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


Making little friends

Mr. Dom, Long and Vinh

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


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.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sunday, June 12

This is Paige writing.

I was kind of sad to find out that we wouldn't be spending the day and night at Ha Long Bay. I really needed that dip in the water. Going to Ninh Binh was fine and on the way, we stopped at a traditional looking restaurant. We were served French fries, goat kabobs, pork rolls, rice, really yummy pork in an amazing sauce. I thought the pork in sauce was goat, so I ate multiple servings just for the experience. Oh well. On our way out of the restaurant, we stopped at the gift shop. I bought a plate, a wine stand, and a Vietnamese doll, kind of like a Barbie doll. The ladies gave me pretty good prices for the items but as I was paying they would throw in a $2 tip for themselves or ask me for my American change. I gave in just to make them happy.
Our boat experience in Ninh Binh was a little different than Jaye's. Allie and I were paired in a boat with two women. I was apprehensive about getting in the boat because we weren't exactly sitting in the boat. We actually sat on mud planks that stretched from both sides of the boat. A photographer continuously snapped pictures of us. He told us multiple times to do the same pose (the peace sign) and to even stand up. The women rowing our boat were very friendly and we made such a bond that they asked Allie and I to buy them snacks. We came back to the hotel and we were free to explore. Allie, Carly, Melissa and I ended up at the Puku restaurant for dinner and the food was pretty good. We explored a little bit until check in.
This morning we were picked up by Mr. Dom and Anh and went to the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, but because of the strikes and the mountains of people, we weren't able to get in line. We'll go next Sunday when things will be calmer. Instead of the mausoleum, we went to the Pottery Village. I bought some very nice tea sets and random things for decent prices so Cheri stands corrected when she says we really should haggle. ( :-) ) After the Village, we stopped for lunch and a super buffet and then visited the Museum of Ethnology of Vietnam. We learned about different ethnic groups in Vietnam. It was really hot in the museum but we got to spend some time outside, too, where there were many exhibits of houses and other structures.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Saturday, June 11

Written by Jaye.

Working in the Friendship Village yesterday tested both my persistence and my physical ability. Having painted the day before, I thought it would be the same, but I was wrong. On Thursday, we had painted inside with the fans on full blast, but yesterday was a new experience entirely. We instead had to paint ouside in the blistering heat. Let me tell you, it was the first time I had ever dripped sweat from every inch of my body. Although at times I wanted to throw in the towel, I persevered until the end, wanting to help the children as much as possible. Not only was I concerned with finishing, but I wanted the final product to look professional. People affected by Agent Orange deserve a nice clean cafeteria, at least. After we stopped for our lunch break, Corin, Clement, Mandy and I want to an old, beat up soccer field to enjoy a game of soccer. Soon, children began to watch and shortly after, join in after we kicked the ball to them. They would laugh as we tried to show them cool tricks, and pretty soon we were and playing an actual game. One girl took off her shoes, showing that she meant business.
When we went back to work, three others and I finished painting while the rest of the group worked in the garden. We evened out the coats of paint and scraped what wasn't supposed to have been painted. We then hustled back into the air conditioned reception room in order to give donations we had collected at home. The director of the village passed out beautiful pins engraved with "Friendship Village" and stopped at Mandy and me and said "Hard workers." This warmed my heart because I had put my physical limits to the test in order to provide a suitable space for these kids.
When we arrived at our host family's house, Mandy and I were exhausted. We were warmly greeted with "xin ciao" and huge plates of fruit at the dinner table. Previous nights had been filled with fried foods which were not returned with our enthusiasm. The would often tell us "try this, you no eat" in a joking way, but last night we tried everything. She had two fruit plates, softly spiked leechees and pineapple, and cooked shrimp. The mother decapitated the shrimp then offered them to us. She then motioned to a gooey sauce and we dipped the shrimp and popped them into our mouths. The fresh shrimp mixed with the tangy sauce went together perfectly. After the scrumptous meal, we laughed around the table and gave gifts. They were delighted to receive our hand-made bowls and kitchen supplies. Mandy and I were then excused from the table and dragged our feet upstairs to our bedroom and fell asleep about five minutes later.
This morning we ate pho and homemade yogurt. We then traveled to Ninh Binh, a mountainous area of real beauty. The mountains of limestone were singular and pointy, shooting up in different shapes and coverings. The rowers would often row with their feet and were covered in clothes from their head to their feet to protect them from the heat. We ventured in caves (actually, through them) and under trees basking in the surrounding beauty. Our rowers were a pregnant mother along with her daughter, and would point to different objects, trying to describe using their limited English. Ninh Binh is an experience that will never be forgotten and demonstrated how the most beautiful things in life are naturally crafted by Mother Nature herself.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Friday, June 10

This is Carlyn writing.

