A Travellerspoint blog

1st week of work

I can’t get over the fact that each morning I get to wake up and hold a baby. They are the most beautiful miracles. This week has been wonderful – it’s been nice to pick up a routine. We visit the baby orphanage (the only one w/ babies) every day, and we have split into two groups so that when one of us is at the Home of Affection, the other is at Social Support. The baby orphanage is off of the high way so we drive but normally we bike to the other two. The Home of Affection is made up of street children, a few of which get to go to school. I’m still learning about each of the differences. Social Support has a few less children and many of them do not actually live in the facility but rather go everyday like day-care. There, especially, lots of the kids are ethnic minorities. The orphanage children are incredible; they have such focus and creativity. As soon as we need to clean up, they are right there helping. It’s great to have male volunteers, because they love climbing all over them. I’m already picking my favorites.

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Unfortunately, today was to be our first English teaching day, but the classes were cancelled due to the students’ exams. We take a bus out to an Education Center about 20 minutes away and teach one younger class and one older class. In between… beach time. So this morning instead, I visited the Home of Affection. Maybe it was because I was tired, but I began to look at the kids and their home, and saw it for the first time for what it really is. It’s sad. Kids who are 13 look 10 due to past malnutrition. Even when it is likely that their parents will never be able to afford to raise them, their parents resist adoption. And so many of the kids spend their entire lives growing up in these places and then when old enough return to their families to help them make a living. Parents cannot come visit, because its simply too expensive to travel. Even with the “mothers” of the orphanages giving their generous love and care, there isn’t enough individual attention. The saddest story I’ve heard so far was of a girl about 10 or 11 at the baby orphanage who they think is autistic. Her mother was a prostitute, and to keep her daughter quiet, she’d shove her head in the bathtub water until she passed out. The neighbor found out. Autism or brain damage caused by a lack of oxygen?

Many fun things have happened in the past few days. Monday night we went on a night-time bike ride, ending up incredibly lost – somehow on our very own street. We bought some exotic fruits, and found a little shop selling ice cream. The highlight of my ride, though, was when a motorbike pulled up alongside next to me on my bike and the man riding asked me, “Vous parlez francais?” I hadn’t expected to find any French left in Vietnam except for a few road names and the breakfast baguettes, so it was an awesome surprise! He was old, tanned, and wrinkled, but his accent was tres francais. We talked for a short 30 seconds.

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Tuesday night was Karaoke night!! Mrs. Hanh took us to her friends’ Karaoke place nearly across the street from where we live. We got all dressed up and everyone except David came, even Mrs. Hanh and Kim who serenaded us with some Vietnamese songs. Karaoke is so different here and sooo much more popular. Rather than the typical karaoke stage in an American bar, Karaoke in Vietnam, is a more small group affair. You and your friends go into a private room w/ its own stage, couches, tv’s and microphones. It was so much fun and eventually dragged on a bit too long, but we just had to sing “one more song!” I sang “I will survive” though the Vietnamese translation was way off and totally messed up my performance. Tam and I also did a wonderful duet of “A Whole New World.”

We had some big rain Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons. This is the little girl next door. She was clapping and giggling at the street water’s ripples.

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Yesterday, Kim invited me on her motorbike to follow Tam and Carrrie to one of the orphanage “mother’s homes.” The woman, “Me Ba” works at the baby orphanage and she has such a passion for all the children. Recently, one of the kids she was strongly attached to was adopted in America and she wanted help in sending them a video of her and her home. It was precious, I cried.

