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. 🙂

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.

a canadian in saigon

ch? m?t látDay 8 in Vietnam so far, and the initial shock of arrival has subsided. The first week has been a bit rough-and-tumble, but thanks to the efforts of my hosts, it’s been much, much smoother than it could have been—indeed, easier than I had hoped. Everyone is so gracious and friendly here. Host and national institute coordinator Quynh spent the first week helping me get settled in and see the city, giving me my first real taste of motorbike travel. The first few times riding a motorbike through the chaotic streets of Saigon was a little scary, but I feel like I’ve warmed up to it quite nicely now. The first week was full of visits to the local Baha’is, going to exotic (neighbourhood Vietnamese eateries) and less exotic (KFC, aka Gà Rán Kentucky—whatever you do, don’t compare Colonel Sanders to Ho Chi Minh) restaurants for lunch and dinner, having home-cooked Vietnamese breakfasts consisting of rice and—well, just about anything. I’m gradually starting to be able to walk on my two feet here. Although it’s definitely not yet “functional”, I’m starting to achieve a very basic command of the Vietnamese language—at least enough to be able to make basic needs known without getting beat up or slapped. Just this afternoon, I was able to secure a bicycle to get around on, thanks to the generosity of one of the local Baha’is. As well, again thanks to host Quynh’s effort, I now have a Vietnamese bank account with an ATM card, which I should be able to use anywhere in Vietnam (unlike the hoops to be jumped through/potential risks when using credit cards).

About a week into my stay here, it dawned on me that several of my cherished tools—phrasebook, guidebook, and so on—have been failing me somewhat. For example, my guidebook focuses lots of attention on Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon’s glamorous District 1, where most foreigners hang out, and many locals prefer to avoid because of the high prices. But it focuses almost no attention on the Tan Binh district—where I’m staying—which starts at about a 15-20 minute drive west from District 1. Even District 11, the home of the Baha’i Centre, just south of Tan Binh, is underrepresented. It dawned on me that these books were written for regular foreigners, those on business or simply pleasure-seekers on their way through Southeastern Asia—and that I was not one of those regular foreigners. I think I realized something was amiss when I saw the string of European and American tourists being promenaded throughout the streets outside HCMC’s famed Post Office building on pedal-powered rickshaws—cyclos—on an evening’s visit to District 1. I can’t really explain just what I felt as I watched them from the curb, besides the distinct feeling that I was not one of them. It was partly satisfying, I suppose, and partly spooky, as if I was standing beside myself, looking on quietly.

All that being said, I guess you could say it’s fairly obvious: I’m not your average traveller. Although I’m experiencing many of the same feelings as a regular traveller—disorientation, wonderment, anxiety, curiosity, excitement—regular travellers can’t always go to a faraway country and find people—like the Baha’is—who can welcome them with open arms, as if they were family. for the privilege of being here, in close contact with people, sharing the same space and eating the same food, I am so very grateful. for the chance to give back something to those who have welcomed me so warmly into their midst and into their hearts—be it a website or helping them practice a little bit of English—I am equally grateful.

good evening vietnam

slantoh vietnam, you strange, noisy, mesmerizing place, you. vietnam, with your choking heat and cooling rains, your bright and lively flowers, your swarms of motorbikes, your streets lined with shops that spill their innards onto the sidewalks, peppered with price tags. friends and acquaintances tell me you have stolen their hearts. will you steal mine just as easily?

my first impression of Vietnam was from the air while flying in: an unusually dark panorama creeping in beneath us, with ghostly strings of bluish light, sparsely blotched with the aggressive orange usual in Western cities. For the most part, fluorescent light rules here. Our plane rolled smoothly onto the tarmac at Tan Son Nhat Airport and into our gate; from the first moment stepping out of the plane, I could feel the heat—strangely like the oppressive heat that overtakes Ottawa on certain (rare) summer days. passing through immigration and customs was uncanny in its ease; I’d expected more random hassles—or, at least, I’d expected them to talk to me. I wheeled my luggage out into the humid night, and surprisingly enough, found my friend Quynh—who I had thought was in Da Nang—waiting there, along with her brother Nu. they shepherded me into a taxi, which carried us through the chaotic streets and gave me my first glimpse of the notorious Vietnamese traffic. arriving outside their neighbourhood, I unloaded my luggage as we made our way down a prohibitively narrow and winding street, past thin, tall apartments with bars on their windows and doors, past a shop where, even at this late hour, people who looked about my age were working on sewing machines, making t-shirts (I instinctively felt some “western guilt” here). Arriving at a set of locked gates, Quynh and brother quickly unlocked them and introduced me to my home for at least the next month: a three-story-tall (four stories if you count the door that leads onto the roof) apartment with a steep staircase, which was a minor struggle to manage with my one bulging suitcase.

the first night in Vietnam was quick—my plane landed at around 10:45 PM local time, and I ended up in bed a little past midnight—so I didn’t have the chance to see much. rest assured, though, that the next few days were a positive whirlwind. read more soon—just keep an eye on this blog.