Yesterday, after leaving out host families for the first time, we went to the Vietnam Friendship Village, where victims of Agent Orange as well as the Vietnamese veterans who fought in the war with the U.S. are able to live, learn and be cared for and loved. Aftern spending my spring break moving my grandparents into an assisted living facility, I expected the worst; I imagined it to be just that, with the separation and image that goes along with that kind of place. However, this place is a sanctuary. The people who live here are just that: people, and everything they need we need and more. After visiting some classes, I truly saw the love and community that all of the patients, as well as teachers have for one another. Even after stepping into one class, the students couldn't stop smiling and giving us high-fives and telling us all about their work. I was afraid I would feel like I was walking into a zoo, where I was staring on at the subjects through the glass, and that I was the free one, with the freedom to move as I pleased from room to room. I was so wrong. Even with what we would describe as a handicap, it is not. They are free and life-loving and curious, just as we all are, and there shouldn't be anything that makes anyone second guess that. I don't think I have ever met anyone with as much compassion and openness as they were to us.
After our visits, we began the work of painting the dining hall. Honestly, it didn't really feel like work, because I felt this growing need to help these people and working with the group that we have is always the most fun and very efficient. First, we did a white coat over the walls (and sometimes ourselves) and then moved on to lunch. After lunch, we finished the white and began the layer of yellow. Once 4 o'clock rolled around, we cleaned up what we had and headed back into the center of Hanoi. From Mr. Nghi's office, we all went our separate ways to our different homestays. Paige, Kira and I spent the taxi ride laughing and having a great time. As we began to head into the more familiar area of our house, our driver stopped and said we were here, even though we knew we weren't. All of us assumed it was only down the block so we walked a bit, but it became obvious that we knew nothing. So we stopped and I called Quian, our host brother and told him where we were and he told me, "Don't move! I'll be right there." If we had been anywhere else, I don't think we would have encountered what we did. A woman was caring for her garden in front of her house, and even though Kira was taking a picture opportunity in the allies and Paige and I were laughing, she knew we were lost. She asked us what address we needed to get to and we showered her; she called out her son, who then promptly said he would take us. He was very friendly, asking us where we were from, what we were doing in Vietnam, if we liked Hanoi so far, things like that. Eventually, Quan ran into us on the street and we thanked the boy who helped us. In any other place, it would have been completely different, but I have only encountered hospitality and kindness in this place, where I look as alien too them as their whole world is to me.
After we got home, we cleaned up and had dinner. Our host parents are so kind and extremely generous, serving us way too much food than is good for us. Our host sister is very kind and even though she only speaks some English, she is very easy to communicate with. Her son, Bee, is absolutely the cutest thing I have ever seen and even with his initial shyness, last night he was all fun and games. Our host brother, Quan and I have become very good friends even with this very short amount of time. It's hard and sad to think that tonight is our last night with the people who have become our family on the other side of the world. Finally, Quan took us out into Hanoi and showed us some of its highlights.
This morning we went back to Friendship Village and did a lot more painting. One of our friends from our visit to the classrooms came and he spent a lot of time laughing at us and saying our names. He is truly the greatest example of what it means to live life to the fullest, with all of his laughing and smiles. When he left, we were sad to see him go, but he left with his contagious laugh and funny attitude.
Vietnam can not be described by what it is but rather who it is. Vietnam is its people and they have opened their hearts and homes to us, as if we were friends not seen for a long time. there are things that happen here that are numbed by the English language and just can not be expressed. One can only learn of the feeling of Vietnam after becoming a part of Vietnam, and utlimately losing a part of yourself to it.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Thursday, June 9

This is Corin writing.
And so it begins. The trip of a lifetime. Yesterday was our first homestay, and the man that Clement and I are staying with is so gracious. Mr. Nguyen is his name. His family consists of his merry wife, Hai, and his two sons, Minh and another boy who never told us his name, but is our age, which is convenient. We entered Mr. Nguyen's home already in a state of bewilderment, as he lives in this beautiful gated community set back in an alley off of a bustlilng Hanoi street. The whole ground floor is open to the street, as the entrance wall is completely made of glass. I quickly got used to the fact that if another family turned their heads at their dinner table, they could see us at our dinner table. His home is four stories tall, but only about 30 feet wide. You see, land is so expensive in Hanoi that the buildings are very narrow, but very tall. The first floor is where the dinner table is, and the rest of the floors are bedrooms, except for the 4th floor, which is where they pray. I think they're Buddhist. They are so warm and kind and Clement and I couldn't have a better family taking care of us.
After eating dinner, we went out into Hanoi with Mr. Nguyen's son and saw the musoleum of Ho Chi Minh. We couldn't enter, but it looked amazing from afar. We will see the musoleum as a group on Sunday of the last week. When we got back, we slept like babies.
This morning, we ate a huge breakfast of eggs and toast to fuel lup for the long work day at the Friendship Village. The village is mostly a place where children and adults who have been physically or mentally affected by Agent Orange can go for schooling, mostly vocational school. It is almost like a sanctuary, or a safe place for them to go. Today, we're working on re-painting their cafeteria. The friendliness of the staff and the kids is astounding and obvious, as you get smiles whenever you go. Another amazing thing to see today is the cooperative attitude of the rest of the GS students who are painting with frustrating Vietnamese latex paint, on walls that crumble under the roller, in 33 degree (about 94 F.) weather. It really makes me happy that a little group from a little school in Newtown, PA, can make such a monumental difference in people's lives by taking the load off their hard workers for some time.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Wednesday, June 8

