Celebrating Solstice

Every year the kids’ school spends the week before Winter Break in a flurry of activities that culminate in what is simply known by the school community as Solstice. Each grade presents a song or a poem or a dance; something to celebrate the lengthening of days and return of the sun. It’s a proud moment for parents at every grade.

This year was even more so… Audrey played in her marimba band to start off the show and I got a front row seat reserved just for the “parent of the Moon.” Stuart had said, three years ago, that when he was a senior and had the chance, he would be the Moon. And this year there seemed to be no question about it. No tryouts. No requests. He was the Moon, the antagonist of the story.

Stuart as the Moon with his minions.
The high schoolers getting ready for the Solstice celebration.
The power animals hanging in the Commons.

Each child and most staff members take part in creating a power animal, from kindergarten through high school. No sketching or scissors allowed. You simply tear your animal out of a folded sheet of construction paper. Inside, everyone writes a goal, hope or dream for the coming year then staples their animal onto the string. The scraps, left from creating the animal are used to write down the bad thoughts, habits and experiences you want to get rid of. Class by class these scraps are compiled into paper bags and on the day of the Solstice celebration, they are burned on the bonfire. A final farewell.

Mine was an octopus, but it never got on a string–the joy of being part of Special Ed and not a classroom. Instead it’s tacked to the wall by my desk. Inside I wrote: Don’t be afraid to accept new opportunities.

It's like a big hippie-fest with all the drumming and dancing.

Some 18-year-olds get cars

There are a lot of things a kid can miss out when they’ve only got one parent, but what my kids have missed the most wasn’t someone to play baseball with or someone to teach them how to shave or draw or make music. What my kids really missed out on was that second income.

Instead of being able to buy a car or even a bicycle for my son’s 18th birthday, I finished the quilt I’d started for him back in his younger years.

Stuart taught his sister how to swim.

It started the summer I had pneumonia; the summer I spent poolside, watching the kids play while I laid there wishing I had health insurance. It was a pretty miserable summer, with being so sick and the ensuing lack of income. They turned off our electricity for two weeks while I struggled to sell enough books and clothes to pay the bill. But I had a fabric stash and with his help, my son Stuart and I chose fabric to make him a quilt.

Continue reading “Some 18-year-olds get cars”

Photos from Asia, part one

Who knew there were Green Tea Kit Kats? Vinegar Apple? Caramelized Potato? Chestnut?
Delicious Mochi: Chocolate, Caramel Pudding, Red Sweet Potato and Black Soybean Flour were just some of the available flavors.
You want absolutely any candy flavored like green tea? They have it.
Mmmm, strawberries and oreo.
I don't know if was ever real food, but it's now completely shellacked. And spendy. 90¥=1USD
And in case you wanted to look like you'd traveled further, you could buy Florida macadamia nuts, Las Vegas chocolate chip cookies, The Great America truffles or Mexican cashew cookies. Weird.

the KL tower

the KL Tower in Kuala Lumpur

The KL Tower is fourth tallest building in the world and features, much like the Space Needle in Seattle, a revolving restaurant and an observation deck. We, obviously, were there in the evening and couldn’t figure out how to get into the park where it’s located. Frustrated, but I’m still shaky with heights, so I didn’t mind too much.

KLCC in Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia is an incredibly modern city that bustles all day (and probably all night, though we always stayed in). People are always coming and going somewhere with tourists nearly always heading to the KLCC. It was the one place I definitely wanted to see–home of what was just a decade ago the tallest buildings in the world, the Petronas Towers.

Behind the towers, as part of the KLCC, is an enormous children’s playground. Unfortunately, it’s patrolled by police officers who don’t allow big kids like Audrey play on it. We wandered around and managed to pretend to play just for a picture. It was a bit odd for Audrey to be chased off the play structure and additionally strange since there wasn’t another kid anywhere in sight.

Unscripted and sweet. They were discussing the cotton candy choices at a candy shop. I can’t remember if this was in KLCC Suria or the Pavillion shopping center.

Kuala Lumpur has definitely lost its ‘developing world’ look and could easily be mistaken for Los Angeles, except for the Islamic holiday sales and Malay-language signage. This is, for sure, at the Pavillion, a large shopping center with an impressive food court on the very bottom floor.

More than a quarter-mile tall, the Petronas Towers were pretty spectacular.
I wrote a short article about this place on Bella Online: Visiting the Petronas Towers

welcome to Bangkok

On the morning of the 12th, we flew via Asia Air to Bangkok where we were greeted by a city more cosmopolitan than any other I’ve seen. Could there be anything further from the streets of Hanoi than the streets of Bangkok? I think not.

So for the past three days, we’ve been checking out the shopping life of the city. We visited the Siam Paragon, an astoundingly large shopping center with Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana, Porsche and even Lamborghini stores. A bit mind-blowing to see the amount of money that people can and do spend.

