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Posted by on Oct 18, 2014 in Vietnam | 0 comments

Random ramblings from the JS in HP

Dawn has done such a great job of taking on this blog and making it come to life (she does have a way of making everything a little bit livelier and better), that I have neglected to write. True, I have immersed myself in my work and it is very time consuming with so much to do and so much to learn. That said I love to write so I can’t go for very long without at least contributing some words of wisdom, or more often the case with me… random words sometime lacking in wisdom.

Let’s see where to start my randomness, ah yes of course….

So, so, so, so glad that my friend and partner is with me now; it’s been a total of almost 5 months that I’ve been here and having her here the last 3 has made this such an incredible experience. There is nothing like sharing an adventure with the one you  love. So thank you my love for making this journey so much more enjoyable.

Work, finally after almost 5 months we got all our government (both national and provincial) approvals, so we are officially in business. I was able to get an office and hire my assistant & translator (Nhung); and now I can conduct my research and hold my meetings without wondering if I’m doing more than I should be doing (which I am sure I was). Now it’s full speed ahead on surveying business and meeting with government officials etc. I have to say, almost everyone to a person has been so open and willing to help, and very interested in the project. I have met hundreds of business people, dozens of government officials and other non-profit individuals, volunteers and just countless nice people everywhere. I have been able to recruit 8 Vietnamese trainers that will help me conduct the training classes and workshops. These are volunteers, all with jobs and families, that want to give back to their community and want the chance to work in an area (climate change), they all understand is especially critical to their city, and their country.

In many cases the kindness and attention has been somewhat overwhelming. I know that much of it is due to the face that we are different… we are two of maybe a handful or less of Americans in a sea of Vietnamese, so we standout. But even beyond that the genuine outpouring of kindness and generosity shown to us has been incredible.

Other random observations…

The weather is finally cooling off… slowly. From the oven at 90 plus degrees and almost always matching humidity to the mid 80s and diminished humidity… oh what a relief to be able to sit out on the balcony with a glass of wine and a good cigar and get beaten down consistently at Rummy by my non-competitive wife. Now with cooler weather we will have to walk more and with Dawn getting a bike soon we will be doing even more exploring and conquering the outskirts, the hillsides and smaller villages of the province and beyond.

The food; I will just say this… it is both very good and also very interesting; and what we are not sure of, we don’t eat. Not so big on the goat, duck and frog, or the little shrimp that are still alive when you eat them. Well unless we have had too much rice wine.

Traffic here still fascinates me (probably because it is in your face all most all of the time)… the precarious harmony that exists between pedestrians, cyclists, motorbikes, cars and big trucks and the constant danger and fear that you are going to be a witness or be involved in an accident. Also the strange (to us) driving customs, the noise (constant blaring of horns), constant near misses, and on and on… crazy stuff for sure

Let’s see what else…well there are some pet peeves but when I think about it, I realize that all of the minor annoyances don’t amount to a whole lot. In fact they are quite trivial in the larger scheme of things. You are afforded the opportunity of a lifetime (even if its on the other side of the world in a developing country), and you make the most of it. Naturally we, miss so much of life in the states but…we are enjoying a life re-imagined.

So the journey continues….enjoy it with us!

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Posted by on Oct 16, 2014 in Travel, Vietnam | 0 comments

Truong Khiem Thi – the School for the Blind in Hai Phong

Today I had the opportunity to visit the Blind School, Truong Khiem Thi in Hai Phong. I had heard of the Blind School before as KidsWithout Borders has supported them in the past.  Kids Without Borders is a non-profit based in Sammamish, Washington that both my husband and I have been involved with for several years. 

I will warn you – at the end of this post there is an ask. Ignore that for now and enjoy the photos – pictures tell a thousand words so I thought I would let the pictures tell most of the story.

This young lady is in Art Class – she is “feeling” the wax from the crayon on the paper so she can draw her picture.

 These students are reading. Not all of the students at this school are blind.  Many can see but are at the school because of other disabilities such as Down Syndrome. 

The children learn many things at school, including how to dress themselves.  This young man was getting help learning how to put on a pair shorts.  I don’t know how many times I put my pants on backwards, and I can see the label.  There are many things for these youngsters to learn.

Another art class for students who can see – I have so many pictures of this young lady, she is such a ham. A ham with a beautiful smile.

