Tag Archives: Saigon

The HC Emcee

If I could describe the new batch of volunteers here in one word, I would describe them as “squirrelly” . They’re a squirrelly bunch. Some are here, some are there, some are all over the place, but usually you can find them at one of the many backpacker pubs in District 1. If not there, they’re somewhere a little more expensive having the times of their lives! They are a savvy bunch of people that I enjoyed and spent a lot of time with here.

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But first things first, I MUST go to the US Embassy to add some more pages to my passport. I had the option of adding 24 or 48 pages, both for the same price of about $82. My passport expires in three years and it took me seven years to fill this bad boy, so I thought 24 pages would suffice until then. (I did a lot of traveling before I ever began blogging!) But now with that taking care of, I resumed my usual teaching duties alongside Duc.

It was a little odd introducing myself to the volunteers here. I had to explain that even though I wasn’t part of the Green Lion organization like they all were and that I wasn’t staying in the dorms, I would still be helping out the school teaching whenever they needed me to.

“I volunteered here last year and decided to visit again!”, I would always say.

There are quite a few of them and there’s a handful that made an impression on me, including a few even newer ones that arrived a few days after I returned. One night I went out to get some Indian food with Anand (India), Josie (US), Marissa (Canada), and a few others. Anand has been all over the world and has been wandering where ever he feels like at that moment! I’d say the most down-to-earth of this bunch. Josie and Marissa are close friends that met here in Vietnam. They’ve been here for over a month already and have plans on heading north in Vietnam after their time here is up. Marissa also writes a blog very similar to my own. She even has her own bucket-list which is pretty much the same idea as my personal ATLAS. You can find her website here. That same night, we went across the street to a pub to join up with a few other volunteers who just so happened to be in the area. Another standout is Aaron (US). He hails from California and is soaking up his first big trip out of the US. He even extended his trip from just a month to just before Christmas! Smart move I’d say.

Later on I met a few of the fresh meat volunteers who just arrived. Naykul (India/Australia), Becca (Canada), Roos (The Netherlands), and a few new faces. Then you have Pablo (Mexico), Sarah (Aus), Maddie (Aus), and Norris (Netherlands). There really are a lot more and all of them were very friendly and here for the right reasons. This group was completely different from my original Vietnam group but still a great crew! I could talk about all of them for miles but then this would end up being a very long post.

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One evening, my friend Duong invited me to her home for a homemade dinner. She lives about 15 minutes away from my district in a simple, yet cool urban style apartment. She made rice, chicken, salad, and mushrooms with seaweed in it. The chicken mix had every part of the chicken in it; head, beak, talons, and all. She did a great job and everything tasted really good! Thanks Duong!

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Duong is in charge of the garden project at the college. She ran the idea by the principal and he agreed with the prospects of it. Many other people she’s met have been helping her turn her idea into a reality and it’s shaping up to look quite nice.

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The garden is situated on the roof of the college above the classrooms where they I teach English. Some of the students in those classes can speak exceptionally well and some of them can barely understand a single word. Teaching another language takes patience and practice. I’ve been speaking slower and have been speaking proper English lately. As a matter of fact I’ll be teaching English for the remainder of my trip so I may say my words a little bit differently when I come back home. The students here told me they understand the American English accent better than the Australian and British ones, and I couldn’t help but agree with them. My English accent is pretty flat and straight-forward for the most part.

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Being in Vietnam again brought upon a wave of nostalgia. My old room used to be the sole boys room, now the girls have taken over.

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The food still tastes pretty good and PR restaurant is pretty much the same as when I left (minus the ice cream stand). I had a great tenure here last year and was able to give some of the new kids a lot of advice concerning excursions and things to do over the weekends. A lot were impressed with my Vietnam pictures and I was glad to have motivated them to get out there and explore!

Much of my time in Vietnam has been teaching and hanging out with the locals and volunteers here, so not much to report to you all. I was able to relax and unwind in preparation for my next venture into a brand new country:

Nepal!!!

I’ll tell you all the game plan next.

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Saigon’s Very Special Guest

Remember that impending problem I had in Iceland? Well, it’s a very real problem now. My passport is completely full! I forgot about it up until my last couple of days in Europe. I know the Vietnam Visa takes up an entire passport page, of which I don’t have a whole blank page to fill. There is one sole stamp on the last page, from Spain, that is screwing me over. Why couldn’t they just squeeze that stamp on another page where there was just enough room?

