Day 10 April 20

Today was the earliest most of us woke up during the entire trip. We were greeted by banging on doors and an energetic Tim around 4:30 in the morning. However, what was to come was well worth the price of losing a few hours if sleep. We were out of the hotel within an hour and hopped on a new bus ready to take us on a tour to the beach town of Vũng Tàu. Our tour guide was a vibrant and lively character named Bee, who stated he could not fly but he could sure sting. After an hour of driving we stopped for breakfast at what must have been the most beautiful rest stop in all of Vietnam. We then got back on the bus for about another hour and a half. Though it felt much shorter due to the jokes of Bee. Eventually we arrived in the rather large town of Vũng Tàu. Our first destination was the giant 32 meter statue of The Christ on top of one of the mountains surrounding the city. The statue is even taller than The Christ in Rio de Janeiro. We climbed all the way to the top of the mountain and up into the statue to find stunning 360 views of the ocean and city. Everyone was incredibly hot and sweaty and wanted nothing more than to swim. We hurried to beach and sprinted to the sea. The water was very warm and almost painfully salty. Many abandoned the fun waves to tan. The playing and splashing stirred a hunger in us all which was satisfied in a massive "palace". After our huge meal of seafood and other Vietnamese delicacies we had two more stops on our tour. The first being a beautiful Buddhist temple, the second being a strange dairy farm and market. It was finally time to return to Ho Chi Minh for some rest and relaxation to prepare for tomorrow.

Barb’s added comments

It was Phuong’s Birthday today – so My and Barb went to a local bakery and bought an assortment of delicious cake slices.  We went to Five Oysters and ate dinner at a roof top garden which was very beautiful looking out at the city at night.  A round of Happy Birthday was sung by all to say thanks for all of the hard work Phuong has done translating on the trip.

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Days 8-9 April 18-19

Day 8 -- We spent most of the day traveling from An Giang to Ho Chi Minh City.  It was a long bus ride with tubs in the back storage area and the back seat of the bus -- so it was a cozy ride back to Ho Chi Minh City.

We spent the evening settling in to our Hotel, The Blue River Hotel.  It was down an alley off the main street -- so we had to carry 27 tubs down the alley.  A local Vietnamese man helped us with his cart.  The hotel staff are very friendly and helpful.  Every time we walk out of the hotel -- we are approached by vendors selling sunglasses.  We ate at Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken the first night and everyone went to bed early after a long day of traveling.

Day 9 -- We went to the Vietnam War Museum today.  The stories and images are too sad and horrible to describe in words -- the violence and trauma to buildings, land, animals, and all people involved.   A reminder about the importance of working towards peace always.

After that we walked to the post office so Tim could mail a postcard. It looked like an old train station which was very beautiful inside.  There were many markets around -- so students did some quick shopping for Vietnamese Arts and Craft.  We then went inside a mall -- which was a bit expensive -- so just window shopping was done there.  We had lunch at a Pizza Hut there with some different pizzas like chicken curry.  Later that day we went to Ben Thanh market -- which had countless stalls with vendors who try to lure you to buy what they are selling which included a wide range of goods from coffee, tea, seafood, dried fruit, Vietnamese arts and crafts, t-shirts, belts, wallets, purses, etc.  Students got lots of practice with their bargaining skills.

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Day 7 - April 17

April 17th, our last day with the kids!

The team split into two for Wednesday and Thursday - half was at A Vinh Hoa School and the other half was at B Vinh Hoa School for both days. It was a crazily hectic and happy day. It was our second and last day of teaching and playing with the schoolchildren. I was lucky enough to get to go to the A school and Cece led our team with unimaginable grace considering she was the only lead in our group.

Luc and Henry did a great job engaging the kids (and keeping the masses from flooding the 11-computer room so that students took turns). They played Red Light Green Light and some other running-intensive games (which was impressive considering the 90-degree weather).

Inside, we had waves of children who quickly caught on to using the internet, Paint (Ve!), and using clip art on PowerPoint. They answered questions about themselves, their family, and their interests. So even though most of us couldn't speak Vietnamese, by way of Google Translate, Microsoft Word, and PowerPoint, we got to learn from the kids we taught.

We had lunch down the street from A Vinh Hoa, and some kids from there walked down the street to follow along. Students at B (which was farther away) were shuttled by our bus to meet us for lunch, and rumor has it that one of the kids from B hopped on the back of a motorcycle to follow the bus and hang out with us during lunch. That kid received some special treatment (lessons in flicking bottle caps from Nate and getting to beat up Marcus).

Like the two other days we spent at the school previously, we waved goodbye when it was time to leave. It was hard, though! They trapped us where we stood. Kids swarmed us, holding up scraps of paper and notebooks and asking for our signatures (always saying "thank you" afterwards), which reminded us simultaneously how much we were endeared to those kids and how much we never wanted to be famous. We gave them lollipops which some of the team's parents bought in the US and had the kids bring along. Some gave drawings to us and they kept saying "see you soon," not knowing that it was our last day. They followed us to the bus and waved (which you will see adorable videos at the photo-viewing day courtesy of Marcus).