Last night I tagged along with Carrie to this university class she helps with. There is only one university in tam ky. The class was made up of students from ages 20 to 27 and they were at a beginner level so the teacher had them just ask us simple questions. Carrie sat with half the class and I sat with the other. We talked a lot about school and hobbies. One of the guys said he loved music, in particular romantic songs. This somehow turned into me singing a romantic song for them. They immediately invited me to coffee or out for dinner and asked for my number. I guess that’s typical here – it’s very impressive to neighbors and friends if you dine with a westerner and they also value anyone who can correctly speak English. I did agree to get coffee afterwards so majority of the class came out to this Coffee Bar/Restaurant/Club. It certainly didn’t look much like coffee shops at home – there was loud techno music playing, a large fountain in the center, and a movie being projected on one of the walls. Most of the place was outdoors and had many levels of seating. I sat next to the teacher who ordered me carrot juice. I really struggled with the melon seeds on the table – you have to peel the outer core and I had just cut my nails that night. It took me a good ten seeds to figure out the whole biting, picking, and pulling process and when I finally got it they all cheered, laughing. I thought it was a lot of work for a seed that tasted like but was much smaller than an unsalted pumpkin seed. I enjoyed exchanging w/ the university different cultural differences. We got into politics (not that I know any) and sex. Already the teacher and the students are planning more times for us to get together, next time with the Canadians too.

The only downside of my trip occurred only yesterday at the Home of Affection. The one time I had decided to bring my camera and now it appears to have been stolen. I had last placed it on top of my bag, so either an inquisitive child grabbed it or possibly one of the university students who often joins us in helping the kids snatched it. Luckily all my images thus far had been uploaded, but I’m obsessed with photography and was looking forward to some photo excursions while being here. We’ll see what happens. Don’t worry mom and dad – I’ve talked to Mr. Viet and am in the process of contacting the insurance so we’re dealing with it all properly. Carrie said she has never heard of anything being stolen before at any of the orphanages. Well, I love all of you at home… we are all very lucky people.

Posted by jageiger 04:16 Comments (0)

hoi an

sunny 88 °F

on our first morning in tam ky, we work up to mrs. hahn's breakfast call, "EVERYBODY! breakfast in vietnam almost always consists of a ten inch long baguette, with cheese or butter, and delicious fruit (pineapple, mango). the coffee here is delicious -- a little stronger, but so sweet. after breakfast, the taxi picked us up and drove us to the three orphanages we will be working: the home of affection, social support, and the "baby orphanage." we brought fresh bananas to the children at each, some of whom were very shy at first to meet us. they were all adorable -- though i quickly found a favorite at the baby orphanage. he was a baby and wouldn't stop jumping once i got him started!

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fortunately at tam ky, the orphanages are in better condition than those in da nang. i think because the energy is focused on 3 rather than about 6, they've been able to make more progress. here in tam ky, we bring fresh fruit every morning. the children also receive daily vitamins. recently, with the help of kim the translator, they were even able to take the kids out for a day-long trip last month. the entire thing cost 80 dollars and the kids claimed it was the best day of their lives. we're hoping to maybe put on a little music show at social support, because it seems they all love to sing.

though we had only arrived thursday, many of the new volunteers in the other placements had already planned a trip to hoi an for the weekend. hoi an is a more touristy town which many westerners visit -- its attractions include beautiful markets, thousands of tailors, a ten minute ride to a beautiful beach, and plenty of bars and places of entertainment. since i had made some friends during orientation, i really wanted to meet up with the rest of the group, and since carrie and carl were already planning on going there for the weekend, the canadians and i decided to join them in a taxi! it was probably a little crazy traveling onlya day after we arrived in tam ky, however i only have so many weekends here and the other tam ky volunteers were already away for the weekend holiday.

