March 31, 2013

Santa Barbara Middle School - Memories from the Past

By Alex

Today, we went to a Buddhist temple. When we got to the courtyard before the temple entrance, we bought
birds for 20,000 dong (1 dollar) each and set them free and said a prayer for good luck. We had to take off our shoes before we walked inside. When we did, we saw dozens of people praying to three giant Buddhas, with three monks leading the prayer. I took a stick of incense and walked around. In the back of the room, there were three altars with pictures and items that had connections to their ancestors. Our presents were girl scout cookies, which we placed on their alter, something that families have to show respect to the deaths of family members. On an alter, there is normally food, pictures, or the family member's favorite objects. 

We then went to my mom's old neighborhood. We got to meet people like her close neighbor, the new owners (Communist generals from the North) who took over her old house, and her childhood best friend. It was uncomfortable for the group because she was emotional, but at the same time, I was happy for my mom. I could imagine my mom greeting those people every morning and going to school with her friend. We got to walk around her old house too. Although it was very renovated and new, there was one screen door on the ceiling of the kitchen that my mom recognized and was really happy about. A street vender came and we ate this tofu in hot thin caramel, which added to the overall experience.  Afterwards, we went and had a buffet lunch at the hotel, which was average, but my mom told us her entire story of leaving Vietnam and escaping communism. One of my favorite parts of the trip so far was going to the market for an hour, and walking around with a partner. The market was giant, with stores of all kinds. There were food stores with sea food (smelled bad), snacks, candy, and drinks. Zac and I bought a drink right off the bat because there were so many people in one building. My goal was to find something I wanted, and to bargain it down to a really cheap price, even if it was already reasonable. Soon enough, I found a soccer jersey. The original price was 350,000 dong (around 18 dollars), and after a lot of "argument" and the unsheathing of my two dollar bill (worth more than just two dollars) I got the price down to 220,000 dong (11 dollars) which happened to be all the money I had. Zac got some post cards, and the other boys got fake Rolex watches for like 10 dollars. We left, and had a free evening to do whatever we wanted. Sarina, Jennie, my dad, mom and my sister, and Kelly got massages. Apparently they were a unique cultural experience. Meanwhile, everyone else went to the Stark Tower (in the Avengers and Iron Man) and ate dinner. It was a very good day.

Santa Barbara Schools - Trip Reflections

Laura: We can't believe our Vietnam journey is on its last leg. It feels like months ago that we first arrived in Saigon, but also weirdly seems like it was just yesterday. We had an awesome trip and learned so much as individuals and as a group. This country has such a rich culture and history that is very interesting to learn about from a local perspective...especially as Americans. We leave with full bellies and full hearts for the Vietnamese people but ready for some burgers, fries, and time with our Santa Barbara people. The kids have each written a final paragraph to sum up their trip and some of what they've learned. We're sure you'll hear many stories and see thousands of pictures to add to these thoughts. Stay tuned for a video/slideshow in the next couple of weeks.

Pierce: After 9 nights in Vietnam I have conflicting emotions on tobogganing back to that 805. The
remarkable culture, people and country not only opened my eyes to the polar opposite differences in our economic and social structures, but also the many similarities that we share.  Despite language barriers, our fearless troops and I were able to kindle flames with Mr. Hau, Dukey, and many Hanoi University students (especially Beatrice).  The experience for me was made by our trip to the Thanh Xuan Peace Village, the center for victims of Agent Orange.  Many of these children suffer from severe metal and physical disabilities; however, these children had an ineffable love of life surpassing any disability these remarkable kids inherited. This passion for life personifies not only Vietnam's resilience and strength , but also their devotion to equality and striving to give every person a fair chance in life.  24 meals from free-range chicken to more exotic duck embryos and wafer thin sparrows will be quickly missed, but not soon forgotten.  So familiar to this country after countless jokes (that still aren't over), amazing memories, and destroy-me inducing heat. Good night, Vietnam!      

