Friday, January 6, 2012

Andrew and the Communists - Baby, I'm Back!!

Our last gathering of the 1st semester (I'm sad to have to say goodbye to half my classmates)

          Well, the lockout appears to be over! After more than a few tense weeks over here at Andrew Abroad’s Ha Noi bureau office, we are happy to report that the negotiations between the writers and the owner have been resolved. The communist Vietnamese government has once again approved my access to the world at large (or at least temporarily failed to deny my access!).

Uncle Aaron and May arrive for a visit from Qatar
           So, there's a lot to catch up on....  At the beginning of the month of December, I went south with my SYA classmates to visit Saigon and the Mekong delta; then, immediately upon our return, we went into finals mode - so that next week was packed with studying and tests. The following week (this week), my family came to town and we had to say goodbye to the semester students. This semester has gone by so fast, it still seems like I only left a week or two ago! Also in town for the week was my godfather, Aaron, and his girlfriend May. He was visiting from his current home in Qatar and I haven’t seen him in three years, so it was great that he was here.  Of course, I will go into all of this in greater detail in the next few posts, as this was but a preview of things to look forward to. Since the Saigon posts are longer and still being reclaimed from the blogosphere void (or I may have to rewrite them...), I will cover this current week now, so you will have something good to read while you wait.

My three dads - godfather, host, real
            Monday was the last day of classes for us this semester. It should have been a joyous occasion, but we were taking finals that day, so as you can imagine that can be quite the mood killer. But after they were over, it felt like a massive load had been taken off my shoulders, and it was finally winter break. After finishing on Monday, it was a mixture of excitement and sadness. I was excited because my family was arriving in Ha Noi the next day! But I was also sad because later that week I would have to return to the airport to say goodbye to many of the great friends I had made over the course of the semester. On Tuesday, we had our final class trip to a village near Hanoi that specializes in silk. While there, many of us finished our holiday shopping. After, it was almost time to see my dad and sister, who were in the air on their final flight to Hanoi. I went to the Hoan Kiem district with some friends and got some lunch. At around 2 or so, I drove to my dad's hotel, and reunited after nearly 4 months. The last time that I saw him was at the airport in San Francisco, of course I had seen my family many times on Skype though. It was great to finally be with at least some of my family (my mom and other sister were going to arrive that night). After a few hours of catching up, I took my dad and sister to my host parents house in Ha Noi, and even though we have traveled to many busy cities and other crazy places in the world, the traffic here still surprised them. But then again, seeing a motorcycle run a red light at speed across 6 perpendicular lanes of busy traffic would hopefully surprise anyone (a common occurrence here - made even more exciting when truck or bus goes with them) . The dinner that night was much more casual than the formal dinner we had planned at my house for Wednesday night, when my two families would officially meet for the first time, because, as I said, only two of my family were there on Tuesday. For the main course, we had Phô, the go-to dish for all occasions in Vietnam. My host mom cooked it and my dad and sister said it was absolutely delicious. After some great conversation around the table for an hour or so after dinner, and some video sharing (my dad brought my host parents some DVDs of me when I was a cute little kid), I walked my dad and sister out and got a cab for them and they drove back to their hotel in Hoan Kiem. About an hour later, I got my own cab and drove up to the airport to meet my mom and other sister Emily. Their flight arrived at about 10:30, so as you can imagine there was hardly any traffic on the way up to the airport. As we were driving along, we were able to go pretty fast through the empty roads north of Ha Noi. At one point, I realized that this was the fastest that I had moved in a car in over 4 months, then I looked at the speedometer and realized that we were only going 80 K/h (50 m/h). I felt like I was going so much faster, but then again the mind starts to play tricks on you when you’ve been in Vietnam as long as I have…

My family was hosted to a wonderful dinner by my Vietnamese family
            After a bit of a wait in the arrivals hall at the Ha Noi airport, the Japan Airlines flight finally arrived. I saw my mom and sister waiting for their bags at the baggage claim, but they couldn’t see me through the doorway. Then, they walked through the door and out into the massive sea of people waiting for other passengers. I tried to get their attention but they couldn’t see me still. Then, while they were turned around talking to the hotel driver, I snuck up on them and surprised them! They were really happy to see me (I hope!). A car from the hotel then took us into the city. Now this next part that I’m about to tell you might get me in trouble with officials, so don’t be surprised if my blog access is blocked again. When we were entering central Ha Noi, we drove by 4 stopped motorcycles on the side of the road, as we passed them, I saw that there were eight policemen with them, and that they all had machine guns out and ready. Then, after we passed them, the motorcycles started up and flew by us, two police on each bike. They passed us and then at the next intersection swerved in four different directions, stopped abruptly, and cut off a motorbike rider. They jumped off their bikes and grabbed the rider throwing him to the ground and pointing the guns in his face. At this point a building blocked my view and I couldn’t see what happened next, but whatever happened, it probably didn’t end well for the rider.

My host Dad and Mom and SYA Vietnam Director Thay Vuong
            The next day, I woke up early and headed over to my family's hotel. I was able to spend the morning with them, but at noon I had to head over to school for a wrap-up and reception for visiting families. After breakfast we went to the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, but to our disappointment, he wasn’t there. Then, while my parents went to lunch, I headed over to the school with my sister Emily. After the wrap-up, my parents arrived at the school. They got to look around and meet some of the students. Also, Emily is applying to Thacher and Cate schools, so she was able to talk to Nan, a student on the trip, who goes to Thacher. After the reception we all went to the hotel and then, my mom and I set out to find my godfather Uncle Aaron. We knew what hotel he and his girlfriend were staying at but we didn’t have a phone number for him and he didn’t have a computer. To add to this confusion, the hotel didn’t have a phone number either. Luckily, he was there when we showed up, he and his girlfriend May had just returned from Ha Long bay half an hour before. They are currently teachers in Doha, Qatar. But at the end of the school year they are moving to Yokohama, Japan. I haven’t seen him since winter break in 8th grade, three years ago.  I invited them to my host family’s house that night for dinner. So we then met up with my dad and two sisters and got a cab to drive us to my house, about 15 minutes away with minimal traffic, but with traffic it can take up to an hour. There was light traffic so the drive wasn’t long. At the dinner we had the 5 of us, plus Aaron and his girlfriend, and also joining us was the director of my school, Thay Vuong. And of course my 3 host family members, my mom, dad, and sixteen-year-old sister, Linh. Dinner was outstanding, and took a lot of preparation! Both my Aunt and our household maid were busy in the kitchen helping my mom cook the incredible meal, and everything turned out great. We had all sorts of different Vietnamese dishes: different meats, shrimp, bamboo, assorted greens from our rooftop garden, soups and much more. Just as dinner was being served, the doorbell rang, and it was the house band! This was a total surprise. My host dad had contacted some of the best musicians in Vietnam for playing a traditional instrument (a 2 stringed bango-guitar thing) to play and sing traditional songs for us that night. And it just so happened that they were our next door neighbors, coincidence? I think not.

I'll miss you guys  :(


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