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Monday, December 8, 2014

Day 110: The First Day Back

Today is my first day back in the United States. My sleep schedule is completely off and I spent most of the day sleeping. Let's just say I will probably only be seeing my parents in the morning and at night for the next few days as my body adjusts to the time difference.

There have been a few culture shocks that aren't necessarily hard to adjust to but things that I had just forgotten. Using a knife seems like a new concept since I haven't used one since before I left for Vietnam. I forgot that you don't have to throw toilet paper in the garbage can in the United States--you can flush it right down the toilet! As we passed a car while driving on the highway, I immediately wondered what job the person had that allowed them to own a car. It seems I temporary forgot that people in the United States own cars and not motorbikes. It's amazing to me to see all of the stuff that we own, after visiting houses that were so simple. Finding food now involves opening the fridge or cupboard and being shocked at all of the processed foods that are in there, instead of heading out to the street to buy fresh fruit or freshly prepared food. (The food has also caused a few stomach problems.) The thing that I'm having the most trouble adjusting to, however, is the cold. My hands and feet feel like ice, I'm wearing two shirts, my heaviest sweatpants, and am constantly wrapped in two blankets. The sad thing is that I know it is going to get much colder.

As promised, here are some pictures from my last night in Vietnam. A night of lasts: last motorbike ride, last street meal, last night with friends. A night full of laughing, memories, reminiscing, and tears. A night that went by way too fast.

Our last meal together--bun bo (noodles with beef).

Saying goodbye to Thao's sister over smoothies, fruit, and fried meat.

A small farewell party on my last night.

Cong really enjoys taking selfies.

Binh preparing the watermelon for our party.

I can't wait any longer to eat!

Cong showing off the watermelon.

A picture with Sa, whom I met at English Club.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Day 108: The Last Day

I can't believe it is here. The last day has come and with it all kinds of emotions. But I couldn't have asked for a better day because it was just like my first. I started the day off in Co-Op Mart where I was stared at, laughed at, and pointed at. For some reason, it was an absolutely great start to the day.

I met up with Cate and got to meet her parents, who immediately welcomed me with warm embraces. I sat with them as they ate breakfast on the front steps of the dorm, something that has become such a routine in my life. I then walked with Cate and her family to the bus stop because Cate wanted to show them Open University. It was such a great experience to be seeing Vietnam for the first time again through their eyes.

After walking around District 1 for a little bit and seeing a few major sites, we got lunch at the restaurant that is one of the first ones we ate at as a group from Loyola. I had com tam with pork and pork and egg cake, and it was exactly what I wanted. I sat with Cate and her family as they discussed all kinds of things, and it was actually a little strange to have a familial feeling in Vietnam. 

With lunch over, I said goodbye to her family and Cate, promising to see her again in Chicago. My plan was to take a bus back to the dormitory, but after waiting for awhile I didn't want to waste my time. I took a xe om (my last one!) to get back as soon as  possible. I got back and met up with Binh, who was taking part in the singing competition being hosted in the dormitory. Before I could listen to him sing, though, the English Club needed me to attend a meeting they were holding with another group. They needed to use the TV in the Loyola lounge and could only use the lounge if I was present, so I had to sit in with them. It was actually super boring, because the whole meeting was in Vietnamese so I had no idea what was going on.

 Once the meeting had finished, we went back down to courtyard to hear Binh and his friends sing. He gave me a special shout-out before singing the song, and everybody clapped before he started to sing. Of course he and his friends sang well, and it means so much that he did that for me.

We spent a few more minutes together before Thao came to pick me up. Thao is competing in a singing competition tomorrow for scholarship money and wanted me to come to her rehearsal. It was in District 9, which is quite a long drive, but it was worth it to hear her sing. She sang "My Heart Will Go On" and it was so good! Once she had received some feedback, she took me to where she lives and we got street food. It was my first time having bun bo (beef noodles) and she took me to a place where tourists don't go, so I got plenty of stares and comments. After supper, we got smoothies, fruit, and fried meat with her sister. She then took me back to the dorm and we said our tearful goodbyes.

