Saturday, March 31, 2012

Community Service; The last one

Week Eleven
Community Service Journal

    This Monday was our last visit to the Loving House.  I felt the paradox of holding both joy and sadness during our time there.  The ladies were still sleeping when we arrived so we went and picked mulberries for about half an hour.   I was focusing on being present in the moment which made the task of picking berries a delight.  We also took a few pictures.  When our friends began to wake up they came out wearing sweaters and scarves.  Some of the nuns were helping to get the scarves just right so everybody would be warm.  Since we had our cameras some of the ladies wanted their pictures taken.  Since you can see the end result right away, they were fascinated with all the pictures we had in our cameras, particularly the ones of themselves.  Picking berries, sharing pictures, and bringing a little happiness into the lives of our friends at the Loving House.  I will miss them.

     Tuesday at the Agent Orange group home was construction equipment day.  We had coloring pages of bulldozers, cement trucks, backhoes, and the like.  We were hardly in the door when the kids started grabbing for the pages.  The cement trucks were very popular.  This seemed to be a theme that every kid there understood and loved.  The energy felt closer to what we usually see there.  Toward the end two of the boys were hitting each other and we had to break them up.  We still are not sure what it was about but they were not happy with each other.  Victor brought some sheets of stickers along and after an hour of coloring we handed those out.  We soon realized that the pages and the stickers were not enough.  I resorted back to handing out pieces of colored paper which were used for various things.  We colored, stuck stickers on, unstuck and re-glued stickers and had fun folding or coloring on colored paper, a typical day at the AO group home.

     Ryan accompanied us on our Agent Orange home visits this week.  Ryan is on the faculty at the University of Las Vegas and is looking at sending students to SUNY Brockport’s Viet Nam program.  Our first visit was to the family of a nine month old boy in need of surgery for a lung problem he has had since birth.  The doctors are waiting until he gains more weight so the surgery will be safer.  They are also advising the family to go to Ho Chi Minh City for the surgery because of more up to date facilities.  My hope is that all goes well for him and his family.  Our second visit was to the home of a nine year old boy and his family.  The boy appears to be autistic; he also has an awesome smile.  He is the youngest in the family and the other children are fine.  The family is farmers and they seem to be just getting by.  They live way out in the Hoa Vang District where the country is beautiful.

     In Tuesday’s English class our topic question was, “What did you do as a young girl/boy that was the most fun.”  Wow!  They recounted stories from when they were five years old all the way to their favorite high school teacher.  What these young people revealed to me, and each other, really speaks to me about how we are alike despite our cultural differences.  Every story I heard reminded me of something from my own life.  This also reminds me that people everywhere like to talk childhood memories.  It was a successful topic because they did most of the talking.
     On Thursday we had a small turn out in both classes.  We remembered that it is Da Nang’s Liberation Day so we combined classes.  When we asked how they celebrate this special occasion they looked at us like we were crazy.  So we made scenarios for them to stand up in teams of three and act out in English.  They seemed to enjoy it after they got going.

