Saturday, March 28, 2009

My Final Week Volunteering

This week was my last week volunteering before I begin my travels. It is also the last week for Jack, Defne, Niko, Judy, and Anika. Because of this everyone's emotions have been pretty on edge. Never before since I've been here have people bickered, but this week everyone was on a short fuse. But all in all it was a great last week.

On Tuesday I went to a lecture on Agent Orange in the morning. It was really interesting to hear more about the chemical that made the children that I'm taking care of the way they are. The lecture was in District 1, and was given by a guy who runs a non profit called the Disabled and Disadvantaged Children's Charity of Ho Chi Minh City. He gives the lecture every Tuesday with backpackers as the intended audience with the hope that they will go home and talk about the charity to friends and family. The charity actually sounded really good. 

The chemical in Agent Orange that creates cancer and birth defects is dioxyn. During the war a lot of Agent Orange was dropped all over Vietnam, however when the planes that were spreading it ran into trouble they would drop their entire load at once. In those places it absorbed into the ground and all of the insects that live there are filled with it. When a duck, bird, fish, or other animal eats them they get all the dioxin, and when we eat the animals we get it from them. Dioxin is stored in fat cells, and humans can absorb it by eating other animal's fat. As such, people here should not eat ducks because they have a lot of fat, and should pull the fat off of any other meat as well.

Women pass the dioxin in their fat on to their babies during pregnancy, and give them even more dioxin through their breast milk. One of the things the charity wants to do is provide all new mothers with formula to feed their kids. The charity's goal is not to help the people that have high levels of dioxin now, because they are a lost cause, but to prevent future generations from having the same problems. The only way for dioxin to stop being passed along is by cleaning up the dioxin "hot spots," and making women aware of their dioxin levels and inform them of how to lower it. When a women breast feeds a child they lower their dioxin levels by 50%, which is substantial. So instead of feeding their children mothers should be pumping their milk and disposing of it. 

Anyway, it was a really informative lecture, and if you want to learn more about it or donate to the charity go to 

In the afternoon I played soccer with the PH team. We played 7 on 7 on a regulation field composed of small sand dunes. There was literally grass all around the field and none on it, but instead red dirt. It was also over 100 F. We lost the game 7 to 5, making our team 1-1-1. We will wait to see if we move on, which depends on how other teams in our bracket do.

Wednesday I went to Ky Kyuang in the morning. We were told that the woman in charge of the orphanage and the head monk are in a fight about something, and as a result all of the caretakers of the kids are on a weird kind of strike. They are not letting the kids out of their rooms to play for the whole week. It is really unfair for the kids to use them as a bargaining chip, the kids seemed like caged animals.

I went straight from Ky Kyuang to the Green Bamboo shelter to take the boys to play soccer. We went to a new soccer pitch that was way nicer than the old one. It was completely fenced in, including over it, so we never had to chase balls. It was incredibly hot though so none of the kids really felt like playing, so it ended up just being the older kids and volunteers scrimmaging.

In the evening I got convinced by Emma and Mikaela to go with them to the spa for them to get their legs waxed. They decided I needed to get my back waxed before going to the island Phu Quoc. It didn't hurt as much as I thought. It took the women much less time to wax the girls legs than my back, so to get me done three of them tag- teamed me for 10 minutes. It was hilarious and an interesting experience that I don't regret but don't think I will repeat.

Thursday I went to Ky Kuang in the morning, but the women basically told us we had to leave, so we only were there for an hour. In the afternoon I went to the Green Bamboo shelter and played Sorry with the kids for a couple hours. I left early to go home and prepare for a BBQ I organized for the 5 of us that are leaving this week. I bought chicken and hamburger meat, and some of the girls made salad, fruit salad, and fresh spring rolls. We ate right at sunset on the roof of our building; it was nice and cool being high up with a breeze.

