Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Journey to Đông Hà!

Sunrise in Đông Hà, Quảng Trị (shot taken through the train's window)

Wednesday evening, we boarded an overnight train in Hanoi, and 12 hours later we were 580 kilometers away in Đông Hà, in the Quang Tri province. For most of us it was our first time on an overnight train. We all slept in four person rooms in a sleeper car, with two sets of bunk beds in each room. The night was spent chatting, hanging out and getting to know each other better.

At 7:00 am the next day we were greeted with the intense heat and bright sunshine of Đông Hà! We spent the rest of the day Thursday learning more about the NGO we were going to be working with over the next four or so days, the Global Community Service Foundation (GCSF), and we visited Tâm Cafe, a coffee place for where the staff who work are hearing impaired people. We checked the menu and learned from the pictures posted on the wall how to order our drink and food in sign language.
In the afternoon, we visited one NGO called Project RENEW (Restoring the Environment and Neutralizing the Effects of War).

Project RENEW works to help people affected by UXOs (unexploded ordinates) and ERWs (explosive remnants of war) in the Quang Tri province. The organization is currently active in three of the districts in the province and is hoping to expand to a fourth in the near future. The Quang Tri province was the most bombed area during the Vietnam War, and contains the majority of UXOs still remaining, causing many problems for those who work in agriculture, look for scrap metal, and herd livestock. One way Project RENEW helps victims is with initiatives like the Mushrooms with a Mission project, where the organization provides families affected by UXOs or ERWs with the means to cultivate, gather, and sell mushrooms to help support them financially.

Over the past two days, we have been working with GCSF on another project, involving landscaping for a future school for the blind. The location is inside a complex that used to be operated by Kids First Village.
It's been a lot of hot, hard work, but we're all getting through it together and growing as a group.

From Busy working time at Quảng Trị Center, Đông Hà.

From Busy working time at Quảng Trị Center, Đông Hà.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The last hours in Hanoi

On the morning of May 10, we went to the school Sao Mai, which is a school for kids with mental and physical disabilities. We took with us the Vietnamemse snack called Bim Bim to hand out to the children. We first met with some of the staff and learned more about the center and autism, then we were divided in small groups classrooms where the children study and play. We paired off and visited ten different class rooms along with students involved with Volunteers for Peace Vietnam. We played games, sang songs, and helped them with lunch before the kids went for nap-time. Then we had a chance to ask questions about the center and went out for lunch with some of the VPV students.

After getting back to the Old Quarter section of Hanoi, we worked in 4 different groups and explored different areas that are known for selling different items in the Old Quarters of Hanoi. Some people went to Medicine Street, Paper Street, Toy Street, Souvenir Street, among others. We all were able to interact with the people who live and work in the area and some were even able to visit their homes, which are located down the alleys that lead behind the street-front shops.

We went to the early morning flower market in Hanoi, where Vietnamese farmers and vendors sell a variety of beautiful wholesale flowers.

All of us are doing great and we have a few more hours to enjoy Hanoi before getting on a night train (leaving at 6:30 pm) to travel to Dong Ha, which is in the center of the country. It's about a twelve hour train ride, so we'll be able to catch up on some sleep and probably spend more time bonding over games.

Bye for now! :)
Sunday May 8
We went out on the boat again all day and everyone had a blast. We rented kayaks from one of the floating communities and toted them behind our big boat until we got to the place we wanted to kayak. They were a lot of fun to be in, but steering them posed quite a big challenge for most of us, since we had 2 people trying to do it and the wind was not too helpful. We kayaked through a floating fishing village, which was about 1 hour off the coast. It was interesting to see them so close up. Many of the houses also had dogs on them, which we thought was funny. During the trip we also had some splashing wars, so most of us got wet. Only 1 of the students fell in, which we consider a big success. After we got back to the boat we had lunch and some people decided to play a game. The loser of each round of the game had to do a silly dare. Some of these included pulling out a piece of Rocky's hair, doing silly dances on the deck of the boat, and pulling a crew members ear. We also went to another cave.
Today was also TA's birthday. We had a surprise birthday party for her in Rocky's suite on the 13th floor of the hotel. There was a beautiful cake and all of us had a fun time hanging out.

Monday May 9
We traveled back to Hanoi today. Once back we went to visit the American Chamber of Commerce. It is not affiliated with the government, but the Vietnamese government will meet with them. We talked to the director, who taught us about a lot of what he does and the business aspect of what is happening in Vietnam.

