Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Notorious Prison; Heartbreak from Home

           This weekend was a weekend to relax, but unfortunately, it wasn’t very relaxing. I had my first weekend “off” since I’ve been here. On Friday I had Japanese food with some friends, Saturday I took the day off and got some sad news from home, and Sunday I went to the Hanoi Hilton. No not the hotel, the jail.

            Friday, after I finished school, I made plans with some of my friends from school to go have dinner. We went to a nice hotel not to far from the school, where they had a Japanese restaurant. I thought it was very good; I had this bowl of chicken, egg and noodles. I had to be home by 9ish, so I took a taxi around 8 or so, to make sure I wasn’t late, because you can never really tell how bad traffic in Ha Noi is going to be. One minute an empty street can turn into a nightmarish disaster, resembling the game where you have to get the car out of the traffic jam. Luckily I made it without incident.

(aka, Larry the Spaceman)
October 20, 2003  -  September 22, 2011
            Saturday I was able to sleep in, and I made a plan to Skype back home at some point during the afternoon. So around 1:30 or so, I saw that my parents were on-line, so I gave them a call. We talked for a while, and then, of course, the connection gave out. So after a few minutes off-line, I got things running again, and dialed them up. When I started talking to them again, they had some bad news. The day before (Friday for me), Thursday, September 22, they had to put our dog, Mukluk, down. He was almost 8. He died of Lymphoma, a disease that attacks the lymph nodes, and eventually spreads to other parts of the body. We knew he had it since mid-April, when we first took him into the vet because his leg was swollen and he couldn’t move. He was at the pet hospital for a few days, and we thought he was going to die then. But they were able to give him medication, and he was able to walk again and it made the swelling go away. They said he only had 4 months at the most, but most likely less. He lived almost 6. He also had the best 6 months of his life too, even though it was his last. He got all the food and attention he could ever want. He constantly dined on steak, cheeseburgers, and his personal favorite, salmon. He also loved to travel, and he always came with us for the past few years to Salt Lake City and Santa Fe. In late summer, he was able to go on one last trip with us, and we knew he enjoyed it, even though we had to lift him into the car because he couldn’t do it himself. I got to say goodbye one last time to him just before I left for Vietnam. I knew there was no chance that he could possibly live another 9 months, so I said goodbye before I left on the train. My dad said he had the best possible ending though. He wasn’t in any pain until the day he died. He took walks on the beach every day for the last 2 weeks before he died, because our new house is so close to the beach, and he ran and played in the waves, he even went to some of the Friday Swims with SBMS this month and swam out into deep water with the kids. Wednesday night he was fine, but by the morning, the swelling was back, and he wasn’t able to move, and couldn’t hold his focus for more then a few seconds, so they knew he was in a lot of pain. My dad knew right away that this would be his last day, so they called in to make the appointment. And even though it was something that he dreaded doing, he wished they could have taken him sooner, that’s how much pain he was in. Two o’clock. With around 4 hours left in his life, my dad drove him around town to all his favorite places; the beach, middle school, and also to our old house. He said that he didn’t give too much of a reaction to the places they went to, because he was in too much pain to stand up. But when they started driving down the hill toward our old house, his ears perked up and he got really exited and even stood up. But by the time they got to the house, he was unable to stand, and had to sit back down. But if he could have I’m sure he would have loved to have seen the house. Because that was the only place he ever lived. When we first got him as a puppy, that was where he came home to, almost eight years ago. My dad and sister, Emily, were the ones who went to go pick him up in the Freight warehouse at LAX, where he was hardly bigger than a shoebox. He had just flown cross-country from Kentucky, where he was born. He was obviously very scared after being on a 5 and half hour flight, and had pooped and peed his little pint-sized kennel, but even the tough LA warehouse workers thought he was cute. When they went over to Santa Barbara Middle School, to say goodbye to my sister Claira, she was very brave, and insisted that she go with him to the vet, because she wanted to be there too to comfort him. My sister Emily was on a school trip to the Channel Islands while this was going on, so she wasn’t able to be there. The four of them arrived at the pet hospital, and they took him to the operating room. The doctor first gave him an anesthetic drug, which took all of the pain away, and said to spend as much time as they needed with him, and to let him know when they were ready. My dad said that after he got the drug, he could see in Mukluk's eyes that he was just completely relaxed. They got to pat him and say goodbye, and after 10 minutes or so, I don’t know exactly how long, they got the doctor. The next drug was one that stops the heart. And it is very painless and fast acting. They were all together when the doctor gave it too him. Mukluk was used to getting shots, because he had to get his chemotherapy shots for the last 6 months or so, so it wasn’t scary for him. It only took about 3 seconds at most to take affect. They said that when he got it, he made kind of a snoring sound and just rolled over and went to sleep, but he would never wake up. They said that the noise was just so out of place that it even made them laugh a little because he sounded so comfortable at the end. Gallows humor.

Dog friendly National Parks made him happy, too
Mukluk's favorite place in the whole world
(even when mountain roads made it a little crowded)

Sorry I wrote so much there, I know it’s depressing. But I just had to write about, it made me feel better, even though I was crying the entire time…

Standing in the Peace Garden

The Original Prison, before the high rises, I think
That's not a door, This is a DOOR
So now how about some fun stuff? Well I guess I still don’t have anything fun to talk about, unless you find notorious Prisons to be fun, but it was very interesting, and also revealed a side of Vietnam that I hadn't seen yet. Sunday my host family, plus an aunt and a cousin, took me to see the Hoa Lo prison, nicknamed the Ha Noi Hilton, not to be confused with the actual Ha Noi Hilton, which was not around at the time. First though, a brief history, I learned this while on the visit.

Just me during my watch 
 The French built the prison in the late 1800’s to house political prisoners. They operated it until WWII, when Japan invaded, and began using the prison to hold Vietnamese political prisoners. Conditions there, under both, were brutal to say the least, hardly any food, rampant disease, no medicine, etc… Eventually the Vietnamese controlled Ha Noi after ’45, but then the French invaded again, and they fought nonstop for 30 years! Eventually good ‘ol USA joined in, and fighting continued until ’75. In 1967, a pilot named John McCain was shot down, and parachuted into Truc Bach Lake, just north of present day downtown Ha Noi. He spent around 5 and a half years there. More recently, most of the complex was destroyed, and now a mall, and some high-rises have taken its place. But the main wing remains as a museum.
My mom and me 

           It’s a total BS museum though; the government, even today, says that no prisoners were ever tortured, and that the prisoners called it the Hanoi Hilton because of how well they were treated. Most of it is just propaganda to make the French look bad, and the other half of the museum is about the Vietnam War, and how well the American prisoners were treated. There’s a whole room dedicated to showing how much people in both countries were against the war, and, if the museum isn’t already corny enough, in the “dungeon” they had speakers play suspenseful music in the background. So overall, I glad I went, so I could at least see the building, even if the museum was not the most truthful. After returning home, by bus, just to try it out, I wrapped up the weekend by working on homework.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Lights, Camera, Action!

The cameras are about to roll, and I get into position

               This was my 3rd full week here in Hanoi, but it feels like so much longer, it feels like time is starting to go by very fast, and with October rapidly approaching, that means that there are only 2 and a half months left in the semester. To put that into prospective, I have been away from home for almost that amount of time before. But enough talk about the past and future, this week was an interesting one, I was in front of a camera twice this week, and at school we had a famous guest speaker.

