Katy Katy

SO TOUCHED & AWKWARD = KATHY.

There are two main medical students that we hired to treat the kids if anything happened to them at camp. I originally thought they were lazy regular volunteers who just sat in front of the camp office because I often have to run around to do many different things, so sometimes I’d pass by and see the guys sitting there. I didn’t actually started talking to them until yesterday, which I regret because they’re such great people!

Tonight one of them (who never participated in our talent show) dedicated a song titled “Katy Katy,” to me, lol. I was just sitting on the judging panel tallying up points from a previous act when the emcee announced it and I was like HUH. I found out he had to beg the the lady in charge of the music to find that song for him and squeeze him in for tonight. He has also never performed anywhere before. Man…

Seriously though, what a sweetheart.

Here’s the original song:

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My Butt is Sore

10:00PM last night: Went on the bus to Saigon from Long Xuyen

3:00AM: Arrive in Saigon then went to sleep at company apartment

8:00AM: Wake up to work and finish prepping my GRACES values training for career panel presenters.

12:40PM: Quick coffee stop. Also bought cheesecake and tiramisu because I couldn’t resist 😛

1:00PM: Training began for people from various companies such as Talisman Energy, some fashion company, and a few others that I forgot. These people will be siting on the career panel at the two summer camps so my role is to train them on GRACES values, which is the central theme of the camp as well as workshop guidelines and how they should answer FAQS in way that is understandable and relevant to the girls who will be in attendance.

–> GRACES stands for Gratitude, Respect, Accountability, Courage, Engagement, and Safety. Each value is extremely important for us all to embody and practice everyday. I would love to go into further detail about each one and why it is the central theme of the camp. Those are values we wish for all volunteers and staff to embody throughout camp and all activities and workshops shall reflect them and the girls shall take away those values from the camp. My favorite part of the presentation was when I reached the part about the 6 different types of courage. Maybe I will do a separate post on GRACES because I truly believe in their importance and impact (just so tired right now).

3:30PM: Finished training and left company to go get some PIZZA HUT. I honestly have had Pizza Hut more here than when I am in the States. Somehow I just keep craving it… My coworker has never had it so I took her there. She loved it, but her stomach was only able to handle one slice of pizza due to the cheese, LOL more for me!

5:15PM: Arrived at bus stop to head back to Long Xuyen office. Found the lady I usually buy bread from (it’s seriously so fresh and delicious) and bartered and got my delicious bread. ^_^

9:50PM: Arrived in Long Xuyen.

DONEEEZOOOOO. I wish the bus had wifi so that so much time wouldn’t be wasted each time I have to travel back and forth to the city though. It was a good day being back in Saigon for a bit because it’s so lively compared to Long Xuyen.

This week at the office has been super hectic since the first summer camp will begin this weekend! Wooot!

 

Dumbfounded

Some examples of reoccurring themes & reactions from people in my surroundings:

“WHAAAT, your Vietnamese is so good..!!! WAIT, you are Vietnamese…….?” – bewildered & dumbfounded 10 year old Vietnamese boy.

His facial expression and reaction was so priceless, it’s ingrained in my memory forever. I was not expecting that reaction at all when I asked him a question.

WHAAAAT, how is your English so good…?” – group of surprised Caucasian people on a train when my Vietnamese coworker and I offered them some rambutan and they fell in love with it. They were super sweet and we ended up talking a lot throughout the ride. YES I AM FROM AMERICA y’all. 

Looks like I’m not doing too bad of a job assimilating 🙂

 

Also called "chom chom" in Vietnamese. We bought so many lbs of these because they're so cheap here!

Also called “chom chom” in Vietnamese. We bought so many lbs of these because they’re so cheap here!

Home Visitations at the Mekong Delta

On my first day with PALS, we got out of the office at 5:30AM to begin our first series of home visits for potential female scholarship recipients for the ADAPT program. If qualified, the girls will receive scholarships to continue higher education until Grade 12. These girls are chosen by their schools to be interviewed by PALS if they are living in extreme poverty or come from families with only one working mother/father –  any scenario that may make them more prone to getting tricked by traffickers through promises of making a lot of money through unreal job offers. 8th and 7th grade girls have higher priority for the scholarships than younger girls, but from the results of these home visits, I am sure some 6th graders will be receiving scholarships as well.

We traveled about 2 hours until we got to our first school, where we met with the teachers and broke out into groups to do home visits. We went to a total of two schools that day, and I went on about 10-12 home visits. Each home visit lasted anywhere from 45 mins to an hour.

