Tag Archives: Vietnam

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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Where Heaven Meets Earth

Sapa is a region to the northwest of Hanoi, Vietnam. It’s an area dominated by mountains of lush and green, with creeks of moss and stones. Most of the mountains possess perfectly ridged rice terraces along it’s slopes, crafted by the villagers and farmers who live there. Sapa, also known as Heaven’s Gate, is an area of extraordinary beauty and mesmerizing landscapes that will forever bathe in the clouds’ mists. It’s the next and last stop on this Vietnam trip and a perfect way to cap off this underrated country.

As soon as Lucy and I were dropped off at the Ethnic travel agency from our more-than-amazing Halong Bay cruise, we immediately had a taxi waiting for us for departure to the nearby bus station. From there, we had to endure an 11 hour overnight bus ride to the Lao Cai province of Vietnam, where Sapa is located. We took a sleeper bus, and unlike the cozy sleeper bus we took to Mui Ne a few weeks earlier, this one, particularly for me, was a rough ride! Not only was it humid, either I’ve grown a few inches or this bus was a bit smaller. Sleeper buses are not made for tall people, and I don’t even consider myself that tall; barely six feet, if that. Lucy and I were placed all the way in the back where you had to share space with three other strangers. There was a local lady who slept next to Lucy who kept elbowing her in the back. There was some dude down below who kept playing the same annoying song on repeat for a straight hour. I learned the words by the time he turned it off. Yes, it wasn’t very cozy but that’s okay, it was cheap and we were able to sleep most of the trip and before you knew it, the next morning we were in Lao Cai! From there another taxi was waiting for us, that took us to our hostel in Sapa Town, where we could eat breakfast and shower up.

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There is where we reunited with Jurre and An, who took the overnight train instead of the sleeper bus. There, we also met other travelers from around the world who would make the hike through Sapa with us, including three guys from Catelonia, Spain and another couple from somewhere else in Spain, I forget! Lucy and I would only be doing a two-day trek, while the other would do three. But once we all got acquainted, our tour guide led us through town for the beginning of the long hike!

Sapa Town
Sapa Town
Sapa, the town where toddlers ride motorbikes as soon as they can walk...
Sapa, the town where toddlers ride motorbikes as soon as they can walk…

Along through town, a troupe of local women and girls garbed in black woven clothes with purple and white lace around the edges, began to follow us. Initially I thought they wanted to sell us things, which is usually the case when locals walk up to me, but instead they just wanted to make the hike with us and guide us along the way (Later on they would try to sell us things). These woman are called Black Monks and they are one of many different tribes that live here in Sapa. I guess it’s pretty common for the Black Monks to follow tourists around, to get a more authentic feel. Once we made it through the town, we eventually made it the start of the wild hike, where we witnessed a dreamlike view of the Sapa valley!

Sapa
Sapa

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Just thinking about it now, it seemed unreal. A valley filled with a rich green, as far as the eye could see, sheltered in a blanket of thick mist. During the morning, the sun shone brightly but as the day progressed, the sun’s rays individually punctured through the clouds. Each hour of the day produced a fantastic backdrop for our hike. Today’s hike was about five or six hours long that took us through the wide landscapes of the slopes. It wasn’t a difficult hike at all, as a matter of fact, it was very enjoyable because we saw the region from many different angles and saw plenty of different wildlife, including wild baby piglets scampering the fields and patches of dragonflys roaming about!

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An and Jurre with a handful of Black Monks
An and Jurre with a handful of Black Monks

After a few hours of a sweaty hike, we made it to a shop where we were served more rice and noodles, just like every other place in Vietnam. No matter, it always tasted delicious and it always got the job done. As we ate, the Black Monks patiently waited outside for us, as they enjoyed their own lunch.

This is one of the "main" Black Monks, looking into the distance as she enjoys her meal.
This is one of the “main” Black Monks, looking into the distance as she enjoys her meal.

As we continued out trek, we passed through a village with a dozen kids just playing about, minding their own business. I had a sack of snacks in my bag for the hike, so I thought I would give it to the youngsters instead. They loved it! An gave them balloons she had on her. They loved those too!

Lucy and I with the kiddos.
Lucy and I with the kiddos.

Soon after they ran about to show their parents the gifts they just received from a bunch of strangers.

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After a little more hiking, we reached our tour guides house and stayed there for the night. She actually lives in the village and does treks almost everyday as part of her job. We were all extremely dirty, so instead of the shower, I opted to take a bath in the river. On the way I saw some locals soaping up in the creek and the water looked fresh enough, so I thought I would give it a try. It was cold but it felt great! I made it back in time for a feast at the house where one of the cooks there gave us “Happy Wine”, which is just another name for a certain kind of Vietnamese booze! We called it a night. The next day we would begin another trek through this dreamlike country.