Pic: 1. Me grilling it up. 2. Jack and Defne. 3. Eating all the grub 4. The view of our neighborhood from the rooftop. 5. The sunset behind the rooftops

Friday I went to Ky Kuang in the morning and had a great last day there. I managed to get my two favorite kids out of their rooms and took them out to the pagoda. It is 5 tall stories, I didn't realize how tall it was. We ran around it for hours pretending to be T-Rexes and scaring other tourists, it was so much fun; the kids really enjoyed it. I think that they also really liked getting outside, they rarely have the chance to do things like that. I snuck them out of the complex to get cold drinks cause we were so hot after romping around.

Pics: 1. On the entry steps to the Pagoda with the kids. 2. The view from the top of the pagoda.

In the afternoon I just relaxed and played cards with Emma and Bao, then in the evening went to see The Watchmen at a local movie theatre. The movie theatre was almost identical to those in the states except for one interesting feature: they assign seats! No more having scattered individual seats throughout a crowded theatre. Also, you can see if there are no good seats left when you buy your ticket so that you can opt for a later showing. Revolutionary. They should bring it to the states.

Saturday I went for a run then went to Green Bamboo with all the Danish girls to take the kids to a Water Park for my last day with them. There were 9 volunteers and 12 kids that went, and we had a blast, although I liked the Vung Tao trip more because it was less crowded. We ran around the place for 6 hours before finally going home.

Pics: 1. One of the kids posing on a random motorbike out front of Green Bamboo. 2. On the inner tubes at the waterpark 3. Katrine and the boys. 4. Showing off the new flippers.

Sunday morning I leave at 5 am for Phu Quoc Island with Emma, Mikaela, Ludwig, Gus, and Jay. It is supposed to be one of the most pristine and undeveloped islands in SE Asia that are still easily accessible. It is 50 km long and 20 wide, and has only 20 small hotels throughout. There is still a large local community of fisherman that live in two towns, and the main product of the island is Fish Sauce, which is considered to be the best in all of Vietnam. 

We will be snorkeling, scuba diving, hiking in the mountains, hopping between the tiny islands south of Phu Quoc, and relaxing on the beaches. I bought a small portable BBQ and a cooler to bring along, so hopefully we will be eating well. I doubt there is internet connection there, so this will be my last post until next weekend!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Weekend In Dalat

Saturday morning we woke up at 6:45 and had a quick breakfast before getting on the bus to Dalat. On the bus going up to Dalat we were approached by a Vietnamese guy named Bao who started making small talk with us. His English was really good so I asked how it became so.

It turns out that he grew up in Paris because his father was a Vietnamese diplomat but ran away to Italy when he was 14 because his parents wouldn’t let him follow his dream of being a dancer. There he met a lesbian couple from San Francisco that took him in and for the next 6 years he lived in SF. He got trained in graphic design and culinary arts and got a job with a large 5 star hotel, whose name I forget. Since then he has traveled around the world working at different branches of the hotel. 18 years ago he was transferred to the branch in Madrid, and in Madrid he realized his dream of being a dancer. He studied flamenco dance and opera singing rigorously and now performs in Madrid and all around the world. He still works for the hotel part time as the VIP hospitality director.

He took a year leave from his job and is traveling all around the world, but is in Vietnam for this month (he is gay, and he made it sound like him and his partner broke up recently). He had been in Ho Chi Minh where he performed Flamingo dance at a hotel and was being interviewed and videotaped for a documentary on Vietnamese performers that sing and dance in foreign styles.

Pic: Bao holding 2 pictures of himself dancing. 

A couple from Oregon that adopted a Vietnamese girl 10 years ago wanted to come back so she could see where she’s from, and they had a mutual friend with Bao who put them in touch with him. He offered to meet them upon their arrival in Hanoi as well as in a few other cities to show them around and act as a translator. One of those cities was Dalat. 

His family is originally from Dalat, and he still has friends there. One of those friends runs the Ngoc Lan Hotel, the only 5 star hotel in Dalat, and asked him to come and test the quality of service there and give the staff training in exchange for all expenses paid. He consented and had the family from Oregon meet him there. He also invited us to come and dine with them at the hotel.

