- I miss waking to the sound of the vendor’s cow bell: tingtingTONGtingtingTONG.
- I miss s getting up early for a steaming basket of baozi (or steamed buns) before class.
- I miss walking by the silent Tai Chi students, following the certain movements of their teacher.
- I miss the clank of mah jiang pieces emanating from the sidewalks and parks.
- I miss the sour taste of yogurt bought from the small convenience store on the corner.
- I miss the seeing the old men walking down busy arterials in their pajamas and slippers.
- I miss the burn in my thighs after sprinting up six flights of stairs to the classrooms just in time for the bell.
- I miss watching green tea leaves expand and float in my glass every morning.
- I miss being able to talk about my intestinal problems like it was the weather or the game last night.
- I miss the feeling of relief when my fingers remember the strokes of a character I thought I had forgotten.
- I miss the unspoken sympathy felt crossing people in the halls after a long day of tests.
- I miss our teacher’s outfits, so well put together no matter how long their day must have been.
- I miss giving a coin to the white-haired old man playing the erhu outside our dorm with his equally white haired little dog perched on his knee.
- I miss saying “I’m back,” to my roommate every time I return to our room.
- I miss the smiles of the hotel’s cleaning staff even on the dreariest of days.
- I miss watching badminton and ping pong on CCTV5, some of the most intense competition I’ve ever seen.
- I miss the empowerment of completing a transaction at a restaurant or market.
- I miss the feeling of chopsticks in my fingers when I have an empty stomach.
- I miss the diluted taste of cheap Chinese beer.
- I miss buying yellow bananas from Mister Lee at the market on an after-dinner stroll.
- I miss the spicy waft of Huizu Kebab sizzling on the sidewalk.
- I miss the impossibly hip twenty-something’s strutting down “Foreigner’s Street.”
- I miss the feeling of satisfaction looking at the brown, muddy water in my basin after washing my clothes with my bare hands.
- I miss taking a shower before bed, washing off the stress and exhaustion of the day.
- I miss the grogginess of a sleep stopped too soon.
- I miss sitting up with the vague feeling of readiness for another day in China.
I am sitting here on my cluttered bed in Saigon as I take a short break from the seemingly impossible task of fitting 3 suitcases worth of luggage into 2. Throw in a few delicate gifts from my students and you’ve got a very fragile game of Tetris. All I can do is wish for my mom’s help as I sit here pondering whether my clothes have indeed multiplied or my suitcase has amazingly shrunk.
As you can probably gather from my cheesy title, this is my last day in Vietnam. Two months ago I greeted Vietnam with a smile and eyes wide with eagerness, but tonight, at 11:50pm, I will bid this nation adieu. Two months ago I was eating Pho for the first time around a crowded table as we all awkwardly tried to get to know each other, but tonight I will go to the airport surrounded by the very good friends I have made in Vietnam. Two months ago, I was just beginning my summer and could hardly even imagine getting to the end, but tonight I will reach the conclusion of my adventure.
We left Quang Tri in a flood of tears. After the Culture Show on Sunday night, the waterworks had started. Kids clung to us like barnacles, refusing to ever let go. After spending about an hour telling our students how proud we are of them, especially Sang who overcome her shyness to perform a beautiful solo at the show, and our students reiterating how they will never forget us, it was time for us to say goodbye for the night. The adorableness of these kids hit us all hard and I think I speak for most of us when I say we were struggling to hold back tears as well.
On Monday, we had a lot of prepping to do before we left Quang Tri, so we were running around like chickens with our heads cut off, but amid the commotion the students overran our guesthouse trying to say their last goodbyes. I will always remember Nhuyuen’s face as she asked me in the cutest broken English if I would be her brother, or Hien’s rubbed-red eyes as she made me pinky swear to come back to Vietnam and see her. Crying children is definitely one of the most heartbreaking things in the world. As our bus pulled away, the best any of us could do was to not look, in fear of being pushed over the edge.