Goodbye An Giang! Saigon, here we come.

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Day 6 - April 16

We woke up to one of the hottest days so far, temperature around 93 degrees. After a Vietnamese version of bacon and eggs, which was marinated pork, and a fried egg on a bed of rice (costing around $1.50), we were off to the Vinh Hoa Language schools where we set up our computer labs. Our group of twenty-four was split into two teams that were assigned to school A or school B. Our bus driver has been amazing navigating the narrow streets with our big bus, an air conditioned oasis that transports us to our desired locations. As we arrived at our school, we were greeted by two rows of school children that outlined a path to the computer lab; as if we were being inducted into their hall of fame. We marched into the technological learning center like an international geek squad. Eleven eight to ten year old children filed in a sat down next to each TSC member and we began the process of introducing ourselves, chatting on Google Translate and establishing how much experience each kid had with the machines. After we taught the basics of Microsoft word we went outside to enjoy iced coffee and a couple games of jump rope with the children before a lunch of Pho and more iced coffee.

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Day 5 - April 15

Our free day turned out to be much more of an adventure than we ever could have imagined. After a grueling ride up the mountain in vans exempt of leg room and legitimate air conditioning, we arrived at a glorious viewpoint where we proceeded to take plenty of corny pictures of each other holding up the giant Buddha statue in the distance. After a much needed bathroom break, we began our descent into the mysterious arena of alleged pickpockets which all turned out to be very nice people. Our first score of the day was a bag of fish food which the mob of koi fish beneath the bridge was eager to receive. We then walked past some intriguing fruits which were described to us as being “some kind of quat,” and soon after we had our first taste of Vietnamese ice cream, which was only a tiny bit suspicious. The next attraction was a beautiful temple where we all paid our respects by burning incense and it was a soothing experience for all involved. Finally we reached the enormous Buddha statue, and much to our excitement, it was hollow. We made our way to the enticing entrance, but not before a charming little man enthusiastically squeezed Marcus and made him wear his hat. The Buddha was an incredibly impressive structure, and we were surprised to find that it was built as recently as 2002. We popped out of the Buddha’s rear end and discovered a cozy restaurant where we were all served special Vietnamese pancakes that were very difficult to eat but very delicious. As we chowed down, dark, foreboding clouds began to gather above us. Within minutes, the torrential downpour of the century came down upon us, ricocheting like bullets off the tin roof of the restaurant. We attempted to wait it out by reclining in the nearby hammocks, but we soon realized that it was showing no signs of stopping. After wandering around in the Buddha’s innards for a while, we decided to purchase ridiculous, polka-dotted rain ponchos for everyone and venture out into the plaza that was quickly becoming a river. The sensation of the water on our bare feet as we sloshed along what was once a road and gazed out at the misty temples was oddly tranquil. We finally reached a dry area where we waited for the vans while the locals stared at us and probably whispered about how absurd we looked. With a slight lapse of excitement we boarded the vans and took a wet ride back to the bus, and then took a slightly less wet but still very wet ride back to the hotel where we collapsed on our beds with exhaustion. After a delicious dinner of pho and/or rice and some evening shenanigans, sleep beckoned to us and we answered its call.

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Day 4 - April 14

Today we got up and ate Pho or rice again for breakfast and lunch, as there are only two types of restaurants near our hotel and the schools.  After breakfast, we loaded onto the bus and headed down to the school. When we got down to Vinh Hoa B (the second school) we did our regular procedure and installed computers.  After that it was a fun day,  People played rounds of Uno, dribbled soccer balls with kids, did lots of arts and crafts with kids (drawing, friendship bracelets, origami) which was a really good learning moment for all us of since we learned from Vietnamese words and taught them some English words.  The day winded down with us heading back to the hotel to plan our itineraries for tomorrow.  We are heading out to see a Buddhist mountaintop  temple and caves with shrines.  Exciting days are ahead.  More to come.

