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GROW: Volume 1, Issue 4

8 Aug 2012


The Journal of Grassroots On-Site Work

GlobeMed at Oberlin College Edition Week 4

“A landscape whose hegemony is so absolute that it still has the strength to ignore humanity completely.� ~Paige Higbie


8 Aug 2012

GROW: Volume 1, Issue 4

The north by Paige Higbie


t is useless for me to try to provide you with some sense of Vietnam's northern mountains in a narrative form. Such descriptions would be so far from the true majesty of the place that it would almost seem like mockery. So, what you are going to get is snapshots. That is all I have to give: Pre-dawn mist floating silently amongst tectonic giants, thick veils punctured only by an eerie Asiatic moon. A colonial town clinging to the mountainside as jungle assaults it from all sides. A mysterious quiet whose age you keenly feel. A landscape whose hegemony is so absolute that it still has the strength to ignore humanity completely. Blessed cool on a mountain road and a view that leaves you breathless. Tripping down a rocky path, being able to hear the violence of the water below you but not being able to see it yet. Understanding that this environment will demand man's best in permitting him to survive, and respecting the truth that your personal best would never be enough here. Knowing that this glimpse will all be over in two days, knowing that you have seen something important and not quite being able to articulate what that significance is.


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GROW: Volume 1, Issue 4

The black h’mong people by Loan Lu I remember learning about the 54 Vietnamese ethnic groups and their distinct cultures since elementary school, but never before had I come into close contact with any of them like this time. Sapa, in addition to its charming and scenic landscape, gave me the opportunity to be surrounded by hundreds of Black H’mong people, who share the same nationality as mine, yet whose culture and language still remain alien to me. The moment I set foot in downtown Sapa, I gazed in awe at the group of Black H’mong women on the street, fervently talking to each other and carrying full baskets of colorful handmade jewelry. They were all wearing black dresses with meticulously embroidered flower patterns on both sleeves, and had their legs wrapped in a thick piece of cloth called xa cap in order to protect them from being bitten by insects in the jungle. The most

8 Aug 2012

distinctive characteristics, however, were the tanned skin and big earrings that highlight their constantly smiley faces. On our way to Cat Cat village, a large group of H’mong people followed us, and a middle-aged woman with lots of embroideries and handmade banners in her hands approached me. She seemed eager to listen to my experiences, and upon asking lots of questions about her life and work, I was content that I understood more about the H’mong people. Though her zeal went beyond my expectations, I immediately held back my enthusiasm in the conversation when she started to entice me to buy her products. Slightly bowing my head in thankfulness, I began walking faster to make my way to the front, relieved that my acumen could save me a few bucks. Even though that was definitely not a pleasant moment, I still found it a precious experience overall.

One of many firsts by Kayla Emrick This weekend was full of new experiences for me. Even the transit to Sapa was novel- I’d never ridden a train before! Until this weekend, trains in my mind consisted of a strange mix of the magically British Hogwarts Express and the posh but creepy Orient Express, so suffice it to say I really had no idea what to expect. Posh is certainly not a word to describe overnight trains in Vietnam; after being bussed and herded and noisily directed throughout half of Hanoi to even get to the train station, we were pointed towards our impossibly small cabin to which we were condemned to spend the night. Six bunked beds were crammed into a tiny space with insufficient air conditioning, and we soon realized the lights were broken as well. Julie’s brother, JoJo, having taken the seventh ticket and been assigned to another cabin, got locked out and was forced to sleep on the floor.

Though it sounds like the makings of a horror movie, or at least a particularly uncomfortable night, we somehow managed to have a good time with it. The lights eventually came back on, and as we came up with games to play in such a confined space and commiserated over the oppressive heat we grew that much closer. Despite the general discomfort and lack of sleep, my first train ride was certainly a memorable experience.


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8 Aug 2012 Vietnam’s past and future by Paige Higbie On a Thursday, circumstances arranged themselves such that our weekly practicum with CCD was not going to be a possibility. And so, we absconded from our duties for the day, to be driven around town by Mrs. Linh and another man, who at different stages we believed to be her husband, her brother, and, ultimately, some kind of coworker. Mrs. Linh has essentially been assigned by CHP to be our mother for the duration of the internship. She generally looks out for us: arranging bus tickets, asking after our health and generally looking out for us in the ways that three culturally illiterate American girls so desperately need. Her darling son also accompanied us. Dang is a rambunctious toddler with an angel's face and a devil's giggle. Naturally, we were all instantly smitten with him and spent most of the day clucking about him. Our day had two major destinations, the first of which was the museum of ethnology. Being that our little group is peppered with anthropology majors, the exploration of Vietnam's minority cultures was oddly thrilling. It really is an impressive museum. Authorities have actually purchased traditional homes in minority villages and brought them back to Hanoi, setting them up behind the museum and creating a kind of cultural

“Oh yes, definitely, I was exhausted! Are you kidding me? We had been hiking for more than 3 hours.”