And saying goodbye by to our roommates was another event filled with lasting hugs and crying people. The scene could have come straight from a movie as we stood on a train platform, saying goodbye as we waited for a night train to Saigon. Many roommates gave us departing gifts. Phuc gave me an awesome tie, Cash McCracken style, Khanh armed Bryn with engraved nunchucks, Hung surprised Justin with a 16ft fishing pole (collapsible of course), and Vui satisfied Corinne’s love of peanut butter with home roasted peanuts. For many of us “See you again” or “I will return to Vietnam” will be empty promises, but I think many of us will do the best we can to come back here now that we have made great, life long friendships.
So after 8 weeks of teaching English, building a fence, two playgrounds, and renovating three schools, all that is left to do is survive one last flight, finally taking me home.
So thats all I got. As much as I would like to write more, my life in America is far less interesting than the past two months I have had here. So thanks to everyone who has been keeping up with my blog this summer, and those who haven’t, you are dead to me… For anyone who is thinking about travelling to Vietnam in the future, I am now an expert on the country so please please please email me at ngbalk [at] gmail [dot] com. I have now traveled to most places in this country that tourists would go, and I have friends in most major cities who are extremely hospitable and, more importantly, good at English.
See you State-side,
It’s hard to believe that our time here in Harbin is nearly finished! We’ve spent the last few days busily reviewing vocabulary, grammar, and preparing for our final exams. But as of today, we have finally finished our summer semester at CET Harbin. Nearly two months ago, I could barely read the first chapter in our Conversational Chinese textbook. I remember struggling to remember all of our new vocabulary, wondering how it was possible to memorize so many new characters in one night; yet as the weeks passed and I started to become accustomed to the rigor of our classes, it became easier and easier to not only memorize, but also to use our new vocabulary in daily life.
Perhaps one of the best things about the CET program is how diligently every student adheres to the language pledge. In addition to speaking Chinese in the classroom, every student has, over the course of these last two months, been almost completely faithful to the pledge we took at the beginning of the semester. The pledge allows us to use the vocabulary we learned in class and apply it to our daily dialogue.
It seems that all the students who chose to come to Harbin came because they genuinely wanted to improve their Chinese language skills. Because of this common goal, I think we were all been able to bond quickly. Overall, I feel extremely satisfied with my summer in Harbin. I admit, before I came, I was a bit hesitant, I didn’t know what to expect from a city nicknamed the “Ice City,” but what I found was a welcoming campus, a group of wonderful teachers, and a few friends that I hope will last a lifetime.
So this week is very exciting in Quang Tri because the Duke Engage Soccer Tournament begins. Justin and Vu did a great job planning this tournament, so we have 18 teams and nearly 150 people participating! The tournament is divided into a secondary school division and a high school division (although somehow that highschool division has a ringer team of 30 year old men…). The first day was a huge success and completely shattered our modest expectations for this tournament. In addition to the teams, many more came just to watch. The stadium was alive and buzzing with energy. Many people are saying this is the biggest soccer tournament ever held in Quang Tri, so the stakes are very high. Whether the players are motivated by supreme honor and glory or the prizes we are not sure, but the games are extremely competitive and quite rough indeed. With Vu keeping the game under control at center referee and Justin and I trying our hand at linesman, we make up an unstoppable force of order and discipline that keeps the older games running smoothly. I will say that being a linesman is harder than it looks and it took Justin and I a little getting used to. ”Point in the direction the ball is going” is a lot easier said then done, especially when shoeless legs are flailing simultaneously towards the ball. The conditions in which these men play would never fly under the almighty hammers of legendary yellow card wielding, striped shirt donning, whistle tooting Piedmont referees like Steve Schub and Alan Kneckley. Shoeless, 1 shoe, socks, anything goes for these guys. Regardless of their equipment, the older group plays at a very high skill level. The quickness and ball control I see from some players rivals even some of the wettest in the BSAL. Perhaps even the illustrious Nikolai Littleton.