At 3 pm we pulled into Dalat. We hadn’t yet booked a hotel so after looking around for a few minutes we settled on the Mimosa Hotel. Although we were tired from staying up so late and from the bus ride we decided to go take a ride on a cable car over a valley to the local reservoir. It was almost sunset and there was a mist over the hills, it was really picturesque. 

Then we went back into the center of town and got dinner at a restaurant on the lake. Then we went to a tour guide office where we booked a tour for Sunday. We were so tired that we went home and crashed at 9:30.

The next morning we went to the Ngoc Lan hotel at 7 to have breakfast with Bao. It was a really nice buffet, complete with a chef making omelets to order and before we left Bao made us promise to come to dinner at the hotel along with the family from Oregon, and we agreed.

We were picked up by the guide at Ngoc Lan, and we first went 20 km out of town to see a coffee plantation, a silk worm farm/silk factory, a rice wine distillery, and Elephant Falls.  Seeing the coffee farm was really cool, I had never seen a raw coffee bean before. I don't even think it can be called a bean but rather a berry...

The distillery was a joke, just a basement in a house with a small boiler.

The silk factory was really cool, I had no idea it was such an involved process to make silk. It takes 20 women 2 hours to make one square yard of silk. All of the machinery was really ancient, it was too complicated for me to understand how it worked. I can tell you this though: there definitely were no computers aiding the process.

Elephant Falls was the coolest thing we saw in the morning. It was a really broad and tall waterfall, and the guide knew a way to walk around the back of it, the second picture is Emma just behind the waterfall.

Next we went to the last King of Vietnam's summer palace. It was kinda dumpy for a kings palace, but we got to dress up in his traditional clothes for a picture.

After the palace we went to the Crazy House. This is a hotel designed by the daughter of the successor to Ho Chi Minh's post in government. It felt like a mix of Disneyland and Alice in Wonderland, it was way out there.

We stopped for lunch then went to Dalat Falls, the most famous of the waterfalls in the area. We took a roller coaster type thing down the 3 km to the falls, where there were lots of tourists taking pictures. Our guide told us that a few km down the mountain there was another waterfall that's much harder to get to that no one goes to, so we hiked down. It was even bigger than the one higher up, and it had a big pool in front of it so we decided to jump in.

After the tour we rented motorbikes and cruised around the hills outside of the city for a few hours. It was my first time riding a motorbike, but I picked it up pretty quick, it really isn't hard at all. 

Then at 6 we met Bao and the family from Oregon for dinner at the hotel. Bao had pre arranged the 7 course meal with the chefs, and for the next 3 hours we had really good conversation and ate great food. Before dessert came out we convinced Bao to give us a performance. We got the waitstaff to put his ipod over the restaurant's speakers and he danced to the Flamenco music. Then he sang an excerpt from an Italian opera (he sang both the soprano and tenor parts). He was really good, I never expected a tiny Vietnamese guy to have such a large voice. The couple from Oregon had to get the daughter to bed, so at 9 we all parted ways. It was so nice of Bao to take us under his wing, we had a great evening.

We stopped in a pool hall on our way back to the hotel and played a few games, then went home at 11. The bus left at 7:45 Monday morning back to HCMC, and we didn't get in until 4:30. 

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Roller Coaster of a Week

Wednesday morning, needless to say, I didn't wake up to go to Ky Kuang. I slept until 11, then Paul and I went to the Green Bamboo shelter to take the kids to play soccer. I didn't play much cause I didn't want to put stress on my ankle so I could play in our university league game on Friday. On the way home we took the kids that were in our taxi to the cafe where some of the boys that used to be in the shelter work. Everyone had a smoothie and green tea; the kids really showed their appreciation to us. 

Paul and An at the cafe
We dropped the kids off, then went to see all of the main tourist attractions- Paul is only here for this week cause he is on spring break from Duke. We first went to Reunification Palace, which the French had built as their government building, but has since been destroyed and rebuilt using a weird kind of modernism, although a lot of the rooms are decorated in a really traditional way. It is open air, in that there are no doorways to the building and there are outdoor courtyards and walkways throughout the building.

