Thursday, 25 December 2008

Week 34 - The end... Da Nang, Da Lat & Saigon

Hey everybody, excuse the lateness of this week’s blog, but I’m sure everyone is well and truly busy with Christmas preparations anyway!
It’s December 23rd, and I’m sat on a bus from Da Lat, to Ho Chi Minh city (Saigon) before flying home tomorrow. It’s been so hot here in Da Lat the last 4 days that I have been sun burnt, a very funny thing for me at this time of year! These last 9 days have certainly offered plenty of entertainment, emotion and true Vietnamese hospitality, that It will make my departure tomorrow even more sad than it would have been just a week ago.

I had to finish up at the wonderful Hospital C rehabilitation department, with a presentation of what I have tried to do, and to complete an application for funding to return next year. In between the report writing, there was ‘end of day’ dance lessons in salsa for the staff, lunchtime drinking, and on the last day the department looked more like a restaurant with tables full of food as a ‘thanks to myself and Virginia (American physiotherapist). This week also saw a second invitation to one of my colleagues homes for lunch with his family – not for any special reason, just to be nice. Perhaps I should have not been surprised to find mountains of tasty food, and the entire family (in-laws included) there waiting. Whilst the food was being prepared my colleague, who also happens to be a great singer, dancer and handyman, helped me to make some more equipment for the hospital –an all action lunch!
Saying goodbye was tough, and especially with my trainee (Hoai) and my brilliant translator (Nga). I wanted to get them a little gift to say thanks for their hard work over the last month, so I thought I’d get a photo of us printed off, and bought a small little frame... the reason I mention this is because in the process of doing this I got to see the well most commonly used computer tool in Vietnam (in my opinion)... PHOTOSHOP!!!
I took my USB with the 2 photos I wanted to print to the photo shop and in this little shop I saw 2 guys sat at quite old looking computers making the tiniest detailed changes to people’s photographs. If you see almost any photograph on display here in Vietnam, be it wedding photos, family portraits, or even just ordinary pictures with friends, everybody looks perfect... i mean, no spots, no wrinkles, not dark patches, NOTHING!!! The guy almost fainted when I told him i just wanted him to print my pictures, without him making any changes... The look on the guy’s face suggested that the idea that I wanted a less than perfect looking picture seemed like I had just asked this guy to give up rice and noodles for a month! Still, he eventually gave in and printed my pictures as I requested. This all took about 1 minute!!! Un-bloody-believable! I payed just 6,000 dong (20pence) for this service, and as I drove away I could see the guy returning to a more time consuming task of making a rather unfortunate looking woman (who had just entered the shop), look like Miss Vietnam, on all of her 100 holiday pictures!

The last four days of my time here in Vietnam have been spent in the beautiful ‘honeymoon’ destination of Da Lat. I could talk all day about this beautiful place, with names of tourist places including, ‘Dreaming Hill’ and my personal favourite the ‘Valley of Love’. The nearby Lanbiang mountain, the flower garden, and Prenn waterfalls - with its three pagoda’s in the hillside are also must see places to visit. This weekend just happened to be one almighty festival with songs, dances, flower stalls and all manner of exhibitions going on, just to add to the fun! The hotel I stayed in also deserves a mention for being so nice, and empty! I had a different breakfast every morning, not at my request, but simply because they served what they happened to have in stock! The place was a little walk (20mins) from the town centre, but a perfect location to avoid the tourist trade! With bicycles available for rent (but mostly tandem bikes) I would have to recommend hiring a motorcycle as the traffic is light and all the places of interest become easily accessible! This place as the pictures show, is well worth a visit, and a great way for me to end my time in Vietnam!














So onto the ‘big smoke’ of Saigon and a dinner with four of my friends from Hoi An, John, Michelle, Eri and Vy, another stroke of luck with us all being in Saigon by chance! Here are some picures from my last night in Vietnam, the Xmas lights of Saigon. (with my Japanese friend - Eri)







I hope you have all enjoyed reading this blog! I’ve enjoyed writing it, and remembering the quite bizarre life I have led here over the past 8 months!

Singapore Airlines even offered a festive goodbye as the airline staff sang carols and offered all the passengers on the flight from Saigon - Singapore.. have a look for yourself!
video
Regards from Vietnam
Dan

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Week 33 - Dressing a Buddhist Monk & a TV appearence!

Hello Everybody!


There have been times here in Vietnam when life has surprised me, and there have been times when I have surprised myself becoming accustomed to the way of life here. This week both of these statements have been true of my daily life.

Work at the hospital has continued to be challenging both from a cultural and professional perspective. (With only four working days let until I finish at the hospital, I have yet to complete the training of my trainee, my evaluation and summary reports, and write a proposal for funding for next year. A busy week lies ahead.) Still there has been plenty of adventure and incident to keep me going both in and outside of the hospital. As you can see from the picture and title above, one of our patients at the hospital is a monk, and we had very interesting 'dressing' session with him this week. He was trying to explain the kind of thing he is required to wear at the pagoda, now not being a Buddhist myself, I really had no idea what exactly his traditional dress would entail, so the only way we could figure out exactly how we could help him was to see the clothes ourselves. We have supported this man to dress independently though I soon I realised that he actually needed assistants, before his illness, to wear the second piece of religious clothing.. a useful piece of information, before I had him starting an impossible task!





