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.  

1 comment:

  1. Hey Andrew! Love this story -- the ride in the cab so frustrating and trying to make him understand! Grrr. You're brave just setting out on some of these mundane tasks!
    Loved the crossing of the street! Are their streets really that big? Holy Cow!
    xx mm