     When I think about summarizing these three months of community service the first thing that comes up for me is that all of these people shared a small piece of their lives with us.   At the Loving House the energy was always calm, grounded, and…loving.  My feeling is joy and sadness; joy because we were honored to provide a little bit of human touch, sadness because I will miss these grand elder women and their funny quirky ways.  The paradox of the Agent Orange group home is that we were doing the same thing in a different way.  The energy was different and yet our service was the same, touching lives.  These kids are not shy about touching, hugging, or pulling on clothes when they want attention.  Our job was to simply show up and be totally present in the moment.  We focused on coloring and craft activities and they took whatever we brought, had fun, and made connections with us.  The home visits we did provided crystal clarity about all of the “things” we Americans have.  The message I choose to take from this is that I can give what, in America is considered a small amount of money that could make a difference whether or not someone in Viet Nam eats.  Making a difference is a good thing.  The English classes at the Friendship union; many evenings I asked myself the question, “who is teaching who?”  I would show up with discussion topics the specific purpose of which was to get them talking.  With the things they said, they reveled to me, themselves, their family, their village, and their country.  I have been referring to Viet Nam as “paradox in paradise” and the English class showed me the paradox of being a student while being a teacher.  The reality is that every aspect of community service brings out the contrast of paradox.  When I ask myself the question, “what do I do with all of this?”  The answer I get is that maybe I need to just “be” with it and let it take me where it will. 
     If you want to help this program in a huge way; pull out your passport and sign up to study abroad in Viet Nam!  Hey if I did it you can do it.  There are even scholarships for study abroad programs.  Email the director  he will make sure you get here!  Okay okay so if you want to be of help and cannot come to Viet Nam you can contribute to the fund we are direct aid volunteers for...    When I think of spending $60 or $70 on one fancy dinner with Bernie I can also send that amount here and feed many people for a month.  Things that make ya say hmmmmm.
Viet Nam, where inconceivable paradox is an every day way of life.
Tiep theo ky nghi tham dep Viet Nam.
Next vacation visit beautiful Viet Nam.
Hen gap lai

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Community Service

Week Ten
Community Service Journal

     This week’s visit to the Loving House was a little bit different.  Victor went off to do gardening work while former student John and I operated the “nail salon.”  I may be repeating myself however, I absolutely love doing this for these wonderful elder women.  With each woman whose nails I trim and or apply polish to, she is my queen for that moment.  When Bernie was here she was a wonderfully willing part of our time at the loving house.  I am happy that we shared that experience.   I have a feeling that when I am home and missing the ladies at the Loving House I will be invited to polish Bernie’s nails.  It will bring back enchanting memories for both of us.  This little visit to Viet Nam is a life altering experience. Our tiny segment of time at the Loving House is a big part of that transformation and all I have to do is be present in the moment.  These words do not capture the depth of feeling the experience brings, it is quietly spectacular.
     Just as the Loving House felt different The Agent Orange group home felt different as well.  Victor and I were wondering if there was some sort of holiday this Tuesday because of something that felt different.  The energy of the kids felt less chaotic, maybe it is just the phase of the moon, or maybe leprechauns really are magical.  We chose a St. Patrick’s Day theme and had leprechaun cutouts and coloring pages with rainbows and the pot-o-gold.   I have no idea how, but our director professor Ken Herrman’s name ended up on one of the leprechauns….it is a mystery.   I was coloring with one of the boys and I started singing Monty Python’s lumberjack song with a goofy Irish accent.  The kids thought it was funny and of course had no clue what I was saying; they just thought it was fun.  We decided that just for today everybody’s name would be O’Nguyen.  I am glad that the kids were enjoying it because I had a blast and I think John and Victor did also.   In a few weeks our time here will be complete and I am realizing that I am going to miss these people.
     Our Agent Orange home visits actually took place at the Hoa Vang District office building.  The District is preparing for a musical show and parade and the families were there to watch the preparations.  One family was of a twelve year old boy who has learning disabilities and suffers from fevers a lot.  He was not feeling well today and we offered to take them home at the end of our visit.  This boy gets help from his teachers and also from his friends.  Even though school is difficult for him, he has a good network of help.  The second family we visited with was of a cute four year old boy.  This little guy has downs syndrome and although he can hear he does not speak. He also has a heart condition and almost no energy.  His mom does not have a birth certificate for him.  They need a birth certificate to get him on the list for a heart.  This is an example of the fear the people have of paperwork and government bureaucracy.  Poor farmers have a hard time with paperwork.
     I was feeling very tired on Tuesday evening during English class.  The fact that my surgery site was acting up was not helpful.  My question for the class was; “What can the city of Da Nang do to get the tourists to spend more time and money here.  Instead of going straight to Hoi An or Hue?”  Because I did not feel well I was thankful that the group took off with the topic.  Responses included; better organization and advertising in the Da Nang tourist industry.  Another suggestion was higher environmental standards for the factories thereby raising the air quality.  Someone said the city symbol should be redesigned to something that will catch peoples’ eye and stick with them.  Wow, I believe that with this kind of thinking Da Nang will eventually get its fair share of the tourist trade.
     For Thursday I presented websites people could use to sharpen their English speaking skills and why I thought they were good sites.  One student wanted to know about what keywords a person would use to efficiently search the internet for information.  A student pulled out a computer with a 3G connection so they could all see the sites I talked about.  At that point the class divided itself into two groups.  One group was with John around the computer discussing search techniques.  The other group was with me discussing environmental issues.  Our topic went from the environment to the more specific topic of keeping the environment and the habitat safe for the animals.  I enjoy it when the group takes off with a topic they are passionate about. After all, my goal is for them to do the talking so they can practice their English.
     Once again if you chose to help here is the site   Through this organization and student volunteers like me direct aid is provided to people in Hoa Vang District, the poorest District in Da Nang. Another way to help is    These are the people working to clear UXOs from Quang Tri province.  
Next vacation visit beautiful Viet Nam
Hen gap lai