The Kayak Team on Ha Long Bay

Monday, May 9, 2011

Week One Roundup

From Day Tour

Thursday, May 5th
We started the day by visiting Ho Chi Minh mausoleum. This is where his body is kept and on display. After going through the security we were able to see the body, which is over 30 years old, which is guarded at all times. Then we went on to visit the complex, which has remnants of his life including the house he lived in before he died, some of the cars he used and personal items. The area that we saw was mostly outside and had a lot of green area, which was quite beautiful.

Next we went to the museum of ethnology. This explores the 54 ethnic groups of Vietnam, by telling us how they live and providing artifacts. On the inside was where most of the information was and the traditional items were held. There was also an outside of the museum, which all of us really enjoyed. This area had different styles of houses that the ethnic groups live in. They were all very cool, but one of our favorite houses was 20 feet off the ground. Most of us climbed up to the house, which was a little scary. We found it interesting that most of the floors were made of bamboo.

Temple of Literature: This is the oldest school in Hanoi and has the names of the people who graduated from it on stones that sit on stone turtles. People go to this place when they want to receive good luck for an exam. People may also go here to worship, since it is a temple.

Hoa Lo Prison was the next place we visited. This is a historic landmark for the Vietnamese and was where they were imprisoned during fights for political freedom. But Americans know this place better as the Hanoi Hilton. The prison was used during the Vietnam-American War to hold POWs. One significant person that was held there was John McCain, which was really emphasized at the prison. The Vietnam-American war part of the museum touched home for more of the group and had a more significant impact on us. There were remnants of things the prisoner’s left along with a video of what all happened. One of the main messages that was talked about was how well the Vietnamese treated the American POWs, which contradicts what we have learned in the past. It was interesting to see both points of view, allowing us to get a better understanding of the War. Part of the prison has been demolished since it was last used, which was hugely controversial, since it is such a significant part of Vietnamese history.

American Embassy: Here we learned about what the Embassy does in general and how someone goes about working at an embassy. They also talked about the relations between the Embassy and Vietnam. One of the main issues we discussed was human rights and the differing options on it. We also talked about the development of the city.

Friday May 6
Today we visited Hanoi University, where the 4 Vietnamese students we are traveling with study. We had 2 lectures today, separated by lunch at the school cafeteria. The first one talked about the demographics of the area, the economy and how it is changing, poverty, and developmental challenges. The second lecture, a lot of people found quite interesting and was presented by an American teacher. We learned about how Hanoi’s landscape can be viewed as text. He informed us about the history of Hanoi and how the development has become to be. There are reasons as to why the city is shaped as it is. There is the old quarter and the new quarter, which are quite different. Defining architecture in Hanoi is so different, since there have been so many influences present, with the French being a major one. One of the major landmarks we talked about was the Long Bien Bridge, which was built by the French, but the Vietnamese are very proud of it and it is a big part of their history.
After the lecture, we were given free time to go out and explore the city along with get dinner. Everyone split up in to small groups and went out to have fun. The night market was also that night, which is when a street is closed and shops are set up on the street and many people go out shopping. This was one of the nights that some of the people in the group went and got massages, which were great. Other people went out to the Salsa club, which was a few doors down from the hotel, which was a lot of fun.

Saturday May 7, 2011
Today we were all up and out of the hotel by 7:30. We traveled to Ha Long Bay, which was about a 3-hour bus ride, on our very nice and spacious bus. When we got to the bay, we went onto a boat for our group. The boat was wooden and had 2 levels, which is consistent with most of the boats we saw. We had lunch on the boat, which was good. We had some issues trying to get everyone foods that they could eat though, due to eating restrictions, but everything worked out fine.
Everyone really enjoyed the boat and the view was indescribable. We will put up pictures soon. Lots of sunscreen was applied and it looks like no one got too burnt. We docked to take a tour of a cave, which was so cool. The rock formations were amazing and it was hard to believe that it was naturally formed. Then we went to the beach for a bit to hang out and have some fun. The water was quite nice after such a hot day and most people also hiked up to the top of the rock formation to see around the whole island. The sight was breath taking. One group even had a photo shoot at the top. As we boated back to shore the sun was setting, which was a great way to end the day trip.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Quick Message from Ha Long Bay on Mothers' Day

The GIEU group went to Ha Long over the weekend, one of the World Natural Heritage Sites recognized by UNESCO. Everyone had a great time and enjoyed some beautiful sunshine so we all looked tanned and happy. We finally got internet connection just briefly before we return to Hanoi Monday Morning. There will be more entries to follow from Hanoi later.
Happy Mothers' Day!

See Halong in different way with your action - Gìn giữ vẻ đẹp lãng mạn của môi trường Hạ Long