There are certain English phrases that the Vietnamese have mastered, such as "Good price for you" and "Same-same but different". I became quite attached to saying Same-same since you can practically apply it to anything. For example, the traffic in Chicago versus the traffic in Ho Chi Minh City. Insane but different. I also grew fond of "See you again". It's like they expect you to be back instead of wishing you away. Or maybe it just made me feel better, at least it did when it came to saying good-bye to the children. I know kids don't remember everything, but I can hope that they might recognize my face or my voice next time I volunteer with Buds to Blossoms. Some of the kids will be the same and some will be different. It is a tough thought to process. For the time that we all did share, I certainly learned a great deal from the gentleness of pediatric massage as well as what it means to take care of someone in an Asian culture. I've witnessed the ever-lasting care a Vietnamese family provides for one another, the kindness of a stranger, and the generosity of a poor man. Vietnam is truly beautiful even among the non-stop motorbikes hauling a family of 5 who are holding shopping bags and balancing a crate of chickens all while weaving through a mass of beeping horns. This place was a dream. I was one of a million drawn to the historical Saigon to soak in it's depth of misery, courage and resilience. I had adjusted but I was still sweating and getting eaten alive by mosquitos. As our volunteer program came to an end, I was a solo traveler with no plans at all.
Gorgeous flowers filled the city. I had found my favorite bahn mi and bowl of beef pho and could call District 2 my home. Each day was such a gift to be able to spend a few hours with the children. Week one was over and a few of our volunteers left. It was amazing to watch each of us interact with the kids, and how our unique approaches comforted them. I usually sang to the children so they could feel my essence as I held them. We spent time relieving contracted positions by stretching and used other forms of rocking, jostling, and tapotement to stimulate their bodily systems. I felt lucky to be massaging a young person who may never otherwise know the benefits of massage therapy. After all, Touch is what we need to survive. I am so thankful for Buds to Blossoms for impacting the lives of these children as well as teaching the staff how to massage and provide the benefits of nurturing touch. It is truly a miracle that places and organizations like this exist. Repeatedly in my travels did I find that the ones with the least had the most to give.
January 1st, 2017
I departed Chicago after a long night of rowdy bluegrass to ring in the New Year and a celebratory last-supper with my family. I landed in Ho Chi Minh City on January 3rd and my senses sprang into overdrive. The movement of this city was fast and aggressive. Motorbikes, taxis, buses, bicycles, and thousands of pedestrians lined the streets, carrying their workloads and serving their livelihood in bowls. Of the few words I learned in Vietnamese, Pho was my go-to. I soon forgot all about the leftover meatballs in my mom's fridge and indulged in a hot noodle dish and cold coconut every chance I could get. The tiny neighborhood of Thao Dien was easy to get around and offered fruit markets, homes with lavish front gates, luscious green palms and tons of hidden places waiting to be found. Our volunteer group was grateful to be here and away from the hustle of District 1. We were invited to visit 2-3 orphanages each day, as some of the sites were a few hours outside of the city. In total, we visited 2 orphanages specific for children with HIV & AIDs and 2 orphanages specific for children born with disabilities that affect their growth, motor control, joint mobility, and cognitive processing. For the next 14 days, I would devote my life to these darling youngsters.
Things that big cities have in common: 1) Lots of people 2) Lots of trash 3) Smoggy air. These commonalities were taken to the extreme in Ho Chi Minh City. Also, it was hot. I was thankful for the air-con bus rides and accommodating facilities we worked with, otherwise I was sweating out of every pore in my body. In 3 days we had visited all 4 orphanages and each was a special group of children. Some of the kids are able to interact with us, particularly by practicing English and Vietnamese words together. Xin Chao. Mat xa? is "Hello. Massage?" You pronounce X's like Z's and that's as far as I got because once you get Vietnamese children going around their friends, their giggles would end any serious tutoring sessions. They are adorable. I had fallen in love instantly, particularly with the little ones who don't have much to say. This trip has taught me that there is nothing like a smile and figuring out situations through body language. Some days were challenging, whether I was trying to buy jackfruit off the street or soothe a young one's tears, the days were long and I probably felt about an ounce of the immense dedication it takes to survive in HCMC. The Vietnamese were tough. And gracious. After all that happened between the 50's and 70's, I was surprised to be walking around a city that had been destroyed and overthrown, which now seemed to be thriving in certain areas. The city was bustling with shops selling decorations, flowers, and anything with a rooster on it to celebrate the lunar new year (Tet) coming up at the end of the month. We got to witness our kids practice their singing and dancing for Tet. Yep, I was in love, and just maybe one day I could take one of them back with me.