Whoo! It has been a LONG time since I’ve last blogged. Two weeks have passed in Quảng Trị (QT) and all I can say is that it’s been a blast. The sun is sunnier, the yogurt is runnier, and the strangers are friendlier. But honestly, our roommates are among some of the best people I know. The Vietnamese are super genuinely caring for each other. You can tell simply from how they behave at the dinner table. Whereas in America, where we might ask someone to pass the rice, in Vietnam, our roommates would scoop rice for you and for every other person at the table. It is clear from the way that we’d play games together (whether wolves, catchphrase, UNO, etc.) or sing together that the Vietnamese value a strong sense of family. It seems as though they embrace social interdependence rather than feel the need to always be independent. My roommate and I have talked extensively on this topic, and he explained how the American culture is more individualist, emphasizing individual achievement, whereas Vietnamese and many Asian cultures are more collectivist, or more family- and community-oriented. One day, my roommate and I were walking back from the market when an older lady pulled up beside us and asked for help balancing to two giant rice sacks on her motorbike. My roommate obliged enthusiastically, and she pat him on the back in gratitude before riding off into the dust. The open willingness to request and give help makes the people of Quang Tri feel more like a big extended family than strangers on the street.
Speaking of my roommate, he is AWESOME! His name is Nhật Thịnh which means 'bright sun' but he goes just by Thịnh. He and I have become so close over the past two weeks, and I could not think of a better pairing. We are both kinda clumsy, absent-minded boys. We are both basic bitches (XD) who photograph almost everything we eat and get ratch at the club. But we’re also both serious, hard-working students. And we are both pretty sensitive guys at heart who care less about masculine-presenting and more about connecting with others on a deeper level.
As far as our projects go, there’s something great about having only 2 cares in my life for 6.5 weeks: building a sick new bathroom for an underresourced school (Lương Thế Vinh Secondary School) in QT, and teaching ESL lessons to 21 fabulous rising 12th-graders at the local Youth Center. I can focus all of my efforts into these two projects without worrying about juggling classes, schoolwork, extracurriculars, career prospects, figuring out my life, etc. I was sent to Vietnam to complete two and only two concrete (pun-intended) missions. Yet I will also have completed so many more in my time here.
Highlights from the first week in QT include:
- Using the khăn ống that Thịnh bought me as a gift. It is basically a thin loop of fabric that can be worn as a scarf, face mask, headband, or wristband to catch sweat. It is literally the most helpful thing when you're perspiring like a wet sponge under a panini press (not to mention its versatility as a style accessory)
- Learning to wash clothing by hand...it takes a toll on the back!
- Drinking countless mugs of sinh tố (smoothie) and chè (sweet soup/pudding), with each other, our Vietnamese roommates, our ESL students, etc.
- Meeting all our wonderful ESL students and learning how much they love to compete with each other when we play games in class...the last time I heard so much screaming was in Cameron Stadium!
- Getting cozy with the flies that would congregate on our room ceiling, only to die in hordes and fall on my bed as I slept (YUM!)
- Following yoga videos and seeing who would stick with it the longest (there was no competition, Nikila blew us out of the water)
- Recognizing how ridiculously cheap everything is and blasting through 500,000 dong feeling like a high-roller when really you've only spent a little over $20