February 15, 2012

Reflections from Students Matthew Alessio and Meghan Babla

South to North - Day Two

For our first full day in Vietnam, we started the day at 7:30am with breakfast at the hotel. We were all jet lagged yesterday, so the full night's sleep was very welcome. Then we took the bus to the War Remnants Museum, which was a collection of artifacts and photos from the Vietnam War. It was very impactful on all of us-- it gave a completely new perspective on the war. We had been used to seeing it from an American view, but this museum showed the Vietnamese side of the story.

Some of the notable exhibits were the Agent Orange exhibit, which displayed photos of victims of the Agent Orange chemical. Also we saw a war crimes exhibit, which talked about some of the things American soldiers had done to the Vietnamese during the war. Outside of the museum was a replica of the prisons that held political prisoners. It talked about some of the torture they underwent, which was shocking.

From the museum, we visited the Reunification Palace, which was the palace of the ex-president in the old capital of South Vietnam. We learned about how Vietnam separated and then came to be as one complete country. Particularly interesting was the basement, which was the control center of the operations for the war and bomb shelter for the royal family.

Next, we visited the national post office, which reminded us of the DMV. From the outside of the building, we were able to see remnants of old French architecture, especially with the Notre Dame Cathedral replica across the street. At the post office, a few of us mailed letters and others looked around at the shops inside the post office. Then it was time for lunch. We had lunch at a nice restaurant and had egg drop soup, spiced rice, spring rolls, green beans, pho, and other tasty items.

After lunch, we went to the Saigon Market, which was a HUGE market filled with items ranging from groceries, to shirts, to jewelry, and other everyday items. We learned how to bargain and negotiate a price with the shop owners. Then we went to the Little Rose shelter, which was a home for girls aged 12-18 who were rescued from the sex trade. We got a tour of the small shelter and had a conversation with the shelter leader about how we, and Francis Parker as a whole, could aid them.

When the girls arrived at the shelter around 5pm, we worked on an art project with them-- decorating t-shirts. Then, our tour guide Hau led us in a few Vietnamese games, one which was a lot like the American game of rock-paper-scissors. We had some fun bonding moments and were very moved by the girls' stories. We learned a few Vietnamese phrases, such as "my name is" (toi ten lau) and "goodbye" (gam bih)--spelling not so sure.

The last part of our day was dinner at Restaurant Chateau, a nice restaurant that was really good at carving fruit. We had tempura-like vegetables, noodles, rice, soup in a coconut shell, sea bass, and chicken. Then we arrived back at the hotel and got ready for tomorrow! Starting tomorrow night and for the next few nights, we will be in the Mekong River delta and will have limited computer access. We look forward to sharing our experiences with you via blog when we return on Friday. Good night!

-Matthew Alessio and Meghan Babla

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