we stayed a beautiful hotel in hoi an with not only a pool but air conditioning!! and only 15 dollars a night, with a 1 dollar breakfast. we spent the first day walking around and checking out the tailors. cat had a beautiful wool petty coat made for only 25 dollars. the streets in hoi an are beautiful, scattered with trees and brightened with the tailored clothes lined from corner to corner. in the evening we ate dinner at "Jenny's Bamboo Restaurant" whcih carrie reccomended. jenny is from australia and has lived in vietnam for 5 years; she works with the orphanage in hoi an, sharing some of her restaurant profits. we had a great time, especially enjoying the 5000 dong bia (that'd be about 35 cents??). later we met up with the rest of the GVN volunteers at the "Before and Now" restaurant. they had been drinking there and hadn't eaten, so we joined them at their table at another restaurant called the "Bale Well." This was set in a little allyway, and was a much more traditional vietnamese restaurant. we sat outside on the little patio furniture (here, always the little kiddy plastic furniture we play with at home), and were distributed plates full of food to be put into rice paper. one of the cooks continued to show us how to make the proper roll-up and shoved it in our mouths saying "cam ONNNNNN!" (thank you). afterwards, half the group, including me and pat, went to a discotech where we danced to some crazy techno music. we basically were the only people there, and definately the only ones dancing. it was hilarious.

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the next day we made some more rounds at the tailors and headed out towards the beach! the beach was scorching, but the water was amazing - nearly like bath water! i got out after being scared by what felt and looked like a jellyfish but i think it might have only been the harmless type. sitting on the beach, you get swarmed by the women and their baskets of miscellaneous goods (necklaces, nuts, etc). well trained, they come with prepared lines like "oh very boring day at the beach"; "to open your heart, open your wallet"; "don't be lazy, be crazy!"; "you lucky, me not so lucky"; "i remember you, you remember me?" it's hard not to be a sucker for some of them, so i did buy two silly necklaces, one of which seems to already be breaking. after lunch at the beach & tired of the sun, i went to lay under the palm trees. mid-nap, i was awoken by a "heloooo!" and a smiling vietnamese face over my head. he wanted to meet me and practice his english, so we talked for awhile. a 22 year old, studying automobile production at the university in da nang, he was visiting his friend in hoi an. i couldn't believe that he found the ocean water cold.

we ended up staying on the beach much longer than planned when we found the other GVN volunteers who had planned a night beach party. the girls were tired so returned to the hotel, but patrick and i joined them on the beach for awhile. we soon felt tired and dirty, and decided to head back to the hotel as well. i had held my bladder since about 4 so i surrendered and peed in the plastic hole -- the bathroom at the beach. i had wanted to take the motortaxis back, but pat wanted to walk so we did. then far from catching a motortaxi, we got hungry and stopped in a roadside restaurant. maybe not the wisest choice for our stomachs, but a fun experience nonetheless. the men in the restaurant joked that we could eat their puppy for dinner (eating dog is mainly a tradition in the north). my seafood and noodles came with squid -- tenticles and all. i only ate the circular pieces. continuing our walk we happened to stumble accros carrie and carl enjoying a romantic dinner over the river! they invited us in and shared some of their wine. continuing our walk home, we realized we still had a long way so we finally found some motorbike taxis to take us back. nervous at first, i held onto the shoulders of my driver but then relaxed and enjoyed the ride. it was so much fun and the breeze felt awesome.

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that next morning, we got to venture further into the central markets of hoi an, near the river. though met by the pungent smell of fish, the markets were beautiful -- little tarps creating shade, silk scarves catching your eye, and fresh produce and flowers everywhere. we returned to tam ky early that afternoon and met our housemates! angie and david are the married couple with 3-yr-old daughter lucy, and tam is the 20 year old australian-vietnamese. they are all very sweet, though blonde lucy is a little bit of a demon child. we had a wonderful dinner and a quiet night.

today we begin our first real day of volunteering. already we visited the baby orphanage. i find myself drawn to the babies. they need the attention, most of them laying on their backs so often that they have a little bald spot on the back of their heads. today i fed the baby who hardly made it 3 months ago when he came down with pneumonia. you can still feel and hear the fluid in his lungs, but otherwise he looks incredibly healthy. he drank the entire bottle and in thanking me, surpirsed me with a nice wet spot on my pants. "nappys" are all cloth at the orphanages, so there is no stopping those bodily fluids. oh well! its so neat just to be able to play with the kids and spend time giving them much needed affection. english teaching is on our agenda, but its done in smaller classes outside of the orphanages. i'll know more about that later. well sorry this is so long, but i can't help myself from putting in all the details : ) miss you all at home!

