Two kinds of gratitude: The sudden kind we feel for what we take; the larger kind we feel for what we give. ~Edwin Arlington Robinson
Amber is a past volunteer who literally fell in love with the neighbour - the boy next door to our volunteer house. A graphic designer from Canada, Amber decided to move to Vietnam to be with him. She learnt Vietnamese whilst waiting for her visa to come through and as of last year, traded in everything she knew for Tan.
We discuss this concept every now and then; how do you go from a country like Canada to one like Vietnam? Lifestyle, culture, perspectives and norms are all different.
Yet, being here for 3 months now, even I am surprised at what you can get accustomed to. Or more like, what you can live without and still function and be happy.
Coming from the land of plenty there are so many things I can see we take for granted. For me, hot showers will never have the same meaning again! On most days I compete with the shower to see who will outdo who. I gotta think strategically and have a plan to be able to wash my mop of a head and do all the rest before the hot water runs out. At the moment the shower is winning and I end up squealing through the lather rinse off. One day victory shall be mine....Till next time shower!
When Anthony came to visit, I thought I would have the longest list of things for him to bring me. But when I went to write it – I had nothing written down except for Nutella , Greek olives and Macca’s (can you believe Vietnam has no Macca’s?!).
This again got me thinking and debating with fellow volunteers: it is amazing how much we cling to materialistic items! I literally have a handful of clothes, 2 pairs of havianas and 1 pair of shoes. I didn’t even bring a handbag. I think of my 20+ handbags sitting all lonely back in my wardrobe wondering why I ever needed so many! Suffering from a case of keeping up with the Jones’ and confusing ‘need’ with ‘want’ maybe? Hmmmmm
I have never been happier with my mattress on the floor, chinese laundry with all my undies drying on makeshift clotheslines throughout the hallways and in my room, using toilet paper as napkins, having no hot water to wash dishes, no microwave, no oven! I am even getting used to the mosquitoes! You can no longer play dot to dot on me from all their bites – it’s like they’ve accepted me now too!
Seeing men sitting astride giant trucks with full unsecured loads of building materials clearing electrical wires and telephone lines out of the way so the truck has clearance to pass is normal for me now; as are the buffalos and cows I have to watch out for when riding my bike down the dirt path road to the orphanages. I pass the local markets where people deliver 3 fat pigs to a stall on the back of their scooter; I get offered cow cartilage as a ‘treat’ and going to a ‘cafe’ which is literally in someone’s front living room where Grandma serves us beer in her pyjamas? I do not even bat an eye lid.
The size of Vietnamese weddings had me thinking of Greek Weddings. Amber and Tan invited 250 people but were expecting anywhere between 300 – 500 to turn up. The amount of food served could compete with a Greek spread. All you hear is ‘eat more’ and whether you like it or not, food gets piled onto your plate. They made me eat so much I actually threw up – and that did not even stop them. They said I now had more room to ‘eat more’ again!
There was no photographer (official photos get done a week before!), no RSVP’s, no bridal party or bridal table. The bride and groom did not even get to eat because they do not get a table – their role is to walk around from table to table all day.
Cheesy music eat your heart out here – we had techno versions of Britney Spears, Celine Dion and then the Vengaboys Boom Boom Boom was a highlight. I do need to mention here that I got so excited when the bride and groom walked in to my favourite composition by Yanni. Who would have thunk it that Greek Yanni would make it to a Vietnamese wedding! After the techno entertainment, they come around with slips of paper and people write their name down – for what you may ask? Yep. Karaoke. So the rest of the wedding has the guests up on the stage singing songs. In lieu of flowers, if you liked the singer you would stab a bread roll through your chopstick and go up and offer it to them.
We brought 9 of the oldest girls from the orphanage to the wedding with us. I thought it was a great experience for them to be there.They got up and performed a traditional Viet dance which of course had me getting teary. It would have taken so much courage to get up and perform in front of 350 people. I talk about reintegration for these orphans alot at the NGO meetings and I felt that this was a great example of starting to cultivate that seed; their community seeing them as able and capable to contribute. From this, my brain started ticking and now, we are going to start taking small groups of children out of the orphanages for ‘outings’ once a week..... more on that in future updates though!
I was watching our 9 girls at the table. Their eyes would grow wide every time a new platter was served. You could see it in their faces they just wanted to attack the food. Instead, they offered us the platters first, then the eldest two made sure the rest of the girls got a share and were ok, before serving themselves what was left. They do not get ‘real’ meat at the orphanage. They get rice everyday cooked in a chicken, beef or fish stock, but never any pieces of meat. They ate and tried absolutely everything on that table – except the rice! They did not touch the rice and I do not blame them! I was actually worried their stomachs couldn’t handle all the food and were all going to be sick that night from over consumption! I was happy they had fun.
On the Sen front...... I still battling with the adoption agencies here. One day it looks promising and the next it's all systems down. They have changed their laws again and so I will go back in a few weeks and harass them again....
Lots of love,Anna