Intel Education Service Corps: Day 2

Things have been busy since my last blog, where you will recall, I had just arrived in Ho Chi Minh City. It was late, and I was ready for sleeping off some jet lag. The plan was to meet for the complimentary breakfast at 10, and the rest of our team from Intel Vietnam was to meet us at the Hotel and we would take a taxi to the airport for our flight to Hue, near the central part of the country. Waking up Wednesday at around 6AM, I turned on the TV to see what was on. There were several Vietnamese language stations and some satellite channels in English, such as an Australian version of MSNBC, a Southeast Asia version of the Discovery Channel, ESPN, HBO, and a few others. I watched TV for about an hour, took a shower, and decided to take a walk around the downtown area of District 1.

After checking the coupon for the breakfast, I realized they stopped serving at 9:30, not 11, that was the floor of the restaurant. Instead of calling and possibly waking Todd or Sovinti, I decided to go eat, and call them around 8:30 so they would still have time to eat. The buffet was nice, without all the high calorie dishes, and I enjoyed the view from the 11th floor. I watched as the motor bikes did their dance around the traffic circles, weaving in and out of traffic with a well rehearsed respect for each other. It seemed as if traffic lights were absent, but there was no gridlock, road rage, or other negative side effects. Could it be that cars and motorbikes, plus copious amount of horn honking, can really flow so smoothly without artificial distractions such as lanes and stop signs?

My fast sufficiently broken, I wandered out on to the streets below. My first interaction with the locals was a man on a motorbike wishing to show me around the city. He asked me where I was from , and I told him America. He told me about the market, the river, the war museum, and he could show me around for 30 minutes. I told him thank you, but I wanted to walk. At the next corner, a similar conversation took place, and I politely declined again. There were several other similar encounters, and I was not surprised, since I definitely look like a foreigner. I may take one of them up on it when I return in a week, but I don’t know if I really want to ride on the back of some of the smaller motorbikes, considering my size. We have talked about renting motorbikes on one of our days off, but so far it is just talk.

The early morning hustle and bustle was punctuated by many horns blowing, reminding others of their presence. Again, the use of the horn appears to be a matter of diligence, as a warning sign, that one should be aware of their surroundings. No one seems upset to hear the horns; noise pollution doesn’t appear to be a concern. Every does some give and take, but the smaller the conveyance, the bigger the give. Perhaps we try too hard to make sure everyone is in their proper lane, going the proper speed, travelling in the correct direction, and using the proper signals.

I stopped by a shop selling carved wooden ships. They were all lined up on shelves, on the floor, up and down the narrow shop. There were many models of clipper ships, racing boats, Mayflowers, Titanics, Endeavors, and they all were missing price tags. I wasn’t really ready to take one home, but I asked how much one of the larger ones was. They wanted $70 US dollars (which are easily used all over the city), and they would lower the masts and pack it for shipping. I imagined they would go for much more back home. I asked if it would be OK to take some pictures before leaving the store.

One of the things I wanted to do was get some gifts for the children before leaving the city. Julie Clugage gave me $500 to spend, and I figured this was my only chance. I wanted to get some practical things, and some fun things. I found a stationery store that was the closest thing to a back to school sale. I loaded up on notebooks, pens, colored markers and pencils. These I planned to give to the teachers to use as they saw fit.

After another 30 minutes or so, I headed back to the hotel, and packed. We soon met up with the rest of the Intel Vietnam team, Ly, Nga, and Trang, all with the last name Nguyen, which as a family name is even more common here than Smith is in “the States”. Ly took us around to find a currency exchange and ATM. I exchanged two hundred dollars for 3.6 million Vietnamese Dong. Looking back I should have taken out more Dong, as that would be the last place to get cash for a while. Sovinti looked for some clothes to last until his suitcase arrived, while Todd and I looked for toys for the kids.


A few minutes later, we had checked out and were headed by taxi to the airport. We couldn’t all fit in one, and our driver decided to take an alternate route. After about 30 minutes of mid day traffic, we got to see more of the city than we could make out the night before. As a developing nation one would expect to see all levels of disrepair and new construction. We were not disappointed. One of the signs of the Information Age was huge bundles of telecommunications cable strung across streets, up and down poles, and along thorough fares. This wasn’t obvious in the downtown areas, as I assume that is mostly underground. However, just as cellular phones are common place, it appears the internet is all over town too.

After arriving at the airport, we learned our flight was delayed, so we went for lunch. One of our warnings about the food was to drink only bottled water, and to avoid the ice. Without going into details, let’s just say we didn’t all follow that advice at first. Having been to Mexico several times, I was reminded of the saying “Don’t drink the water, drink the beer”. Coca Cola would also work for me. The food court had a KFC, but I did not fly all the way to Vietnam to have KFC, so I ordered a BBQ pork and noodle dish. The food court lets you sit while they prepared everything and brought it to the table.

A short one hour flight to Hue, and we were soon in a much different world. The plane had old fashion stairs to the tarmac, and a large bus that everyone got on. After a 30 second ride to the terminal, we were soon all loaded into a large Mercedes van on our way to Quang Tri. The 90 minute ride took us through down town Hue, and into the lush farm lands of central Vietnam. I was still tired, but there were too many new sites to see for me to want to take a nap. The driver knew the way, and he was very adept with the horn, but this one had a high low “toodle” to it. Crossing the center line on the two lane that goes from Saigon to Hanoi was no big deal. Indeed, passing with oncoming traffic wasn’t either. I decided they knew how to drive in Vietnam better than I did, and we all laughed as if we were on a ride at Disneyland.

Eventually we arrived at the hotel, where we met Tad Kincaid, the director of Orphans Overseas in Vietnam. He and several members of his staff were there to help us with the taxis, food, and other logistics. A transplant from Oregon, he and his wife had been working with kids in Vietnam and Laos for several years. We checked into our rooms, which while very basis, had air conditioning, and a refrigerator for chilling our water. The TV, had something like 13 channels, all carrying the same three Vietnam TV networks. The sign said two stars, but I think one star was about what it would have been at home. Even so, it was nicer than I had imagined: there were no mosquito nets, and every room has a gecko to keep the bugs down.

Our dinner was at “the best place intown” (which isn’t saying much) across the highway from the hotel. The food was good, mostly seafood, vegetables, rice, and noodels. It was early to bed for me, and I was ready to face the orphans tomorrow.

Brad Houser