Trip Start Jul 27, 2007
Trip End Jul 29, 2008

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The rainy season has started! I am typing this to the sound of gently drumming rain, in slightly damp clothes as the heavens remain open (as they have done for the past 57 hours). The road to the orphanage has turned into mud soup, everyone is in colourful rain ponchos and I have started putting my camera in a waterproof bag. It's blissfully cool and quite interesting for me as I've never been in a properly rainy season, although I'm sure it will get tedious after a while!

 So much has happened it feels like an age since I have last posted, although I think it's about a fortnight.

Last weekend we stayed in Quang Ngai, which is fairly unusual for us! We went to My Lai (pronounced roughly 'Me Lie') the site of the American war massacre. It was incredibly disturbing, as was to be expected. The museum itself is quite well put together, honest and brutal but I didn't feel there was anything in the way of propaganda, the evidence was left to speak for itself. I was left thinking of it as a human tragedy rather than an American/Vietnamese issue.

After that we went to the beach and quietly sat and tried to assimilate it all. It was an overcast day so we didn't get to swim, but we saw it before the rains started!

We were surrounded by giggling children, which kind of helped to dispell the mood of the morning. they were fascinated by us (they get very few Westerners at the local beach) and found it hysterical when we started ataking photos. I think some of mine came out pretty well...

In the evening we went to an exciting bar where they have music and dancing- almost unheard of in Quang Ngai! Unfortunately it was closed so we ended up at good old Kareoke again.

Drinking in Vietnam is a curious thing. It has very set rules:

*You order your drinks (eg beer and vodka and coke)
*The staff bring a large quantity of drinks (e.g. a crate of beer, a litre bottle of vodka and a dozen cans of coke) along with a bucket of ice.
*Everyone fills their glasses.
*Everyone says "Mot, hai, ba, Yo!" (pronounced roughly "mow, hi, bar, Yo") and drinks.
In Vietnam it's considered rude to sip your drinks, you are supposed to drink either a full or half a glass at a time. It's also considered rude to drink without "Yo-ing" so everyone has to keep pace with everyone else. This is not good for me as I don't hold my drink well.
*All the glasses are topped up (even if you only drank half)
*Repeat for a long time...

As you might guess, it's a quick way to get very durnk- which I guess is why people are so willing to sing Kareoke....

The next morning we had quite a quiet time, and slept in. My exciting moment was discovering that I can make toast by dry-frying bread (see picture) I was very happy.

The next day was the start of our Lunar Festival Celebrations. I'm not quite sure of the origins of the Lunar festival, mostly becuase all the Vietnamese people I've asked don't know. Apparently it's imported from China. I googled it and found a page that said it was a traditional festival for children at the end of the harvest because their parents have been working in the fields so hard and they haven't spent much time together. It's held at the full moon because it's a lucky time. It must be true cause it said it on the internet.

There is lots of lion/dragon dancing, drumming and floats in the street. On Sunday we went to the Orphanage (to cut a long story short, because they'd told us they were having a party that day, but it was on Monday). We couldn't find any staff anywhere. The older children were looking after the baby and the disabled children. The baby was fine, fast alseep, but we were worried because the disabled children were wondering in and out of her room, including Big Phuc, who can be quite violent, and Phung, who has a mental disablity. She has picked the baby up before, and squeezed her too hard, refusing to pass her over to the volunteers. Little Phuc was crying, we weren't sure why, and no-one went to check on him. I gave him a big cuddle and he cheered up quite quickly. Eventually we saw one of the mothers (as the staff are called) in the kitchen and later we were told that there were other members of staff on duty but they had gone shopping. Apparently the orphanage has less staff on the weekend so the mothers can have a day off. This seems odd to me as there are more children at the weekend cause there's no school. I'd just assumed they worked different shifts over the course of the week. I don't think one member of staff is enough for 90 children (including the baby and 5 disabled children) plus all the elderly residents, but of course it's not our decision to make. We have spoken to the director of our Volunteer programme and the director of the orphange and that's really all we can do for now. It's very frustrating.

Aside from that however, I really enjoyed the Lunar festival. I think it has been my favurite thing to do in Vietnam so far.

We were invited to the Disabled school for their party on sunday night and the teacher asked us to sing a song. We decided to do "yellow submarine" (a kareoke favourite) with lots of silly actions to make the children laugh. We were assuming that the 'party' would be in the classroom, with a dozen children and 2 teachers and we would all have a good giggle.

We were a little horrified, therefore, to turn up and discover that the party was in the school hall, with all the children, their families, some important looking director people, a load of students and a television camera! We decided not to do the silly actions but still got a big clap for our song!

The children had a great time dancing and watching a show put on by the students (with Miss Moon and the Man who lives in the moon) and eating unnecessary amounts of sweets (healthy eating hasn't really reached Vietnam).

Towards the end of the evening, a girl came up and ask if I wanted to win the grand prize. I said sure and she told me to say a number. I said 6 and everyone started whooping and clapping.I felt a bit confused until someone explained I had just bid 600, 000 dong on a giant star lantern. I then felt a bit mean as noone else tried to outbid us, so it was a pretty short auction (it's a lot to pay for a construction of foil, cellophane and bamboo canes in Vietnam- approx 20 pounds). Still it's very beautiful and all the money goes to the school so it's all in a good cause!