The physiotherapy students that have been on placement have now left, and we will get a new bunch starting tomorrow morning. The previous bunch were an interesting and inquisitive lot, and were receptive to being grabbed for many of my demonstrations, so in tribute to them, here's a picture of them all!



The hospital staff have not been spared from having to participate in some of my demonstrations, and so in fairness to my volunteers for the 'patient stroke empathy' discussion we had last week, here is what they were required to do in the name of professionalism....



Now you may think I've been a touch cruel to use volunteers, but just to show that I am not just saving myself some embarrassment, here is my attempts to figure out how we could use household implements to help an upper limb amputee pull up her pants after using the toilet...

So to more social matters, Monday night was fun as I visited a cafe with live violin and guitar music played for a n hour or so, at my favourite cafe (KATYNAT). The only odd thing was the decision to have 'Mr Bean' playing in the background on the TV! Most people were indeed watching the 'Mr Bean' episode! Thursday turned out to be a very memorable day as not only did my motorbike engine stop dead, in the middle of morning rush hour traffic, but I had to return to Hoi An and my former employers CHIA (childrens hope in action). The action started just 600 yards from my house as my bike just cut out, and after a very quick prayer to help me drift across the crazy traffic to the pavement I found myself pushing my bike back to the house, where the local bike shop then spent one hour solidly trying to find and fix the problem. After one hour's work and with my ignition switch now completely unusable ( kick start lever to start the engine now), the guy charged me a shocking 20,000 dong, - shocking because that is the equivalent to 66pence for all the work... mechanics around the world take note!!!!, With my bike in tact, I headed to Hoi An for the afternoon and un beknown to me - my TV debut. My former employer was accepting a very generous donation from Nokia, so there was a handing over and placque unveiling ceremony, which had a local Vietnamese TV crew present. The very next day after returning from lunch, one of my colleagues at the hospital told me he had just seen me on TV, on a local news station! No speaking part but hey, TV is TV right?



I headed back to Hoi An this weekend too for my final goodbyes to my neighbours there, and some watery goodbyes. I say watery as the beer kept on flowing and I was ready for sleeping by 9pm Saturday night! Here are some of the farewells....


I must just quickly mention my day today, because after a breakfast goodbye with Miss Lai and Thuy in Hoi An, and a walk on the beach, I headed back home to Da Nang, but didn't even have chance to get back to the house, as I was met at the hospital by three male colleagues who took me out for beers and lunch. We were soon joined by some other colleagues including Miss Huong, which led to only one thing... yeah, karaoke! It was almost 6pm before I finally got back to home to relax. Just another typical day in Vietnam!

The idea I'll be home in 10 days just seems very unreal to me right now...
Regards from Vietnam
Dan

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Week 32 - Down to business under grey skies!

Hello everybody,
This week I'd like to focus a little bit on some of the professional challenges I face working in Vietnam, where ready-made equipment (which can be a large part of me work in a hospital setting) - is not available. My American physiotherapy colleague (Virginia Lockett) has been a real inspiration for me when it comes to thinking about using local resources to make equipment. So I'd like to share a little of my work experience with you. Of course no weekly report is complete without the mention of a few social excursions, which I'll get to a little later!

The major event of the week has been my clumsiness as I dropped my lap top on Friday night and have broken my screen, which I just about continue to use, and hope it doesn't completely break before I get home to repair it!

So to work, and here is a picture of my really fantastic translator Nga, who is my life line here in this job.... Even with some of the staff speaking very good English, my trainee does not speak enough English to allow for in depth communication. But I must praise Nga here because it's her ability to make the patients feel at ease that really allows me to get the information I need. So thank you Nga! She also looks after her young baby, and has been taking exams after studying! So to some of the little bits and pieces that I have been working on. Firstly we have many patients who have suffered from strokes (CVA), so they have problems with one side of their body, including weakness, paralysis, or other complex difficulties. We also have patients who have had serious road traffic accidents on their motorbikes and have badly damaged arms and hands. You can imagine some of the difficulties people have if you can only use one hand or arm, and especially for some women here who are trying to prepare food, or dress (bra's!), it's a real problem. In England there is ready made equipment to help with these kind of problems, but in Vietnam these things don't exist, the materials are not readily available and to have equipment copied or made is an expense that neither the hospitals or patients can afford. So it's a case of sitting down and trying to think of ways in which you can use everyday objects to create the kind of equipment you need. I have used 3 chopsticks taped together as a temporary 'dressing stick' but how to help two women that said they could not cut or peel food when preparing a meal, provided a tough challenge. As my planned trip to Hue got rained off, I took off round the markets with my friend Thao, who ensured I didn't get ripped off too much, and we found some useful stuff to experiment with. The barbecue tongues are replacement dressing aids, as instead of using a helping hand ( grabber / pick up stick ), the patient can now reach down to dress their lower half, and the edges of the tongues are rounded to ensure materials don't get ripped... To be honest, most people can squat and have such flexible hips that they can always bend down to dress, but if their balance or strength is affected then they need extra reach on occasion.

