That Saturday, I thoroughly awaited the television program about the center. The television station promised that yesterday would be the day. However, due to some errors at the station, they were unable to play the program, promising us that it would be on the next day. I originally decided that I was going to wake up at six o'clock that morning to get to work. Unfortunately, that didn't happen, seeing as how I went right back to sleep after turning off my alarm. At around seven forty-five, I decided it was time to join the rest of the center and get to work. I didn't plan to go anywhere special this day, my uncle telling me that this was a day for me to teach him English, and get to know the kids.
During the morning, I walked around the center, chatting with my brothers and sisters, seeing if I could help with anything. By the time that I woke up, they had all finished most of their morning chores, and were just sitting around. Today was actually a special day for the center. Health checkup day. They had set up the library into an office for the doctor who was coming to check on the health of all the people in the center. After making one round around the center, I decided it was at last time to get rid of the pile of laundry I had sitting around. About an hour later, I went back out to see if the doctor had arrived. She indeed did, making a stop at the older brothers' house to have some tea and talk with the mother of the house, Ms. Be. I also sat down and joined them, accompanied by Min, the little dog of the center. While Min gnawed at my feet, I spoke with the doctor about her plan for the day, and about my reasons for coming back to Vietnam. She was surprised to see a Vietnamese from overseas at the center, me being one of the very few, if not the only one, to come to the center (I've been thinking very deeply about what my stay at the center really means in terms of Vietnamese foreign relations). She asked me about my studies, asking about what my passions were. About five minutes in, she was called to get to work, so I waved her off, and was called by Dao of the center to rendezvous with her and her friend at the nearby cafe to talk.
Here we were at it again, at the same cafe, ordering the same drinks, and discussing our philosophies on our worlds. Vinh was still as friendly and outgoing as ever, not showing any hesitation to get to know me and ask me questions. Both of them, having already graduated from college with many honors, knew so much about Vietnam that I knew they were the right people to talk to about many of my burning questions. Me, being from America and also Vietnamese, caused them to ask me very many questions as well, as if to do a cultural exchange. It was amazing how much I learned in this hour that I spent with the two. I told me frustrations with my past and my lack of understanding of my family and culture, telling them that this opportunity to return was the best time in my life to return (and it truly has been). They smiled back at me, telling me that they were impressed by my willingness to express my feelings and life's story, and also about my honesty in expressing my feelings about Vietnam. My family members have always told me to watch what I say, particularly concerning family matters, but what I have learned in the past is that in order to allow people into my shoes, I had to let them know who I was, and where I come from. I come from my parents, from a time where they decided their futures were perhaps better served in land away from their homeland. As heartbreaking as it may have been for them, they had their reasons, along with the millions of people who also made that tough and dangerous decision to leave. Stirring the ice in my orange juice around and around, while searching for more to tell them, I realized how much pressure I had placed on myself concerning Vietnam. Its issues have now become mine. Vinh and Dao told me all of it, their feelings on the education system and their hopes for the future of their country. I know that it is foolish to do more than one can bear, to carry the burdens of strangers on one's shoulders and hope to service all of them equally. However, is it more foolish to do nothing, and worry only about my future?
At around eleven o'clock, my uncle Duyet came to the center, calling me over to come eat lunch with him. I thanked Vinh and Dao for their kindness, and headed off with my uncle to have another fine meal at one of the local favorite stops. "So, the center's going to be on television in an hour," I told him. "Well in that case, let's eat fast and get you back to the center to watch the program with the children" my uncle said, "I'll watch it from home and I'll tell your aunt and grandfather about it." I agreed, and we did just that.
With about ten minutes to spare, I waved my uncle goodbye from the entrance of the center and ran all the way into the Phung Vi house to see all the children huddled around the television. "Ben, when is the program going to be on..." said Phe, looking a little tired. "Twelve thirty," I said, "they sent me a message over phone." At around twelve forty with no program in sight, many of the children went off to nap from the other houses, growing frustrated over the situation. The television hosts told me to wait and see, as they were working on it. Finally it showed up, the one's who were awake, about seven of us, huddled around the television, laughing at each other on television. My goodness, I was on for so much of the program. "Wow this is embarrassing...," I said to the children, "that time (about two weeks into Vietnam) my Vietnamese was so bad that I had to interview in English." Trust me, that day of my birthday, having to interview in English was a little painful, seeing as how I can now speak Vietnamese so confidently and correctly. It was indeed as long as we thought, the program showing all aspects of the center, and interviews with the key members of the center, including the director (who spoke a lot about me surprisingly). My coming to the center has been something special to them, as many other foreigners have already traveled to the center, another volunteer from France coming right after I leave Vietnam. After thirty minutes of embarrassment and laughter, I decided to go nap, heading up to my room.
The rest of this day was mainly filled with play, work, play, work, and more play. My uncle came back up at around four for an English lesson. As the children huddled in the library, playing computer games during their allotted time during Saturdays in the library, I taught my uncle for an hour, going over some of the more important lessons in English speaking. He told me about his frustration with the English teaching he had received, also telling me how tied English was with finding a job in the economic world in Vietnam. "This is your ticket to getting a job with this degree" he said. I told him my plans to want to address this issue, to which he replied "don't get in over your head as you have many more years you need to devote to your studies." "I know, but that doesn't mean I can't try to find something along the way" I told him, upon seeing him leave the center. "See you tomorrow uncle!" I said, waving him off.
I went back to my room to work on some ideas for teaching in these last three weeks I have at the center. English grammar is vast, and I don't have all the time in the world to teach them everything. Of course, my goal is to teach them to speak, which is extremely hard as ever, but I will find a way.
The health checkup went well with most of the children, only two, Ni and Dao, having some issues with sickness. Ni had a toothache as well as a slight fever, while Dao has been having some headache and leg pains. The evening was devoted to getting to know more of the children, eating sweets, talking, watching movies, and playing. What will I do when I have to leave?