Tag Archives: Ho Chi Minh

Another Point of View by Lucy

Hello everyone, I must start by saying what a pleasure it is to write a post for Dan’s blog, i.e. he’s making me write one! True but im still happy to tell you what its like volunteering with the disabled children. I’m no great writer like Daniel but I’ll try my best to keep your attention! Also knowing this blog is Daniel’s pride and joy, I better not mess this up! Here we go…

Welcome to "Centre for Orthopedics and Rehabilitation for Disabled Children".
Welcome to “Centre for Orthopedics and Rehabilitation for Disabled Children”.

It takes a 15 minute walk to placement and being so hot, by the time we get there we’re always on the sweaty side. However after 4 weeks doing this, I’ve definitely got used to it! This centre is not only where I go to daycare but it’s also where the medical program is, where volunteers get to watch live surgeries and help with physiotherapy. Our first day at daycare the other volunteers and I didn’t have a clue what to do and it didn’t help that the nurses don’t speak a word of English. This made things really difficult as we couldn’t ask them the simplest questions about the kids and how to help. However as the day went on we found a few of the children were really good at speaking English! One was so fluent he was asking me about American politics and english football teams! This was one moment it would help if I actually liked football! Anyway I tried my best to keep the conversation going! Once we started to bond with the kids we all really enjoyed the program. The children were so used to having new volunteers it was quite funny how it was them telling us what to do.

The day care is split up into 2 rooms, one we spend most of the day in, the other is where the children eat, this can be quite time-consuming due to most children have to be hand fed. There are about 30 children overall and the majority of them have Cerebral Palsy, a disorder that occurs when the brain is damaged during a child’s early development resulting in poor muscle control. This can affect a child’s movement, speech, hearing, and vision which can give abnormal muscle tone and unusual postures. Some of the children have no problem moving around with help and can communicate with us pretty well, where as some can’t move or talk at all.

Daily Routine:

8:00am – We arrive and help the children with their writing skills, I usually try to stimulate the children who can’t write or else they spend most of their day lying on the floor being pretty bored. Using puzzles and other toys we try to develop their fine motor skills and eye coordination.
10:00am – We move to the other room for lunch time. Some children will be able to move themselves by ether walking or crawling where as some children will have to be carried through. We tend to stick to feeding the same child so they get used to us, if they aren’t it’s a hard challenge getting then to finish their bowl. Once every child has eaten they settle down to nap, however this usually always ends up in pillow fights! m
11:30am – While the children nap we return to the college for lunch and being so tired we like to have nap too.
1:45pm – The children wake up and have a small snack, then they are washed with a wet towel and changed into fresh clothes. Some of the older children like to help changing to younger ones.
2:30pm – Some afternoons the children will have sign language classes but mostly this is free playtime. After learning some basic sign language myself it was easier to communicate with the children who couldn’t talk.
3:30pm – One by one, parents take their children home.
4:30pm – Time for us to leave.

Each kid is totally different in how sever their disability affects them but still each kid is lovable in their own way! Pronouncing the children’s Vietnamese names was sometimes difficult so instead we gave them nicknames, here are a few of the many children we work with…

This is Duy (aka The King)!
This is Duy (aka The King)!

The King was the first we noticed because he immediately started asking our names and where we came from? He’s 15 years old with extremely good english and an awesome sense of humor. He always has us in stitches during pillow fights and he always helps us know what to do. He loved having the volunteers around to practice his English and prank us but the most loving thing about him was his caring nature towards the other kids, always changing them and making sure no harm came their way from the other children.

This is trumpet.
This is trumpet.

We call him trumpet because he always lies on his back staring at the ceiling making trumpet sounds which was the only sound he ever made. The first 2 days we noticed he would only lay on his back due to he couldn’t walk… Oh so we thought, on day 3 trumpet suddenly out of no where stood up and walked to the other side of the room! The look on all our faces were just gobsmacked. This was the last thing i ever expected after most of the children can not walk where as he could walk perfectly. Since then Trumpet was so pleasant to be around. He likes you to stand in front of him where he can put his feet on you or lean against you while he plays with your hair.

