Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Welcome to Vietnam

Chào các bạn! (Hello friends!) I suppose this will be a rather long post, since a lot has happened in the past few days, so hold on to your seat and get ready for a wild ride!

To get to Vietnam, I had a lovely 15 hour flight from SF to Hong Kong, followed by a 2 hour flight to Saigon (officially called Ho Chi Minh City). Now, under normal circumstances that would be a very long flight, but with a broken ankle, it's pretty much hell. The only good part was that I got to speed to the front of all the security lines, which was pretty great. We got to Saigon at 11 pm local time, where it was exceedingly hot and humid even that late at night. We had to get up at 6:30 the next morning, at which point we all went out to breakfast, followed by orientation, followed by a flight to Hanoi. And let me tell you, an airplane was pretty much the last place I wanted to be.

The Hanoi airport is about an hour outside the city, and driving through the countryside you can see that you are in a completely different country from the US. Rising up out of unfamiliar trees are tall, skinny buildings 2 or 3 stories tall, all with colorful fronts and plain concrete sides. The buildings are the same in the city, though more often than not they're connected so you see a row of buildings with different colored fronts, each only about 10 feet wide and none of them the same height.

We are living in a guesthouse, which is kind of like a dorm but not limited to students or associated with a school, in the university district. I'm on the second floor (everyone else is on the fourth, and I'll probably move up there once I get my cast removed). Across a courtyard from us are Vietnamese houses, and across the street is a men-only gym with a big sports area in the middle. There's chairs and tables along the walkway outside our room, which is where I have to sit to use the internet because the signal doesn't reach into our room.

Everyone on the trip has a Vietnamese roommate. My roommate is named Ruby, and she's actually the program assistant for Hanoi. The first day she led us on a walking tour of the area around our guesthouse, but since I can't walk very far with the crutches I got to ride a cyclo, or bicycle taxi. It was really cool, but I felt like a major tourist and couldn't really hear a lot of what Ruby was saying on the tour.

We met the rest of our roommates at a big dinner that night. It was quite exciting and fun to talk to everyone, but most of us were very jetlagged and not feeling very sociable, though we tried our best. We've had other meals since where many of us went out as a group, and those have been much better for helping us get to know each other. Everyone is very friendly and outgoing, and they're all being extremely helpful to me since I have so much trouble getting around (Not only is it very hard for me to walk far, but the sidewalks are uneven and there's construction along the street in front of the guesthouse).

I'm getting rather cold right now, since I left my sweatshirt in my room and it's surprisingly cold and cloudy in Hanoi, and like I said I have to be out on the balcony to use the internet. I'll update tomorrow or the day after and tell you about my classes and more of what I've been doing and all that sort of thing. Goodbye for now!

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