Friday, February 24, 2012

Spam 'n' Sand Sandwiches

Spam ‘n’ sand  Sandwiches

Today I went to the beach. 
            Sand gets into everything.
Yesterday I had lunch with a Buddhist Monk.
            He gave us bead bracelets.
Today I read a book written by women Veterans of Viet Nam
            Visions of War, Dreams of Peace
Tomorrow I will leave for Ha Noi.
            What a head trip.
Today I was reminded….
            I know how to cry without tears.


February at the Beach

   Bernie here,  I am enjoying my visit to Viet Nam very much.

Today, Friday, we went to the beach.  February on the beach, sunny 80 degrees, warm refreshing water on my toes, shells to collect, butterflies to meet, crabs to tease and a walking through water work out.  It was great.  The Vietnamese do not want to have dark skin so they do not come to the beach during the late morning or all afternoon till after 4pm.  It is not yet tourist season here so we had the beach almost all to our selves. No crowds, no kids running all over and no waiting for a seat, umbrella or taxi.  Wow! For your next vacation, come visit Vietnam. 

Yesterday, Thursday, we had lunch with a Buddhist monk.  He was very short, only came to my shoulder.  He kept laughing at me during lunch and my western ways and called me madam with a bit of a french accent to it.  However, when I mentioned my energy healing abilities it got a little more serious.  Lunch was vegetarian and very good. There were some interesting mushrooms.  The 3 students who took us to the temple, could not tell me the English names for the different salad greens.  They don't have iceberg lettuce here so the variety of greens is great.  Celantra and spearmint are just two of the greens used.

When he took us around the temple, I asked a lot of questions and was very respectful of the wonderful energy of the space.  I think he was impressed with my interest and respect.  I offered prayers the way the Buddhist would.  On the alter was a huge brass bowl that he tapped so I could hear and feel the vibration.  The bowl was about the size of a 5 gallon pail.  There was also a large wooden item, that was carved to resemble a large beetle I think.  It also was struck with a mallet and was used to mark the time during the ceremonies.  No ceremony was going on during my visit.  I saw a very large bell that I was allowed to stand up inside.  It had a dragon handle to hold it up.  There was also a large wooden drum with water buffalo hide on it.  It was as big as I am.  I demonstrated the different tones of the drum when struck in more than one place of the drum head, but the monk didn't seem to think that was the proper way to hit the drum.

Wednesday, I went to Hau An (Old City) and for 200.00 US dollars I got lots of hand made clothes just my size.  My size here in Viet Nam is 3XL which really doesn't do my ego much good.  That's okay cause there are a lot of short stick people here.  Must be the vegetable diet.  I bought lots of souvenirs and that is where the women who sewed my clothes are from.  I got pictures of the two women because I know that the money I spent there went directly to them and not through a franchise.  I bought some cute stuff for Jaci too.  I now have one of the reed conical hats.  It just fits nicely in my luggage with other things backed in and around it.

Tuesday, I brought to English class a pan of brownies.  The students loved them and passed the pan around until it was gone.  They find it very interesting that Jim and I have been married for 15 years and that we were both married before.  We talked about food and they had me write out notes for them.  I went over the classifications of food like:  liquid, solid, dairy, meat, fish, vegetables, desserts etc.   

On Tuesday I also had my first physical therapy massage.  For 5 US dollars, I got 1 hour of therapy.  She does not speak English but I can definitely get my pain across.  I'm not sure if she understands and/or speaks English.  She is doing more mobilization of the shoulder and elbow and it is painful when the scar tissue is being pulled. 

I brought 2 packages of Brownie mix and 1 of white cake mix.  It is quite the hit here.  I also went to a local bakery and bought muffins and sponge cake.  The guys really like the sweets.

