I have one more week left here in HCMC. Time flew by too fast! It’s also Elisa and Valentina’s (Munich, Germany) last couple of days in Vietnam. Tom and Sophie went off for the weekend to Halong Bay, so the rest of us decided to go to China Town in District 5 to explore a bit. We started off by visiting a pagoda. Here there were locals praying to Buddha statues and lighting incense sticks as a way of showing respect. The architecture of the pagoda and the idols inside were very elaborate; red walls of statuary flowers and dragons of a gold color. There were statues all over the place!
Just outside this pagoda was a tall yellow dragon that swam out of a pond in the middle of the district. Fascinating! I wanted to climb it and sit on the dragon’s head, but the locals sitting near warned me not to.
After going through the crowded market of China Town, Addie nearly got her purse snatched by a driver on a motorbike! He knocked her down but fortunately he dropped the purse. Here in Vietnam, you have to be careful walking around on the streets. People on motorbikes will see an opportunity to quickly snatch something from unsuspecting tourists. It’s happened to several volunteers in the past, but mostly the girls because of how easy it is to nab a purse. Opportunist thievery. Afterwards, we all went to a Chinese food restaurant nearby and ordered some grub. I didn’t order anything because I was craving hamburgers and fries. I’m horrible. We headed back to the college and chilled out for the remainder of the night. The next morning we said our goodbyes to the two German girls. I told Elisa and Valentina that I will come see them next year for Oktoberfest and they can show me around. So saying goodbye to them was more like a “See you later.” I’ve never been to Germany before and this would be the perfect opportunity to go! They went off to Siem Reap to explore Cambodia, a country that Lucy and I will eventually make our way to in the coming weeks.
On Monday, after all the volunteers returned from their weekend excursions, Quyen invited all of us to the restaurant and taught us how to make spring rolls. Essentially, its green vegetables, rice noodles, meat, and carrots rolled into moist rice paper and then you eat them without being cooked. There were other spring rolls which we deep-fried which tasted much better. Quyen told us that it was her birthday, so after singing happy birthday to her, she announced that it wasn’t actually her birthday and that she just told us that to get us all to come out to spend time with her. We would have came regardless of the reason! Quyen is quite the jokester!
On Tuesday morning, the unexpected happened. I woke up with chest pains. That same morning I had plans to go to Duong’s restaurant at Cuch Bach to teach her staff at the restaurant English. It was a private session and she asked if I would be willing. Of course I would! So that morning, one of Doung’s friends picked me up on a motorbike as we cut through the city to Cuch Bach. We went up to the top floor, a lofty area, which resembled a giant treehouse. This was great because it was a smaller group which meant this could be a little more personable. Duong speaks great English, but she came up with this idea to help tutor her coworkers. She holds private sessions a few times in the morning during the week and I was the first English fluent guest she had. I helped her for a few hours and during those few hours my chest started to hurt more than when I woke up. I kept on clenching my chest with my hand and had to sit up straight, but sometimes when I moved my body, a sudden strike would go through my spine which stung like no other. I pretended to be fine. Soon enough, class was over and one of Duongs friends motorbiked me back to the college.
Some students I had in a previous class the day before invited me out to karaoke today at noon. My chest was hurting pretty bad still, but I couldn’t turn these guys down. So I met them all up downstairs, a group of about ten, and we walked to Aapple Karaoke just around the corner. I swear all of these students are superb singers! Some even belted out songs in English in which they sounded great! I managed to sing a song in Vietnamese, where I sounded like total garbage, but the students said I sounded really good. During this whole time, I remained seated because it hurt too much to move. I started to hurt worse than I did at Cuch Bach, where even just moving my neck would send a piercing strike down my spine. What the heck was happening to me? I would clench my chest and some of the students would ask if I’m ok. I remained calm, just a little ache, to not worry them. These guys are so awesome! They wanted to buy me drinks and food, and have me pay no part of it. I would have felt really bad for that to happen so I insisted that I throw in some money, much to their dismay. I had to cut our karaoke time short because my pain was growing worse. They understood and detected something was wrong with me the whole time. I had to go back to the college and lay down.
