On one of our weekends in Vietnam, the people we worked for (YESD) arranged a group trip to a place called Tam Dao. Tam Dao is a few hours north of Hanoi and a short distance up into the mountains. The mountains make it a popular place to go to beat the heat and many Vietnamese tourists visit on the weekends.
Laughter until tears
Traveling with our Vietnamese hosts/friends was interesting and certainly different from when Michelle and I travel on our own. Our accommodation for the weekend was Vietnamese style: we all shared a room in a hostel-ish hotel. 4 beds for 11 people (4 westerners and 7 Vietnamese). 2 of those beds slept 7 people that night. There were a LOT of photo ops and a scene from a movie was re-enacted in a bamboo forest (which caused one person to laugh so hard that she sat down and cried, while the westerners stood around not understanding).
As our friend Brian (who was traveling with us on this weekend trip) states, the people with whom we were living and working had a very youthful innocence about them. As an example of this, when I emerged from the shower that night there was a contest to cram the most cookies into their mouths. Later that night, there was a makeup contest. Four people were involved in the game, 2 pairs. One member of each pair, while blindfolded, put makeup on their partner. Once finished, the blindfold came off and all 4 raced to the mirror to giggle hilariously at the results.
Outside of these antics, while in Tam Dao we visited a lovely temple and a forgettable waterfall (more mosquitoes than water). There was also a Christian church. From its outward appearance I would say it was abandoned, but the interior was well cared for (by whom, I have no idea). We went by the church that night and while admiring the shadows of the exterior we heard music and laughter. Around the corner, beside the church was a large circle of 30-40 people (all Vietnamese) and one young man in the middle with a large portable speaker, a laptop, and a microphone. After watching for just a few moments several of the members of the circle ran out and insisted that onlookers join. I was one of those dragged in, though reluctantly. My American friend Brian joined also, as did most all of our Vietnamese companions. What followed was this: the guy in the middle would say a bunch of stuff (in Vietnamese, so I did not understand) and then play music from the laptop to which we would all sing along and dance. It was kind of like karaoke line-dancing in a circle. This continued for a good 30 minutes, at least before I snuck away during a lull in the music and we called it a night.
Despite the humid heat that greeted us when we returned to Hanoi, it felt good to get back to the place we were temporarily calling home after the short weekend adventure.