Sai Gone

It’s mine and Lucy’s last full day with the volunteers, so my core group (Lucy, Lex, Tom, Sophie, Addie, and Rochelle (Melbourne, Australia)) planned a special day in District One. It was also a day that Quyen wanted to take the volunteers out again. What to do!? I split my time between Quyen and my group. Quyen took all the volunteers out to try a variety of fruit among the alleys in HCMC. My group separated soon enough but I told them I would meet them later on. The fruit was tasty and consisted of purple dragon fruit, strawberries, bananas, mangoes, and other strange ones that I cannot pronounce. Soon Quyen treated the rest us of that were left to fried bananas and deep-fried sweet potatoes. I didn’t want to miss out on the Vietnamese cuisine so I knew the others would understand. But immediately after, I took a motorbike to the Financial Tower, the tallest building in Vietnam, to meet up with everyone.

Financial Tower
Financial Tower

I caught up with them and we went up to the highest floor we possibly could without paying and found a nice, ritzy bar at the top with an ingratiating view of Saigon!

Saigon City
Saigon City

And so begins the wave of goodbyes. I woke up the next day and found that I only need to wear my neck brace for when I’m sleeping. I started to pack that along with everything else into my bags. Will, Tian, and a few others were leaving early this morning to go to Mui Ne beach, which meant this would be the last time I would see them. Out of all the new volunteers that arrived two weeks after I did, I was fond of Tian and Will the most. Tian just cracked me up with everything she said and did, even if she wasn’t trying to be funny. I bonded with Will a little later into my stay here in Saigon. I really didn’t get to know him until about a week ago and I found he shares the same enthusiasm for venturing the world and making fun of each other’s home countries as much as I do! He’s also savvy with a camera and would go through great lengths to get that great shot, just like me. I have a few friends I need to visit in Australia, now adding Will to the top of that list, which solidifies the fact that I need to get there soon! Watch out for those drop bears Will.

The group of five Australian girls were due to leave next. I barely got to knew them until the last couple of days here, which was a shame. I hung out much more with my students and locals than I did with the other volunteers. Even so, I helped them with their luggage and walked with them to a taxi. Afterwards, I went back to my dorm to finish packing before I went to teach another session at Cuch Gach with Duong.

This time, Duong let me teach whatever I wanted. So for the majority of class, I went over consonant and vowel sounds, in addition to changing certain words to the past, present, and future tense. The later part of the class, I helped them fine tune their conversation skills when meeting an English speaking foreigner for the first time. I loved this!


The students were really into it!
The students were really into it!

After class was over, Duong took me to another restaurant to treat me to breakfast. Bittersweet because this was the last time I would see Duong here. She showed me around the restaurant and she was keen to hear about what I have in store for the rest of my travels. She was very interested about the Reaching Out 2 The World project I’m working on in South Africa and thought that it was the most awesome idea in the world! As a matter of fact, most of the students that knew about it, thought it was the coolest thing ever! I would never expect, nor want these students to donate so all I asked of them was to follow along to see what I would be up to. Still to this day, I have never seen Duong without a smile – still one of the most pleasant people on the face of this earth. I also found out that Duong came all the way to the hospital to check on me when she found out something happened. Once she saw that I was okay, she left but didn’t want to bother me. What an angel! After breakfast, we said our farewells, and I set off on a motorbike back to the college as she rode her bicycle back to her home. It then hit me that I have a LOT of people to say goodbye to before my flight at 8pm! Hopefully I would get to everyone!

As I walked back into the college, luckily I bumped into Duc as he was on his way to the restaurant. I told him not to leave the college quite yet, as I had something for him. I went to my dorm to get a shirt I had with me that had the “University of Michigan” emblem on it. I’ve had it for awhile but it was always too big for me. I thought Duc would be the perfect size for it and he was! We said our goodbyes. Soon he would be going to Luxembourg for a year to start his schooling there to become a chef. Good luck with everything Duc!

Duc with his a-MAIZE-ing new shirt.
Duc with his a-MAIZE-ing new shirt.

I heard a “Hey Dan!” as I was walking around the college. It was the group of students who took me out to karaoke a few days ago, lounging on the benches nearby. I was glad to see all of them here at once because I didn’t think I would see them again before I left. 20130719-104200.jpgThey remembered that I was leaving today so we all took pictures together in the center of the campus. They would ask me what my plans for the rest of my trip were and then follow up with, “When will you come back to Vietnam Dan?”. That question would always kill me. Before coming to Vietnam, I thought this would be a one-and-done visit. Now that it’s just about over, I can definitely see myself coming back to teach at the college and visit many of the students, but I have no clue when. I would always say, “One day, but as soon as I know, I will tell you all on Facebook.”


