Hello everyone, this is Sophia making a guest appearance on Rachel’s blog. I would like to apologize in advance because I am not an English major. I am afraid I cannot offer the lovely prose Rachel brings to the blog. This blog is about our activities on December 15, 2007. It was one of the fullest days of my life.
Ruth 1:16 …Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my god.
Today I have been thinking a lot about the story of Ruth. When she went with Naomi to Bethlehem, she was leaving the only home she ever knew. Leaving her country, her people, her culture and religion. I’m sure Ruth went through some culture shock as she promised to go with Naomi to the land of her people. Rachel and I have also wandered to a new place. I don’t think we could have gone much further from home than Viet Nam. Not only are we far away in miles, but also we are distant in culture, religion, food, and language. Just as Ruth promised to go where Naomi went and stay where she stayed and live like her people, so, too, have Rachel and I vowed to experience the life of the Vietnamese. After all, this isn’t just a Christmas vacation, it is a learning experience and today I think we learned more than any book could ever tell of the Vietnamese.
We started the day bright and early at 7:30am. Although that is early for us, it is nothing for students in Viet Nam. Our room here is right next to a school. Every morning, even Saturday and Sunday, we hear the students come to school laughing and chatting with their friends at 6am. Even the Vietnamese university students all start their classes at 7am! After taking a cold shower (there isn’t any hot water in our room…our hotel choice is also part of our charity here) we headed to Mr. Cu’s Mandarin Café for breakfast. There is still a heavy French influence here, especially in the restaurants, so we had crepes and croissants for breakfast. Mr. Cu is a good friend of Dr. Murray, our trip leader and the founder of Think About the Children) so he gave us his famous walking tour of Hue pamphlet. We had until 12 to meet for lunch so we thought we would give it a go. I was proud of our group of girls for navigating (all by ourselves!) their way over the Huang River bridge to the Citadel (nothing like the Citadel in Charleston) and the Imperial City. We did deviate a little from Mr. Cu’s tour. Some of the instructions were lost in translation. While lost we got to see a little better how the Vietnamese people live their lives. We saw a schoolyard of children playing games. They were very happy to let us take their picture! We saw people cooking, cleaning, fishing, and running their shops. In Viet Nam a lot of life goes on in the streets. Everyone camps out in from of his or her shops or homes. It is hard to describe what we saw because there really is nothing like it in America. Eventually we found our way to the Imperial City. It was built in the 19th century to house the royal family. Viet Nam has a very long history; however, most of the visible history is from the very recent past. I think the humid weather and influx of invaders and war has caused many historical structures to be lost. The Citadel was a large military building designed by the French. It kind of looked like a black four-tiered cake with a giant Vietnamese flag on top.
After lunch our Vietnamese university students arrived to do a little sight seeing in the country and go with us to the Duc Son orphanage. [We have gotten the opportunity to meet with several university students from the English Club at the university in Hue. The teacher who leads the club is a good friend of Liz, the American contact here in Viet Nam for Think About the Children, and he works very closely with the organization. The students have come along with us on most of our travels.] Getting to know the students has been one of the most rewarding components of this trip. If you have ever learned a foreign language think back on what you learned first. Usually you learn how to ask someone’s name, their age, what they like to do, etc. That is the type of question we received from the students. Their English was very good, but it is very draining to communicate for long periods of time with them.
After our walking tour, we ate lunch at a great vegetarian restaurant across the bridge in Hue. Some of the students met us there after lunch. We all wanted to go see the tomb of the last emperor of Viet Nam before visiting the orphanage but there weren’t enough Vietnamese drivers to take us there. But Rachel and I channeled Ruth and said your transportation will be our transportation. Rachel, Emily, Paul, and I all offered to drive a motorbike. The CDC specifically wrote that foreigners should not drive themselves in Viet Nam but hey, how hard can it be. Sure, there are no traffic laws, and we have no idea where we are going, but whatever. It was soooo much fun. We had a thirty-minute training session in the parking lot of the restaurant. Despite the language barrier, Rachel and I became fast experts on the bikes. Once we got out of the city, the view was breathtaking. There were mountains and expansive rice patties. We saw water buffalo and someone in our group saw and elephant. Vi, one of the university students, gave us a tour of the pagoda way out in the country that we came to after our motorbike ride. It was one of the most peaceful places I have ever seen. The only stress came as we biked back into the city in the middle of rush hour. But Rachel and I never got separated from our group because the 11 white students on the back of bikes really stood out of the crowd!
After dinner we went to the orphanage. We brought a ton of food and supplies to give to the orphanage and, of course, ourselves to play with the children. When we got there, the students sang us songs including Happy Birthday, Row Row Row Your Boat, and You Are My Sunshine. They asked us to sing them a song, so we busted out Jingle Bells. The children were so precious and well behaved. The Buddhist nuns need only ring their bells or tap a child on the shoulder and they got right in line. The nun explained to us that they took in children whose parents died in accidents or who were abandoned because of disabilities. People will leave children at the gate and ring the bell. The students can stay there as long as they like. Many remain there and help raise the children. They were so thankful for all the supplies. After the song singing, the children were given time to run wild with us. There were at least 100 kids in the large open room and they all wanted to be hugged, tickled, and chased. I learned some new hand clapping games and a balancing game where three people hold hands and you put one foot into the middle and hop around til you fall down. We got to see the nursery and hold some of the babies. I held one baby who was only 7 days old! By the time we sat down to share some fruit together we were all exhausted and sweaty.
The government canceled our work in the North for the next two days. Apparently we are not to be trusted. I guess they think we might stir up the villagers. Instead of painting and repairing roofs as planned, we are going to spend more time with the Vietnamese students and give more aid to the Duc Son orphanage. We are going to go to the market and pick out special gifts for the children. I know that they will be happy to see us again and I know that I will not be happy to leave them!