This is The Smiler.
This is The Smiler.

This kid is amazing to work with, he can’t walk, can’t talk and can’t hardly keep his head up but will never stop smiling. Half the day he will be in a wheel chair and the other half be lying on a pillow. He loves to throw the ball, especially on the floor so he can laugh when you go pick it up! I’ve also noticed he really likes long hair and i always find myself with a few missing because of it. I sometimes feed him his snack after nap time and when I do it’s always a blast, i put the spoon near his month where he then holds the spoon with me (smiling of course) and puts it in himself. He’s so pleased with himself after every spoonful he immediately wants to celebrate with a high-five!

This is Little Angel.
This is Little Angel.

This adorable creature is one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen, hence she’s called Little Angel! She loves anybody singing to her and she always knows its me and smiles when I sing “nose, nose” and “cheek, cheek” while pointing at hers and my own face! Sadly she can’t move hardly at all, she has poor neck muscles which means she can’t hold her head up very long and her fingers and toes are curled and clenched. Ways we have tried to help her are by supporting her hold her head up and trying to get her to follow objects. We found she enjoys when you full her fingers out slowly. Unfortunately our Little Angel was not there our last week so i didn’t get the chance for a proper goodbye but I will never forget her or the other kids that were all so inspiring.

20130719-102557.jpg
Tom, Lucy, The King, and Sophie

It’s hard to see any children with disabilities like these but getting to know them can be the most rewarding experiences. I knew these children for 4 weeks and they opened my eyes massively! I can only hope to one day see them again and if not hope they all live long, happy and healthy lives!

Advertisements

Angry Hotel Guest

On the sleeper bus back to the college, I remember Quyen, one of the coordinators at the college, telling us that there will be fifteen new volunteers when we got back. Fifteen! Our group has become a pretty tight nit, especially after this weekend, and the thought of coming back to the dorms full of strangers, invading my territory got me a bit anxious, yet excited. If you recall, I had the same thoughts when I became close with my group of volunteers during my first outing in South Africa; then Lucy arrived two weeks later along with a few other strangers, who quickly became part of the family. There were ten new girls and five new guys coming to the college. Tom and I would fend for ourselves against the new guys in our dorm, as Peter and Shane, as well as Nancy and Steffanie, would be leaving to go back home. The girls had more rooms so they were able to space themselves out.

When we arrived at the college that night, no other volunteer was present. It seemed all the newbies had gone out into town. When Tom and I entered our room, we saw that all of the beds had been claimed, including his! Someone claimed Tom’s bed which I thought was hilarious! Mine was untouched. Tom swiftly moved the strangers luggage off his bed and put it onto a new one in the corner of the room. One of the people in my group found that their pocky was missing out of the fridge. I say “one of the people” instead of using their actual name because this is a big secret that at the time of this post, the newbies still don’t know about. We’ll just refer to this mystery person as “Batman”. And I don’t know what a pocky is but I guess it’s a dessert of some sort. Anyway, Batman discovered that one of the new volunteers ate his pockys. So Batman took a fresh, new, unopened case of pringles from the new girls room and left this note:

20130708-132806.jpg
Soon after, two taxi cabs full of fresh faced volunteers pulled up to the college and made their way up to our floor. “They’re coming! They’re coming!” shouted Sophie as she ran about. I hope whoever’s stuff we moved from Tom’s bed isn’t going to be upset. And I hoped everyone, for the most part, was cool. Turns out, most of them are! At the time of the writing, I still can’t tell you everyone’s names but some standout ones are Tian (Chicago, US), Will (Sydney, Australia), Ike (Las Vegas, US), and Alice (UK). Will is the culprit who unknowingly stole Tom’s bed and when we politely told him, he felt sorry and was super cool about it. Ike is actually originally from my area, Metro Detroit. As a matter of fact, we were born in the same hospital! Crazy, small world huh? Alice, along with Will, are the only two of this new crop who will be teaching with me. Tian actually came to the college a couple days earlier so we met her for a bit already. The new girls came out of the room, asking us who left the note in their room and who stole their pringles. We all played dumb. I’m sure if any of them reads this, the mystery of who stole the pringles will resurface.