Lucy was in the middle of packing, so I decided to go grab a quick lunch on my own at the restaurant downstairs. That’s when I saw another group of students from another one of my classes enjoying lunch. “Hey Dan!”, they said as they were flagging me over to come join them. I went over and mentioned to them that I would be leaving in just a few hours and was glad to see them one last time. We talked about a lot of different things and then eventually they gave me a keychain and one of the girls made a card for me with a 3-D basket that popped up when you opened the card. I felt really terrible because I didn’t have anything to give, because I never expected this much gratitude before coming to Vietnam. They just made me promise to skype them when I got back home to help them with their English. I would love that and can’t wait for that to happen!


After lunch, Quyen spotted me walking past her office and so she called me over. She had a certificate for me, stating my completion of teaching English at this college. The date is a week short, but no matter! It’s still pretty nice to recieve this. Always dressed in professional business attire, Quyen has been one of the best coordinators for any volunteering establishment I have ever been a part of. Not only is she incredibly sweet and informative, she’s amazingly funny and wants nothing but the best for us. Anna and Bryan have been very helpful too. Bryan loved to hang out in the city with the volunteers and Anna was always around to make sure we were all ready for the days events. A top notch team!

Anna, Me, Quyen, and Lucy
Anna, Me, Quyen, and Lucy

On the way back to my dorm, I saw that Ms. Chi was in the middle of teaching a class, so I popped over so she could see me through the window. She knew it was my last day and wanted to say goodbye. My intention was to take a photo with just her but it turned out that the entire class wanted in on the action!

20130719-104349.jpgOnce I said my goodbyes to Ms. Chi and her students, another student spotted me from her office. Her name is Annie and she is one of the top students of her hotel management class. Good luck in all of your future endeavors Annie!

Annie and me.
Annie and me.

I had a few food tickets left that I decided to use all on ice cream instead of dinner. So I headed back to the restaurant real quick and that’s when I spotted another teacher I worked with and his student assistant enjoying a meal. They spotted me and invited me to sit with them and just like everyone else in Saigon, they wanted to treat me to a delicious dish. So nice! But, I literally had 30 minutes left before a taxi came and picked me and Lucy up, so I had to decline, but I made sure to get a photo in for memories sake!


This whole day I was worried I wouldn’t get to say a proper goodbye to three of my closest students, Bin, Bone, and Macu. I messaged Macu on Facebook telling them goodbye and I came to terms that I wouldn’t see them before I left. Then suddenly, Macu messaged me to meet him in front of the college. And before I knew it, here he was walking along towards the college. I have been showered with small gifts and tokens from students and teachers and I felt horrible that I didn’t have anything great to offer. Macu shared in my love of food and ice cream so I handed him some money. “I want you guys to buy as much ice cream as you can!” I said. Macu is a modest one, and didn’t want to take the money. “But you must save for your trip!” he said trying to hand me back the money. “I’ll be fine.” I responded. “Tell the others goodbye for me and stay in touch!” He was the last local here that I bid farewell to. Now it was time to say goodbye to the other remaining volunteers, the ones Lucy and I have become very close to…

My roommate from the very beginning, Tom, and his girlfriend, Sophie, have been great to have around. Sophie had an English accent as if she came straight from royalty and Tom’s accent was so thick that it was hard to understand him sometimes, but it made for constant laughs. They are both leaving the next day and traveling around Southeast Asia. There is a high probability that we will run into them again soon. Addie has grown as a person, considerably since she arrived. Poor girl has been through so much here (having her phone ripped and stolen right from her hands, nearly getting her purse snatched, a kidney infection, etc). By the end, she handled everything like a pro and she’ll remember this experience for years. Rochelle likes to snicker and giggle at random moments throughout the day to herself, which we all found highly amusing. She has been here longer than the rest of us, and once her original group left, she blended very well into ours. She would remain in Vietnam for about 6 more weeks. Lex also arrived the day we did and will remain in Vietnam for a total of three months. Her and Lucy became close as they always had the same thought process. Lex lives in Toronto and I am an avid visitor of that city so it’s likely that I will see her again. One more group shot for the books guys…

Sophie, Rochelle, Lucy, Lex, Tom,.Addie, Me.

I came to Saigon with little expectations. I thought I would stay in more of a village, with barely any electricity, bugs flying everywhere, and help teach in a school full of little kids. Turns out, Saigon is a huge city with towering buildings and bright flashy lights that really come alive at night. It’s a city that is growing economically and independently into a major attraction. I predict in a year or so, Saigon will have it’s very first McDonald’s! The college was well organized, quaint, and I felt that I was put to great use here. And to any of you students that I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to, remember to send me some long messages on Facebook so I can correct your English grammar for you.

Cheers to the world guys – I’m off to the wild North!


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