Me preparing for the broadcast, doing a couple practice runs
            The school week started on Monday, as it has a tendency of doing, it was pretty average nothing too special, just going along with my typical schedule that has already been explained, so let us skip ahead to the exiting stuff. On Tuesday, our school director was talking to us during our class, and said that the English department here at the Vietnam National University was working on a film project, in coordination with the Dept. of Education, and that they wanted to know if any of us, the SYA students, were interested in helping them out by reading and acting out some scenes. Thinking it would be interesting, and because I am in the MAD academy back Stateside, I volunteered, along with another student. So after school got out, we headed over with our director, Thay Vuong, and trekked over to the studio, a grueling 1-2 minute walk. It looked a bit sketchy on the outside, but inside it was actually really nice and modern. The studio staff greeted us, and gave us each a copy of the script, and talked to us about what it was we would be doing. They said that this was going to be part of the teaching program that will be shown to all Vietnamese English teachers all over the country for the next 10 years or so, so that they will know how native speakers pronounce words and sentences that will be used in class, and to help the students pronounce words better. So basically, anyone learning English in the next 10 years here will talk like me! (I am known for my perfect prononciation, spelin and grammer as many know) So my assignment today was to sit in the studio sound booth, and for the first part they would be filming me as I read a few set paragraphs in English
"Stay classy San Diego!"

Looking in from the control room

about meta cognition or something like that.  It felt like I was a news anchor, sitting at a desk, with my teleprompter, sound people, the director saying ACTION and motioning with his hand to tell me when to start, several different cameras, and with guys sitting on the other side of a glass panel in the control room - along with my make-up and wardrobe people (what would I do without them!), and the lighting guys. It was a very surreal experience. Before they started filming, they showed me the exact way to position myself and my head and how to fold my hands in a natural position, and the wardrobe person would come in to straighten out my shirt. Then they said ACTION and after 3 seconds the director signaled to start, and I began to read from my teleprompter, which was a big flat screen located right under the camera, with my lines so I could read directly from there while I talk. All the big names use one, and now I shall be added to the list of teleprompter users. Next was a bit more casual, they recorded me reading words and sentences from the teleprompter, just stuff that you would here in an English class, like, “what did we learn” or “did you understand”. I read a few pages of those, and then it was time for me to act out a skit. Now both of us American actors took the stage. I played the role of the angry customer, wanting to return a shirt, which I discovered, was missing a button, a role that I have no doubt will win me an academy award. Anna, my co-star, played the role of the pleasant and helpful saleswomen who was not shaken by my mean demeanor. The script was supposed to be written as if it were just your average everyday language that you would use on the street if you were a native speaker, but it was painfully obvious that it was written by someone not from the US. But even though we, and our school director, who has lived in the US for many years, told them that that is not how anyone in the US speaks, they wouldn’t budge and told us that they pulled that conversation from a linguistics book. It sounded like a super exaggerated New Jersey or Brooklyn accent. But we went along with it anyway. After the filming was done, we headed back to school, and I went home, now an accomplished actor.
Viewing our work of art 

            Thursday was another busy day at school, we had a famous guest speaker come today, and the cameras were rolling once again, but this time it was the national news! Our speaker was a famous Vietnamese author who has written many important cultural books about Vietnam and other countries. He is in his late 80’s, and has lived a very interesting life. He was an officer in the North Vietnamese army in the 50s, and after leaving the army he became an author, writing about Vietnamese history and culture. He really knows his stuff! He also speaks English very well so there was no translation required, I could  tell just by listening to him that he has been around the block a few times. He was a very interesting man to have met. The cameras from the news showed up before he formally spoke, and they filmed him and us during the presentation. Afterwards, the TV guys interviewed a few of us, and I was selected for an interview. They asked me questions like what was your first impression of Vietnam, and how do I like the School Year Abroad program. Just your standard interview questions. Then they filmed us walking around the school, and also talking to some Vietnamese students outside the campus. It was pretty awkward. Actually, that’s an understatement, it was extremely awkward. But at least we got to be on National TV…

Take 12! (actually it only took 3 takes)
            It was a busy week, and at the beginning of it I had absolutely no idea that anything that happened this week was going to happen, so it was a week full of pleasant surprises. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Pottery Master; first Soccer games; familiar Groceries

            This weekend was very action packed and tiring, but also really fun! On Friday I went to a German film festival, on Saturday I went to a village that specializes in ceramics, and on Sunday got my first taste of the soccer league here, and also made some surprising discoveries at a grocery store.

            But first, Friday was a school day, as it normally is, I have pretty much settled into my school and home schedule. After a day at school, I headed home, and at about 6:30 or so, went to a German movie with my sister and cousin, because she is taking German, and it was like a class project. It was part of a German Film festival that was going on in Vietnam right now. It was an Indy film, and I was contemplating the levels of boardness I would experience before it started, but I actually really liked it. It was called Welcome to Germany or something like that, I recommend looking it up, or going to your nearest German movie theater and watching it. And apparently that shouldn’t be too hard for a few of the readers of this blog, because on my stats page it says there are some people reading this in Deutschland. So Gutentag to you! I even had some popcorn too, or it was actually more like kettle corn… kettle corn. The movie was about a Turkish emigrant and his family who moved to Germany in the 60s, and the story also takes place in the present, and is about their struggles, but it is presented as a comedy. Anyways, after the movie finished we walked through a maze of sketchy alleys, eventually winding up on a main road at a cell phone store so I could add some more minutes on my phone. And then a cab to the house, and went to sleep, ready for a full day of adventure on Saturday.

            Saturday I had to wake up early, because I had to be at the city bus station by 9 am, and it was supposedly pretty far. So after I hailed a cab I was on my way, by about 8 am. The ride was much quicker then I thought it was going to be, I was there by 8:30, so I was 30 minutes early. Right when I got out of the cab, I was immediately bombarded by motorbikers, all asking if I need a ride, because it just makes sense to get out of a cab at a bus station and look for a motorcycle!?!  At least I got to practice saying KHONG a bunch of times, but when I went to the other side of the platform, my classmates weren’t over there. I stood around waiting for any of the SYA people to show up, it was pretty uneventful, but I felt famous because everyone was looking at me like I was a celebrity and an old man came up and talked to me for a few minutes until his bus came, he spoke a little English, and asked me where I was from and if I liked Vietnam, he thought it was really great that our program was here. So that was pretty cool. Eventually people began to show up, and just after 9, we lined up, ready for our full scale assault on the bus. There are hundreds of people on the platform, and they’re all fighting to get on the busses. There is no mercy or compromise, in order to get on that bus, your going to have to hurt some people, and if your not ok with that, enjoy your day at the platform! Our bus approached down the platform, a nervous energy wells up in me, its only going to be a 30 second run or so, but its going to be hectic. The bus stops, and the doors open, but once they close, they might as well be bolted (we had just finished watching a women go running by chasing a bus banging on the door because she was left behind). Go!, we jumped down off the platform and charged the bus, 20 seconds, I am just out of the door, people in front are pushing there way on the bus, 15, I made it to the door, and am attepting to step on the bus. 10, I’m on the bus, and it’s crowded, so we have to stand in the aisle, and hang onto the handles. The door closes, there are people left behind. But after a quick head count, we are all there, we have made it. After about a half hour or so being constantly jerked around on the trechourous roads of Hanoi, where the bus comes to unexpected halts and basically attempts to maneuver like a motorcycle, we arrive at the village of Bat Trang, about 5 and a half miles south of Ha Noi. It has, as previously mentioned, been in the business of ceramics for a very long time, around 1000 years I believe. After arriving, we got off of the hot crowded bus, and went to the craft market, where they had thousands of ceramics for sale, anything from plates to gigantic vases that were around 6 feet high. We had around 30 minutes to walk around and browse, before heading over to a master ceramic makers workshop. His family has been in the business for hundreds of years, and he is one of the more famous artists in Viet Nam for that particular class. He has made pots and ceramics for many important people in the country but also all over the world. The government has even asked him to create 18 giant vases (as seen in the video), for the anniversary of an ancient king this spring, and he has invited us back to the ceremony where they transport them to Ha Noi. After that he took us out behind his workshop, where construction had just been completed of the shrine to the founder of the village - they had just recently discovered his remains, and built a shrine for him.

