At Home in Hanoi

Hanoi, Vietnam – I arrived in Hanoi along with ten other volunteers from all walks of life and corners of the globe. To paraphrase a famous Latin saying: We came together, We saw together, We conquered together. As with most things in life, everything started at home. Possessing the same mindset helped us all get along, but not having TV, internet or other distractions the first couple days forced us to interact and get to know each other. Throw in the other four volunteers who were already here, and we had a very close knit group that only enhanced everyone’s experience in Vietnam. Not everything was perfect, or went according to plan, but we still had a ton of fun.

Here are some examples of what I’m talking about:

  • First, I’d like to make an update to some previous posts. The rooster is officially gone! It’s been over a week since I’ve heard him. Hopefully, he made for a fine meal on some family’s table. I’m just glad I can finally sleep in uninterrupted bliss.
  • Coming from a Western country, doing laundry normally means putting a load of whites or colors in the washing machine and then switching them to the dryer before hanging and folding everything. In Vietnam, doing the laundry means putting a load of whites or colors in the washing machine and then hanging everything up to dry in clothes lines. It’s not really that big a deal, as long as you plan ahead for the day or so it takes for clothes to dry (as in, make sure you have enough clean boxers), and you don’t mind everyone in the neighborhood being able to literally see you air your dirty laundry.
  • Besides our human roommates, we’ve also apparently adopted some roommates of the four legged variety, as in rats and mice. It’s a common thing in Vietnam (when you don’t have air con and leave the door open all day to let air in, I guess these things are bound to happen), but it doesn’t mean the girls in the house find them any cuter. In fact, to find a rat all we had to do was follow the screams on the first floor.
  • I’ve tried to chase the rats on two different occasions without any success, except making myself look like the modern day Carl Spackler (Caddyshack reference for those who didn’t catch it).
    • The first time, one of the girls spooked the rat out from under where it was hiding while I stood waiting to pounce on it with a bowl (it seemed like a good idea after a couple of beers). Unfortunately, the rat always ran in the opposite direction of where I was standing.
    • The second time, we saw the rat scurrying towards the front door. Thinking this was an excellent chance to get rid of the rat I grabbed a broom (again, it sounded like a good idea at the time) and tried to scare it by banging on the cabinets, computer stand, and our cook’s Buddhist altar before standing at the ready to sweep the thing outside. The rat failed to materialize, so I went to bed.

  • Two of the new girls had never seen a rat before, and they were actually excited to see one in our house (I don’t know why, I just went with it). After a night of drinking, we scared the thing out from under the Buddhist altar and let one of the girl’s chase it around the first floor with her camera. Apparently, the thing’s camera shy.
  • One thing many of us have in common is an affinity for playing cards. And, with so many people from different parts of the globe, we were able to do a little cultural exchange and share and partake in games from everyone’s homeland. I think the favorites were Shithead, Bullshit, Asshole, Nines, Super 8’s and Chopsticks (also known as Spoons).
  • While most of our games were of the friendly variety, there was one incident where competitive juices took over (okay, my competitive juices took over). While playing spoons, I grabbed one of the chopsticks on the table after someone had amassed four of a kind. At the same time, one of the girls made a grab for the same chopstick, plus the one next to it (you only need to grab one). Somehow, we ended up in a tug of war for the chopstick – me pulling on the one, and she pulling on both (remember, the irony here is that you only need to grab one). Next thing I know, my chair tipped over and I went down. But don’t worry, I saved my beer without spilling a drop. Oh, and I was okay, too.
  • The local volunteers from our organization came over one night to give us a Vietnamese cooking lesson, on how to make spring rolls. I may have Americanized mine and created giant rolls (with ‘that’s what she said’ jokes inserted at appropriate junctures by others) – something about portion control and American eating habits don’t mix well. However, no matter their size, the rolls – and all the other food – were excellent.
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