We have arrived
Trip Start Dec 31, 2006
11Trip End Jan 17, 2007
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HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!
Well, I'm in Saigon now. Arrived yesterday Jan. 2nd at 11am (which was Jan 1st 11pm US Eastern coast time, I believe). The Nguyne Retreat was such a challenging experience and going from fasting, meditating, and taking a vow of silence for a couple of days and then getting on a plane for over 20 hours and stopping in Frankfurt, Singapore, and finally my destination, Saigon, has been a mental, physical, and spiritual challenge. Just so you know from my own experience, be very careful what you eat after you fast. I unfortunately wasn't careful and ate a chocolate truffle, from a batch I whipped up myself, which made me sick on the plane. Teale and I counted down to NYC New Year's time. It wasn't much of a party blast as I was expecting for I could barely stand or ingest anything, let alone stay conscious. The awesome Singapore Airlines flight attendant said, at least I was getting out the bad stuff (purifying) for the New Year. I loved the way he looked at it.
Well, knock on wood, I'm in Saigon now and I feel great. Unfortunately, my DP, Teale got sick the day we arrived. No worries, she's feeling much better today.
FAMILY & LANGUAGE
My lovely extended family Uncle Phan, and Ba Yi Tuyet (my grandmother's sister) who looks just like my grandmother (Ba Ngoai) who I plan on interviewing, and cousin Mr. Khoa (her son-in-law), received us with loving embraces. I love how Ba Yi's kisses on the cheeks, like my grandmother, who grabs my cheeks and sniffs them, I love it! Language was a big barrier for us to communicate but the love is felt greatly. I also met Uncle Phan's daughter, Ms. Hanh and her little sixteen year old niece who looked as hip as any of my New Yorker college students. I was actually surprised how modern Vietnam is now since I last visited in '98. The Vietnamese have progressed in such a short time. I dig Saigon and could live here for a few months to learn the language and teach film courses (I will apply for Fulbright Scholarships to work here and teach next year). I want to learn the Southern tongue as opposed to the Northern, for obvious reasons, since my family is Southern. I know basics like, 'yes', 'no', 'thank you', 'go eat', 'sit down', 'go to sleep', 'wash your face', all those things that your mom tells you to do in Vietnamese when you are child. But I need to get a better handle on the language. People are really cool and it doesn't seem to matter that we don't share the same language, there is always a way to communicate. I heard somewhere a long time ago, that something like 70% or so of communication is non-verbal. You can really understand this when immersed in Saigon. It also doesn't hurt that the young Viets are taught English in school.
Vietnam is not the same Vietnam I recall from 1998. It resembles something more like Bangkok with much more commercialism and fruitful businesses everywhere, and a lot technology too. I'm happy to see the country growing and the people prospering.
There's two sides to the prosperity as globalization and economic growth in developing countries have clear dark sides (for example, Christmas consumerism is at its' finest here - Christmas trees, pine branch garnishing, jingles, and advertisements everywhere, just like in the States) but I'm happy to see the growth since I understand the hardships the country has endured in the past---it's the lesser of the two evils or extremes, I'd say. This is definitely up for a longer intellectual/academic conversation which I don't wish to delve into right now and need more time to reflect on the topic but that is my initial impression.
New York vs. Saigon
I feel very much at home here. It reminds me of New York except it's not a foot culture or public transportation culture or a car culture. It's a motorbike culture and I love it although a bit toxic (I need to buy a mask to cover my mouth and nose). The weather is in the 80's and the people seem pretty chill. 1 USD = 16,000 VN Dongs. I can be fed all day on one dollar. Being anywhere else in the world aside from NY (and maybe London) is soooo much more affordable. I can really appreciate that, living on a low budget.
THE JOURNEY HAS JUST BEGUN...
Okay, well, I have to do some production planning and shopping around for extra gear. Gonna catch a ride on a motorbike ($1 can get you anywhere you want to go!). Next week we trek to Vinh Long (along the Mekong Delta) where my grandmother and her children and sister were pirated on a boat when she was fleeing from an area that was being bombed by the French during WWII, will visit my ancestor's graves to do an offering, and then to Chau Duc along the Vietnamese-Cambodian border to a very spiritual and miraculous place, Sam Mountain, where a Quan Am (Quan Yin) statue is located that saved my grandfather's life after WWII. There are many other places to visit on this journey in South Vietnam since so much of my family's history took place here.
The journey has just begun...