Thursday, November 21, 2013

Till We Meet Again Next Year...

Today had to come... one last early morning walk with my regular walking crew... Ngọc, Thương, Long, Luyền, Dịu, Katie, Hải and Hiếu. (Tuyền was on board his training ship this week...)

On the way, we stopped and said goodbye to the people we greet every morning. The lady next to me in red is a real character. Every morning she would jump in the air shout out 'Hello!' while the other ladies all laughed at her antics. When I asked if they would like to be in a photo she took off her hat and got all serious!

I made friends with this lady last year!

We walked around the block and said goodbye to Hà near my old house, then found Mr Cường and once again Hải stood in as my translator and we said farewell for another year. We did the same with Thảo, the tea lady and eventually arrived at our bánh cuốn place for our last breakfast. For once I really wasn't very hungry...

By 10am we were all packed and ready to go and friends started gathering to see us off.  They are so dear to my heart... 

About mid-morning, I had a surprise visitor... Mr Cường had come to give me a bottle of wine for a farewell present!  Trang came out to the corridor to translate for me (my room was overflowing with people...) and when he left she said "Everybody loves you!"  I must admit, the others were also very surprised that my xe om had come to say goodbye with a gift...but they didn't realise the three year history I share with dear Mr Cường. I relied on him very heavily during the first 6 months I was here in 2011 when VAIE was left with only one foreign teacher and I worked every class, every day for months!! and he has been my faithful driver ever since. Although I didn't have to call him very often this year because if I wasn't walking, I usually had a ride with one of my dear friends...

With plenty of time on our hands, I pulled out Tenzi (mine and Tuyền's) and eight of them played Tenzi towers for a while... 

The losers had to do the chicken dance  haha!





When I called to book the taxi the other day, the driver insisted that we should leave at 11:30am, which I thought was pretty extreme, since we didn't need to be at the airport in Hà Nội till 4:30pm for a 7:45pm flight... And sure enough he called around 11 to re-schedule our departure to a much more sensible 1:30pm. But that left us with a room full of faithful friends who had gathered to say goodbye, expecting us to leave at 11:30 (before lunch!) and 2 hours to fill.  The HUGE bonus of delaying our departure was that Tuyền and Tiến, who had been on a training vessel since Monday had time to rush over to the hotel after their ship docked in time to see us before we left!

What a blessing to see them when I had resigned myself to having to wait till next year!  And there they were, coming down the hallway with big smiles on their faces, having rushed over straight from their ship.  No sooner had they arrived, than Tiến and Hải went to buy something for lunch for everybody. They came back laden with bánh mì and Chả (pork meatloaf), which was greatly appreciated by my patient, starving but uncomplaining, faithful friends.

I didn't realise till later in the taxi that I didn't get any photos with my two navigators today... just as well I have taken plenty over the last couple of months! Tuyền was delighted when I gave him the Tenzi set that Katie brought for him.  He and I certainly had many hours of laughter playing Tenzi with friends and I know he'll have many occasions to play it.

All too soon it was time to go. Hiếu shouldered Katie's backpack, and the paintings, then reached for my suitcase as well...that would have been about 45kgs of luggage to carry down four flights!!!  I asked some others to help...

Graham and Lee had already said their goodbyes before they went out to lunch, so they were surprised to hear all the noise still coming from my room when they returned hours later. They came to investigate and we got to say goodbye to them again. When we got down to the carpark they called out and waved from their balcony (at the other end of the building), so I took a quick photo, but it's hard to see them.

Last group photos for this year...

and it was time for hugs and kisses and into the taxi and away. 

Right about now, I am so very grateful for all my photos and my blog - which I'll print so I  will have another volume to add to my treasured series "Annie's Adventures in Việt Nam". In the months before I return in 2014 I will read through my blog book often and cherish the beautiful memories I have of precious friends, old and new, and the wonderful times we have shared.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Our last night

Our last night...finishing off our packing. We were pretty quiet until our gorgeous crew arrived for one last night together!

We settled in for some Tenzi, and when Thảo arrived, we opened up the Tenzi that I had given to Hiếu (Katie brought two more sets over with her so I could give them to my friends) so six of us could play...then seven after Luyền arrived. We were playing Tenzi Tower and our towers had all collapsed all over the place when Thảo got up to leave. We said our goodbyes (for she will be working tomorrow when we have to leave) and off she went. When we sat down to resume our game, Hiếu was missing a blue dice, so we searched... everywhere...all around the floor, under the bed...but to no avail. It had vanished into thin air!  Then Katie had the bright idea of calling Thảo to see if she had it. You wouldn't read about it. When Hiếu's tower collapsed, one of the dice had landed in her jacket pocket unnoticed. He will arrange to get it back from her asap.