The night was not over yet, though, as I had a goodbye party with Binh, Cong, Sa, and Yen. They bought fruit and we sat in the lounge and ate it. It was kind of awkward because we were all sad and nobody knew what to say, but it was so thoughtful. I also had a few people from English Club come up to me while I was in the dormitory and tell me goodbye, calling me the most friendly foreigner. How is it possible that it is already time to leave this wacky, crazy, loveable country already?

There may be a post after this containing some photos of the final goodbyes. I'm a whirlwind of emotions and everything makes me want to cry. Thank you for a wonderful time, Vietnam, and I can't wait to be back.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Day 107: December 5, 2014

This morning Cate and I got breakfast together before coming back to the dorm to finish our homework. I am now officially done with writing papers! All I have left is to make a video for environmental science class that is due on December 18. Cate packed all of her stuff and left the dorm, and it was surprisingly sad. She's not leaving yet, just staying at the hotel where her parents will be staying, but it's very weird not to have her around anymore.

I also started packing, and what a headache. For some reason I have way more stuff than I thought I did, which makes packing very difficult. Sa, a girl from English club, and Cong came by while I was packing so I spent a while talking to them as a break.

When I was basically done packing I took a nap. Around 9pm I met up with Yen who bought me some corn and bubble tea. The plans for the rest of the night were to head out with the other Loyola students and a few of the partners to celebrate our last night together, but before going I stopped by the community room to see English Club practice the play they are putting on.

Here are a few pictures from last night:

A few of the great partner students that I became friends with this semester.

An interesting picture of Thao and I.

A much better picture of Thao and I.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Day 106: December 4, 2014

This morning Cate and I grabbed breakfast outside of the dorm (I had fried rice since the banh mi place was out of eggs) before buying an orchid from this flower place near the dorm. We then took a taxi to the Vietnam Center, where we dropped off the flower as a present from all of the students this semester. The entire staff seemed to love it and were very excited; Hoang took a picture of Cate and I with Julio and Chris and the gift. We stayed to chat with Chris for awhile before also returning our textbooks, in which I got quite a bit of money back.

We made it back to the dorm for lunch, and we both ate with Binh, Cong, and some of their friends. The popular item for the day was a whole grilled fish with rice, but I just had a fried egg with rice. After lunch, Cate left to go do some homework and I spent a little more time with everyone before also having to go back and do my homework. The good news is that I am now basically done with all of my tests. Woohoo!

We had a farewell party with all of the partner students at Chris' house, and thankfully it was not a tearjerker. We had good food, made by the partners, and a fun time just sitting and chatting with them. Chris basically told me that if I ever come back to let him know and he would either hire me or help me find a job. After a few hours, I said what could possibly be some goodbyes (who knows if I'll see them again or not) before Wendy gave me a ride back to the dorm.

Once I came back to the dorm, I met up with Binh and he and his friends came to the lounge on our floor. They played guitar and practiced singing for awhile before they decided they had to go back to their rooms and called it a night.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Day 105: December 3, 2014

This morning I went to have breakfast and headed to the banh mi place, but this time I decided to try her fried rice instead. She asked me how much I wanted (15,000d worth or 20,000d worth) before scooping it into a Styrofoam container for me take. It was pretty good (you can't screw up fried rice) although it did have some strange meat on it.

Our history final was emailed to us today, so I spent the rest of the morning getting a rough draft for that finished. Binh and I got lunch at the canteen and today I had rice with pork and vegetables. We sat with some of his friends that I know and the little boy whose dad runs the canteen came over to talk to us. He's only eight years old but is pretty good at English! Some people from Nestle were also in the canteen promoting their drinks, so we had some Milo, which I believe is like hot chocolate. Except they drink it with ice here because who wants a hot drink in this country.

I came back to my room and did some more homework before heading to Open University. The Loyola students were asked to attend a meeting they were having in search of new partners for next semester. A lot of students showed up, but the meeting was very different than it would have been if it was held in the United States. In the US, this meeting would have been held at several different times over the course of the past month to work around students' schedules. The deadline for the application would also not be a week away. When Vien said the students needed to have their application in by December 10, I was shocked! Not only that, but interviews then take place the next day!