The self made peeler was an idea that we concocted yesterday. The clamp design (clamp a peeler blade to a table top) you see in the UK and US was no good because people mostly prepare their food on the floor here, even thought they may cook it on a stove on a higher surface. This explains why people who have the use of only one arm, open jars by holding the jars with their feet or legs, and turn the top with their one good hand! So fixing a peeler to a plastic bowl, was not only cheap and cheerful (30,000 dong - £1/$2), but culturally adaptable... I must say though, that this is just test model and we'll see the results of the tests later this week. Attaching the peeler to the bowls (different shaped bowls with different depths will help us determine what shape & strength bowl is best for this activity), was fun as we used the as stove in my friends kitchen to heat a screw driver to burn into the plastic!! Awesome... I must admit I like to think of ideas for this kind of stuff, but people here really have the ability to just have a go at the actual making of this kind of thing!
To one more story of sheer brilliant invention by a Vietnamese physiotherapist working at a different hospital. A patient suffered a horrific work accident where an industrial saw cut off one of her arms, and badly damaged the other, leaving her with movement only at the shoulder joint. Staff were keen for her to be able to at least try and use the full arm, but with almost no movement below the shoulder this would be difficult. A few different ideas were tried, including making a plaster cast splint with an attached spoon, see below...











It was this second idea that was just brilliant! The straps are just normal Velcro type material, which straps to the arm, and the gray material is just ordinary plastic piping, that has been burned, cut and reshapes, with one solitary screw and bolt to hold it. The spoon is held in place by a standard universal cuff... (Velcro strap) which sits on the fingers.... simple genius!!!! The elastic band was designed to give some element of control via weight of the arm, to stop the patient hitting flinging the spoon around... and the end result was... see below...
I hope this gives you a brief taste of the kind of challenges we (therapy workers & patients) face here in this kind of setting!

To more social matters, the beginning part of my week began with a bang.. or should I say song as both Monday and Tuesday night I found myself at a Karaoke club, firstly with my neighbour from Hoi An, (Yen) and her student room mates from the University of Da Nang, female hall of residents. No pictures available thankfully, as though I assure you all the girls were between 19-21 they look younger and nobody wants Interpol chasing them eh!
Tuesday night was with my new colleagues from the hospital - karaoke is really the only way to get to know your colleagues here!!! So after more renditions of the usual numbers, and the Beatles 'Hard Days Night' the night ended, here are some snaps...
One more thing to mention, on Wednesday lunchtime I got invited to a wedding.. yeah at lunch time.. I know.. so 4 of us left work at lunch well 11:15, and were soon stood outside a very posh restaurant indeed, the groom was clearly a rich man (doctor from the hospital), everyone was wearing suits.. I had sandals and jeans on! Very different form the weddings I saw in Hoi an, where people were sat around on plastic chairs drinking and having fun, loud fun!!! Here everyone was seated at fancy decorated tables, there was music, lights, dancers, and even indoor fireworks! it was like watching a West-end show, not being at a wedding! really unreal! Several courses of food were served as the wedding party moved around the hall, before people paid tribute to the wedded couple by singing on stage.. honestly... It was quite surreal. People had already handed their money envelopes in on the way in as is customary here! enjoy a couple of pics below...




Ok, I promise this is the last thing I will say! Yesterday when I was coming back from the markets to my friend's place I was driving my motorbike with my friend on the back. When we got back to my friend's house and I went to turn off my motorbike engine, the keys were not in the engine, I know I know... I didn't realise the bike could still run with no keys, but here it was, and after retracing the short journey from the market I couldn't see the keys anywhere!!! Oh crap I thought!! what could I do??? The answer was surprisingly easy and worrying, at the same time. Just a few houses down the road was a shop that simply made me a new set of keys for the bike. They didn't have a key to copy to make a new key, they just looked at my bike, and within 5 minutes I has new keys! Phew I thought, but then I though if it was so easy to go and get keys made for a motorbike, then surely it's a bit easy to steal stuff... I jokingly asked if they could make keys for the passing Ferrari! (just kidding!).

Ok that's it I promise!

Regards from Vietnam

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Week 31 - Kettles, washing lines & an 8 yr old's birthday party!

