Xian Ciao from Hanoi! We left the Mekong Delta today at sunrise, drove to Can Tho, and then flew to Hanoi. We landed at lunchtime and have been exhilarated with the sights, sounds and smells of the north ever since.
Our hotel is located in the heart of the Old French Quarter adjacent to Hoan Kiem Lake. It is a dynamic, cultural hub where ancient Chinese pagodas nestle up against 19th century French architecture. People are squating along the sidewalks with their make-shift brick stoves, cooking meals for families and passersby, while scores of scooter-drivers zipping by make stepping out into the narrow streets a sizeable accomplishment.
It’s an unbelievable scene. And the kids are loving it.
Tomorrow, we are going to Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum where the Revolutionary’s body is on display in the style of Lenin. Thereafter we will visit other key sites, including the Hanoi “Hilton” — a POW prison where John McCain was held during the War. On Friday, we go to the Peace Works Travel Village, which will be the highlight of our visit here in Hanoi.
It’s hard to believe we arrived only yesterday. After landing in Ho Chi Minh City, we went straight to a T-shirt manufacturing factory and observed how people work in the garment industry. Thereafter, we enjoyed a delicious traditional lunch of spring rolls, vegetables, garlic-pepper fish and fresh fruit. Upon checking into our hotel, a refreshing shower energized us for our city tour of historical highlights. Students visited the Reunification Palace, where they learned about the war for independence, French defeat at the battle of Dien Bien Phu, America’s entry into the war, how we misunderstood our “enemy” and why winning “Hearts and Minds” with bombs and bullets is always a losing endeavor.
Today, the group slept in and was ready for a fresh round of sightseeing. After an expansive breakfast, we went to the War Remnant’s Museum where the Vietnamese tell their side of the story in pictures, displays, and military relics. It was an intense two hours, and many students admitted to knowing “nothing” about the War before taking this trip. (They can now speak with more confidence and knowledge about the conflict than most teens in America). Following our lunch at Pho 2000, students shopped at the famous Ben Tanh market for unprecedented bargain-hunting. Our afternoon was nothing short of life-changing. We visited the Little Rose Shelter, a home for girls (ages 8-18) rescued from abuse and the human trafficking sex trade. We sat in stunned silence as we listened to the story of the facility from the director; it was founded in 1997, and operates first to provide medical and psychological care to the girls, and therafter skills-training in various vocations (manicures, garment industry, secretarial and salon work). Then we introduced ourselves and started an ice-breaker game of “musical chairs” to the “cha-cha-cha” music we brought to share. Before long, the girls were teaching us their traditional dances, Vietnamese phrases and games. We spent nearly 3 hours at the shelter and everyone found it hard to say good bye. When we returned to the hotel we spent an hour in debriefing, discussion and journal writing about the day’s many lessons. Overall theme: the resiliency of the the human spirit.
Another great day yesterday. We saw the body of Ho Chi Minh and learned more about his philosophy that he wants the government to be close to the ordinary people, how he lived in such simple quarters to make that point, and how the country evolved from independence from the French. Our girls ask such great questions that integrate their thinking on politics and link the various stories of Vietnam together. We visited other governmental sites before lunch and then sat around an inside fire with Anh Khanh a performance and installation artist who talked about how government and artists relate and how he pushes his art to the line and avoids getting in too much trouble for making art that the police do not understand. After tea and looking around his gallery at his paintings and sculptures, and listening to the rain and wind develop, we went back to the Peace Works Travel Village, which is a center dedicated to those affected by agent orange (the kids who live there for long-term and the veterans who cycle in every two months). We were late, so while we waited for the next structure, girls tried to warm up by playing some soccer or huddling together for minute mysteries. A significant part of the day was gathering in the accommodations of the Vietnamese war veterans (it grew dark until the electricity returned), where they shared with us their roles in the war (blowing up bunkers, communication, etc.), their ideas about moving on from the past into a bright future for the younger generation, and how it is to connect with each other and those with whom they fought in the war. Another scrumptious dinner o’ plenty brought us home.
