by Codie Fraley, Greenheart Travel Volunteer in Vietnam
This place is amazing. Absolutely amazing.
At my arrival Thursday night at the Hanoi Airport I was picked up by Hien, a sweet girl who works at the volunteer house. From the very start it was a culture shock, being introduced to Vietnamese traffic, and listening to Hien’s conversation with the taxi driver. The traffic here seems chaotic, there are little or no stop lights and people weave in and out of traffic. People also use their horns very often, something that would likely land you in a fist fight in America. But what I’ve found is that there is a sort of organized chaos in the traffic here. People are very aware of their surroundings and the using of the horns aids in that awareness. The longer I’ve been here the more safe I have felt in the traffic, and crossing it.
When we arrived I was stunned at the house and its 6 stories. I was not expecting such a big house, or apartment I should say. There’s 6 floors, each with 2 bedrooms and 1 bathroom. There are around 20 people living in the house, volunteers and staff members. My room is on the 4th floor and upon walking in I met David, a man from Italy, and Uday, a man from India. Uday, 29 is from the India-based university of Georgetown. He leads a group of about 10 students around to different countries. I’ve had a couple conversations with him now and I’m just in awe of how genuine he is. You don’t meet very many kind-hearted people in America. But what I’m noticing is the heart in all of the people I meet here. They are all so kind and friendly, a good change of pace for me.
My second day here (Friday), entailed an orientation of the house, an orientation of Vietnamese culture, and a trip to the hospital I would be working at. I went on a walk around the block with the staff leader and I was just in awe. I loved it. Seeing all of the people along the roadside with their fruit and different meats. And the constant mopeds dashing by. This place is unlike anything I have ever witnessed. Walking by one of the markets I saw something I have never seen before in my life. I pointed at the strange fruit and asked, What is that? The staff leader told me “Dragon Fruit”. She bought some for me and we headed back to the volunteer house. Lunch time was delicious. There are 2 house chefs who prepare lunch and dinner every day. I have loved every meal yet!
Prior to lunch Hien took me to the place I’d be volunteering at. The hospital was very different, but very pretty. After dinner that night I went to a karaoke place with some of the volunteers. Karaoke is huge here in Vietnam. You walk in and it looks much like a hotel reception, then they take you to a private room where you sing karaoke. It was quite the experience. I slept like a baby that night. I’ve slept like a baby every night here. It’s so hot and humid throughout the day then when you go to bed you get to turn your person A/C on and it feels like heaven.
Yesterday, Saturday was my city tour. Tuan (Louis) would be taking me to Ho Chi Min’s tomb, the first university, and the Old Quarter. We left the house at about 9 A.M. I then realized Hanoi was much bigger than I had previously thought. With a population of 7 million, and thousands upon thousands of stores, me and Tuan rode the bus to the tomb. When we arrive at the tomb it was like something out of a history book. Something I’ve only seen in school. The landscaping was beautiful and the architecture was amazing too. Thousands of people were there to see Ho Chi Min’s tomb. We then went to a University that was over 1,000 years old. There were many school children there and they all looked at me like I was a giant, or a baseball player. They pointed at my arms and gave me high fives. We saw many monuments for Confucius.
Then we ventured to the Old Quarter. The Old Quarter is section of the city with thousands of vendors and shops. Me and Tuan enjoyed some of his families food then took a nap. After our nap we continued venturing in the Old Quarter. We enjoyed coffee, ice cream, and plenty sites. I learned a lot from Tuan. He is a great person. It’s a shame that I don’t think I’ll get to see him again this trip.