Dogs beware

    More paradox.  I have heard dog owners lament about their dogs suddenly come up missing.  Here in the city there are endlessly barking dogs.  I have heard stories about men with clubs and missing dogs.  Here in the city owners ignore their barking dogs. Hmmmm.  Here in the city I have grown to hate dogs and the owners that ignore them.  They love dogs here.  They particularly love dogs in Ha Noi.  In Ha Noi I never once heard a barking dog.  There are certain restaurants in Ha Noi where thit cho' is on the menu.  That is also a menu choice in Korea.

      People who eat meat would not be disturbed by a truckload of pigs, chickens, or cows.  But!  Put Fido on a truck to Ha Noi as the main course and they freak out.  So when the dog is barking and disturbing the neighbors remember....
                                          They would love you in Ha Noi.
      Yup Paradox is alive and vacation visit beautiful Viet Nam but
think twice before ordering thit cho'.
Hen gap lai

Random Bernie-ness

     So Bernie has been home for about a week and a half and I have about four weeks left here.  People have asked if I will miss her.  Well we talk on skype every day and as I settle back into my routine here I am very aware that my time here is coming to a close.  So just about the time I would start to miss her I will be home.  She timed her visit perfectly.  This entry is dedicated to Bernie's time in Viet Nam.  On the right you see Bernie and Thao at the beach.  These two would take off for day long trips to Hoi An shopping.  Bernie planned her money and her suitcase well for this trip.  For about two hundred dollars she got a suitcase full of tailor made clothes.

    After a day of museums and activities in Ha Noi we dragged ourselves back to the hotel only to be greeted by these two lovely young hostesses.  Bernie went into grandmother mode as if a switch had been flipped.  As tired as she was these two young ladies made her day.
      Steamed squid for lunch at the program house.  The funny thing is we had the same dish at a sidewalk restaurant the day before.  The conversation went something like... "Did you want me to pull the head off of that for ya sweetheart?"  "Haw I got it,thanks."
                                     Of course there were flowers for International Woman's Day

                                           "Do you like my hat?" Thao and Bernie at the beach.
                                           the beach.
                                       the you sense a theme here?

           One of my all time favorite pictures of Bernie.  Da Nang, the city by the Han River, and Bernie
                                          "Victor's girls"  and Bernie at Ba Na Hills.
                                                           Enjoying the cable car ride.

                                                            No fear!

                                                     It is good luck to rub the turtle's head

                                           Post cards and rice wine on Ha Long Bay

                                           Proof that she climbed the 583 steps.

                                           The End.
                   If you want confirmation just ask Bernie...this really is paradox in paradise
         Next vacation visit beautiful Viet Nam
Hen gap lai

Friday, March 23, 2012

Hiep Doc

     On Friday March 16th our Director Professor Ken Herrman canceled our morning class and decided he would take us to Hiep Duc.  This was the where Ken lived from May 68 to May 69.  He was assigned this duty by the US Army to "win the hearts and minds" of the displaced Vietnamese who were sent there.  Until 3/16/12 Ken thought he had found the old site of the village.  What he discovered that Friday morning standing in the trees above the river is he finally found his home of 44 years ago.  I felt honored to stand beside another veteran as he recounted what was where and what happened there.  The pictures of Ken pointing or making sweeping gestures may mean nothing to most people but to me I was included in a very small special homecoming ceremony for one US Army veteran.  We cannot say it enough....welcome home brother.
                                           Here Ken points across the river.

