Great news! The blog is no longer blocked! After being blocked for the past month or so in Vietnam I can finally write again. I imagine the block was largely due to the radical ideas expressed in the flowers of Da Lat section but oh well.

My study program ended in the end of May and after a bit of traveling around Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam with my family, I’m now back in Ho Chi Minh City. I’ve been living here for one month and will stay here for one more month before some final traveling and returning to Michigan.

There have been quite a few developments from when I last posted in this blog. My initial plans for the summer were to study intensive Vietnamese with the VASI program, however they did not receive funding this year which left me scrambling to find a new project. After spending the first week of my time in Vietnam  learning to do some video editing (scroll to the bottom if you want to see all of my videos), and other projects, I was offered a position by cô Bình, the director of Vietnamese Language Studies (VLS). I had been studying at VLS for the past 3 months, and was asked to help edit and update some of the content on VLS’s website. The position has been great for me to learn more about website design and marketing. I’m very thankful for the learning experience and in exchange I get to take classes at VLS which is awesome! I was in a class by myself for the first 3 months but find that my classmates are very interesting. Through them I’ve learned important phrases like xếp hàng đi (wait in line, a phrase I can use as people often don’t wait in line), and my new favorite term dễ sợ (to be scared). I can use dễ sợ in positive contexts like chị ấy đẹp dễ sợ ( she is so beautiful it’s scary) or negative situations like chị ấy cuồi bắp dễ sợ (she is so bad it’s scary). I’ve been having a lot of fun experimenting with these phrases.

Besides that VLS also helped me find a part time teaching position for 2 hours a week. I often spend far more time making my lesson plans and it has been another great experience.

Finally, I’ve been doing a couple of exchanges with friends to tutor English in exchange for Vietnamese tutoring. This has also helped me pick up some new Vietnamese phrases.

With all these plans I’ve been quite busy the past month, however still have time for one of my favorite activities of all time…dodgeball! I just found out about a weekly game through one of my classmates. I probably haven’t been this excited about anything since I was in elementary school.

Between all of those activities there have been some other interesting events such as:

  • My first experience wearing Vietnamese swimwear
  • Attending a dance class for Vietnamese
  • More attempts to drive a motorbike around Sai Gon

Pic related to motorbike attempts…

Tom Cruise the Need for Speed

It’s been a fun month. Also as promised here are all of the videos I made of my time studying in Vietnam. These videos were shot from February to the end of May.

Some of my time in HCMC

A trip to the Mekong Delta

A program trip to the Central and Northern region

Spring break trip to Da Lat and Buon Ma Thuot

Beaches and Scenes of Mui Ne

These past two weeks all the Wests, my sister, Dad, Mom, and I, were in Southeast Asia. My parents started in Vietnam, then we all met in Thailand, followed by a trip to Cambodia, and finally ended in Vietnam. Everyone is in or is now heading back to the US except for me who will be here for two more months. I’m sure, and hope, that they will all contribute to this blog a bit on their experiences, but I wanted to share one story which I thought was particularly funny and maybe the rest of my family will add their own insights from this experience in this post as they were quite funny.

 

Searching at night in Thailand

Searching at night in Thailand

 Crossing the Border to Vietnam from Cambodia – Sam

 

We only had a few problems entering Cambodia from Loas which were mainly my fault. Although I received an online visa to enter Cambodia, I forgot to print it off before I left Vietnam and for reasons I don’t know I was unable to download a copy from other computers. However we learned that I could get a new visa at the border which worked out fine besides a slight bit of corruption. We met and Englishman who told me that I would have to pay a bit extra for my visa because I didn’t have a visa photo. I was told to pay an extra $5 by the Cambodian worker which I did thinking it was for the photo. As it turned out I only had to pay $1 extra and the $4 extra was to “speed” up the process even though there was no one in line. The Englishman who was also waiting for a visa waited 5 minutes until they agreed to lower the price to the original value and he got his visa as fast as me.

