Thursday, January 29, 2009

When I Was in 'Nam: Take 2: Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh

Back in Ho Cho Minh, or Saigon (as we affectionately called it, just like the Vietnamese), we strolled the city to check out the outdoor night life. There was a park right by our hostel that people were playing a hacky-sack like game with a giant shuttlecock.

Tons of people were hanging on on their mopeds on the sidewalks or having snacks and drinks at toddler sized tables.

In the city center, there was a huge neon winter wonderland. It reminded me of the opening scene of "A Christmas Story" with the automotive train going around the winter scene, but with a lot more neon.

Strolling around near the markets led us to my favorite staple of Southeast Asia: the fruit stand! Seriously, I can't get enough of the variety and colors and textures and tastes of these fruits and they're so cheap! Mmmmm.

That night we headed to the parishioner's house we'd be staying at for the next three nights. We knew little about our volunteering position or where we'd be staying or really anything at that point in time. I was the one communicating with Father Thahn after our arrival and while he spoke some English, there was some miscommunication early on. We eventually made it there and had some incredibly awkward conversations and gesturing to try to sort things out. Eventually we had oranges, a nice room and somewhere to lay our heads that night.

The next day was Christmas Eve. Father Thanh continued to introduce us to many people. They were so kind and interesting. We got the 'grand tour' of the church, which included one of the priests stellar collection of antique lamps. Sweet.

Walking through the city streets, I couldn't help but notice an agrocrag-esque nativity scenes: everywhere. The nativity scenes were, ummm, vibrant. Brooke realized it was not Jesus in the moon, but rather Jesus in a cave... which is probably more historically correct than in a barn.

Around lunch time, we got to help out in the church's annual Christmas Eve tradition of serving lunch to local community members who may not have had much food that day otherwise. We got to meet Thao, who spoke perfect English and explained all the outreach programs the church is involved with from activities she runs at an orphanage in the Central Highlands to flood relief in the Mekong Delta. This was a real joy for me. It was totally motivational to hear her passionately speak about the programs. Amazing woman. The community the church is based in is very tightly knit. An 'everybody knows everybody' kind of town, namely because most of the people are related.

Although I couldn't really talk with most of the people at the luncheon, their faces really lit up at the event. I did get to sit down and talk with one woman for a while. She was 70 some years old and made the effort to use the little English she knew. What a sweetheart. We then joined Father Thanh and another Father from the US for lunch together.

After lunch we went to Ms. Thao's family's house to help make and organize the food bags we'd be delivering to homeless residents later that night. Her neice wanted to steal the food. I wanted to steal her niece.
Everybody in, now!

At night, we attended the Christmas Eve Mass at Father Thanh's church. It was a spectacle, to say the least. There was traditional dancing, a nativity play, singing...
and five Santas? I'm pretty sure that was the real reason all the kids were there, as each got a present from a Santa. Apparently I was not as unique as I thought I'd be with my Santa suit.

The families all hung around the Christmas clad church for quite awhile after mass.

After church we ate dinner and strolled the streets. Extended families were gathered in their living rooms with their doors wide open showing a massive food spread and people laughing and talking together. Others were dining outside at tables. And others were posing with one of many nativity scenes in the city. Awwww, what a happy family we are.
Oh, and in the Japanese tradition of Christmas, we had Christmas cake... and in my tradition of desserts we had ice cream.

11pm was the rondevous time for our cyclo caravan around the city to deliver the food bags and Christmas cards and presents I had brought. Rewind: when I found out we'd be volunteering in Vietnam I thought it'd be a great way to get my Japanese kiddos involved in internationalization by communicating in English and donating if they were interested. Several of my classes made stellar Christmas cards to donate and the staff at my schools really pulled together to donate a ton of school supplies for the orphanage and a financial donation as well. Fast forward: I thought I'd be super unique by donning a Santa suit for the delivery. I was not, but several parents forced their kids to take pictures with me anyway.

Back at the church, Kristine is my sexy reindeer.
Hitting the streets!

Ahn wishing this woman a Merry Christmas.
After delivering all the food bags around 2am, everyone came back to our host family's house for yet another meal. I think our host mother ran a catering business, so she had the food and service down to a T. It was awesome. We got very little sleep that night.