Now, some girls went to the neighborhood breakfast place, or packed, or sauntered around with Les Baird to check out the goods in the local shops.
We’ll check out in about an hour and be on our way for a little pampering (head massage/hair wash, nails and foot massage) before our last trip to the market. After dinner, we’ll arrive at the airport.
This will likely be my last entry.
Our days in Hanoi have been wonderful. The weather is cooler and cloudier than in the south (typical weather). We have toured the city, spent time listening to our guide talk about the culture and history, visited religious and political sights, eaten yummy dim sum and spring rolls of all kinds. Last night they let off steam in a private room with a karaoke machine. Girls sang in the back of the bus on the way to the Peace Works Travel Village where very formally we met the director, took a tour of the facility and then played soccer with the kids. Those who live and work there are all very very friendly. Today we look forward to “Uncle Ho’s” mausoleum where his body has been preserved to be viewed, a pagoda and other sites of the city, and then more play time with the villagers after talking with Vietnam war veterans who get care and relaxation for two months before going home and another group comes in. Tomorrow we pack and the day is reserved mainly for eating and shopping before we leave. Several may get their hair washed and nails done in the Vietnamese style.
The Mekong Delta has been a real adventure. We did so much while we were there, from listening to typical music, to biking around an island, rode in sampans with little cone hats, hiked, and helped cook food in the kitchen. We loved our hosts, our beds with mosquito netting above and the basic bathrooms. Most of all, we loved the joyful spirits everyone shared together, along with our cooking instructors and our guide Hau. It was fantastic being on the water and stopping to see how coconut candy, puffed rice, sesame bars are made, how salt is gleaned from the ocean, how honey is collected and how fish sauce and snake wine is prepared. We saw so many people who lived and worked on their boats and along the water.
Now we are at our posh hotel, after walking through the night market and having a plentiful French-Vietnamese dinner. Ice cream at Fanny’s was great as well as the Water Puppet Theater. Our new guide is Long. We look forward to some of the historical sites tomorrow along with our introduction to the Peace Works Travel Village.
We just spoke with the guide in the Mekong Delta traveling with the Emma Willard school group. All are safe and unaffected by the earthquake and tsunami originating in Japan. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), Vietnam’s coastal areas, including the Mekong Delta appears to remain unaffected by the earthquake/ tsunami originating off Japan’s coast. The Emma Willard group will arrive in Hanoi this weekend. They will post another blog update of their traveling adventures once they access internet access in the city.
Vietnam is still beautiful, intriguing and fascinating! After a late night and a few troubles, we woke to ANOTHER amazing breakfast (did I tell you there’s someone to make eggs for you too?) and took off for China town. They toured a Temple and learned about making wishes for the dead and alive, then we went to the unification palace where we really learned about the history of the place through several presidents. My what amazing photos, rooms, basement, etc.! Our guide really knows his stuff! We had lunch in a buffet and tried the common hotpot soup along with tons of other delicious foods. The afternoon once again was spent with our friends at the Little Rose Shelter. Sara Berry presented them with money that they said they would use toward ingredients for their food. They are only allowed one outfit a year and often don’t have flavoring for their foods. We learned about the history of the center and their needs and schedule, and took a tour. Then girls taught them dances like the cotton-eyed joe and a line dance and such before they engaged us in a game of monkey in the middle. A heart felt goodbye sent us back home. We await the bus soon that will take us to a restaurant on the river. ON the river, where we will float. We’ll get in later than usual tonight ( I hope they are packed) and we’ll depart much earlier than usual. A wake up call is in order at 5AM.