 

Knowing this I was a little cautious as we approached the Cambodian Vietnam border but didn’t think anything would go wrong. We took about a 6 hour bus ride which included waiting at a ferry for an hour, and a 30 minute lunch. Once we arrived at the border, my Dad was able to go through the Cambodia side no problem however my sister was stopped by someone. I was in a different line and went to see what was wrong.

Waiting to cross the ferry we saw 5 people on a motor bike

Waiting to cross the ferry we saw 5 people on a motor bike

The trip was planned to go to Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. My sister had been the expert in Thailand, having lived there and being able to speak the language, no one could speak Khmer which was a weak spot of our group (however we met a couple who spoke Khmer and helped us out and my Mom’s French came in handy once). I had the Vietnamese portion done and while I’m not great at speaking, I can get by. When I saw that my sister was having problems I thought that it might now be my turn to contribute.

We learned that my sister had a document to enter the country at an international airport only. She couldn’t cross over land and would have to return to Phnom Pen to get another visa or catch a plane to Sai Gon. Learning this we frantically ran to catch my Dad who had entered the bus, got him and our luggage off, then watched our bus drive away. We were now alone.

In all honesty I was a bit frustrated at this point. I had been missing Sai Gon since leaving. Before I ended my study abroad program we watched a video on culture shock and what we might experience returning the the US. I didn’t think I would feel that in Thailand however after seeing a higher ratio ratio of cars to motor bikes I was a bit shocked. As soon as I landed a small part of me wanted to return to Vietnam. I also needed to get some work down and the longer I was out of the city the longer I had to wait.

We went to a casino because it seemed like the most likely place to have wifi after a cafe we tried didn’t. At first they were hesitant to let us in, but after explaining our situation in Vietnamese (I’m quite proud of this) they were a little more sympathetic and helped us out a considerable amount considering we weren’t staying in the hotel and weren’t gambling. We were able to find a flight that was going to leave in at 7:20pm from Phnom Pen. It was 2:00pm at that point and making it there in time was going to be close and seemed unlikely. However we called a taxi and sent my mom and sister off to return to Phnom Pen. After about 40 minutes of the people at the hotel trying to better understand her visa dilemma they returned Anne’s documents and their crazy ride began (it was an interesting ride which I hope either my sister or Mom will expand on).

My Dad and I then went to cross the border. Although we no longer had our bus, we found a taxi driver. They shuttled us to the Vietnamese side of the border by motorbikes then I took my bags and we entered the crossing station. Once we were in line I realized that my Dad didn’t have his backpack. I’ve always been warned at train and bus stations to never give your bag to someone who says they’re going to help. They might just walk away with it. I had told this to my Mom and not my Dad. The motorbike driver had said he would meet my Dad on the other side of the border, and I assumed that this meant the worst and his bag was lost. I told my Dad my concerns which didn’t help alleviate an already stressful situation.

After anxiously waiting to get cleared to cross, I rushed through security to find his bag still on the motorbike. To my relief the guy waited for us and I went back to tell my Dad. We got our bags, hopped on taxi and headed back to Sai Gon with no problems. We checked into our hotel, I got some work done, and everything else worked out fine.

We found the transformer Bumblebee while waiting for my sister and mom in Sai Gon

We found the transformer Bumblebee while waiting for my sister and mom in Sai Gon

At 8pm we had no word from my Mom and sister and I assumed that they had not been able to make their flight. It was a long shot plan to begin with. If they didn’t make that flight then it was unlikely they would be able to come the Vietnam because the tickets they next day were considerably more expensive. If that was the case then my sister would just return to Bangkok where her flight was scheduled to take her back to the US. I was a bit disappointed at this idea. However, as my Dad and I were approaching a restaurant, we received a call that they had just landed. Everything worked out fine and that night we were able to meet for dinner. The rest of the time in Vietnam was fairly relaxing and had not more hitches.