Hello everybody,
Well so much has happened this week, that is both interesting and funny that it's hard to exclude any of the events of the week. I'll try and stick to the things that will hopefully offer everybody an insight into working in a Vietnamese hospital. Firstly, below is the Hospital...
So Monday 24th November, at 0730 I began my month's work at the very welcoming 'Hospital C' Rehabilitation department in Da Nang. As I mentioned at the end of last week's blog, I had battled the an entire colony of ants the night before, and after overcoming that battle, I was then faced with sleeping on a very Vietnamese style bed - solid wood, no mattress! I was fortunate enough to have a pillow, and a fairly thick blanket, not to keep me warm, but to protect my hips from severe bruising! Needles to say I woke up with a failry stiff neck, back and hips. Not exactly what I was hoping for, but I was soon able to forget all about the bed, as I realised with no kettle, I would have to wait until the rice maker could boil water.. and there was not enough time for such a process! ( I went straight to the supermarket after work to buy a kettle!). I was soon sat astride my colleague's very large scooter (motorbike) that really wanted to test my patience as the engine liked to cut out any time I stopped withing the first 100 yards of starting it! This was also my first, (and very wet) experience of driving in a the rush hour traffic... ok, it's not quite Saigon or Hanoi, but Da Nang is Vietnam's 3rd largest city, and let me tell you, there are literally thousands of motorbikes driving around in the morning! It felt like the entire city was going to the same place I was. A good 20 minutes later I had somehow navigated my way to work, and I had parked my 'monster scooter' in the car... sorry 'bike park', and was walking into my new department. I was greeted by a sea of (22) smiling faces (and 8 physiotherapy students), and after a brief meeting, I was shown to my little OT (occupational therapy) room, with full view into the main physiotherapy clinic area. My OT in training staff member Hoai, was already preparing me some 'English tea', and I thought hey, "I'm going to like it here!" I was then presented with my own 'white coat' see picture below... (Me & Hoai)
Lunch was very kindly provided by staff members, for me for the first 2 days, but it was the after lunch activity that almost had me questioning my decision to take the job! So after a nice 'take-out' style rice, chicken, veg etc... I was ushered to the main room, where already there were three women (staff members) lay on the plinths, (a place where a patient lies on to receive treatment), covered in sheets sleeping! I was shown to a plinth and told to take a sleep... well, ok, I have been in this situation in stranger's houses here, but not in a work setting, and not on my first day.. so there I found myself sleeping with five female colleagues on my first day of work! Lucky you may think, but I assure you I was just worrying what they would think if the awoke, to found me either snoring or dribbling!!!! (no that I do snore of dribble... I was just thinking there's always a first time!) I was woken by one of the physiotherapists shaking me, and telling me I must return to work! This was quite a surreal moment, as when I was woken, I just saw this unfamiliar face, I couldn't really focus properly as there seemed to be big bright white lights everywhere! I though they might have smuggled me into some kind of strange laboratory! It's certainly one way to get to know your colleagues!!! I'd advocate a 2 hour lunch to anyone!!!!

Wednesday I had to present to the department, about my role at the hospital, this proved to be a tricky task, not simply because of the very short notice I had to prepare, but also trying to describe the concepts of Occupational Therapy, via translation, and to a professional audience, of whom some had never heard of my job. I spent as much time trying to find interesting pictures and make culturally acceptable jokes, that would not be 'lost in translation'. I must say my wonderful wonderful translator (Nga), made this process easier, and there was only one point where I found myself quietly chuckling to myself, at on of my funny comments, though no one else in the room had the slightest smile on their face! (My University lecturers told me off about trying to funny in presentations...) here's proof of the event!
Many of the patients I'm seeing at the hospital are stroke victims, or people who have had motorcycle accidents, and had major trauma. I have already met two women, who were involved in motorcycle accidents, and whose husband/boyfriend died in the accident. It's quite tragic, but with motorcycles the preferred form of transport here, it's not exactly surprising to find this situation. I want to mention just a little about the life of a patient and family member in a hospital here. The building itself is quite nice and clean, but the sight that greets me every morning is one that saddens me. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, here there is no nursing care to provide food, wash and dress the patient, or feed and toilet a patient if required. A family member/friend is expected to do this. So family members must basically live at the hospital, like the patient does. Sometimes the family member may well share the bed with the sick person. The other option is to take some kind of fold up bed, or sleep on waiting area chairs, and this is something I see each morning as I make my way to the rehabilitation department - families of patients sleeping, or just waking up after spending yet another night in the hospital waiting area, (which is not sheltered from the outdoors). I have seen a couple huddled together in a little bed under a stairwell, and it certainly explains the pieces of women's underwear I have seen drying in any of the toilets I have used at the hospital. It really can be a different world here! Oh and don't forget, you pay for your health care and stay in the hospital here!!!

On to more pleasant tales, Saturday afternoon saw young Khoa have his 8th birthday party. His adopted mum had invited us, well actually he probably invited us, he often joins his mum on some of our social outings!!! So we know him pretty well. Some of the other kids from the orphanage joined the rather large gathering at a local restaurant in Hoi An to celebrate. The highlight of the party, apart from the karaoke, and present opening... was the 'pin the tail on the water buffalo' game, though sadly for me adults were not invited to play! here are some of the key highlights of the afternoon!
Oh just one more quick story... as I was trying to explain to some staff at the hospital why we needed to ask a women who only had the use of one arm, what problems she might have whilst trying to dress herself, it became obvious that putting a bra on, would be quite a tough thing to do with one hand. So we had a quick brainstorming session about how this could be achieved, this required some practical demonstration! (Much to the amusement of my new colleagues!) See below...
Ok it's time for sleeping on my hard wooden bed!!!
Night
Regards from Vietnam
Dan

