Farewell to Vietnam!

Ho Chi Minh would approve!

Former Ambassador to the US and Vice President of VUS, Mr. Ngyuen Tun Chin and host mother singing the last song of the night

Mandy and Corin rocking the keys

Our tour guide Anh (right) for the first leg of the trip

Chuck Searcy, Vietnam veteran living in Vietnam and Carter. We donated $300 towards a water buffalo that would help suuport a farming familiy in need.

Paige tearing up the dance floor

My Nghi, our fearless leader, welcoming everyone to the farewell dinner

Interior of Museum of Military Engineering and Command

Bill and Hilary Clinton helping to normalize relations with Vietnam in 2000

Claymore mines

Our tour guide in the museum

View into the cluster bomb delivery systems

Unexploded ordinance gathered throughout the country (UXO's)

Image from the past displayed in the Museum of Engineering and Military Command

Carter receives gift from Colonel

One of sixteen SOS homes

Lost in thought

Clement steals the crayons

Mandy breaks the ice

Corin with his new friends

Kira helps color

Carly at play

Picture drawn by a child at the SOS Village

Clay tiles on prison roof

View through the prison door

Sculptures of Vietnamese imprisonment by the French at the Hoa Lo Prison. Later it would be nicknamed "Hanoi Hilton" by American POWs, the most famous of which was John McCain.

Altar at Temple of Literature

Roof of Mausoleum

Group Photo in front of Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Our host family who fed us like we've never been fed before...

Cute pups everywhere in Mai Chau

Cultural Center: "before" picture

Mostly done! This is our "after" picture.

Lots of villagers attended Friday's cultural performance

Ethnic group dancers

We were the guests of honor. Of course, the obligatory cup of green tea before the performance!

Bamboo stick dance

Tambiet (good-bye), Mai Chau

On way to power plant - brick-making "oven"

View of Hydroelectric Plant area from Ho Chi Minh statue; this plant produces 14% of Vietnam's total electricity

My friend, Ho Chi Minh (2nd largest statue in Vietnam)

At Ho Chi Minh statue

House on stilts like ours in Mai Chau (Jackfruit tree in foreground)

Clement deep in "journal" thought

Backyard view of our host home

Grand-daughter of our host family

Simple beauty

Orphanage sheets

Tall One on ladder

Love that paint job

Paint line

Carly = Spot Remover

Concentration

Making little friends

Mr. Dom, Long and Vinh

We need to brush up on our Vietnamese....

Patterns

Taking a break

Do you have your license, young man?

Three lucky babies

Watch out!!

Paige - sweaty but stylish

Melissa and Carly painting at the orphanage

Tough guy

Vietnamese ethnic house replica

Ethnic minority house

Pho (national soup!) comes in 3 popular kinds: Ca (fish), Bo (beef) and Ga (chicken). Yum yum...

Keep out dust, dirt, debris from road (this is bridge toll collector)

Houses are built UP since owners pay for square footage of first floor.

Can't get enough sushi

Oohhh, now tuna sushi is my favorite, favorite food!!!!

The wall of our private room in the restaurant

Funeral march (on the way to Ninh Binh)

Glamour girls

Sea of sampans

Paige and Allie with their driver

Natural beauty

Watch your head!

Carly and Melissa upstream

Limestone rock formations at Ninh Binh

Rice plants removed, ready to spread and dry

Spreading rice plants out to dry

Rice chaff drying in driveway

Silly Hoa with Silly Carter's glasses

Clement and Corin's brothers rolling paint

Teresa (adult leader) doing her part

Melissa carefully (?) at work!

Pho Bo (Beef Noodle soup) in the street

Examining donations at St. Paul's Hospital

Artists Mandy and Clement at work

Jaye's new soccer player friend

Weeding intensely

Motorbikes reign

Embroidery class

Clean-up Guy, Corin.

Side by side

The class leader

Jaye and Melissa helping out

Camera crews follow us everywhere

Mr. Nguyen is Executive Vice Chairman of the Vietnam - USA Society

At Ryan's family restaurant - could we fit any more food on this table or in our bellies?!

Ashlee (Ryan's cousin) and Mr. Huang

At Military Museum: Ho Chi Minh in background

War Trophies

War Trophies
Collected "art" from past wars in Vietnamese soil

Mr. Chuck Searcy spoke about how these cluster bombs still maim and kill civilians

Meet the Parents!! Go Corin! Go Clement!

Dad and Grandpa

Dad and Grandpa
Mandy and Jaye (Mrs. Mom was at home)

Allie and Melissa accepting roses

The Triplets: Kira, Paige and Carly have a brother!

The Home Stay Club - no kidding - this is their title!