 

This past week I had my Spring break for my study abroad program and I used the opportunity to travel to the Central Highlands in Vietnam. In Michigan if you travel for spring break chances are you’re going to a place that’s warmer. When you’re that far north it’s hard to go farther north and I’ve never known someone from Marquette to go to Canada. However the Central Highlands have a much cooler climate and I readily welcomed the change in temperature. Here are some notes from my journeys.

Earth Hour

Before I officially started my spring break I participated in Earth Hour. Part of my program consists of a service learning class where I’m placed with the environmental organization 350. This year they did a lot to promote Earth Hour with bike parades, energy efficient light bulb exchanges, and other events leading up to the a main night event occurred during Earth Hour. I spent most of the Saturday going to businesses in Downtown Sai Gon asking them to participate in Earth Hour. I was even interviewed and made it onto Sai Gon’s news for the event (I was interviewed once in Vietnamese but was too hard to understand so they interviewed me again in English). After that they held a concert in the dark (it was Earth Hour after all) with the only lights coming from solar powered bulbs. The event was very fun and impressive with it’s size and organization.

Signing Earth Hour Pledge

Signing Earth Hour Pledge

Is it the Rainy Season yet?

No, however that didn’t stop a typhoon from hitting the central region the first night of my break. It was my first tropical storm, and it was quite intimidating. The storm lasted through the night and took out our power as I was packing my bag. However it eased up a bit before I headed to the bus station to go to Buon Ma Thout, and so I made the trip. Once I arrived on the bus I realized that the bus had a small leak next to my window so I got a bit wet but slept incredibly well.

Rain in Vietnam

Rain in Vietnam

Buon Ma Thout

Buon Ma Thout isn’t the most common place for tourists however it’s the hometown of my Vietnamese teacher here, cô Hòa, and also my Vietnamese teacher in the US cô Thúy Anh told me it was famous for it’s coffee. Having developed a small addiction to coffee in Vietnam (it’s very good), that seemed like a great place to go. The city is much quieter than Sai Gon and has many interesting parks, statues, and an ethnicity museum. I enjoyed my two days there quite a bit, and yes the coffee was very delicious.

Butterfly in Buon Ma Thuot

I found that Buon Ma Thuot has many butterflies like this one

More Rain

Cô Hòa connected me with a senior college student studying to be a tour guide, named Anh, who said he would show me around. On the first day I went straight from the night bus to a village called Buon Don with Anh by motor bike. Little did we know, the storm that had gone through the night with a short break, was going to continue as soon as we started making the 1 hour motor bike journey. Because we went straight to the village I still my backpack with all my clothes. Interestingly enough it never rained on us when we walked around but as soon as we got back on the bike it started to rain harder. By the time returned I only had 1 pair of clothes that were still dry. Day 1 of my 6 day trip and I was short on clothes. Luckily the next day was sunny and all of my clothes dried.

Now if that previous paragraphs sounds like I’m complaining then I apologize because I really enjoyed riding through the rain. It was a good amount of fun, but that’s easier to say when you’re not the driver the bike.

Wet Bridge over a Nice River in Buon Don

Wet Bridge over a Nice River in Buon Don

Coffee from Buon Ma Thuot

It’s good, it’s strong, it’s good, it comes in small servings, however I really like it. That’s about all that needs to be said.

Da Lat

Da Lat is a city famous for it’s temperate climate, pine trees, and flowers. It was quite a beautiful city and was a place where I could probably spend another week just walking around. It’s also considered to be a romantic city and I found many recently married couples on their honeymoons.

Center of Da Lat

Center of Da Lat near the market

Michigan Pride and my Michigan Hat

My friend Van was showing me around her school, Da Lat University, which is quite a beautiful campus. Half way through our tour we were approached by a teacher who was curious if I was from Michigan as I was wearing my U-M hat. It turns out she teaches at MSU and was teaching English at Da Lat University for 1 year. We talked for a bit and I eventually was asked to speak in an American Culture class that afternoon. I gave a small spiel about Michigan culture (those can point out Ann Arbor, MSU, and Marquette on their hands now), and talked to some students about college life. It was great to meet a fellow Michigander and I’m proud to have been able to share some aspects of Michigan life.

