mcc salt orientation article

Here is the link to an article that was written about the MCC SALT orientation that I attended in Akron prior to leaving for Viet Nam:

Bridge Building between Cultures Begins at MCC Orientation

It isn't about me at all, but might give you a better understanding about the SALT program and what it's all about.

friday night out

I seem finally to be creating a pattern in my life, and this includes going out for supper with some friends from church on Friday nights.

Last night, we deviated from our usual restaurant choices, which tend to be nicer, more "expensive" places with foreign food. It was up to Ali and me to choose the restaurant last night and we decided to go for something more local. So we settled on a "Bia Hoi Ha Noi" close to our school and Ali's house, which is always packed with Vietnamese. It is in a less touristy area than we sometimes hang out, and we appeared to be the only foreigners there. We decided that, even if the food was terrible or something, it would still be quite a cultural experience...and it was!

The food was not terrible; in contrast, it was quite good. We had fried rice, noodles, eggplant, and the largest bowl of mussels I have ever seen. I think that every server in the place waited on us, because they all loved us. Joel (the only guy with us) was particularly admired by every female server in the restaurant. We gladly posed for their pictures, then took some of our own.

Just before we finished, one of the servers knelt down on the floor beside me. Contrary to what I am beginning to expect in such situations, this was not a marriage proposal; rather, it was him saving the poor foreigners from a rat that was hiding in a crack in the floor by my chair! We were all impressed by--and grateful for!--his ability to catch the rat and throw it out into the street (and away from us).

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.

Yeah, we're pretty much famous. We also plan to go again....

dear gram

Last week my family gathered in Goshen, Indiana to celebrate the life and mourn the death of my Dad’s mother. Considering that I never thought I would find myself wanting to attend a funeral—who does?--it is ironic that I found myself wishing that, when they dug the grave, they could continue until they had dug the proverbial tunnel to China—well, actually to Viet Nam—and that I could fall through the bowels of the earth to make a surprising appearance next to my grandmother’s grave.

Not because it would really have done anyone any particular good for me to be there. Not because I thought that my presence would somehow ease her passage into the afterlife. Not because I felt a need, like that of my Vietnamese family, to present her spirit with gifts and seek, in turn, her blessing on my life. No—I felt an impossible desire to be present because her life had already been such a blessing that there was nothing more to be asked of her.

I wanted to be with my family during this time not to ease their sadness—I don’t think I really have particularly good counseling skills—but rather to cry with them, and in so doing somehow make the reality more real to myself and, eventually, to laugh with them, turning slowly through the vivid memories of Grandma's life and cherishing each now-even-more-precious moment.

Being unable to actually penetrate through the muddy alleys of Hanoi far enough to even catch a whiff of a field of sweet corn in Indiana, I made do with my own memories. As I reflected, I found myself wishing that I could once again wander with Grandma through the aisles of quilts at the Mennonite Relief Sale, exclaiming over their minuscule stitches, which never cease to amaze me; or play Rummikub with her while eating ice cream and drinking the Vernors’ ginger ale she bought just for me when I came to visit; or squeeze into the back seat of Grandma and Grandpa’s tiny pickup truck for a road trip from Arizona to Indiana…

But really, such wishes are not only futile, but also selfish, and all I really want to say is:

Dear Gram,

I’m so happy that you can breathe again.

I’m relieved that you can breathe well enough to be finally rid of that horrid wheelchair—that you can walk comfortably again. I’m glad that you can once more use your green thumb to nurture the flowers that you always loved so much, and that you can do so in a place where, if the streets are paved with gold, the flowers must surely surpass the beauty of earthly gems.

I’m so thankful for the example you have left me, and I can only hope to follow it in some way, even if my imitation looks far different from the life you lived. Although I seem to lack all traces of the mothering instinct expected of my gender, and even if I never have children, or grandchildren, or great-grandchildren, I hope that my life can somehow reflect the way you chose to live yours; I hope that I can learn to focus less on doing great things and more on--as Mother Teresa said it and you lived it--doing "small things with great love."


"sometimes i fill (sic) like a figment of my own imagination"

The title is a quote from a little diary book that I bought my second or third day in VN because it amused me so much. It is the sort of thing--sort of like my new bedroom decorations--that I would never have at home. It has pictures of princess-y people in pink and baby blue (i feel like these colors are becoming a recurring theme? maybe I should change the background colors of my blog?), but what I love about it--why I was gasping for breath laughing in the store and had to buy it--is its spectacular quotes. Anyways, this quote is pretty much my life in a nutshell right now.


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."


new home

Well, it's finally happened! I have been accepted by a host family, and moved into my new home on Tuesday.

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.


day trip

Today (Sunday) I went on a day trip with The Gioi Publishers (the company I work for).

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.


traffic pictures

You should check out this link to Alicia's latest blog post to look at her collection of Ha Noi traffic pictures. I have been talking a lot in my blog about the craziness of traffic in Ha Noi, and Ali was kind enough make a blog post dedicated to the subject. If I was to write a similar post, all the pictures would be the same anyways...

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).



weekend in pictures...

My weekend started off on Friday morning with a trip to a local salon down the alley from the MCC office. Chi Oanh escorted me, and I left with a wonderfully easy and cool haircut. I also received, in the bargain, a hairwash and mini-facial. All for about 4.50 USD...
...That evening, the fun continued with a trip to the Ha Noi Opera House. A little Beethovan in a beautiful French building suited me just fine....
...Following the symphony, we got ice cream from the best place in Ha Noi. We had heard previously that this was the best place, and this rumor was confirmed when we got there and could hardly enter the shop for all the people and motos milling around outside. The rumor was re-confirmed when we ate the kem. Note in the picture: below the ice cream shop sign hangs a garland that says, "Merry Christmas." There are random Christmas decorations all over the place. Apparently the actual holiday is also quite a big deal, in the secular, commercial sense, of course. I wonder if they leave their decorations up all year, then get new ones at Christmastime? Or if they see how many years one garland will last? This particular one sported quite a few cobwebs...
...On Saturday, we visited a village on the outskirts of Ha Noi that is known for its ceramics. Actually, there appears to be nothing there but ceramics. I was overwhelmed, as I often am here, by the sheer volume of stuff...

...But I did find a tea-set I would like to get at some point....
...And then I found another one......and another one...

...and something far too cheesy for real life, but that I secretly thought was really cool...a wedding gift, maybe?...
...I have started a collection of pictures that demonstrate my giantish stature, but at the ceramic village I found one that actually proves the opposite!...
...We rode the bus to the village and back--always good for some excitement. Like Ali being told off by either the conductor or ticket collector for talking (you're technically not allowed to talk on the bus, although the conductor lays on the horn for pretty much the whole ride), or almost falling over every time it stops suddenly, or being asked by the man behind you if he can be your boyfriend.......On Sunday we went to church, and then to this great Indian restaurant afterwards. Here is a picture of Derek and his family leaving the restaurant on their moto. (From the left, Lucas, Derek, Chase, and Ana.) Also an excellent example of the extreme number of people I see riding around the streets of Ha Noi on motos. I don't think I've seen more than four people on one, but I've heard tell of seven people riding a single moto!...

...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!)