Monday, 24 November 2008

Week 30 - Leaving Hoi An

Ok folks, the title says it all!
I'm writing this blog entry from my new house in Da Nang City after my very interesting first day at Hospital 'C'. I'll write more about that next week...
Despite the amazing time I have had here, I have never really felt as part of the local community as I did in Romania, so I wasn't expecting to have felt such sadness at leaving Hoi An, especially as I was not leaving Vietnam, and so I'd be seeing most people again. However, as I'm about to describe, the week long party that accompanied my departure (that doesn't sound how I wanted it to), included street food, karaoke, a house party, drinking sessions and even salsa dancing!
Monday and Tuesday were filled with busy days at work and casual drinks after work, Wednesday was the start of the party process as it was my official CHIA (work) leaving party. In true CHIA style the staff took us to a 'street food' cafe, with possibly the smallest plastic chairs I have yet to see in the whole of Vietnam. With my knees closer to my neck then they have been since the day I was born, I began to think that even Snow White's dwarfs would end up with 7 displaced hips after sitting this low for too long! The heavy rains made sure the small makeshift shelter that we sat under was stretched to it's potential.
As we finished our meal, we were joined by Vi, worker from the orphanage, who arrived like a knight in shining armour... I describe her this way not because she was riding a horse or wearing a ridiculous outfit, but because my bicycle front tire was as flat as a Dutch mountain, and Vi let me leave my bicycle at her office before driving me to the main event of the evening- Karaoke. Now my Vietnamese colleagues, as reserved and 'shy' as they can sometimes be, become like 'wanna be pop stars' when they get a chance to grab that microphone and sing their hearts out! We were not disappointed on this occasion as the pictures show... my own renditions of "I'm a Believer" and of course Copacabana got reasonably high scored (deservedly so I thought!)


Thursday evening, was a more relaxed affair at my home, as the NGO (non-government organisations) and the volunteering community, rocked up with plenty of alcohol to say bye, far too much alcohol! As you can see from the many pictures below, a good time was had by all, including little Khoa, who liked to play DJ with my Itunes music! though this consisted of him changing a song every 10 seconds.... much to the delight of the party guests!
Friday night turned out to be yet another surprisingly drink filled evening as the volunteers met as per usual at 'Treats' bar, and said further farewells to Julia & Seth (volunteers from the orphanage). After 20 of us managed to wangle some free french fries, as is now customary, myself Seth, Eri and Zoe (niece of Pete - yeah you guessed it - a volunteer) got down to some serious pool playing... well I say serious in terms of the faces we were making as we missed easy shot after easy shot... After excelling at pool, and in time to get another soaking from the latest monsoon rains storm, we headed to the salsa bar to where unbelievably there were actually people dancing salsa. The only other time in 6 months that people have been actually salsaing was in my first week, so it was kind of ironic to have this happen again in my last week! After dancing with anyone that would have me.. Eri, Julia, Zoe, Carmel, and the south American looking barmaid, who is an excellent dancer, the salsa was replaced with the most random songs. Seth (American) and Zoe (Australian) treated us to a classic dance interpretation of the song 'whip it, whip it real good', whilst I led the finale number - the Y.M.C.A
(luckily for me I don't have access to any photo's from that night so below is more pictures from the previous two nights - Me with miss Lai)
Saturday was my day of packing and cleaning, though it did not turn out that way, after a very hearty 'Cargo' breakfast I strolled back to my home, and was invited into my neighbour's place (Cafe 43), to have a beer and chat. After an hour or so, and a full washing machine cycle later, I returned to cafe 43 to eat this time, before finally getting into my room to begin packing. Not long afterwards my friend Phuc, from the neighbouring hotel (Phuc An) is outside my home with his motorbike engine running.... Unable to refuse another invitation of drinks, we travelled all of the fifty yards down the road (on the motorbike), before stopping at a local food place on my street. We were joined by the driver of the car from the hotel, and another man. Way too many beers later I had been offered a free ride to my new house in Da Nang by the hotel car driver, as he was taking some guests into the city at the time... bargain!!! I wondered at what point he was going to stop drinking? When asking to use the 'bathroom' at this place I was directed to walk past the old woman washing up the plates I had just used, and into a very poorly concealed urinal... now I know men here will just stop anywhere to pee - day or night you will see some guy with his back to you just 'going for gold'.... but still, I was at a cafe here, I didn't want to be sharing this private moment with my neighbours and their friends, still when in Rome and all that... so I just smiled to anyone that was unfortunate to be looking my way as I managed pass some of the beer from my bladder!
Needless to say I woke up on Sunday with a stinking hangover, and a trip to the bathroom I could have done without... hours later I was finally packed and saying a big farewell to my wonderful wonderful neighbours that have fed me and looked after me for 6 months. (One of them even called me this morning to say good luck for my first day at work...) The taxi driver looked like he had sobered up from the antics of the previous night. On arriving in Da Nang my colleague help med me to unpack, set up Internet, get her spare motorbike fixed and feed me! So here I am in Da Nang City, with a house, a motorbike, a new job in a government hospital, and all of it unplanned for... Life can take some funny turns! The only thing I must say is that I only questioned the decision to move here once - after waiting two hours to boil water for a cup of tea, in a rice maker... this problem is now solved as I bought a kettle today!!! Ok well I also noticed we had a bit of an ant problem, and after my initial attempt to simply sweep them out of the house, the ants fought back, and went into a biting frenzy.. seriously!!! both me & Giang had ant bites!!! I was almost at the point of thinking the house was in an ants nest, rather than the ants nest being in the house, when the ants finally accepted my superior intelligence & big brush! and moved on! Of course they could be plotting their revenge as we speak... but now it's time for bed. Be sure to tune in next week for a very interesting description of life in a hospital here!
Regards from Vietnam
Dan

Monday, 17 November 2008

Week 29 - When one thing leads to another...

