Monday, January 28, 2008

Museum of Cham Sculpture

The Cham people invaded the Central Coast of Vietnam in the 4th century and dominated until the 13th century. Relics of their breathtaking architecture remain throughout the countryside, some designated World Heritage sites. On previous trips we have visited these edifices and were in awe of the strength and beauty of the symbolism and art.
The sculptures in this impressive museum in Da Nang city have been collected and housed since 1915. The carving in sandstone is evocative and one is overwhelmed with the sense of antiquity and reverence in the many open halls.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Tet Holiday February 7th

How lucky we are to be here, to witness the most significant festival of the year in Vietnam, Tet. This celebration of the lunar new year is a celebration of family ( it is every one's birthday), also a significant religious or spiritual occasion. There will be chanting in the pagodas, the lighting of bushels of incense. Many gifts will be exchanged and rituals followed to bless the house, and one's business. Wealth, health and good fortune for the coming year all rely on much cleansing and atonement through prayer and appeasement to the gods.
Houses are swept clean.Today,the first day of sunshine for awhile, there are table clothes, rugs, curtains and blankets drying on every fence, hedge, shrub and tree branch in the nieghbourhood. Houses are being painted or more often color washed with a large straw brush. Windows and doors are being refinished and the little cafes on each street corner are busy painting the tables and chairs. When all is clean the "kitchen god" is ushered out, carried perhaps by a lucky yellow fish. The Kitchen god reports the families virtues to the Jade Emperor and returns some days later with luck for the New Year.
Decorations are starting to appear. Lights, paper lanterns, kumquat trees in bloom bearing both yellow and green . Happy New Year ( Chuc Mung Nam Moi) banners flutter everywhere. The most festive and lucky colors are red and yellow.
Food plays a central role in this holiday and we expect to eat many traditional foods. We see the wrapped rice cakes ( either sweet or with bean curd) everywhere now in the markets and in flower shops. Tomorrow I will help Quyen ( our hostess at Reaching Out) to make these delicacies for the staff end of year party.
The magnificent creations pictured here, using plants, flowers and rice cakes are works of art.
As we learn each day about this complex holiday we will add our stories.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Floods,Food and Family

The rain has been relentless for the past three days. Everything is soggy, our clothes, our packs, our shoes, our towels, the floor, the carpet...but not our spirits!
We still mount our bicycles every morning and head down the road to the old town for work. We are quite a frightening sight to the Vietnamese, I'm sure. Under our jackets and ponchos, we carry our backpacks. Bruce carries the laptop and so he really looks like Quasimodo.
The pot holes in the road are now miniature lakes and thus by the time we reach our destination, not only are we soaked, but we are splashed with mud up to our knees. Until we discovered the ponchos, we also had telltale streaks of mud up the rear end of our trousers.
In the photo I am scurrying back to the bikes with a bundle of flowers from the market, meant for our hostess at dinner. The only place to stash the flowers for the ride home, was in the back pocket of my jacket. The blossoms stuck up over my shoulders as I wobbled and teetered on my bike.... but the flowers and I were unharmed.
Binh and Quyen, the couple who manage Reaching Out invited us to dinner in their home. Quyen waited for us in front of her house with an umbrella,paying the taxi driver...yet another courtesy observed by these very gracious people. Their son Sesame is four years old and he played quite quietly while we ate, but could not resist coming into the kitchen were we sat, to show me that he had painted happy faces on the bottoms of his feet with his new magic markers from Canada.
He is a very sweet and calm child, who had us pegged as grandparents right away. Through Binh, Sesame told us that his grandfather is the brightest star in the sky now, but Bruce was immediately adpoted as a grandfather on earth. Quyen showed up at the shop this morning with helmets for us, because she was worried about these tipsy elders on their bikes. I think that we have been adopted!
Our meal with them was the customary four dishes, mixed vegetables, chicken, soup, fish, and fruit for desert. White wine from Chile and passion fruit juice accompanied the meal. All yummy!
We are eating very well and only see western food at breakfast. Sometimes this is a little surprising. One morning we ordered omelettes, which arrived deep fried!!! I must admit that it is comforting to have yogurt and a bagette although a distraction from our intent to eat as the Vietnamese do...but pho ( soup with noodles ) is a bit of a stretch!!!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Reaching Out Scholarships and "Goodies" Delivered