Pics: 1. Reunification Palace 2. Me in the Disco on the roof in front of the helipad

Next we went to the War Evidence Museum. This was really hard for me, particularly the pictures and explanations of the effects from Agent Orange, a deforestation spray the US used to kill foliage to expose the Vietnamese. Many of the children in the pictures that had birth defects from the chemical looked very similar to the kids I am spending time with in the orphanages. The museum also showed examples of all of the weapons that the US used in the war.

We stopped by the Notre Dame cathedral on our way home. It is said to be modeled after the Notre Dame in France, however I was unimpressed, most cathedrals I saw in Italy and elsewhere were more beautiful and stunning. 

In the evening we went with Emma and Mikaela and two local volunteers, Huong and a girl whose name I forget, to get fresh spring rolls at a place that that Huong recommended. They had pork, mint, basil, rice noodles, shrimp, and bamboo sprouts in them and were wrapped in rice paper and served with a thick and sweet soy sauce as well as red chili paste. They were delicious. Also, Mikaela and Emma dared me to eat a large spoonful of the red chili paste, and after some discussion I got them to agree to each give me a massage for 30 minutes every day in Phu Quoc. I did it, and it was not as bad as I thought it would be. The girls then followed suit to get out of giving me the massages.

Thursday morning I went to Green Bamboo shelter with Niko. I played Deuces (a card game) with the kids for 3 straight hours. Then I met Emma and Mikaela at a travel agent to book our weekend trip to Dalat, a city in the central highlands of Vietnam about 7 hours from HCMC. We are in Dalat from Saturday morning to Monday morning, returning at 3pm to HCMC. The bus leaves on Saturday at 7:30am in District 1 (30 minutes from where we live) so we will be staying in a hotel close to the bus stop Friday night.

In the afternoon I went to Ky Kuang with Paul and Anika. After an hour of running around with some of the kids I went to check on Anika. She only goes to Ky Kuang on occasion, and when she does she spends her time with the babies without disabilities in a room that I had never been to. There were 5 kids in the room, and all but one were sleeping. We played around with the one that was awake, then another woke up and started crying. I took him out of his crib, then noticed that he had what looked like blue ink all over his legs. I asked Anika what it was and she immediately told me to put the kid down. Apparently it is some kind of ointment for a contagious rash... when I set him back down he started crying, and the nurse who lives in the room got him out of his crib and- harshly- told him to stop crying. She set him down and put his hands on a chair and told him again to stop crying. When he didn't she got out a 18 inch bamboo stick and whacked the chair next to his hands and screamed for him to stop. She kept hitting the chair, then eventually him, although slightly lighter, until he eventually stopped, mostly out of fear. The kid was about 16 months old. Absolutely shocked I couldn't move. Eventually I looked at Anika, and she told me quietly that the few times she tried to intervene she too was yelled at and that I shouldn't do anything about it. It really upset me though, the next couple hours were rough.

In the evening I went with the 4 Danish girls, Emma and Mikaela, Ludvig and Gus, and Paul to a Danish restaurant owned by a guy that we met at the Viking party. We all ate Red Sausages, which are apparently a Danish delicacy, and had a few beers. After an hour we left and went back to our neighborhood to play pool at a local pool hall, and at 11 went home.

Friday I went to Ky Kuang in the morning and had a standard day there, no bamboo sticks used on babies as far as I saw... In the afternoon we went to the university to play soccer. Paul, David (a new arrival from England), Ken, Minh, and I were the players from the PH, along with 8 or so other local volunteers and friends of Ken in Minh who I didn't know. 6 of the girls also came along to watch even though they were upset that girls were excluded from the league. 

Teams were 9 on 9 but on a full size field and we played 45 minute halves, not to mention it was 95 degrees with 50% humidity. I played the whole first half and half of the second, then begged for a substitute. I thought I was going to die. I did score a goal though, off the top bar through the goalie's hands... We ended up winning 6 to 4.