This week, we said goodbye to Tara, one of the first volunteers I met here in Vietnam. Her mother came to Vietnam to meet up with her. Tara invited us out for dinner and we went for ice cream right after at a place called ‘Fannys’ in District 1. Later on the next day, Macu and Bone were waiting for me by the field so they could take me on a ride on their motorbike. We headed to the cinema to get tickets for a movie they wanted to see called “Now You See Me”. Unfortunately, tickets were sold out so they promised they’d take me next week. These guys are so friendly.

Finally something to eat besides frickin' noodles?
Finally something to eat besides frickin’ noodles?
20130709-170342.jpg
Sophie and Tom, ready for some kem (ice cream).

This week, Elisa, Alice, Will and myself taught the hotel students. In one of the classes, us volunteers pretended to be upset hotel guests who wanted to make complaints, as the students figured out the best way to administer the situation on the spot. The teacher instructed us to be angry westerners and make up a complaint for the students to handle. I based my complaint on something I heard about earlier during my time here in Vietnam. It’s a little past ten at night. I’m a westerner on business and I want to bring my cute Vietnamese friend I just met to my room for a bit. She’s not staying the night, we just want to talk. I could be lying. In Vietnam, it’s illegal to bring anyone not registered to a room, for a visit past ten p.m. I get fussy and ask why that’s a policy. I also pose the question, “What if this was my wife who’s flown in to meet me, or what if it was my sister?”. “What if we went up to my room at separate times without even stopping at the front desk to ask for your permission?”. All questions that I would ask if this were real life. Some students stood their ground and handled the situation well. Others, let me go up to my room with the random Vietnamese woman after I convinced them we would just be up there for five minutes. Illegal!

20130708-225052.jpg

Elisa and I also dealt with the ‘cooks in training’ in another class. We had to be picky guests at a restaurant and ask our waiter/waitress a bunch of questions they would be asked in real life. Poor students could barely understand me! They would order my drinks, food, and dessert at the same time, which is very wrong. I pretended I had an allergy to seafood and one student told me that this seafood won’t make me sick. What?! Haha, I couldn’t help but laugh I told him never to say that! These students need a lot, A LOT, of polishing but I gave them a bunch of tips that hopefully will stick with them.

On Friday morning, I drank a lot of water and prepared myself for the biggest event of the summer! I’ll tell you all about it next.

Leaders of the Future

It’s a new week here at the college which means classes full of new students for me to help learn and grow. So far, I’ve met a wide range of young pupils all with different goals. The students range from 18 to 30 years old, most of them in the younger range. There are a handful that I’ve bonded with a little more than others. Let me tell you all about them! First up is a young girl named Duong.

Me and Duong kneeling.
Me and Duong kneeling.

She’s in her early twenties and has a contagious smile that never goes away. Definitely one of the most pleasant people I have ever met. During a session where we conversed with students about ourselves in English, Duong came over to my table of students, and happily introduced herself. Her English is great and we were able to understand each other perfectly. She had many questions about my home in the United States and told me all about what she does for a living. She is a waitress at a restaurant called ‘Cuc Gach Quan’. She said that I should come visit her tonight to get a taste of authentic Vietnamese cuisine. I did one better. I ended up bringing all of the volunteers with me to sit in her section!

20130701-133308.jpg Fortunately she had a table big enough for all of us and we were able to get her section. None of us really knew what we wanted so she created her own dinner for us which worked out perfectly. Servings of salads, meats, vegetables, fruits, spring rolls, and rice; all crafted with a touch of Vietnamese flare. In Vietnam, waiters and waitresses don’t expect tips or gratuity but when it happens, it’s appreciated. I made sure she was well taken care of.

