Post #14: Xin Chao Vietnam - We love you!

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Asia » Vietnam » Red River Delta » Hanoi
February 7th 2010
Published: February 9th 2010
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Nancy's class at the Hanoi Children's PalaceNancy's class at the Hanoi Children's PalaceNancy's class at the Hanoi Children's Palace

Miss Huong and our beloved students pose for a picture on our final day of class at the Hanoi Children\'s Palace!
With tears in our eyes and heaviness in our hearts, Joe and I said our last xin chao on January 28th as we left Hanoi on a 20-hour sleeping bus headed for Vientiane - the capital of Laos. We were both very surprised by how difficult it was to say goodbye to Vietnam when just eight short months ago, we were terrified to enter the country! Each teary goodbye we said made us realize just how much we fell in love with the country and it’s people, and had come to regard it as a real home.

The Hanoi Children’s Palace, where Joe and I volunteered one night a week, had a little party for us on our last night of teaching. Each of my little students rushed into the classroom with a beautifully wrapped gift for me. They pushed and shoved each other out of the way to show me their gift. They couldn’t wait for me to open the wrapping so they proceeded to do it themselves before I even had a chance! After the gifts had been exchanged (I bought each of them a Vietnamese to English translation story book), the photos taken, and the sweets eaten,

Joe poses with his adorable students on the final day of class.
the children assembled at the front of the classroom and sang all the English songs they learned during the year (most of which were Christmas carols). When they ran out of songs, they performed a Christmas play for me (in English) and then we read from their new books. It was so difficult to leave the classroom that night knowing that I’d never see those amazing and precious children again. It had become the highlight of our week to go to that school where we were greeted by bright, loving children who were astonishingly eager to learn English and profoundly grateful that we showed up each week. If we are ever in Hanoi again, we will definitely return to that school and spend much more time (if not all of our time) teaching there!

Of course, that’s not to say that we didn’t also love the students we taught at Apollo. It was almost as difficult on us when we told our “sometimes screaming children” and “frequently bitter adolescents” that we wouldn’t be returning the following week to teach them. As with the Children’s Palace, there were lots of photos taken, gifts exchanged, sad farewells spoken, and email addresses
Nancy's students in actionNancy's students in actionNancy's students in action

I should have been monitoring my students' work, but I couldnt bear to leave without get some pictures of this class. I loved them with my whole heart! I email with several students (imagine teenagers who are interested in emailing with adults!!!!), and its great fun for me!!
distributed. Joe had one young student - Lan Chi - who had been giving him a steady supply of illustrated love letters, poems and songs (e.g., “I very, very, very love you”) throughout the course. I understand she was crushed when Joe announced to the class that he was leaving, but we think it was for the best to let her down easy and/or prevent a potential stalking situation in the future!

We’ll also miss the Vietnamese staff at Apollo who always had a big smile and a friendly greeting for us when we came to school, and all the laughs we shared with the brilliant teachers we worked with. Our fellow teachers - primarily from England, Australia, and America, - humbled us with their creativity and talent for teaching English. They helped us so much as we struggled to become better teachers. Of course, they also almost killed us, as most of them are in their 20’s and can party a lot harder than we can. Our attempt to even remotely keep up with them invariably knocked us on our asses and put us out of commission for days at a time. We often said we needed to
Huong and Seim from ApolloHuong and Seim from ApolloHuong and Seim from Apollo

We've actually known these ladies the longest, since we met them in August when we did our CELTA training at Apollo. I was so touched when they presented us with gifts before we left. Have I said how much I love the people in Vietnam????
leave Hanoi just to save ourselves from the crazy life of an expat English teacher in SE Asia.

