5 kilometers from the Hoi An town. The weather was not the best but we grabbed any opportunity we had
It has been a little time since I last made an entry. In Vietnam most of the population is Buddhist so we did not expect such a large interest in Xmas as we saw. Xmas eve we decided we would go to the church for the mass, what we saw was like a circus. About 300 meters from the church the crowd was amassing in what looked like a carnival atmosphere. There was music, balloons, fluorescent head and wrist bands and people and bikes everywhere. As we moved closer to the church the crowd was dense and made progress with three children difficult. Finally we worked our way through the gates and waited to see what was going to happen. Although the theme was definitely Christian, it was purely a side show with most of the locals looking for a good time. We could not stay, there was no room and both Charlotte and I had to have one child on each of our shoulders to see anything. We decided to leave to have a more subdued Xmas eve. Fortuitously as it turned out, about one hour later the skies opened up again and the rain came down hard.
This was the start of a stint of weather that really typifies what Vietnam can be like. It rains and rains and rains. To escape the monotony of not being able to go out, we decided to head to Danang for the day by local bus. This was a slow but inexpensive one hour ride in a bus that must be at least 50 years old. The price is usually 10,000 Dong ($1Aus ) per adult and children are free, of course they try and make us pay for everyone. Having already been ripped off once I was prepared and ready for the assault again. When asked to pay 50,000 I stood my ground at 20K. Of course there was tooing and frowing but when they realised that I new what I was talking about they capitulated, with the rest of the bus laughing that they were unsuccessful at scamming us.
We needed to get a few things for Charlotte in the markets in Danang. While we were looking around women from all the stalls come around to play with the children and try to sell us there wares. While waiting, one of them undid her top and offered her boob to Oscar saying "milk, milk". It's been quite a while since Oscar has been offered that source of milk and we had to reply "he had a mouth full of teeth and liked to bite things". Charlotte and I looked at each other and laughed, but this scene did not escape the attention of Thomas and Henry, who thought it would be a good idea if there little brother could latch on to this woman's boob.
It did not stop raining and when Glen arrived on the 28th she must have thought she had made a big mistake in coming, apart from seeing her grandchildren she could not see or visit anything. It's been raining and windy for over a week and all the locals say this is very unusual for this time of year. The rain normally stops around early December. This confinement along with very cheap DVD's has allowed our kids with their nana to catch up on many movies together. (all has been not lost).
New Years Eve we were invited to the orphanage for a party with the children, but later discovered is was a lunch for all the staff and we were honoured guests. We did not know this at the time and had come to the orphanage from a big breakfast. Not wanting to look rude we had to force this food and drink down stomachs that were already satiated. Glenys was next to the Director so she had no escape, Charlotte was sitting next to me so she would keep swapping my empty bowl with her full one much to my disgust (and pain). Most of the children were not there however and as we wanted to do something more for them we decided to come back new years day and buy ice-cream for each of them. This was something that they never got and the look on their faces was absolutely delightful.
Hi everyone, I know it has been two weeks since we last updated this blog, and for all who have been patiently waiting for an update I sincerely apologize. The truth is that since our meeting with the two organisations operating here we have been extremely busy and by the end of the day we are both physically exhausted and at times emotionally exhausted as well.
As mentioned, our time here is spent between two organisations, the Degenhart foundation working out of America and the Hoi An Orphanage operated by the Vietnamese government. The Degenhart foundation has been operating in and around Vietnam for over 20 years and has been responsible for the placement of adopted children and community projects alike. We are here working on a Toy Library for poor and under privileged children. This entails the complete renovation of a room to be made suitable for the storage and display of the toys being sent from Australia and America. This may sound like an easy task but the room has been seriously neglected for some time, has mould and wall damage and has a leaking roof. The first thing Cha and I has to so was the sterilise all the mould with bleach then scrap of the paint from the walls which had been painted on top of mould which had been painted on a poorly prepared surface originally. When we looked at the room both Charlotte and I thought the building must have been at least 40 years old. We were very surprised to fine out it was just 10 years old. So the next thing to do was to collect the necessary equipment for the job. Sounds easy enough or so I thought. There is no one stop shop here. The lady helping us in the other part of the library had bought the paint for us and the rollers. I asked if she had a paint tray her response "just put the roller in the bucket and paint it onto the wall". From this point I new she had no idea what was involved and had never seen anyone paint before. We spent 3 days preparing the surface, scaping the walls to bare plaster, filling the holes with filler and then sealing the walls ready for painting. Our arms ached and we had blisters on our hands from where the cheap scrapers dug into our palms. We also sourced a small paint tray and a pole to attach to the rollers (the walls were 3.6 meters high) After a week we were very happy with the results and felt we could leave knowing it would remain in good condition for many years to come. We had the roof fixed and have organised for window seals to come from Australia to protect the equipment from water damage once they were here. All we needed now was the toys to arrive and the shelving to be delivered so we can erect and assemble.