A little later into the week, Shantai decided she wanted to work with younger kids and she switched to working with disabled children. A new volunteer by the name of Elisa (Berlin, Germany), took her spot. Elisa switched over from orphanage to teaching after hearing me rave about how much I enjoyed my placement. Turns out it was a decision she’s glad she made. During one of her first classes, the teacher let us briefly explain certain lessons to the students. My task was to teach the students how to comfortably pronounce the “th” sound. The “th” isn’t natural for them, as it’s not part of their language. It was a bit of a hurdle but in due time, these guys will sound natural. In this same class, I met three students, who would become buddies of mine. Their names are Bone, Bin, and Macu. These aren’t their real names but rather nicknames given to them by their parents. It’s way easier for me to remember their nicknames, so that’s what I stuck with. Out of the three, Bone speaks the best English and would often translate to Bin and Macu what I would say. This isn’t to say their English is terrible, because it’s not. They just need some polishing. And it’s partly because I speak too fast for them to register what I’m saying. All three of them are studying to become hotel managers for five-star hotels around the world. It turns out that it was Macu’s 19th birthday today and for the occasion he brought a cake, made some food, brought some drinks, all for the entire class! This is how you make friends! For his kind gesture, I invited him, Bone, and Bin out for pizza. My treat!

20130701-141557.jpg
Me, Bin, Macu, and Bone!

I took them to a Pizza Hut nearby the supermarket. This was a great way for them to hangout with different people from different countries and get a whole new perspective on just about everything. I made sure to speak in simpler, slower English and everything went smoothly. I also learned a bit more about these guys. Bin is 21 and is a family man. He’s also great at table tennis. Macu should be on his way to Hollywood. He can sing, dance, do all sorts of flips and splits, play the piano, and can cook. Super talented kid! Finally, Bone is 21 and has dreams of perfecting his English and also wants to begin learning French. He has an older sister who studies in Texas that speaks English really well, so he always has someone to practice with. Once he reaches his goal of running his own hotel, he wants to stay in Asia, relatively close to Vietnam so he’s close to his family and friends. You can’t argue with that. You also can’t argue with the fact that these guys are extremely modest. I told them to order anything they wanted, along with desert but they were hesitant because they thought it would cost me too much money. I convinced them not to worry and so we ordered up!

20130701-142603.jpg
Cheers!

We made plans to go to the cinema next week, any movie they wanted. For the remainder of this week I was a little busy. One of the nights, all of us volunteers went to go sing karaoke at the Aapple Karaoke bar about 100 yards away from the college. In case you were wondering, I sang “Billie Jean”. No ones ears exploded, so it must mean I did a decent job.

20130701-142841.jpg
Shantai, Sophie, Lucy, Lex, and Tom singing.

Afterwards, by the suggestion of Peter, we went to a club called ‘Lush’. It was ladies night which meant girls drink anything they want for absolutely free. This actually worked in the advantage for me, Peter, Shane, and Tom because the girls happily, and constantly got us drinks from the bar. Thanks for looking out ladies! Some other students of mine joined us at the club. It was a bit weird at first but I kept forgetting that these students are in their early twenties and are not kids that I’m teaching this time. Needless to say, we had a great time!

20130701-143507.jpg

I have a problem here in Vietnam. So the kids in each class like to request me as a friend on Facebook, which I don’t mind at all. The problem is that I can’t remember who exactly the person is that messages me. They all look so different when they’re in casual wear, not in their school uniform. I guess I tell students that we can hang out and then I’ll get a message from them, and I usually can’t remember who they are! I meet so many students everyday it’s a bit hard to get keep in track. I feel like a jerk sometimes but…everybody looks alike! Lucy, along with Lex, Tom, and Sophie have been helping out with disabled children about fifteen minutes away from the college. I don’t know too much about it, but Lex writes a blog on here too which you should read for another look at this whole Vietnam thing. (There’s a link to her blog, Lex on the Loose, on right-hand side of this page). After about a week of teaching and helping these kids, 12 of us decided to take a little vacation to the eastern border of Vietnam to Mui Ne beach!

Teaching Engrish

Yes, I’m aware “English” is spelled wrong in the title. It’s just the way they pronounce it around here.

