My final work trip to Vietnam – HCMC again – was right after Phuket, so instead of packing from scratch, all I had to do was some laundry. The washer in the Phuket apartment was so interesting! You had to scoot it close enough to the shower to fill it with the shower hose, then scoot it to the other side of the bathroom to plug it in, and hold the button down while it washed, then back to the shower to drain, then fill again for the rinse cycle. It had a separate compartment for the spin cycle, which looked exactly like a large salad spinner. Even though it was 90-95 degrees, it was so humid in Phuket that it took most of the day in the sun for the clothing to dry on the rack. In short, kinda cool to try once or twice, but glad we have a modern washer back home and in Chiang Mai!
The first day I helped to train a new team member Hien (Holly), and put some finishing touches on a presentation I had created to tell people about the U.S. education system: “How to achieve academic success in the United States: a guide to finding your best fit school, choosing your pathway and major amid diverse options, navigating the application process at top universities, and looking for scholarships. The presentation will also cover the best ways to be a successful student and insider tips on the American education system.”
The focus wasn’t American Honors, but I did mention it as one option, and luckily they asked more questions about AH so that I could explain in more detail. I was told the presentation was going to be big, as in more than one hundred people, and that it would be given at the U.S. consulate, which was a huge honor! It was difficult to get more information about my audience ahead of time – I needed to know whether I’d be speaking to mostly students, parents, educators, or agents. It was such a broad topic that I just had to prepare for all audiences and random questions by doing a lot of research. Luckily I already knew most of what I’d need to talk about, including the difference between the U.S. and V.N. systems, but “top schools” wasn’t my specialty, so I researched random things like scholarships for international students, the requirements for international students at the top schools, and which top schools offered interviews in V.N.
While en route to the seminar, Broc texted me an awesome April Fools joke that I fell for; he said that starting next year, Magic cards would be not printed on trading cards, but only online. I was quite distraught over this “news”, since we really like playing with the physical cards. Because of all the traveling and how preoccupied I was, I didn’t even remember that it was April 1st!
Although I’ve been slightly more on the introverted side for most of my life, I’ve gotten so much public speaking experience in the past two years that I’m feeling pretty confident as we turn in our passports and go through the metal detector. The director meets me at the door and takes us into a large room with over 100 chairs. Only about thirty five people end up showing up, and I’m so grateful that they all sit in the front rows so that I don’t have to project to the back or use a mic. If we’d been in the U.S. I guarantee that some jackass and their family would sit in the very back in case they wanted to duck out. My presentation ended up going very well. Even though the presentation was an hour, plus thirty minutes of questions, I didn’t see anyone get bored or even look at their cell phone. The Prezi (like an interactive PowerPoint) I made was mostly pics and a few bullet points per slide, and I only had to look at my notes once to remember some funny “what not to do” tips. After the presentation, I find out one of the dads had relatives that lived just down the street from me in Tacoma!
When I got home around 6pm, I took a short nap and relaxed, then headed out to Ngoc Chau Garden Restaurant around 8:30pm. A lot of people eat very late here, in fact the best people watching is after 9pm, especially on a Friday! I talked to the waitress about the menu, and she recommended a caramel pork soup, which sounded very unusual, and is a traditional meal at Tet (New Year) holidays. I also got an orange smoothie. The stew had a rich buttery sweet and spicy flavor, but not too spicy, just enough to make the sweet more interesting. The meat was fall-apart tender, and after picking out a few ribs of pure fat, I ate every morsel and grain of rice that I soaked in the sauce. All around me, dishes look amazing, and the variety of new dished I hadn’t seen surprised me! Next to me a woman and her mother were eating a “hot pot” pho soup, which we would call fondue. They had huge trays of seafood and vegetables and noodles they could choose from to put in their pot. When they weren’t looking I took a pic of their food!
