Last days in Vietnam

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The 17th of November was a Saturday and we had decided to go and visit the temple of My Son. This temple was built around 700. It was then forgotten and found by chance around 1880 where it was refurbished. It was wonderful. Unfortunately in 1960 US bombed destroyed the most of it … There were very very much tourists at that place. It was interesting  to think that this place which was highly spiritual is now highly touristy … looks like the balance described by the ancient Chinese never fails over the time. It rained full day. We were very lucky with the weather as till that day it rained maximum half a day. Almost every year Hoi An will be several times under water. In a restaurant we were shown that water can be around 2 meters high. However this year it did not happen a single time …

Sunday the 18th we left Hoi An. We will remember this magical place. Looking like a poem. However we will as well remember the hard life of women there. They are doing any kind of jobs: even building houses. I had never seen this in my life. Maybe equality of sex is as well due to the difficult past where women were extremely involved in the war against the US. However, despite we liked this country we felt better in Thailand because people are smiling so much, welcoming so much and feel really happy just exchanging a few words despite communicating with them is much harder as they mostly do not speak english at all.

As we arrived in Hanoi we had a pleasant feeling: Hoi An was so calm and peaceful that we were really enjoying being again in a chaotic place where everything goes faster. We arrived in the afternoon in our hotel and looked immediately for salsa in the evening. Nino found a place not far from the hotel. After having dinner in an Indian restaurant we went dancing. However, the level was far below the first salsa party we went to. We left around 10:00PM and spent some time in a night market. After this we went back to out hotel and ate our last 2 Vietnamese Mango 🙂

Next day we had to get up early to take our breakfast. After this we went in a shopping centre located on a main place of Ha Noi. It was full of french known brands. However very surprising how empty it was. No one inside, most of the shops were closed and some even already emptied. We were surprised as many small shops are selling quite expensive brands in Hanoi but looks like this shopping centre arrived too early … we continued walking around and in the evening we went eating in a nice Vietnamese place … that was our last evening in Ha Noi. Later we went for a walk by the lake. We saw many people dancing on different music. It was a private party. As we were looking at them one of them came to us with 2 beverages that he offered us and invited us to take part to the party … it was nice. We danced a few Batchata and Tcha tcha … after this we went back to our hotel … next day we had to get up at 6:00AM …


Last days at the orphanage

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The 15th of november I tried to help some of the children I did not help so far. One of them is handicapped and can only with many difficulties write a number. His full body goes in tensed movement only to write a single 1. It is for him very hard to breath and often he needs a lot of energy simply to continue breathing. He can almost not move from one place to another, for that he needs a mechanical help. However his smile is incredibly full of joy. As I decided to spend some time with him he was incredibly happy. I had noticed despite his handicap he could calculate much better than most of the other children. He just needs much time to write. We did some exercises. He could succeed in many but still struggle in some. I could not fully understand his problem so far but maybe tomorrow or next time I get a chance to get closer to him I will understand his problem.
After this I joined the not disabled children and saw one doing some mathematical exercises. He was somehow not really able to resolve the exercise and simply copying a resolved one. As I saw this I asked him to do this without the resolution so that I could understand his weakness. I was surprised, compared to the difficulty of the exercise he had maybe 10% of the necessary knowledge. In such cases I consider the chance of success very low but if I bring only 5 more % it could help hence I try. And by chance I did not give up as he could understand very quickly. From 10% he raised quickly around 90% using many specific exercises. I am wondering how this could be. I assume he had somehow already learned at school but again I fear this comes from a lack of self confidence that can be compensated with patience.

