Alicia and I have been spending our mornings this week being, essentially, tourists. We have gone to points of interest throughout the city, learning as we do so about the various forms of transportation that we will use throughout the coming year (so far, walking is my favorite).
We have two of the best tourguides possible for our situation--Chi Ouah and Hannah. Chi Ouah (prounounced like "wine" with a "g" at the end. Chi is a form of address used for someone older than myself, but younger than my parents...i think.) is the receptionist at the MCC office. She is quite knowledgeable about everything from the Temple of Literature's construction date to which taxis are real and which are fake to which kind of ice cream is the best (!). She speaks English quite well and is also very sweet. Hannah is one of last year's SALTers who is back for another year. She works at The Gioi (where I will work) and at the MCC. She speaks Vietnamese quite well (was actually on a Vietnamese talk show this spring!) and is the perfect person to answer Alicia and my many questions. Hannah also happens to be a Calvin grad.
So, Tuesday we visited the Temple of Literature, built (the first time) in 1070:
Wednesday was Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum, house, and museum. As we walked past his body, I was reprimanded by a soldier for holding my hands behind my back. By doing this, I apparently implied that I held a position of authority over Ho Chi Minh, which I clearly do not. Walking demurely with my hands held at my sides was deemed much more respectful. Something I thought was interesting about this visit was that, although there was a magnificent palace on the grounds, Ho Chi Minh chose to live in a small stilt house because he wanted to put himself on the level of his subjects.
Thursday we went to the Museum of Ethnology, where we learned about the many different ethnic groups of Viet Nam and toured replicas of their traditional dwellings.
Today we are going to explore downtown, around "The Lake" and the old French Quarter. In the afternoon we are going to a water puppet production.
After our sight-seeing excursions, we arrive to the MCC office in time to partake in the communal lunch prepared by the office cook. These communal meals are one of my favorite things so far: we each get a bowl of rice, and then grab with our chopsticks from the various dishes of meat, beansprout salads, fried peanuts, etc. that reside in the center of the table. Passing dishes is rare, as are, apparently, germs. I love this; it coinsides so well with my anti-germaphobic outlook on life (hopefully this attitude won't get me in trouble when I want to buy food from street vendors). After every meal, we sit around and eat fruit of new and exotic varieties: dragonfruit, jackfruit, asian pears, the one-I-can't-remember-the-name-of that I call "eye-ball fruit."
We spend the afternoons in Derek's gloriously air-conditioned office doing orientation--talking about some logistics of our new life and of MCC Viet Nam, about the tensison between attempting to adjust and to be culturally sensitive--to fit in--and the fact that we will always, no matter how well we learn to speak Vietnamese or navigate traffic, stick out. Essentially, even after this week of planned tourist activities is over, I will still be a tourist, something that still rubs me the wrong way, but to which I will just have to concede defeat.