Then there’s the shock of the sex industry here and just how overt it is. The foreigners who come here with their pasty white beer bellies and loads of cash make us all throw up just a bit when we see them fondling local women. Or are the women? It seems that for those dressed up in what I would deem clothes suitable for prostitutes (or ‘prostates’ as Audrey often misspeaks), out of them I’d venture to guess that a third or more are actually men. We’ve had to have conversations that I hoped would never happen, but the kids have become better world citizens and more understanding of the ways that the world works, including why it’s so abhorrently wrong.

Return to the Tam Ky Orphanage

Two years later, not much had changed. The rainbow on the wall still greeted us, just as it had every day for two months in 2007.
The bathrooms at the baby orphanage. Clearly, it's a storage area, too.
I can't tell you how happy it makes me to be here. Absolutely thrilled to be giving away all those clothes and shoes and toys.
Will it fit you? Who cares?! It's new clothes!!!
She wasn't so sure she liked me. It's a common predicament for me in Vietnam.
Chilling in the doorway; sitting on the pot. Literally.
Stuart with his little buddy, Tu, who was quite happy to see his 'big brother' again after so long. I don't think Tu had grown an inch.
Audrey with the woman who does all she can for these kids--Me Ba. Her vast love for the kiddos here awes me. She is a wonderful, wonderful woman.

Floating around Tam Coc

Thanks to the kindness of my student Chinh, we were able to hitch a bus down to Ninh Binh and a cab ride out to Tam Coc. She has always lived within an hour’s drive of the beauty that is Tam Coc, but had never been. It was my pleasure to bring her along for the ride.

Chinh, Audrey and I as we take off down the river, a woman paddling behind Chinh in the boat.
Limestone karsts fill the area surrounding Tam Coc and Ninh Binh. The local goats call them home.
This is my dream retirement right here. Someday.
Stuart and Zach take the river in their own boat, fending off the hard sell by pointing out they were just kids. In the other boat, I got suckered into buying a t-shirt and table cloth.
Thumbs up for Tam Coc with friends and family!

Returning to Sam Son Beach

After more than nine weeks in Thanh Hoa, we finally returned to the beach that sits only 15 km away. I’m not sure what took us so long to get back there, but either way the situation was remedied. I had the middle of the week off, so on Wednesday morning we took a taxi out to the beach we’d visited so many times before.

Stuart and Zach collected shells, crabs and other “waste” from the fishing nets. When the boats come ashore, they clean out the nets and all sorts of things find their way onto the shore.

Including this fantastic horseshoe crab specimen. Audrey was especially appalled when some locals started playing with it, flipping it over, etc., but someone nicer came along and lifting it by its tail, threw it back out to sea.

Audrey and I on the rocks. We didn’t yet have the deep red glow we would acquire by the end of our three-hour visit to the beach. Ouch.

Audrey is always happy to pose for pictures–the cheesier, the better.

For a snack, I bought xoi (sticky rice) from this woman. I know I paid too much, but there are times when I feel like it’s worth it. She was so kind; she deserved the few extra VND.Eat xoi on the beach at Sam Son

Overall the trip was enjoyable. We were originally bombarded by sellers and children who would not leave us alone, but a few fellow sellers chased them off from us. It’s always an awkward situation to be trying to set up a beach spot and have people surrounding us, touching us and talking quickly in a language I do not understand. And despite our answers of “Khong…khong thich…di di” they just stay pushing their wares at us.

Then, of course, there was the man who was trying to let me accept a massage. I finally got him to leave, but when he returned the second time he just kept touching, squeezing my arm, then my leg, then grabbed a handhold on my breast. I nearly punched the guy, but managed to keep it to a hard shove. So frustrating.

The kids were all enjoying themselves and we’d rented an umbrella, so we stuck around longer than we should have and three days later, none of us are sleeping well due to the burns. Oops. We forgot our sunblock in Hanoi and the stuff is unfindable around here. The locals carry umbrellas and wear long-sleeves, what would they need it for? So, we all pay the price. But next time when I say we really should go, I’m pretty sure Audrey will be more apt to believe me.

Hitting the Arcade with the Kids

On Saturday afternoon we headed out to Vincom Towers to visit the arcade. You can imagine our disappointment when we arrived and the doors were locked, the room was empty. Of course there was a sign, but we couldn’t read it. Frustrated, we decided to walk around the mall and just happened to stumble upon the arcade.

Audrey at the Vincom Towers arcade
Audrey rode every simulated horse ride available. Surprisingly, there were several.

Stuart and Zach played all sorts of games, including (to my utter dismay) this shoot-'em-up selection..
Take note of the enormous breasts to the left of Stuart's head. I'd walked by them a dozen times before Audrey brought them to my attention. Behind us was a gigantic male torso, as well.

On our first night out as a foursome and for only the second time in all our months in Vietnam, a foot got run over by a motorbike. And of course, it was Zach’s foot.

Note the treadmarks over his toes. This would be the joy of Hanoi traffic.