Top of Lang Biang Mountain

Top of Lang Biang Mountain with my Michigan Hat

Cycling Adventures

My travel book said that you could rent a bicycle in Da Lat. In the US I almost only ride my bike in the summer to get around, and I’ve been missing biking in Vietnam. Da Lat seemed like a perfect opportunity to get some cycling in. There are some mountains to the north of Da Lat and waterfalls and lakes to the south. They’re all about 10-20 km from the city and I figured I could bike to each place in 2 days. The night before my trek I found a place that rented some nice looking tandem bikes but noticed they had no singles (I mentioned Da Lat was a romantic city and not a place for singles), however they said for me they could get me a bike in the morning.

I arrived early ready to start my trek to find my single bike was the old pink bike of one of the girls working at the bike stand. It got me from A to B and although when I sped down some hills I questioned it’s stability, it was fun to ride. When I was in some rural areas if the fact that I was a foreigner didn’t grab peoples attention, the bike did, and I was met with some interesting and fun reactions. It was some of the most fun I’ve had on a bike.

My Hot Ride

The Bike I Toured Da Lat with

My Bike on the Side of the road

Taking a break on the road

Games and Da Lat

I’ve always been a bit competitive by nature and really enjoy playing games. I’ve also realized that it’s a good way to interact with new people in Vietnam and so have taken the time to learn a few. I often see men playing Chinese chess on the side of the street and so the director of my program, Alyce, recently taught me how to play. This came in handy in Da Lat as I was able to play one time after returning from my most grueling bike ride. It was in nice chance to rest, enjoy some iced coffee with condensed milk (cà fê sữa), and get beaten badly in chess (I’m still learning and getting better). I also learned a couple card games which allowed me to kill time on the bus from Buon Ma Thuot to Da Lat and make some good friends. The best was I didn’t need English to play any of the games and was able to practice my Vietnamese and communication.

More Pictures

If you want to see the rest of the pictures I posted you can look at them on my Facebook.

Here are pictures of flowers in Da Lat – http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.3667130157409.168259.1249456203&type=3&l=8e3cff77bc

Here are pictures of other scenes –  http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.3666926552319.168253.1249456203&type=3&l=9b9caf4156

My last comment for now (EDIT)

One of my favorite books when I was younger was the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. A key lesson I learned from the book were two A) don’t panic, and B) always travel with a towel. I’m sad to say that I forgot the second rule this time and really could have used one a few times. I’m still getting over my angry bed bunk mate stealing misplacing my towel while I was in Hanoi. However I followed the first rule of don’t panic and I think things turned out quite well.

My time in Vietnam has been filled with me putting myself into uncomfortable situations in order to practice a few skills I wanted to improve. I’ve had to face a lot of my insecurities such as networking, public speaking, and being wrong, but through the process I think I’ve been able to grow a lot with my time in Vietnam.

1. Networking

Last year I interned with the Development Summer Internship Program (D-SIP) based in the Office of University Development at the University of Michigan (U-M). Although I worked in Development Services and primarily focused on the data side of development, I had a weekly class where I learned about various skills of professional development including networking. I remember at one event Kat and Katy, the program directors, had all the interns go to an event attended by most people working in the development field at U-M in order meet 3 new people. Although it seemed like an easy task, it was a bit nerve-racking introducing myself to new professionals. However, the more I practiced the more I became accustomed to meeting new people.

I knew networking was a skill that I would have to get better at when I came to Vietnam. It’s not just that I need to know more people, but I also need to become more comfortable confidently introducing myself to new people. Because I came to HCMC knowing no one, it’s been very important for me to meet new people and to make new Vietnamese friends to get outside of the “Western bubble.”  Also I’ve needed to learn more about NGO’s in HCMC  so I can be more informed when working with in my service-learning placement with 350. For the later reason I went to my first networking event which was being held for NGO’s working in HCMC. At first I felt a little uncomfortable at the event, but I appreciated the practice I had received in D-SIP and was able to meet some interesting people and and feel more confident while introducing myself. It was a good event for me to practice how I present myself.