After dinner, I was still a little hungry, (the portions were quite small), but after looking at the menu again, I decided 80k to 100k Dong ($4 to $5) was too much for something else. Just as I was getting up, the young woman and her mother sitting next to me invited me to join them! Their meal could have easily fed four people, and they said they knew how it was to travel alone. I was so touched I couldn’t refuse! Turns out they were from Rome, but the daughter had been working in a marketing firm in Kansas City for a few years after getting her Masters in the U.S. If I hadn’t been so exhausted I might have tried to talk more in Italian, but at least I could understand a few words the daughter said as she translated some of the more complex conversations for her mom, who only understand the basics of what we said in English. In Thailand it is no longer surprising when strangers are kind, but here in a busy city in VN where you have to watch your purse and watch out for little scams like getting into the wrong taxi, the generosity in sharing a conversation and a bite was so touching.
After dinner I walk over a few streets to the river delta, to people watch and find a particularly sweet cat I’d met with Broc on our first trip to HCMC. I pass by some crazy bars and some nicer live music bars. I considered getting a beer at a street cart, but opt for a jasmine peach tea with sliced peaches, which happened to be the best tea I’ve ever had! (I went back to this same shop two more times in the next few days to try the other teas!) Sure enough, the nice cat is in the exact same spot, and it runs up to me to say hi! After a few minutes of playing with the white cat, a black cat comes up and starts playing too, and then an orange one! The night couldn’t have been better, considering I was so far from loved ones.
The next morning I got some “tourist” time to walk around the city and go to the market. I went to a nonprofit sewing co-op and bought a few souvenirs. Back at the office I quizzed the new hire, Holly, on what she’d learned, then we went to lunch at another famous pho place, which was delicious. My coworkers could eat pho every meal, indeed I’m pretty sure they have it twice a day on average. We had a coffee chat that night at our usual coffee place, which about ten people attended. Since most students had already heard about AH, most of my time was spent one-on-one telling them about what living in the U.S. would be like such as the climate, work options, and quizzing them on Visa questions. The next morning I had another seminar, but only twenty-five people had RSVP’d and Thuy said I could just talk about AH, so I didn’t spend time prepping. Twenty minutes before we start, Thuy loads the PowerPoint and I find out it’s in Vietnamese, and there are some slides I’ve never seen!!! Luckily we started a few minutes late waiting for people, so I had more time to get familiar with the presentation. Also, Thuy was translating for me, and Vietnamese takes 50% longer to say the same thing, so I had plenty of time between talking to
B.S. consider carefully what I wanted to say next. Only sixteen people ended up showing up, but it ran way too long. With Thuy translating, they had to hear it twice, and almost everyone understood it the first time in English. Also, more than once I urged Thuy to skip some of the slides, since they had the brochure in front of them with more info, but she wanted me to say something about every slide! After an hour they were fidgeting; one parent even answered his phone in a low voice from his seat! After almost ninety minutes, we had a chance to liven it up with some cool prizes like a T-shirt, water bottles, and a backpack for anyone still awake and able to answer my questions about the material. Then, to my horror, the education agency that hosted us had their own fifteen minute video! It was actually made by AH international students back at Pierce, but it was just too long to sit still, and then questions took another twenty minutes. The whole thing was over two hours!
That afternoon I had time to walk around the block after checking out of my hotel. I got some lunch at a bakery; perfectly done croque monsieur and what I thought was a mocha, but turned out to be iced coffee with unsweetened chocolate-interesting, but after a few sips I had them add some milk. Much better! It was a sad feeling that I might not see this magnificent and fascinating city again. On the way to the airport I realized I was really looking forward to being in Chiang Mai again, where things are reasonably priced and people are honest and happy. In Chiang Mai, at least I know what to expect: I will always have to bring my own toilet paper and hand sanitizer to public restrooms, but at least someone will be by in less than an hour to spray down the tiled hole in the ground or toilet. Yeah it’s 100+ degrees, but at least it’s not humid, and there are flowering trees everywhere. It may not be home, but it’s where the heart is, for now.