Something I’ve been thinking about on and off recently is something that, in my mind, I’ve been calling “language imperialism”; the necessity of developing countries to train their businessmen, development workers, government officials, etc in English. It’s a double-edged sword as the saying goes. Having the ability to speak English is a requirement for any kind of international work, but sometimes I think that it perhaps is unfairly forced upon other countries. English certainly isn’t the easiest language to master, but here it is, the lingua franca of the modern world. I think I heard that even at the ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations) summits, the languages spoken is English (I guess English is one of the official languages of Singapore…). I don’t think I can articulate my thoughts very clearly without a prolonged ramble, but I guess it comes down to a simple question: Is it fair? Is it fair that my students, who all love their country and want it to develop and prosper, have to go through the drudgery known as learning English?
Finally back from my most extensive traveling in this country. I’ll try to summarize the past twelve days.
It was on the morning of the 12th that Jon and I made our departure from Long Xuyen. My initial plan was to catch the 11 p.m. express train to Hue that evening. The trip to Ho Chi Minh City was slightly worse than average due to the fact that the bus driver seemed to occasionally space out and forget what he was doing. Part of this was missing a turnoff and driving the wrong way down a one-way street on the highway. But not much harm was done.
As soon as we arrived at the hotel we turned over our passports and I went off to the train station. However, the 11 p.m. train was full, so I had to leave on the slightly slower train that departed at 7 p.m. It seemed okay to me, so I bought the ticket and Jon and I ordered pizza and went around to a few places before my departure time arrived. I got on the train and almost immediately fell asleep. I woke up early and of course had no idea where we were. I tried talking to the conductors, but they seemed surly and spoke Vietnamese with a northern accent, making them difficult to understand. I read on the train, and napped more, and ate some rather bad food that they gave out. However, I was on the top bunk in a compartment with six beds, and when I was in bed, I couldn’t see much of the scenery outside. I made a point to look out when we passed near the ocean, and from my perspective (I could see no land), it seemed like the train was somehow floating or hovering with this view of the deep blue ocean out the window.
Eventually, nearly 22 hours after departure, I arrived in Hue. Tyler picked me up and took me to his guesthouse, and I took a much-needed shower and then we were out for bacon cheeseburgers. I think that Hue was the highest concentration of tourists that I’ve seen in Vietnam. They just seemed to be everywhere. I did one touristy thing while I was there, and that was visit the old imperial city where the emperors of Vietnam used to live. It was two nights in Hue and then I was off to Hanoi.
I wanted to go to Hanoi by train, but trains were booked and so I bought one for a later date. However, the bosses called and said that it was no good, and I needed to find a bus ticket. Tyler and I tried two companies, and then the third finally had an available seat. It was about a 12 hour bus ride, and there was one interesting experience for me. A few hours after departure there was a loud crash and a scream from a woman sitting near the front of the bus (I was sitting all the way in the back); someone had thrown something at the bus and shattered a side window. So we had to stop while they tried to sort it out, and then we finally got moving again, but the driver would only go very slow. I didn’t get it and was getting angry in the back, but eventually we stopped at a company stop and they repaired it using a large piece of what looked like plywood and packing tape.
Finally I was in Hanoi. I took a taxi to the bosses’ house and was told that we were leaving in an hour; more bus riding for me. A quick shower and then onto a bus… for eight hours. At one point the driver was pulled over for speeding, which delayed us slightly. Our destination was a place called Ba Be National Park, and I was so relieved to finally step off that bus in the mountains and sleep peacefully on a bed. We had a boat trip scheduled, a some short meetings, tours of some ethnic minority villages, and even a movie screening. However, the first night we were there it began to rain. We changed the schedule around to have the meetings first; no problem. It rained for more than 24 hours. There was no power. The river was flooded so we couldn’t take the boat tour. Then came the news that there had been landslides on the road, so we might have to stay there even longer. I was getting worried because I wanted to get back to Hanoi to see Jack and Justin.
We were able to depart only a few hours later than we had wanted. There were some muddy spots on the road, and one area where it was slightly flooded, but we made it. But then it was 1:15, and people wanted to eat. “Let’s wait,” I said. I wanted to get back to Hanoi and eat pizza or something. But we had to stop and basically open up a restaurant and eat pretty bad food for about 1.5 hours. Then the driver and his companion had to do something with about the speeding ticket, so we bummed around this deserted restaurant until 5 p.m. and it was here that I learned that eight people had died in the flooding and landslides in the mountains. However, I was nearly fuming about the delay. It was only about 2.5 hours back to Hanoi and some decent food, and finally we made it. A trip to Ba Be is something that I would never repeat again, despite some friendly people there and beautiful mountain scenery. The drive there and back just killed everything positive for me.
For a few days in Hanoi I bummed around, finally got some extra pages in my passport, and hung out a bit with Jack and Justin. I ate several pizzas, and one night Jack and I met some people from the south, and it was lovely to hear that accent again.
Finally, on Sunday, after saying goodbye to the MCC short-termers (they were here for about a year), the family and I hopped on a plane, and after a rough landing, I was back in the south, in Ho Chi Minh City. The family had a van arranged for them, and I told the driver that I was staying one night in the city. He offered to drive me to the hotel, and I accepted. I spent a great night in the city with a friend which included a trip to a movie theatre, something I haven’t done in more than a year.
I got back to a rather crazy night involving Buong going crazy because I’d been gone so long, a quick appearance at a party where a lot of my friends were, and then teaching. I was exhausted, and woke up to the usual routine of being tickled by the cat and then going to breakfast with good friends. Traveling is nice, but nothing beats coming home.
Me and Buong at home again.
Tomorrow is the beginning of my most extensive traveling in Vietnam. Tomorrow I’ll be going to Ho Chi Minh City with Jon and then catching the train to Hue to visit Tyler and check out the city. After a day or two in the center I’ll hop on the train again and go up to Hanoi for some meetings with the MCC crew. I’m excited, now I just have to pack.
Long time no post. Things got really crazy for about two weeks here. Dan was here with his family and a couple teachers for a workshop which lasted for about 4 packed days, and in the midst of it Jon came here to be a resource for the other teachers as they work with this new “learning platform” and do some research on it. And I’ve been living in the old guesthouse, out of my normal zone and Buong took a long time t adjust to the new room and a new person (Jon) living in the room with him. He’s okay now, but tomorrow I finally get to move back to my old room in the new guesthouse.
I’m writing this from a café with a wireless internet connection. In Long Xuyen. In the Mekong Delta. In Vietnam. It seems like something that you wouldn’t normally expect to hear existed. But here I am, and this is not the only place in town with a free wireless connection. I was talking to Jon about America, and he told me that it is nearly impossible to find free wireless connections near where he lives. I found that strange, because all the places that I know of wireless internet in Vietnam, it’s free. I don’t know how to properly explain that phenomenon.
The weather now seems to be going through periods of extremes: Several days of rain and clouds blotting out the sun, followed by intensely sunny and hot days; days where you can feel the sun burning your skin, even as you drive along on a motorbike. The periods of rain and no sun are attributable to a storm in the South China Sea that I was shown on some satellite map, but I’m not really sure where the sun is coming from. This is the rainy season after all.