Mandy and Mr. Nghi

Mandy and Mr. Nghi

Monday, June 20, 2011

Monday, June 20th

Written by Carter

What an emotional last full day in Hanoi. We began the day by spending the morning at the SOS Village in West Hanoi. The SOS Village provides abandoned children with fully-functioning homes, each headed by one parent - a mother. There are 16 homes in the compound and each houses approximately 8 children raised solely by the mother. We were able to meet with the director for a very clear explanation of how the village functions, a tour of the compound and a lovely visit with a kindergarten class full of kids happy to share their crayons and paper with us. We made a cash donation as well as a very large suitcase full of clothing, toys and art supplies.

Our next stop was to the Museum of Military Engineering Command where we heard about the efforts of the government to rid Vietnam of the millions of unexploded bombs and landmines that still permeate the landscape. It was a humbling visit. The legacy of the USA/Vietnam war continues as 100,000 people are killed or maimed each year by unexploded ordinance (UXO's). After the presentation, we took a guided tour of the museum where images from the 70's and recovered bombs displayed tastefully have an undeniably powerful effect. At age 54, my emotions were just behind my eyes as the images and the realities of the war brought back memories from my late teens. The Vietnamese are amazing people and to stand beside them in that museum with the atrocities of the war all around us and feel no hate, only hope and good will, is a moment I will never forget.

We left for lunch a humbled crew of 11, our bus very quiet as we all pondered what we'd just seen and heard. Tonight we will gather with our host families and all of the people who supported us over the past two weeks. We leave tomorrow for home; we are anxious to see our loved ones yet we find ourselves torn between two worlds. One where everything is new and exciting, the other full of comfort and predictability. At this point in our trip, we have become familiar with this country and it will be difficult to leave. But the plane leaves tomorrow and we will be on it.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

June 19, Sunday

Written by Ally

We are nearing the end of our visit to Vietnam, and the feeling is bittersweet. Though I cannot wait until I return home, I know I will miss much of this environment and culture. Back in the hotel, we started our day at 8am. Mr. Nghi and Mr. Hue met us in the hotel lobby to tour the Mausoleum. Unlike the first time we tried to see Ho Chi Minh, or Uncle Ho (as the Vietnamese refer to him) we advanced in the line relatively quickly. The amount of people there both locals and tourists led me to believe that this is consistently a popular site. The actual room where Ho Chi Minh lay was about five minutes into the building. It was important to stay respectful throughout. If not, the guards were there. They stood at each corner to make sure we followed the strict rules and continued to move - there was no stopping. In a makeshift single-file line, we circle the clear prism that enclosed Ho Chi Minh. The sight was fascinating and sent chills down my spine. The next tour was of his house. We were able to see his work and eating areas, with his actual furniture. Next we made our way to the museum of Ho Chi Minh, but unfortunately Cheri had to leave for the States. We all said our goodbyes. The museum was obviously entirely about Vietnam's former Persident, but none of the information plaques were in English. After that, it was finally lunch. We went all out with iced-smoothies and lettuce appetizers at a restaurant called Koto that filters the ice. The fresh spring rolls that I had longed for for the duration of this trip were finally allowed. Koto's mission is to train street children to work in restaurants and place them in wage-earning positions throughout the city. After the delicious lunch, the eleven of us made our way to the Temple of Literature and Hoa Lo Prison, also known as "Hanoi Hilton." The temple is a dedication to teachers but more specifically Confucious. It was made up of several courtyards, connected by maze-like pathways. As people passed through, they would smudge their names into a box believed to give luck on exams. We took part in that practice. Finally we toured around the prison. It really put into perspective the way POWs lived during the war. Both informing and interesting, the prison served as a good way to end the educational part of our day. I can definitely say that I have learned a great deal about this country and appreciate it in every way.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Friday and Saturday June 17 & 18

Written by Clement

This past evening was our last night in Mai Chau before we would return to civilization, air conditioning, no bugs and the hardest part for me - no chocolate. After eating dinner, where we were offered grasshoppers - one of Carter's favorite dishes - we went to the culture show in celebration. It was specially held for us in the very newly painted culture house we sat on the floor along a tea table while mostly mothers, children and babies sat along the sides of the room, all of us looking at the small stage. Our host gave a quick speech, then the leader of the village, and finally Cheri and Carter gave them our donation. The candy that we bought quickly got spread around to all the kids and a mania of joyous noise broke out from all of them. The first half hour consisted of performances from women and a couple of men from the village. However, it was hard for a lot of us to focus on the wonderful performances with the hordes of bugs attacking us. The second half became more interactive. We were doing the "bamboo dance" and offered to drink a local specialty which most of us quite enjoyed in constrast to the grasshoppers. It ended around ten and we wandered home in the darkness of the Mai Chau village and settled down for the night.