Hello everybody,
As I prepare to enter my final week here in Hoi An and at my work place (CHIA), it's been a time to sit and reflect on life here.. or so I thought... that was until I found myself quite randomly in Da Nang on Saturday evening, being the only non Vietnamese person in a crowded hall full of University students, watching them perform in some kind of talent show!!! Now these kind of experiences you can never plan for!

I'll get on to the events that led up to this weekend's adventures shortly, but first I'd like to share a few events from the week. My week day evenings have been pretty taken up with dinners, beers, football, and drinks with my neighbours. The kind of life could never have at home.. or maybe the kind of life I should have at home, instead of trying to work so much! Monday evening I found myself sat by the river in the old town of Hoi An. I was joined by one of Hoi An's longer term ;volunteers' Eri, a Japanese lass who is working here with some kind of conservation project supported by the Japanese government. As we sat comparing notes about our respective organisations, we noticed how the river was beginning to lap up to the path, and as a local boat filled with what looked like 200 motorbikes on it passed by, the water had now reached our plastic chairs and tables. With no rain in sight I was wondering why the water seemed to be rising. One look above, and the full moon was answer enough the high tide! This is a local spot, but a few tourists had sat down enjoying the very cheap (30 pence) beer. Though f they were getting that price I'd be surprised. Just ten minutes later, and the water had reached us again, and this shifting of chairs and tables every ten minutes continued for the next half hour... funnily enough the locals did not move their chairs once and seemed happy enough to sit around in the rising tide!
Thursday night I took my Therapy Team (Van & Phuong- Physio's and Anh - Translator), to one of the nicer Western restaurants 'Cargo', where as a thank you and goodbye meal. The side of the building we entered on was completely dry, but the other side of the building had a foot of water by it! Finally after months of being taken to local Vietnamese places where I did not know what utensils to use, what food is actually edible, where to throw the bones away, or or what part of an animal's internal organs I was eating, the tables were turned. Now my colleagues were the ones who were not quite sure what to do... the pizza was easy enough to eat, though they needed some coaxing to eat it without the need for fish sauce! The spaghetti perhaps offered the biggest challenge, as we were sharing the dishes, and my colleagues quickly realised their chopsticks were going be of little help to them. They easily mastered the twisting fork method of spaghetti eating, and I was surprised when they refused the desert, because they seemed comfortable.. perhaps it was the rain that had sent the other diners running for cover that suggested it was time to leave. We got back to more familiar surroundings after dinner as we visited a local coffee shop, before the girls drove off into the night on their motorbikes!

So onto the weekend's adventures. My new job begins next week, and my new colleagues were having their monthly lunch together (something that is done here where you celebrate any birthdays that month). I had an invite as did my American physiotherapy colleague _ Virginia and her husband David. 22 of us sat around having a fantastic sea food lunch, whilst we tried to get to know each other better. Everybody was very welcoming and shared their personal histories with me, and of course (as is the system here) I had to discuss why I was not married yet, and how willing people were to find me girlfriend in Vietnam. One of the Doctors - Ms Thuy - told me of a 'concert' she was attending that night, and thought nothing of inviting me along. After lunch my day consisted of relaxing in the coffee shops of Da Nang, with my Ben Elton book - inconceivable - (you should read it, I have not stopped laughing since I began it!). I had agreed to take my colleague Lai back to Hoi An after she had attended a wedding in Da Nang, so as she was still enjoying herself, I took up the invitation to attend this 'concert'. I was instructed to wait at the Institute of Medicine - "a funny place for a concert I thought". The security guard was in no mood for letting me in without an escort but this was no problem once Thuy arrived with her fiance, and her two young nieces. After being escorted up several flights of stairs in the main building, we turned off the main corridor and into an assembly hall. Every seat appeared taken and soon I had 200 smiling faces staring at me as we walked down the middle of the hall, and sat on front row! This turned out to be an early celebration for 'Teachers Day' (Nov 20th) where students, even University students, perform songs and dances of all natures, for their teachers. My host was actually a teacher at this school, hence the invite and the reason for being there. I won't talk too much about the performances of the students, but I must describe the scene a little, as there were several older men, trying to deal with the poor sound system, as one poor boy was left on the stage speechless as his microphone just kept making a terrible sound! The most memorable act had to be that of a group of girls, who not only chose to wear outfits that would not be out of place in any of the UK gay parades, but chose a 'rap' soundtrack that had more swearing in it, than a 50 cents concert! I just was pretty shocked by the swearing in the song, as normally you don't hear any kind of cursing here. I had to conclude that nobody in the audience actually understood the words of the songs! A quick call from my colleague, had me walking out of the hall, again followed by the eyes of 200 people, and a few calls of "hello, where you from?". An hour later and I was back in Hoi An having a beer with my neighbour, after taking Lai home, happy to hear that Liverpool had returned to the top of the Premier League!
My last full Sunday in and around Hoi An was a really nice one. I met my neighbour at 0800 to offer some tuition in English.. UK English ( not Australian English) as I keep making the point there! After some quick breakfast I met another worker, Vi, from the foundation that works at the orphanage here. We enjoyed a local coffee in the unexpected sunshine before returning home to collect my dry washing... washing can take a week to dry in the rainy season! After some sorting at home, in preparation for my move next weekend, I met my Japanese friend again, and we took a drive on a motorbike. (this week's pictures come from the drive around!)Regards from Vietnam!
Dan