In the several weeks prior to leaving Hanoi, we were fortunate to have visited with most of the friends we made in Vietnam, including the students and teachers from our CELTA training course. We also said goodbye to the people in our neighborhood who we saw everyday and who made us feel welcome in our little community. It’s a long list, including Hien - the cheerful young woman who sold us egg, cucumber, and chili sandwiches on the sidewalk by school; Viet - the friendly man who sat in his silk pajamas at Hien’s sidewalk sandwich cart and watched the city go by; the man who parked motorbikes in front of our neighborhood church - he couldn’t speak any English and we never found out his name, but he unfailingly waved and smiled as we passed by at least twice (usually more) a day; the young girls in our neighborhood Boulangerie who made sure we got our bread when the Vietnamese customers elbowed us out of the way as we waited in line (as is is the norm in Vietnam -
Our final Sunday night with fellow teachersOur final Sunday night with fellow teachersOur final Sunday night with fellow teachers

This was a tradition that came to define our weekend work at Apollo. It started out in September as two beers for an hour or so on Sunday night and evolved into ?? beers for five hours or so. The management were kicking us out at 11pm at the end!
people do not queue!); Ms. That who sold us vegetables for a fair price in the market; Ms. Ngoc who sold us fruit for a fair price; the tofu lady; the banana lady … and so on. We grew to love them all dearly and we will miss them so much!

We left our Hanoi flat on 22 January and made a few stops before we left the country for good. First, we traveled three hours northeast to the small city of Lang Son which sits on the border between Vietnam and China. There we stayed in the home of one of our former CELTA students, Linh. Linh is an extraordinarily beautiful young Vietnamese woman who teaches English in the villages outside of Lang Son City. She invited Joe and I to come to her village and meet her students. It was a remarkable experience because we got a glimpse into the home life of several typical, small-town Vietnamese families and got to see what public schools are like for kids in rural Vietnam.

First, I can tell you that both are very cold! It was rainy and bone-chillingly raw in Lang Son when we arrived and neither
Goodbye dinner with Hien and TrungGoodbye dinner with Hien and TrungGoodbye dinner with Hien and Trung

Hien puts the finishing touches on her amazing seafood hotpot during our last dinner together before we left Hanoi. Hien and Trung will have a baby boy in the next several weeks.
the homes nor the schools are heated. We left for Linh’s school at 7 a.m. on a drizzly and grey Saturday morning without enough coffee or warm clothes. It was a bumpy, hour-long bus ride to the outlying village where the school was located but we were greeted by dozens of cheering secondary school students screaming “Hello” from every open door and window in the building. During our 3 day stay there, we helped to teach a half dozen classes of primary and secondary students in public and private schools in the city and its outlying villages. It was extremely rewarding (not to mention fun and interesting) to teach children who had never seen a foreigner before, let alone hear one speak English. This trip seemed particularly important because the children in most of these communities are too poor to probably ever attend a private English school and the province itself is probably too poor and remote to ever attract foreign teachers on a more permanent basis. Our hosts in Lang Son were amazingly generous and hospitable. Linh, her friend Lan, and their family and friends housed us, fed us, took us on guided tours of the city, invited us
Farewell lunch with our teaching assistants and friendsFarewell lunch with our teaching assistants and friendsFarewell lunch with our teaching assistants and friends

Joe and I had a special lunch with two of the most beautiful and intelligent University students in Hanoi, followed by afternoon tea in a funky Chinese tea house. Phuong Hang (right) and Nhung (left) are studying social development in University and they work as teaching assistants at Apollo. Phuong Hang has done a lot of work on preventing human trafficking in Vietnam.
for Karaoke, and took care of our every need and want. When the time came for us to leave, we had made many new friends and we vowed to come back for an extended period of time the next time we’re in Vietnam.