After the meeting, Dan and I walked to District 1 as we both had some stuff we needed to buy. We headed to a bookstore, and a guy started talking to Dan. He asked him where we were from, if we were friends, and of course mentioned how tall I was. I met a guy in the back who asked where I was from, how long I had been here (his eyes opened pretty wide when I said I've been here since August), and then asked for my help in choosing a gift for a 16-year old girl. After Dan and I purchased our items, the guy who had talked to Dan asked if he could take a picture of us. We said sure, and he asked for our emails and promised to send it to us. Well, here it is.

Only in Vietnam do you get your picture taken like a celebrity does.
Our next stop was Saigon Square, and on our walk there I got a text message from Binh asking where I was. I told him Saigon Square, and he responded that he was also there. It was very weird! He helped me purchase some more items, I helped him pick out some shirts, and because of him I was able to save a little bit of money. It really helps to be with a Vietnamese person when bartering! I asked him why he decided to text me if he was at Saigon Square, and his first reply was that he knew I had a meeting so he thought I might be in District 1 while his second reply was that he just had a feeling we were near each other.

By this point Dan had gone back to the dorm, so I told Binh that I needed to go to Ben Thanh to get a few more items. We walked there and once again he helped me get lower prices. One woman offered her first price as 120,000d and Binh countered with 90,000d. After a little bartering, she went down to 100,000d. Binh really wanted it to be 90,000d, but I told him I was willing to pay 100,000d. After we bought it, the woman told him that if I had come by myself she would have started the price out at 300,000d!

We were both hungry since it was already 6pm, and looked around outside the market for something to eat. Everything was pretty expensive, though. Even the street food was too expensive--a lady selling noodles wanted 45,000d for each bowl! We decided our best bet would be to come back to the dorm, and we ate at the bot chien place. I thought I had ordered nui xao trung but instead received mi xao trung. No worries, though, as it was still good. While we were eating, Alex brought her parents and Thinh to eat there, and it was pretty funny to be at a street vendor and hear more English being spoken then Vietnamese.

Tonight was the last night of Circle Talk, which was going completely fine until everybody at the end started wishing me farewell and a safe trip. Most of these people I only know through English Club and Circle Talk, yet having them say those things just made me completely sad as it reminded me that this trip is coming to a close and I leave so soon. When asked how long I was here, I used to be able to answer that I have three months left but the days have slowly dropped down. Two months. One month. Three weeks. One week. Three days. How is it possible that time has passed so quickly and that I've grown so attached to this country and the people I've met?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Day 104: December 2, 2014

Cate and I had made plans to get a real Vietnamese breakfast this morning from a street vendor, but when we woke up at 9am neither of us were really feeling it. So she got her typical breakfast and I got mine (this time with one egg instead of two), and we sat on the front steps of the dormitory. When I was getting my banh mi, the woman working, who speaks a little English, asked me if we have rice in our country. I tried to explain that we have it but don't eat it all the time like they do. She told me that tomorrow when I come for breakfast, I need to get the rice they have because it is very good. Sounds good to me!

The morning was spent working on my sociology final paper. Here's the thing--it's a super short paper because it's only eight pages. It takes about 15 minutes to write one page. That means that if I just put aside two hours, TWO MEASLEY HOURS, I could have this paper finished. But it's the idea of having to sit down and write a paper, of having to actually do work, that makes me continue to put it off. I only have four pages left to write though!

My original plan for the day was to leave the dormitory around 12:30 and go finish my souvenir shopping. Plans, however, change. Binh asked me to get lunch with him and I was once again responsible for choosing where to go. Let me tell you, when you're in a foreign country and have not spent the last four months eating at restaurants it is very hard to find a place. I tried to use Google to find a close place nearby, but all of the places listed on English sites are in Districts 1 or 3 as they cater more towards tourists. I eventually just told him the name of a street, and we got on his motorbike and headed there before we found a place to eat. We actually ended up eating at -18 Celsius, the same restaurant across from Open University. I got what I'm going to call a chicken rice omelet. It was a very thin egg, like an omelet, stuffed with chicken rice. It was pretty good, although it sounds a little strange. We stayed at the restaurant for quite a long time as we had to wait out the downpour outside, but we spent it watching YouTube videos and learning that it is possible to send/receive messages from a Vietnamese phone to an American phone. (Um.. weather? Didn't you know that it is the dry season now?)