So, next vacation come to Viet Nam before tourist season starts in June.  Remember to bring nice crisp, clean American dollar bills or the banks won't take them.  Then you have to find merchants that will accept them.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Ready for Ha Noi

    My politics paper is done, my history paper is done, Saturday Feb. 25 we leave for our trip to Ha Noi.  I have to say; forty years ago Ha Noi was not a place I ever thought I would visit.  We will stop for overnights along the way in Hue, Dong Hoi, Vinh, and Ha Long Bay.  If you google Ha Long Bay you will see that it is a major vacation area and tourist destination.  Bernie and will get to witness the beauty of the place first hand.  Y'all will have to settle for pictures unless for your next know the rest.
   My assimilation into this culture must be complete.  I came here with a mindset of experiencing the culture as it is and not attempting to bend it to what I want, even in small ways.  The one exception is I have to ask for a chair in places where they sit on the floor.  The arthritis in my hip just will not tolerate long periods of sitting on the floor.  Other than that I take things as they are with as little fuss as possible.  I have observed Bernie's experience here as very different from mine.  She is right out there without being self-conscious regardless of the language barrier.  I am much more reserved.  Maybe because at one time I was here under very different circumstances and I am grateful to be invited to come back.  Bernie's visit reminds me that  although I did not experience culture shock coming here I have to be aware of it when I go home.
   Bernie brought 2 boxes of American brownie mix with her from home.  Tuesday's English class got to enjoy brownies...the topic of discussion was food.  I learned that Vietnamese people eat EVERY part of the pig.  The class was reminded of how much they love chocolate.  Food is important in Vietnam and much of how the people interact has food at its center.
    Tonight our discussion will be about "Work Life" so those of us who have experience will get to share that with those who are sill students. It is my understanding that parents here do not want their students to have a part time job because it might detract from good grades.  A different cultural way of being.
   Well it is time for my nap.  If you make arrangements right now I can meet you in Ha Long Bay because... next vacation visit beautiful Viet Nam
Chao tam biet

Friday, February 17, 2012

MORE paradox!

     February 14th was our 15th wedding anniversary.  Bernie was on an airplane headed to Viet Nam on that day.  So after her arrival on the 15th she conspired with My Hoa for a reservation at the fanciest restaurant in Da Nang....right on the Han river.  I am including pictures below followed by Bernie's comments.

So I have arrived safely.  The flight was long and tedious.  The food was pretty good, real food, not what you get on westerners flights.   On the flight from Korea to DaNang, I was surrounded by 10 Viet couples who were coming back from a vacation.  The woman seated next to me offered me a piece of candy.  Giving gifts is a common thing here so I gave her a candy I had brought.  Then the other woman gave me this wonderful hand made piece of chocolate so I gave her a chocolate heart.  Chocolate is expensive here.

This week I helped in the English Class.  We talked about travel and then the group I was with discussed shopping opportunities and sites of interest. I hope to have some help when going shopping.  We also visited two families with children effected with birth defects.  The description of poor was enlightening to me.  I saw more of a country environment with very few items in the home.  The homes were sparse and I saw the love and devotion to family.  I also saw how the neighbors come to observe the visits.  Everyone knows each other in the neighborhood.

The dinner last night, as the pictures show, was just what I had imagined, so I was very pleased.  I played the typical westerner, choosing to use the forks and spoons, rather than chopsticks.  I am slowly learning to pronounce the names of the people around me.  The actual words for things, not so much.

When/if you should visit Viet Nam be sure to bring brand new American dollar bills.  The banks here have given me trouble with accepting some of my american dollars by refusing to exchange them for dong the local currency.  Luckily I brought plenty so will just take some home.  I have had Jim use more of the Visa Card and will just add the money back in when I get home.

Breakfast food is soup or small subs with meat and fruit with tea as well.  I am getting used to not having my morning cup of oatmeal.  The tea is ginger and green tea.  Also not what I would prefer.  I hope to go shopping at a grocery store today.

I brought brownie mix with me and made a batch yesterday afternoon.  They are quite the hit here even though I burned the top in the toaster oven.  They don't have a regular oven here, it is after all the tropics.
I have one more batched to make and the Tuesday night English class has requested them.  So Tuesday afternoon I will try again.

The chicken eggs come in 2 sizes here.  One size is about the size of robin eggs and the other is the size of small eggs that we think of as chicken eggs.

I am going to check out a book store at some point.  I need to get post cards and that is where I can find them.