            Next on the agenda was lunch, which was just a typical meal, vegetables, noodles, and some meat. We ate a restaurant close to the workshop. After we finished lunch, it was time to make some cups. We went to a pottery making place, I don’t know what you would call that, where we saw first had just how little skill we had. My attempts were not very good, but I tried. When we were leaving, I asked one of my teachers to talk to one of the pottery ladies and ask her to make a cup while I filmed her, and this was the result.

            It was amazing how fast she could shape and form that cup! I was amazed watching her helping the people in the group, and just had to get a video of it. Now it was almost time to leave Bat Trang village, and after another quick jaunt around the craft market, and a quick drink, we found ourselves back on the bus, and heading slowly, and sometimes very quickly, back to central Ha Noi. And after arriving back at the station, I got a cab with my school cabpool buddy Anna and headed on home.

            Sunday was an even earlier day, I had to be at the soccer fields by 8:30, so I could help out at a tournament, and get a feel for the league. I arrived on time, but soon relized that the games couldn’t begin, because the fields were still being used by other teams, so there was a bit of a wait, during that time I talked to one of the guys I would be working with in the morning, Gary. He is one of the guys in charge of the league, and has lived in Ha Noi for 3 years. Soon the teams were off the fields, and we began. I couldn’t referee today because the refs had already been scheduled, so I just helped administrate the proceedings. I was actually glad not to be refereeing today because it was HOT! There was occasional cloud coverage, but once the sun came out, it was just radiating the heat down on our synthetic turf field, and for anyone who has any expierience with turf, those little rubber pellets make the field pretty hot, and radiate the heat up. The game formats were very strange today, they had an entire tournament to get through today - U15 and U13 on just two fields (U9 and U11 played somewhere else), so they played 15 minute games for the two divisions! Usually though it is 40 minute halfs for U15 and 35 for U13, but I think I would probably have keeled over and passed out after only 20 minutes or so in this heat… At around 11:30 or so, I had to leave the fields and go home, because I was going out with my family, as it was the weekend. I had to get a new backpack, because the one I brought now has a giant hole on the top of it, so we went to a shopping mall downtown, but along the way, stopped at a pho restaurant for a late lunch, it was great! There was only one item on the menu, and that’s whatever happens to be available, today it was chicken. The restaurant has apperantly been there for around 50 years or so, and is considered one of the best in the city. Once I got my backpack, we headed next door to a grocery store that was also in the mall, as we walked the aisles, I realized that I recongnized a lot of the brands. They had kettle chips, M&Ms, goldfish and all those different types of Milano cookies, and also had a lot of American drinks, including Gatorade, which I like. All of it appeared to be imported, because the writing was in English, but had a Vietnamese import sticker put on it. So we got a few things and we headed home. It was a very long and tiring weekend, but definitely a fun one, I really enjoyed all the things I did over the weekend, except it was so hot on Sunday morning! But anyway, thanks for reading.


Monday, September 19, 2011

an unplanned Dinner Entrée; meeting a Blue Dragon

            Sorry I haven’t updated in a few days, I have been really busy with homework this week, and also there was a surprise party on Wednesday, well it wasn’t really a ‘surprise’ party as for me, but it was surprising in the fact that I had no idea it was happening. So without further ado, I give you the week in review. And no, it was not my intention to make that rhyme.

            Monday was the mid-autumn festival, but I had already gone downtown to the festival the night before with my family, as it is actually more attended on Sunday. So after the day at school, I bought some moon cakes for my family and headed home to work on homework and dinner. The next day was very similar to the last, I’m sorry that my weekdays aren’t to exiting so far, there’s a lot more content during the weekends. I had a lot of homework to do on Tuesday night, there were a lot of complicated problems for economics (ECON, for future reference), and we had Quiz to study for on Wednesday also for AP environmental Studies (APES). But eventually I finished it, around 11 or so, and then talked to my dad on Skype for a while before drifting off into a nice sleep.

            Wednesday started early, around 6:30, it was raining, and around 7:10 my host dad and I went out to get a cab. And since it was raining, everyone that would have been walking or riding a bike was now in a cab. There were none available. It was incredible; we stood there trying to hail a cab, and every single one, taken. All I could think the entire time I was standing there in the rain was, “AHHHH”. Eventually though after about half an hour we managed to fish a cab out of the river of motorbikes and cars. I arrived at school about 30 minutes late that day. So after I got home from school, I was talking to my host mom before I went up to work on homework, and she told me that a bunch of relatives were coming in for dinner at 5:30, and it was already around 4:30! So I hurried and finished, as much as I could, luckily there was not too much. At 5:30 the guests began to arrive, there were family members from in the city, and also out of the city. For dinner, we used the larger table in the other room on my floor, and we had a great meal, egg rolls, and a salad kind of dish, fish, rice noodles, rice, and, the kicker, DOG!!  I had no idea what it was, it looked kind of like beef, well take a look at the pictures and decide for yourself. So before we started the meal, my host mom leaned over and whispered to me what it was. I admit I had a tiny little nibble just to be polite to my family and to say I tried it. But, I didn’t like it, mostly because I was thinking about what it was while I was chewing, but I got through it and can say that I tried it and will never have it again. Also they had a very expensive and fancy rice wine, they gave me a little splash so I could say cheers with them. At the table were some pretty influential people; two professors from the Viet Nam National University; my host dad - the dean; the project manager for the Hanoi Metro (elevated train) system that they are building in the city; and, a correspondent for the news. After dinner we went to a smaller table to have some tea, and peanuts. A little while later it was getting late, so I headed back to my room, and fell asleep.

