the story

tuk-tuk rideso you’ve been pondering, and wondering. and you’d really like to hear the whole story. well, here it is (slightly abridged, but here it is nonetheless).

Quynh and I met online last year, during Ridvan. The big news at that time was the Vietnamese Baha’i community’s official recognition as a religious community by its national government, a long-awaited event that ushered in a new era of religious freedom for Vietnam’s Baha’is. It was also around this time that I was considering going somewhere in the world to offer international volunteer service. After finding out that Quynh and I had close mutual friends (Craig & Geneviève, who met in Vietnam and now live in Victoriaville), I decided to make the connection, initially to find out more about Vietnam and explore service opportunities. We got along very well from the beginning, and before long, we began talking about the possibility of the two of us getting to know each other better and becoming a couple. From the summer onwards, we began to ask each other lots and lots of questions to help us along in becoming “thoroughly acquainted with the character of the other“. By the winter—after some time of becoming closer to each other through our frequent communications—it became clear to me that the only sensible thing to do was to plan on visiting Vietnam: at once to serve there (hopefully), and to meet Quynh in person. When I inquired with the Baha’i community there, they informed me that their newly-formed Spiritual Assembly required a website, and would I mind coming to work on it? With this positive response from abroad, I checked on whether my work situation would allow it, applied—and received approval—for unpaid leave, and told Quynh I was coming to see her in the spring.

After preparing for my trip during the winter months and tying up loose ends at work, I finally arrived in Vietnam (via Japan) on March 31st. Quynh stuck around to introduce me to a hectic and bustling Ho Chi Minh City—a city that needs a lot of introduction. She then continued on to Da Nang to assist the Baha’i youth there while I stayed behind to meet with a task force for management of the website. I joined her in Da Nang a few weeks later, just before the 2nd National Convention on May 1st and 2nd—just about a year after we had first met. We soon continued onwards to Hanoi together, where she was assisting the friends there to establish the foundation for their program of intensive community growth. It was while in Hanoi that we spent the most time talking together about our relationship, in person and on the phone (since we were staying in different houses). These long discussions laid down the path for us to become even closer, and eventually led me to ask for her hand in marriage on June 2nd, while taking a break in—yes that’s right—Hanoi’s Lenin Park. The mystery is solved!

On our return to Ho Chi Minh City in early July, we sought the consent of both sets of parents—hers in person, in her flat in Tan Binh District, and mine via Skype to Canada. (God bless Skype and its creators.) With consent from both parents, we set a date of August 4th for our engagement ceremony, which was held in her parents’ home in Da Nang, according to Vietnamese traditions, red boxes and all. Many of you probably wondered: what gives with all the secrecy? We never heard anything about it until the week before! Well, let’s just say that, after thorough consultation, we decided to keep it a low-profile event, and to announce the coming union after the engagement ceremony—until, of course, the news was leaked on Facebook by an overexcited sister, making the point moot and causing much rejoicing all around.

What’s in store for us now? Well, our current plans involve Quynh visiting Canada sometime during the winter (February, the month least hospitable to those hailing from hotter climates, seems most likely), and the both of us returning to Vietnam for the wedding, which will take place in Da Nang in early March, during the first few days of the 19-day Baha’i Fast. We’ll be together around a month after the wedding, after which I’ll be returning to Canada to continue my job while she continues hers—she’s working full-time for the Baha’i Faith in Vietnam until April 2011—and submits her application for a Canadian permanent resident’s visa. The eventual plan is for her to come to Canada—that is, if the Baha’is of Vietnam will allow her to go!

So there you go. There’s the story in a nutshell. A big, collective thank you to all those of you who sent us their best wishes, whether by email, on Facebook, on Twitter, by phone or in person. If we haven’t already, we’ll be sure to send you our individual thanks, and hope you will send your blessings our way in March. 🙂

warmth

back in Ottawa. the wind is colder here, and I have to bundle up in layers of clothes instead of spending all my time in t-shirts and shorts. it’s cloudy today, but the drab grey of the sky is set against vivid reds, oranges and yellows on the trees. Vietnam is more colourful, hands down, but it’s nice to see that Canada still puts up a fight in the beauty department. “like flowers of one garden”.

i’m seeing what’s around me with different eyes, hearing with different ears. now I can tell when someone around me is speaking Vietnamese, and I can actually understand some of what they say. I can read the signs in Chinatown (even some of the Chinese ones). I’ve taken to picking up dinner at the Thai place at the mall, because Subway just seems unappealing now. plus, of course, it reminds me of the real thing. my favourite Vietnamese restaurant (next to the Baha’i centre, no less) closed up shop, which annoyed me to no end. but there’s a new Thai place there now, so I figure I’ll go check it out next time I’m in the neighbourhood.

still adapting to being back in Canada, and more than just because of the cold weather. it’s about being plunged back into the culture of the West, a very palpably immoderate culture, a culture shaken loose of its moral basis and bereft of direction. a “lost” culture, I suppose. I fear it, because I fear becoming lost in it. being in Vietnam did me a lot of good, i think; especially in helping me discover my limitations and rely on my strengths to compensate for my weaknesses. Canada’s cool and detached (albeit friendly) social climate hasn’t done me much good, I think. despite my sociable manners in everyday life, I find I have trouble opening up to social relationships, so, left to my own, I tend not to seek out the company of others. Family-centred Vietnam, with its deeply and strongly woven fabric of social support networks, seems to have helped me stay on the outside of that self-centred bubble that the individualist Westerner blows up for himself.

sitting at home in front of a gas fire now. thank goodness it’s not cold in Vietnam. they don’t have to close their doors to stay warm.

mystery of lenin park

"new" lenin park

Lenin Park. what’s so important about this small park, nestled among trees, embassies and heritage buildings in Hanoi’s downtown? just across from a coffeeshop, filled with people in the evenings—breakdancers, families bringing their children to ride in remote-controlled cars, hacky sack players, giggling schoolgirls and their friends—and presided over by the stately figure of Vladimir I. Lenin… what makes it any more special than any other park?

