day one and two in vietnam 2010

leaving san franscisco, i left all fear and expectation behind. welcome to a journey to the unknown, and enjoy yourself as you practice your ZEN. Smile, you are headed to Asia.

i was delighted to received a korean meal on first flight, the flight was 13 hours, the longest flight i’d ever embarked upon. i sat next to a woman who was a retired olympic skiier, she took good care of me. i did thai chi with some korean men in the aisle, you have to get up and move on a 13 hour flight. we jogged in place for a moment or two, and shared exercise routines.

i was glad that i answered “rice” when the flight attendant asked “chicken or rice?”. The meal came with seaweed soup, hot rice, pickles, mushrooms and mung bean sprouts. air plane food from my wildest fantacy.!

the hotel we are staying at is immaculate and fancy compared to the 30$ a night places i grew up with in the southeast. in the morning we enjoy a breakfast of my dreams. we have a 5 course meal for breakfast, with  choices of fruit bar with amazing tropical fruits, a vegetable bar, various vietnamese dishes, a beautiful young man making fresh noodle soup with basil leaves and fried eggs on the side, and then there is the vietnamese coffee which is amazingly chocolately and fresh. i could go on for days about the food really. i don’t miss bread , AT ALL. mung beans can replace bread any day.  many of us find that the first page of our journal is reserved just for our food description of the day. fresh fruits and vegetables, always.  yesterday at the hospital we were treated to lunch by the staff, even the hospital food was amazing and seemingly gourmet, poached fish baked inside of a crispy philo, tied at the top with a leek leaf, with roasted peppers on the side and a fruit plate of atleast 5 different varieties of colorful tropical fruits. we are treated like royalty by our hosts. they always give us more than we can eat, and impress us with beautiful food arrangements. the gratitude is piled high in our hearts as we taste these gifts

today is our second clowning day. we are going to two or three orphanages, one of which is a home for children with deformities and various disabilities. we are excited to visit this place in contrast to yesterdays experiemce where we spent several hours in a very elite high class hospital, where patients were no where to be found, and we mostly clowned for staff and chipper waiting room bystanders. we rode the elevator looking for people “in beds”, and the hospital mananger kept herding us towards lobbies and porches (there for keeping us away from the areas where people in serious condition were staying). as clowns we generally try to find the people who are the most isolated, the people who are suffering the most, and we go to them.  yesterday afternoon we though we were on our way to a “homeless shelter”. after an hour drive through the bustling motercycle filled streets, we ended up on a narrow dirt road nestled in a back street alley. i removed my shoes at the door, and we walked in to find ourselves at a childrens school for poor children whose parents work too much to care for them every day of the week. we walked in, and to our surprise the room was set up like an auditorium, as if we were there to do a “performance” or educational program. in this awkward moment, we stood for about one minute looking surprised and feeling at a loss of what to do (normally we do very improvised one on one clowning, not in the staged performance style). i jumped in and began teaching the kids songs and doing a program similar to the nursing homes… sing along songs, and small english lessons. thanks drama degree, you are getting more and more useful every day. especially in those “what now” moments. the quote of the day is “do something…….anything” . the kids sit ten or twelve to a bench, packed into the classroom like sardines. smiling and anticipating our every move. i searched through my index of creativity, i wanted to give them something special. so, we practiced saying “i love you”. we repeated “i love you” over and over, and soon the chant became an instant song. soon, we were led across the street to the “baby” room. 1 and two year olds sitting around looking adorable and lovable. one child held his head in his brothers lap and screamed “momma momma”. the women caring for the babies were lovely and all smiles.

third gig, on the second day: another school with children ranging from ages 1-15. all eyes were on me, once again. as it seemed that we were expected to “teach” or “perform” something for the kids. i felt like a pre-school english teacher. eyes , and the voices in my head said ” ok ash, you have to do something”. lets get in a circle i said. this was our third gig of the day, i was happy to sit down, cross leged with the kids. more english lessons, songs and clowning lessons. we moved around the circle practicing our clown faces, expressions and gibberish language. we did some warm up movements with sound and shaking it all out. we learn “itsy bitsy spider”, and practiced pronouncing the words, one phrase at a time. at one point i looked at the translator and said…..”help”? hoping that she would have some ideas about exercises to do. she  just looked at me and smiled….. ok……i said, lets sing the ABCs. the kids knew this song and so did the teacher, however half way through the song i noticed the alphabet becoming jumbled into a different order…… EFGOLPKRSVTWXZ. I liked this version. I appreciated the variation.