            Thursday I had a meeting with the Blue Dragon Children's Foundation people across town, at 4 o’clock. After a day at school I went directly to it from the campus, it was around 40 minutes by cab, the cab driver had a little trouble finding it, but nothing like the odyssey I had last week. It was down a side road where not a lot of cabs were, I was smart this time and told the driver to wait for me, since I wasn’t going to be long. During the meeting I talked to some of the head people of the organization, and just made a basic plan of what we wanted to do, and that we can work the details out in the next few weeks.  The goal of the meeting being that I would work with the Blue Dragon kids and train them how to referee soccer so that they could start to make some money of their own by refereeing youth games for the Hanoi Youth Football League. Here’s a link about the organization and the director that I met with (http://edition.cnn.com/SPECIALS/cnn.heroes/archive11/michael.brosowski.html)
After my meeting was over, I got back in the car and was promptly slapped in the face by the rush hour traffic of Ha Noi, which starts at around 5, when I normally am already home. The cab ride that should have taken 20 minutes traffic free, turned into an hour and a half of stop go, bumper to motorcycle wheel traffic. It was insane in the membrane. Thankfully though, the meters in the taxis here charge by the Kilometre, and not time. But there is also a little timer that says how long you spent not moving, and by the time I got home, we had spent over half an hour, close to 40 minutes, not moving at all. Thanks for being patience and waiting to read this entry, FRI-SAT will be released for your viewing pleasure soon as well. See ya!


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Sunday with my sister

            Today was Sunday, and it was an interesting and also busy day. I went all over the place, and luckily didn’t get lost this time, because I had my sister with me.
I saw a few museums in the morning, and my host family took me downtown for the Mid-autumn festival at night.

            We started out the day by going to a few different museums, the first was the Vietnamese cultural museum, and it basically showcases all of the different tribes of Vietnam. There are 54 original tribes, scattered across Vietnam, some in the mountains, some by the sea, some in the plains, but they all came together to form what is now Vietnam. It would be an understatement to say it was crowded, because it was really crowded. There was a combination of tourists and locals, and they were out in force. Circling the museum were life-sized models of the different houses found throughout Vietnam. There were also different activities for the children to do, since it was the moon-festival. Next we went to the Hanoi museum, which was just finished recently, and is shaped like an upside down pyramid, which is pretty crazy looking. I was told not to go there, because it was so boring, but I was more interested in being inside a giant upside down pyramid. Alas, it was really boring; there was literally nothing in it, just a bunch of pictures of things that would have been interesting to actually see. It wasn’t even worth the price of admission, which was free. There are also many empty exhibits, and not because the museum just opened, but because they have nothing to put there. So following that we returned home, where I worked on some homework until, it was time to go to the mid autumn festival! We took a cab to downtown at around 8:30 pm and it was crazy! The entire place was packed, the streets are narrow and the crowds are big, there are also a lot of drunken college kids there too, running around blowing on horns. It reminds me of mardi gras in New Orleans. We walked through the streets, just taking in the scene, and it was hectic, there were horns going off, people everywhere, and, of course, motorbikes trying to push through the crowd. I felt really claustrophobic, even though I was outside. The video link there pretty much sums it up.

            So when it was all said and done, we left the madness behind and returned home, where I went to bed, ready for my second week of school.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Birds-eye view of traffic in old Ha Noi

This is a video taken from a restaurant that we ate at during our 1st day in Ha Noi. Just a typical day here in the city. Nothing out of the ordinary. This is a birds eye view of the same square from my last video, but it is way less crowded in this video. Enjoy.

Monday, September 12, 2011

a Taxi Safari and Extended Family Dinner

            Why hello there. Today, Saturday, I had quite a busy day. I met with the soccer league people, did some homework, took a nap, and went to my first family dinner! Oh yeah and along the way got helplessly lost in a cab attempting to locate the soccer fields.

            The day started out slow, my meeting wasn’t until noon so I was able to sleep in for the first time since I left, then it was on to breakfast, and to the taxi out front. It was raining slightly has we drove toward the co nhue district, around half a mile or so north of my school. I started out the same way I do with most of the cab rides here, begin with saying hello in Vietnamese, then regretting it when they start speaking to me super fast and I just stare at them and say xin loi (I’m sorry) and shrug. Before I left I checked the directions one last time, and I was sure that I knew exactly where I was going, after all it was only a few hundred meters or so off the main road! What I didn’t count on was the driver not understanding a word of English.  So as we made our approach into the district where the field was, I tried to recall where the field was, I should be able to see the field soon, I thought. What I failed to remember is that driving on the streets of Ha Noi is a bit like one of the hedge mazes in the fancy estates. So we made the turn off the major street and headed off on a smaller street that dove in head first into the chaos. Soon I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to see the field from the street, because of denseness of the houses. So I began to look closer in the gaps between the building as we drove deeper. He starts to talk to me, but I don’t know what he is saying. I try to tell him that I am looking for a “football” field, but he doesn’t even understand that, so I alternate between saying “FOOTBALL” and “SOCCER”. I even try my best attempt to pretend I have a whistle and point, and pretend to do a throw in, but he still doesn’t know what I’m trying to do. Now it is 11:45, I’m running out of time to make my meeting. After a few more futile attempts at communication, I give up; I know that we have past it already for sure, I just can’t see it. I sit back in my seat, and as the cab pushes deeper and deeper into the unknown, I ask myself, “self, what the hell have you gotten yourself into this time? I am sitting by myself in the back of a cab going deeper into the “jungle,” I mean city, oh wait it is jungle. Great. I have now left the city and am in a mix of rice patties and forest, looking for some crapy soccer field that is most likely an empty lot filled with dirt and broken bottles.” Please excuse my profanities, but this is a candid blog. I tell the driver to “turn around” by making swirling motions with my hand; he understands that, well it’s a start. We soon pass a group of people walking, the driver pulls over to ask them for some help, but they aren’t buying it. They just walk right on by him like he’s not even there. We retreat further and soon he’s on his phone talking to someone, he hands the phone to me, the voice on the other end starts to speak in broken English, asking me where I want to go, I tell them I am seeking the football field at Co Nhue, he ask me the same question again twice, “FOOTBALL FIELD!” It’s no use, I hand the phone back to the driver. Soon he has another person on the phone, this time a women, her English is much better, I tell here where I am going and then hand it back over to the driver, and, YES he understands! “ahh, Football” he says to me. Yes, that is what I was telling you the entire time. But there still remains one last problem; neither of us knows where it is. He pulls over once more and asks someone on the street, and I picked up on the answer because he said khong, which means no. I feel like I am in the cash cab, except instead of answering questions, you must break the language barrier before time runs out or the meter gets to expensive and I run out of cash and must walk 9 klicks south back to my house, which is a legitimate concern at this point. He stops and asks someone else, they point and say something, I get exited, and the driver starts to smile. All of a sudden we come around a corner, and there it is, the Co Nhue Fields, in all its majesty! It was better then I ever could have imagined, it was a synthetic turf field, somewhere close to the quality of Girsh international for those of you who are involved in soccer. The driver looks at me and starts to laugh with joy, I do too, we high-5 and I get my money out to pay as we pull up, thankfully it’s not too expensive around 7 dollars US. I have done the impossible, broken the language barrier and arrived at my destination, and not to late either, 12:10. Great Success!

