It isn't about me at all, but might give you a better understanding about the SALT program and what it's all about.
We caused quite a commotion when we left the restaurant--all the servers waved us off, saying, "See you later!" and watched us walk down the street.
This (Sunday) afternoon, Anh Vang (my father-figure) invites me into the living room to watch TV with him. Sure, why not?
I sit down to observe his TV tastes--VERY LOUD salsa dancing. He is sitting on the floor, organizing the family's collection of DVDs. Chooses one and puts it in, starts it, turns the volume up, leaves. So I sit, by myself in this very trendy room in VIET NAM watching none other than "VH1 Divas Live in Las Vegas." Featuring Celine Dion, Cher, the Dixie Chicks, Shakira, Anastasia. All in ridiculous outfits, of course. Beginning with a rendition of ACDC's "You Shook Me All Night Long" by Celine Dion and Anastasia.
So I sat there. I watched the whole thing. Laughed a lot. I may have sang along to a few select songs. And the whole time I was thinking, What am I doing here?!
Yeah, "sometimes I fill like a figment of my own imagination."
My family consists of Grandma (Ba), uncle/"older brother"/dad (Anh --), aunt/"older sister"/mom (Co Van), and two younger sisters, 12/13 and 14/15 years old (Vietnamese add a year to their ages...). One of my sisters is obsessed with Michael Jackson, the other with Miley Cyrus--clearly we have lots in common. The other night I watched (a terrible quality DVD) Twilight with my younger sister. She was shocked that I had not yet seen it, particularly since she had already seen it at least three times. I have a funny suspicion that I may learn more about American pop culture here in Viet Nam than I knew previously, having lived a somewhat pop culture-deprived life up till this point.
Co Van and my sisters speak English quite well, which has been very nice but could be a little too easy and potentially interfere with learning Vietnamese.
The house is quite nice, other than its lack of toilet paper (I have now rectified this situation). I have my own room, which is complete with a brand-new, matching, bright pink sheet set; a baby blue curtain; a pastel-colored windchime hanging in the middle of the doorway that I hit my head on every time; and, of course, a few christmas decorations for good measure.
My favorite thing about the location of my new house is that it is on the edge of Ha Noi; thus, it is in a relatively quiet neighborhood (other than the nearby construction that sounds, to me, like someone is pouring an endless bowl of lead cereal in the kitchen). Furthermore, it is close to fields, something I had forgotten the existence of since coming to Ha Noi! I have a had a few nice runs on the road next to the fields, where there is minimal traffic and less than half as many staring, "hallo!"-yelling people. In addition, I feel like I can breathe; apparently I can handle the smell of manure much better than that of bus fumes, cigarette smoke, and general pollution.
The downside to my location is that it is very far from everything except church. It's about a 25-minute bike ride to The Gioi, and about 40 minutes to school/MCC. Guess I'll be getting my exercize, which is great considering my family always seems to think that either
a) I cannot pick up food items with my chopsticks or
b)I am too shy to eat as much as my giantish stature requires;
therefore, they feel the need to pick up food items with their chopsticks and deposit them in my bowl, to try to convince me to take another heaping bowl of rice, and to buy me random pastries.
My favorite thing so far is seeing what's for breakfast. Ba prepares this meal for me, and so far I have had something different every morning: eggs, floating in oil, and a loaf of french bread; some kind of pastry with meat and tiny hardboiled eggs inside; grilled ground-meat sandwiches on very square, very white bread; milk from paper pouches--you name it.
So far, I have spent a lot of time here being, well...bored. My sisters seem to go to school/do homework pretty much all the time. I feel constantly torn between not wanting to seclude myself in my room, but not really knowing what else to do with myself. It is a challenge to be in a place where I do not know exactly what my place is; it is difficult to play a role when I do not know my lines.
However, it is a relief to be finally rid of the suitcases I have been living out of for the past month and a half. And even though I do not yet know what my role in this household is going to be, now that I am here I can at least begin the long process of discovering it.
The whole idea struck me as funny--I don't know a whole lot of companies that load up 60ish people into two charter buses, hire two tourguides, and go up to a park/resort in the mountains for a day.
This trip was fun, though overwhelming:
1. It was a relief for this country girl to get out of the city, even if only for a day. The mountains are beautiful. We walked up to a waterfall--also very nice.
2. The bus-ride to our destination was hilarious. The tourguide on our bus was very high-energy and started a singing competition in which we were supposed to think of songs with a particular word in them (and sing them, of course). People who either couldn't do this, or sang songs with the wrong word had to pay a small fee....it will be shocking to those of you who know anything about my singing abilities to know that I did participate (with Ali and under extreme pressure) in the competition (maybe less suprising to those of you who have witnessed displays of my competitive nature). Everyone especially liked our rendition of "You Are My Sunshine."
3. This was my first time being around people who spoke primarily Vietnamese for that long. It was overwhelming and exhausting. Also a bit discouraging as when I did try some Vietnamese, the victim of my attempt didn't have the faintest idea what I was trying to say. On the brighter side, I recognized numbers when the tourguide counted down to the end of the bus competition.
Ali and I responded to the fun but strange day by returning to Derek's and making ourselves some good ol' (gourmet) grilled cheese.
Hopefully looking at these pictures will give you a glimpse of what my new life actually looks like (something that I have been receiving lots of questions about in emails).
...Today I (and everyone else) have the day off work because it is a National Holiday (Independence Day). Last night Ana, Ali, Derek, and I stayed up far too late playing a card game they taught me (yay for learning new games!) called "Hand and Foot." So I slept quite late this morning, then sampled a Vietnamese delicacy that Ana brought home for me: A hard-boiled duck egg, complete with bones and feathers. Ana was impressed with me. She said she has never seen a foriegner--particularly an American--eat a whole duck egg! It wasn't bad--I would probably eat another one... (Sorry Arkus!)