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On the ferry

On the ferry, then we had to travel about another 1.5 hours by van to get to the schools. After that teachers took us on their motorbikes to the different homes.

 The survey questions were very detailed and included questions such as:

  • “What is your future career goal and how much do you think you’d make?”
  • “What kind of student (below average, average, above average) are you & what is your favorite subject in school?” – these girls tend to be “above average”
  • “What is your weakest subject?”
  • “How do you get to school?”
  • “Does your family have any debt/assets?”
  • “Highest education level of parents?” 
  • “Have you heard about trafficking stories?” – some have and others haven’t

and many more that went into thorough detail of the families’ living conditions and indicators of whether or not the girls are strong-willed enough to finish school to at least 12th grade if given the scholarship.

The importance of: “What is your future career goal & how much do you think you’ll make?” question: some girls haven’t thought about this yet, which was a great way to provoke some thought into this. Whereas for girls who had a career goal in mind, they would come up with a salary that was above and beyond any real salary. For example, one girl said she dreamed of being a famous singer who would make 30 million dong/mth. However, a doctor in Vietnam barely makes about 3 million dong/mth. The interviewer had to give the girl some comparison because with an MD degree, you have to go through all that schooling,and yet still do not even make that much. This girl is considered as highly at risk for being trafficked because she can easily be tricked by men who claim that they will pay her a beyond realistic salary without her even realizing that she is being fooled. We had to explain to her that if a girl had no education and was offered a job that anyone can do (for ex: a guy says he will offer her a dish washing job in another country that will pay an extremely high salary, but why would he pay her that much when he can easily find someone to do that job in his own country), that job offer would most likely be unrealistic. 

This is only one case. A few of the girls said they wanted to be doctors, among other careers. They’re book smart but some are far from being street smart, which makes them prone to being trafficked. As with parents, I met families where at least one parent was blind or deaf, thus leaving only one parent capable of making a living, further making the girls prone to quitting school to find jobs to support their family.

Shadowing the interviews was such a humbling experience. I observed so many different living situations and listened to so many stories that I never thought I’d get the chance to hear. The girls are so gentle, shy, and intelligent. However, they lack so many opportunities that American children have the luxury to easily grasp. From the results of the home visits that I attended, I’m pretty sure most of the girls I met will be getting the scholarships!! I’m so happy. 

Unfortunately due to privacy reasons, I cannot post their pictures, which is a shame because their faces show so much emotion and beauty. Although I cannot show you their pictures, here are a few shots of some of their homes & the beautiful Mekong Delta surroundings:

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We got back to Long Xuyen at about 10PM. It was a long but fruitful day <3. I’m going to miss the girls so much. 

They make me want study my GRE’s already.

Day 10

I don’t normally take selfies, but when I do, it’s because I’ve survived 10 days in Vietnam!! 😀 ❤

happy ^_^

The only time Vietnam will see me wearing a tank (I usually cover up when I’m outdoors to avoid the harsh sun and mosquitoes), which is unfortunate because it’s pretty hot. My skin can finally breathe now. #stillpale

Going away from the countryside and back to Saigon for the weekend for some business & a  little breather. The bus ride took forever and whenever you exit the bus, you are bombarded with taxi drivers claiming customers.

Things I am getting used to:

  • large cockroaches and their babies in living areas & buses
  • geckos/lizards on walls
  • maybe fresh vegetables..
  • creepy men – just ignore or put up a really mean mugging face
  • motorbikes
  • using the dong
  • secret service cop following  me during home visits to local homes
  • unexpected thundershowers

How to stay safe:

  • carry tissue everywhere (to use in bathrooms because some do not even have toilet paper, or when they do, it’s really yellow)
  • hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes (because some bathrooms don’t have soap, sorry I am a germaphobe)
  • mosquito repellent (forgot to spray my foot one day and literally got bitten 5 mins out the door. Result: swollen foot)
  • don’t use phone/camera on the streets (easily gets jacked. A South African acquaintance I met on July 4th got her phone stolen 4 times. Come on girl, stop using your phone at the corner of the street. Find a place to use it or cover it up somehow)
  • don’t look too American
  • aka try to blend in if you don’t want to be bothered (aka don’t be too dressy or expose too much skin, it’s actually kind of insulting to the locals. Despite the terribly warm and humid weather here, the locals are always covered up in long sleeves and pants. The working class is also pretty well dressed)
  • don’t say I’m from America
  • not much make up is ever needed, it’ll melt off your face anyway 😛

P.S. I will do a post soon on my first week on the job at the Mekong Delta. It’s gorgeous there!