"new" lenin park after dark

Lenin Park—not the classic Lenin Park that many Hanoians remember, the larger one boasting a lake and playgrounds for children, which donated its statue of the communist hero only a few years ago—but a smaller, cozier one here on Dien Bien Phu Street, just across from Highlands Coffee, Vietnam’s answer to Starbucks… what’s the mystery of this place?

lenin visits vietnam

Few people know… but you will.

china-ward and back

lotus lanterns, macauToday in our junior youth group here in Hanoi, we studied a lesson in which Rose, a fifteen-year-old girl who is training to be a nurse, travels to a small village by bus to visit her cousin Musonda and her family. The participants—all Vietnamese junior youth of various ages—learned words like “travel”, “arrive”, “greeted”, and so on. It gave me the idea that I should write a little bit more about my own travels of late, especially to and from China, so here’s yet another not-a-travelogue for you all to read.

After returning from Sapa in the mountainous Vietnamese northwest (look for a not-a-travelogue on that trip soon), my fellow travellers and I were greeted by appallingly hot weather back in the ninth level of Hell, uh, I mean the centre of the Earth, uh, I mean Hanoi. Still battling an infuriating air-conditioner cold, I spent the next few days resting up and packing my bags again (more tightly this time) for a nine-day trip through Hong Kong, southern China and Macau.  My schedule was fairly basic: after the flight in from Hanoi, three days in Hong Kong; then a train to Guangzhou, China to spend another three days; then a bus to Macau for another three days, after which I would fly back to Hanoi and settle down for a long nap—or a long quarantine, judging by the H1N1 paranoia. Arrival in Hong Kong greeted us with the odd spectacle of infrared images or ourselves displayed on a coloured screen, allowing security staff to weed out those who were running temperatures of 38 C and above—if your face showed up in oranges and reds, you were fit for the infirmary. (Sneaky H1N1 carriers used fever-reducing drugs to circumvent this system, giving Vietnam its first few cases in June.)

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aircon’d

cloud cover over hanoi, sunsetmost of the days since we came back from our trip to Sapa and Lao Cai (which deserves its own blog post) have been cruelly hot and humid, wavering between 35 and 45 degrees Celsius, prompting me to tweet the following message a few days after returning from China: “good morning Hanoi. heat is hovering around 40 C and weaker air conditioners are breaking down, including the one at home. -_-;;” After spending almost thirty years growing up in Canada, I’ve never known an agony like trying to sleep in 40-degree weather (104 F) with no air conditioning. Well, OK, trying to sleep with a kidney stone was definitely worse in terms of agony, but this one’s up there too. I spent something like four days staying with Duyen—one of the Baha’is on the Vietnamese Nat’l Spiritual Assembly—and his family, because they have pretty powerful air conditioning. That’s when I learned about the cultural characteristics of air conditioning. Correct me if I’m wrong, but in Canada, 21 degrees C (~70 F) is considered a comfortable room temperature, right? Not in Vietnam. If I set the air conditioning to 21 C I would get smacked. When I discussed it with him before going to bed, Duyen told me he would usually set the air conditioner to 30 C to be comfortable—which made me go O_O.

Above and beyond mere numerical values, people seem to use air conditioning in a different way here, too. I’ve tried setting air conditioners to 21 C here and what actually happens makes the room seem way too cold. Maybe this is because people use overpowered air conditioners in small rooms, or put the thermostats in odd places. I tried setting the temperature to 24 C for a few nights and found that it was uncomfortably cold. What’s more, the air conditioner didn’t seem to shut off at all, it just kept on blowing cold air into the room as if it was blissfully unaware of the temperature. Where I would expect a comfortable, cool-ish temperature, I feel as if I have to wrap myself up into a blanket to keep from catching a cold. All of this just leads me to ask the question: how in God’s name am I supposed to use the air conditioning here?

Speaking of catching colds, by the way, I learned the hard way that I have to be proactive in dealing with air conditioning here in Vietnam when I caught a cold from sitting in an absolutely frigid air-conditioned Vietnamese coffeeshop around the beginning of the month, which persisted until a few days ago, when I agreed to undergo a traditional Vietnamese herbal steam treatment to cure me of my lingering sniffles. It worked, but not after I dragged a persistent cough and cold through three different countries on a trip through Hong Kong, China and Macau—and this at a time just after the WHO decided to label the H1N1 swine flu crisis a pandemic, triggering automatic quarantine if you so much as cough at a border station.

Since then, I’ve been acutely aware of these wide-mouthed cooling machines lining the ceilings or rising up from the floors, and wary for those that are set to some innocuous temperature like 18 degrees C, but which, in reality, are set to Cirno-style “CRYO-FREEZE WITH ENGLISH BEEF” setting. Sigh. …why do so many things have to be so different here?