30th Anniversary

Trip Start Apr 21, 2005
Trip End May 17, 2005

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Flag of Vietnam  , Ha Nội,
Saturday, April 30, 2005

Hello everyone.

On my last trip to Vietnam, several people asked me for some easy English books.  So I stuffed my backpack with all it could handle, about 30 total.  Some for friends, some for schools.  I ran into a German and a Canadian separately on my last trip who got great receptions volunteering at schools.  One brainstorm - start a small library to enable locals to learn on their own. Another - write an article with contact info so people can send books directly.

I approached an elementary school right across from my hotel.  It's easy to find when the children pour out onto the narrow streets.  Finding someone who spoke adequate English was different.  The lady who eventually came to the front accepted the books I offered.  But she sat there with a puzzled look on her face.  Didn't have a clue what other interest I could have.  Looking at the school, there didn't seem to be much structure for accepting volunteers.  Looking at the children, I wasn't sure how to communicate with them.  So I moved on to a day care down the street.  And then to an orphanage for teenagers.  How my other travelers made in-roads I don't know.  But my plans were changing fast.

I moved on to say hello to one of the vendors I frequented on my last trip.  After business, I lingered around to talk.  My hope was to see them outside of work.  Somehow I offended all three to the point where I won't be going back.  I was really disheartened.  So I pulled out my guide book.  Reportedly, Hanoians are more reserved.  So I dropped all assertiveness and just received.

On the border of the old quarter is a charming area called Hoan Kiem Lake.  It's similar to Green Lake in Seattle.  It was unusually busy with lots of preparations for a big holiday coming up.  The most famous resident of Hoan Kiem is a 200 year old turtle that weighs about 300 kilos.  Everyone I've asked has seen it.  So I spent two afternoons loitering around Hoan Kiem Lake.  Surreptitiously to see this Loch Ness-type animal.  But more importantly to talk to any locals that approached me.

The Hanoians that speak the best English by far are university students in their early twenties.  Six stopped by to 'broaden' themselves.  So I listened and answered their questions.  They all took the lead quite well.  Within 10-15 minutes the conversation unfolded.  Two wanted to sell me tours.  Two were looking for donations.  The last two liked practicing English with a foreigner.  One individual invited me to her family's house for dinner.  The other, part of a group, invited me to visit them at work.  I got their contact info and will be following up in 11 days when I return.  Not sure where it will lead, but it sounded genuine and encouraging.

Incidentally, the big holiday coming up is April 30, Vietnam's Independence Day.  Because all government including schools will be closed for four days, I left early for my next stop.  It's a little ironic.  I'll be arriving to stay with a Vietnamese family on the day they celebrate the 30th anniversary of their victory over my country.

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