This morning was...drowsy. Tired from the heat and hard work of the past days, people first started waking up an hour after we were supposed to, which was when breakfast should've started. Luckily, we had no major obligations for the day. An hour behind schedule, we ate breakfast, thanked the family, and gave them our gifts. Then we were on our way back to swag city Hanoi. On our way back we stopped at the Silk Village. This must have been heaven for the girls, I can only imagine. It was mainly one big street full of shops with beautiful silk clothes and accessories. When we returned to the hotel we were given 200,000 Dong (about $10) each for dinner. For the rest of this afternoon and evening we've been let loose in the streets of Hanoi. Oh boy, let the fun begin.

Note: Cheri is flying back to the US tomorrow and Carter will continue with help from Teresa. They'll blog as they get the opportunity.

Thursday and Friday, June 15 & 16

Written by Mandy

Waking up on Thursday was a very different experience than I’m used to. I asked Paige to wake me up by setting her alarm clock but it was useless because the roosters and the other animals woke me up at 4am. To my surprise, it was the most peaceful way to start the day. Waking up with a bug net around me and the sun seeping through it made me feel like a princess, even though I woke up dripping sweat. Mai Chau is by far the most beautiful place I have ever been and fixed my eyes on. Thursday was our first work day. We painted the community house in the village. I felt really special because they trusted us and me who drops and spills everything, to paint a very important piece of the village. Although it was hot and the sun was the hottest I’ve ever felt it to be, the work went by fast and was a lot of fun. Our group got so much done and I know we all felt really proud of how much we accomplished together. At the end of the day we all came together for another amazing dinner. The meals at this village are so calming and peaceful because all we can hear is the still of the night and the bugs singing. The only bad part is my legs don’t fit under the table because its so low to the ground. I guess they don’t really make tables for people our size in the village. Friday was our last work day. Personally, I feel that this project was the best project that we did on this trip. The building that we painted looks amazing. I’m really happy that we’ve finished our work in Vietnam but I’m also upset because I want to keep going. Crickets were served as part of the dinner on Friday and everyone ate at least one cricket, including me. It took a while for me to get that thing in my mouth, but I DID IT!! Yum, yum!!!! After dinner on Friday, we went to a culture show. I’m sad to see that this trip is starting to come to an end but I’m extremely proud of all of us for everything we’ve accomplished. So far my time in Vietnam has been incredible, uplifting, and difficult. Mai Chau has really made me see why I took the challenge to leave my comfort zone. It gave me assurance that when I leave and go back to America, I’ll always have what I’ve learned here. This place has made me appreciate everything I have so much more. I don’t want to leave Mai Chau at all. Even though I’ve loved every place we’ve been on this trip, Mai Chau is the one place that gave me the most comfort and love and a permanent understanding of what I can achieve on my own. Mai Chau also reminds me how fortunate I am to have air conditioning. I really miss that.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Wednesday, June 15

We are off to Mai Chau for 3 days and will almost certainly be out of range of internet. Please check back with us on Saturday....

Bye for now!

Tuesday, June 14

This is Melissa writing.