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Look at how much space is being wasted…

As bad as it sounds, I was still calm. I had sort of a plan. I made an appointment online for a visit to the United States Embassy in Ho Chi Minh for more passport pages in a few days. I printed my appointment as proof just in case the Vietnamese customs gave me a hassle. I also read that it may be possible to use the back page with all the government type on it. Or maybe I could convince the patrol to just cover that little Spain stamp? Or maybe I can carefully rip off my old Vietnam stamp? Look at all the unorthodox options I have! I was gambling on at least one of them working. Worst case scenario: I get sent back to Germany or even America for that matter.

I had a flight through United Emirates Airlines (my favorite airline) to Dubai and from there to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam. For Vietnam, you have to apply online in advance for permission to enter the country. I already had my permission slip filled out and ready. The customs agent at the airport asked for my slip and passport and then I took a seat, waiting in nervous anticipation. One by one I heard a Vietnamese lady calling out butchering names of foreigners to come and retrieve their passport, now with a new valid visa stamp. I fully expected someone to call my name, telling me that my passport is full and I can’t enter the country.

“Mista Daneel Sailars”, said the lady.

That must be me. I walked to her window like a student getting called to the principal’s office because he did something wrong.

“$45”, she said.

My God, they’re actually letting me go through!

I happily gave her my $45, received my passport and took off before the could change their mind. I flipped through the pages to see where they put the new stamp; smack-dab in the middle of my passport covering a bunch of other stamps from a bunch of other countries! I think that’s illegal but I ain’t complaining! That weight was lifted and I was officially here again, back in Saigon!

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It was hot and humid, just like I remembered. And upon landing, it smelled like Vietnam. I can’t describe that scent but it’s the same unique scent I remember from fifteen months ago. It’s indescribable, kind of like the one-of-a-kind smell I have whenever I go to South Africa; unique to its own country and surprisingly comforting for me. And just like before, there were motorbikes…motorbikes everywhere! I wasn’t staying at the school this time, but instead a hotel within close walking distance called Thinh Thanh. For a ridiculously cheap price, I had a cozy room with air-con, wifi, a hot shower and a big ol’ bed all to myself. The outside of the hotel looked sketchy but everything inside worked. It was late already, so I settled in and went to sleep.

My aim for coming back to Saigon is to visit everyone back at the college I volunteered at last year. I kept in touch with a lot of locals here and informed most of the them of my return. Quyen is still the school’s travel advisor and helped organized my return. The principal gave me the title as the college’s special guest, which meant I was free to roam around the school grounds and help with teaching classes again. I brought my old blue shirt for that reason!

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I was happy to be back! I went to the Practical Restaurant to eat and there two of my former students came to say hi, Duong and Macu! I put a status on Facebook letting Saigon know that I was back for awhile. Duong has been hard at work and transforming the school roof into a garden and Macu has been busy with choreographing dances and keeping busy with classes. Next up, my former student Đức came to join me for grub. Đức is no longer a student but now a full fledged teacher here at the college and I would be teaching alongside him during my time here. The class he teaches is called Culinary English. The students learn culinary words and lingo, but in English.

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This school’s dormitories were the living quarters for me and my volunteer group here last year. I wonder what the new volunteers are like? I went upstairs to the dormitory floor and walked around. There was no one up there. The floor looked a little different though. There were more rooms being used and the Green Lion office was all decked out and looked like the new hangout spot. A few volunteers started to arrive later on that evening. Some thought I was a new volunteer but I introduced myself and told them I came independently and was in their shoes a year ago. So far this group was nothing like my original group, but the good kind of different and really nice people! (I’ll talk more about them in the next post).

Đức and I have kept in touch ever since I left Vietnam the first time and planned on hanging out quite a bit. He wanted to show me local spots that I may have missed before and try some different Vietnamese Cuisine besides phở and bahn mi’s. We went to small eateries, where tourists didn’t exist, and went down on some grub! First up was “Sủi cảo”, which is meat dumplings in broth and marinated pork with shrimp added to each dumpling. It cost $1.75. It was a pain to take out the sole shrimp in each dumpling so I mustered and eventually just ate them with the shrimp inside.

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Next we rode on his motorbike to a park nearby where there was a stall serving “Gỏi khô bò”, which is beef jerky salad with green papaya and cracker that costs a measly 75¢! It was really good!

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Finally we rode to yet another small local eatery and had “Cháo sườn”, which is rice porridge with pork rib. That threw me back 75¢. The food here was stupid cheap and tastes great! It’s hard to beat a three course meal for under $4.

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Upon returning back to the school, I went to visit Quyen at her office and saw Anna and her daughter there. Anna was one of the coordinators of Green Lion when I was here last year and she’s till as gracious and angelic as before. It was so great to see them both!