            Alrightly then, with that traumatic experience out of the way, it was time to meet the Ha Noi youth football league guys. Their names are Paul and Gary; I first contacted them in early August after discovering their league, and kept in contact with them throughout the month. There were still games going on so while we talked about the league I was able to see one of the pre-season friendlies going on. They had a really cool idea for me that I was all for. There is an organization called Blue Dragon here in Ha Noi, that works with street kids and helps them find a home and get them in school, and they also have a soccer team that plays in the youth league here, what they suggested was that we contact them and then I could work with their older players and teach them to become referees, and they eventually will start to do the games, and will have a source of income. So I thought that that would be a great idea because it is something I already know how to do, and it is also a great way to help the community here in Ha Noi, and that is what the service-learning program for SYA is all about. As I mentioned earlier, the fields are actually really nice. It contains 4 small U10 sized fields, has room for 2 U12 sized fields, and 1 full sized, again I’m throwing AYSO terms at you again, but I know John’s reading this and he knows what I’m talking about. The league here uses a different league system, Under 9, U11, U13 and U15. As I also said earlier, it is very similar to Girsh International field, with all the different field markings and what not. Getting out wasn’t as hard. Now that I had my bearings I simply took a right, a left and there I was, at the main street, I hailed a cab, and I was on my merry way.

            I returned home by about 1:45ish, and spent a good portion of the afternoon sleeping, and after that worked on some homework and bloged. It was a well-deserved rest. After what seemed like hours, maybe because it was… my host mom knocked on my door, and asked me if I wanted to go to a family dinner with them. Of course I did. We left around 6:30 or so, it was already dark, but here it gets dark early even though it is summer because it is much closer to the equator. We drove about 10 minutes west, and stopped at an apartment building. There we walked to the 5th floor, where the rest of the family was waiting, in all about 20 people were there, so it was no small affair! I felt a little awkward for a while but after about 10 minutes I felt very welcome and part of the family. Most of them speak English, but I was trying to use my meager Vietnamese skills as well. The meal was large, like most meals here in Vietnam, and also very delicious! There were spring rolls, rice, rice noodles, fish sauce (a salty sauce used in a similar fashion as ketchup stateside), these fried dough pockets that were very similar to empanadas. Also making an appearance at the meal was some sort of roll that I forgot the name of, but it is salad basically rapped in rice paper. And no meal could be complete without 15-year-old rice and tree root wine! It’ll knock your socks off! It is made using tree roots that were harvested 10-15 years ago, that’s before I was in pre-school. It is very strong, and sort of spicy, at least I thought so. Also it was one of the children’s birthdays! So we sang happy birthday and had birthday cake of course. Soon after though it was time to go, and we were on our way home. It has been a long and trying day, and I am ready for it to be over.  

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Adventures in Lunch

            Thursday and Friday were highlighted by our lunch adventures. Other than that they were very similar to Tuesday and Wednesday.

            They of course started our with a quick breakfast, then a quick jaunt down my alley to meet Anna, where will hailed a cab and were on our way. However on Thursday, I don’t think the cab driver had any idea where he was going, either that or he knew exactly what he was doing and was avoiding traffic, but it sounds much more exiting to say he was crazy. He seemed to be avoiding all major roads, and we thought for sure that we would be later then yesterday, but surprisingly we got there right at 8 and the fare wasn’t even too high! Friday was much smoother. So on to lunch, on Thursday a group of us decided to stray from the plan and go to a different restaurant, this one was still very close to the school, located on the second floor of a building about a 2-minute walk from the school. But the plan doesn’t like to be strayed from, and we were punished by it, even by Friday we had stilled not learned our lesson, but we’ll talk about that later. So it started out harmlessly enough, we got the menus, ordered drinks, and then food, normal stuff, after about 5 minutes some of it started to show up at the table, so, knowing we only had about 15 more minutes we began to eat. 5 minutes later 4 people had not gotten their food, no big deal they could eat fast right? Wrong. 10 minutes later nothing had shown up, 2 people finished and had to head back so they weren’t late. And the rest of our food had not shown up, mine had and I shared it with someone who didn’t have any, so now we decided it was time to go, and with 4 people with no food we paid for what we received and were on our way, only 5 minutes late. After school another group of us decided that we wanted to checkout a fast-food place called Lotteria, a McDonalds substitute, since there are none in country. But there are an obscene amount of KFCs though, and apparently there are also pizza huts, but I have yet to see one. So back to Lotteria, their burgers are…. Interesting, a good size, but the cheese is a bit peculiar. But we were just glad to have some “American” food. One thing about fast food restaurants in countries out side of America is they tend to be quite a bit fancier then ones back home. In Vietnam, every fast-food restaurant I have seen so far has had at least 2 stories, sometimes 3, and inside they are just generally nicer. So after my burger I got a cab and went on home. So now lets jump forward to Friday, as you may recall, I told you that the plan doesn’t like to be strayed from, keeping that in mind I will continue. Still not having learned our lesson, we decided not to go to the normal lunch spot, but went instead to a little fast food burger stand near it. It was called “1 minute burger” which should have been an indicator, but I didn’t think it through. So we ordered our burgers, they were already sitting in a small glass box, and then the worker took them and put them in the microwave, great, microwaved old burgers, mmm… So then we took them back to our school. I couldn’t eat mine, 3 of us just through them away after 1 bite. First of all, the patties were tiny, and had an untrustworthily look to them, 2nd, they were swimming in warm mayo, and there was no ketchup. The first and 3rd I might have been able to deal with, but throw old warm mayo burger, and its game over. They should have named the restaurant Lottaria, except substitute the lott with di. So we ended up just walking to a nearby KFC after school.

            So this Monday, the 12th, is the holiday called the mid-autumn festival, which is in correlation with the full moon, it is also a festival for the children. Also, as previously mentioned, they serve moon cakes as well, because they’re celebrating the new moon. Also tomorrow, Saturday, I am meeting with the director of the Ha Noi youth football league, to discuss ways that I can help them out while in Ha Noi. Ok I lied, I am writing this on Saturday afternoon and I already met them, but lets pretend I’m not. But you’ll enjoy reading about Saturday, it’s a doosy. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Settling in to Ha Noi

These past few days, Tuesday and Wednesday, where mainly days where I am adjusting to my new schedule, which is both pleasantly familiar and shockingly foreign, often at the same time. Example, back stateside, I awake every morning, run downstairs and eat a quick breakfast, then I head for school by car. In Ha Noi I do all the same things, however, I don’t usually have noodles for breakfast, or beef or chicken, and I don’t usually sit down for breakfast, I am more used to eating a microwave breakfast burrito as I franticly move through the house at around 6:30 because some genius invented the “zero” period. Luckily we don’t have a zero period here, but what we do have is a half hour of suppressed panic attacks as we make our way through the overly crowded streets of Ha Noi. So I am sure those of you at home reading this right now must be asking yourself the question, “ What do you prefer?” I’ll take the panic attacks.