Well, it's hot. It is so flippin hot!! It's not so much the heat that gets to you, but the looming humidity. It has an incredible capacity to make you sweat. Working outside at the orphanage leaves us all drenched half-way through the day. I bet the people at the restaurants where we eat lunch think we're crazy.
The people here are so incredible. I am amazed by their graciousness and friendliness. Generally being a tourist means you are looked at poorly, but here everyone is curious and open, very smiley. I like it.
Yesterday afternoon we spent painting at theorphanage. We were welcomed with open arms and once again filmed by the journalist team that always seems to know wehere we're going. We visitied the infants in one of the small rooms off of the courtyard. They were darling. One of them had crazy hair - it stuck out in all directions. Not going to lie; I wanted to adopt them all.
After that, we were instructed to sand down the railing on the balcony of the two upper levels of one of the buildings. We were confused as the sanding did very little and they had us paint it the original color. Once we were done with that, we all loaded onto the bus. I do not believe air conditioning has ever felt so incredibly delicious. It is always such a relief to step onto that bus. We drove to a nearby restaurant, a big place with a bridge spanning a murky pond filled with lily pads and fake mountains. They had a private room for us upstairs. There was so much food! Dish after dish after dish piled onto the Lazy Susan. It's quite interesting to guess what we're being served. I thought one dish was chicken, seeing that we found its head (yes, the whole thing) under the other pieces of meat.
We went back to the orphanage after lunch and got straight to painting. The paint was oil-based, so the fumes were strong. We were baking in the sun, sweat dripping down our faces while trying not to be overwhelmed by the paint fumes. It was actually pretty fun. I was disappointed, though, that we had no opportunity to work with the kids. I wish we could do more than paint.
We left the orphanage at 4:00 and had about an hour and 15 minutes till we got back to the hotel. I do NOT recommend drinking tons of water before such a long drive. It was not so much fun.
Back at the hotel, we rested a bit before dinner. Carly and I went out with her host brother to eat near a small lake. We ate in a restaurant on the fifth floor with a view. But first, we had to cross the Crazy Intersection of Death. It doesn't actually kill you but there are drivers coming at you from all angles on little motorbikes. They're very good drivers, but it's insane how many of them dodge you crossing the street.
We went into a little silk shop in which they were very helpful; they even brought me a little stool to sit on when I was looking at the items close to the floor. We walked back to the hotel and while we were standing ouside, about to say good-bye to Carly's host brother, we saw a motorbike zoom by and someone on the back shouted something. The motorbike stopped a little up the street and someone jumped off and started running towards us. We were so confused, but soon realized that it was our Vietnamese - GS friend, Yen Anh. We caught up with her before she left with her friends. I was so excited to see her (she's awesome!) and also amazed at the fact that she just happened to drive down the street we were on at that exact moment.
I really like breakfast at the hotel; mango, yogurt, fried rice, peach juice, pasteries, and Vietnamese coffee. We got on the bus at 8:00 to return to the orphanage for our 6th workday, ready to paint, surrounded by the relaxing high-pitched screech of the locusts and the sweltering heat.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Monday, June 13

Written by Kira.

Xin chao, everybody! (Hi, everybody!) It has officially been a week in Vietnam for us, and it's a bit difficult to articulate how time passes in this trip, at least for me. Over the past week, we have been adjusting to and absorbing the Vietnamese culture, observing and appreciating the myriad of differences between the ways of life in Vietnam and those we have back at home. Without a doubt, the first few days in this country went by slowly, as we were somewhat jetlagged and exhausted from the plane ride. However, now, I can easily say that each day in Vietnam seems to fly by as we continue to have new and intriguing experiences that we will surely remember well in the future.
Yesterday was a full day of treats for us. It wasn't a work day, so we got to relax more and engage in the daily life here. After lunch in the buffet and walking around the Vietnamese Ethnilogical Museum, Cheri, Carter and Teresa offered to take those who wanted to a large and famous indoor market, just a few minutes down the street from our hotel. Of course, being the shopping addict that I am, I couldn't refuse this opportunity to see what Vietnamese buying, selling and bargaining was really like. When I took a step into the market, all I could see were rows and aisles of shops and stands, carrying any goods you could possibly think of, from blingy hairclips to travel luggage to shoes and baseball caps. They even had a stand for little toy cars, which actually turned out to be cell phones. I had a great time in the market, and by the end of the time in there, I had gotten pretty accustomed to bargaining with the vendors. It's actually kind of fun after a while, and the great thing is, the vendors actually enjoy adjusting prices to meet an agreement. There were definitely great deals in that market!
After we were all shoppe out, the leaders of our trip treated us again, taking us to eat sushi after we all voiced unanimously that sushi was what we were craving. There were some difficulties after we got to the restaurant, "Soshu 123." Turns out, that restaurant in particular didn't serve the sushi we were hoping for; instead, it served barbecue and hot-pot. After we figured this out, we walked out of the place, and ended up a short distance away to an actual sushi restaurant. There, we ate like kings and queens. The food was delicious, and there was so much, that we had to take some home. Cheri offered it to us for breakfast! The rest we took to the orphanage for the staff.
We travelled to the Bac Ninh Orphanage this morning, the place where Cheri adopted Jordan and Xavier. We had the chance to visit a few children awaiting adoption, babies specifically. The were so cute and one of the babies had crazy hair, while another stared out the window. For our work assignment, we were to sand the metal rails of the balconies of the orphanage. Right then, rain crashed down but it only lasted about ten minutes. When I was working on the rails, the cutest little girl, 2 years old, came up to me and persisted on conversing with me. Unfortunately, I couldn't understand her, but I could tell by the spark in her eyes and the music in her voice that she was a sweet and loving girl. Later, I found out that she was waiting to be adopted, and all I could think was why no one had adopted her yet - a sad fact, but she didn't seem to take any notice, as there were no signs of negativity in her persona.
Vietnam, to me, is such a wonderful place, mainly for its people. We all know they've had quite a history, and a hard one, too. However, the people are so open and generous, that if one didn't know of their past, he or she would never expect such a scar in their life. I'm excited to continue our journey in Vietnam and undoubtedly, there is so much more to discover.