Malaya: While traveling through Vietnam, I was given an amazing opportunity to learn more about myself and
the Vietnam War.  I will never forget my experience at the home-stay in the Mekong Delta. In the Mekong Delta I learned my limits with biking, but I also discovered my love for living outdoors (well, in cabins, but my point is made, I think).  On this trip, I also learned more about the Vietnam War, and was able to think critically about our past actions. Being able to see the war from the opponent's point of view gave me a new perspective on the war.  I am extremely grateful for everyone who supported me and helped me get to Vietnam (shout out to the family, especially Herb Tuyay, he is a pretty cool guy). Thank you for a trip of a lifetime, and sorry for being extremely cliché, I think it runs in the family.

Jack: On this spectacular journey through this beautiful country called Vietnam, I have learned so much about the war and the Vietnamese culture. Part of that was through meeting the Vietcong general and understanding what it was like to live through the war. My favorite part about this trip was traveling through these hectic cities and peaceful country sides. During this trip I made new friends and strengthened my bonds with old ones. Even though we had to deal with extreme heat and a ton of bug bights, I would call this class, nah, this tight group of FRIENDS a group of intense travelers. I love Vietnam and it might be one of my favorite countries after America.  I will miss it here and I will miss this tight bond we have all created.

Daniel: The expedition to Vietnam was very interesting. I created strong, family-like ties with my fellow travelers and I got to learn about and experience Vietnamese culture and history first hand. Saigon was very comfortable and besides the near-death-via-moped experiences it was doable. The Mekong was a great surprise to me because of the 1800s-like home conditions and hellish temperatures. Lastly, Hanoi was a historical and educational hub in which I got to meet some bright-souled Agent Orange victims and become a point of interest for the Vietnamese college girls at the Peace Village with us.  This trip taught me how to get the maximum from the minimum in various senses and I am thankful for it.

Carter: This has been an amazing experience for me. Considering Vietnam is my favorite place I have

already been to, it would be impossible to not have a great time, but I owe this remarkable adventure to the wonderful Dorfman and Wooster. The schedule was great and always consisted of fun, exciting activities and foods. I really enjoyed the strong bonds we all created on this trip and hope to continue these new friendships.  I learned the importance of being able to forgive through war stories from the Vietcong general. I loved this trip and am very grateful to my parents, Friendship tours, the amazing chaperones, and the excellent guides that all played their role in bringing me this remarkable opportunity.

Bea: Vietnam was VERY interesting. It's so different from America, it's like comparing a cat to a dog. Vietnam had its ups and downs. It is a rich culture and a new experience. I got to see things like floating markets, busy streets, strange customs, and help locals along the way. I made friends and strengthened relationships with people who I had a first thought were far too different from me; I will continue to be friends with them even after this trip.  I learned about the history of Vietnam and our war against them, which I had previously known squat about.  On the downside, staying in a place where the food doesn't agree with your stomach or tongue is a challenge.  Also, the whole trip consisted of brutal waves of homesickness and lethargy. All in all, I will probably not visit Vietnam again, but am very content and grateful I had this adventure.

Kayla: I was extremely blessed to be able to go on this trip. Vietnam was an amazing experience, from the culture to the food (of which the majority I didn't enjoy). Saigon was a very hectic place, crossing the street was sketchy, but so are a majority of cities. When we went to the War Remnants Museum it really opened my eyes to how Americans could do these things to the Vietnamese people. It shed a different light on the war and the American people. Having stayed in the city of Saigon for three days to then having to adjust to
the country in the Mekong was difficult. I wasn't fully prepared for what it was like. Sleeping with mosquito nets over you was a little scary, but waking up to the roosters rather than honking was so comforting. My favorite part of being in the Mekong was being able to fish in the stream, the water may have been hurtful and dirty but it was so exciting catching those fish. I also really enjoyed learning how to do my laundry and cook dinner the way they do. All the sweat and mosquito bites were worth the incredible time we had there...even the karaoke wasn't too bad. I'm glad we got to enjoy the city as well a sthe country with our one-of-a-kind tour guide, Mr.Hau. I kind of missed roughing it when we got to the next hotel in Hanoi. The weather felt so much better in Hanoi then the Mekong, it was nice adjustment. Our second day there we went to the Peace Village, I was expecting worse than I saw so it was almost a relief. The kids there were so full of joy and lively. Seeing their smiles and hearing their laughter was great knowing just our presence could do that for them. I was able to step out of my comfort zone and enjoy my time there. Throughout our journey in Vietnam I learned a lot about myself and how easy I have it. I hope to one day come back and explore the world more. This was a great adventure I will not forget.