The beds for the live-in students.  I had a hard time adjusting to my Vietnamese bed, but it is far softer by comparison to what most Vietnamese are used to.  The rooms were simple but very, very clean and neat.

 Another important life skill, especially in Vietnam – washing your feet and your sandals.  

Our visit to the kitchen.  Today’s lunch was thit lon (pork) and lots of rice and vegies.  It smelled so good. I don’t know why I am always so hungry here, but I am.  No wonder I haven’t lost 10 pounds like John has.

Back at the computer lab.  The students listen to what they have typed to hear if they have done it correctly.  One of the items that the headmaster was asking for was better software for the students.  I am hoping one of our techie friends can help me with some suggestions.

One of the teachers is a former student – here he is helping this young lady with the game she is playing.  The screen doesn’t matter to them, it is the sounds.  We were surprised that they didn’t have any headphones – but then I noticed the very worn ones on the computer in the photo below.  I don’t know if you can see the frayed wires taped back together.

As always, the “official” photo. Us ladies are in the back and then left to right on the bottom row is the headmaster from the Blind School Mr. Nguyen Van Chuyen, the headmaster from QSI International School in Haiphong, Dr. Maynard Yutzy (from Kansas) and Ms. Cuc from the Blind School 

The Blind School of Hai Phong was established in 1991.  They currently have 136 children.  Of the 136, 17 are younger children who the teachers visit at their homes for a home study and 22 are being supported as they move onto secondary school. Which leaves 97 who are currently attending classes at the school. Of the 97 students 39 live at the school full time. For the live in students it costs about $1,000,000 VND or $50 to house them.  The government covers almost 50% of the monthly fees.  The rest is paid by the families, or the teachers who go to businesses asking for supplies and funding for the students whose parents can’t afford to pay for the tuition. 

One of the things that really bothered me was only the brightest students go on to secondary school.  They go to a “normal” high school. The others are left to go home after primary without much to look forward to.

One of the programs of Kids Without Borders is the Teach Me Fish Program.  This program helps to provide training so that disadvantage youth don’t have to depend on others for help for the rest of their lives.  This works well with what the ask is for the Blind School.  We are hoping to raise $4000 to pay for speakers. It turns out that many of these students are musically gifted.  With the speakers the students are able to offer more recitals, which allow for the school to share their work and often results in extra funding. Also, by encouraging the children to learn music, they are learning a skill which they can use to support themselves with after graduating from school.  

There are not many opportunities yet in Vietnam for anyone with disabilities, but that continues to change. Vietnam is slowing moving from a developing country into a developed country, although it still has a long way to go.  The gift of education and the opportunity to learn a valuable skill makes such a difference here, and it is usually quite affordable to change someone’s life.  

Kids Without Borders has offered to help with the fundraising.  If you are able to donate any amount towards the speakers please go to for a tax dedicutable donation. Put Blind School Project in the designation section.   The drive ends in just a couple of weeks, so please don’t wait too long.  Also – if you know of any organization that has developed software for blind students, please send me the link.  

We will also have a fundraiser here, probably at our house.  Let me know if you are going to be in the area and I will be sure to get you an invitation.  
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Posted by on Oct 3, 2014 in Vietnam | 0 comments