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I also ran into Ms. Chi and the head of the hotel service students. Both invited me to a special celebration for the hotel class, who just completed their coursework for the year. “Of course I’ll come!” The attire for the party was red and black. I didn’t pack too many clothes but luckily I had a red polo shirt and a black t-shirt I could wear underneath. The party was great because many of the students and teachers I helped out last year were there and they were really surprised to see me again! I was glad to see them.

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Vietnam has welcomed me back with open arms and the school has been great so far with letting me pick up right where I left off. I already did a lot of the excursions last year so I didn’t feel the need to travel around Vietnam this time. My priority was to just spend time with all the local friends I made here and help the students with their English anytime they needed me. So far no complaints, I love it here!

More to come!

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!

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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.”

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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!

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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!

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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…

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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!

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.

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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!

Spirit Week

I have one more week left here in HCMC. Time flew by too fast! It’s also Elisa and Valentina’s (Munich, Germany) last couple of days in Vietnam. Tom and Sophie went off for the weekend to Halong Bay, so the rest of us decided to go to China Town in District 5 to explore a bit. We started off by visiting a pagoda. Here there were locals praying to Buddha statues and lighting incense sticks as a way of showing respect. The architecture of the pagoda and the idols inside were very elaborate; red walls of statuary flowers and dragons of a gold color. There were statues all over the place! 20130719-103702.jpg20130719-103720.jpg

Just outside this pagoda was a tall yellow dragon that swam out of a pond in the middle of the district. Fascinating! I wanted to climb it and sit on the dragon’s head, but the locals sitting near warned me not to.

 

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After going through the crowded market of China Town, Addie nearly got her purse snatched by a driver on a motorbike! He knocked her down but fortunately he dropped the purse. Here in Vietnam, you have to be careful walking around on the streets. People on motorbikes will see an opportunity to quickly snatch something from unsuspecting tourists. It’s happened to several volunteers in the past, but mostly the girls because of how easy it is to nab a purse. Opportunist thievery. Afterwards, we all went to a Chinese food restaurant nearby and ordered some grub. I didn’t order anything because I was craving hamburgers and fries. I’m horrible. We headed back to the college and chilled out for the remainder of the night. The next morning we said our goodbyes to the two German girls. I told Elisa and Valentina that I will come see them next year for Oktoberfest and they can show me around. So saying goodbye to them was more like a “See you later.” I’ve never been to Germany before and this would be the perfect opportunity to go! They went off to Siem Reap to explore Cambodia, a country that Lucy and I will eventually make our way to in the coming weeks.

On Monday, after all the volunteers returned from their weekend excursions, Quyen invited all of us to the restaurant and taught us how to make spring rolls. Essentially, its green vegetables, rice noodles, meat, and carrots rolled into moist rice paper and then you eat them without being cooked. There were other spring rolls which we deep-fried which tasted much better. Quyen told us that it was her birthday, so after singing happy birthday to her, she announced that it wasn’t actually her birthday and that she just told us that to get us all to come out to spend time with her. We would have came regardless of the reason! Quyen is quite the jokester!

On Tuesday morning, the unexpected happened. I woke up with chest pains. That same morning I had plans to go to Duong’s restaurant at Cuch Bach to teach her staff at the restaurant English. It was a private session and she asked if I would be willing. Of course I would! So that morning, one of Doung’s friends picked me up on a motorbike as we cut through the city to Cuch Bach. We went up to the top floor, a lofty area, which resembled a giant treehouse. This was great because it was a smaller group which meant this could be a little more personable. Duong speaks great English, but she came up with this idea to help tutor her coworkers. She holds private sessions a few times in the morning during the week and I was the first English fluent guest she had. 2013-07-09 10.36.00I helped her for a few hours and during those few hours my chest started to hurt more than when I woke up. I kept on clenching my chest with my hand and had to sit up straight, but sometimes when I moved my body, a sudden strike would go through my spine which stung like no other. I pretended to be fine. Soon enough, class was over and one of Duongs friends motorbiked me back to the college.

Some students I had in a previous class the day before invited me out to karaoke today at noon. My chest was hurting pretty bad still, but I couldn’t turn these guys down. So I met them all up downstairs, a group of about ten, and we walked to Aapple Karaoke just around the corner. I swear all of these students are superb singers! Some even belted out songs in English in which they sounded great! I managed to sing a song in Vietnamese, where I sounded like total garbage, but the students said I sounded really good. 20130719-103902.jpgDuring this whole time, I remained seated because it hurt too much to move. I started to hurt worse than I did at Cuch Bach, where even just moving my neck would send a piercing strike down my spine. What the heck was happening to me? I would clench my chest and some of the students would ask if I’m ok. I remained calm, just a little ache, to not worry them. These guys are so awesome! They wanted to buy me drinks and food, and have me pay no part of it. I would have felt really bad for that to happen so I insisted that I throw in some money, much to their dismay. I had to cut our karaoke time short because my pain was growing worse. They understood and detected something was wrong with me the whole time. I had to go back to the college and lay down.