March 30, 2013

Santa Barbara Schools - March 30th - Hanoi

March 30th
By Carter

I am happy to report that Bea is slowly realizing that the joke is over and that the free-range chicken has been obtained. We are happy to be coming home tomorrow, yet it will be a somber goodbye to this
paradise known by many as Vietnam. It has been an amazing experience and we could not have asked for better guides than Mr. Hau and Duke. We must also thank the amazing duo of Dorfman and Wooster, who with much bravery tackled this Herculean mission of dealing with our rambunctious and maniacal group of which I am proud to call myself a member. They have stuck it through Thicke (get it?) and thin, hours of stale Christopher Walken impressions, never-ending onslaughts of French-Canadian accents and the Beavis and Butthead-esque minds
of young men. I commend them in bringing their amazing work and dedication in bringing a great learning experience. Here, sitting with my last crisp glass of Everess (club soda), I look back at the amazing times we've had and the strong bonds we have created, I will miss 'Nam, but instead of looking at it as a somber farewell, I look upon these last moments in this foreign land as a celebration — nay, a final toast — to the remarkable dinner party that has been this trip. And with that, I say goodnight Vietnam.

- Seal Team Aghhh 1886

March 29, 2013

Santa Barbara Middle School - Saigon

Day 2 
By Zac

I woke up this morning around 6 in the morning. We all took showers and went off to eat breakfast in the

Then we went on a bus ride to the War Remnants Museum (formerly known as the museum of American War Crimes.) I was disturbed by the horrifying images of effects of the Vietnam war. As we drove away from the museum through a sea of motorbikes, I couldn't help but think about the terrible pictures that showed the terrors of war.
For lunch, we ate at another westernized restaurant, and we also had a birthday celebration for Nick Ut where we sang to him and enjoyed some birthday cake. After coming back to the hotel to change clothes, we went the US Consulate, where we attended an honoring of Nick.

He is the photojournalist who took the picture of Kim Phuc who was nine years old at the time.  She was running from an explosion where napalm bombs were dropped on the temple in her village where her family was hiding.  This famous photograph helped put a "human face" on the war. Nick enlightened us on the power of photojournalism. He explained how anyone can change the world by standing up for what is right and documenting injustice. We then went to dinner, where we had coconuts, fresh fruit, rice and fish, and chicken at a fancy, government-owned Vietnamese restaurant. Alex and I were dared to eat the fish's eyeballs for five dollars. They were disgusting. Then we went back and wrote in our journals and had a deep conversation about war that made us all think differently about the Vietnam War.


Santa Barbara Schools - Peace Village

By Pierce

After an interesting bonding experience searching for paint, our troops headed to the Thanh Xuan Peace

Village in the heart of Hanoi. Opened in 1991, this village serves as an orphanage and boarding school for people from infant ages to adulthood that live with the mental and physical disabilities as a result of Agent Orange.  Students have classes and learn vocational skills while living with others that suffer from similar disabilities.

