.....too much Rice Wine.
Last night at dinner I had an argument with my driver, Stephane. I have decided that although it's been a good trip that I am beat and just want to get to Hoi An. He seems to be a fair man and didn't want to cut the trip short. I dont know if it's because he thought that I would cut him one day pay or what but we finally came to an agreement. We were supposed to stay one more night after tonight prior to reaching Hoi An. Instead, tomorrow we are going to take the less scenic route and go straight to Hoi An, and he is going to take me to My Son. I already knew that I wanted to visit My Son so this works out great for me as I wont have to hire yet another driver in Hoi An to go see it.
Although I am exhausted and my driver a bit disappointed, Today was an amazing day. Our first stop of the day was at a local school. The children were wonderful and completely intrigued by the 'westerner' in their midst. The school administrator and most of the teachers sat over tea and talked with me. Only one of them speaks any English, and her and I discussed the classes, schedules, and the community in general. She was lovely to talk to. I had discussed with Stephane prior to going if we could give/take something to the children (not candy). He and I decided on a donation of $200,000 dong each to give to the school. This is only about $12.50 usd and it was very well spent money for me.
When we arrived at the school, the children all gathered around and the excitement could be felt. Most of them could at least say 'hello' and 'what's your name' in English. Stephane arranged the donation with the administer and while the rest of us sipped tea, one of the teachers drove off on her moto-bike and brought back bottled iced tea (for the adults) and several stacks of writing books and pens.
After the adults finished chatting, I was allowed into one of the upper classes (I think the children were around 9-12 y/o). I passed out the pens and writing books and there were smiles all around. The excitement in the eyes of the children at the simple gift of a pen and book was astounding. It really broke my heart that $12.50 usd could bring so much happiness and encouragement to the children. With the help of the English teacher, I talked a little about my job as a nurse (basically,that I am a nurse and that I try to help sick people get better), the fact that my job requires a university education and that they should all study very hard. Thank you's and good wishes were passed between me, the students, and the teachers and we were back on the road.
I obtained the mailing address of the school and hope to send them some children's books that I have at home that are gathering dust. Talking with the English teacher about this, she was very excited. She stated that it is very difficult to teach the children English because they don't have the funding for any books and the ability to practice with the children is limited. I am very excited to have had the opportunity to see first hand the struggles and hardships and hopefully a means to help them if only a little.
In comparison to American schools, the schools here are very primitive. There is no bus system and the children walk up to 4km to and from school in all sorts of weather. The school has three sessions (if I understood correctly) and some of the children go home in between and make the walk several times a day. About 2/3rds of the children don't return for the afternoon/evening classes as they stay at home and help their families in the fields or at home. From what i understood, it is only required that they attend basic education (morning classes) and they have an option to return or help their families. I didn't really notice any major segregation in the number of boys vs girls going to school. It was pretty equally divided between the sexes.
Our next stop was at a minority village just a few kilometers north. This is a different village than those that attended the school we visited. Upon arrival into the local 'store' we were nearly immediately swarmed by the villagers. They all stayed back a bit and simply stared at me as I interacted with the store owner.
I met the village Elder and his wife and the 'patio' was cleared and made way for a wonderful feast with rice wine all around. The villagers became much more friendly and interactive as the rice wine and food was passed around. I felt like a visiting queen!! The rice wine tastes something like I would guess turpentine would taste, although i have never tasted turpentine! The food was actually very good (if you like your pork with huge amounts of rind and fat). Fresh green beans with pork, grilled fish, and rice. One of the women that was sitting next to me kept filling up a shot glass and handing it too me for a toast! How can you refuse when your being treated like royalty? As the hour passed, the sun started to bear down on my shoulders and the women of the group all moved and insisted that I move out of the sun.... I guess that I wasn't eating enough, because several times as I turned my head chopsticks full of beans and pork were stuffed in my mouth by one of the women! There is no way to be sanitary here and I hope that the rice wine killed any possible germs that I might have consumed! Chopsticks and shot glasses alike were used by many....
In this particular village, if a man and woman like each other, they can request to the Elder fo the village, to spend a night at the Rong (communal) house to 'talk'. I am told that if someone gets pregnant after a night at the Rong house, that the couple is married and a fine of 3 pigs is paid to the Village Elder! Upon hearing that I am single, one single gentleman promptly asked the village Elder if he could share the Rong house with ME tonight....I kindly explained that I was not looking for a husband and that there are many beautiful women here in the village for him to choose from!! Whew.....I think I saved myself! There was a good sense of humor around the situation and lots of laughter. The young gentleman decided that I needed to eat lots of food and persistently kept adding to my rice bowl and stated at one point that if I didn't finish it, I would have to spend the night with him....I finished the rice!
Upon request, I was ushered to the toilet by the shop owners wife (whom tirelessly worked while we were there cooking and making sure that everyone was comfortable). I wish I had thought to take a picture as I was taken to the back of the house where the pigs are penned and right next to them, there was a downslope and drain out of the pens. She pointed to the hole and fetched me a pail of water (to 'flush' and wipe)! I'm sure that I looked like a fool and wonder how many of the children were sneaking around back to watch the 'western girl' pee!! I was horribly uncomfortable....but 'when in Rome...'
I have tons of pictures and even a video (if it turned out), but you will have to wait as internet is a thing long gone for now.....
We were blessed with partly overcast skys with only one downpour during the last 20km of our trip today. My clothes have been washed and are hanging under the fan to dry. I feel like I feel like I stink terribly (although I shower every day) and my clothes are all musty smelling due to not drying properly before putting them into the backpack in the mornings.... I can't wait to get to Hoi An and have my laundry done properly!!
Life is good....
Edited to Add:
I think I indulged in too much rice wine. At dinner, I took about two bites of great tasting venison meat over rice with vegetables and I suddenly felt very sick. I quickly found out where the bathroom or 'toilet' was and hoped that I would make it. I did....and nothing happened. I went back to the table and told Stephane that I was sorry, but I had to leave as I was feeling sick. He was pretty much a jerk and told me to 'eat'. I dont know if he didn't understand or what the problem was but I simply walked out and started back to the hotel.
Thank god it was raining as the umbrella served as a great hiding spot as I proceeded to vomit along the side of the road! I was so embarrassed! I don't really think that anyone noticed and my being sick certainly didn't stop Stephane from finishing dinner. In fact, the next day he told me several times that it was a shame that he had to EAT ALONE!! WTF? What about me NOT eating at all and being sick? I guess I am starting to understand why he is single....
Anyway...don't worry. I am feeling much better (although still a little peeked). I have been able to keep food and water down today (day 6).