Day three of orientation was a tasty one! We split up into two groups, with one group learning how to make chicken dumplings and the other group making marble cake and chocolate mousse. Friends at home should have no problem guessing which group I was glad to be in. 🙂

The few of us in the baking group went to one of the kitchens at the college and observed a class that was already in session. Two of the volunteers here, Peter and Nancy, are fluent in Vietnamese and they have been considerably handy so far during this trip. Nancy was in my group and was able to translate everything the head chef was saying to her students. Then soon, after paying careful attention to her directions, it was our turn to craft a marble cake! It took a little longer to prepare than it should have because everyone wanted a turn at doing something. I was perfectly fine just observing. That is, until the end where I had to crack eggs, stir the cake mixture, pour ingredients, and spread the cake batter.

20130620-085516.jpg
We made chocolate mousse to go along with the cake too. Here are the finished products:

20130620-085052.jpg

20130620-085108.jpgThe best part was, of course, the tasting part! One of the volunteer coordinators gave me loads of chocolate mousse and jokingly said that I must finish them all or I20130620-085139.jpg can’t leave the building! No problem by me! The cake was pretty scrumptious as well. All I needed was a little ice cream to go with it and I would have been all set! That same day, we were giving a crash course in “decorative vegetable carving”. I’ve never even heard of such a thing. We were each given gigantic carrots and green pumpkins and the instructor guided us into carving them into fancy flowers. It’s really more difficult than it sounds. I didn’t take any pictures of my veggies because they looked horrid. As a matter of fact, everyone’s veggie carvings looked pretty bad! The instructor was a master carver and put us all to shame when he was able to carve the head of a Neanderthal in mere minutes, right before our eyes. None of us completed any of our carvings, and ended up mostly carving random things into our veggies.

20130620-085125.jpg
Lucy was struggling just as much as I was!

Day four of orientation called for another trek through HCMC as we made way to the Vietnam War Museum and then to a traditional Vietnamese Water Puppet show. It was definitely interesting to see. Puppets were being controlled via long sticks in the water…I think. I’m still trying to figure out how that worked.

20130620-085208.jpg

Finally, orientation was over. We became official members of the college!

20130621-063000.jpg

My group of volunteers was divided into four different placements: disabled children, medical, orphanage, and teaching English. Lucy worked with the disabled children and I taught English to the students at the college. We were all also given snazzy blue shirts to wear during class sessions. Five days a week, I would be placed in two different classes a day that would last for about two hours each. Each day is always a different class and a different teacher. This week, I attended all my classes with Shantai and Allison. We met with our first teacher, Ms Duyên, who showed us to our very first class. The grins on these students faces widened ear to ear when they saw us. Their ages ranged from 18 to 23 years old which was perfect for me. Since this is a tourism college, these students will eventually be dealing with a lot of westerners who have different English accents. Our goal was to converse with these 20130621-063210.jpgstudents as much as possible, strictly in English, and also help them with their English written assignments. It was super easy to converse with these guys because they wanted to know EVERYTHING about me! Even when they couldn’t understand some of the things I was saying to them, they still tried their very best to comprehend. I just had to speak slow and use simpler words. It also didn’t help that I had an American dialect because most of these students are used to British accents.

I could really tell that the students were really looking up to me based on all the positive attention I was receiving from them and all of the questions they were asking me. Pretty much questions about what I do at home, how I like Vietnam, what’s my favorite food, am I married, etc. They also asked me what my Facebook account was so they could add me as a friend. I only just met these guys and they already wanted to befriend me. Of course, I didn’t mind at all so I accepted all of their requests. I may regret it later though! Anyways, for the remainder of the class we played games to help expand their English vocabulary. Time actually flew by and it ended up with the students wanting to take tons of pictures with us volunteers. Afterwards, I made sure to tell them that if they see me walking around the college at any time, feel absolutely free to say “hi” and to let me know if they needed help with any of their courses.

20130621-063357.jpgThe next class and the classes over the next few days were pretty much the same. The students were keen to know all about us and laughed when we pronounced a word in Vietnamese wrong. Some of the pronunciations in Vietnamese sound very similar, but have barely noticeable differences. You have to move and use your whole mouth for this language. They wanted to give me a new name in Vietnamese, so they started to call me “Duc”. There are supposed to be little accent marks and symbols, but I can’t figure out how to use them on this keyboard. It’s pronounced like “Duke” and it means Germany. Beats me!

