Written By Peter
A 10 hour by-sleeper-bus journey later and we were in Vietnam, the red banner waving over our small group as we passed through the Cambodia-Vietnam Border. Within only a few minutes it really sank in that we were in a totally different country; the yellow star, hammer and sickle, and a myriad of brightly-colored propaganda posters no doubt boasting the strength of the Vietnamese military and proletariat lined the streets and roundabouts as we travelled by taxi toward the next hostel. The visage of Ho Chi Minh stared back at us as Cari and Brian handed out our Per Diem, and huge emblems of the post-revolutionary state soared above us on blocky, soviet-esque government buildings as we ventured out in search of lunch and an internet café the next morning. We’d only been in this country for about 24-hours and, at least for me, it was unlike anywhere I’d been before.
But our adventures didn’t end those first two nights in the city formerly known as Saigon, as on the 15th we met with some of the students from Tan Tau University, all of whom we were meant to live the next roughly week with. By the days end we’d been introduced to about 30 eight-to-nineteen-year-olds greeting us with open arms and had explored almost every inch of the growing University grounds. While a bit stressful at first with all the new faces, we were eager to meet and live with a new and diverse group of people after almost 2 months with only ourselves.
The Tan Tau group would lead us next to our first Homestay with the family of one of their leaders, An, where we’d further get to know each other and break out of our shells. We’d return to this home for the rest of our trip after spending a full day at another homestay in a farming community specialized around growing pineapples, the harvesting of which easily became one of my favorite activities of the trip (despite the fact that my uncovered knees were left less-than-unscathed in the aftermath).
By this point we’d fallen in love with the new group of students, who were excited to introduce us to the nuances of their culture, religion, and language, at one point sitting us down to teach us basic phrases which we efficiently and meticulously butchered as what experience we had with Thai tones left us completely unprepared for the much more complex ones found in Vietnamese. I remember every time we visited a new temple or pagoda and at least someone from the Tan Tau group would stand excitedly right beside us pointing out the different Chinese or Indian motifs or explaining “who the fat buddha was”. On the fourth day we went to three different islands along the Mekong, the last of which turned out to be home to a pan-theistic religion based around the worship of Coconuts, that the Tan Tau history teacher Mr. Isaac Smith happily explained to be organized around an exclusively coconut diet and (obviously) the possession of five wives.
Each new day brought with it new adventures, new lessons, and new stories as our two groups, Tan Tau and Carpe, became one group by the end. We learned so much so quickly, and before we realized it the trip was over, and members of both our group burst into tears as the OE’s desperately tried to corral us back to the bus to continue the journey back to Ho Chi Minh City. We won’t forget each other, and all of us are counting down the days until we can respond to their Facebook friend requests and resume contact after we’d said goodbye. But not everything was blue, because we all know what’s coming up next: Next stop, Nha Trang!