Friendship Foundation of American Vietnamese

Fond Memories

By Volunteer Erica Hayashi
Project XII Participant

As a second year JET program participant in Japan, I wanted to find a way to spend Christmas meaningfully while traveling to a different country. Having returned from Vietnam about two weeks ago now, I have had time to reflect on my experiences participating in the Friendship Foundation Volunteer Project. I didn't anticipate that taking part in this project would leave me with such varied and enriching experiences...

Gary's gift of a Doraemon Christmas card made him cry out with delight.
  • The suspicious looking “taxi” I was led to, upon arriving in Ho Chi Minh in the middle of the night: “But Madame! Same ride, same price!” the taxi driver implored me as I walked away from the battered, unmarked car to find another taxi. Being addressed as “Madame” was somehow strangely endearing and I felt sorry for the young man.
  • Motorbike madness in the streets of Ho Chi Minh: Crossing the street felt like suicide every time and making it alive on the other side always felt like I had been given another chance at life!
  • The vibrant colors of the many exotic fruits: Their taste and texture that delighted—or more often perplexed my taste buds.
  • Chatting with residents in the handicapped home: “Where you from?” “Sorry I'm Buddhist.” (as I held out a Christmas card), “You beautiful.” These were some of the English phrases that delighted my ears. In return, I looked into sightless eyes, took knarled hands in my own, and tried to talk to those who had probably long forgotten the sound of their own voice.
  • The children brimming with enthusiasm at the health fair: The laughter and squeals of delight as they played games, and the expressions of joy at receiving Christmas cards warmed my heart. What a wonderful Christmas gift I received that day to have been able to participate in such an event.
  • The Blue House that welcomed us: Our home stay in the countryside where we enjoyed Vietnamese home cooking and the company of our generous hosts.
  • Poetry on the bus: Jessica's fabulous idea to have everyone share their thoughts in group poems led to outbursts of creativity, profundity and just plain craziness!
  • Doraemon and the smile of a small boy: Getting off the bus during a rest stop on our way up to Nha Trang, we meet another young child selling colorful lotto tickets. Gary's gift of a Doraemon Christmas card made him cry out with delight.

The experience of the project allowed me to see many faces of Vietnam. I hope to be able to convey what I had learned, to the children here in this small town in Japan, in a way that will inspire them to see and learn more about the world beyond their own country.

A heartfelt thanks to Gia Hoa Ryan, Joseph Meissner, all the people who helped us in Vietnam, and the wonderful group of JETs who—with all their various personalities, passions, and talents—made the two weeks in Vietnam so memorable.

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