After another lovely breakfast, we toured around town in our fancy bus and ended up at the War Remnants Museum (formerly the American Atrocities Museum). The girls had a chance to hear from our tour guide about the American War (our Vietnam war) from the side of a Vietnamese person. His father fought for South Vietnam, and he was a soldier for the unified Vietnam in Cambodia against Pol Pot. Father and son reunited in philosophy after the son regained the family home after it was confiscated after the American war. The museum was full of photographs and items from the wars, as well as a model of a tiger cage where they kept prisoners of war. Captured US tanks, helicopter, and various field artillery pieces were on display.
The girls really wanted to plan their play with the girls at the Little Rose Shelter, so they bought lots of beads and string and a soccer ball at the market after lunch, and so we ended up playing games (musical chairs, duck duck goose, hand/floor slapping and other games), learning more about each other and communicating in other ways as we made beaded bracelets for each other. It was the favorite part of the day for many. One said that she thought it was astounding how close she feels to these girls without the commonality of language. Of course Ngoc helped a lot too, but encouraged us to make our own connection without her being the go-between.
After returning to the hotel, we had an hour to get ready for dinner. We all took a side trip to the dress shop down the street. Dinner was fun with typical food. Another 4-5 course meal with seafood, pho noodles, fruit and more. We had plenty! Now the girls are tired and ready to settle down.
Tomorrow, the reunification palace and return for our last day with the Little Rose Girls.
We made it last night around 2AM to our hotel after a long visa processing adventure. Sara Rahimi passed the immigration officer at the last minute of her birthday 12AM, with about 15 seconds to spare!
Girls were a little excited last night but finally fell asleep. We got up and had a delicious breakfast: dumplings, yogurt, sausage, pancakes, fried noodles, dragonfruit, watermelon, and much much more.
Les Baird made signs for each of their water spigots to help them keep from using the tap water to brush teeth and all were on the road for a little tour of Saigon. We saw the French architecture of the post office and city hall, a beautiful statue of “Uncle Ho” (Chi Minh), the old US consulate building and the hotel where war journalists stayed. We drank coconut water from the seed itself, ate pho where Bill Clinton ate pho (noodle soup) called Pho 2000. We stopped to see a rehearsal of a fashion show, complete with dancers. The biggest surprise was sticking our heads into the entrance way of Ngoc’s middle school!
Everyone seemed to enjoy the market. Some were proud of their bargaining skills, others showed off their new clothing and other stuff. We enjoyed watching girls try on wigs and shoes, and eat their lunches from round metal containers.
Speaking of Ngoc, she saved the day by initiating our connection with the girls at the Little Rose Shelter by translating all we needed to know. The afternoon was improvised and all the girls rose to the occasion by offering up and playing various games. We learned to count to 10, how to say each others’ names, and the words for I, you, left and right. It was a spirited afternoon with lots of smiles. We gave them lots of VHS movies for kids, but alas they didn’t have a machine, but promised to give them to someone who could appreciate them.
After a short break (swimming in the pool, nap and organizing), we went out for dinner at the Chateau. Dinner had little animals made of fruit that escorted in our courses: coconut soup, fish (whole fish), morning glory, meat dish with pork and fruit for dessert.
As we returned all voted to sleep until tomorrow morning.
Tomorrow the highlights are visiting the war remnants museum and return to the Little Rose Shelter. We hope to get to know those girls even more now that the ice is broken.
Cam on and bye bye.
Bill Morse, Director Cambodian Landmine Museum, Siem Reap
Briggs Boss, Sophomore, Thacher School
Stacy Serrette, Teacher and Dean of Student Life, Emma Willard School
Paul Rusesabagina, Real-life Hotel Rwanda hero who saved over 1200 people during the Rwandan genocide.
Shirley Hahn, Beverly Hills, California
The Santa Barbara Independent
Alex Greer, Junior, Laguna Blanca School
Kelly Bennett, history teacher, Santa Barbara Middle School
Alexandra Kall, Francis Parker School
Spencer Barr, English Teacher, Santa Barbara High School, California
Stacy Serrette, Director of Student Life, Emma Willard School
Eric Taylor, Francis Parker School, San Diego, California