With a mixture of excitement and trepidation, our Nguyen Binh Khiem high school team of Robert, Barbara and Marilyn lurched our way by taxi through the rainy, chaotic traffic of Hanoi trying to breathe calmly as the cars and motorbikes competed with us for space measured in millimeters. The whole scene was an Asian fusion of French Impressionism, a sensory overload enhanced by multi-colored ponchos protecting their open-air drivers and keeping their cell phones dry.
Upon reaching the large imposing gated school, with the requisite statue of Ho Chi Minh overseeing all who entered, we climbed the steps and couldn’t help but be reminded of similar imperial buildings in Russian or Chinese venues that signified something threatening in the past. This was quickly forgotten with the hurried arrival of Mr. Nguyen Quy (N’win Qwee) the assistant to the Principal, who bowed and smiled and welcomed us with great enthusiasm. Mr. Quy was like a neat, energetic, Vietnamese doll, who talked quickly, walked briskly and smiled constantly. He led us straight to the Principal’s office, which, for each of us, was undoubtedly the first trip ever of that kind. This was no disciplinary trip, however, but one of effusive welcome. We were greeted with delight, coffee and compliments. Smiles and clapping followed each translated sentence of welcome. Ten senior students joined the table — whose rehearsed bowing on the front steps had somehow been mistimed and we missed it, but they made up for that by presenting the three of us with red roses and more smiles! We began thinking of ourselves as quite special.
Principal Hoa (Whah) was a small smiling white-haired man with protruding teeth and bushy eyebrows. He, like Mr. Quy, was nattily dressed like a GQ miniature, with striped tie and tailored suit. His speech echoed the words of gratitude and friendship we had been showered with. It was all quite overwhelming.
The day passed in a blur of lesson plans and endearingly polite students who invariably jumped to their feet as we entered their classrooms and chanted in unison “good morning teachers” in a somewhat militaristic but sincere fashion. Such a novelty to have such fascination attached to our mere appearance in front of a group of young people, but they were genuinely glad we were there and we couldn’t help but reciprocate. Our team carefully choreographed our personal introductions and these were embellished as the day wore on and we relaxed and read the children a little more easily. We worked and taught as a team, and our individual strengths emerged and complimented each other’s. It was serendipitous.
Eight hours passed with more smiles, much affection, many games and a music class which ended in the students’ lusty singing of their national anthem. We have more ideas for lesson plans, and have relaxed into the knowledge that we will be able to meet their expectations. It was a tiring day, but the bonus for us was getting to know an impeccably polite and charming group of young Vietnamese children.
Tomorrow, we will happily go back for more.