Going to School in the US

October 3, 2014

One thing I find very surprising is that families in Viet Nam who can afford it send their children to high school in the US. They want to be able to send their children to a good college in the US and hope that by getting a good US high school education they will be able to get into a good US college.
Starting salary for a college graduate in Hai Phong is $300 a month, so I can’t imagine how a long it takes for a family to make enough, or save enough, to send their child away to high school and/or college.  I know it isn’t easy.  Beside the financial burden the students have a lot of pressure on them here. Most go to school 6 or even 7 days a week.  Once they make the commitment they need to apply, get accepted, and then have an interview with the government. I believe this is to ensure that they plan on returning to Viet Nam after their education.  Then the US government and/or schools insist on the families showing proof that they have enough money in savings to pay for a year (or more) for their students. 
There are approximately 820,000 international college students in the US, 2% of those are from Viet Nam.  China, followed by India and South Korea make up 49% of the international students in the US.  International Students contribute more than $24 billion dollars to the US economy each year. For comparison 283,000 students from the US study abroad.  In The last 10 years the number of international high school students have grown from 16,000 to over 73,000. Most international students (95%) attend private schools which has helped the declining enrollment from local students.
We were introduced to this when we had our international students live with us for 2 years when we lived in Bellevue.  Wesley, Dephanie, and then a few month later, Dorophy moved in. Having them a part of our family added to our lives, and made the transition much easier for us to move here.  I am sure they thought we were crazy to leave the US to live in Viet Nam, and in Hai Phong of all places.  All three had been in the US at least a year before living with us, so their English was very good and they were accustomed to our culture. 
Last week we were introduced to Minh and Tien by Chi, who has become a good friend of ours.  Chi had volunteered to help John translate before he hired Ms. Nhung.  She had studied in both France and Finland and is now looking for a job in Hai Phong.  The boys she introduced us to are hoping to attend school in the US.  Both boys are very shy and only 15.  The families have a friend who suggested that the boys go to a Christian school in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Oh all the places in the US to go, to Tulsa seems like a stretch for these two young men.  As a mom I can’t imagine sending my 15 year old that far away, especially if I knew what Tulsa, Oklahoma looked like.  Even if I lived in the US I wouldn’t send my 15 year old to Tulsa to live with a strange family. I shouldn’t blast Tulsa as I have never been there and I am sure it is a great place to live,  
Minh, Tien and Che
Part of the reason is the cost of living.  Oklahoma is far more reasonable than a place like Seattle.  Living expenses plus the cost of school quickly add up.  The budget for these two boys is $20,000 to $25,000 per year.  Quite a sacrifice for their families.  When you understand the way of life here it is easier to see how they can save.  Life is much simpler.  You don’t need a lot of “stuff”.   You don’t need more than a couple of pots and pans, there is no need for extra sets of dishes, or furniture. I haven’t seen “collectables” in any of the houses I have been in. 
In comparing the cost of living in Hai Phong to the US – a street dinner here is usually less than $2, and dinner at a restaurant not much more.  When we welcomed Ms. Nhung, John’s assistant with Peace Winds, we spent under $10 for dinner, plus beer for all three. Of course we could of taken her out for a nicer dinner than street food.  Most families don’t have a car although they have a motorbike or two.  A taxi ride is about $2-$3 anywhere we want to go in Hai Phong. 3g for the phone is about $3 a month, garbage collection, $3 a month.  We pay about the same as we did in the US for rent.  A apartment runs about $1900 a month.  You can find cheaper but not in a safe area or with air conditioning. Our electricity bill is high – $200 a month, but we run the A/C all the time.  Most of the families here don’t us A/C.  Our food bill is easily under $100 a week, and would be cheaper if I didn’t buy wine.  Clothes are much cheaper, although I think they do spend extra money on clothes here, especially the ladies.  Because of the heat I dress very simply and am very sadly out of style.  The ladies are always dressed up and manage their motorbikes in their lovely dresses and high heels. Even our housecleaners arrive for duty on their motorbikes in high heels, which they kick off to clean.
High heels and motorbikes

Back to Minh and Tien, we will be spending some time with these two young men over the next month or two, helping them prepare for their interview and helping them select a school.  Thanks to technology if they decide to go to Tulsa I am sure I can find a way to contact parents at the school and help pave the way.  I know it will make us feel better to know they are in a good place. I am so glad that boarding school has gone the wayside, at least for most of us.
What’s Next/ What Else?

As I said earlier, John has finally had all of the sign off’s by the Viet Nam government, both nationally and locally.  He found an office, bought furniture and office equipment, hired his assistant/translator and moved in this week. 

We had a delightful dinner provided by the Viet Nam Chamber of Commerce English Class.  I invited them to our home for one of the classes and they insisted on a BBQ, which included bringing portable BBQ;s on their motorbikes. It was something to see; they arrived together on their bikes, set up the BBQ, cooked dinner and we ended up eating, teaching and singing.  Then they cleaned everything up and off they went.  Another very easy party at our home provided by our Vietnamese friends.  
Dinner with VCCI English Class
I have added two more students.  A wonderful sweet three year old and a young college man who befriended us in town.  I have found a dear friend who runs the QSI International School in Hai Phong and Hanoi who has promised to help me find a job and we are enjoying the company and help of Nhung who has become so much more than John’s assistant as she helps us learn Vietnamese, buy 3g for our phones, negotiate the return of a lost/stolen mobile phone (John’s) that was being held for ransom and everything else that we have a hard time figuring out for ourselves.  
Dinner with Nhung 

Oh – and we survived another typhoon
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