Hoi An and Helmets for Kids
I just got back last night from an incredibly relaxing four days in Hoi An- an old French colonial city known for its beaches and tailors- what a perfect combination. I’ve been back for less than 24 hours and have already decided I must return to Hoi An…which seems to be a common conclusion drawn from my trips in Vietnam. It’s always tough balancing the excitement of seeing new things with the desire to go back to old favorites.
And Hoi An has definitely become a favorite. It’s a very sleepy town and this is off season because of the rain, so it was almost completely deserted. I left Wednesday with my roommate and we got really lucky- though it rained every day, it never seemed to interfere with our beach time. Our routine was pretty much: wake up, eat crepes and fresh fruit juice for breakfast. Rent bicycles, bike 4k to the beach (yes- I rode a bike for the first time in 6 years- what an accomplishment!). Lounge at a beachside restaurant on a large sofa bed and alternate between long walks on the beach- where you wouldn’t encounter anyone for miles- and eating fresh seafood for $2 a plate. The sand was perfectly white and the ocean was perfectly blue- best of all, there was NO ONE around. Definitely top five beach experiences, if just for the space. After a long day at the beach, we’d bike back to town, get cleaned up, and put on one of our newly tailored dresses to go out to dinner and drinks. In bed by 10 or 11 and up early the next morning to repeat. Welcome to the good life (as Kanye would say).
More on the tailoring…Hoi An is not so much a city as four streets devoted entirely to dress shops! You can walk in anywhere and get clothes copied or browse through binders with countless styles. Then you pick out your fabric, get fitted, and come back in 12 hours for an entirely new wardrobe. Custom items were $10-$30, all made to fit! Same process for shoes…I made up for my lack of shopping in Hanoi pretty quickly in the first 24 hours in Hoi An.
We returned from Hoi An Saturday night, well-rested and with twice the luggage. Unpacking, I realized I had made it through security with three bags, a water bottle, and a large vial of perfume. Oops.
I then woke up at the ungodly hour of 4:30 the next morning to go to a work event at 5 AM. We had a Helmets for Kids launch ceremony at a primary school in Hai Duong province, about an hour outside of Hanoi. For some reason- please don’t ask me why- the school decided to hold the event at 6:30 on a Sunday morning. I picked up the sponsors and we squeezed into a tiny cab for the hourlong ride.
Some background- Helmets for Kids is the Asia Injury Prevention Foundation’s signature program. We connect schools with sponsors to provide free helmets for all students and teachers as well as a curriculum on traffic safety. The launch ceremony is a fun event where the sponsors, local government, and media all go to the school to see the kids receive their helmets. The kids put on a show and thank the sponsors etc.
As usual, I played the role of “token white person.” My colleague informed me when I arrived that I would be “taking the stage” three times (love the translation). Luckily, I didn’t really have to do much but hand a helmet over to a child and get lots of thank you gifts from the school. The kids were adorable in their helmets- especially the tiny grade one students. Again, I was quite the celebrity- giving the kids autographs, being interviewed for TV, and posing for all kinds of pictures. I was also invited to take a teaching role at the school and to marry the principal’s son.
I was completely exhausted after the ceremony, despite the minimal effort required on my part. However, we proceeded to join the teachers and government officials for lunch, which was served around 10 AM. I was excited to note that the menu was chicken and rice- something I could eat without making a complete fool of myself- though I was not as excited to see that beer was also a requisite part of the meal. The government officials put on a lot of pressure for everyone to take a drink (yes, at 10 AM) and this is the one time that I flat out refused…I’m not usually one to turn down a free drink, but the thought of beer before breakfast is not appealing (unless it’s Duke tailgate!). Though the men put on the pressure, the female teachers quickly protected me and started serving me water in a shot glass, so I could do “shots” with all the rest, who had moved on from beer to rice wine. Actually, I noticed all day how welcoming and attentive the women were- always anticipating my needs (serving me food I wasn’t sure how to eat, leading me around on stage when I had no idea where to go). In the end, I promised I’d visit again- and I really do want to go back and see the kids and teachers. I hope the kids are still wearing their helmets!
As the meal rapped up four hours later…no exaggeration…one of the sponsors stumbled over to me and confided that he had drank 7 beers and 16 shots of rice wine. For a small Asian man, this is quite impressive. He then proceeded to give a long speech about how he felt like the teachers were his family and the school was his community and “the language of the heart is universal” (since he was speaking through a translator). Oi. But actually, he and the two other sponsors were very friendly and all invited me to visit them in Saigon and Singapore during my travels.
Now I’m back home and exhausted, but exciting news- I’m ready to share photos! I realized I haven’t taken many in Hanoi, but I have a few from Sapa and Hoi An and will try to post them now.