In life, there are 3 unavoidable truths: Taxes, death, and you will wake feeling like you just did cross fit in a sauna when sleeping in Hanoi. Seriously, it’s hot here. All jokes aside, after a great night’s sleep, we awake among the hustle and bustle of Hanoi for another day of adventuring. A slightly rushed breakfast that more than likely included at least one serving of Chin Su sends us on our way to the Village. Upon arrival, we break into groups and settle into our respective classrooms. My personal group (Word to group 3) took on the special education room with smiles on our faces and colored pencils in our hands. I can’t recall the last time I colored, but I think I might have to hit up some craft stores when I get home. Seriously, it’s great fun. It’s even more fun when the rainbow-striped elephant I drew can bring a smile to my coloring partner. Many high fives, laughs, drawings and even a few broken stools later, we said goodbye to our friends in the classrooms and walked to lunch for some more yummy Vietnamese cuisine. If your son/daughter wasn’t an expert with chopsticks prior to their departure, they definitely are now. I’m pretty sure we will be able to catch flies out of the air with them by the end of the trip. A little bit of rain and thunder delayed our daily coffee break, but we soldiered on in the Village cafeteria playing cards and taking some much needed naps. The rain didn’t hold forever and we eventually made our way to the nearby coffee shop to refill on caffeine and plan our group project scheduled for Wednesday.
The next part of our Village experience might easily go down as a top 5 moment in the semester for some including myself. Seven Vietnamese veterans made their way into the dining area and joined us for the next few hours. Over the course of our questioning period, we listened to the powerful words of these brave and wise men. Stories of war, peace, sickness and health were shared, leaving the group in awe. Growing up in the United States, we often villain-ize the countries and people we have gone to war with through movies, TV Shows, and history books. The men of the North Vietnamese army are portrayed as cut throat extremists, even bordering along the lines of terrorism in many forms of Western media. But in actuality, these men are human beings just like you and me. They have wives, and kids, and grandkids and are genuinely some of the kindest-hearted people I have ever met. They went to war to protect their country and their beliefs, they laid their lives on the line in order to protect the way of life that they had already fought so hard to earn. The words these men shared with us will resonate with me and my group mates forever. Words of forgiveness, words of pain and hope. Agent Orange was a devastating tactic that has damaged countless lives in this beautiful country, yet all of the veterans speak not out of anger, but out of hope. Hope that one day, we can all come together not as nations and sides, but as human beings. Hope that we can one day rid the world of the devastation caused by this conflict and protect future generations on both sides.
With handshakes, smiles, hugs, and many photos, we once again said goodbye to the Village for the day having learned more than we could have imagined. A not-so-quick pit stop at the mall for some questionable fast food and leisurely shopping eased us into the night. We walked home, dodging scooters (LOTS of scooters), box trucks, and hatchbacks, and got some R&R at our temporary home before a late night showing of Stephen King’s ‘It’. We walked out into the night, hopes and emotions high. Unfortunately, our arrival came a little too late, as the theater was already full by the time we got there. But Chin Su Crew doesn’t give up that easy. We compromised and decided to wait an hour for the next showing of Kingsman 2.
After what seemed like much more than an hour, we finally took our seats in the theater and laughed through a few Vietnamese commercials and then endured what was a less than stellar film. Oh well. It was an experience to say the least. We sluggishly hauled ourselves back to our temporary home and settled in for the night. A memorable day behind us, with many, many more to come.
To end, I will leave you with a quote from one of my favorite novels (Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse): “I have always believed, and I still believe, that whatever good or bad fortune may come our way we can always give it meaning and transform it into something of value.”