A full day. After a warm welcome by the former Ambassador from Vietnam to US and the current Vice Chairman of the Vietnam - USA Society, we chatted at length with him, smiled for the reporters (newspaper, television and radio!!) and headed to Project RENEW, an organization started by VN Veteran Chuck Searcy to remove all landmines (mostly cluster bombs) from Vietnamese soil. There, we learned all about the Project, its various missions and listened to Chuck tell stories about the Vietnam War and how it affected his life and that of his family and friends. Fascinating and mesmorizing, Chuck held everyone's attention as we listened to firsthand information and emotions recounted in a most unassuming manner. We donated some funds to this Project.
Lunch was shared at the restaurant of Ryan Huang's family, class of '09. This seafood wonderland was over-the-top delectible as the dishes appeared on the table and seemed to never end. The students even ate some of the last dish, 3 beautifully prepared grouper fish with a indescribable sauce. Two hours later, we finished with rice flake ice cream and real (!) Vietnamese coffee, the kind so thick it coats the side of your cup, so strong you only get a third of a cup. We shared stories with Ryan's parents, who own other restaurants and a hotel in Hanoi. Ryan, still in NYC, has a cousin, Ashlee, who was particularly entertaining as she helped translate for her aunt and uncle. She was a real hoot.
We spent a sweltering afternoon at the Military Museum where we saw war relics and memoribalia. Things made more sense in the museum after having heard Chuck Searcy speak about the wars in Vietnam this morning.
Off to meet the families at which point some students hearts began to beat faster. It was such a warm welcome by the Head of the Home Stay Club. What a great idea for a club! Each student will stay with another GSer for three days/nights with one family. A personal taxi will bring them to and from the homestay for the duration of the stay. All families have hosted before and enjoy doing so. Hey, they belong to The Club, too!!
As Carter, Teresa and I re-organized our 10 bags of donations to a clinic, a hospital, the SOS Village, The Friendship Village, The Women's Union of Hoa Binh, families of Mai Chau and The Bac Ninh Orphanage, we imagined our students showing their host families their photos, and telling them what super friends and families they have in the States. We are certain that tomorrow, our first day of service at the Friendship Village, will be exciting and .... warm.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Tuesday, June 7

Wow, what a day. After three flights (7 hours, 12 hours, 3 hours), dozens of airplane meals (!) and much fatigue, we finally made it! The students fared really well....
We settled into our hotel, cleaned up and then went out for a quick ice cream, followed by the Main Event: Water Puppets. These puppets are a tradition for all visitors to Hanoi. Made of fig tree wood (waterproof), this 1000 year old tradition depicts the life of farmers' daily life. Puppeteers stand in waist-deep water behind a bamboo screen where they perform the miracle of manipulating the water puppets on long poles under the water. Quite astounding. A small orchestra composed of singers and musicians treated us to Vietnamese accompanying music.
After the hour-long show, we went out to dinner for authentic Vietnamese food! Pumpkin soup, pumpkin stalks, curried fried prawns, vermicelli seafood salad, peppered beef and onions, spring rolls and more were enjoyed by all. We dined with Mr. Nghi, our host, and our guest, Mr. Minh, the Secretary General of the Americas Division of the Vietnam - USA Friendship Society. Our guide, Anh, also came with us. By 7:30, we were adequately stuffed and exhausted. The thunderstorm "cooled" things off a bit (it was 93 degrees today and in the 110's last week, apparently....) Anyway, cool is such a relative word.
To bed early tonight.

Monday, June 6, 2011

June 7, Almost there!

My, my.... Here we are almost there.... Our first flight was 7 hours, the second one took us 12 hours and our last one will be a mere 3 hours.

This Singapore Airport is very civilized and modern.

Kids are doing superbly. Lots of good conversation, much good and frequent food and a bit of turbulence to rock us all to sleep.

Watch for blogs later today. We leave in an hour.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Well, well, well, here is the day we've all been awaiting!! In 90 minutes we will gather, load the bus and blow kisses good-bye, just for now. Carter and I are excited to begin this adventure with this fantastic group of students!!

See you soon!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Three days and counting.

We are so excited to be on our way to Vietnam for our service-learning experience. Come visit this site frequently for updates about our trip. We'll post pictures and comments every day when it is possible. Thank you for the honor of taking these Wonderful Students, your Super Kids with us to Hanoi. Stay tuned...