Just before lunch today we had a little presentation ceremony for the three trainees who will be able to complete their apprenticeships because of the generosity of our Canadian Friends. Thank you, thank you.
Mr. Binh is justifiably proud of his students, who will become completely self supporting in a country still rife with discrimination. The atmosphere in the shop and workshop is one of unique self confidence and fulfillment. Each individual has found an avenue toward self -sufficiency and great joy in his/her ability to create beautiful quality crafts.
The personal hygiene gifts were such a hit. We did have to explain some of the labels. The guys were all over the shampoo!!!
Our "to do" list gets bigger everyday, from guiding Binh at a fairly high level with his Strategic and Business Plans to creating scripting for the staff who conduct tours for customers of the workshop. We are really relying on our years of O.D. work, and loving working with such open people who are all so driven to succeed by focusing on their abilities rather their disabilities.
Today a young Australian woman visited the shop who is a studying special education. She was bowled over by the example that she saw at Reaching Out and will present a paper on her return about the level of integration and independence that all the staff have achieved.
Another female customer from California who has acquired the Fair Trade Logo for her shop, sat right down to have a small consultation with Binh about the onerous application process.
Everyone wants to help!!!
If you want to have a closer look at the pictures, most computers will enlarge the photo if you click on it.

Our House and Garden

We are very happy and comfortable in our upstairs apartment at Betel Garden. The breezes have been wonderful, the garden always cool and on our little deck we can enjoy a drink in the evening. Even the "hot tub" is's an odd thing..not a swimming pool, but a giant round pool with jets and cool water. Maybe on a scorching day we will enjoy it.
The carved screens in the windows are the symbol for longevity.....this is probably an apt blessing for the current inhabitants!

Our family here are very caring. As there is only one other guest we often feel "watched" as we are unable to even get out our own bikes without help. There are ten people living in the main house, three or four generations as far as we can tell, which is the Vietnamese way.

Scenes From Around Our Neighbourhood

We are developing a daily routine,which satisfies our commitment to the shop, our curiosity about this beautiful town and countryside and the warm people who are our neighbours.

By 6:30 a.m. we are in the courtyard for a cup of strong black coffee and breakfast. At 7:15 we are on our bikes and through the town to work. On the first day that we cycled to work, every small mongrel dog along our route barked furiously, many people stared but did not wave. Now, only three days later the dogs pay us no mind and everyone shouts "hello" or 'good morning"...they laugh at us when we call back "xin chao".

Late afternoons we explore, again by bicycle, along the roads and mud tracks in our vicinity.
All of these photos are taken within a kilometer or two of "home".

We feel very safe and other than the scary traffic and our graceless bike riding we are feeling quite at home. It is tiring trying to make our needs known, but we are getting better at sign language if not Vietnamese!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Home in Hoi An