                              This is a lovely place...unfortunately there was a war when Ken lived here

                                                        Explaining LZ Ross (landing zone).
                                                   ....and LZ West...
                                          Delta company was coming down that ravine there...
                                          ....there were main force VC coming through here....
                                          ....and Charlie company was cut off over there.
                    That was a hell of a night.  This mans memory is amazing.  After 44 years the village is now about 3/4 of a mile from the 1968 location.  What were wood and thatch houses are now brick and concrete with a nice village market.
                        This is the land of amazing people, awesome beauty, incredible paradise and inconceivable paradox.  Next vacation visit beautiful Viet Nam
Hen gap lai

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Ba Na Hills

    Do you know where the highest and longest cable car in the world is located?  That's right! Twenty-five kilometers from Da Nang at Ba Na Hills resort.  When this thing takes off it goes up and keeps going up until you are in the clouds!  I made an attempt not to freak out the other people in the car with my fear of heights but the look on this mug says it all.

     At the top of the mountain is the French built Morin Hotel.  On days when there are no clouds covering the mountain I imagine the view is spectacular.  We stopped to see the Buddha in the clouds and taste the flowers.
                                                     Yummm flowers.
    It was very important to the woman in the middle that I take her picture.  The young girl on the left was trying to act like she did not know these people.  It was very funny.
    The trip down was just as long and scary although some of us had no problem looking straight down from the little box dangling from a wire a million feet in the air.

        Ba Na Hills, the longest highest cable car in the world.....I am very happy to be back on the ground.
Next vacation visit beautiful Viet Nam
Hen gap lai

Friday, March 16, 2012

Thang Long

    It is time to finish recounting the experience of the trip north with our time in Ha Noi (Thang Long).  The Emperor Ly Thai To established Thang Long as his capitol in 1010.  Of course two years ago there was the 1000 year celebration.  In Ha Noi we got to see the Lake of the Restored Sword.  The legend says that one day the Emperor was out on his boat thinking about how to rid his country of the Chinese invaders.  A very large turtle appeared and offered him a sword telling him to use it in battle to defeat the invading army.  The Emperor was successful and  when requested, returned the sword to the turtle, hence the name of the lake.  During the 1000 year celebration a very large, very old turtle appeared in the lake.  People noticed that he had been hurt so he was given a lot of attention and great medical care then released back into the lake. 
    One of the high lights of the time in Ha Noi was our visit to see Ho Chi Minh or as most people call him Bac Ho (Uncle Ho).  Uncle Ho's Mausoleum has an Honor Guard that we got some pictures of.  You can see the changing of the guard on utube...very smooth.
   I am including pictures we took also.  No photographs are allowed inside the mausoleum and the Honor Guard members keep people moving.  Even with that one still has maybe two minutes to see Uncle Ho.
   Ho Chi Minh refused to stay in what is now the Presidential residence and had a small house built behind the building which in 1954 was then the French colonial governors mansion.
    The pictures below show the small house where Ho Chi Minh lived and worked during his time as president of Viet Nam.

     We were kept very busy in Ha Noi with all of the museums and historical places the program had lined up for us.  We visited Hoa Lo prison (Ha Noi Hilton).  I did not take pictures there.  What the French colonists created there to deal with people who wanted freedom and independence was not a good thing.  When I look at the longer historical view it is quite ironic that American pilots who were shot down were held there.  This past week I have heard several people use the word paradox to describe Viet Nam.  So now I have back up for what I have been saying all along....this is paradox in paradise.
Next vacation visit beautiful Viet Nam.
Hen gap lai