The Vietnam Story: Part I

Our dorm toilet received a major facelift today after Yoon quickly declared it the worst he has ever seen in his life. Cleaning something as bad as that was a workout I hadn’t had in while, but now looking at my work, I can proudly say that I can take all the time in world to take a dump. The floor sparkles like a fresh cut diamond, the mirror is spotless, the basin is full of life and the toilet seat opens its arms to all like never before. My dorm mates ought to present me with the honors of “roommate of the year” and if they somehow valiantly decide against it, I will make sure their child never gets to see their father ORrrrr I might just eat their dodgy chicken sandwiches so carefully saved in the fridge. Yeah…I think that’s a better idea. Violence solves nothing.

My poor room, on the other hand, still awaits my service but it can wait until I am done with this post.

Residential area in Hanoi
I have, in my own way, taken time to write something down, mostly due to the full menu course on jetlag, chunk of tiredness and hint of laziness. I am beginning to understand that it is not me who is lazy (yes, that’s true) but it’s the place where I reside that makes me one. Back in Vietnam, we had a tight schedule from early 6 30am to late at 1am and tell you what, I was surprisingly not myself.

So what about Vietnam? Its hard for me to even recollect and begin. I fear that the things I write down will do no justice to what I experienced firsthand but I will try using all of my blunt skills on the language to at least jot it down. I shall approach the trip in a rather different way. Instead of just writing the chronological details, I will touch on different aspects of the trip allowing you to read it, chew on it, spit some if you like, let the HCl in your stomach do its thing, allow it to move along the intestinal tract and finally, excrete the unwanted. Rephrasing, I will let you reconstruct allowing me to focus on what was important.

The flight:

Having just lost my wallet before boarding the airport bus, my trip didn’t exactly start as I would have liked. Back in Nepal, Mrs. Maskey Senior used to say I was the most careless amongst the kids and not surprisingly, the observation echoed with most of my teammates. Our family has a history of being notoriously absent minded (touch on that later), so in my defense, I shall just blame it all on the bloody genes.

Coming back to the topic, losing the wallet meant losing my alien registration card which meant losing my visa in Korea. I don’t have a clue on why they don’t simply extend the visa on the passport rather than putting it on that card. Cards get misplaced but Passports don’t. Or you can’t afford to.  Anyways, with some effort from the team, they let me in and I was on my way to Vietnam.

I think its because I have been more accustomed to the crappy Nepal Airlines that I found Asiana to be cozy enough. The food wasn’t bad, they had fresh beer and the movie selection was sufficient although less flattering. I didn’t fancy Bollywood as I am too lazy to keep grabbing the remote to skip the annoying dancing, so I just had a sip of some American action.

The return flight though was a problem. Without the visa, it looked as though I was going to stay a couple of days in Hanoi (which wasn’t a bad thing, really. The beer was dirt cheap, food was great. What else do you need?) but somehow with everyone’s act on the Immigration officer, I did manage to hop on with the rest.

Having had to devour a massive buffet right before boarding, I knew that i had to take a dump sometime on the plane. It did however come at a very VERY wrong time. As the plane approached Seoul, the weather outside was less accommodating, often throwing delightful bumps on the plane. As we all held on to the seat as the plane tumbled and shaked and dipped and tipped and whatever, the pilots in the cockpit tried to exert calm which wasn’t really working. I, on the other hand, needed to shit real bad. The toilet was close yet too far away. So I had to sit tighter and concentrate on closing that hole. Joseph, who sat right next to me, was going through the same. His face had a clear “I need to shit” mark.  Fortunately, the plane landed, everyone clapped and we were back home.

The People:

Taking a sip

Thanks to Sanjaa and Mahn, I had more opportunity to interact with the locals than the rest. Observation? They are possibly the most relaxed, laid back people I have got to talk to, a total 360 degree turn from the “Palli Palli” people I have got so used to seeing in Korea. They all look rather “stoned”. We had four Vietnamese on the team and they all seemed to reassert the same. They all looked they had all the time in the world, often sitting down for the traditional yellow-green tea which they sipped through (even in such humid, hot weather)  and smoke on Vietnamese traditional tobacco(known as Thuac Lau)  on their bamboo bongs (of course, our members had to be different) . I did try it myself and I tell you this, it hits you hard. I have no idea how they can smoke that thing day in day out.

Go mobile!
They are also apt on two wheelers. They make ants look dumb as they look so relaxed on carrying almost 5 times the allowable weight on skinny scooters. The kids are even better. How the hell are you not supposed to keep your eyes off a girl riding twice her sized bicycle who has ice cream cone in one hand, whose head is turned 90 degrees from where she is supposed to look down at the erratic muddy road with an even smaller kid sitting behind? There’s not a damn hint that says she might fall down. That’s skill.  I literally had to stand up and applaud. wow.

The Kids in school:

A whole week was spent with the same routine in mind. Wake up, eat and hop onto the bus, work on the school gate or the outer wall, come back, eat, take shower, back to the school, teach and interact with the kids, head back to the center, eat dinner, shower, meetings, food, beer, meetings, more meetings, snacks, shouting in the dorms, sleep.

In the mornings, the kids used to have their usual classes however they did have time to take a peek at what we were up to. Since no one could speak English, the communication was down to bare minimum. Often this bunch of kids used to come over and play around with me as if I was some monkey in a zoo, poking me with sticks on my ass, throwing stones and asking me to repeat weird Vietnamese phrases which they took great pleasure to listen to. I later stopped doing so as our Vietnamese translator said that the phrases actually meant “I suck” and “I am a dick”. Those innocent looking bastards. After that, I tried shooing them away with my paint brush but the more I did that, the worse it got. Kids….*takes long breath*

We had a total of 4 teams responsible for 4 different classes in the afternoon. Each team was asked to prepare their own set of unique curriculum, whether that’s Soap making, Kimbap making, T-shit abuse sessions, “almost fail” balloon rockets, mathematics with food, K-POP dancing or just plain English.  It was interesting to note that there were more girls than boys in the classroom, something that I rarely got to see. They were also more proactive and inquisitive than their male counterparts. I took special notice on this girl in our class who took initiative to talk, to answer, could understand some English and looked like she had already set her eyes on some Ivy school. She had the neatest clothes on, the cutest face and was possibly the smartest too. With the boys though, it was a whole different story.

Young German fan
While the girls were all elegant and all, the boys needed to be chained up. I was responsible for these 6 relatively big back benchers and oh my, they had pure raw energy. I had difficult time encouraging them to go forward as they often escaped my clutches at lighting speed. They eventually  got comfortable with me, often beating me up, asking me to call each other names for which I had no idea, giving me weird gifts (the tape ball for example) and challenging me in a game of thumb wrestling.  I do seem to miss them as I write this down.

I am still amazed at how creative these kids are with the papers and arts and so forth. This one time we asked the kids to just surprise wish Jara for his birthday but they eventually ended up preparing a birthday cake, giving him cards that they made and wishing him every bit of luck they had. It was also interesting to see how they folded up real money and made crafty looking objects as well. Luis was carrying a dollar worth of those, as gifts from kids that adored him. And let me remind you, a dollar there is worth two cans of beer, a rather impressive “beer currency” if you ask me.

Part B will be up very soon as I have already done the groundwork. Mr and Mrs Maskey Senior will be saying hi tomorrow so gotta go prepare. till next time.

Photo credits: Xin Ying


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