Technology has been challenging here in Hoi An. The Internet is often inaccessible and always slow.
Blogspots are blocked and we are busy finding ways around the system to try to keep you all up to date as promised. Please be patient with us and we will get news and pictures to you if and when possible. This picture is the first of many that we will surely take at Reaching Out...Bruce and Binh at their computers.
We are well, happily ensconced in a lovely little house and attended to by very caring staff.
We reported to Reaching Out yesterday, riding our bikes the short two kilometer distance along little roads and a very brief few blocks of frantic traffic.This morning as I watched Bruce's large frame on his tiny bike, winding his way through, bikes,motor bikes, pedestrians with large loads of produce and hard goods, I was taken with the knowing that at last we are following our intention. As we passed a garbage truck, which played Vietnamese music, tinny like an ice cream truck, I had the impression that we were in a movie of East Meets West.
Mr. Binh and all the staff at Reaching Out are most gracious and we know that we will learn much more from them than they from us. Our main tasks will be to help Binh with his Strategic plan and do some surveying with customers to help them develop a customer profile which will help them to target their marketing and develop new products.
It is very gratifying to be working to support differently abled people.
We are meeting volunteers and expats from Canada and the USA, all here because of their love for the country and it's people. They are very helpful and will be the ones to guide us through this technological challenge. Getting pictures up on this blog will be a tricky exercise but we will not be daunted.
Everyday we think of you all and assure you that your good thoughts and gifts are very much appreciated.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Heart Aches

This is Minh An. He lives with other severely disabled children at Tu Do Hospital in Saigon. Minh's story reflects the full spectrum of the human condition: the horror of war and its devastating aftermath on human lives, juxtaposed with love which transcends borders, cultures, generations and language.
Minh and the children and adults who suffer here in Vietnam are what our Journey of the Heart is all about.
A British woman, Brenda Smith introduced me to Minh An Thursday, a day of piercing heart ache and frustrating impotence for me. Minh, an Amerasian was abandoned at birth and suffers disabilities, in all likelihood caused by the traces of Agent Orange in the gene pool. Most evident is Minh An's skin condition, but he is also physically, visually and mentally challenged. Inside though beats the loving heart of a small boy who loves to laugh.
At the hospital neither Minh An nor the other children in his ward are offered therapy or special education. Brenda has been able, over the years, to encourage Minh's development to the point where we successfully manoeuvred a trip out of the hospital, down the road and to a "mall" for a "Happy Meal". Without words, but a lot of touch, these two brave soldiers, a grandmother and a small boy showed me that kindness and compassion are the stuff of miracles.

Soldiers of Peace

Bruce and a group of men with whom he served in Vietnam 40 years ago, preceded Elaine on this Journey of the Heart.
First stop for them was in Hawaii, where they laid a wreath at the 25th Infantry Memorial, honoring fifteen comrades who were killed in action.
In Vietnam they visited sites of their most fierce battles, and replaced old images with new as they experienced Vietnam's warm and friendly people, vibrant culture and met their former enemies in friendship. The woman in the picture lower right, was a " Viet Cong" during the war, and when learning about our group, she invited the men into her restaurant, scurried to find and put on her medals and insisted on a picture.
The group left yesterday, Vietnam having once again changed their lives.

The Bandages are Delivered

Anh was able to get to our hotel today to pick up the bandages to deliver to his Mom ( Nguyen Thi Nhung). Thi Nhung is not here in Saigon, she is up in the highlands working with the people with leprosy. Anh assured us that his mom and her group could use all the bandages that we can keep working away ladies!!

Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Portable Libraries Project

Our path has lead us to this new project and a new relationship with the Global Village Foundation.

One of the endeavours of this foundation, created by Le Ly Hayslip, whose life story is portrayed in the Oliver Stone movie Heaven and Earth, is the development of portable libraries which can be shared by several villages.

The purpose of the libraries is to stimulate a love of reading in the youngsters in schools where there have been few books. As new "portables" become available, GVF conducts workshops for the teachers, librarians and kids to introduce the libraries. Teachers learn how to use the resource and learn methods to make reading fun for their students. The children as you see by the photo, get their hands on real books and get help with their reading skills.

Bruce and I have been invited to assist with these workshops. We were a little apprehensive about our ability to contribute until Le Ly put us in touch with a woman who had done the work last year. Lo and behold our mentor lives in Prince George, BC... AND she is going to go back to Vietnam again this year and will be involved in the project at the same time as we are. Now that is cool!!!

Check out the GVF website to find out more about this foundation and the amazing woman who is its founder.