The last of our packing is just about done. We had a variety of kitchen stuff to leave behind, so after playing Tenzi we loaded them up with a bag or two each of goodies... 


These last two photos show beautifully why we've had such a good time this year ... so much laughter, even at a time that could be so sad. 

Who could ask for more?

Teachers Day Party at Đồ Sơn

Today is Teachers' Day in Việt Nam... a wonderful tradition where students honour their teachers - both past and present - by visiting them and giving them gifts. For those of us blessed to be part of the Nam Phap Church Class family, there is a full day party to be enjoyed!

We were picked up at 8am - Graham and Lee, Katie and I - So we already formed up a small convoy before even getting to the church!

Once there, we stood around chatting as the group gathered. Even though it was cool and overcast we knew it would be another wonderful day! I was told that today I could relax and Hiếu would take my camera and be the photographer for the day... seemed like a wise decision, since it would leave me free to just enjoy the fellowship...

The day began with a presentation of gorgeous flowers to us teachers as a token of love and appreciation. Tuấn Anh, club president did the honours...

Since we are leaving tomorrow, beautiful Madame Tra presented Katie and me with farewell gifts and another lovely speech.

Then it was our turn to express our love and appreciation for all that these classes bring to our lives.... followed by group photos!

We split into four small groups so the newcomers would feel included... an opportunity to get to know new friends.

About this time I had a call from Sáng to say he was running late, but was on his way. So glad he could make it!  I have only seen him in the last few days for he has been working far away and just got some time off to come home to HP - right before we have to leave.... in the nick of time  haha!

One has to be very patient while the convoy gets organised... working out who rides with whom so no-one is left behind takes time! Graham and I had our escorts take us back to the hotel so we could drop off our flowers and presents - we left them with Thủy at reception. Sáng arrived just as we were heading down the lane...

This is an over-the-shoulder shot of Trung Ho with some of the others behind him. We took a back route to Đồ Sơn, which was quite picturesque... and that's when I realised I didn't have my camera...and Hiếu was way up in front. My rider was a newcomer who didn't speak much English and didn't know who Hiếu is anyway so I couldn't get him to catch up.  Seriously though, I have so many photos of the countryside...BUT...there in this little village we rode past the most perfectly photogenic wall I have seen here!!!!  It had the crumbling plaster revealing red bricks all along the bottom, mossy bits, mildew was a classic! AND I DIDN'T HAVE MY CAMERA!   AARRGH! I will simply have to ride that way again next year and hope to spot it...

We had some drizzling rain  and the cloud cover was very low when we stopped at Vương Triều Mạc - a large complex which was re-built as part of the 1,000 year celebrations of the establishing of Hà Nội as capital (in 1010AD) to honour the memory of the Mạc Dynasty who ruled here five centuries ago.  That's our convoy all parked neatly!

The courtyard is vast...yet there are only a few homes nearby. The stele on the turtle's back had the history of the Mạc clan's rule (for just three generations). One of the guys who joined us for the first time today very kindly translated it for me. He speaks English fluently, with a very plumy English accent...quite unusual!


...well it is a tea house! ...
Dịu, Hải, Tran Anh and Katie 




  Photo bomb!

When it started to rain, we took shelter under a pavilion

It didn't rain for long, though and we were soon on our way to this restaurant where we were booked in for lunch.

With so many of us there was some shuffling and table re-arranging to fit us all in.

There was another group there celebrating - some teachers from a local school. Lee went over to say hello and before long someone proposed a toast or two and everyone was joining in!

Group photo with strangers, now new friends!

After lunch, Quỳnh pulled out his guitar and led a sing-a-long. There is a particularly popular song that's sung on occasions like this where verses are made up about the people present and they are obviously very funny. Sadly for me, though, the song is in Vietnamese of course!

Haha ... they didn't know I could play the guitar!  I tried to think of a simple song that everyone could join in... and only came up with Kumbaya, so we sang a few verses of that old song.

Then the convoy headed down to Đồ Sơn beach. It was drizzling again and getting cooler... 

... but that didn't deter the energetic ones!


Because of the weather, the games that had been planned were scrapped.

... but there are always plenty keen for a game of soccer.

A pile of driftwood and sticks was dragged together, and Hiếu siphoned off some petrol to help get the bonfire started....

It always amazes me how much heat a fire throws off! When it burned down, some sweet potatoes were thrown in to cook, and before long there were people with sooty streaks on their faces.

Once again, the guitar came out and Quỳnh led a sing-a-long. 

And all too soon it was time to come home. Sigh. We have to leave tomorrow.