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Day 3 - April 14

Day 3: Everyone woke up much too early for their liking. 4:30 am is considered extremely taboo by most American teenagers. However this allowed us to witness an amazing sunrise that shone through grey smog creating an iridescent glow that none of us have witnessed before. After morning routines we made our way to breakfast, you guessed it pho. We then all hopped in the air conditioned bus which was full of interesting snacks such as squid flavored chips and seaweed Pringles. It was a short ride from the hotel to the church where we were to set up the computers.  When we arrived we were ushered into a room across from the main chapel to set up the lab. Mass crimping ensued, and within an hour all the computers were connected to the network. Meanwhile the rest of us got to play and hang out with the children. The kids showed off their bible study classes and we played a game of Pictionary. Andy is quite an artist and his free form interpretation of an elephant left them speechless. We then transitioned to the chapel to find a set of instruments.  Nate played harmonious riffs and chords while the duo golden voices rang through the church.  We then hopped on the bus to go to lunch. We drove a few blocks away and began walking down a dirt road. After about a 10 minute walk we arrived at a beautiful hideaway tucked between palms and rice paddies. We were served coconut marinated chicken and fried rice. It was heavenly to say the least. We then returned to the bus to go back to the church to teach the kids how to use the computers. These kids were our age or younger so we had a lot to relate to. Once again we said goodbye and returned to the hotel, took quick showers and went to the market. We relentlessly haggled to get incredible deals on “designer” belts and watches. Tired from shopping we got dinner. The less adventurous had pho, the brave few had grilled pork and fried eggs. Everyone was more or less over their jet lag and wanted to party. We found a coffee shop/ dance club only 50 yards behind our hotel. The coffee was great and the dancing was intense. We played all the hits like Gangnam Style. The dancing left us exhausted, we showered and went to sleep ready for another exciting day.

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DaY 2- April 12

Today we got up bright and early at 7:30. We headed down to the small street restaurant next to the hotel where we feasted on a delicious rice and egg breakfast. After everyone finished eating we climbed on the bus and headed to Vinh Hoa (school) B to meet the principal and then to Vinh Hoa A to set up the labs. When we first got there all of the kids at the school swarmed the buses and welcomed us to the school. The kids screamed and laughed when Marcus, one of the (very tall and large) chaperones, got off the bus. We brought the computers to the school and split in half, half of us setting up computers and half of us playing with the kids. When we played with the kids we blew up soccer balls and were led to the field by about 30 kids where we sprinted around kicking the balls and almost passing out from heat. All of the kids were extremely fast and hard to keep up with, showing off skills of future soccer stars. While some of us played with the kids, the others were programming the labs and crimping. Crimping is a way of cutting and ordering wires in the Ethernet chord to make it so the internet actually connects to the computers. After about an hour and a half we walked down the road to two small restaurants where we got soup (almost pho, but not quite) and rice mixed with pork. A lot of the kids followed us to the restaurants and after eating, Alex, Edward, Jake, Luc and Nate all took turns picking up the kids and swinging them in circles. We walked back to the school to finish the last of the computers and show the teachers how to use the computers. All of the kids were still there awaiting our return so that we could play again. Playing consisted of tag, water fights, karate battles, volleyball, and more. Though there was a language barrier, the kids were really fun to play with and we were told by Gary (one of the Vietnamese Scholarship Foundation workers) that he’d never seen them happier. After an entire day of playing we, sadly, had to leave the school to go back to the hotel. As we were leaving it started to drizzle and we heard thunder, but the rain (much to our dismay) didn’t get any worse. We got back to the hotel where we rested and hung out for an hour and a half and around 6:00, yet again, we filed back onto the bus. We ended up going to the same restaurant as last night, but this time we pre ordered food (sweet and sour soup, duck eggs, fish, rice, but unfortunately no snake). We also feasted on some fresh, delicious mangoes and watermelon (taste of heaven).  We were told that after dinner we would get ice cream (lies), but after we walked home from dinner everyone was down for the count and the troops could not be rallied. It was pretty hot during the day, and playing with the kids was exhausting but overall the day was very fun and a success.

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Day 1 - April 11

We’re in Vietnam! After a long, grueling trip we have finally arrived. The first flight we took was Seattle to Incheon, South Korea (right outside of Seoul) which took about 12 hours. Then we took a connecting, 5 hour, flight from Incheon to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam where we had a little trouble getting all the computers through customs after the flight. After a while of negotiating we got 30 computers through and hopped on a bus for a 7 hour bus ride to Chau Doc. During the bus ride we took two different ferries and got to see the sunrise on the first. When we finally arrived at the hotel, the very first thing we did was go to the pho restaurant right next to the hotel and grab breakfast (best pho ever). We then got our room assignments and headed up to the, thankfully, air conditioned rooms where we showered, rested, and awaited the rest of the day’s activities. Around noon we walked down the road to another small restaurant where everyone ordered various rice and meat/seafood dishes (also delicious) and stocked up on lots of water to keep in the rooms. We then all filed onto the bus for a ten minute ride to a church where we watched the ceremony of kids getting scholarships from the Vietnam Scholarship Foundation. After all the scholarships were handed out and a couple of lovely performances from the kids (some singing and trumpet) we played games with them, took lots of pictures, exchanged names and then got back on the bus. When we got back to the hotel everyone grabbed their American money and we headed to a close market to get the money exchanged. We’re all now millionaires! After getting our money we walked around the market for a little while, but sadly most of the vendors were closing up. Yet again, we filed back on the bus and drove to a nice restaurant where we feasted on eel, short ribs, crab, and even snake (FYI it tastes a lot like chicken). After a long day (or technically 3 days) of no real sleep and hot weather we were all glad to head back to the hotel and climb in bed for a good night sleep.

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