Saturday, May 10, 2008

Day Nine in Vietnam: 21 May

AM: Visit to U.S. Embassy, NGO Resource Center to speak with NGOs about development in Vietnam
PM History museum, Hoa Lo prison, Water puppets show this evening.

A most fascinating and diverse list of activities for the day!

First off, we went to theUS Embassy in Hanoi. Passports were scrutinized, we went through security, and received a visitor's badge. The building we wnet into is not the main Embassy buiding, so it was guarded by local guards, not U.S. Marines. We talked with Ralph Falzone, a Foreign Service Officer at the Embassy. After a very interesting overview of his career path (including how difficult it is to pass the foreign service exam!) he gave us a short briefing on some of the main emphases of the work in Vietnam (the most significant being human rights and children's welfare). He said that due to some major abuses, adoption of Vietnamese children by Americans would probably be put on hiatus for at least two years. His own work was focused primarily on human rights. He was very personable and the Q and A was fascinating. I asked about child labor, and he said that in the villages it is very hard to regulate, mainly because so many children work on the farms, and sell trinkets to tourists. All too soon we had to leave.

The next spot was a visit to talk with two NGO (non-governmental organization) workers, Andrew, working with Catholic Relief Services, and Ted, with Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, both of whom have been in Vietnam for about ten years. Of course, they are not allowed to address faith-based issues, but they do valuable work in improving the lives of the Vietnamese through health education and other programs. Check out the links for more info.

After lunch,we went to the history museum, which was rather a disappointment, as most of the emphasis was on prehistory, and most of the later historical exhibits were heavy on (non-translated) texts and not so much on individuals. (For example, I'd like to have seen more emphasis placed on Hai Ba Trung, the two sisters who launched a rebellion against the Chinese in the first century AD.) But there were some superb bells on display, as well as another massive stele on an equally massive turtle (symbol of longevity)

Later on, a tourist activity sine qua non: the Water Puppets (in Vietnamese "Múa rối nước. We poured into the Water Puppet Theatre Than Long with about 2 million other tourists and crammed our bodies into the very tight seating (obviously not designed to Western proportions!) The loudspeaker gave a brief intro in Vietnamese, English, and French, and the band of traditional Vietnamese instruments gave a short number to begin.

What are water puppets, you ask? Good question. They are (usually wooden) puppets that float on the surface of a submerged stage, and are manipulated by means of very long poles by artists behind a curtain. The movements are very intricate. Each separate piece or story (which deal with life in the village, nature, episodes in the life at the royal court) is accompanied with music and sometimes an explanatory song (in Vietnamese). It was quite entertaining but I couldn't really see myself going back for was good to experience it once.

Here is a link--I can't make the embed work.


Padre Mickey said...

Yay! Photos! I'm really enjoying reading your posts about your trip. It was great to have you drop by the Dance Party Saturday morning. I put up a link to your posts earlier in the week, because I think everyone should be reading about your experiences.

Keep 'em comin'!

FranIAm said...

Yes - this is all so extraordinary. It would be a great trip to begin with, but through your eyes, it is very special indeed.