350 HCMC Earth Hour

A group of volunteers with 350 went to businesses around downtown Saigon to ask if they would participate in Earth Hour this year.

2. Being Wrong

Many people who know me, might notice that I don’t like to be wrong. This isn’t simply that I don’t like losing arguments, which I don’t, but that I don’t like saying things that are incorrect. However, when learning Vietnamese, I’ve realized that I’m wrong more often than not. I may miss a tone ( a low tone instead of a high tone could make me asking for a large water bottle, to me saying something a bit more vulgar), or struggle to say a type of sound. I may even just not know how to correctly address the person. If I’m talking to girl and I want to say “what is your name” I have to change the “you” part to:  em, chị, cô, or bà depending on their age in relation to me. At the time I may not know their age and don’t want to offend anyone by calling them cô (about 15 years older than me) when they should be chị (a little bit older than me). Although peoples ages are shared more freely here than the US ( there isn’t really the stigma of admitting your age) sometimes someone wants the title of cô because it has shows more respect while others want chị, because it shows they’re younger. It’s complicated and I often am corrected on how I call people and that mistake is something I’m uncomfortable with. In Hanoi I believe this fear led me to rarely practice my Vietnamese often. I constantly read my Vietnamese textbook but was scared to actually communicate in Vietnamese because I would say something wrong and not be understood. By the time I got to HCMC I knew that I wasn’t going to learn quickly at my current rate and have been more outgoing. I’ve accepted the vulnerability that comes with attempting new phrases and understand that I’m going to say something wrong quite often. However I try to laugh off my mistakes with my confused listener. It’s not that I’m any more comfortable with being wrong, but I’ve acknowledged that it’s a necessity for me to grow and become a better Vietnamese speaker.

Menue at Cafe

Ordering from a menu at a cafe while meeting good friends, and making new ones in HCMC. Photo by Quynh Skulls

3. Public Speaking

I’ve never been the best public speaker. I get really nervous, my body becomes tight, I speak fast, and my brain seems to freeze. I had to give a speech for my high school National Honor Society when I was a senior and after the speech I sat down in my seat and my legs were shaking for the rest of the ceremony because I was so nervous. While public speaking isn’t one of my strong skills,  I enjoy my opportunities to speak because I believe it’s good practice and will help me improve. So, when I was asked to speak at an international school for 350 I had some mixed thoughts, but eagerly accepted the opportunity. I was given about a 16 hour warning that I would be giving about a 15 minute speech based mostly off of information from a PowerPoint I had received. They wanted me to speak in English to help the students practicing listening to a native English speaker. Even with the time to prepare, I had to improvise aspects of my speech as I learned new details at the auditorium. I gave my speech made a few laughs, and practiced some techniques my friends taught me (on a side note whenever I hear a Vietnamese speaker they’re really good at getting the crowd motivated) and felt more comfortable than I usually do while speaking. My presentation was far from perfect and at times my nervousness made my voice quake, and I sometimes talked too fast. However, when I sat down and still had adrenaline rushing through my body, I realized my legs weren’t shaking and I consider that progress. Next time I’ll improve and hopefully will be better able to control my voice.

After giving Earth Hour Speech

Talking with Tai, Earth Hour School Outreach Coordinator, after the event.

I came to Vietnam wanting to experience new things and to try and challenge myself. I’ve come to find foods delicious that many of my friends would find disgusting (the previous blog post only mentions half the “unusual” foods I’ve eaten), I’ve been able to join families for Tết and other Vietnamese festivities, I even rode a motorbike/scooter ( in Hanoi before I started studying with CET). However with all of those experiences some of the biggest challenges I’ve faced are things I’ll experience in any country, and I believe if I can develop them here than I can use them anywhere. So here’s to hopping I can continue pushing myself to uncomfortable situations so maybe next time they’re a little easier to deal with.