Friday, 14 November 2008

Extra Blog - Home Visiting in Hoi An, Vietnam

Home Visits in Vietnam – insurance required?
The last home visit I took part in was in inner-city Manchester (UK). Conducted solely by myself, I set off from the concreted car park in the comfort of my Ford Fiesta, contemplating what the future in Vietnam would have in store for me? After leaving my community base, I made it no more than five seconds before hitting my first, of several sets of traffic lights. After driving past the 24 hour supermarket complete with McDonalds, past the endless construction of several storey high rise flights, seeing students with their Ipods and laptops waiting for the next bus, I faced the same dilemma as always, was there space to park the car? I stood outside my client’s home, and as usual I waited for the intercom response to come... I always hated waiting for that terrible buzzing sound that offers you a split-second opportunity to yank the door open, before repeating the performance four times, until finally gaining access... My last visit was now over, and the uncertainty and excitement of working in a ‘new world’ could begin.
Wednesday, this week, May 2008, and my first experience of a home visit, Vietnamese style. Myself, and three colleagues (physiotherapist, interpreter, & medical director), set off from the office on two motorcycles, with a set of weighing scales being wedged between me and my driver. With almost no cars in sight, but bicycles and scooters as far as the eye could see, I began wondering how this visit would go. Total compliance is not necessarily used here, so after a short ride from the office to the boat, via a crowded market place and too many ambling tourists (something you don’t see too much in Manchester), we arrived at the river! I was pretty sure no one mentioned swimming anywhere and I was relieved to see the girls loading their motorbikes on the boat. A short ten minute boat journey ensued, (so much for waiting 20 minutes for the number 86 bus!), with my watchful eye placed on the motorbikes, as I was sure they could simply fall off the boat at any time. Despite my fears, we arrived safely on the other side of the river to continue our journey into the unknown, (known to the locals as the DX province). Once back on the motorbikes, we journeyed through a rural landscape of rice fields at fair speeds, on ‘roads’ that were wide enough for one bicycle and a chicken, whilst local children continually shouted out ‘hello’ in English, making me feel like I was on some kind of regal visit!
Once arriving at our first destination, almost the entire village came see what we were doing, and there was not an intercom in sight! This open fronted home, now housed the four staff members from CHIA, the family, and almost the entire village, who I was beginning to suspect just found us very amusing! Especially with my pasty white English skin! The local people are so inventive with the possessions they have and this first family had attached a baby’s cradle to a hook from the ceiling, which was ingenious as the child’s basket could be swivelled or tilted in any direction, which assisted the feeding of the baby who had a cleft pallet.
Our second destination, again an open fronted house offered a warm welcome and a family gathering to meet a 13 year old boy who was unable to walk, and had to be carried to a toilet by his parents. I hear you cry “get a commode”, ah not so simple... due to cultural differences, and the boy’s personal preferences, but could we allow access with either aids or adaptations? With three different levels of flooring, an old wheelchair and no local ‘disabled living centre’ nearby, it was going to be a challenge! After taking some measurements and discussing the situation with the family, we agreed to return to discuss options.
The journey home was just as eventful, Van (my driver) carried out a serious of wild evasive manoeuvres to avoid suicidal chickens, cows and ducks that clearly needed more purpose in their lives, other than acting as road blocks! After the return boat trip and with my feet on solid ground again, I felt exhilarated at the prospect of facing these obstacles again, on future home visits.
To end on a more reflective note, as my profession demands, I wanted to share with the reader the striking and powerful scenes and experiences I was exposed to on this single visit, and how it has allowed me to consider the environmental ‘challenges’ that are faced here by many people. Travel if affordable, is best achieved on a motorcycle with relatively large journeys required to reach children, and for children to reach us. As many families do not have the money to afford a motorcycle, many children cannot reach schools and many parents can not work far from home, limiting their employability. On a more positive note, the style of these houses, with open fronts, (no doors, windows etc) encourages support and trust of one’s neighbours which is perhaps something that in western culture, has been lost due to the mindset of enclosing ourselves in houses with walls, doors and windows with curtains! Thinking about this issue and the western societal pressures to increase personal ‘wealth’ with materialistic items and money, it is perhaps an area in life where the Vietnamese people can remind us that in the face of adversity and financially uncertainty ‘wealth’ is not simply a concept that relates to objects and possessions, but to people and the coming together of a community.

Dan Johnson
Occupational Therapist
CHIA (Childrens Hope In Action), Hoi An, Vietnam

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Week 28 - How many children is your job worth?

Hello everybody!
Ok I know it's Wednesday and I'm a few days late posting last week's blog, but as my social life has seemed to boom out of all control this last couple of weeks, I make no apologies. It's with some of my new found friends / contacts that this week's blog topic comes from. I have found out some very interesting opinions and pieces of information about Vietnamese life from my social exploits this week. Especially after this morning' kidnapping by my neighbours, where the guys from the nearby hotel took me for a morning coffee.. which actually turned out to be breakfast (I'd already eaten breakfast), then on to coffee afterwards... this all started at 0745, and considering I started work at 0800 I was relatively laid back about the whole thing!

