In which Steph and I “volunteer” in Vietnam
We met some fabulous volunteers on Sunday 30th September, which was Mid-Autumn Day proper. Not really sure of what to expect, Steph and I met up with Darryl, another of the FTs at Aston 2 in Ho Chi Minh (where Steph both lives and works) and one of the VTs (Vietnamese teachers) and the one who’d invited us all along for the day.
In actual fact, she’d invited Darryl first, who’d asked if Steph could come too, and then as I came as a package with Steph, that’s how it turned out. I gatecrashed in all honesty!
Well, the four of us got on a couple of motorbikes and drove to the first place we were visiting.
Not before, though, we’d stopped to put raincoats on in the wonderful Ho Chi Minh downpours! I’d brought an umbrella with me to Vietnam, as when it rains in Zhangzhou, some people just put their brollies up. In Ho Chi Minh, however, this is not an option, so Darryl lent me a nice black one, whilst he sported a fantastically bright orange Aston bike raincoat (I forgot to take a picture unfortunately!). We were also stared as because Darryl, a foreigner, was driving 2 foreigners. It’s not the norm here for foreigners to drive, so it was a novelty. Darryl did very well though. I’d have totally lost concentration and made us crash, but he did a fine job of navigating us through the mean streets of Ho Chi Minh to our destination, a Christian mission group with the Don Bosco volunteers in their bright orange t-shirts.
Darryl and Steph knew as much as I did about the day, therefore nothing, so what followed next was a surprising mix of events. We’d been told by Steph’s VT friend that the place was for poor children, and that we’d be celebrating Mid-Autumn Day with them. Cool, I thought, although having already eaten mooncake for breakfast and lunch (thanks China Southern Airlines!), I was aware I could still be fed more.
Proceedings started with what seemed like the “sisters” of the mission, speaking. They all wore plain blouses, with their hair tied back and a cross around their necks, so were pretty easy to spot. Some spoke English to us too, which amazed me a stupid amount. Already, from sitting down on the benches, all the children had asked our names.
They seemed a lot more confident than Chinese children! However, some of their accents were a little hard to understand, which Steph says happens to her in class a bit too, so I didn’t feel too bad for not being able to understand them. After the sisters had done their bit, we were introduced to our comperes, a fool and a princess, (well that’s what they looked like to me!), from the Don Bosco volunteers.
We were treated to some dancing by 5 girls in matching skirts, which was lovely, and they were given a small gift as thanks for participating.
We also had a dragon dance, which also included what looked like a dragon tamer to me. The guy had a mask on his head, as well as a pillow over his tummy to make him look fatter and a fan in his hand to “tame” the dragon.
This was obviously Mid-Autumn Day festival related and although Steph, Darryl and I weren’t sure exactly what it represented, it was fun, especially as the dragon sprayed foam over everyone whilst he was leaving.
After the dragon, the Don Bosco volunteers did a lantern dance, which was pretty cute.
They then began to tell a story. They were all wonderfully dressed up and it wasn’t until what looked like a wicked woman and a mirror appeared that Steph and I guessed that it was Snow White, and one of the sisters helped us by confirming this fact too.
It was brilliant. OK, so I don’t think there were 7 dwarves, nor did we understand one of the boys dressed up in a dress, who was thrown out by the dwarves and went along with the handsome prince. But, it was funny nonetheless even though we didn’t understand it. Here are a few pictures from the play, so you can see that they all went to great effort:
After the play was over, the group and the sisters handed out some gifts for the children, with lanterns and probably some food, as well as spraying some more foam.
They all had their photo taken with the volunteers and inevitably we were forced into the photo as well, much to everyone’s delight.
At this point, all the children dispersed, leaving the volunteers and ourselves to enjoy, yes, you guessed it, mooncake. It was pleasant though, so my opinions on mooncake have seriously changed. The group wanted us to introduce each other, and Steph went first. She’s from Hull, but introduced herself as being from Manchester as the Vietnamese love their football. She got a few cheers anyhow. I decided that two could play at this game, so I introduced myself as being from Newcastle, and again they went wild, even getting an “I love you!” Darryl conceeded that there were no good football teams in South Africa, but impressed them by saying South Africa in Vietnamese.
After this, is transpired that we were all heading to the disabled children’s home together, on a convoy of bikes.
Steph made a new friend on her bike, whilst I was back on Darryl’s bike.
As we all set off together, I made a video of the convoy down the back streets of Ho Chi Minh, until we hit the bigger streets. The group were so considerate though; they were worried that I would get my camera stolen, but I knew that once on the big streets it wold be more dangerous. I knew that first hand anyway!
We were all in convoy, and it was easy to follow the group with their bright orange t-shirts, however at one point everybody veered off right, apart from the motorbike Darryl and I were following. Fortunately, the two people we were following realised that we were tailing them, admitted they’d gone the wrong way, but assured us that we’d meet up with the others, and we did. They’d all stopped on a roundabout, but as Darryl needed petrol by this time, we whizzed straight past the waiting group and into a petrol station. Steph drew up alongside us: “They were asking me if I was worried about you, I said no.”
Little did we know that we’d be spending just over an hour on the bikes. We ended up well outside the city and saw some marvelous countryside.
My bum was a little numb by the time we got to the children’s home! First things first, we were fed. At this point Steph and I realised that we hadn’t eaten anything but mooncake so far that day, so to get some Vietnamese curry and bread in us was amazing.
We had a good chat with some of the volunteers, before dinner was interrupted briefly by another dragon dance.
After eating the curry, the Don Bosco volunteers did another lantern dance for the assembled crowd. There was then some kind of sing off between them and the other group that were there, all in good humour it seemed!
We were then all treated to another performance, but of what we were not quite sure! All we knew, was that there were 3 men in drag, one of which I was uncertain he was a man, the wig, mannerisms and way s/he was as a person were so confusing!
We were told afterwards that it was something to do with being gay, but everyone seemed to find it hilarious.
We were laughing not because we understood what was going on, but because everyone else found it all so hilarious!
To end the evening, lanterns were lit and handed out
and there was a massive dance altogether
and yet more mooncake, (although, to be a bad guest, I didn’t actually like this one!).
We were thanked for attending (and doing what?!) and then headed back to Ho Chi Minh City in the darkness.
When we got back to Aston, however, the guard who sleeps there overnight was not there. Darryl, Steph and I decided to go around the corner for coffee for half an hour to see if he would be back, but he wasn’t and we ended up ringing him!
In all, we had a fantastic day with the Don Bosco volunteers. Going around with them was something I was not expecting on my holiday, and an amazing surprise and overall probably the best day of my holiday. I must admit, I love doing touristy stuff; I love doing everything to be honest and I’m not ashamed of that fact. I hate it when people try to label themselves when they are travelling. Your whole life people try and put you into a box, don’t put yourself in one! (Thanks Steph for that inspiring quote that is very true!)