Tuesday and Wednesday started very much the same, wake up around 5:45- 6, sit in bed for a few minutes trying to remember where it is exactly that I am, after figuring that out I start to wonder why. Then I head downstairs, where my host family is preparing breakfast, it usually consists of a bread roll, either cream cheese, bree cheese (I know it’s spelled wrong), or some sort of German cheese, or if I’m lucky all three! Usually accompanying it is some sort of broth, with noodle and meat. As you can probably tell I eat very well here. Next on the agenda is the grabbing of my backpack and walking out to the main street. I live around 7 klicks south of my school. Most of the other students live much closer, but there are two of us very close to each other, around a quarter mile or so. And as previously mentioned, we taxi pool together in the morning and most afternoons, although there have only been three so far so it’s a little early to say most. I have not yet seen a major traffic accident in Ha Noi, although the trip is still young, and not to sound weird or “pessimistic”, but I’m sure I’ll see at least one by the time I leave, although I must say the drivers here are pretty skilled. One way I try to describe the traffic flow here is it is kind of like water flowing it a two way river, now it’s time to put your imagination hats on, imagine that your hand is a car, and the river is the constant flow of motorbikes, with the occasional stick flowing by too, those are cars, and also there is a major lumber mill up stream so some massive logs go sailing by too occasionally, those are the busses.  As you put your hand in the water, it moves out of the way for you, and the street traffic here is the same way, you can just go cruising on into the street here, and the motorbikes move out of your way, like water in a river. Now occasionally a log comes your way, in this case there is no compromising with it (the busses here are notorious for being rude and unaccommodating to the walking public). Now that took longer than I thought, hmm what was I talking about? Oh yeah witnessing a major traffic collision. Anyway moving on, I’ve already described the drive before, so I won’t bore you with the details. Next we arrive at school, yesterday, Wednesday, our cab driver went an odd way, and even thought we left at around 7:30, we didn’t get to school until around 8:20, so that was kind of embarrassing. But it wasn’t our fault so I won’t lose any sleep thinking about it, although I’m thinking about it right now while typing and I could be sleeping right now so does that count? Just a bit of food for thought to keep you alert and on your toes while reading cause you never know what’s going to happen. So for the rest of school we just went through our normal schedule, not a whole lot of memorable events. At lunch, our group walked over to a small outdoor restaurant where they serve all sorts of different meats and vegetables. They even put it in a box so it’s mobile. After our lunch, we returned to school where we had math. So far as of right now, Thursday, we have had about 3-4 schedule changes, because it’s still the first week, and they’re still working out all the kinks in the schedule. How many more there will be, I know not. On Tuesday we have an early release day, because that is the time that we work on our service projects. But for the first few weeks we aren’t working so we just use this time to write or just hangout. Monday, Wednesday and Friday though we have class until about 4 o’clock. So when school ends usually I walk to the front of the campus and there are usually a line of cabs and you can just hop in. None of the cab drivers actually speak English, and I don’t speak much Vietnamese, so it’s usually ends up being really awkward. Because I’ll start out by saying hello, in Vietnamese, and then they start speaking really fast to me and I just stare at them blankly, and in my head wishing I could tell them, “NO HABLO”.  But eventually they figure out that I don’t know a word they’re saying, and we drive onward into the smog, hoping that they know where it is exactly they are taking me. So far they have not gotten lost yet, but I do have to give them some directions once we get close. After arriving home, I work on my homework just like the rest of y’all back home, then around 7 head down for dinner. Usually dinners here in Vietnam, and meals, contain some sort of meat, be it beef, chicken, seafood, or what have you, a secondary meat dish, vegetables, and rice or noodles. It is all amazing and I feel bad when I can’t eat all of it, because it is also very filling. Also a funny little excerpt for those of you reading this for the awkward and embarrassing moments, I accidentally called the meal last night “very expensive” instead of very good, which we laughed at after I realized what I had said, people are very forgiving here. And after dinner, I head up stairs, tipity type out my blogs on my computer and post them at night here, which is the morning for you in America, and that way they are posted in the morning with plenty of time to read them during the day.

Thank you for reading my blog so far, but we haven’t even scratched the surface of its potential, and with your paid subscription  (made payable to me) we can make it even better! 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

SYA Viet Nam

            Today was my first day of school, and even though it feels like I am starting much later than everyone back in Santa Barbara, but it has actually only been 8 school days, so that’s not really that much time compared to how long I am here for, 171 days (now 167). But enough technical mathematic stuff, lets shift gears and get back to the real reason your reading this, because the blog’s all about me!

            Last night I forgot to set my alarm clock (well it wasn’t so much that I forgot but I fell asleep before I could get to it), but never fear valuable reader, I didn’t wake up late and miss school, it was the opposite, I actually woke up early, around 5:30, and spent some time writing. After about an hour or so, I was called down for breakfast, which consisted of noodles, some beef and vegetables. Soon after that, around 7ish, we headed out to the street to get a cab, we wanted there to be plenty of time for me to get to school. Once safely in the cab, I said goodbye to my host mother and was off into the hectic, messed up, and overall perplexing nightmarish traffic jam that would even leave the most aggressive NY cab driver curled up in a ball in the back of his cab crying. After about 20 minutes of nearly being broadsided by everything from motorbikes to large buses, we finally arrived at the school early, and was ready to start my day, taking that cab ride is better at waking you than any coffee ever will be.

Front view of the house, from just outside the gate
            Our school is on the second floor of the French center of the National University, you have to go through a gate at the top of the steps, and its really cool because to open it you have to use your thumb print, which I think is just the coolest thing, it makes me feel like every time I walk in I am entering some secret government facility. But anyway, back to the tour, it is kind of hard to explain the layout, so I will but pictures of it with my next blog, but that part that I can explain is that there are two classrooms, an student lounge, a teachers lounge/office, and a main office.

            Our first class, Vietnamese, started at 8, at that time 3 students still weren’t there, so our director just talked with us about our night and families. Then after about 15 minutes, one was still missing, so we started, we learned the alphabet today, it is roughly the same, except there is no F, J or Z, and a few additional variations of A, E, D and O, and U. Finally the last student arrived after being stuck in a half hour traffic jam. Our next class was Vietnamese history; this class is taught by Mr. Vuong, it is a mix of history, and also Vietnamese culture as well. Following history we had Economics, which was taught by Thay Chuck, he is a teacher from New Mexico, and also has a PHD. In econ we started with a little project where we split into groups of two, and got a sheet of paper that had 24 boxes on it, the instructions were to create a zoo within 24 acres and include at least two of the same animals and it is impossible to have every animal, so we had to make choices. Anyway our next class was English, in English we went over the first book that we will be reading, Catfish and Mandala. For the rest of the day, we had lunch close by at a fast food kind of place, it wasn’t really fast food like what you are probably thinking of, it is fast in the sense that they already cooked it and just serve it to you fast, its not a cheese burger or anything like that. After lunch, we had math, where we worked on some math problems that would help place us in our class, and after that we had AP environmental science, where we went over the year and what APES was exactly. By the time school was over, it was around 4 o’clock, and we all walked over to a store on campus where they sell notebooks, binders and pens and such for some much needed supplies. After returning to school, I relaxed in the student lounge for a while then it was time to head on home, but little did I know how long it was going to take to get a cab! There were 5 of us waiting, but I was sharing a cab with another student from the group, Anna, who lives close to me so we carpool, or I guess, taxipool. After waiting for about 40 minutes or so, all of a sudden 5, yes five, cabs all show up at the same time, even though we called close to 50 minutes before. Its like they were waiting for each other to show up before they all drove in because they were afraid to drive in alone.

            I arrived home around 6:30, my host mom was the only one home, because my host dad was at a lecture and my host sister was at a language class. So it was just the two of us at dinner. Next I went to go work on my homework, which was mostly reading. Well we’ve come to the conclusion of another exiting day, stay tuned for more!

My New Family and Home

           Today was another busy day, we did a lot of important things, like have breakfast, leave our hotel and drive west to our school campus. Oh yeah, and we met our host families for the first time!