One of the girls edited this photo. They think they're funny, do they?
One of the students edited this photo. They think they’re funny, do they?

After classes, I took a taxi to Saigon Tax Center. It’s a mall area in the nicer part of HCMC and the only place in Vietnam where you can buy camera equipment that isn’t a fake or knockoff brand. You see, the only thing I forgot to bring with me from the U.S. was one of my lenses for my Nikon. I went to the camera store and investigated the lens and even tried it out before I purchased it. As far as I know it’s real! You guys don’t even know how much research I did to find a proper one! You have to be very careful when buying electronics in third world countries.

20130620-085218.jpg

I’m very satisfied with the teaching here and I’m looking forward to every class session with these camera savvy, Facebook requesting students. I’m also pumped that my Nikon is ready for action; just in time for when some of the volunteers and I make our way to the majestic Mekong Delta this weekend. 🙂

Welcome to the University of Awesome

It’s the year of the water snake, the weathers sunny, and I’m feeling great! All positive signs, leading to my stay here in Ho Chi Minh. Once I landed, I picked up my visa (which you have to apply for before you arrive), grabbed my bag, and met up with a coordinator from IVHQ who was waiting for me with two other volunteers. Their names are Tara (Australia) and Vivian (China). We introduced ourselves in the hot, sweaty cab ride to our home for the next month. Seriously, it’s so hot and muggy here! But I was way too excited to let that bother me. I was anxious to see what kind of place I would be living in this time. After about ten minutes of driving, we finally pulled up to The Saigon Tourist University. It was a miniature college campus in the heart of HCMC filled with smiley teenage students and teachers. 20130617-062420.jpgThere were restaurants, kitchens, classrooms, and a small scale badminton field in the middle of campus. The University was a high rise, and the coordinator took us on an elevator to the third floor where all of the volunteers dorms would be. From this floor, we had a fantastic view of the city. A few paces further there were about four or five dorms spread across. The coordinator showed me to the boys dorm. The large room had air conditioning (Thank Goodness!), eight bunk beds, a fridge, lockers, and came equipped with wi-fi. There I met one of my roommates, Shane (California, US). He’s been here for two weeks already and says he’s loved it here so far. Then all of a sudden, someone charged in, leaped to me, and gave me the biggest hug ever, even almost knocking me down! It was none other than my dear South African friend, Lucy! “I thought I heard you so I came running!” she said. It was unbelievable to see Lucy again, especially in a whole new setting. It almost seemed surreal. “We have a lot of catching up to do!” Shane looked a bit baffled. “You guys know each other?” We explained how we organized this trip to Vietnam about a year ago in South Africa and now it’s finally happening. He was quite impressed. Soon, a few other volunteers came into our room and we all introduced ourselves. I’ll tell you their names as I blog here more because I’m still trying to remember them. I will tell you that so far everyone that I met was very friendly and seemed anxious about the impending few weeks we all had in store for us. So far, I was loving everything about this.A few of the volunteers who have already been here for awhile left a few hours later and flew to Northern Vietnam to witness Halong Bay. Lucy and I will make our way up there eventually, just not sure when. The rest of us newbies however decided to go into the city and explore a bit, to see whats out there. Tom (U.K), Sophie (U.K), Shantai (Edmonton, Alberta), Tara, Lucy, and myself made the trip.

Holy motorbikes!20130617-062348.jpg It looked like everyone in Vietnam owned a motorbike. Actually, I heard that for every two citizens of HCMC, on average, one owns a motorbike. Which means there are 4.5 million motorbikes riding in the streets of the city! Crossing the street here, was like playing a real life game of frogger.20130617-062409.jpg Anways, we cautiously made our way to the nearby supermarket which had EVERYTHING you needed and everything is super cheap. I bought snacks, water bottles, soap, and a few other things for only $16. I knew Vietnam would be cheap but I definitely expected to pay more. As a matter of fact, most of my expectations so far has been wrong. For one, Ho Chi Minh is not as underdeveloped as I thought it was going to be. I pictured a worn down, dusty city (similar to Arusha, Tanzania), surrounded by villages and jungles. It wasn’t dusty at all, as most of the roads were paved. The city was bustlin’ with tons of energy and bright flashy lights. There were food and fruit stalls at every corner you turn, but there were also luxury restaurants, bars, hotels, and cafes spread throughout. And did I mention there were motorbikes everywhere?

