Keith Cousins's Blog

March 6, 2011

Wake-up call

It must have started around 5 a.m. in Bac Kan. The loudspeakers that line the paved streets begin their wake-up call to the city. You don’t need a translator to understand the propaganda. Classical music. A young woman’s voice droning on and on. As Mark said last night,

“The hammer comes down hard here,” Mark, my classmate, said last night. It didn’t take long for that to sink in.

We arrived in Bac Kan only 12 hours before the wake up call. Three buses rumbled in and we unloaded bag after bag. Thank God for Henry Ford and the assembly line because it would have been chaos without it.

Quick meeting for room assignments. My feet immediately sense relief and a tired feeling follows quickly after. My classmate, Lucio, and I head to the room, expecting relief. We got mold. Lots and lots of mold. The obvious safety hazard coupled with the unbearable smell made it clear we would need a new room. No rest for the weary.

It’s dinner time. Time for the first real meal of the trip. The excitement quickly turns to horror. This is not food at all. It’s horrible. I’m not trying to be open-minded, but damn. I would do unspeakable things for a Double-Double from In-N-Out in California right now. Our table (and I will later find out this is true for several other Project Vietnam Foundation [PVNF] members) quickly realizes it will be a beer and rice diet. Things could be worse though.

Dinner was strange. Quyen and Chan, the leaders of PVNF introduced the party officials who will “help” the team with the work in Bac Kan. Everybody claps. Everybody except Chan that is. He claps once – when no one else does. I wonder if communists understand sarcasm.

“We hope you get good rest so you can work even harder in the morning,” the main party official said.

After dinner we head to the market around the corner. Tiger beer and Fanta. There was a party official in the market whistling some melody over and over again, smiling as he stared at me. Was he really staring at me?

Great conversation back in the hotel room. I really could not be happier our class. All amazing people. Every one of them talented as hell.

The dream was strange. In the dream I awoke to loud noise, looked out the window and saw thousands of people standing in the city square. When I got my wake-up call, I swore I was going to witness just that. Instead, it was motorbikes taking people where they need to go.

Didn’t take a chance with breakfast. Cliff bar, Tiger Milk bar, water with EmergenC.

Quick walk with Mark. Bac Kan is bustling in the morning. People are everywhere. Some of them smile at us, some nod, others stare. Still, others pretend we are not even there.

We had some down time to wander around so our class went to the market. Sensory overload. Too much to see. My nostrils smelled things I can’t even process. Motorbikes go right into the market and I am constantly having to avoid them. Fresh meat everywhere. Fish swim in small buckets waiting to be butchered. Hot French bread. It’s heaven. Maybe I am so infatuated with this country because of the bread.

My classmate, Melissa, and I separate from the rest of the group. We had to. It was becoming too much of a spectacle traveling in a pack. We walk and walk. Through a maze of stalls. The conversation was as amazing as the surroundings. She has such a unique perspective on things.

People are already getting stories. I’m nervous…what if I don’t get mine? But then again it’s only been a day.