Next day provided as well new surprises. As I arrived, I started with the disabled children being able to write and count. I checked some english and mathematical levels. After a while I saw one of the kinder wanted to make a puzzle. Another child being blind wanted to take part to making the puzzle. I was surprised. As the children being blind was not welcome to take part to the puzzle, I found a very simple puzzle and took the blind child in the arm so that we try it together. I would never have thought myself of doing such a thing with such a disabled child. Obviously he could not do much. I helped him positioning the pieces but he had a lot of fun with this. I tried to make him observe the edge of the pieces so that he can feel there are similarities he could use to try positioning the pieces. However, he was certainly too young to understand this and just wanted the fun when moving his hands over the puzzle that everything was done.
Later as I went to the normal children, I saw one child copying one exercises from another child, I let him copying to the end and then I asked him to do some exercises linked with what he copied because I had the feeling he did not understood what he wrote … he explained me he copied for another child. Thus I requested him to call the other child and when he arrived I gave him the exercises I had prepared for the first child. He had some problems at the beginning but as many of these children he understood quickly and then was able to answer correctly.
Before I left, one of the less handicapped children proposed me to play chess. As he was still young I thought that should be easy for me … after 6 moves he won. We played a second time, I could survive around 12 moves … but he succeeded again easily … I like such kind of surprises however at the same time one thinks if the child would not have been disabled a success full life would be waiting for him.
This was already my last day at the orphanage. As I was leaving, one of the children called me, running to me and surrounding his arms around me. He then ran back … This was a good summary of my stay here. Whereas in Thailand people show easily their feeling, one feels in Vietnam people are protecting themselves. They would not open that much despite they may want to but the hard life they had because of french colonization and US war certainly changed them into such attitude. I wonder how it was before french came.

Starting volunteering at the orphanage of Hoi An

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Next day, monday the 12th of November was my first day in the orphanage. As I arrived, I was proposed to help to the most handicapped children. They are 5 children and they cannot really stand or speak but their look is incredibly full of joy. I had a chance to learn the rules of domino. I had never played this game. A physiotherapist was there taking care of one of the children. He seemed to be very motivated by his work and I had immediately the feeling he liked the children very much. After playing 3 times with one child, I went to the second room.
In the room around 12 children were sitting having a desk to write or paint. They are all handicapped too but they can sit and walk. I started to look around and saw one was doing some mathematics. He could hardly write but was very good in making multiplication and division. I checked with him many of his homework. Another one was trying to read english. Same as in Thailand, I noticed there was a big lack when counting. I tried to teach them but after a few trials I noticed they got bored.  There was as well a girl, around 12 years old, she could count until 5. I tried to teach her counting further. Talking to her she had an incredibly deep look, she was showing how good it was for her someone taking time to teach her something. In the room, a lady was taking care of the children. I found her really good and very motivated. Children seem to love her a lot. I stayed there until 10:00AM and then I had to leave coming back at 2:00PM. I joined Nino and went for a coffee in our village which would fit in any poetry’s film. After lunch I went back to the orphanage.
As I arrived, a boy was doing some calculation. I noticed he could do easy sum very good but as soon as a sum result was over 10 he could not find the result. I then gave him many exercises focused on his difficulty. It is always interesting with children, one cannot speak with them but we can communicate very good around mathematical problematics. At the end he understood. Looked like none so far had had enough time or competencies to explain him how to do. As I wanted to teach further to the girl, the lady explained me she could not understand. She was not able to read or really speak as she was mentally disabled. I had not noticed anything. Later the lady showed some games with balls that the children enjoyed a lot. The lady and myself took part to the games which made children even more happy. It was already 4:00PM and I had to go. Nino had planned another cooking class. Hence in the evening we would eat what she would have prepared … and it was excellent … After the restaurant, as we arrived at out hotel, I had an email saying another interview was proposed for the job I was already interviewed on friday. Next interview was planned for next day 5:00PM (french time … 11:00PM in Vietnam). Hence I decided I would go only in the morning to the orphanage so that I can get some rest before the interview.

On the 13th, I informed I would come only in the morning and started immediately with the children of previous day. As many wanted to draw, I went to next room where children not disabled, this time were doing their homework. At the beginning they felt confused, a guy much bigger than local Vietnam sized people, having completely different hairs and not speaking local language arrives and tries to speak with them. The beginning is always funny. Again I started with english. One of the children was motivated. He read some english and I read some too. I noticed again he could not read numbers and as he was not disabled I gave him quite many exercises. I could see he was fed up but I continued until he could count until 20. After this I promised him we would start again next day. Another boy was trying to do some chemistry. It was a very long time I did not do any, it was about ordering the chemical equations. I could not remember but again training together we found out how to do it. It was fun. After this I came back and again tried to help the partially disabled children. I tried to check how could count the boy of the previous day. He could remember a little. Then I again tried with the girl and succeeded making her write a few letters. It was already 10:00AM. I went back to our hotel and prepared a litlle the interview. After this we went for cafe and lunch and I went for rest while Nino went buying our mango 🙂