Family First

Late post: Before I leave for Long Xuyen today and begin my actual volunteer work with PALS, I must finish this post. So here it is:

I always used to say: “I don’t have much family in Vietnam.” I was so wrong and ignorant. 

Family first is a philosophy that most of us tend to live by. Therefore during my first few days here, it only made sense for me to visit all the relatives that I’ve never met nor even knew existed.

The majority of my family here are from my father’s side. The moment they heard I landed they called me nonstop. They love my father dearly since he took care of them all back in the day. “Taking care” of them is an understatement, for he paid for almost everything, bought them cars and houses, and gave his family members (from young to old) so much money. He was very generous and well-liked, sometimes way too generous with his money some would say. This was before he lost all his fortune due to the fall of Saigon and other details that I’d rather not write about since I am currently in the country that brought him down.

My father is the eldest in his family and love his siblings so much, including anyone else that is blood. He instilled the importance of family in my sisters and me. Now that you can get a grasp of how important and respected my father was in his family, it will make more sense when I write about how excited everyone here was when they heard a daughter of his, whom they never met, was coming to Vietnam.

My phone was constantly ringing the moment I landed and I felt so adored and welcomed everywhere I went. I visited one aunt on the same day that I landed and met some cousins who were very sweet. Two days later I was to visit my paternal grandparents’ grave in Tay Ninh, which is about 3 hours away from Saigon. My uncle rented a van and we picked up relatives as we stopped by their homes along the way. Remember, this was my first time meeting them all, so you can imagine the excitement in that van.

According to Vietnamese customs, despite your age, if you were born to an older sibling of your father or mother, your cousins must still address you as chị (older sister). So although I was younger than most of them, but since my father was the eldest, all my cousins were all so respectable and called me chi. It was sort of weird to me and definitely took some time getting used to.

I loved being on the road and seeing the differences between the city and the countryside. At one of the houses, I got to picked some mangoes and ambarella (coc). My relative grew a bunch of other fruits including bananas, jackfruit, mangosteen, guava, and much more. We made a few stops and finally reached my uncle’s restaurant where he made really good duck soup vermicelli. This is my Uncle 7, he is the one that organized this whole trip to visit relatives and made me feel super welcome and safe. He is also a bit more well off than the rest of them.

We finally got to my grandparents’ grave, which was designed, built, and all paid for in the past by my father. It was gorgeous. I am so glad that I can tell my dad how well-rested his parents must be. After that we all went to another relative’s house and this was on a farm with dirt roads, lots of greenery, and a very popular mountain called Núi Bà Đen (Black Virgin Mountain) in the backdrop. Unfortunately I didn’t have much time so I wasn’t able to tour it. That was the last house we stopped at and we all ate and laughed together.Their living conditions are far from modern, and they live a simple life. It was beautiful.

Meeting and getting to know everyone felt so amazing and makes me very humble and grateful. It was brief, but the memories and emotions will last a lifetime. They still call to ask how I am doing and if I need anything, when I feel like I should be asking them that. They are definitely one of the main reasons why I will have to come back to Vietnam, hopefully with my sisters :).

Get on that Motorbike – Saigon


I finally got to tour Saigon (aka Ho Chi Minh City) today!

First, it was surprisingly nice to finally see other tourists in the city. I say this because my apartment is located in District 2, which is actually the newest district (only been built about 10 years ago), industrial, where many locals live, and not a tourist hot spot.

We took the motorbike around Saigon and sightseeing on one of those is hands down far better than being in a taxi. You get wind in your face, 360 degree street view, and so much excitement! Plus, you can literally stop wherever to hop down (to take pics for example), whereas with a car it’s harder to stop since there isn’t much parking space designated for cars in Vietnam. I wish I was able to take more pictures while we were on the streets driving, but it was a bit risky to do so.

I got to see a lot, but I can’t remember all the names of the places. There was some so-called museum for independence, the concert house, the cathedral, cho Ben Thanh, the Saigon River, and the very big mall called Vincom. The mall is very similar to SF’s Union Square mall, and carried a lot of American brands. My favorite was cho Ben Thanh, which was basically a huge indoor mall-like flea market plus supermarket. They had hundreds of stands of souvenirs, clothes, a food court, and just anything else you can think of. It was definitely a popular tourist attraction if you wanted to buy some goodies.

