Melissa Hoon's Blog

March 5, 2011

Just go with the flow

Working in the rice paddies outside Hanoi, VietnamVietnamese workers tend rice paddies outside of Hanoi, Vietnam. Photos courtesy Larissa Bahr

Wine seemed to flow quicker than the plane flew from Tokyo to Hanoi. Deep conversations followed by deep sleep made the six-hour plane ride feel like six minutes. It’s late at night when we arrive in Hanoi. Two vans shuttle us from the airport to the hotel. During the hour ride, we drive over a long bridge for what feels like 20 minutes. We drop our luggage in our rooms, then some of us head to the hotel lobby to use the Internet. Facebook. Email. Twitter. Skype. We’re overseas but are communicating with our friends and family as if we’re only down the street from each other.

My bed at the four-star hotel felt as comfortable as my bed at home. I don’t know if it actually was that comfortable or if my body was just glad to sleep in a bed for the first time in over 24 hours. I don’t think I’d ever had such a deep sleep.

Breakfast at the hotel was filling but bland. There was a variety of food – colorful fruits, eggs, different types of bread, pho, pancakes, crepes, French toast. I’d like to try everything, but I remain cautious in an effort to not end up wasting any portion of my trip stuck puking in the bathroom.

Water buffalo cross the road near Hanoi, VietnamAutomobiles honk as they quickly drive past water buffalo that occasionally cross the road near Hanoi, Vietnam.

Four French rolls and watermelon – filling but bland.

A bus takes our class to the airport where we meet up with the rest of Project Vietnam Foundation (PVNF). We wait in the parking lot at the airport near our buses for about two hours before the remainder of the group arrives. Lunch is provided by PVNF. French bread rolls – thank goodness, something I can stomach. I take what’s sure to be a delicious bite only to sink my teeth and taste buds into mystery meat sandwiched into the bread. I pick off the hard, processed, lukewarm meat and eat only the bread. French bread was quickly becoming my filling but bland food staple in Vietnam.

Vibrant, rich hues of fuchsia, lime green, purple and turquoise melt into a rainbow blur as the bus drives past brightly painted buildings that line the city’s streets. A man cuts another man’s hair on the street in front of a shop. As we leave the city, we pass rice paddies and water buffalo. My tired body begs for sleep, but my mind insists sleep is not an option. The commonality of the everyday lives of Vietnamese people is only an occasion for me. I need to absorb everything to make this occasion a lasting experience.

I sit next to my classmates Katie, Keith and Lucio on the bus. We talk with Michael Koch, a plastic surgeon in New York, and Richard, a registered nurse. They tell us of the burn victim patients they helped in Southern Vietnam with PVNF just prior to meeting up with the rest of the team. A particular patient suffered from a burn after her husband grew angry with her, poured gasoline on her and lit her on fire.

Man in small fishing boat in North VietnamA man works on a small fishing boat in Northern Vietnam.

“Domestic violence is not uncommon here,” Dr. Koch said.

We drive past dingy aluminum fishing boats, bright green banana trees and patches of cabbage, while veering out of the way of motorbike riders who frequently drove on the wrong side of the road. Water buffalo grazed the fields and people sat squatting in their culture’s position of comfort near the sides of the roads. A Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant was the only familiarity, which seemed oddly out of place.

I briefly wonder what our hotel and experience in Bac Kan will be like. But my mind immediately casts my wondering as an afterthought as I repeatedly tell myself, Just go with the flow.