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Published: January 11th 2008
Christmas in Ho Chi Minh City
I experienced a Christmas about as different as they can be. Imagine a place that about half the women run around in pajama looking outfits. I was guest of honor at a number of Christmas dinners. I was told I was such a high guest of honor they really went all out for me and served me “dog.” I also got fed snake. It was more like rubber and it was the only thing Trung ever fixed for me I didn’t like.
I attended a number of Vietnamese weddings. This is a very popular time to get married. You see first hand the Vietnamese version of “saving face,” by spending more than they should. We have no idea how to stage a real bash like the Vietnamese do. If you like noise and beer, you are in hog’s heaven. If you don’t, like me, you be polite and diplomatic and endure the bash. I am getting less diplomatic all the time. Even leaving one bash and sitting in the parking lot away from the noise and people shoving beers at me. This is difficult for my English Teaching friend Phuong Tran to understand.
Early morning Mass
4:30 AM Near Tam Nong
He keeps dragging me off for events with the misconception I am having fun. Actually, I would just like to enjoy him. He is a man of enormous talent in teaching and music. I would just like to go somewhere quite and just enjoy talking to him.
Speaking of noise, living with Bich Lieu’s family isn’t easy for me either. Although Trung is a great cook, except for snake, and they give me the best bedroom with A/C. But, starting at about 3 PM to 9:30 PM it is piano practice time. That means from 9 to 11 electric pianos playing at the same time and loud. It can about drive me crazy. So I leave, but before I go, when my toes moves one fourth of an inch towards my sandals I hear: “Bố, where do you go?” This is well meaning as security is always on their minds but enforces my “captive” feeling. When I do go, I am never alone. I can’t have a cup of coffee with out people piling into my table, grabbing my Vietnamese Phrase Book and having a great time trying to teach me Vietnamese or sometime they want to learn English.
When it was time for me to go South on my “mission” to revisit Thien An Orphanage, the Unification Library and on to Cambodia to visit Bookor Hill Station, I packed a few things and was sitting on the porch ready for Trung to take me to the bus station when Bich Lieu came to me and said: “No buses today.” That brought on an hour long argument about buses running that day. She finally admitted that there were buses running but she just didn’t want me to go. It is either “love” or they just want to possess me. It’s hard to tell sometime. I keep telling them that I biked from Hanoi to Saigon two years ago and didn’t lose anything or myself and they give me a puzzled look and say: “That’s impossible.”
Lac Quang is a deeply religious Catholic Community. Not 100% Catholic but probably around 80 to 90 %. All, even the Buddhist went all out for Nativity scenes and Christmas lights. I bet there were 100 Nativity scenes in the neighborhood. At the Church on Christmas Mass there were about 4000 people. The streets all had lights strung over the streets.
How many Uncles does Trang have?
the high light of Christmas for me was accompanying Bich Lieu’s Choir to Tam Nong on a Christmas humanitarian mission. We were to bring foodstuffs and presents to the poor in that area. Bich Lieu is the Head Choir Leader of the main Choir in Lac Quang Church. They have seven Choirs in the Church. They not only sing together
but play together and often go on missions. I remember they took food to the hill people around Dalat once that was particularly memorable. They really seem to enjoy each other and when we left for Tam Nong, at 10:00 PM I thought we would sleep all the way there. Instead, they started singing as soon as we left Saigon and continued all the way to Tam Nong.
They rented a van and filled it full of food and presents for the poor. Since I was the fat one of the bunch I got to play Santa Claus. What was the most impressive thing of the trip was the truly poor people we met and that on Christmas Eve morning, at 4:30 AM the Church was packed with people. Also worth noting is that the Peoples Committee made a
present to the Priest of a table and chairs. I don’t know what to think of that!!!
On Christmas day Bich Lieu gave her annual recital/party for all her 80 some students and parents. I again played Santa. It was somewhat of a dissippointment to me because it was much more party and less recital.
With Christmas over I am ready for my mission South, to revisit some good and trouble spots on my Rotary agenda.
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