Just sticking to recent events in the last couple of days I must comment on the generosity of my friends here, as I think I have only paid for two meals in the last 5 days: this morning's breakfast, last night's dinner and lunch, and Sunday's breakfast and lunch were all 'taken care of' by one or another friend. I'm presuming this is just part of the hospitality of the people here, and not because I must look rough as hell as I have grown a small beard. Either way, it's all good from a volunteer's point of view! I'm not really as tight as this little paragraph suggests. I can hear serious laughter coming from the Ellis household at that last comment! Ok enough about the free food, and on to last week's fun and games.
So after some recent late night beers in the nearby 'Phuc An Hotel' (excellent hotel with free bicycles... and pool, and it's on my street -this is not shameless advertising...), I had promised I'd go for a little drinking session with the boys out of work hours! So on Saturday, despite me feeling a little tired and ill, I joined the three guys for some rice wine, beer and plenty of food at a local place here in Hoi An. After plenty of funny discussion about why only the men seemed to be out drinking all the time, and several glasses of beer later, I realised we were getting back to home via the motorcycles.... I have to admit that it is very scary to realise how quickly I have stopped condemning the drink drive policy here, I mean people don't see it as an issue, and I don't personally drink a lot and drive a motorcycle... I'm dangerous enough when I'm sober on a motorcycle!

So after drinks Saturday afternoon, to coffee and breakfast Sunday morning. As I have mentioned things are now almost official with my move to Da Nang City. I currently live in the beautiful little town of Hoi An, 1 hour from Da Nang by motorcycle. I am finishing with my NGO (Non-Government Organisation - Childrens Hope In Action -CHIA), working with disabled children, to move to a government-run Hospital in the centre of Da Nang - I have been invited to volunteer there for one month to introduce the concept of my profession (Occupational Therapy) to the rehabilitation staff, by some basic training, presentations and practical demonstrations of what I can do for the patients. If this period is successful there may be some opportunity to return to this hospital for a longer period, and in a paid capacity, because I can no longer afford to be generous anymore!! (hint hint for Xmas present expectations).

This will be an interesting challenge as working within Government institutions can be riddled with bureaucracy. I'm not saying it's all bad but there are some serious issues to consider here in Vietnam. Through a very interesting breakfast discussion I was informed that one of the major benefits of a government job, is life long job security, and a pension. now the pension is only received after 30 years of service, and as women have an official retirement age of 55, then you better have a job in a government job by the age of 25, or your luck's out! Also in some parts of this system, I was told there is a policy of Government employees only being allowed to have 2 children. I know I know... this sounds pretty extreme at first right? I mean what happens if you get pregnant again after having 2 kids... (birth control is about as well used here as a husky dog in the Sahara desert!) Well the answer is you might well lose your job. On further investigation, you ask yourself why would people normally have big families in the first place? Well considering family dynamics are very very different here, and lots of families live together, parents kids and grandparents... your kids are the people who are going to look after you when you are old.. no free health care here, or homes for the elderly. But of course if you are going to get a pension, then you don't necessarily need the kids to be looking after you (at least not financially)... I'm not really sure what I think of this kind of situation, and today one of my Vietnamese colleagues said this was not true of all Government positions. Still coming from a land such as the UK where I personally, and somewhat controversially, feel that human individual rights have gone to the other extreme, (where someone robbing your home can sue you for injury they receive in your home), I'm not entirely shocked by this recent revelation!
From Sunday morning's coffee and breakfast to Sunday evening's street entertainment. Whilst waiting for the evenings football antics to begin on TV I could see some kind of little stage being prepared at the end of the street. being the curious,( ok well just plain nosey) I wandered up the end of the street, past several of my lovely neighbours.. see pictures below...















At the beginning and end of most of the small little districts there are little archways / gateways, and our neighbourhood had just had our newly painted, I soon realised it was for some kind of celebration (60 year anniversary was my best guess) and so in true Hoi An wisdom they closed the road off at one end, leaving several cars and vans near the hotel, stuck trying to get their vehicles through the other end of the street, which is so narrow that it's like trying to get squeeze the titanic through your bath tub... somewhat scary is how they actually manage to do it here! anyway, I digress... the celebration was really typical here... a stage, with a bunch of flowers, a women in a tight long shiny traditional dress, and then random people appearing and singing as if it there one shot at international stardom. The front of the stage was hardly rocking, as people are not encouraged to show public emotion... and that applies to the singers of karaoke who sing the kind of emotionally charged songs, with the expression of a funeral director. I have often wondered why with so many karaoke songs here being about 'lost love', 'remaining alone for life' or wandering the mountains and seas for the only chance of happiness' people aren't jumping off the bridge into the river more often! Now I realise because there is no emotion to drive this extreme behaviour...
I often joke about the nature of these near suicidal songs (which you can hear around town almost every night), with my neighbours from across the road. I continue to try and find a happy and jolly Vietnamese Karaoke song, that leaves people with the same kind of feeling as a drunken version of the YMCA or TIMEWARP. So far I have only found songs that sound like a Celine Dion number on slow play!!! The search continues!

Ok I think that about wraps it up for last week's action.
Regards from Vietnam
Dan