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p.s. cool fact: everyone in vietnam is of age 1 when they are born, and collectively everyone turns older at the tet holiday (though they still celebrate birthdays) -- so that means i am 20 here!

Posted by jageiger 20:40 Comments (0)

tam ky

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i can already feel myself falling for this country. today on our bus ride to tam ky we passed through beautiful rice fields spotted with an few children flying kites. being white here, is like being a celebrity, especially in tam ky where we are literally the only westerners living in the city. girls, we get lots of cat calls & whistles. people are just jumping at the chance to say what couple english words they know, yelling "hello!" yesterday while sitting at the park, a parade of school children passed by flashing peace signs and giggling. one little boy dared to even try the phrase "what is your name?" and his entire group of friends burst into laughter.

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today we woke up early to check out of the hotel and meet everyone over at the da nang gvn house for breakfast and a day long orientation. for two nights in a beautiful hotel i paid 20 dollars, which is probably above normal. in da nang they are more used to foreigners and like to rip them off. there in the lobby of the hotel i met the 4 canadians!! they're all very cool. there's patrick (kind of like a dark haired john smith with ponytail and all), cat (the vegetarian talkative sorta eclectic? one), rosie (a little shy but adorable), and danielle (kinda like me only maybe a little more serious). it was a little bit difficult to really get to know them today, partly because they are all friends at their university, but i know things will quickly get smoother. during orientation, they shoved a ton of information in our faces at once, but it was rewarding and helpful. mr. viet, the program leader, explained that the program is so important to him because during the war his father was killed and his mother developed a mental illness. he ended up in an orphanage for a year and so until his mother got out of the mental hospital and thankfully remembered about him. the vietnamese teacher at the end of our lesson was so cute, he taught us the six different tones and loved singing songs.

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2:30, the local bus going from da nang to tam ky came by and we barely made it on. bus stops seem to sort of exist here, however you have to really yell and shout and sometimes pound on the side of the bus to make sure it stops. this was entertaining to witness on the 2 hour ride. i sat next to "kim," our translator living with us who speaks amazing english. getting off was like getting on. again, we barely made it. then when we stood by the road in tam ky to wait for a taxi, the motorbike taxi drivers attempted to convince us that they could take us. mostly they enjoyed flirting with our white skin. one pointed at me, nodded, pointed at himself, nodded, and said smiling, "white!" ha. we packed into a taxi somehow and arrived at the gvn tam ky house greated excitedly by four foot mrs. hanh, the cook here. the house is beautiful, high ceilings, all light blue, very clean, mattresses on the floor. somehow they arranged it so two girls would be with patrick and somehow i ended up being one of the two. but totally cool. i already love the city so much better -- there's more breeze, less traffic. mrs. hanhmade us a great dinner with delicious pine apple for desert.

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carrie, from australia, has been here since november and is now working in tam ky as a teacher to fund her volunteering each month. her "boyfriend" (carl) whom she met here in vietnam is from england and doing the same sort of thing is here for another week. its great to have someone here who is experienced and knows what new things we can bring. she, danielle, kim and i went out for "coffee" later in the evening where we chatted about the program and why we were here (the rest had already fallen asleep at this point). and lastly, carrie invited danielle and i to join her and her "boyfriend" in going to visit mrs. hanh for some "bia." it was so fun biking and riding through the little allyway to her three room house. we sat and talked with her and her husband along w/ the neighborhood children who simply jumped all over kyle for the hour and a half. we rode back and here i am now, still sweating, at the computer with little white geckos scurrying about eating insects. tomorrow we will go to an orphanage in the morning, and i might be trying to plan a trip to hoi an with some other volunteers. we will see what happens! (hopefully i can get some pics up soon) love love love <3