We walked back to the college and the few of us mingled for a bit there and played cards to get to know each other better. Other new volunteers Lex (Toronto, Canada), Allison (Tasmania), and brother and sister Peter and Nancy (Alberta, Canada) soon joined us. We had five days of orientation that would begin tomorrow at the college. I called it a night early because I was still jet lagged. It was so bad that I went to bed at 8pm and woke up two hours later at 10pm, thinking it was morning and time to get up. Once Tom let me know that I’ve only been asleep for two hours, I realized how screwed and disoriented I was. I fell back asleep but woke up at 3am and stayed up the whole time. I think this may be the worst case of jet lag I’ve ever had. On the brightside, I was able to text and message friends back home in Michigan who were wide awake! Here at the Saigon Tourist College, students strive to excel in areas of tourism hospitality around Vietnam, which includes food service, hotel management, and tour guide operations. Students may take one to three years to receive a certificate in one of the three departments. It’s a very serious business since Vietnam thrives on tourism as a whole and partly relies on it. Our job as volunteers is to help these students better their English language to reach their goal and there’s no better way for them to learn than engaging with actual foreigners who are already masters of the language. But before we could start that, we have to go through this lengthy orientation. Consider it a culmination of tests in order to prove our worth. The first day of orientation, we received a tour around the campus which included multiple kitchens, restaurants, a hotel lobby and guest rooms, a few classrooms, and plenty of outdoor areas to relax and study. 20130617-062443.jpgAfter a brief lesson of the Vietnamese language (which I suck at), we walked into the hub of HCMC and took a tour through the Reunification Palace. It’s a large palace where the president of Vietnam resided during the Vietnam War…I think. You guys know how I get with guided tours. My mind goes off to LaLa land. Afterwards we went to the action-packed backpacker district and ate some local cuisine there too. The awesome atmosphere of HCMC was blowing my mind!

After separating on our own paths last year in South Africa, Lucy and I reunite for a new adventure in Vietnam!
After separating on our own paths last year in South Africa, Lucy and I reunite for a new adventure in Vietnam!

The next day of orientation, we were faced with more tests. We took an hour and a half road trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels, a site of large, complex underground tunnels that was used as a secret jungle base for the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. It was here where I got to fire an AK-47 and examine the weaponry, tanks, and outdoor traps used by the Viet Cong. Soon we had the opportunity to shimmy through more than 100 meters of a narrow underground passage, 20-30 feet below ground. I have mild claustrophobia but I couldn’t resist! It was a sweat chamber for sure!20130617-062539.jpg

20130617-062549.jpg20130617-062634.jpg20130617-062617.jpgNext, we went to a nearby village for lunch. What was on the menu? Seafood. Loads of seafood. I’ll try anything once, so I took a small bite of whatever fish that was. And that was enough for me! Then we were served with a soup that contained prawns, squid, oysters, and veggies. Lucy was loving it! I was not. I did muster through an entire bowl of soup though, out of respect. I just made sure my bowl didn’t have any prawns or oysters in it. I can manage with a bit of squid though.

My worst nightmare!
My worst nightmare!
Lucy's dream come true.
Lucy’s dream come true.

The other volunteers, Lucy, and myself capped off the night by going to a nearby bar/restaurant called the “Bamboo Palace”. Ladies get served two free beers here while the guys have to pay for theirs. It wasn’t a big deal though considering that the beers here were literally only twenty cents. With our group of about nine, our tab ended up being $2.50. How amazing is that? By the way, the currency here is the dong. One American dollar equals to roughly 20,000d. One beer was 4,000d. This could spell out trouble for us volunteers in the near future. It’s insane how incredibly cheap everything is here.

Tomorrow spells out day 3 of orientation. Hopefully it doesn’t involve anymore seafood!

20130617-115901.jpg
The volunteers of Vietnam!