After a long journey the Francis Parker School groups arrive in Vietnam. Here are some reflections from their first day.
North to South Vietnam
Our first day in Vietnam, we woke up at 7 a.m. and had breakfast at the highest floor of our hotel with a view of all of Hanoi. We then got on a bus with Alex, our tour guide, and drove to Friendship Village, an hour outside the city, and we got to see the outskirts of Hanoi. Friendship Village is a boarding school for children who are victims of Agent Orange disease. Many went home for Tet to spend it with their families, but most stayed. When we got to the village we were introduced to the head of the village who explained its purpose and history. We got a tour of the classrooms and left for a Pho lunch in the city. After we ate and went to the tea house, where we discussed the emerging Vietnamese free market system, we returned to the village to interact with the kids. We were greeted with hugs as we joined the kids in their classrooms. We played for an hour or so, exchanging gifts, coloring, playing with puzzles, and watching the more advanced kids do activities like embroidery. None of us wanted to leave, but we got back on the bus and journeyed back to the hotel. After some free time to explore Hanoi (in groups of three), some of us decided to test out our bargaining skills in crowded markets. We then headed out to another Pho dinner (pho all day erry day). After the delicious dinner we got home around eight and gathered to discuss the restrictions on going out at night. Many of us went out yet again to explore the nightlife of Hanoi; some stayed back to sleep. It's 8:30 in the morning and we're about to head out again- can't wait to see what Tom in 'Nam has planned for us!
South to North Vietnam
With filled stomachs, exhausted bodies, and heavy expectations for what is to come in the next few days, students and chaperones go to bed tonight with high expectations for what comes next in our travels. Tomorrow (Monday in Vietnam, Sunday in San Diego), the group will explore several historical and cultural sites critical for anyone's understanding of the American (Vietnam) War dating from the 1960s and 1970s, as well as the postwar aftermath. The day will start with a visitation of the War Remnants Museum, an internationally recognized requiem to the need for finding reconciliation out of the wars that too often rip countries and their peoples apart. The trip continues with explorations of the Old French Quarter, highlighted with visits to Saigon's Notre Damn Cathedral and old city Opera House. After an eagerly anticipated scrumptious local lunch, the group will engage The Reconciliation Palace, a site best known as the presidential/governmental headquarters for those South Vietnamese regimes that ultimately failed to keep Vietnam from going Communist in 1975 (despite their being backed by first French and then American governments). Finally, the group will visit the Little Rose Shelter (Mai Am Hoa Hong Nho) for a half day of cultural exchange. The Little Rose Shelter was established in 1992 in response to growing incidents of human trafficking in Vietnam; since its founding, Little Rose has provided a safe shelter to hundreds of young girls (and some boys) and has helped them build a positive economic future for themselves. The shelter also provides medical care, housing, food, and vocational training for the children, most of whom are eventually achieve placement into long-term homes within two years. What a day!
Another blog from the South-North trip will follow tomorrow, although there will be a bit of a lull in blogging as the group heads into a homestay in the Mekong River Delta my mid-week. As soon as possible the students will share with the Parker community their experiences in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, and pass along many of the most memorable and meaningful parts of their travels.
Until then, take care. Everything is going splendidly.