That's it for now and have a great day,  Bernie

Community Service Week 6

Monday’s visit to the Loving House nursing home was for peanuts.  Even though they are in a nursing home the residents still contribute.  In this case they had harvested their peanut crop and it was our task to help sort the rejects from the sell-able product.  We joined in with the women busily picking away and by the end of our time there we had helped fill a large bucket of good peanuts.  I remember thinking “Ah Kodak quality control training comes in handy in Viet Nam!”  So we sorted nuts in a catholic nursing home with nuns singing in the background while Victor and I had a conversation about the common sense aspects of Buddhism.  It was very Zen. 
     Reinforcements!  One of Victor’s woman friends named Thao (one of the most popular names in Viet Nam) Brought three of her friends with her to help us at the Agent Orange group home.  The activity we had planned for today was heart shaped cut outs with arms and legs for the kids to glue on and color.  We were in charge of the scissors, and we also had other hearts and cats for them to color.  The kids all seemed to enjoy what we were doing and they loved the extra attention the girls brought with them.  We ended up needing more hearts so I began cutting out heart shapes from colored paper.  They were sticking hearts on every paper they had.  Some were well aware of Valentine’s Day, others just liked the shapes and the activity. 
     On Thursday we went on two Agent Orange home visits.  The first was to the home of a young deaf girl of seventeen who takes care of her grandmother.  Her grandmother is sick and has to be fed.  She uses “home sign” to communicate with her grandmother.  She wants to go to school and she also wants to work in a shop doing hair and nails.  She is often treated as if she is a child and is not intelligent.  In my assessment she was shy and self conscious.
     Our second visit was to the home of a woman with a 23 year old daughter with Down’s syndrome.  This woman had planned to have a child so there would be someone to look after her when she got older.  Now she is the caretaker.  Her daughter goes to a school administered by VAVA (Da Nang Association for Agent Orange/Dioxin) which she enjoys.  She likes music and sang us a few songs.  She was home from school for our visit and was missing her friends from school.
     Valentine’s Day in English class was an event to behold.  First of all the Vietnamese people in the city of Da Nang go crazy buying flowers, cards, and chocolate.  A trip to Big C (Viet Nam’s version of Wal-Mart) proved futile as I could not get near those items the night before Valentine’s Day.  I had to depend on chocolate purchased earlier.  Each person in class got a piece of chocolate as they came in, just to set the mood.  Since we had combined the classes, Victor read poetry to begin.  We then distributed handouts on the legend of the founding of Valentine’s Day to the class and had them discuss these in groups of four.  The class then came together for a 45 minute discussion about love and relationships.  I had a great time and I hope the class enjoyed it as much as I did.
      For Thursday’s class I had a unique assistant; my wife Bernie.  The class had heard about our relationship and knew she was coming.  The topic was; if you could travel anywhere in the world you wanted, what countries would you visit?  The class was split into small groups to share. Bernie was with one group and I was with another group at a different table.  The conversation began with travel and “traveled” in many directions.  My group ended with the question; “why do big countries like China and the US pick on little countries like Viet Nam?”  The answer we agreed on was greed.  When the class came back together, we discovered that the other groups also had a conversation that traveled in many directions.  I told them that is what good conversation does and they had great opportunities to practice speaking English.  The class discovered that my thinking is not US centered or Eurocentric.  They asked if there are many people in the US who think like I do.  While I know many people who think like me, I realize it is not a majority.  Sadly I had to answer their question, “no.”
    For me this was an exciting week because Bernie arrived and joined us at our home visits and English class.  She has also had the opportunity to see how some of the people have been affected by the US use of Agent Orange in Viet Nam.  The way to help if you choose to do so is
For me it really is paradox in paradise and my want for all of you is to experience it sooooo next vacation visit beautiful Viet Nam
Hen gap lan (see you again)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Elephants and Leeches

