Because this is the time of Tet, the Lunar New Year, the children have a month off of school. No one goes to work at all next week. The parents have both been home all day everyday for family time. Tonight they are throwing a party for the parishioners in their parish “area group”, of which Mr. Quang is the leader. I am hoping that there are a few English speakers who come.
After breakfast this morning Phong, the 19 year old, took me on his motorcycle to an orphanage where some of the resident children have disabilities. Our mandate from Fr. Binh was to give each child some “Lucky Money”, a Lunar New Year tradition. We were to give them each a gift of 20,000 Dong (Pronounced: dowm) which is about $1. There are smaller bills, but the 20,000D bill seems the standard. When we arrived it appeared that no one was expecting us, but Fr. Binh, who could not accompany us on this excursion, had set every thing up. As soon as we walked in the children all came to us with big smiles, took our hands and wanted to visit. I sat on the floor and the kids took very quickly to Phong and me. Some knew a couple English expressions like “What is your name?”. As soon as I answered “Cha John.” (Father John) they would ask me the same question again, and laugh. This went on for a while. One of the boys kept stroking my beard and then would point at a picture of a bearded Jesus on the wall. I pointed to the picture and said the Vietnamese word for God, “Chua” (Choo-ah), and showed him the cross around my neck. He smiled and shouted “Chua!” The smaller children enjoyed pushing the button on my watch which makes the face light up.
One of the workers called the sister who runs the orphanage, but had stepped out for the morning. A phone was handed to me and the sister, who spoke a little English, expressed her appreciation that we were there and that she was sorry she missed us. She thanked us for what we were doing for the children.
When we eventually started giving out the gifts, one little boy, about 5 yrs old, wanted to make sure that everyone received a gift. He did this by taking me by the hand and leading me from room to room pointing to children who had not yet received a gift. Then a group of the older children started to sing for us. Some of their songs involved clapping. So when they asked me to sing, the first thing that came to mind was: “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands! (clap-clap)”. To my surprise, they knew that song, in English! The only other song they knew in English was “We Wish You a Merry Christmas!” Phong video taped us singing those songs and I will have to find a way to upload it so that it is available on the blog. Like his brother, Phu, did for us on yesterday’s excursion, Phong took almost all the pictures.
On the way home Phong thought we should stop for a refreshing drink. It was hot, like a dry summer day in Portland. So I bought us each a couple of coconuts that were being sold as a beverage on the side of the road.
I’m told that Vietnam has two seasons, dry and wet. Right now it is hot and dry. I have slight burns on my arms from all the transportation via motorcycle. So now I wear long sleeves. Most of the motorcyclists wear long sleeves. Some women wear these gold-ish gloves that go all the way up their arms to cover their short sleeves. They also wear scarves. This way they have sun protection. Many wear masks over their faces because the smog is so bad. Imagine being in a tightly packed group of small motorcycles at a stop light on a hot day, their engines producing even MORE heat, and exhaust filling the air around you. Not to mention the noise.
Phong and I made it home time for lunch. Phu helped me figure out how to upload video to YouTube, but we haven’t been successful yet. Fr. Binh took off for a few days with a friend and the Quang family is stuck with me. But they are great. They heard me sniffling and sneezing and offered me medicine. I already have some that I brought. I took a nap after lunch, which is also a marvelous Vietnamese custom that they share with the French, Italians and, of course, the Mexican siesta. I don’t know why we in the United States haven’t figured that one out, yet.
The little guy in the green shirt was just fascinated by my calculator watch which would light up when you pushed a button.
Some of the children helping in the kitchen. Food is often prepared on the floor in Vietnam, but the floors are clean and people don’t wear shoes or sandals in the house. Everyone is barefoot at home.
This little guy in the green striped shirt is the one who took my hand to lead me from room to room to make sure every child received a gift.