Remember that impending problem I had in Iceland? Well, it’s a very real problem now. My passport is completely full! I forgot about it up until my last couple of days in Europe. I know the Vietnam Visa takes up an entire passport page, of which I don’t have a whole blank page to fill. There is one sole stamp on the last page, from Spain, that is screwing me over. Why couldn’t they just squeeze that stamp on another page where there was just enough room?
As bad as it sounds, I was still calm. I had sort of a plan. I made an appointment online for a visit to the United States Embassy in Ho Chi Minh for more passport pages in a few days. I printed my appointment as proof just in case the Vietnamese customs gave me a hassle. I also read that it may be possible to use the back page with all the government type on it. Or maybe I could convince the patrol to just cover that little Spain stamp? Or maybe I can carefully rip off my old Vietnam stamp? Look at all the unorthodox options I have! I was gambling on at least one of them working. Worst case scenario: I get sent back to Germany or even America for that matter.
I had a flight through United Emirates Airlines (my favorite airline) to Dubai and from there to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam. For Vietnam, you have to apply online in advance for permission to enter the country. I already had my permission slip filled out and ready. The customs agent at the airport asked for my slip and passport and then I took a seat, waiting in nervous anticipation. One by one I heard a Vietnamese lady
calling out butchering names of foreigners to come and retrieve their passport, now with a new valid visa stamp. I fully expected someone to call my name, telling me that my passport is full and I can’t enter the country.
“Mista Daneel Sailars”, said the lady.
That must be me. I walked to her window like a student getting called to the principal’s office because he did something wrong.
“$45”, she said.
My God, they’re actually letting me go through!
I happily gave her my $45, received my passport and took off before the could change their mind. I flipped through the pages to see where they put the new stamp; smack-dab in the middle of my passport covering a bunch of other stamps from a bunch of other countries! I think that’s illegal but I ain’t complaining! That weight was lifted and I was officially here again, back in Saigon!
It was hot and humid, just like I remembered. And upon landing, it smelled like Vietnam. I can’t describe that scent but it’s the same unique scent I remember from fifteen months ago. It’s indescribable, kind of like the one-of-a-kind smell I have whenever I go to South Africa; unique to its own country and surprisingly comforting for me. And just like before, there were motorbikes…motorbikes everywhere! I wasn’t staying at the school this time, but instead a hotel within close walking distance called Thinh Thanh. For a ridiculously cheap price, I had a cozy room with air-con, wifi, a hot shower and a big ol’ bed all to myself. The outside of the hotel looked sketchy but everything inside worked. It was late already, so I settled in and went to sleep.
My aim for coming back to Saigon is to visit everyone back at the college I volunteered at last year. I kept in touch with a lot of locals here and informed most of the them of my return. Quyen is still the school’s travel advisor and helped organized my return. The principal gave me the title as the college’s special guest, which meant I was free to roam around the school grounds and help with teaching classes again. I brought my old blue shirt for that reason!
I was happy to be back! I went to the Practical Restaurant to eat and there two of my former students came to say hi, Duong and Macu! I put a status on Facebook letting Saigon know that I was back for awhile. Duong has been hard at work and transforming the school roof into a garden and Macu has been busy with choreographing dances and keeping busy with classes. Next up, my former student Đức came to join me for grub. Đức is no longer a student but now a full fledged teacher here at the college and I would be teaching alongside him during my time here. The class he teaches is called Culinary English. The students learn culinary words and lingo, but in English.
This school’s dormitories were the living quarters for me and my volunteer group here last year. I wonder what the new volunteers are like? I went upstairs to the dormitory floor and walked around. There was no one up there. The floor looked a little different though. There were more rooms being used and the Green Lion office was all decked out and looked like the new hangout spot. A few volunteers started to arrive later on that evening. Some thought I was a new volunteer but I introduced myself and told them I came independently and was in their shoes a year ago. So far this group was nothing like my original group, but the good kind of different and really nice people! (I’ll talk more about them in the next post).
Đức and I have kept in touch ever since I left Vietnam the first time and planned on hanging out quite a bit. He wanted to show me local spots that I may have missed before and try some different Vietnamese Cuisine besides phở and bahn mi’s. We went to small eateries, where tourists didn’t exist, and went down on some grub! First up was “Sủi cảo”, which is meat dumplings in broth and marinated pork with shrimp added to each dumpling. It cost $1.75. It was a pain to take out the sole shrimp in each dumpling so I mustered and eventually just ate them with the shrimp inside.
Next we rode on his motorbike to a park nearby where there was a stall serving “Gỏi khô bò”, which is beef jerky salad with green papaya and cracker that costs a measly 75¢! It was really good!
Finally we rode to yet another small local eatery and had “Cháo sườn”, which is rice porridge with pork rib. That threw me back 75¢. The food here was stupid cheap and tastes great! It’s hard to beat a three course meal for under $4.
Upon returning back to the school, I went to visit Quyen at her office and saw Anna and her daughter there. Anna was one of the coordinators of Green Lion when I was here last year and she’s till as gracious and angelic as before. It was so great to see them both!
I also ran into Ms. Chi and the head of the hotel service students. Both invited me to a special celebration for the hotel class, who just completed their coursework for the year. “Of course I’ll come!” The attire for the party was red and black. I didn’t pack too many clothes but luckily I had a red polo shirt and a black t-shirt I could wear underneath. The party was great because many of the students and teachers I helped out last year were there and they were really surprised to see me again! I was glad to see them.
Vietnam has welcomed me back with open arms and the school has been great so far with letting me pick up right where I left off. I already did a lot of the excursions last year so I didn’t feel the need to travel around Vietnam this time. My priority was to just spend time with all the local friends I made here and help the students with their English anytime they needed me. So far no complaints, I love it here!
More to come!