The students at University of Technology don't have any classes for the next few weeks as they prepare for final exams. Theirs are much harder than ours, though. Try writing 60 page reports instead of an eight page paper. Most students spend these weeks studying 24/7 (that's not an exaggeration), but Binh told me today that he had enough studying done so we could spend the entire afternoon together. We came back and got ice cream from Jollibee, walked around the arcade a little, and then he bought some type of melon that he wanted me to try. We came back to the dorm to eat it (it was pretty good) and found the English movie channel on TV. Around 6pm we headed to the canteen to get supper. It's funny how in this week of lasts I am still able to celebrate a first--my first time eating a meal at the canteen! Binh showed me what he wanted and then asked me to order it for him. I think he really just gets a kick out of seeing me speaking Vietnamese (he asked me to order the ice cream today, also). I got grilled fish with rice, and I'm still not used to purposefully eating the entire fish, bones, eyes, and all. I pulled out the spine but ate the rest of it, but it's safe to say that my eating habits will for sure change in the United States. Fat and bones no longer bother me!

He had to leave to go tutor, so I came back to my room to (attempt) to do a little more homework. Yen came and gave me a present, which was a Bach Khoa polo. It's a great gift, and now I can wear my clothing from both Open and Bach Khoa! The rest of the evening was spent talking with some of the other Loyola students as well as dreading the upcoming few days.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Day 103: Last Day of Class

I can't believe that this is it. The final week. Even writing those words is bringing tears to my eyes. It's a week full of lasts and goodbyes, a week full of sadness and way too many emotions. Are you sure there isn't anyway I can stay here?

This morning I had my (now typical) banh mi op la, but this time I got it in front of Open University instead of in front of the dorm. We had our Vietnamese final, which was super easy and I can't believe I was even worried about it. It consisted of both a writing and speaking portion, and let's just say I'm pretty sure I passed both parts with flying colors.

I came back to the dorm and met with Binh for lunch. Apparently it was my turn to decide where we should eat, so I told him about the café next to DRD. It's a nice place with a good atmosphere, although the food is a little more expensive (and by expensive I mean that it's 60,000d for a meal instead of 20,000d). He had no idea where it was, so I had to come up with the directions to get us there. Surprisingly, though, we made it without any real issues. Okay that's a lie--there were two times when I didn't realize I should have told him to turn until after we passed the street. It's also very hot today, so on the way there he kept joking that we were going to become barbeque under the sun.

We went into the café and Binh told me order for him, as well as order it in Vietnamese. My pronunciation was absolutely horrid, but he just smiled and said he was able to understand what I ordered. The waiter brought us our meals, which were macaroni with diced beef and diced beef with French fries. We ate our meals and sat there for awhile talking before coming back to the dorm.

We got back and had some ice cream from the Jollibee in Co-Op before going inside the dorm. Binh is in charge of writing a drama and had to meet with someone to talk about the budget, but the person wasn't around so we headed back outside and got some banh flan with coffee poured over top. Delicious as usual. We then went back to the dorm so Binh could meet with this person, and afterwards he decided that we should buy fruit and tea to celebrate--she ended up giving him 60,000 more dong than what she had originally said. We sat on the back steps of the dormitory and ate the fruit before we both had to leave.

Environmental science class was next on the list, so I got on the bus and headed there. We each had to give a presentation in class but we were done early and back at the dorm by the time class was supposed to end. I grabbed some corn, talked to Cate for awhile, and put away my laundry. I am officially done with classes and have the rest of the week completely free. Just kidding, I should probably write these papers. And then I have to start thinking about packing and leaving...