From Lang Son, we hopped on a local bus to Ninh Binh, a small but stunningly beautiful community two hours south of Hanoi for our last hoorah in Vietnam. On our first day there, we toured the ancient Bich Dinh Pagoda and took a boat ride through the Tam Coc caves where we spent the afternoon gazing at stunning karsts and riverside temples. Much to our delight, our friends Minh and Duy from Hanoi joined us for our last two days in Ninh Binh of exploring more caves, temples, pagodas, and a rain forest in the Cuc Phuong National Park! It was an absolute delight for us to hang out with Minh and Duy - two of the most handsome, intelligent, generous, loving, funny, and peaceful people I have ever met in my life. We all drove back to Hanoi together and it came time to say goodbye for good …or perhaps until next time. With that goodbye, Joe and I boarded a bus for Laos and started the third and final part of the rehumanization tour.

Additional photos below
Photos: 28, Displayed: 27


Saturday morning English class in Lang Son, VietnamSaturday morning English class in Lang Son, Vietnam
Saturday morning English class in Lang Son, Vietnam

Joe, Nancy and Linh pose with the students after class.

Joe and Linh sing a duet at Karaoke on Saturday night in Lang Son. Karaoke is huge in Vietnam! This was our first time in a karaoke club. We sat on comfortable couches in a private room, and our hosts ordered trays of snacks, beer and rice wine. One point of local culture - Linh told us we had to go back to her sister's house early or else we might be stopped by the police and get in trouble because foreigners aren't supposed to stay in the homes of locals.
Sunday lunch with Lan's family Sunday lunch with Lan's family
Sunday lunch with Lan's family

Lan invited us to lunch at her brother's house on Sunday afternoon. Her and her sister-in-law prepared a feast and invited cousins and friends to join in. Our hosts were amazingly generous - Lan's brother insisted on opening (and drinking) several bottles of rice wine and whiskey. There were endless drunken toasts (primarily among the men) to friendship between Vietnam and America. Its was quite the experience!
Joe and Lan's brother after lunch (and rice wine)Joe and Lan's brother after lunch (and rice wine)
Joe and Lan's brother after lunch (and rice wine)

One of one million bear hugs, handshakes, embraces, kisses. At one point, Lan's brother took both of my feet/legs in his hands and started waving them up and down. Clearly things had gone too far!
Nancy and Joe visit a small, private English center in Lang SonNancy and Joe visit a small, private English center in Lang Son
Nancy and Joe visit a small, private English center in Lang Son

Linh's friend runs a small private English center in her home. Joe and I went for a visit on Sunday afternoon. The children had a million questions for us and asked all of them with their new English words (Do you like pizza? Yes, I do. Can you swim? No, I can't). We sang songs and played games. These children never saw a westerner before. They were jumping out of their skin when we arrived. One small group chased our taxi down the street, screaming goodbye, as we left!
Bich Dinh Pagoda in Ninh Binh, VietnamBich Dinh Pagoda in Ninh Binh, Vietnam
Bich Dinh Pagoda in Ninh Binh, Vietnam

Entrance to the pagoda grounds, where cavernous temples abound.
Floating among the karsts in Ninh BinhFloating among the karsts in Ninh Binh
Floating among the karsts in Ninh Binh

Joe and I arranged a canoe ride through the Tam Coc Caves in Ninh Binh. It was idyllic.

10th February 2010

You luck ducks
Wow, did you have an experience. I'm sure this won't be your first. I love you guys. the pics are beautiful and so are you. See you very soon. Alba and Ronnie
10th February 2010

In Awe
I am in awe of you right now. You are amazing. I'm looking at all that your seeing and doing and i am just speechless. What a beautiful person you are!!!
12th February 2010

Fabulous Adventure
Thanks for sharing your heart-warming, rehumanizing? tour with us. Loved it all!
8th March 2010

Amazing Logs and Photos
Thanks so much for the wonderful logs and photos. I so enjoy reading about your travels and the interesting people you are meeting.
12th June 2010

We miss You and Joe!
Hello from Hanoi of Vietnam! We missing you !
4th July 2011

Loved your comments
Hi Nancy and Joe, Loved your comments about your stay in Ha Noi and your Children's Palace experience. Luis

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