After showering Paul, Mikaela, Emma, Jay, and I went to District 1 for the girls and I to drop our stuff of in the hotel then meet up with Ludwig and Gus to go back out to the restaurant owned by the cock fighter/martial arts trainer in District 2. Again, it was ridiculously fun. This time, because there were so many of us, we sat out front of the restaurant instead of across the street, and again ate another 7 course meal and drank a few cases of beer. Bernard, the Norwegian friend of Emma, met us there as well. Noteworthy events:

1. I wandered off to buy a new shirt because the one I had on was dirty and only found a flower shop. Inspired, I bought 5 red roses for the girls and the female family members of the owner. They cost 2,000 Dong each, about 15 cents US... I will never be able to spend 15 dollars for a dozen roses again.

2. The owner pulled out one of his roosters and announced that it was past its prime and that he was to kill and eat it the following day. He invited us to join.

3. The owner decided that Ludwig and him are brothers. Obviously the only way to confirm such a bond was to become blood brothers... sketchy.

4. Jay and Gus, who had never eaten Duck fetus, were convinced by yours truly that they also had to try it. The owner spoon fed it to them and also ate it himself. Ludwig ate the head, but after chewing a bunch had to spit it out because he was so grossed out. He said it wasn't quite crunchy, but really chewy...

We left there at 11 and went to Apocalypse now. We danced until 3 am, then everyone else wanted to get breakfast, so we went back to the area around the hotel. Because there was 1 more person than earlier one of us had to get on a Xe Om. I obviously volunteered. It was a fun ride trying to keep up with the taxi... Paul left for the airport to go back to school at Duke at 4 am and the girls and I slept until 6:30 then got up and went to the bus station.

Tomorrow I will tell all about the weekend in Dalat.  

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

This weekend we had some new arrivals, Paul (NYC), James (London), and two Danish girls whose names I can't remember. They are all nice, and now both Peace Houses are at capacity- there are 22 of us. It really feels like there are a lot more people than when I got here even though there were only 16 before.
Anyway, Monday I took Paul to the Green Bamboo shelter in the morning, then went to Ky Kuang in the afternoon. It was a pretty standard day, nothing exciting happened. In the evening I went for a run with the Swedes then came back and relaxed for the rest of the night, I needed it after the long weekend and I had to save up energy for St Patty's Day...

Tuesday I took both Paul and James to Ky Kuang in the morning. At Ky Kuang there was an organization of dentists from the states called Bright Smiles that came to give all the kids dental checkups, so it was pretty hectic. A lot of the kids had to have cavities filled and/or teeth pulled so they were crying, bleeding, and generally upset. 

At lunch I went to a travel agent with Mikaela and Emma because we decided to go to an island off the southern tip of Vietnam called Phu Quoc for the week after I finish volunteering (they are taking a week off, they still have 3 more weeks after I'm done). The Swedish guys that took us to the restaurant Friday night are coming as well, although they only bought one way tickets- they are crazy, in a good way... The island looks beautiful, from what I've read it is what people that go to islands in Thailand are looking for- undeveloped, beautiful, and clean; I'm really excited. 

In the afternoon I had Vietnamese lessons. I learned how to say simple conversational words like "delicious", "beautiful", and "tired". Then for the next hour she told me about her trip to Phu Quoc. She confirmed that it is absolutely beautiful and got me even more excited. 

At 6:30 all of the volunteers went to an Irish pub called O'Briens. It was pretty boring, mostly an older crowd, and they weren't even playing Irish music. Some other people said that they heard of another bar that was having a better party just around the corner, so we went there with them. It was much, much more fun. There were two bands that played, one Vietnamese and one American. The American band had 3 members, a guitarist/singer, a bongo player named Bongo Bob, and a flutist named Jake the Snake. They were all in their 50's and really funny to watch. 

1. Sylvia with a crazy Vietnamese guy
2. Cronin, Vicki , Anika, Defne, and Sylvia 
3. Kate on stage singing and Irish song from her home town
4. Anika with Jake the Snake

At midnight 15 of the volunteers went home cause they were tired, but Anika, Sylvia, Paul, James, Claire, Kate, and I went to a club called Lush, which was really fancy. We danced there till 2, then Anika and I went home, but everyone stayed out until 9 am- they're crazy. All in all, a good St Patty's day.

