Thursday, October 21, 2010

Starting out the week in Saigon

Starting out the week in Saigon
I write this post on the bus as we drive back from the Intel factory visit we just went on with 22 kids from the Tu Xuong Center listening to the Vietnamese music CD that Diem burned for me with some of her favorite songs.  It’s got some good beats; I may find a G6 Vietnamese equivalent!  The music goes back and forth between English and Vietnamese and I really am a big fan. 
We had so much fun at the Intel factory today.  The kids were able to see the factory floor, which is incredibly empty right now, the cafeteria, the cubical area, the “chill room”, the workout room, and various conference rooms and meeting spaces.  Overall I am really impressed with the entire Intel facility here in Vietnam.  It was bright and colorful with beautiful pictures in the conference room and lovely pictures throughout the facility of the lotus flowers and other local flowers.  The kids seemed to get a huge kick out of it and I think it was a great experience for them.  It is a very different environment from where their parents currently work if they have formal jobs at all. 

 Earlier today I started with a run in the crazy Saigon rush hour traffic.  The sun was out and it was hot and beautiful and I was loving every second of being out there to start the day and watch the sun come up bright and strong.  It gave me a chance to reflect on my time in Vung Tau and the overall experience so far.  My shoulder is still giving me trouble, but it is only with the forward lifting motion.  I cannot raise it above my head but for running it is pretty ok.  I will have to get it checked out in the US when I get back, but for now it is ok.  I ran down to the international neighborhood of Saigon Perl in district 2 from our hotel in district 9 and the traffic was a massive Monday morning rush hour.  In the morning it appears that the sidewalk will either turn into a turning lane or alternate route when there is an accident.  At one point motor bikes were on the side walk honking at me and I wished I had a horn to honk back and say- hey this is the side walk.  The honking is more like, “hey just a heads up I am driving on the sidewalk straight at you currently, but I see you and just want to make sure you know I am here” vs. “move get out of my way.”  But it was not too bad and I made it though the run in one piece.   The route that I run may be somewhat the same, in Ho Chi Minh City, but with the moving street vendors mixed with the crowded traffic, it is always different in terms of what it looks like and where they are located and the ways you have to run to get around the crowd of people.  It’s always an adventure but very good to keep me on my toes. 
Lori and I enjoyed a nice breakfast back at the hotel together (more dragon fruit!) and discussed the plans for the day.  We saw the rest of the team in and out and I do have to say that it was reminiscent of the college dorms.  We lived there together, ate together, and saw each other coming and going.  This was especially true when we were in the Vung Tau Providence and when we were checking into the hotel going room to room to see what everyone else has and where they “lived.”  It has been a lot of fun and a great way to get to know the team who were strangers just a couple of weeks ago. 
We headed out around noon to have lunch with the kids at the Tu Xuong Center.  We ordered pizza for the group and they loved it!  As we arrived Linh and Diem were enjoying a treat from the street cart and invited Minh and I to try it as well, so we did.  I am not sure exactly what I ate.  LOL Something with seaweed, beans, coconut, and ice.  It was really tasty and I didn’t get sick, so that’s overall a big success! 
There was not enough room in the actual classroom for all of the kids and teachers, so me, Hoang, and Matthias went next door where Hoang found a completely vegetarian Pho place where I could finally try some authentic Vietnamese Pho.  This was fabulous as well and I really enjoyed it.  We had the meal for the 3 of us with the Pho and about 4 appetizers and it all cost about 5 bucks.  Gotta love that.  (pictured below, all veggies, but I bet you can’t guess what kinds!)
 After lunch we boarded the bus to Intel.  It was fun to see the kids so excited about the tour and made me proud to work for Intel and be able to share that with the kids.  The new plant is really impressive and I could see myself working there.  Three years ago when I was here they were just breaking ground, so it was like coming back to see the wonderful finished product.  It was a beautiful day for the visit and the new facility is such an awesome sight. 
Once we made it back into the city Lori, Hoang, and I visited 2 of the children’s homes that are currently students at the center.  The first home that we visited was one room, smaller than most master bedrooms in the US, in the back of an alley that was a complex of 4 total rooms that shared one bathroom.  In this one room the student shared it with her mother and 2 younger sisters.  Their father left when they were very young and they do not know him.  The mother was still at work when we came to visit and the sisters were out, so we only talked with the student that lives there.  The room consisted of a desk, lots of storage units, a computer, TV, rice cooker, shelves that made up a “kitchen area,” lines to hang clothing on, some torn and old posters on the walls, a single fan, one light and many old books.  It also had a faucet with running water that drained through the floor.  The girls only rolled out mats on the floor that we were currently sitting on to sleep.  It was hard to imagine that all 4 of them lived there and paid about 50 US dollars a month in rent.  The mother is a maid and works very hard from early in the morning until 11pm and does not earn enough to even cover the rent amount, so the girls work at collecting bottles or doing odd jobs where ever they can to contribute to the rest of the rent.  There are often times when they do not have money for food, let alone anything else.  Although the space was small and crowded with storage for the 4, it was clean; everyone still takes their shoes off at the front door and there were no bugs of any kind.  It was a very unique perspective to get on the challenges that these kids are facing and still trying to go to school and get an education. 
It was off to the second house from here.  This one was the home of the best student in the school, a 17 year old boy who hopes to get a scholarship to attend the University once he graduates.  This was another single room, but with a loft type of set up on the “second floor” for more sleeping area.  This home was set up the same but a little less crowded because of the second floor area.  Here the student lives there with his mother and 2 cousins.  He also does not know his father.  His mother works as a street vendor selling water and soda from a cart to earn money.  His mother took time away from work to be there and host us for the visit and even had iced tea to offer us.  This was an extremely generous offering and so extremely sweet.  My heart was touched that these people would welcome us into their home to help us understand their backgrounds and get to know them better.  I am sure it is a place that few foreigners have traveled to or have had the opportunity to experience firsthand.  The student goes to school as well as works to bring home more money to help pay for rent and food.  His days start at 5 or 6am and he is working or studying until past midnight most days.  As we talked he was full of hope and ambition of what he is going to do in the future.  He has big goals and his English was very good so we were able to talk about his family and we could answer any questions he had.  It was a very nice time visiting with the family and learning more about their background.  We tried to encourage both students to continue to do what they are doing and study and work to get to the next level.  They had questions about how they could work at Intel in the future and I think seeing the factory and the offices really opened their minds to the possibility of meaningful work and a very different future from their present conditions.  They were very excited about it and this just made me so happy.  I feel like we were able to share and learn from each other so much in this day.  Its eye opening to say the least, these kids are struggling to survive day to day and they still are going to school, making friends, laughing and smiling.  I am truly inspired by what I have experienced here.  I am extremely blessed to be able to do what I do and be where I am. 

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