It's been a while. Lots to update on:
A few weeks ago was spring break. I spent the week with 5 of my friends on an island off the south coast of VN called Phu Quoc. It's basically your stereotypical beautiful tropical island: clear blue water, white sand, bungalows on the beach, really bad sunburns, the works... It was really touristy, but I had a great time there. There are some great coral reefs off the coast of the island, and our group took a boat out and went snorkeling. The reefs were beautiful, and there were lots of really neat fish and some terrifying sea urchins with huge spikes. I had a great time swimming around until I saw a huge jellyfish (maybe a foot wide) about 10 feet away from me, at which point I swam back to the boat as quickly as I could. The rest of the week was mostly spent reading and eating some really good food. There was one restaurant that we went to a lot. It was almost always empty, but the food was amazing, and there was this adorable little girl who would run around and alternately play with us or just be super super shy.
We've gone on a bunch of fieldtrips in the past few weeks. The first was a trip to the Mekong Delta, where we got to walk around a "handicraft village" (products they made included coconut candy, puffed rice, rice paper in several different forms, and bricks and ceramics). We also spent a morning helping out with the harvest in a rice field, after which we had lunch at the farmer's house. This was a particularly great experience because it was the first experience I had where I really felt like I gained a truer understanding of the daily life of normal people here. We were staying at a guest house along one of the waterways. It was such a peaceful and relaxing place to be.
Last weekend we went to the Cao Dai Holy See and the Cu Chi Tunnels. Cao Dai is a strange Vietnamese religion that was created in the 1920s, combining a whole lot of different religions, as well as having a few historical figures as their fairly odd list of saints- for example, Victor Hugo. Yes, that's right. Victor Hugo. The Holy See is a fairly large, extremely colorful temple complex. The inside is beautiful (though a bit gaudy), and we got to see part of a service. It was basically just a lot of chanting for a really long time, but it was incredibly interesting to be able to observe some of the rules and traditions of practicing the religion, and not just the art and architecture that surrounds it. After lunch, we drove to the Cu Chi Tunnels. The tunnels were an extensive, complicated maze in which the Viet Cong lived and traveled to avoid US bombs. We got to see some of the original tunnels, as well as learning about how life in the tunnels functioned. On our way home from the tunnels, we stopped at an animal rescue center. I got to see a leopard, and a bear tried to attack me through the bars of its cage, which was quite a surprise. Luckily it didn't get me though.
While I'm in Ho Chi Minh City, I mostly am busy with classes and homework. Other than my main school classes, we have some extra-curricular classes, including bamboo flute and chinese calligraphy. The calligraphy class is my favorite. It's calligraphy with a brush,not a pen, but we're writing english characters, not chinese. It's not enough to just write the word, the lines must be drawn in a specific way. We spend 2 hours every monday night just practicing a few letters over and over, and I find it oddly relaxing. Last week I started to write whole words and not just letters, and I'm really proud of how my work is turning out.
I've been having a great time hanging out with our roommates. Usually I have class in the morning and they have it in the afternoon, but I almost always go out to dinner with some of them. Often we'll just go to restaurants near our guesthouse, but the best is when we take motorbikes to a restaurant in another district. The whole city seems different when you're sitting on the back of a motorbike, you become a part of the chaotic traffic in this city and have an odd connection to all the people on motorbikes around you, while at the same time being in your own private world. The city at night has a different feel as well. It is so much cooler once the sun goes down, and it feels so much more relaxed while still being an extremely lively place.
I only have two and a half weeks left before I head home. It's a little crazy for me to think about; I get homesick a lot, and I'm ready to see my family and friends again. At the same time, I'm finally feeling really comfortable in this country and I really enjoy living here.