     They say time flies like an arrow and fruit flies like a banana.  Well  mosquitoes like Victor and leeches like me.  Or, a funny thing happened at the Elephant waterfalls.  Allow me to start at the beginning.  Our Saturday field trip this week was to Elephant waterfall near Hue...not the one near Dalat.  There were four Vietnamese friends, two staff and Victor and I.  To get over the mountains north of Da Nang one use to have to take the Hi Van pass.  Now there is the Hi Van tunnel (the longest in SE Asia) through the mountain.  We traveled about 1 1/2 hours to get there.  It was nice and cool on the other side of the mountain.  When we arrived we walked to the water, took some pictures, and started climbing toward the deep pools in the higher area.  It was a beautiful place with the only sound being the rush of the water.  There was swimming, diving, and dangling of feet.  Then we all met up for lunch.  At about the end of lunch the "eeking" began.  Someone spotted blood on my foot between my toes and when Xuan inspected she found a leech.....more "EEKING."  Xuan removed the leech, everything returned to "normal."  A little while later Victor said "hey man you are still bleeding."  More inspection, another leech....more "EEking."  Then about a half hour later Xuan found a leech between her toes.  This time there was eeking and chopping with a sharp rock.  It was a very interesting trip indeed, and below are the pictures.

                                                 Hi Van tunnel.

                                        Oh's the light at the end of the tunnel.

                                             Now that is a country road!

                                                                  White water.

                                                                     The students.

           I can here the conversation now...."That rock looks like an elephant."  "No there is no trunk...."
               Concrete is in abundance in Viet Nam......there is a trunk now.

      So that was our trip to the Elephant Waterfall.  It was hoot.  Lots of walking, climbing and a little bleeding for good measure.  Hey it is paradox in paradise ya know.  Soooooo next vacation visit beautiful Viet Nam
Xin Chao

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Community service, week five

     I had the sense that Monday’s visit to the Loving House nursing home was special for the residents.  While the women were being assembled, Victor and I talked with a young man who lives and works at Loving House and goes to a vocational technical school in Da Nang.   He is one of the Ba Na people from Gia Lai in the central highlands.  His family are farmers and he plans to be an auto mechanic.  This young man speaks three languages, his native Ba Na, tieng Viet, and fair English.  I wish I could speak tieng Viet as well as he does English.
     When the residents were ready, Victor and I were called to join them.  We handed out envelopes of lucky money in the tradition of Tet and the women sang us a song.  I like the way this place feels and Loving House describes it very well.  A few of the women were very eager for us to get to work.  Our task was trimming and painting fingernails and toenails.  The women thoroughly enjoy this service and I have to say, so do I.  Our “clients” are funny as they tell us how we should be trimming their nails or picking out the proper color for fingernails versus toenails.  They compare what Victor and I are doing by saying “Oh her nails are more beautiful than mine.”  All of this of course is in Vietnamese with Victor understanding some and me just getting the body language and tones of voice.  It breaks up the day for these ladies and I am glad to be a source of amusement and entertainment for them.  There is something about going to this place and being of service in this way that is humbling and gratifying.
     Although still being of service, the Agent Orange group home is a very different energy.  In future visits we have the task of designing crafts and activities for the children there.  On Tuesday we relied on the available materials and spent the time coloring with the whole group.  While this sounds simple, the reality is there are about 25 kids and just Victor and I.  Needless to say our attention is called for in many directions. 
     Since I started getting tattoos at age 50 I never imagined the stir they might cause.  When the kids discovered I could draw, several wanted me to draw a copy of my tattoos for them to color.  Some wanted me to reproduce the tattoo on their skin.  The artists who inked me did a much better job than I did.  The kids however did not seem to care as long as it was a close representation.  They are great kids, have a lot of energy and are always happy to see us and Nga.  The men’s trainings I have staffed have taught me a very useful lesson here that plays over and over in my head; this is not about me, it is about them.
     On Thursday our Agent Orange home visits included a young man of 17 who has cerebral palsy (CP) and the family of a boy five years old who was born with his eyes completely covered by skin.  We visited the young man with CP at the clinic.  He has to go there often and fortunately for the family his mother works there.  He got physical therapy when he was younger and has now told his parents he does not want it.  We left some drink boxes of milk and a donation for the family.
     Our second visit was with the five year old boy.  He has had some surgery and now has the use of one eye.  He is a typical child in that with strangers in the house he stayed right with mom.  He will have more surgery and will be able to wear glasses when he is 18.  He was also born with no rectal opening and has had surgery there as well.  He has already asked his mom why he is different.  He does not like people to look at him.
     I feel helpless when I see the situation of life for these people.  Once again I am grateful for this program, the Quang Nam fund, and the Friendship Union for the guidance they provide in helping families like these.   
     English class on Tuesday was very interesting from my prospective.  Last week a student suggested the topic of “Comparing Cultures around the World.”  Once the class momentum took hold the things they really wanted to discuss became clear.  They wanted to talk about differences between eastern and western cultures.  I took the other tactic which was how both cultures are alike.  It was a very satisfying evening for me and I think they enjoyed it as well.
The main thing is always bringing up things to get them talking in English.  I am amazed by their talent and my hearing issues have become a tool for how to get them to say something using different words.  The stop for ice cream afterwards was great fun especially when they start asking about ASL (American Sign Language) signs for words.
     Thursday’s English class was a discussion about hobbies.  We went around the room and each person shared with the class about what they like to do in their free time.  All of these things were listed on the board so people could see the variety and similarity of interests.  Then since there was a lot of private chatter I had them share more detail in groups of four.  It was a lively discussion and everyone wanted to know what my interests were as well.  On Tuesday we will discuss Valentine’s Day so tune in next week for what will be a fun topic.  For the men remember; she wants flowers and chocolate!  
     The above entry is my journal for week five of our stay here.  As I enter my community service journal here I will continue to include the website of the Da Nang Quang Nam Fund.  This is a NGO (Non Government Organization) which works in conjunction with the Brockport Viet Nam Program and the Da Nang Union of Friendship Orgaizations.  Together these organizations provide direct aid to families in need/victims of Agent Orange.  I know, I have handed the donations to the mothers myself as well as contributing to the fund.  Twenty-five dollars goes a long ways in Viet Nam.  If you choose to help contact   Bernie will be arriving next week, you could also send a donation with her which will go into the fund in your name.  Thank you for listening and remember this is paradox in paradise soooooo next vacation visit beautiful Viet Nam.
Xin Chao