 

EDIT:

Also, this is a Ted Talk that Anne shared with when she first got to Thailand but it’s always in the back of my mind

Brené Brown: The power of vulnerability

I’ve found that I can eat pretty well and very cheaply in Sai Gon on under $5 a day. For example I can eat a breakfast of chao long (rice porridge with other things you can look up) for $0.50 for breakfast, grab a noodle street dish and tre (not sure exactly what it is but it is kind of a sweet vegetable soup with milk and is really good) for $1.00, a sinh to (smoothie) for $0.50  and a dinner with a drink for $2.00 leaving me $1.00 extra if I want to buy a snack. Depending on what I feel like eating I can pay more or less than that, but I don’t get to try much variety.

However, this past weekend I went to the Mekong Delta with my program which meant they would provide all of the food, and if they’re providing it then I get to eat much more variety. So this blog post is dedicated to the delicious and some new foods I ate in the Mekong.

My

My with our fish.

We couldn't eat the figure but it was a nice decoration placed on the rice.

A mushroom soup which I really liked. Fortunately for me many people on the program don't like mushrooms so I was able to eat extra.

Chicken Lemongrass Hot Pot

A very tasty chicken with lemongrass hot pot.

Cooking Banh Xeo

Our group making banh xeo for dinner.

And now onto the more unusual foods…

…Snake and Rat

 

 

Snake

Picking up our snake from the market.

Cooked Snake
Rat from the market

Getting our rat from the market.

Cooked Rat

Rat with a sweet sauce. It almost reminded me of barbeque ribs and was really good although very salty.

Those were the foods of my weekend. What I didn’t get pictures of were the fruit which were very fresh and delicious. You couldn’t go around without seeing a few jack fruit  or cocoanut trees. I was very fortunate to be able to enjoy many new foods. I’m going to be working on a video of the trip as soon as I have time so hopefully that will be the next update.

The past few weeks I’ve neglected to write anything on this blog. I did make one draft for a post but never finished it and at this point it seemed a  bit outdated so I made a new post.

Picture of HCMC at Night

Picture of HCMC at Night

After three weeks in Ha Noi I’ve finally arrived in Saigon to start my study abroad, which is the reason I’m in Vietnam to begin with. I learned a lot with my time in Ha Noi. I learned how to eat Vietnamese food, I learned that if I want to get better at speaking Vietnamese I need to really get out of my comfort zone (resulting in me making some very good friends), and I’ve learned that I have a lot of freedom here but I need to take initiative if I want to get stuff done. With that said it’s been nice to be back in classes and have some structure to my day. I’m learning a lot of new things and enjoying my time in Sai Gon.

My first week here I spent a lot of time meeting some friends that in made in Ha Noi who  live in Sai Gon. It’s been nice to see them again, and they have been very kind in showing me around the city. I’ve been able to taste some very good foods that I wouldn’t have found without them and enjoyed my time drinking Sài Gòn cafe sữa đá (coffee with condensed milk and ice) which is so good there’s a song song about it which I watched live (more about that later).

I’m taking three classes in Sai Gon. The first is a language class which I have 9 hours a week. Because I was the only student in an intermediate level, I’m the only one in my class. Besides the fact that I get a lot of individual attention, it also forces me to try hard because if I don’t know the answer to a question I have no one to hide behind. I study with Cô Hòa and she is a very good teacher. To compliment my studies I try to get out as much as possible and strike up conversations with people I meet and who are willing to talk for a bit.

Cao Dai Temple

Cao Dai Temple

I’ve also started taking a service learning class. I’ve been placed with an environmental organization called 350. They were started in the US and have the goal of reducing carbon emissions so that levels reach 350 parts per million. I’m still learning about them but there main work seems to be creating awareness about individuals environmental impact then offering some alternatives to save energy.  They had a kick off event to start organizing volunteers and to raise awareness about Earth Hour in Vietnam (meaning if you’re reading this blog you  turn your lights off for an hour at 8:30pm March 31st), and it was cool to see how much excitement people had at the event. There were many Vietnamese celebrities there which is how I saw the previously mentioned song.