Monday, March 16, 2009

When Everything Goes Wrong But Is Still SOOO Right

The morning after the crazy night at the Viking party I was supposed to wake up at 7 to meet Jack, Defne, and Katrine in District 1 to take a bus tour up to the Cu Chi tunnels, which are 65 km from HCMC. The Cu Chi Province is where the Viet Cong dug an intricate and immense system of tunnels to both hide from the Americans and to attack them. It was essentially an entire underground city, complete with kitchens, dormitories, wells for water, hospitals, command centers, etc. 

I didn't wake up to my alarm, however woke up on my own at 8:10. The bus left at 8:15. I was angry at myself at first, then thought about my options. I already bought my ticket for the bus and tour, which cost $10 US, so I decided to try and meet them at the tunnels. I got dressed and went out to the street and hailed a Xe Om, or motorbike taxi.

I don't think that I have talked about Xe Om yet. In HCMC there are regular taxis that have meters, etc., but there are also guys that don't have jobs and sit around waiting for foreigners to walk by that they can solicit for fares. They always try and overcharge, but if you know how to bargain you can get anywhere in the city for 25,000 dong max ($1.50 US). 

I told the Xe Om where I wanted to go, and he immediately said 200,000 Dong. He was upset that I only wanted to go one way because he didn't think that he would find a fare up there that would want to come back to HCMC. But after some haggling I got him down to 80,000, and he grudgingly accepted.

It took us 2 hours to navigate through the traffic in the city and get up to the tunnels. He dropped me off at the military compound that runs the tunnel tours. I called Defne to ask her to come find me, but when she told me landmarks to look for I couldn't find them. After 10 minutes of trying to meet up I approached a soldier and asked him to help me. As it turns out, there are two places that you can get tours of the tunnels, and they are 20 km apart. I was at a different one than the others. The soldier said that the only way to get to the other tunnels was to walk, so I decided to stay at that site and take the tour by myself and figure out how to meet up with the bus later.

The tour was interesting, not because the "tunnels" that they showed us were cool (the guide took us into 10m long tunnels that were recreations of the real ones), but rather because it was interesting to hear the Vietnamese talk about the war. They showed us a movie that was in black and white and was basically 30 minutes of anti-America propaganda. They showed us the weapons and booby traps that they used against the Americans with pride. 

The tour ended, and I needed to find a way to the other site. When I tried to call Defne her phone was off, and after a few tries I gave up and decided to find a different way home. I asked the soldiers that were around how to get back to HCMC, and they didn't understand anything except for "Ho Chi Minh" and "bus". The all kept pointing in a similar direction, so I just kept walking till I got to what looked like a bus stop. I asked a shop owner where to catch the bus, and she pointed down the road a bit further. On blind faith I walked to where she pointed and waited. And waited. And waited. It wasn't unpleasant though, there were mango and durian trees all around me and a large pond with lilies and ducks in it across the street. 

I sat in the shade and ate a mango, and after 45 minutes a bus finally came. I got on and asked the bus driver if it was going to HCMC, and he said yes. This was not entirely true. We drove on a windy countryside road for 30 minutes and the whole time I was cursing the Danish guy that pushed me in the pool and destroyed my camera because it was so beautiful. There were farms next to forests and coconut, mango, lime, and durian trees lining the road. We ended up in Cu Chi city and everyone was told to get off the bus. I was confused because I thought that it was the bus to HCMC, but then the driver came up to me and told me the number of the bus I need to catch- in Vietnamese, and I understood!!! 

The second bus ride was an hour and a half and dropped me in the center of HCMC. I caught the usual bus I take home from the boys shelter and walked into the PH at 3:30. What an adventure!!! Nothing went as planned, but it turned out to be fun anyway. I really enjoyed riding the bus with all the locals, even though they looked at me funny. In the evening I caught up on my blog for 4 hours then went to bed.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

5 Days in 1: Local Dive and Viking Fiesta...

So I missed a few days and have to catch up. Sorry for the long post, a lot happened this weekend...

