Francis Parker School - North to South - Day Four
To begin the day, a few of the students decided to wake up at the crack of dawn (5 am) to attend a traditional Catholic mass. Besides the mass being delivered in Vietnamese, the only difference from the services at home was that the men and women sat on opposite sides of the church. For those who were willing to sacrifice a few hours of sleep, it was a great, early start to the day!
Overall, the morning was slower than usual. We were given free time to sleep in, shop, and eat outside of the hotel. About half of the group went to a local family-owned restaurant in the heart of downtown Hanoi. We were treated to rolling cakes and fried eel - a traditional Vietnamese breakfast.
Before lunch, everyone packed up to embark on an overnight train to Sapa. We checked out of the Imperial Hanoi Hotel, loaded up the bus with our suitcases, while others opted for the carry-on backpack. Then we were ready to start the day!
We had a quick lunch and headed over to the Friendship Village. Everyone was very excited to return and visit the children we played with on Monday. Little did we know that our visit would include gardening and talking with North Vietnamese war veterans. It was difficult work, as most of the area was overgrown with weeds and infested with bugs. We spent a large portion of the afternoon using rusty hoes and sickles to clean up the garden. However, much to our surprise, it was an enriching and rewarding experience. While working, we were able to reflect on the fortunate circumstances we enjoy at home and appreciate the efforts of those who work at the Friendship Village.
Afterwards, we walked to the other side of the village to engage in a discussion with Vietnam War veterans. Alex, our extremely well-dressed guide, translated our questions and the veterans' responses. However, we noticed that when it came to the subject of politics, the veterans and Alex tried steering the conversation in a different direction. This is not the first time we've noticed this; it is clear the Communist government has an influence over what tour guides and maybe even the regular people are allowed to discuss. Overall, though, it was a unique opportunity to be able to see and hear stories from the other side.
After leaving the Friendship Village, we headed to the famous Hanoi art gallery Mai. The gallery was a mixture of abstract and more traditional oil paintings. One painting in particular stood out among the bunch. It illustrated two rows of mice, each holding something different. The top row showed four mice and a cat holding up his paw, stopping them from walking further. A mice on this top row was holding money and the others were holding cheese and personal goods. The bottom row displayed mice who were helping each other carry other, less-materialistic goods and instead of a cat at the end, there was a mouse riding a motorcycle with the word "dream" inscribed on the side. A few of us interpreted this painting as a comparison between a capitalist and communist society. This message did not seem unusual, based on the slightly biased propaganda we have noticed this week.
The rest of our day, we shopped around the city while some went back to the hotel to rest. A few of us are battling the stomach flu, but are now easing back into good health.
To finish off the night, we ate at an American food restaurant. The spaghetti was a hit, but then how can you go wrong with marinara and pasta? The pizza on the other hand...
Tonight we will board the night train to begin our trip to Sapa in northern 'nam!
Kate, Ross, Michela, and Solia