We joined forces with some esteemed students of Hanoi University. After chewing the fat for a few, we
began singing Vietnamese songs, playing with balloons, and completely repainting a previously algae-infested wall. We then enjoyed a traditional Vietnamese pork lunch sandwich before touring the gorgeous Hanoi University campus. One round of coconut boba and a transient stay in egregiously small and dangerously wobbly chairs, we ended our visit with our home slices (needless to mention Beatrice made quite the posse). On the real doe, I could never fabricated not only the overwhelming joy and laughter those kids had, but also the feeling that their joy reflected onto me. The time that I spent with those remarkable kids were worth the trip around
the world. In the tempest of our times we are often so preoccupied with pent-up stress and meticulously scheduled lives that we hardly take the time to stop and really appreciate what we have.  The children at the peace village were the most happy, full of life, and thankful people I have ever seen despite their disabilities. Their passion for life is truly inspirational and a testament to not only their strength, but the resiliency and fortitude of the Vietnamese people.

March 28, 2013

Investigative Journalism - A Day in Pictures

A sampling of photos represent the magical discoveries of our adventure. As we conclude our last day in Xieng Khuang and prepare for the 6+ hour long bus ride to Luang Prabang, the following snapshots provide a glimpse of the exceptional experiences we've enjoyed in the Laotian highlands.

Our intrepid video instructors Jeff Macintyre of ABC News and Cheri Gaulke of Harvard-Westlake School prove that necessity is the mother of invention and just about anything can serve as a tripod in a pinch

Max's creative style is the subject of local fascination. 

Saavan and Milo observe the resourcefulness of re-purposing weapons: old mortars are recycled into a garden fence. 

Marcy and Sarah show how easy it is for small children to mistake a cluster bomb for a toy. (All weapons pictured are inert and have had their explosives removed by munitions experts.) 

Shingo, Max and Koji lead the parade of pre-schoolers who follow us into Ta Chok village. 

Gabi and her new friend demo Ta Chok village

Patty cake games are the only shared language we need! 

Kayla and Aimee's new friends didn't want to say goodbye.

Sarah demonstrates the fun of dancing the Macarena to a playful group of Ta Chok village kids

Hana teaches Ta Chok villagers a game of "patty-cake" 

Our cluster bomb survivor friend, Mr. Yae Li. After interviewing him, we donated clothing for his whole family and nearly 200lbs of rice to sustain them until summer.

Kayla and Hana are instructed by the UXO removal team to detonate cluster bombs and clear land that Lao people have risked their lives to farm for over 40 years. 

A UXO clearance team demonstrates the tedious work of scanning the Earth for subterranean munitions.

A UXO clearance expert demonstrates the delicate art of digging the detected metal fragments from the clay soil.

Cluster bombs explode in the distance!

Caption: A cluster bomb to be detonated beneath a sandbag.

UXO clearance team and our group celebrate a successful clearance activity and share a wish for a more peaceful world.

Santa Barbara Schools - Arrived In Hanoi

March 28th - Hanoi - By Blake

We are back in the big city after four intense, fun-filled days in the sweltering Mekong Delta. There have been so many unforgettable moments on this journey so far that it is hard to keep them all straight. It's safe to say that not many people get to speak with an 84-year-old Viet Cong general in his home and talk about a shared vision for world peace moving forward. Vietnam's version of "Hillbilly Handfishin'" allowed us to catch our own lunch in the mud, and playing highly competitive volleyball against locals was an intense experience. The family vibe at the homestay was so welcoming. The children were painfully cute, and the hospitality we enjoyed was remarkable.

Now we are back to a world with air-conditioned rooms, chaotic street scenes and historic buildings around every corner. Hanoi is slightly smaller than Saigon, and it has a more cultural vibe. The streets are narrow and bustling, the storefronts are many and the rickshaw ride we took through it all provided a front-row seat.

Laura and I sense that some of the kids are in need of a second wind after all these jam-packed days, but we are on the home stretch with a potentially life-changing day on tap tomorrow. We will visit the Peace Village, an orphanage for displaced children and victims of Agent Orange. We have purchased paint and supplies to help refurbish one of their classrooms, and we will might be out of our comfort zones interacting with some severely disabled youngsters. There are bags of toys to bring to them and we are ready to try to produce all the smiles we can.