Next day I was impressed from the improvements of some children. What I had tried to teach seemed to have been a seed. Some could really improve their mathematical or english level. I was feeling a mix of happiness and ego. Spending time with the children is always very fun. Today, a child came and said me hello rising his arms. I took him in the arms and noticed he was blind. I had not noticed it so far, the child was really good to be able to find his orientation. Bigger children seem to like taking care of the smaller taking them in the arms so that they become a part of the missing affection their parents have not been able to give them.
Globally, very few children are able to concentrate very long. Most of them are very easily distracted and trying to make a 30 minutes private course can be hard as one needs to accept that they stop hearing looking around and start again to try to concentrate for a small exercise. After this again they will not hear or look at the exercise. However, without insisting one may miss completely the occasion to help them mainly when one can volunteer only a short time.
What I like in this orphanage is the big number of children. One finds always a child needing some help and sitting close to him will raise at the beginning the attention of all the others. I hope in this very short volunteering time I succeed in giving to some of them the missing kick which will help them to get enough self confidence to know they can change their life.

Discovering Hoi An

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Next 2 days I stayed at the hotel preparing my interview. We as well decided to eat one mango a day as dessert every evening … here mangos are really delicious … however the ones bought on Zanzibar were even better 🙂

On saturday 10th of November we changed hotel. Our previous one was humid, loud and not so close to the city center. For 1$ more we are staying in a very nice hotel at the border of the city center having cleaner rooms. We often wondered why there are so few tourists in such a nice area. Asking to a server working in a restaurant he explained us that since the Typhoon Katrina and Ketsana much less tourists came. Last year was however quite full but as a flooding occurred, it seems many tourists are now afraid to come … This day we rent some bikes and went to a beach located on the east of Hoi An. Coming back we decided we would eat 2 mangos each from now on ( 🙂 We also had a look to some tailor made shoes. After dinner we had our great dessert and we decided next day we may have a look to a pottery village.

On sunday the rain waked us up. As we went for breakfast we came to know that the restaurant was in an other hotel. As the rain almost stopped we had the wrong idea to go without rain coat. For breakfast we expected very few things as the price was very low … we were wrong. The breakfast was good furnished with many good tastes. Once we ate it started to rain heavily and after waiting a while we could avoid being over wet. Today we had planned to go to the pottery village. For this we rent again bikes.
As we arrived, we got a course on how to do pottery. It was very nice. Nino enjoyed a lot. Going around many people asking us to come in and buy something. However, traveling is not easy to transport such things. After this we decided to go our way. We followed a very narrow way that we thought would very soon end … actually it ended on a bigger way which ended on an other bigger road. After 500 meters, we were in real Vietnam. Not any tourists, people saying from every where .. especially children. Others were simply smiling. It reminded me Tanzania. Hoi An is a pleasant village but being surrounded of such nice people has no comparison with any touristic place… After riding for a couple of hours the eyes overfilled of wonderful landscapes, we decided to go back. We went as usual to the market to buy our mangos and another fruit we do not know the name but Nino loves it. For dinner we decided we would go to the place we had our cooking class. Nino will subscribe for a new course tomorrow so that when I come back from the orphanage I can eat and check what a good cook she became 🙂

Arriving in Hoi An

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We arrived on the 5th of November around 5:30PM in our Hotel of Hoi An. The room was not very nice, looking old and somehow wet. As we went for dinner we discovered a little the city. Really nice. I usually do not like touristic places but I find this one peaceful and very lovely.

Next day the rain waked us up. It was raining a lot. The streets could hardly get rid of the amount of water. However local people continued doing their usual things, driving bikes or walking under the heavy rain. Most of them were wearing a protection but some did not. The hotel staff promised us the rain would stop by 12:00AM. We did not really believed it but around 11:00 AM the rain really stopped and the sun was strong enough to provide new dried roads. One hour after coming back in our room, the staff proposed us another room. As we saw it we immediately accepted. Very clean with balcony and nice furnished. We then decided to go to the center and visit a little the town. We like it very much. Many places to do shopping. People working inside are constantly trying to convince us to come in … but OK saying no they do not insist a lot. Coming back we saw an orphanage on the road to our hotel. I came in and asked whether I could volunteer. They replied me it was possible but I had to bring my pass, visa and a photo the next day. Coming back to our hotel we ate khakis we bought on the market (1Euro for 1kg) and the dragon fruit (as well 1euro for 1kg). Khakis were amazingly good. The dragon fruit is good but does not match my tastes as much as mango or khakis … In the evening we decided we would go back in the center to make nightly pictures. As we went eating, we found the food so good that we decided we would take the offered cooking class next day.