The house we stayed at for the night.
The house we stayed at for the night.
We watched this spider trap and eat so many pesky bugs during our dinner. Thanks for protecting us from those nasty mosquitos!
We watched this spider trap and eat so many pesky bugs during our dinner. Thanks for protecting us from those nasty mosquitos!

We started off in the morning, and continued our long, muddy hike forward through the valley where I was able to nab more photos.

Rice fields.
Rice fields.

20130726-182627.jpgIt started to rain pretty heavily. At one point I accidentally split up from my group…or should I say, they split up from me! What happened was, there was this muddy, slippery slope we came to that we had to get down. I say it was about 50 feet long and a bit steep. I was always at the front of the pack and went down the hill first. The tour guide decided it was too dangerous, AFTER I had already went down, and decided to lead the group on an alternate route. So now what? I just continued on further on my lonesome. Well not totally alone, one of the Black Monks joined me and came with me to make sure I didn’t get lost. I think this was also a good thing to happen because eventually I caught up with two elderly woman who were struggling once we were in the ridiculously muddy bamboo forest. I was able to help them most of the way. After about a half hour or so, An and Jurre who were also split up, merged with me and we hiked to the waterfalls where the Black Monk told us to wait for the rest of my group. We all rejoined and continued.

I have a faster than average walking pace and always found myself at the far front of the group. Instead of constantly waiting for them to catch up, I decided to go forth and take shots of them from afar.

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My pace was so fast that I eventually lost them, AGAIN, and made it to another village where I waited for them for lunch. Here I was bombarded by a different tribe of women called the “Red Dao”. These ladies shave their eyebrows and most of their hair and wear big red hats that look like pillows and garments with red decorations in them. As soon as the Red Dao seen me walking towards their village, they surrounded me and tried to sell me things I don’t want. I had to chit chat with them for awhile since I was alone and had no idea where to hide. It got to the point where I had to throw my fellow hiking buddies under the bus. “I have no money but my friends who are coming are very rich! You can ask them!” I said. The plan worked as I saw my group coming along and the Dao ladies waltzed right to them! Mwahahaha!

Lucy and I enjoyed one last lunch with the group before she and I set off to say goodbye and leave Sapa.

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Jurre, An, and all the rest of them would continue they’re hike to another village for the night. Lucy and I headed back to the hotel in Sapa Town where we took a sleeper bus back to Hanoi. This bus was worse than the other but whatever, it was stupid cheap! I just could never get cozy.

Once we got back to Hanoi in the middle of the night, we kind of struggled to find a hostel (most hostels aren’t open at five in the morning) but we eventually found one and passed out. Earlier in the week, before we went to Halong Bay, we decided where we would go once we got back in Hanoi.

We booked a plane for the next day, to a landlocked country that neighbors Vietnam called Laos. We have nothing booked or planned for the country, as we decided to go there on the whim. We’ll see how it all pans out!

Backpacker Mode

And so my tenure as a volunteer is over, at least for the time being. Now that I am relieved of any obligation, I can go anywhere and do anything I want. From now through mid September, nothing is planned in stone, nothing is booked. This is where the real fun begins.

For weeks, Lucy and I have been debating about where we should go to next and for how long. We knew we wanted to head north in Vietnam, as our visa is for only one entry, it would be smart to do whatever else we wanted to do in Vietnam now before we leave. With that, we decided to go to one of the natural wonders of the world, Halong Bay and then immediately after to Sapa. But before we could go to either of those places, we had to touch base in Hanoi, the northern capital of Vietnam, in order to get everything situated. Backpacker mode starts now!

The easiest method to get to Hanoi is by flying. We went to the airport, boarded the plane, and anxiously waited for take-off. As Lucy and I were reminiscing about how much fun we had in HCMC, a passenger who sat next to us couldn’t help but listen and introduce herself. Her name is Kim. She’s a young Vietnamese but lived in Australia for quite awhile. She’s living in HCMC for about a year to begin a new job, but is traveling to Hanoi for the weekend to visit a friend. “Sorry for listening but you guys sounded like you had so much fun!” she said very politely. We didn’t mind at all. We began talking to her about what our experience has been like in Vietnam thus far and what we are looking forward to next. As a matter of fact, we were talking to her for pretty much the whole flight to Hanoi. Well, it was mainly Lucy doing the chatting because I ended up falling asleep halfway through the flight. Kim mentioned to us that a taxi from the airport to Downtown Hanoi (our destination) is almost an hourlong and a bit expensive, so she offered for her friend that is picking her up to give us a ride. We felt that Kim has been genuine and kind during our talk so we took her up on the offer. Haven’t even made it to Hanoi yet and we’ve already made a friend!

