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Watching the Other Volunteers

9 May

While I was at the centre, a group from Denmark started a 6 month volunteer session that was part of their requirements for their degree. By the end if their volunteer time they were required to put together a presentation to the leaders at the centre which would demonstrate some things they could see which could be improved and how they could go about this. As an anthropology student, it was obvious that I was going to have a problem with this as I felt the assignment was deeply ethnocentric and unnecessarily encouraged a cultural relativist attitude.

One of the girls from the group was put with my class for a little while. While I had purposely gone into my volunteer experience with an open mind (probably a little TOO open minded) she clearly had not and had a lot of trouble at the centre. She often complained to me about the way the teachers at the centre occasionally gave the kids a light smack on the behind if they continued misbehaving. She even confided in me that several of the children were sporting bad bruises and we should complain. These “bruises” were clearly birthmarks but she was adamant that child abuse was occurring. Also she and several of the other students were totally disgusted by what they saw as disgraceful hygiene levels at the centre. Never mind that while they were from a country which has amazing services and technology we were now working in a third world country. They also regularly complained about the country in general and often didn’t show up to work as they were too distressed by the whole experience. I was often outraged by their attitudes and found myself avoiding spending time with them, as I found they looked at me with a mixture of confusion and pity.

I often wonder how they dealt with their experience when they got home. While I feel I had the time of my life and would jump at the chance to go again, I sense they wont share these feelings. I wonder how much they were prepared for their trip back at home and why they had agreed to go in the first place. Honestly, I really felt sorry for them and their close-minded attitude that ruined an experience so many others would have really enjoyed

Was it fate?

26 Apr

I’m one of those people who has the annoying habit of forever looking back and thinking ‘What if…?’ I spend a lot of time thinking about my trip to Hanoi in this context. Originally I was meant to be travelling to Nepal to do some volunteer work but ended up changing my mind because at the time there was a lot of violent protests happening and it wasn’t very safe for foreigners to be there. So I just picked Vietnam. No clue why. Just grabbed at it. I often think about that random decision and why I chose to travel somewhere I had previously had no interest in.

Another big decision I made was to change my plans and stay in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, rather than out in the suburbs where Morning Star centre was located. This choice haunts me a bit when I talk to other volunteers and travellers because I feel I took the ‘easy way out’ and this often leaves me embarrassed and ashamed. After spending my first few days in the Old Quarter (the centre of Hanoi, also the main tourist hub) I moved into a hotel in the suburbs. I lasted a week. And yeah, this is embarrassing. I was uncomfortable, nobody spoke english, there were constant power cuts. In the Old Quarter I knew where I was going, I could talk to people, and I felt safe. So I moved back.

In hindsight, I don’t regret this decision. Living in the Old Quarter for three months I made some amazing friends, experienced out of this world events, and really broadened my mind in a way I think living in the suburbs would not have allowed me to. But still I often think about it. Would my experience have been more ‘authentic’ if I had been away from the tourists? Would I have had a better experience, perhaps a more worthwhile one? I will never know. But I’ll definitely keep thinking on it.

Top Gear bringing back the memories

13 Apr

Just watched the Top Gear episode where they travel from Saigon to Halong City. Watching those guys on the bikes made me kick myself for being too chicken to give it a go myself. Though I travelled everywhere on the back, I was way too petrified to actually drive a motorbike through that crazy country. Ever since I got back I’ve been meaning to get my bike license but I never seem to get around to it. Watching those guys tonight made me crave getting back on, though riding through Sydney is nowhere near as exciting.

Why I remember

8 Apr

Looking through these blog posts about other people’s experiences made me really reflect on my own in a different way. I find myself telling the same stories over and over, the ones I think people will find the most amusing. Like getting hijacked on my first night in Hanoi, being thrown out of the centre for fear I had swine flu, and burning the crap out of my leg on a motorbike exhaust pipe. But honestly these aren’t the things I remember the best. And the things I remember are the ones that I can relate to my everyday life here in Sydney.

When I was at the centre I was told how much the teachers were making and I felt like I was going to break down. Then I was told that their documents were kept from them to prevent them leaving the centre to find better paying work. I was horrified, and I think of this all the time as we fight so hard here over women’s rights in the workplace. These are the kinds of things I remember, and the things that people who haven’t volunteered don’t understand as well. Those teachers were so amazing, I practically worshipped them.

I think a lot about those teachers and hope they’re doing ok.

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