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Vietnam, Voluntourism

A birthday in Vietnam

Yesterday was my birthday. The day started by taking the bus to the Ky Quang temple/orphanage, which is more Vegas than Vietnam in its appearance. The temple was built to appear as though it was carved into a mountain of rocks, with huge fake boulders surrounding the perimeter and a towering pagoda in the center. Tacky statues of yellow Buddhas and pink lotus blossoms are placed around the grounds. A cobra and dragon with plastic red jewels for eyes hover protectively over an entryway. I don’t know what effect the builder of this temple was going for, but the one good thing about its design is that it provides a great deal of visual stimulation for the children.

When I arrive, Big Sau, the 24-year old mentally disabled boy who lives at the orphanage, grabs my hand excitedly and insists on taking me for a walk around the temple. He doesn’t speak, so our walk is punctuated with the grunts and squeals that comprise his method of communication. We meet up with another volunteer who is holding Minh, a tiny 3-year old who is recovering from the Chicken Pox. There’s been a recent outbreak at the orphanage and several of the children have the scars to prove it. I have a moment of gratitude that I’ve already had them. Minh decides he wants me to hold him. I take him in my arms and Big Sau, Minh, and I sit at the entrance and watch the world go by outside the temple. A garbage collector walks by and Sau grunts loudly and points. I wave at the man and call out hello in Vietnamese. The garbage collector, his eyes fixed on Sau, just stares.

We return to the playroom where feeding commences. Little Sau, a tiny, beautiful 5-year old girl who has several disabilities, smiles widely and reaches for me. She can’t walk on her own yet, so I take her into my arms and we glide around the playroom, waving to all who pass. As far as I’m concerned, she’s the princess of the playroom and I am her dutiful servant. She seems blissfully happy with this arrangement.

Later in the day, a little boy scooting around in a plastic orange scooter runs over my feet. He decides it’s funny and does it again. And again. This is how I met Chau, a young blind boy who is sharp as a tack and a bit of a rascal. When he tires of bumping into things with his scooter, he allows me to pick him up and we hum songs and dance. After a few repetitions of “You Are My Sunshine,” he can hum the melody by himself and we have a duet while cooling ourselves under a fan. The heat of the day builds up to a crescendo and we are treated with the sounds of a brief, but heavy rainfall outside.

At the end of the day, I treat myself to two Vietnamese coffees. I tell myself that if the Vietnamese would just embrace a Venti-sized coffee, I wouldn’t have to have two. It isn’t often that I travel to a country with good coffee, so I’ve been taking full advantage of it while I’m here. They like it a bit too sweet, so I add more water. This gets odd looks.

I can’t imagine a better way to spend a birthday.


About colleen f

Colleen is a globe trotting, sight seeing, day tripping, frequent flying traveler with a penchant for voluntourism.


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