            Even though the wake up time was much later today, I woke up early (around 5:30) to work on my first Vietnam movie, and to write yesterdays riveting and inspiring blog. After I completed the tasks at had my roommate and I went up to breakfast on the top floor of our hotel, floor 8, where we got a great 360 degree view of old Hanoi, and the skyscrapers in the distance. I had a more American breakfast; omelet, toast, bacon, apple juice and some noodles for good measure. Once we were finished with breakfast we dropped down into the meeting room where our director, Thay (Mr.) Vuong, gave us a brief overview of our classes for the year, or semester. Then we got down to the nitty gritty discipline stuff (as he calls it), and after the meeting was over we packed up our things and headed through the narrow busy streets, with large bags in tow, to the larger street where our large bus could pick us up, then we drove out of the old quarter and into the old colonial quarter, where we had lunch at a French restaurant, I didn’t like the first few courses very much, a salad and pumpkin soup. But the main course I kind of liked; a pork cutlet. On our way out of the restaurant we saw that the restaurant also has a deli attached to it, and they have all the different types of American brand kettle chips, so rest assured, “all be back”. Once we hit the road again we began driving through government area, with many different embassies and government buildings. Hanoi is a very interesting city, where the center of the city is actually moving west, to where our school is, many main government buildings such as the museum of Hanoi and the national convention center are now located here and also there are countless sky scrapers literally popping up like daisies on top of the old buildings that once stood beneath them (and yes I am proud I thought of that metaphor). But in many cases there we no buildings that stood beneath them, but it was actually just rice fields and some trees. The streets are also wider, and drivers seem to be a little more aware of traffic laws. When first driving in and seeing all the tall skyscrapers and wide streets and palm trees, the combination made me think that I was driving through Miami! We also passed the tallest building in Vietnam, which was either just completed, or going to be soon, and it is, I believe, 77 stories tall, which is crazy tall. The building is very close to our school and soon we were there, unfortunatally we wouldn’t be able to see the classrooms until tomorrow, because we had to go to a larger room on the campus for the reception where we would meet our host families! The room where it was held was large, and had a stage, music, and even a DJ! It also had a large table with food, and many different smaller tables for each family to sit down and talk, all the chairs and tables were covered with white cloth, and the entire room reminded people of a Bar mitzvah party. But this was no Bar Mitzvah, this was the host family reception, and we were all very nervous.

Tallest Building in Hanoi, this is not my picture,
But I do have a less fancy picture of it (copyright wikipedia)

We all were huddled around two small tables chatting about the trip and other small talk, and then after about 30 minutes, three o’clock, our host families began to arrive, one by one, almost as if there were someone standing outside, letting them in at 5 minute intervals. Once the first family arrived, and the student was called over, everyone stopped and stared over at them, adding to the nervousness of each person called up. Soon the table felt like a game show, and everyone was wondering who was going to be voted off the island next. It was now about 3:10, and about 5 families were already there, then the next family came in, with them they had a giant bouquet of flowers, and then my name was called, this was my new family! And did I mention they brought me flowers too! I walked over to them with Thay Vuong, and I greeted them in Vietnamese, and then we started to talk in English. There are four of them in the family, and they have two daughters, one is 16 and lives at home, and the other goes to school in Munich, Deutschland. They also all speak English, not fluently but very well. My dad is the Dean of Investment Economics at the National University, and also teaches, and my mom works at the Ministry of Property. But now back to the reception. After some small talk and some snacks such as fruit, and tea and orange juice, our director started to speak to everyone about this year and the host family program. After he was finished we collected my bags and headed down to the street, where we got into a taxi and drove home.

My house is located around seven Kilometers away from the school, it is located just off of a major street, far enough away so that most of the traffic sounds are drowned out, but close enough to be less then a 45 second walk.
To get there you must walk down an alley, and a few doors down there is a gate, and behind that gate is my house, it is very nice. It is 4 or 5 stories tall, I haven’t exactly counted them yet, but the floors are relatively small, around 2 or 3 rooms per floor. My floor is on the 3rd floor (and no that’s not a typo, I do have my own floor), but from floor 3 on it’s bedrooms. On my floor I have my bedroom, and across from that is a living room kind of area where I can entertain guests, and also a computer. Attached to that room is a bathroom with a shower. On the second floor is the kitchen/ dinning room, the actual living room, and I believe an office, but I haven’t been in there yet. After unpacking I came back downstairs, where we talked some more and drank German tea, ist wünderbar. Also we had a mid autumn festival staple, moon cake, it is a small cake, about the size of a, hmm, well it’s about the size of a moon cake, sorry it’s late and I’m having some trouble thinking of an example. Oh ok I’ve got one, but this is going to require some effort on you part, this is hands on blogging, ok, step 1: take either your left or right hand, which ever is more convenient, and hold it out in front of you, step 2: extend pointer finger and thumb outwards, step 3: form a C with those two appendages, Step 4: that is roughly the size of a moon cake, admire. So inside of the cake is egg, bean, and a sweet cake coating. Next we had a bit of time before dinner, so I wrote a bit in my journal. For dinner we had thin sliced beef, homemade French fries, rice and vegitables. It was delicious. Soon after dinner, around 8 o’clock, I was exhausted and went to bed almost immediately, and slept all night until 5:30. Until next time, this is Andrew signing out.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

First day in Viet Nam

          Well, at time that I am writing this, I have successfully made it through my first full day in Vietnam! It was a very busy and long day; so long in fact that I actually thought that what we did this morning took place yesterday.

          We awoke early, around 5:30, it was pretty rough, especially since we had been traveling for so long the day before, but the reason that we woke up so early was because we were going to a lake near our hotel where many people go in the early morning to exercise and just relax, because after about 10 am it gets unbearably hot out. So after a quick walk through the already packed streets of old Hanoi (which celebrated it’s 1000th anniversary just last year), we arrived at the lake, it was not very big, an easy 20 minute walk to completely circle it. The first thing that I noticed was the large amount of people exercising; there would be large groups of people doing choreographed moves, and that was pretty cool to watch. It was nice to walk around in the morning because it was still relatively nice temperature out compared to what it was going to be later in the day. Next was a major event in our trip, our first bowl of Pho! We went to a smaller shop to have it, and it was very good, for those of you reading this who doesn’t know what it is, it is a traditional Vietnamese soup with noodles, beef or really any meat, and there are different things that you can add if you want like lime and hot sauce. So following our breakfast we walked back through the even more crowded streets to our hotel and had our first Vietnamese language lesson.

