Monday, March 2, 2009

Orientation and First Day of Volunteering

This morning I woke up at 7:30 to go meet with the program coordinator, Andy, and the 5 other volunteers that arrived over the weekend. He went over all the ins and outs of the program and gave us a walking tour of the area. Andy is from England and was a volunteer in Hanoi for a while, then liked it so much that he stayed and eventually was asked to go to HCMC to help start the program here. The new volunteers are Defne and Jack from Australia, Judy from Australia but born in Taiwan, Gordon of Ontario (who is full of "aboots" and "eys" and is 61 years old), Cronin of Ireland, and Catherine of Denmark. 

Afterwards we had lunch and then I set off for the Ky Quang orphanage (at the monastery). I am starting to get used to working with the kids and I am getting to know which kids like to do what. Today, however, I found the room where the kids live that have the birth defect where their heads grow to be about twice as large as normal. Hearing them moan and just lay there was pretty shocking, it felt like a scifi movie.

Afterwards I came back to the PH and had a bit of food before going to the local swimming pool with Anika (Germany) and Jack. It was surprisingly nice and clean, complete with a diving board and a few water slides. Behind it were 7 or 8 lit tennis courts and a shop where they rented rackets and balls, I think that I will play on Wednesday with the Swedes and Jack. 

On the way back we stopped at Big C and did some grocery shopping. They actually had some western food, but I only bought an assortment of fruits that I didn't recognize to sample. I had one tonight; it looked kinda like an artichoke but more solid, and once I pulled off the peel it was white and fleshy like a peach but sectioned like an orange. It had a subtle flavor that reminded me of custard. I think that one of these days I will take photos of all the fruits and list their names and what they taste like...

So I already mentioned that the traffic here is crazy and I had been warned of this by Shane and Kelly, but nothing could have prepared me for this. Today I am going to explain the way that getting around Vietnam works.

The general rule of thumb is the larger the moving object the more right of way it has, i.e. motorbikes take priority over pedestrians, cars over motorbikes, trucks over cars, and buses over all. There are 8 million people living in HCMC and there are 6 million motorbikes. There is a 200% tax on cars so they are much less common. At any given moment on a busy street you will see two guys on a motorbike transporting large pieces of glass or other building materials, people carrying large boxes or containers, multiple people carrying groceries in both hands while still trying to steer, and a mother and father on a bike with the child under the handlebars. Only at very major intersections are there traffic lights, and those appear to be mostly optional so long as there are no police around. When attempting to cross the street you have to put out your hand towards the traffic and inch your way; no one will stop for you but merely avoid you, and you must not step in front of a car because they stop for nothing but buses. 

The horn here is not a defensive tool to alert other drivers that they are going to hit you but instead an offensive directive to those beside and in front of you that they better look out because you're coming through. They are not timid about using it; there is a constant orchestra of honks all day and night throughout the city. 

On the way to and from the Mekong Delta the bus driver was honking the horn more often than not and many times it appeared that we were going to hit someone in front of us. They got out of the way at the last second although if they hadn't I don't think that the driver would have stopped. 

All in all, my previous desire to buy a motorbike as an alternative to taking buses everywhere has completely vanished. I think I will rent one for a day though...  but maybe in a smaller city. 

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you and the Swedes are hitting it off. Chicka chicka yeah