Saturday, May 22, 2010

Hello from Ha Noi!

Now that the build is over (more on the last of it in a bit), I am traveling on with a couple of my Habitat teammates to points in Northern Vietnam. We flew from Saigon to Ha Noi this morning (on 2 hours of sleep...) and are taking a night train out to Sa Pa this evening... On the move!

So on Friday, we had the house dedications. We went to both houses, the unfinished one first, and heard some speeches, took some photos, and did a lot of crying (well, some of us did...). The owner of the first home cried a lot - I think he has a psychological condition which includes a lot of crying, but he seemed genuinely overcome with emotion at the ceremony. The second homeowner, whom we never really talked to on the site, said some words that really made me emotional, including the fact that we were a part of making his dream come true. The fact that that dream was simply to have a place to live is mindblowing to me. I am so incredibly glad that I took part in this, but it's important to remember that these are only 2 families out of so many that are living in substandard conditions. It's all been a good reminder to me to get back into volunteering, something I did a lot of when I was younger but have really neglected more recently.

After the dedications we had a little break and then took a field trip out to Xuan's (our fixer) aunt's house in the country. She lives on a farm, so we got to see rice paddies (dry at present but will become flooded soon for harvest in July), a pig and piglets, day-old puppies, and chili fields. It was really neat, a true, authentic experience, and Xuan's aunt was so gracious and cute.

Friday night, we had a big celebration for Erika, one of our teammates' birthdays. All build long, we have been eating well but we were in My Tho which is pretty small and less sophisticated than Saigon, so we did it up right in the city. We started out with drinks at a nice place called Temple, and then had dinner at a pretty upscale Vietnamese restaurant. Then we cabbed over to a club called Apocalypse Now and had an insane time on the dance floor. It's been a while since I've been out to a club, so it was really fun to get sweaty and dance the night away. We got back to the hotel about 2am, which was a little rough because my flight to Ha Noi departed at 6:30am...

So after the flight, we checked into a hotel just to have a place to stash our bags (pretty cheap between three of us). I'm travelling with two Americans, Beth who is an auditor in Sydney, Australia, and Casey, who is the director for the Governor's mansion in Sacramento (meaning he gets to plan parties and talk to Arnold Schwarzenegger in the kitchen). We then walked around the Old Quarter of the city for most of the day, having a nice lunch (smoked salmon eggs benedict, a nice change from all the Vietnamese village food we've been having. Don't get me wrong, I've loved it and will continue to eat it until I leave, but it was nice to have something a little different!) It is just as hot here as in Saigon, so it is pretty exhausting to sightsee, but I'm glad I got some of it done. I will have about 24 hours in Ha Noi later on, so I still have time to do other parts. The old quarter is interesting, as every street is kind of known for a different thing (street names mean things like "Cotton Street" or "Drum skin" though the meanings have changed over time). So we saw a street that had a lot of toy shops, one that had a lot of silk shops, some that had a lot of tin objects, etc. Pretty cool! And with all that stuff going on on the ground level, it can be so easy to forget to look up, but when we did we were rewarded with a lot of neat architecture (french influence, so it kind of looks like New Orleans, with balconies and shutters) and huge, super old trees. The old quarter used to be completely walled in until the mid 19th century, but it's mostly been dismantled save for the West gate, which we were able to see.

Hope to write more later, but now it's time to have some dinner and get ready to sleep on a train!

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