My final class is an introduction to Vietnamese studies class. The class is primarily reading and discussion based with field trips to various sites that have significance to our current topic. Because last week was focused on the American/Vietnam War we traveled to the Cu Chi tunnels. The entire complex is huge and we only saw a small part of it. Here’s a picture of us in the tunnels. Although it looks fairly small this tunnel has actually been enlarged to allow for westerners to fit in.

Cu Chi Tunnels

Cu Chi Tunnels

So that’s been some of my experience here so far. It’s been filled with frustrations of not only learning a new language but learning a new dialect (I studied the northern dialect at U-M but am now living in the south and studying the southern dialect. I appreciate this because I can communicate well with people from many regions), and joy in getting better each day. I’m looking forward to the rest of my time here and hope it can be as rewarding as the last few weeks have been.

I arrived in Saigon 2 days ago and have been in an orientation. I’ll start classes this week, but before that I wanted to share a video I made of my time in northern Vietnam and Hanoi. I would also like to thank all the old and new friends who spent time with me and welcomed me into their homes making a wonderful experience. Here’s the video of my pictures. Enjoy!

 

Tết  a week long celebration known as the Lunar New Year in Vietnam and was last week. It was one of the main reasons I decided to come early to Vietnam. Last year I studied it in my Vietnamese class and learned about some of the different customs, foods, and stories of Tết. I wanted to experience some of what I had studies first hand and am very glad I was able to take part in the festivities.

My Lonely Planet travelers book describes Tết as “Christmas, New Year, and birthdays all rolled into one” (everyone becomes one year

Li Xi

Li Xi (Lucky Money)

older on Tết so in Vietnam I’m actually 21).  This sounds pretty exciting and one might expect either a huge party or a giant cake (I wouldn’t mind the cake). However much of the week is time spent with family, friends, and teachers and I was warned that things are pretty quiet. Fortunately I was able to spend time with friends and it was a very enjoyable event.

The first signs of Tết  started on my flight from Chicago to Seoul. When I was checking my baggage I realized that almost everyone waiting in line with my was Vietnamese or Vietnamese Americans. When I traveled to Vietnam last time I took the same route of Chicago to Seoul to Hanoi. On that trip I sat with  many Koreans and expected a similar experience. However this time I sat with and was surrounded by Vietnamese. Everyone was heading heading back to Vietnam to spend time with family during the holiday.

A few days later I had my first Tết experience when I had lunch the day before Tết  with the family of a friend of mine who I met through my friend Cynthia (a Michigan alumnus). It was my first time eating a meal with a Vietnamese family so it made this a new experience. For this reason I was a bit nervous about my behavior but was thankful to have been invited. Throughout the meal I did some communication but my Vietnamese wasn’t great. However one phrase I became accustomed to was “ăn đi,” eat. There’s a saying to celebrate Tết  which is ăn Tết. This literally means eat Tết  and shows the importance of food. So with all the dishes present (there were many) they said “Sam ăn đi,” and so I ate until I was “rất nó” (very full), and yet was given more to eat. When I first arrived in Vietnam and met some of my friends from GIEU noted that I looked skinnier (to my credit I had been running over break), but being a little chubbier is more attractive in Vietnam. Well if the goal was to make me less skinny that meal didn’t hurt. It was quite a good meal and I was so full I didn’t eat again that day.

That night they held fireworks around Hoan Kiem Lake to welcome in the new year. I’m not sure how many people were there but it was considerably more than the Marquette ball drop ( still my favorite New Year tradition).  It was quite a big event but I was assured things would get quieter in the morning.