What started as a great Wednesday at Ky Kuang took a turn for the worse in the afternoon. I took the bus straight from Ky Quang to the Green Bamboo Shelter at 11 and went with the kids to play soccer at 12. A couple of scottish guys met us there with the ball and they led the warmups and organized the teams. I asked how it was funded, because we were playing on an expensive fenced in field with nice grass, and they informed me that a sponsor from England paid for the pitch, the taxi, and water for the kids every week, which I think is pretty cool. 

Anyway, after half an hour of playing I shot a ball funny and hurt my ankle. It got really swollen and was painful the rest of the day. It was particularly upsetting because on Thursday volunteer soccer team had its first match in the university league and I couldn't play. Hopefully it will be healed for next week. 

After soccer we went back to the orphanage and hung out for a bit until it was dinner time. I helped the kids make eggs and stir fried vegetables, then left because my ankle hurt so much. At night I iced it and watched a movie. 

Thursday I slept in again because I was really tired and needed the rest, then went to the boys shelter at 1. Nina, one of the volunteers from another organization, left to go back to the states that evening so I spent some time with her talking about her plans for the next couple of months, then I watched Katrine play chess with the boys. They got really rowdy and wrestled for a while, then got tuckered out and took a nap. 

Pic: The boys wrestling
I had plans to meet up with an American couple named Maya and Ian, friends of a colleague of my dad, who work at an international school in HCMC, so I ate dinner with the kids then walked to the ferry stop. They are from the bay area, but for the past 8 years have been teaching internationally, 4 of which in HCMC. 

Maya and Ian live in the Riverside Luxury Apartment complex up the saigon river in District 2. It took about 30 minutes on the boat and they met me at the dock. We walked over to a local restaurant and lounge called The Deck, where their friend was DJing for the night. They told me a lot about what it is like to live here and gave me advice about where to travel to and where to avoid. I also met a lot of their friends and colleagues who come from all over the world and are a pretty interesting bunch. The last bus back to downtown was at 8:30 so I went home and iced my ankle for the rest of the night.

Pic: Maya, Ian, and I at The Deck

Friday I went to Ky Kuang in the morning and then Thi Nghe in the afternoon. Maybe it was because it was Friday the 13th, but I had a really bad day. The kids at Ky Quang were fighting a lot with each other and weren't listening to me, the kid I fed was crying and being really difficult, then at Thi Nghe I fell off my stool while feeding a kid and dropped the bowl of food on the ground.

In the evening, however, my mood got much, much better. I met up with Emma and Mikaela at the PH and we took a cab to the Rex Hotel. This time we made it for sunset, however it wasn't a very good one, and the expensive drinks were mediocre and definitely overpriced. A few nights earlier the girls coincidentally ran into a couple of their schoolmates from Sweden who met up with us at the Rex. While discussing what to do for the evening the guys mentioned that the previous night they had met a German man who married a Vietnamese woman, and the couple took them to her cousins restaurant in District 2. They said that they had a great time and that they were invited back again so we all decided to go. 

Pic: The rooftop at the Rex Hotel

It turned out to be a great, or even epic, night. We arrived there by taxi at 7 and saw that the "restaurant" was really a hole in the wall with a grill out front. After greeting us, the owner grabbed a folding table and a halogen light and took us across the street. Then he grabbed 3 cases of beer and brought them over two us and went to get some ice at a store down the block. He sat down with us and his kids came over as well, and for the next 5 hours we drank, played with the kids, and had great conversations. We never asked for any specific foods, but his wife kept bring over plates of food ranging from skewered pork to bbq shrimp and stir fried string beans with garlic. The food was delicious. 

Pic: From Left- Mikaela, Ludwig, the owner, Gus, and I. Notice the halogen light and folding metal table. Amazing

The owner is a martial arts teacher for the military by day, a restaurant owner in the evening, and has roosters that he takes cock fighting at night. He drives a hog instead of the little mopeds like everyone else, and has an amazing goatee. Other friends of his came and hung out as well. 

Pic: The Owner. 