The dragon festival  was generally wonderful. We saw dragon dancing and ate 'Mooncake' (OK but really sweet!) at lots of different placements. At the orphanage we took Little Phuc out in his wheelchair as he'd been left in his room alone and he squealed at all the noises. There was a show put on by someone or other, including break dancing, and of course 'our' kids were better than the professionals- we were very proud! I guess it helps that they haven't had anything else to do all summer, so they've been break dancing almost constantly! We played lots of games and I lost atrociously (I didn't understand the rules, they were in Vietnamese!) My punishment was to stand in the middle of the circle and write my name with my hips- all the kids found it hysterical!

We wandered into the streets and gave money to the dancers (this is traditional). There were loads of floats, with all kinds of dancers on, dressed as monkeys, dragonas, a god of some kind, and a monkey with antenna- something else noone has bee able to explain to us!There were also huge drums and fans. Everyone turns out to see it, and there was a lovely family atmosphere.
I told one of the teachers, that in England there would be a lot of drinking among the adolescent boys on top of the carts and she looked surprised and said, "Oh no, they are children." A different culture completely!
 Some monkeys came up to me and danced, so I danced back. Apparently this isn't traditional as everyone laughed at me- but I had fun! I think more people were looking at us than the floats, a random girl came up and asked to take our picture and a lovely boy, about 12 years old, came and asked us so politely in excellent English if we were enjoying the festival, before thanking us for talking to him.

There was a great moment of the festival when some dancers came to our door but we'd run out of money. In any case Mr Manh, our nightwatchman, had been worrying about us getting hassled so he went out and told them to go away, locking the door behind him. The kids were very unhappy about the whole thing and hammered on the door. Before long they were shouting at us, using the only English words they knew.

"What's your name? what's your name? I love you forever- WHAT'S YOUR NAME??!"
We were reduced to hysterical laughter inside, which I'm sure did nothing to calm the situation!

We were filmed at loads of the placements when we went to see the festivities. Apparently we were on the local news, but we missed it. I was interviewed at the orphange, where I told them what a fantastic time I was having at the festival. It was also suggested to me that I might be very impressed that the government really had the best interests of these children at heart and was so generous to them. "OK" I said, "the kids are having a really good time". My first forray into communist propaganda!

Other minor things that happened:  trying a drink made from salted lemons (surprisingly nice); going to see the monks again- apparently Jess and George are also going to get married this year, and Jess is going to have a son (they are both 19 and about to start university. I'm not sure the monk is entirely reliable!); having another manicure (blue with butterflies!); buying beautiful fabric for Ao Dais (tracitional Vietnamese dress) and getting carried away and buying fabric for footy pyjamas as well!; buying a polka dot rain poncho; letting George drive me to a coffee shop on a motorbike, which was all fine until she pressed the accelarator instead of the break and we fell over in the dirt. We were both pretty much unhurt (I have a bruise on my knee) but absolutely panicked about the bike, which belongs to a friend of ours (fortunately it is completely unhurt); having lots of goodbye coffee as it was Jess' last week!

On Friday we invited some other volunteers to come down and have a dinner party on our balcony for Jess' last day. We are the only house to have such a nice balcony overlooking the paddy fields, so we wanted to show it off. I quite enjoyed cooking- it's been so long! and also having food with lots of veggies. Also homemade chocolate fudge sauce. Mmmmm.

That was the day the rainy season started. We were a bit worried that it would ruin our party but luckily everyone got drunk (toasting Naomie, my new niece!) and invented a new game where someone lies in a puddle and everyone else kicks water on them. I think this might have been my second favourite thing to do in Vietnam!

We went up to Da Nang for the volunteer changeover (we now have a new volunteer- 24 yr old Emily who is American and, excitingly, an Occupational Therapist, she is going to work with some of the disabled children, which is wonderful news!) 

On the Sunday we were invited to a wedding- my first in Vietnam, which was very cool. The ceremony had already been held at the family homes in traditional dress- no religious/official representative, just the families of both parties, but it has to be done in both the bride and the grooms home. We went to the family and friends gathering. There was loads of food, most of which was meat or fish related, but luckily there was one vegetarian course at the end, when everyone else was full, so I got to eat as much as I wanted! The brides here have at least 3 dresses, not sure why. One is the traditional dress for the home ceremony, in gold and red. Then at the Reception she starts in a white Western style dress, then has a colourful ballgown type affair, with new hairstyle and make up. Can't imagine how much more stress and expense it would add to an English wedding, but it all seemed to go off smoothly. The Recpetion was about 2 hours long, but there was lots of Yo-ing and Kareoke (but of course!) I'm not really used to drinking beer at 11 o clock in the morning but it seemed to go OK.

Things have settled into such a routine here, I am enjoying days following one another, spending hardly any time planning for my English lessons, and playing with the children, who are mostly wonderful, although Big Phuc continues to be very violent. Today my lesson was interrupted by George shouting for help as Big Phuc had rather cleverly locked her in the playroom before dragging Phung around by her hair, right outside the window. Fortunately they are both OK! In between being violent, Phuc is actually responding really well to having cuddles and lots of physical games with volunteers. Emily is hoping to do some therapy with him so we are taking little steps forward.

Can't believe I am nearly half way through my volunteering now- it all seems to be going so quickly...
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steve.kimberley on

Great photos!
I love the photos, even if the house is sideways, like a smiley! :-)

Glad to see the Marmite got through OK and I think that lantern is worth every dong!

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