It was the second Sunday here before we decided to see the Orphanage. It houses 73 children 17 who are disabled in some way. Ages ranging from infant to 18. We were horrified by the tour. Although there was help with the disabled children, they were being fed when we visited, they were lying on hard mats stinking of urine which they were covered it. The room reeked and made our children want to leave straight away. The other rooms were mildly better, no urine but at least 10 hard mats to a room. These opened into a concrete courtyard with rusty old swings and that was it. Our hearts sank. We both felt helpless in this environment. We asked the director of the orphanage how much they budgeted to feed each child and the response was shocking. Just 240,000 Dong, ($21 Aus, or $14US) per month. As a reference we are spending around 200,000 per day the five of us on food.
We thought maybe we should give money to help these children but learnt through research on-line the director had built her house with donations given by foreign nationals. What could we do. We decided the Tet festival was coming up which is like Xmas for the rest of us. We could buy new clothing for everyone of the 73 children, and that is exactly what we did.
The look on the kids' faces was priceless when the clothing vendors came to the orphanage and they could choose their clothes. It was true happiness and moved charlotte and myself with strong emotions of joy and extreme sadness. We must thank all those who generously gave money to us to help these children.
We both had sleepless nights for the next three days toying with emotions and wondering if adoption was a possibility. It would inexorably change the life of a child forever. Impossible to do directly from Australia but possible though France as a French citizen and then brought into Australia from there. Could we do it? Should we do it after all it was just one more mouth to feed, the kids would adapt and welcome in any new member we were both sure. We toyed with this dilemma, it exhausted us. Finally we decided now was not yet the time. Charlotte was always sure in her mind she wanted to adopt a child sometime in her life, I was always a little more reticent. I am less certain now about my conviction.
While we wait for the toys to arrive we have been keeping busy either at the orphanage playing with the children or at the toy library doing crafts with the kids or teaching them computing and English. We have developed a good routine, Cha goes in the morning with one or two kids, and I go in the afternoon with one or two. I have also started English classes at night. It keeps us busy.
We have 4 weeks left in Hoi An, but during that time we have Glenys coming over for a week and then Cha's grandparents from the 10th Jan until we leave Vietnam on the 29th . We will leave Hoi An around the 15th and continue touring further south. There is still plenty to do before then.
The weather in Hue was not favourable and Cha and I decided we could not take it any longer, we had to move further south. As Danang was on our way to Hoi An we thought we might stop here for a day or so before heading to Hoi An. Upon arriving we took out the trusty guide and caught a taxi to the city centre. Stopping at a few hotels and not negotiating a very good rate and seeing the town from the taxi windows we quickly decided to keep moving and instructed our driver to take us to Hoi An straight away. A very good choice. The fare was only $30 and it saved us having to deal with the local bus and waiting with the kids. All they wanted to do was swim in a pool.
The hotel we chose for our first night was called the Phuoc An, it had a pool but the only room available was an internal one with no windows and the room smelt of mould which permeated all our senses. For one night we could survive but we quickly searched around for a few alternatives and finally settled on a new hotel just around the corner (Bach Dang II) with a much bigger outdoor area for the same price.
We called the foundation we are going to work for from Hue and were pleased to know they were expecting us. The next step for us now is to make contact and develop a daily routine.
With the children this is easily done. The chaos of moving frequently is hard for them but developing a routine is easy.
Charlotte and I have already found an amazing restaurant with very inexpensive food. The best part is they offer cooking lessons for their favourite dishes at very affordable prices. We will be serving Vietnamese cuisine to our friends when we get back. That is a guarantee.
Our destination was Hue and it took three and a half hours in this cramped form of travel to reach it.
We opted for the lonely planet recommended hotel called the Thai Binh II and although it was relatively clean and reasonably priced at US20 per night we think we might have found better if we had looked around near the Thai Binh I. Hue was much more tourist oriented than any other regional cities we have visited so far. This is to be expected as it offers tourists much choice of sites to see. I opted for a tour into the demilitarized zone with Henry for the sole purpose of visiting the Vinh Moc tunnels. These tunnels were home to 300 people during the war. They were used to smuggle guns from the South Chine Sea into the war zone. The tunnels had three levels, 15 meters, 18 meters and 25 meters for bomb shelter. The family rooms consisted of 2x2 meters there was one well and one toilet for everyone. The consistency of the tunnel walls was like chalky mud. The integrity of the surface was identical to that of the war. The rest of the tour was not very good as it was raining and the bus windows were all fogged up. I am glad I chose only day tour. AT lunch we were put on a local bus from Dong Ha back to Hue. This was a 12 seater minibus. But 12 is just a guide for the Vietnamese, and the driver managed to cram 18 into it at one stage.
The following day we hired 2 tuk-tuks and were ridden around the old Citadel of Hue and taken to the Thien Mu Pagoda. The citadel was built in the 1800's and has a 2 meter wall thick wall 10kms in circumference. The buildings inside were almost totally destroyed during the war and the Vietnamese government is only slowly now rebuilding the monuments inside. The Thien Mu Pagoda is built on the Perfume river and is a lovely stone pagoda but the highlight of the pagoda was meeting 5 little children who were playing with our kids. Later they asked for money to buy food. They looked relatively well off and when I gave them the equivalent of $2Au their eyes lit up. If it was shared and lollies were bought it made our day.
Of course we negotiated the price for the Tuk-Tuks the day before but when it came time to pay they tried to scam us for twice the amount. You really need to have a good sense of humour and stick to your original price. Eventually all is sorted and everyone is happy. But if this kind of behaviour upset you then this is not the place for you.