GROW: Volume 1, Issue 4 amusement park. One cannot help but be impressed by the strikingly different ways in which these distinct cultures have addressed humanity's common problems. One suddenly remembers how terribly impressive we are as a species. The second destination was also another kind of amusement park. Let me preface my description by saying that modern Asia seems to be very fond of 'complexes', a complex being a collection of random amusements thrown together. Our complex of choice was 'Paradise', something between a zoo, aquarium, theme park, spa, sports camp and garden. To be frank, the place was not in the best condition: a huge investment made in the wrong place at the wrong time. The place was largely empty of visitors, the pools were drained, the rides weren't running, the exotic animals looked particularly mangy. Add to this a sweltering heat and you have a place that is a very particular kind of eerie. One imagines that perhaps this is what purgatory would feel like. Needless to say, we were exceptionally grateful for Mrs. Linh's attentions. How is one supposed to entertain foreign guests without overwhelming them? At any rate, we certainly slept well that night.

I love hiking with the water buffaloes! by Loan Lu Feeling short of breath, I was gasping and asking the tour guide: “Anh oi, how far are we from the hotel?” “More than 20 minutes. Haha are you tired?” Oh yes, definitely, I was exhausted! Are you kidding me? We had been hiking for more than 3 hours. If there was a taxi here, I would totally hop in. But there was something like a huge bulk of ego and self-pride that held me back and swallowed my exhaustion. I shook my head persistently and gave him a full smile. The heat was boiling, and the fact that my skin was burned under the blistering sun scared me to death. Yet, on top of that, I was still happy that I did not give up in the middle of the way. I strived hard and made it to the end, which eventually made me feel like heaven because I was able to pull myself out of the physical capacity that a lazy bun like me would never be willing to do. One special reason that cheered up my mood and dispelled the fatigue during our long hike was the water buffaloes. Seeing a herd of buffaloes walking across the green paddy fields and watching them eagerly rolling in mud like a three-year old kid playing with his favorite toys stirred up in me a feeling of peace and belonging. Having seen water buffaloes in Thailand and Cambodia, yet I always felt that there are no places for them to feel at home like in Vietnam. Call me xenophobic or compliment me on being patriotic, I don’t care. Just the joy of the buffaloes was enough to keep me going to the finish.


GROW: Volume 1, Issue 4

8 Aug 2012 Breathtaking sapa by Julie Christensen

Now I’ll daydream of motorbikes by Kayla Emrick You know those sensations that stick with you long after the experience itself has ended, those places and feelings you take refuge in when the present becomes overwhelming? I occasionally find myself escaping into images of the rolling olive groves of southern Spain or memories of the gentle caress of a breeze on the shores of Lake Placid high in the Rocky Mountains. I’m sure this weekend has produced another distraction from the present for me, in the form of a winding motorbike ride through the mountains of Sapa. Nothing has ever felt quite so exhilarating as speeding around the curves of this untamed natural landscape, wind in my hair and sun on my face. Never have I felt so free and so totally in control, even if I wasn’t driving myself. Even the destinations our invigorating ride took us to felt magically surreal. Short hikes up to two spectacular waterfalls added to the mystique of the far reaches of Sapa; no words or pictures can capture the unique combination of serenity and power that makes up a waterfall. I already know on days when I’m overcome by stress and the world seems far too complicated I’ll be able to close my eyes and feel the wind in my hair, and the strain of reality will melt away.

We decided to make this last weekend a holiday and venture to the northern mountains of Vietnam because we were graced with a visit from my brother and his friend Kate. And for a kick, we invited an incoming freshman Obie, Quoc, who has lived his life thus far in Hanoi. The scenery was magnificent, and the cool calm of Sapa was just what our confined group needed. Still, for me, some of the greatest joys of the weekend came in spending time with the new members of our contingency. Since he left for college six years ago, my brother and I have only spent holidays together. But this summer we both happen to be in Southeast Asia, as JoJo is completing a yearlong term in Malaysia on a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Fellowship. According to Kayla, JoJo and I have the same jokingly concerned face, where we wrinkle our foreheads and make pouty eyes; and Paige thinks we look like twins. I think our harmony came out most in our go at Barbie Girl during a night of karaoke in Sapa! To amuse our friendly audience, we switched back and forth between the Barbie and Ken roles and awkwardly shifted our bodies around the small stage. The karaoke room we rented on the third floor of a bar was small, but it was not at all lacking in strobe lights or bumpin’ bass. The biggest surprise of the night was Quoc’s majestic voice. Usually quiet and pensive, Quoc burst onto the scene by singing a Vietnamese duet with Loan. And the evening could only come to an end after we all joined Kate in belting out My Heart Will Go On from The Titanic. On the whole, the company of JoJo, Kate, and Quoc made for a refreshing journey. Kate relayed on marriage proposals for me from three of her and JoJo’s guy friends back at home. And Quoc will be a wonderful new friend to welcome in Oberlin. The weekend was utterly breathtaking, mostly thanks to our joyous and hilarious new companions.

“The weekend was utterly breathtaking, mostly thanks to our joyous and hilarious new companions.”

Copyright 2012 © GlobeMed at Oberlin College

GROW: Volume 1, Issue 4  

The Journal of Grassroots On-Site Work GlobeMed at Oberlin College Edition Summer 2012

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