Oh, and the most, um, interesting part of my night: I ate duck fetus. Thats right BVEC, I'm venturing into whole new culinary horizons. The Swedish guys said that they ate it the previous night and dared me to do the same. One of the daughters of the owner was selling them on the side of the road, and she boiled the egg for a couple minutes then gave it to me with chili-salt and lime. There was still a yoke in the shell, but surrounding it were feathers and veins, it was really weird looking- but surprisingly tasty. I definitely am not a vegetarian anymore....

Pics: Duck fetus anyone?

We left at 11 and went to a karaoke bar near our house, then went dancing at a club down the block. The clientele consisted of 50 bar girls (prostitutes) and 30 or so business men. We felt really out of place, so after an hour we called it a night and went home.

The next morning we woke up at 11 because we had to meet Segmund, a friend of Emma's father, in front of his office in District 1 at 12. We were told that he was having a Viking party, but that was it. We didn't know where it was going to be, how many people were invited, what time it started or went till, or what the heck a Viking party was going to be like. Bernard, a Norwegian guy that is working for Segmund, met us there and shortly after we were picked up by Segmund's driver and Segmund. 

We drove up towards the same area where Maya and Ian lived, and after 30 minutes we got to a beautiful country club right on the Saigon river. There were people setting up a stage, putting a pig and chickens on a spit, putting up banners all over the place, and generally setting up for what looked to be a huge party. He told us that we were going to be handing out the Viking hats and garments when guests got to the dock downtown, then they would get on 4 big wooden boats that Segmund chartered. 

After having a really fancy lunch at the country club's restaurant (I ate my first fresh shrimp, they were brought to our table alive and cooked in front of us) we got on a speedboat that took us to the dock in district one. 400 guest showed up, about half Scandinavian and half Asian. We passed out all of the hats then got on the last boat. Even the boats were fancy. Also, the sunset from the boat was incredible, I've never seen anything like it. 

When we got there people were already hitting the buffet, so we ate as well. We were sitting at a table with 4 Americans, two of which we had coincidentally met at the Rex Hotel the night before- small city... We ended up hanging out with them for the whole night, they were really fun. One of them works for George Lucas' visual effects production company and was on the team that won the academy award for The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, another is an architect that moved out to HCMC 6 months ago to design a casino for the beach town Vung Tau that I went to last week. Job opportunity? Maybe... 

After eating the band started to play and everyone danced. The band was Philippino and played Abba hits and Latin American music. It was so random. Then Segmund got on stage and told everyone to gather up for the traditional Viking activity: Tug of War. Everyone was split up into teams of 12 and we had a tournament. My team didn't win, which is unfortunate, because there was a drawing held of the participants of the winning team for a $2,500 gift certificate to a resort in Thailand. He brought Emma on stage to draw the winner. 

Then a group of professional dancers and singers came out and performed for an hour. Mikaela pushed me out onto the dance floor and I ended up dancing with one of them for a little bit. We were so hot after a few hours that we stripped down to our undies and jumped in the pool to cool off. 

The only bad part of the night: After I got out of the pool and dried myself off Mikaela, Emma, and Bernard started pushing each other back into the pool. I put on my clothes and walked to the edge to talk to the Swedes and some random Danish guy thought he would get in on the fun and push me in- I had my camera and wallet in my pocket. The camera got soaked and doesn't work now. Fortunately the memory card still works so I was able to salvage the 300 pictures I took over the past week, but the camera is done for. There goes 200 bucks. 

We went back into town with the other Americans, but we were so tired that we went home at 12. All in all, it was a fantastic weekend, although not really restful... Sunday I am going to the Cu Chi tunnels (where the Viet Cong hid from and attacked the Americans) with Jack, Defne, and Katrine. Should be fun!

1. One of the 4 boats that took us up the Saigon. 
2. Mikaela and I on the last boat. 
3. The sunset from the boat- most amazing I have seen. Like a postcard. 
4. Mikaela giving the outfit a test run
5. Emma and Mikaela with Segmund
6. Tug of War
7. Me dancing with the performer
8. Mikaela and I minutes before jumping in the pool
9. Emma on stage with Segmund drawing the winner of the prize