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Full Moon chaos in Hoi An

    On Sunday February 5th we spent the night in Hoi An to witness the celebration of the first full moon of the lunar year.  This is a public celebration with huge crowds in a very small area.  One of the things people do is to pay for a boat ride and place a simple candle lantern on the water in the river that runs through the town.  Hoi An is a tourist destination with many Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and westerners.  Victor and I began to refer to the westerners as Vikings because they all look so tall next to the Viet people.  In fact many of the westerners are from Sweden, Germany, England, and Australia.  I have an interesting prospective after being here nearly six weeks.  I have begun to look at westerners as I have seen the Vietnamese people look at me.....with the open mouth stare.  It is rather comical because in Viet Nam it is not considered impolite to stare and I find myself doing it openly.  If you like to watch people Hoi An is the place to be!

    We had dinner at a riverside vender location who specialized in the Hoi An dish called cau lao which is noodles pork and veges.  Add the right amount of hot sauce and this is an awesome treat.  We did some shopping, I had a shirt made using one of my hiking shirts as a pattern.  I paid $25 for my shirt which was made in one
     When the crowd started really getting crazy we ducked into a nice restaurant for some brandy  and ice cream.  Some people may consider that an odd combination and yet it was delicious.  By about 10:30 the streets began to calm down and we headed for the hotel.
     This place goes a bit crazy for this celebration as you can maybe see in the video.  You have to experience it soooooo next vacation visit beautiful Viet Nam!
Happy Full Moon

Friday, February 3, 2012

Searching for my lost shaker of salt....

    Bai Nam beach!  Paradox in paradise!  This appears to be the best kept secret resort area in the world.
It was cold when we left downtown Da Nang.  When we got to the beach I was thankful for layered clothes and zip off pants because it was warm.  The water is still cold so swimming is not happening yet.  The frog pond dwellers were happily singing when we arrived.  If the video up loads you will hear them.
    The paradox I speak of is that we see families accepting their fate and living their entire lives between a rock and a hard place.  And on the other end of the spectrum we go to paradise beach.....

Next vacation visit beautiful Viet Nam