Upon my return, I went back to the room and I couldn’t even lie down on my bed because it hurt too much. This morning I thought the pain would go away, but it had gotten way worse at this point. So bad that it was becoming difficult to breath and I could barely move the upper torso of my body with lighting bolts of pain shooting through my body. I tried to prolong it, but I needed to go to the hospital. I didn’t know what was happening to me. The only problem was finding a suitable hospital relatively close by, where they spoke English. I didn’t go alone, Will actually came with me but we decided it was best to first find Quyen and ask her where to go. We found Quyen eating at the restaurant downstairs and told her my predicament. She eagerly escorted us to a hospital, about two minutes walk. She came with us, as she would be able to translate everything the doctor was saying. Next thing you know, I had sensor things all over me. Then took an x-ray. Then I had a blood sample taken. The doctors said my heart was fine and that my x-ray looked good, but proposed that I might of just slept in a weird position that morning. I did in fact sleep in a very uncomfortable position. That could be it. He prescribed me with a bunch of pills and gave me a neck brace to wear so I wouldn’t do any further damage. He also told me to come back in the morning to pick up my blood results. The neck brace actually was helping, but I decided to wait until the morning to pick up the subscriptions, just in case I started to feel better on my own later on.
Expectedly, I received a lot of stares and sad faces as I walked back through the college back to my dorm while wearing the neck brace. Students and teachers would stop and ask me what happened to my neck. I tried to explain that I slept wrong, but seeing as their English wasn’t the greatest, I don’t think most of them understood. So I just started telling everyone that I fell off a motorbike. Easier to comprehend and easier to explain. I was told by the doctor to go on bed rest all day and not do anything crazy. We previously made plans to all go out to karaoke and then to a nightclub tonight, but I had to be the lone horse that stayed behind. It sucked, but I needed my neck and chest to feel normal again or otherwise this “injury” would ruin the rest of my trip.
The next morning, I woke up still in pain, but not as bad as yesterday. I didn’t feel the need to go pick up my prescription just yet, so instead Macu and Bone took me out to a proper Vietnamese breakfast. I asked them to order something for me that they would think I liked. The only request: nothing with seafood in it! Whatever it was that Macu, ordered turned out to do the trick. Later that day, the boys treated me out to the cinema, along with their friend Kid. We saw the movie “Now You See Me” which was in English, but with Vietnamese subtitles, thank goodness! In return, I bought them lunch at KFC and ice cream right after.
These guys wanted to pay for everything for me but there was absolutely no way I could let them do that! “You need to save your money for your big trip!” they would say. “I’ll be okay” I would say. These guys always wanted to pay for me, even though they are just students in college, they still wanted to spend their very hard-earned money on me. Every local I have hung out with is that way. And it’s something that I won’t ever take for granted. Sometimes these locals absolutely insist and it might be rude of me to refuse. But in that case, I always makes sure to return the favor in one way or another. The boys took me back to the college soon after ice cream. “Guys, I have two more days until I leave” I told them. “Don’t worry, we will see you before you go.”
I am one of the only volunteers that teaches English here at the college. Most of the other volunteers work either with disabled children, at the orphanage, or at the hospital. For weeks, I have been raving to everyone how great it is to be teaching the students, so Lucy and Lex decided they would accompany me to one of my class sessions. Today I was in Ms. Chi’s class of aspiring cooks and chefs. The lesson plan that Chi and I went over the previous day, involved me teaching the students about auxillary verbs and using them in a question. The second part involved conversations in advice about relationships. Chi let me be the frontman for the entire class. It was great and time flew by! The students after class would facebook message me telling me that I have a fun, interesting way of teaching, even though at times it was difficult to understand my American accent. I’ll work on my weird accent guys!
I returned back to the college, wearing my neck brace back to my dorm. I looked at all of my things sprawled out everywhere. “I have to start packing”, I thought to myself. The next day, my final day in Saigon, would turn out to be one of the saddest goodbye’s I’ve ever had overall with any of my many volunteering experiences.
It’s going to be a tear jerker.