September 28, 2007


Vietnam is something else.

This morning I woke up early and met one of the service trips outside the ship. Since I can’t take the shuttle provided by SAS (fraternization rules, ridiculous) , I walked outside to meet the group of motorbike taxis and find Maang. There is one guy, thin, small, always sporting a yellow and black toothed grin who seems to be the organizer. Maang isn’t there so I get on Phee (?)’s bike and ride with him to the Da Thien School for Handicapped Children.

Unlike everywhere else we’ve been so far there is no part of HCMC that masks what it is made from. There are gardens, gorgeous hotels, museums and high end restaurants, but they are surrounded by the city on every side. Still, there was such a stark difference between the areas I had seen (I spent yesterday in Dong Khoi, a touristy district, and Pham Ngu Lao, the backpacker’s district) and what I saw when we crossed the river and entered the district where the school was. We sped over the bridge on the ‘highway’ and onto a busy road that ran along the river. Boats were pulled up to the shore full of fresh fruit, and families were selling the fruits at the side of the road. I’m not even sure how to describe what was all around me. I’m not really sure how to compare two parts of a place that is entirely different from anything else I’ve ever known or seen.

Something that struck me – I could imagine what this place was like during the War. Without closing my eyes I can picture Navy ships lined along the harbor and GIs mixing with the locals on the streets. Something about HCMC feels stuck in the late 60s, and it’s an aura that is both kitschy and unsettling.

I met the group from SAS at the Da Thien School. We were introduced the principal, her family had opened the school years ago and with the help of some Americans living in Vietnam and some Vietnamese living in America, the school was now one of the best in the city. We went from room to room first meeting each level, and then spent the rest of the morning playing with them. The super star of the whole day was a tiny, little boy named Taon. He was an 11 year old in the most advanced classroom (he was the youngest, most were 15-24). He sat in the front and smiled while his teacher introduced us to her class. When we spread throughout the classroom to give out stickers, play with playdoh, and draw, Taon shined. An SAS student, Brian, first handed him a dinosaur sticker. He put it on his arm, opened his notebook and – carefully studying the shape stuck to his arm – drew the dinosaur in his notebook. Really, really well. The kid worked with playdoh like a professional potter, copying any animal we tried to make. Brian started making a shark, Taon made a better, more detailed shark. He made a coiled rattle snack, perched to attack, and the cartoon bumblebee that was in his lesson book. Laughing the whole time, as we watched with wide eyes, you could tell he kind of knew that he was really that good. It was amazing to see how happy and humbled he was by the attention. The rest of the afternoon he was great – he ran around like a madman during soccer and basketball, and became my professional photographer towards the end of the visit.

Every kid we met at the school was amazing and loving and great. There was a group of deaf girls who spent the second half of the visit asking me questions, telling me about their lives and their boys. The group of deaf students signed mostly, but there was one girl who could speak and would tell me what her friends were saying, or they would write words like “age?” and “name?” so I could answer. It was cool because after about an hour of playing with the girls, I could kind of understand what they were saying to each other, and I would answer before she could translate. It amazed me that these kids knew as much English as they did, even enough to read lips in English.

I could go on and on about these kids, but I’ll post pictures soon, so that’s enough for now.

In other Vietnam news, I’ve made a decision to ride only motorbikes while I’m here – even in the rain or at night (don’t freak out Sue) – it’s what the people here do and it’s such a better way to really feel the city – see and hear and smell everything as we drive by.

Ta m bie't,


Anonymous said...

Sweet Melissy
I am ok with those motor bikes, as long as YOU feel safe, so we are good.
I must say, you brought me to tears. I can vision you with these children, your smile, your heart right out there, and your compassion overflowing. What a lucky day for these children, and what a beautiful, lucky day for you to have met these children.
I am sure you want to take them all with you. A memory for a lifetime, Meliss.
This city, the site of so much heartache, has touched you deeply. I understand. I love you Melissa

Anonymous said...

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Enjoy, tell me. Love, Zaida