The sky threatens rain and our bus full of boys pull up to the rollerblading (patin) rink.
Rink would be a large exaggeration. The place consists of a small square metre of concrete, thankfully with a roof as the sky seems likely to make good on its threat. There is a small course of ramps in one corner and a small booth renting skates in the other. A couple teenagers hang out in the rink talking. Some more are engaged in a heated foosball game. With a busload of kids in tow, we make our way to the booth. The girl inside and the teenagers alike look on apprehensively at the large mass of small boys milling around the entrance.
It soon becomes clear that the lady has no boots the kids’ size. Unfazed ,the carer and Nhung (our Vietnamese translator) start fitting the kids with dangerously over sized boots. Before we know it there are tens of kids falling over their own feet all across the "rink".
Having never rollerskated in their lives plus the grossly oversized skates was not a good combination. To my utter surprise, the kids were loving it. Eyes wide and teeth showing, the kids stumbled across the rink with enthusiasm. You would have thought it was Disneyland for all the excitement in the air. Eager to get out and help the kids, I quickly found a pair of skates that fit and dived into the chaos.
Admittedly, there was not much I could do. Whilst I had picked it up reasonably well from experience in ice skating, the kids were having no such luck. It was hard to know where to start. I would help one kid up and hold him steady along for a bit. Then see another kid on the floor go to help him, and five seconds later the first kid had fallen on his face. Between Anna and I, hundreds of falls were averted. Whilst hundreds more continued unprevented behind our backs.
As the highschool students got out for the day, the rink began to fill up. Whilst some sped through in an inconsiderate manner, more, to my amazement, joined Anna and me in helping the kids. Here was the magic of Vietnam and its people. The unadulterated kindness intrinsic in their very nature.
Towards the end of our time, Anna pointed out a couple of the kids who had become confident on their skates. The speed with which amazed me, and reassured me that even with all the falls, the outing was worth the effort.
We stopped for dinner on the way back at a noodle place where the boys consumed three times their number of bowls and a can of coke apiece.
The day out with the girls of BO was infinitely different to our day with the boys. Proof of this point was first established with a simple question: where would you like to go? The answer: the co-op mart. We would have literally taken them anywhere within a 20km radius and the girls wanted to go to the mall. Not that there is the slightest thing wrong with that. What seemed like a boring errand to me must have seemed like the epitome of adventure to the girls. After all the time they spent in the orphanage, with school being the only other environment they experienced on a day to day basis, it was only natural that they would want to see the co-op.
Once inside I led a group of girls up the escalator and into the bookstore. I'm no stranger to bookstores myself, however the degree of intensity the girls beheld the shelves of books with was extraordinary. The older girls helped the younger ones find books before picking out their own. The silence that fell at this point was another important example of how incapable the boys would be of acting in such a way. After making sure the girls were settled in nicely I went in search of a book to pass the time. The fruits of my search: the Vietnamese hunger games, the complete Vietnamese series of game of thrones, and a year 9 maths textbook that I could understand just enough of to know it was way too advanced for me to understand.
Anna soon joined us and we all headed downstairs to the arcade. We checked the younger girls into a miniature lollipops play land type play area complete with a ballpit, jumping castle, swings and karaoke.
We then continued on to the arcade.
Tokens for the games were 2000VND, around A$0.10, each. We bought each girl ten tokens and let them go off to play their games. The younger girls were obsessed with this one game that I could not for the life of me work out. There were three cups that lifted up and down and they would press a button and sometimes 3 tokens would appear in the slot in the bottom.
The older girls spent their time on the foosball tables.
Soon enough, pleading faces and outstretched arms surrounded me. With such cheap tokens it was impossible to say no to their pleading faces. I caved easily.
When all tokens were spent and the younger kids were finished playing in their area, we headed back to the minivan and out for ban xeo, crispy pancakes.
Notable things about the dinner: a girl vomited after the swings in the play area plus the bumpy car ride. The girls were fascinated by old faded pictures of women on the wall of the restaurant. Anna sung ‘one direction’ to my extreme displeasure, yet to extreme pleasure of the teenage girls..
On the bus back to the orphanage, the younger kids started dancing to radio music. Contentment filled me as I watched the happiness of childhood plastered over the faces of all the girls. It was a great day.