While it rained (it constantly rained on and off all day), we stopped by a coffee shop called Highlands Coffee, which was very modern and offered free wifi (like every other coffee shop here). We ordered a caramel frapp, ca phe sua da (vietnamese iced coffee), two tiramisus, and one banana bread. This all came out to roughly $7 and was so good! This was about the same amount for our breakfast, which was one com tam (broken rice), one bun bo hue (spicy beef vermicelli), and a ca phe sua da. Ahh this makes me not want to buy drinks and food in America ever again…!!

Overall, Saigon central is gorgeous and was designed to attract tourists. Malls are Americanized and streets are clean and wide. There are gorgeous places in Saigon and less nicer places, just like anywhere else you go. Although I briefly got to enjoy some cleanliness and feel less foreign in this country when I got to see many other tourists, I realized that I still enjoyed visiting the rural places and other areas that better reflected the locals. After witnessing the majority of the population living in poverty, it somewhat made me uncomfortable to see how clean and beautiful the tourist hub looked like. Don’t get me wrong, I love the comfort of cleanliness, big modern buildings, and high end fashion malls, but it just didn’t feel right or real.

Saigon is seriously very beautiful though and I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to see it from various viewpoints. Thank you so much to my coworker’s friend for being so patient and kind as my tour guide.

First, Pho

My second day here wasn’t so bad. I woke up at 5am, had nothing to eat and contemplated if I wanted to wait until my uncle got here at noon to eat. I tried to wait it off because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go find food alone. But from my balcony I can see some stands across the street, so I decided eff it, I’m starving. I headed out to look for food at 9am. First place I went to didn’t serve food until lunch time and the rest were all mini drink places and cafes. I didn’t want to venture too far off from my apartment, especially with everyone staring and probably wondering what is this little tourist doing. But then I found a small pho restaurant. “Restaurant” may be too fancy of a term for this place actually, but I’m not sure what else to call it. Any suggestions?

Not bad for a bowl of pho: it costed 25,000 dong (Vietnam currency is the dong). To compare, 20,000 dong is roughly $1.00! It was also pretty good for street pho. I had to stay away from the vegetables (but I love veggies in my pho…) just to be safe to avoid any stomach problems.

Overall, good and cheap pho! And the best part was my stomach was fine all day. First street food meal accomplished!

 

 

Also, for those who were concerned with me sleeping on the couch, worry no more. I saw a lizard on the wall and a humongous (not exaggerating) cockroach by the couch before bed and that completely turned my supposed to be safe couch into terrifying territory. Yikes.

Landed

Waited 22 years for this!

Before I left,  my coworkers told me about  so many airport problems that they had during previous trips to Vietnam. Usually they will scan your luggage and give you a hard time on purpose so that you can bribe them with money to let you go easily. Luckily for me, customs was a breeze. The only annoying factor was the stupid passport guy who kept trying to make me speak Vietnamese, but I shrugged and refused. I felt like a celebrity when I left the airport because there were literally tons of people waiting out front for their guests and loved ones. They just all stare and talk as you walk by – and it was just way too loud and humid for me to take in.

Took a taxi ride from the airport to my apartment in Saigon (the lady who picked me up only had a motorbike, and I was not about to hop on one with all my luggage), and by golly that was when I got to experience the crazy traffic. People don’t drive in their lanes – motorbikes and cars swerve everywhere. Traffic lights are almost nonexistent, but the roads are always filled with cars, buses, taxis, bicycles, and especially motorbikes. It was so scary at first, but started to get sort of fun because really, where else do I get to experience reckless driving without getting pulled over? 😀

Chi Suong was nice enough to help me settle down. I rested a bit then headed to my aunt’s house, which is about 30 mins away from my apartment. I have never met the rest of my dad’s siblings in Vietnam so it was a bit overwhelming with everyone, but definitely nice to finally put names on some faces. I started to feel super jet-lagged so I went home and knocked out at about 9PM.

l feel pretty safe and sound in this apartment since I’m on the 6th floor, and also don’t have to worry about my clothes getting stolen when I hang dry them. Being alone in the apartment scares me a little, so I slept on the couch facing the door instead of my room – laying down was seriously amazing.

I feel super refreshed now that it’s a new day, and I’m looking forward to some mini adventures today! I didn’t take too many pictures on the first day because I was a bit hesitant to whip my camera out on the streets, but here are a few from my living arrangement:

View from my apartment

: view from apt 2 View from apt

 

Toilet and shower in one. I’m just super happy that it’s a toilet that I know how to use!

bathroom

Of course I brought my favorite candy :). Strangely I rarely even eat any in the US, but this just tastes amazing right now.

candy

I promise to take more pictures!