ones on the street. it was a fun night... we all shared in mrs. hanh's "ME HAPPPY!!"

it was a lazy saturday. went to the supermarket, biked around, watched movies... but lots more volunteer bonding.

sunday we ventured to the beach! it was an overcast day, but the wind made for some great waves. the ocean was awesome. we'd run down one end of the beach, get carried down to the other by the current in about ten minutes, and repeated this several times. at one point, tam challenged me to a game of "chicken." whoever turned to swim back to shore first was the chicken. he told me he wasn't going to back out.. but neither was i. so we just kept swimming. when we finally turned around, we realized the whole beach had gathered watching. when we struggled to the shore, cat told us they had been writing things in the sand and pointing to us. she asked tam, what does this spell "chet?" ..... it meant "dead." so the beach workers had written dead in the sand and pointed to us, meanwhile the canadians had no idea what they were saying and only laughed. the whole thing was hilarious.

last night we listened to music, called our mother's for mother's day (i love you mom : ) ) and cut an inch off of patrick's hair. we got back to work this morning at the baby orphanages... i had missed the kiddies. i seriously can't wait to be a mom. hehe

Posted by jageiger 18:18 Comments (0)

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