Upon my return, I went back to the room and I couldn’t even lie down on my bed because it hurt too much. This morning I thought the pain would go away, but it had gotten way worse at this point. So bad that it was becoming difficult to breath and I could barely move the upper torso of my body with lighting bolts of pain shooting through my body. I tried to prolong it, but I needed to go to the hospital. I didn’t know what was happening to me. The only problem was finding a suitable hospital relatively close by, where they spoke English. I didn’t go alone, Will actually came with me but we decided it was best to first find Quyen and ask her where to go. We found Quyen eating at the restaurant downstairs and told her my predicament. She eagerly escorted us to a hospital, about two minutes walk. She came with us, as she would be able to translate everything the doctor was saying. Next thing you know, I had sensor things all over me. Then took an x-ray. Then I had a blood sample taken. The doctors said my heart was fine and that my x-ray looked good, but proposed that I might of just slept in a weird position that morning. I did in fact sleep in a very uncomfortable position. That could be it. 20130719-103748.jpgHe prescribed me with a bunch of pills and gave me a neck brace to wear so I wouldn’t do any further damage. He also told me to come back in the morning to pick up my blood results. The neck brace actually was helping, but I decided to wait until the morning to pick up the subscriptions, just in case I started to feel better on my own later on.

That goofy character to the right is Will.
That goofy character to the right of me is Will.

Expectedly, I received a lot of stares and sad faces as I walked back through the college back to my dorm while wearing the neck brace. Students and teachers would stop and ask me what happened to my neck. I tried to explain that I slept wrong, but seeing as their English wasn’t the greatest, I don’t think most of them understood. So I just started telling everyone that I fell off a motorbike. Easier to comprehend and easier to explain. I was told by the doctor to go on bed rest all day and not do anything crazy. We previously made plans to all go out to karaoke and then to a nightclub tonight, but I had to be the lone horse that stayed behind. It sucked, but I needed my neck and chest to feel normal again or otherwise this “injury” would ruin the rest of my trip.

The next morning, I woke up still in pain, but not as bad as yesterday. I didn’t feel the need to go pick up my prescription just yet, so instead Macu and Bone took me out to a proper Vietnamese breakfast. I asked them to order something for me that they would think I liked. The only request: nothing with seafood in it! Whatever it was that Macu, ordered turned out to do the trick. Later that day, the boys treated me out to the cinema, along with their friend Kid. We saw the movie “Now You See Me” which was in English, but with Vietnamese subtitles, thank goodness! In return, I bought them lunch at KFC and ice cream right after.

Kid, Bone, and Macu
Kid, Bone, and Macu

These guys wanted to pay for everything for me but there was absolutely no way I could let them do that! “You need to save your money for your big trip!” they would say. “I’ll be okay” I would say. These guys always wanted to pay for me, even though they are just students in college, they still wanted to spend their very hard-earned money on me. Every local I have hung out with is that way. And it’s something that I won’t ever take for granted. Sometimes these locals absolutely insist and it might be rude of me to refuse. But in that case, I always makes sure to return the favor in one way or another. The boys took me back to the college soon after ice cream. “Guys, I have two more days until I leave” I told them. “Don’t worry, we will see you before you go.”

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I am one of the only volunteers that teaches English here at the college. Most of the other volunteers work either with disabled children, at the orphanage, or at the hospital. For weeks, I have been raving to everyone how great it is to be teaching the students, so Lucy and Lex decided they would accompany me to one of my class sessions. Today I was in Ms. Chi’s class of aspiring cooks and chefs. The lesson plan that Chi and I went over the previous day, involved me teaching the students about auxillary verbs and using them in a question. The second part involved conversations in advice about relationships. Chi let me be the frontman for the entire class. It was great and time flew by! The students after class would facebook message me telling me that I have a fun, interesting way of teaching, even though at times it was difficult to understand my American accent. I’ll work on my weird accent guys!

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I returned back to the college, wearing my neck brace back to my dorm. I looked at all of my things sprawled out everywhere. “I have to start packing”, I thought to myself. The next day, my final day in Saigon, would turn out to be one of the saddest goodbye’s I’ve ever had overall with any of my many volunteering experiences.

It’s going to be a tear jerker.