Posted by jageiger 08:09 Comments (1)

da nang

i made it to da nang! flying in was amazing as i saw all the rice fields and the roads filled with motorbikes magnifiy as we landed. after getting my luggage, i walked outside and mr. viet was right there with a sign to greet me. ironically, another volunteer was on my flight -- laura from australia. mr. viet drove the two of us to the phu an hotel to get settled and afterwards drove us to the global volutneer network da nang house for dinner and to meet the other volunteers. everyone i've met is amazing. lots from australia, a few from canada, a couple from USA, one from england.

the traffic in vietnam is exactly as i've read. no stop lights, nothing. the heirarchy of vehicles is basically: trucks, buses, cars, motorbikes, bikes, pedestrians. so crossing the street is a bit of a thrill.

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after dinner, ursala, who has been in da nang for three months already, wanted sarah, who is leaving this week, to try this vietnamese delicacy -- duck fetus?? we tagged along to see.. unsure if we'd try it. it end up being like a hard boiled egg in which the duck was a little more developed than a little yellow yoke. i had one bite... though sarah really enjoyed it and ate 2 whole eggs! then later in the evening, despite starting to feel sort of exhausted, i went with dom, elise, ursala, and laura to play a little tennis. i figured, the more tired i get the better i'd sleep, and when would i get to play tennis later? finally returning to the hotel that night, i took the best shower of my life and went to bed.

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today we had a full day.. i slept in, went back over to the house for lunch, met some more volunteers, went on a walk in the park accross the street, and then made an excursion out to the local tourist attraction, the "marble mountain". we climbed to the top and basically sweat out our entire water bottles. its hot and humid, but i guess i'll just get used to it! hopefully more details later, but i'm starving and dinner is already on the table. miss you all!

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Posted by jageiger 02:47 Comments (0)

taipei

well i'm over half way there! i'm sitting at my gate in the taipei airport, waiting to board the plane which will take me to hanoi, vietnam! my flight from san fran to here was 13 hours... time felt so weirrrd. it was funny to get dinner on the flight when it was really only 4 am at home and then get breakfast when it was about 5:30 pm at home! the food wasn't bad, i tried this chinese porridge for breakfast, which was interesting. somehow i think my seat got changed before i checked in, because i ended up in the very last row of the plane. i did have an aisle seat however, and i ended up sitting with the nicest people. they were from taiwan, and were (from what i understood) among a group of about 25 on the flight who had been to california to study at a special buddhist temple in san francisco. Angela, the woman next to me, had some bad motion sickness in the beginning, but ended up being incredibly cheerful during the second half. we watched movies together, and laughed. she kept trying to convince me to come to taipei, saying you "pay less" in taipei than in vietnam and if i went to taipei, i could stay in her house. she also said i could teach her younger son english while he taught me chinese. i ended up in the middle of her and her good friend, Demos, because she felt better sitting in the aisle seat. they both gave me business cards with their skype names. Demos had bought about five vibrating back massagers at the airport and got them out near the end of the flight. it was hilarious giving each other back messages. i think Angela is still hoping i will stop in taiwan on my way back.

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it was pouring rain in taipei when we landed. after sitting at the gate for a while, an older vietnamese-american man named Steven from california began talking to me. he's returning to vietnam for the first time since 1975. he wanted coffee, and invited me to get some with him. he bought me 5$ (!!) latte and was very nice. i tried asking him to teach me some vietnamese, but he interpreted my question as whether or not all the asians in the coffee shop were vietnamese and replied that "no, they japanese, korea, thailand." so i still know only about 3 expressions in vietnamese. later, i did quickly decline Steven's offer to join him in the smoking lounge, which was basically a little glass observatory filled with cigarette butts. to pass time, i took silly pictures of signs that said things like "please do not seat on this table."

i love you all back at home! next entry, i hope i'll be safe in vietnam!

Posted by jageiger 17:01 Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

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