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    Friday, July 07, 2006

    Ponderances on Vietnam

    As the wife and I return to life in the United States, I thought I would give some remembrances of Vietnam.

    1. A Vietnamese friend is a friend for life.

    I've believe that the native Vietnamese--those who grow up and live in Vietnam--are incredibly friendly people. But being friendly is different than being a friend. The Vietnamese do not make friends easily. They will be courteous and kind and helpful, but a friend is someone who shares your personal life, and they keep that sacred.

    Over the last 6 months that I was in Vietnam, I think I made maybe one true friend that was not a student. Interestingly, I have made friends with a couple students, but all told, the total is probably around 4.

    That does not mean I didn't have lots of fun--people were friendly, I knew lots of acquaintances, but only 4 that I could (and would) sit down with and talk about life.

    That said, once you have a Viet as a friend, that bond is incredibly strong, and almost never fades. It is a great thing.

    2. Can you not like Vietnamese food?

    I love food. Period. I love to cook. I love to eat. I think cooking is truly an art. The Vietnamese are masters, from the big restaurants down to the street stalls and home-cooked meals. I am already missing the pho, bun thit nuong, rau muong, etc. that is so hard to find in America. Take that back...so hard to find done well in America. There are some great Vietnamese cooks in the States, but pho there misses something you find in a small bowl in the corner stall.

    3. Social society

    I miss talking to people every day. I miss the wonderful Vietnamese way of sitting outside in your hem after work or school and talking with each other, or heading downtown to play during the evening. The karaoke places are always packed, the live outdoor concerts rock, and you can't beat sitting atop the Hoa Duong cafe on Quang Trung street, chatting, eating ice cream, and watching the planes fly overhead and land at Tan Son Nhat airport.

    4. Motorbikes

    I love driving--absolutely love it. Leaving my motorbike was a hard thing. Driving a car is great, I love the speed, but there's something about feeling the wind in your hair, and having your wife hug you tight while sitting behind you that makes riding a motorbike intoxicating...

    It's amazing, now driving a car again, how 40km/hr can feel so fast. I keep telling my wife that we should look into getting me a bullet bike in the States for going to medical school, but she won't buy it. She cuts out the "bullet" and says I can ride my "bike." Bummer. I mean, bikes are great and all, but they aren't motorbikes.

    In addition to riding, I miss seeing a million people stuffed on one motorbike or bicycle. The Vietnamese are so industrious and ingenious--they use ever part of the animal for food, and every part of the motorbike for work. What's the most people you've ever seen on a motorbike?? I've seen 5 (counting children), but my brother swears he's seen 7 in the Philippines.

    4. Pollution

    My second week back in America I went mountain biking. Man, who wants clean air and mountains?? Why would I want to get away from people, and noise, and actually hear myself think?? Actually, I loved it. No matter how far out in the boonies you go in Vietnam, you still can't be by yourself. My wife and I went to see the tomb of Gia Long in Hue--the farthest tomb out, away from everything--and we were never out of eyesite of a house. Crazy. And in the city, the sleep in my eye was always black and oily and stained my clothes if I wiped it on my shirt. I know I lost years off my life riding behind busses that have never met any sort of EPA standards. Like smoking 400 cigarettes an hour, is riding behind those things...

    But I do miss seeing my students enthusiasm at how much they loved Vietnam's environment and wanted to protect it. One day in class, they went off for 30 minutes on various ways to clean up Ho Chi Minh City, including planting trees and starting enviornmental clubs in schools. I hope that someday one of them does it, because a great HCMC would be even more amazing if it was clean.

    5. Orphans

    Finally, although I'm sure I could go on, I miss my orphans at the Phu My Orphanage. They are so innocent, so pure, so fun and loving. I grew more volunteering there than doing anything else in Vietnam. I know they served me far more than I served them. The men and women who work at the orphanage make pennies on the dollar, really, for the work they do, but they continue to come to work every day, and serve these children. Most are poor themselves--the salaries don't allow for much. They pool it with their husbands' or wives' salary and rent an apartment from which to raise their two children, always hoping that their kids will do well in school and have a better life. At moments they share their fears, that they do not make enough money to send their children to extra school, and so their children will not do well enough to enter college and will lead a life no different from theirs. Still, they give it all for those children. They are my heroes.

    The beautiful thing about Vietnam, is that even when you leave it, it never truly leaves you.


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    1 comment:

    Lacie Rhiannon said...

    SO lucky! A trip home. I can't wait for that. Tet 2007 Here I come.