We learned basic things like greetings, how to count, and how to buy things and bargain, which would be very useful a little later on in the day. Vietnamese is a very interesting language, unlike English, Spanish or French, which have multiple tenses for a verb, Vietnamese has only one, and you just change what you put before it to change it, for example, the verb ‘eat’, in the present you would say, “we eat”, but if you wanted to say that you ate last night, you just say, “last night we eat”. So it may seem easy, but the funky part is the pronunciation, there are 5 different accents that change the way a word is said, and one word that is spelled the same could have up to five different means, that have absolutely nothing to do with each other. So I can already tell that is going to be confusing. So after our lesson, we had a short walk over to lunch. It was a traditional Vietnamese meal with noodles, beef, soup and vegetables, it was great. I also got to order my first thing in Vietnamese! It was only a bottle of water, but it was a start. On our way back to the hotel, I was walking in a group, and a few people bought some of the iconic cone hats, but that’s not the main part of this story, the problem with buying anything from a walking street vendor, is that once you buy one thing, you are basically painting a large ‘X marks the spot’ on your back and we were immediately surrounded by vendors trying to sell us anything from hats to fruit. One guy who was a shoe shiner came up to me and said “you need you shoes shined”, but I only got these shoes two days before I left and there was hardly a speck of dirt on them, and even though I said no, he just started cleaning my show anyway, and knowing the antics of the vendors, even if you say no, they will keep doing what they’re doing and try and charge you for it, so the only way to stop them is to walk away, and not try to reason with them, because they aren’t listening. When we returned to the hotel, we had a few hours to rest before we met again, and I spent some time writing and working on editing my first movie, which I hope to upload to the blog in the next few days. Then at 3:30, we met in the lobby of the hotel, where we played some games to get to know each other better, and then we were split into groups for a scavenger hunt around old Hanoi. There were three groups and three different places to go and buy something from that area, and we only had one hour to do it. Our group, team one, started off strong and we easily found the first place, which was a large market, there we were told to buy some candy that can’t be found in the US, and after some hardcore negotiating we took our candy and were off, the next one wasn’t so easy, we had to buy a toy that has to do with the mid- autumn festival, which is a festival for the children, but we had to buy it from a specific street. For a while we were pretty confused, but thanks to a local on a motorcycle we soon found a toy and closing in on the final stretch towards the finish line. Last, but not least, we had to buy fruit from a square close to our hotel, and right around the time we were buying the fruit, we passed the other two groups, who were heading towards their last spot, but we were already the sure winners, and after struggling for a while to find our hotel, we crossed the finish line victorious! Unfortunately though we came in second place due to some errors in the number of fruit purchased, but we still won because we got out of the heat first.
People exercising early in the morning 
Soon after we finished our hunt we strolled over to the Water Puppet theater, which was an easy 5 minute walk from our hotel, the water puppets were pretty impressive, and also the band that played there was amazing as well. The way that they work is there is a giant pool instead of a stage, and a curtain hanging behind the pool, and behind the curtain are the puppeteers, who use long poles to control the puppets. It takes an incredible amount of strength to control the puppets as they move through the water, and at the same time also controlling the puppets arms. Afterword we were invited to go backstage and see what it was like behind the scenes. It was even more impressive seeing the backstage, because while they are controlling the puppets, they are also stand waist deep in water, freezing cold water too.

          From the theater we took a few cabs and went to dinner, we drove a while out to a hotel at an amusement park, similar to a Disney world resort, where they had one of the largest restaurants I’ve ever seen, it was massive, and the buffet was gargantuan, it was insane. They had literally every type of Asian food you could possible imagine, sushi, dim sum, Vietnamese, Chinese, and much more. They even had pizza, or as they misspelled it, Piza. After dinner we got back in the taxis and sped on back to the hotel, tired and ready for a goods night sleep. 

In the Beginning....

           Hello, welcome to my travel blog, chances are that if you are reading this, you probably already know me and know where I am and why, but I will still give a brief overview.

Traffic in Hanoi, taken from our restaurant
            I am in a program called SYA (school year abroad) in Hanoi, Vietnam, where I am going to school with 14 other students from the US, and one from France. So far only 6 of us are going to stay for the whole year, but that number might change the closer to January we get. We also live with host families for the year, as of right now though I still haven’t met mine yet, because we are having a few days of orientation right now, but tomorrow afternoon we will be meeting them. But before we get to there we have to backtrack a few days to cover what has already happened on the trip. Lets start on august 29th, that is the day that I actually left home, because we thought it would be a lot easier on my whole family to leave a few days before I actually left just to alleviate some of the stress and sadness. So next my sister Emily, my dad, and I took a train up to Klamath Falls, Oregon, where we rented a car and drove up to Crater Lake, and after that went to checkout some of the bike rides I took in 9th grade at Santa Barbara Middle School. That night we stayed in a hotel in Ashland, OR. Where we had my final dinner in the United States for nine months. That night I was worrying about the next day, which was technically my last full day, but the flight was scheduled for 1:20 in the morning so its up to you to decide whether that should count or not. So we drove down from Ashland in the morning, listening to comedy radio on the rental car’s satellite radio, and before I knew it we were already in San Francisco. That night we met with the other students heading over, except for a few who were heading over separately. At the meeting we met with not only the other students but also with the resident director of the Vietnamese program, but also the National director and the president of SYA. After the meeting was over we headed back up to the room and got my bags ready to go, then headed downstairs and met up with the rest of the group, where we boarded shuttle buses and made our way over to SF international airport. During the bus ride I could feel myself getting more and more nervous the closer we got to the international terminal. Finally though we arrived and unloaded our bags and were on our way in. When checking in our bags I knew that my bag was going to be incredibly overweight, so we packed a duffle in just in case I had to unload some of my things from the large bag, which of course I did, I wasn’t even close either, according to the lady at the counter, it was around 40-50 pounds over their limit. Next came the hard part, having to finally say goodbye at the security line, I had already said goodbye to my sister and mom at the train station in Santa Barbara, but now I had to say goodbye to my other sister and dad. So after a sad goodbye, I made my way through the line and eventually onto the plane about an hour and a half later.

         The flight to Hong Kong took about 13 or so hours, but fortunately it was nighttime for a lot of the flight, I slept about 7 hours at the beginning of the flight and after that I watched a whole bunch of Simpsons episodes and a movie. During the flight I tried not to think to much about missing home, and tried to preoccupy myself, and for the most part it worked and I was not too sad. Another interesting tidbit to add is around halfway through the flight, somewhere off the coast of Japan, we hit this crazy patch of turbulence which was what woke my up, the plane was moving all over the place, and it was the worst turbulence I can remember, luckily for me the windows were closed and it was dark out so I couldn’t see the wings moving all over the place. When we arrived in Hong Kong, it was about 5:30 or so in the morning HK time. And after disembarking from our plane, we stood in a sweltering security line that seemed endless, and eventually made out way to some seats to wait for our next plane, which was about an hour and a half to Hanoi. This plane was a lot smaller, and didn’t have any TV’s, but I forgave them because it was a short flight. After a quick jaunt over the gulf of Tonkin we were finally here, after months of planning we had boots on the ground, and even though I miss home, I’m trilled to be here. One of the first things I noticed about Vietnam is the incredible heat, not just heat but humidity too, that makes it feel even hotter. The bus ride into the city was very interesting, there were many different things going on on the streets, I filmed a lot of it and hope to post in fairly soon. But it was really interesting to see all that was going on for the first time, because I have never been to Vietnam before. When we arrived it was about ten in the morning, and we were hungry for lunch, the place we went to served local food that was very good, and had all sorts of variety, like egg rolls, fish soup, pork, and more. After our lunch we headed to our hotel where we would be staying for the next few days. My room is pretty nice, nothing fancy, but it has air conditioning and a nice TV, but I doubt that there are any English channels. For the next few hours we took a well deserved break, and then were off to dinner, it had a very good location on top of a large building with a huge view of a very busy square, with a mixture of motorcycles, bikes, cars and pedestrians, (you can see a movie of that later). After dinner we returned to the hotel and went to bed after an exhausting day of travel. Day 1 complete!