I woke up early  on the first day of Tết  and for the first time since arriving could not hear the honking from motor bikes and cars

Burning Paper Money during Tet

We burend fake paper money at the But Thap Pagoda

outside my room. For a while I thought even the rooster ( there’s a rooster outside my room) had given up on its morning rituals of squawking cock a doodle doo but it did speak a little bit as I was leaving. My agenda for the day was to meet my friend Chi and have lunch with her family. I walked outside for a bit and noticed that the streets were definitely much quieter. Almost every store was closed and there were only a few scooters on the streets instead of the many usually whizzing by. My friend Chi picked me up and I went to her house, and then left with her family to go to her uncles house for lunch. Before lunch I was able to walk around their neighborhood and things really were empty. It was a nice change compared to the usual noise and hustling of Hanoi. The food was once again very nice and I felt grateful to have been invited to join her family for the meal. I was also able to use a little Vietnamese with her family as I continued practicing. To my credit I even spoke a bit more Vietnamese than her cousin which was quite impressive considering I’ve only studied Vietnamese 8 months and he has studied over a year ( he’s also only a bit over a year old but that’s just a slight detail).

The second day of Tết  things definitely started to become a little busier. There were more people in the streets when I woke up. I spend Praying at the Tran Quoc Pagodathis day again with Chi’s family but this time the meal was at Chi’s house. It was very similar to the day before and once again a nice meal. Afterwards we walked around more.

I traveled the most on the third day of Tết. I joined Chi’s family to the But Thap Pagoda where we went to pray. The journey was about an hour outside of Hanoi but the country side was beautiful. When we arrived at the Pagoda we went to various statues, left incense and said a pray bowing three times. Finally we burned fake money which is meant to go to the ancestors of the family. I’ve traveled to many pagodas in my time in Vietnam but I think that this was my favorite.

After the third day things really s tarted getting back to normal. Stores began opening up, and many people started going back to work. The Tết festivities continued going on as some of my friends still got li xi (lucky money), and even yesterday I had a Tết lunch and was able to visit a festival with a friend. It was a very good experience of time spent with friends and their families and I’m very appreciative of everyone who welcomed me into their houses to enjoy the holiday with them.

 

 

I attended a festival in the countryside with my friend Huyen

I attended a festival in the countryside with my friend Huyen

 

*Note I wrote this post bits at a time over the past week so some of the time references may be a bit off. The first three days I talked about were January 23-25.

 

Today I went to Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi. I sat down for a few minutes to look over my Vietnamese book and learn a few phrases. About 5 minutes after sitting down I was approached by a girl named Huyen who asked me if she could practice speaking English with me. She is currently a student at the Hanoi University for Pharmacy.  I agreed on the condition that she would help me with a bit of Vietnamese which she readily agreed. While talking I told her that I was from Michigan and to my surprise she knew where it was. She has a friend who studies at Central Michigan University (CMU). We continued talking for a bit and she mentioned her friend at CMU a few more times. At this point I began to realize that I knew someone at CMU who shared many of these characteristics and surprisingly enough it was the same person Coi. I met Coi in December. She’s a good friend with one of my housemates this past semester. I couldn’t believe that I was in a conversation in the middle of Hanoi with a person I just met and we had a mutual friend.  It’s an example of how small of a world it really is.

Hoan Kiem Lake

Today my friend Chi and I decided to go see the movie Thiên Mệnh Anh Hùng which is a fictional movie about a historical tragic story in Vietnam. We tried to go to the theater Saturday night but once we arrived we learned that they were sold out. Apparently at this theater people will buy all of the tickets then resell them at a higher price to people who arrive later. Because of this the the theater had no more tickets out and not wanting to pay the higher price we walked back. We still wanted to go to the movie and so made a plan where I would walk there the next day (today) and buy a ticket early to make sure we got one. I left my hostel at 10am and started the 7km walk to the theater. I arrived to see the times from 12pm to 6pm for the movie in red with the word “hết vé.” I knew the word hết meant “no longer” and I correctly guessed that vé meant ticket. Having arrived 5 hours early I was still to late to buy a ticket. So I left and made the long back but now I knew a new word which I’m not likely to forget and can add to my Vietnamese vocabulary :).

 

 

Another lesson learned is I should really just learn how to use the public buses to shorten my walks but that’s for another day.

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