Once we landed and gathered our gear, her friend rolled up and gave us a lift through town. His name is Trung and has done his fair share of traveling around the world. Even though Lucy and I were in a car with two complete strangers, not once did I ever feel the slightest worried. Kim asked us if we had a hotel or hostel booked for Hanoi. We didn’t. We were just going to walk around and find something. She then gave us her number saying that if we have trouble finding a place, then we could stay at the hotel she was staying at for the night. What a nice person! After about an hour of rough traffic, we finally made it to Downtown Hanoi! Lucy and I tried to pay Trung for giving us a ride, but he wouldn’t take our money. We decided that since we have the whole day free tomorrow, that we should all meet up for lunch sometime, so we exchanged contacts.

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Trung and Kim!

It just so happened that a fellow volunteer we met in South Africa is in Hanoi. His name is Ibrahim.

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Ibrahim, volunteering with the kids in Muizenberg, South Africa. (June 2012)

Ibrahim arrived in Muizenberg, South Africa the same time Lucy did last year. He was part of a huge group from his school and ended up being placed in the Palmer house. He initially was only going to stay in Muizenberg for a week, along with his group, but eventually extended his stay for an extra week, while his group left back to Qatar. Everyone loved Ibrahim because he was incredibly kind to everyone and instead of completely sticking with his group the entire time, he made an effort to get to know all of the other volunteers. A couple of weeks ago, Ibrahim saw that I was in Vietnam on FB, and so he messaged me asking if I had plans of going to Hanoi sometime, we can all link up. That was the game plan. Lucy and I wandered the condensed streets (or more like glorified alleyways) of the Old Quarter of Hanoi. We found a suitable, yet comfortable Hotel close by that we called ours for the night. Once we settled in, we walked down the street to meet up with Ibrahim near his hotel. Seems he had the same idea in mind because we all ended up bumping into each other about halfway from our respective hotels!

Ibrahim is here volunteering as a medic and has been here for a couple of weeks so far, so he was able to show us around the streets even though mostly everything was closed. Hanoi is remarkably different than Ho Chi Minh in a number of ways. One, everything in HCMC stayed open late into the night. Here, everything shuts down by the order of the marginally corrupt police. I say marginally because they can be quite shady. They’ll stop cars for no reason at all here and will give you a ticket for a bogus reason unless you bribe them with some money. And if you’re walking the streets at night, it’s best to ignore them and don’t make eye contact when they start to speak to you, otherwise you will have to bribe your way out of an awkward scuffle. It’s never happened to me, but I’ve seen it happen to others. Not only is the law enforcement odd, but also the delicacy. I’ve heard rumors of Vietnamese eating dog before I came here. Sad to say, it’s true. It’s even truer here in northern Vietnam than the south. What’s even more messed up is the way it’s handled. Any dog lover reading this should skip the rest of this paragraph. To prepare a dog for dinner, the innocent doggie is forced to release adrenaline into its system which results in tastier meat. How is a dog forced to release adrenaline? By beating them up first and then killing them immediately after. I still can’t even think about it without building up a taste of repugnance towards the locals for their abuse towards mans-bestfriend, but I have to remember, it’s just what they do here. Even more bizarre, young backpackers and tourists eat dogs more than the locals do. It’s mainly all for the details of a story to share when they return home, “Yeah, crazy story! I ate dog meat in Vietnam!“. Lucy and I would have been one of those backpackers if we didn’t know the methods for the meat.

We called it a night and the three of us made plans to hangout in Hanoi the next day. I also contacted Kim and Trung later on to meet us up. Around noon, Kim and Trung came and picked Lucy, Ibrahim, and I up and we went to an Italian style cafe downtown. It’s been awhile since I’ve had my favorite food, italian pasta, so I was very happy to finally get some here! Ibrahim couldn’t eat nor drink with us as he was practicing Ramadan, but he didn’t mind at all.

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After lunch, we drove to one of the many legendary lakes nearby. We went through a pagoda that sat in the middle of the lake that we had to get to via a bridge. The fable goes something like this: a magical turtle swam out of the lake carrying a large sword on it’s back, which it gave to a warrior to help win a war against an invading army fleet…well, something along those lines. I am missing a few details but that’s the gist of it!

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We went back to the Old Quarter and Lucy, Ibriham, and I went to Hanoi Backpacker’s to feast out on some Western grub. At 7pm, Ramadan was over for the day and so Ibrahim was able to pig out with us. We had planned to go out tonight with Kim and Trung but unfortunately her battery died on her phone and we lost touch. We made sure to message her later though, saying how grateful we were of all of her generosity.

During the late hours, we said our goodbyes to Ibrahim, who would be staying in Hanoi for a few more days. It was a nice surprise to see him in such a random place but it was also welcoming. Before we parted ways he was able to give us tips on getting to Halong Bay, one of the natural wonders of the world!

En route!

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!

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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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!