On the 7th I stood up and directly went to the orphanage located 5 minutes walk from the hotel. I presented my pass and I was offered tea. After a small discussion I was offered to start next day. As I could not start immediately we decided I would start on monday. Then we went to the restaurant for the cooking class. After taking the boat to go to the market the cook showed us many nice things of the market. Then from 11::00AM we started cooking. We had chosen 4 different dishes. Once ready we ate our dishes. As there was too much the cook proposed us to keep the rest for the evening.
After this we went walking around and we went back home for a couple of hours. I had a preparation for a job interview.
In the evening we went eating the rest of the dish. My job interview will be on friday 3:00PM (9:00PM local time).

One day in Hué

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We arrived in Hue around 8:30AM. From there 2 scooters brought us to our hotel. We were very surprised from the hotel. A little cheaper than the one in Hanoi (12$) but very good standing. I would rate it as a 3 stars one for european standards. Actually I have already been in 4 stars hotels in Paris which were not so good as our hotel 🙂 As the room was not yet ready we were proposed to got first for breakfast. It was a buffet. Very good for 2.5$ each. As the room was still not ready after taking breakfast, we decided to see around and actually immediately went to the citadel. The city is quite nice but very touristic which makes local people calling tourists to sell or propose trips every 100 meters or so … this is the unpleasant side. It is however much quieter than Hanoi, not that Chaotic (actually I liked Hanoi as well because it was chaotic). The temples we saw in the citadel were very beautiful. I had expected very old ones but the oldest was built around 1800. Actually the city is not very old despite, the citadel looks very old.
Around 3:00PM we came back to our hotel and slept almost 3 hours. As we got up, we decided we would leave next day to Hoi An which is according our book a very charming city. Our hotel was proposing bus ticket for 5$ each (the drive lasts around 3 to 4 hours). In the evening we had dinner in an Indian restaurant.

Next day we got up late and left our room around 12:00AM after having taken the nice breakfast. Our bus was picking up at 1:00PM at the hotel. We had reserved an hotel in Hoi An which like in Hue made some promotions. We would stay there at least 3 nights… The bus which brought us to Hoi An was actually a night bus having only beds (no sits). From Hue it took around 4 hours drive. I had read that the landscapes between the 2 cities are wonderful … indeed really wonderful. I tried to take some pictures but it did not work out …

Ha Long Bay

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We stood up a little tired. Went for breakfast at 7:30. The bus pick us up at 8:15AM. This was a private bus which continued picking up many tourists from different hotels. At 9:00AM the bus was full (the guide apologized we were already late). As we just started to drive, the driver noticed we had a tie flat. Every one had to get out and the tie had to be repaired. It lasted another 20 to 30 minutes and we came back into the bus. We drove around 4 hours with a 20 minutes pause. As we arrived we went to the boat where lunch was served and the boat started the trip to the bay. As soon as we were finished eating we went on the roof and enjoyed the panoramas. It was wonderful, there were many huge rocks every where. We event visited a floating village and had a chance to do some kayaking. Before leaving we went seeing a grotto. It was discovered around 1993 by chance by a fisherman observing a monkey. It is quite huge and very nice illuminated. However, before the discover,  nature was peaceful and now many buildings are being built… After this the boat brought us back to the harbor. Another 4 hours drive and we were back in our hotel around 9:00PM. We would move to Hue a historical city the next day. A train costs 38$ with soft seats but we found a night bus for 17$ where it is possible to sleep in beds.

The 3rd of November was our last day in Hanoi. We went to the market and bought some vegetables. After this a look at the Hanoi Towers (where we passed by many times without knowing they were the well known ones). Usually midday I eat in some local restaurants. Most of them are not much cheaper than restaurants for tourists but I find it fun. This day I tried a new one, I was surprised, for 1 euro I got a huge portion of rice with omelets, vegetables, tofu, nuts and soup… The day was short as we had to wait for a so called minibus (actually 2 scooters) at 5:30PM bringing us to a taxi point. The taxi drove us to the night bus at 5:40PM. I had never seen such a bus, around 50 beds were inside instead of seats. However, the size of each bed was rather for thai size appropriated 🙂 It was quite small for me 🙂 The bus left Hanoi around 6:30PM.
The travel was not too bad. Beds were quite hard and the road not very good but however better than uncomfortable seats.