Finding yourself at a restaurant in Saigon, choosing between thick coffee, fried rice and omelettes, and then hearing "You're Having My Baby" come over the music station, well, it was a bit bizarre.
Still, bizarre does have it's moments here. A jar of snakes floating in liquid that I saw in a shop nearby entered my dreams that night. A snake came out of my kitchen drain and bit my hand. I looked down and saw two snakes there, wound around the sink. First I stabbed them with a carrot then, clever girl, I turned on the garbage disposal. Now I don't know if the fact I spent the past month washing dishes in the bathroom because my kitchen was getting redone had anything to do with this but it was pretty strange.
Also strange is seeing advertisements for American Idol here. Oh, it's up-to-the-minute – "Will Ace's looks carry him far? Will Chris keep his rocker ways?"
And do the Vietnamese ever get Sienfield. It's on here all the time. Seinfield seemed like a very American series to me but perhaps I'm being a bit ethnocentric. Who knows.
Our second day here was an emotional one for most of the people on this journey - we visited the orphanages and met the Vietnamese workers who cared for some of them. It was both a joyous and jarring day.
Phu My Orphanage lay behind thick, high walls and a wrought-iron gate just wide enough for the bus to get through. It opened to a large courtyard with high green trees and bright flowers – very pristine and quiet. Wings of buildings three stories high surrounded us. As we got off the bus a small woman and her two children watched us and smiled. This was Thu, a child care worker who sat by me on the bus for most of the rest of the day. A highlight for me was when she held up her hand against mine and motioned how thick my wrist was compared to hers. But she did it so innocently, with a wide smile framed by cleft lips, you couldn't take offense.
We tried to converse a bit, she with her minimal English and my Vietnamese consisting of the words for no, excuse me and thank you. She told me her children's names and ages - they were 2 of 7 - and that she had a headache. I gave her one of my Ibuprofen and then passed another on to a friend. She wrote down her address for me and told me Jesu Chistos loves me.
But it wasn't about me this day. This is what many of these young men and women had come to Vietnam for. One 21-year-old girl, adopted in 1990, had lived at Phy My for four years. She met a nun who had cared for her, although neither exactly remembered the other. She looked a little overwhelmed by the experience and a little disconcerted by the number of wheelchairs around. The 400 children at the orphanage were in class or in nurseries lined with bed after bed after bed, with some of the 200 workers feeding or teaching them. Still, she and her mother passed out little packets of toys to the children we say in various rooms, grins and giggling laughter competing with the snorts and calls you often hear from disabled children.
Almost all of the children at Phu My these days have disabilities. Few parents will keep such children. Many lay on their beds with limbs askew, pointing at different angles, gazing at nothing. The worst were the children with hydrocephalus, water on the brain, laying there looking like the brainiac aliens from "Star Trek" but with no awareness of reality. If caught early, this condition is very treatable. If not, it isn't.
Phu My was one of two large orphanages during the Vietnam War. Sisters ran the orphanage then. At the time it was filled with all kinds of people, orphans, special needs children abandoned by their parents, adults with no where else to go. Many of the children from Phu My then did leave the country, although not all. It is one of the few that manage to exist through the tumultous and harsh times after Saigon fell. Sister Elizabeth, whom we met, has been there since the 1960s. But possibly not for much longer. The government took over operations entirely a few months ago. Things are going to change, although I don't know how.
(More later on DAY 2....)