Xin Chào (“hello”) from Hanoi

Twelve hours in the air from Seattle to Taipei, a three hour layover (enough to get a darn fine bowl of noodles and vegetables for “breakfast”), and three more hours from Taipei brought us safe and sound to our first destination: Hanoi, Vietnam.


After three days I think it’s safe to say we LOVE it here and we’re having quite a marvelous experience so far!


So much has happened these first three days, it’s hard to summarize it all but here a few highlights:


We were picked up at the airport by an Uber driver sent from the Mercury Center and we enjoyed a 45-minute drive through the city to our apartment which we share with other Mercury Center volunteers. One of the defining characteristics of Hanoi is the traffic. It is 100% as advertised—utterly MAD. Cars, motorbikes, humans, walkers, a bonkers flow of traffic and honking and craziness…and yet everyone working together, everyone getting along, everyone looking out for one another. It’s easy to see that to make this whole crazy system work, everyone has agreed to play by generally the same set of rules.


Is it hot? Yes, it is hot and humid, again as advertised. We happen to have arrived in a bit of a cool spell—temperatures are topping out in the high 80s—but yes the humidity is something new for us Pacific Northwesterners for sure. Lightning storms every night so far.


We arrived to a hearty welcome from other volunteers and immediately were invited to sit down to lunch with everyone. We’re with some really good people here and it is such a joy to get to know them and hear their stories and feel welcome and supported. At the moment we have new friends and co-volunteers from Britain, Estonia, Hungary, the Philippines, Germany and of course Vietnam. These are volunteers like us who are teaching or coordinating the program here. Most have been here for a month or more and many planned on staying much shorter than that…which was an immediate clue that we’ve chosen a pretty good situation for ourselves here.


The apartment we share is on the 26th floor of a large building in the city. We’re sharing a room with three queen-size beds that are flat and firm and upon which we’re all getting pretty good sleep. We are lucky to have an air conditioning unit in our room that we are permitted to use—not something we were counting on so that is very nice. Rosie is a volunteer that cooks for everyone here, and she makes us absolutely delicious authentic Vietnamese lunches and dinners that all the staff enjoys together. We are very spoiled.


On our first afternoon, after lunch, we took a walk as a family (to explore and to try and stay awake for as long as possible to combat jetlag!) around the neighborhood, taking in the sights and sounds, successfully crossing the street for the first time (!), and discovering a small local lake surrounded by walking trails and some nice coffee shops and places to eat. It turns out that a place directly behind our building has The Best Pho In Town (according to Ryan, one of our coworkers), so we are thinking today might be the day!


That night was an epic battle to stay awake in order to talk with the school director and learn about their plans for us and all other procedures and expectations. Turns out she was unable to make it back over that night, so we never did have that meeting, but I (Jason) am glad I fought through to stay up anyways (all other Beckers lost the battle and were zonked out) because A) I got to meet some new volunteers that night who were very cool and very helpful and B) Rosie made us all really great spring rolls for dinner 🙂


The start of our teaching was delayed a day so we had an “extra” day on the front end of things to get settled and explore a bit. We walked around our neighborhood more, finding some bubble tea (DAD! THAT. WAS. THE BEST. BOBA.—Aubrey) and weaving up and down all the alleys to observe life in the city. We have found ourselves in exactly the type of place we hoped we would—there are almost NO Westerners here. Other than our fellow volunteers, we could probably count on two hands the number of white people we’ve seen in this neighborhood. We are able to “sink in” to just about as close to the real life of this town as we could hope for.


But anyhow, after Boba and lunch back at the apartment, we hopped on the local bus and went up to Hanoi’s “Old Quarter,” the beautiful but more tourist-y part where you’ll see the old French Colonial influence and the temples and shops and the PEOPLE and kind of everything all at once! We only walked about for a couple hours before we had to get back. We must definitely get back there at night when everything is lit up and market vendors are multiplying, and we’re told we have to get back there on the weekend, too, for a very different experience. It just so happens that it sounds like all the staff here has cooked up plans to head up there together for dinner tomorrow night—will report!


So that brings us to last night and our first classes! We’re still digesting and discussing how everything went! Maureen and Aubrey went with Michele to observe a couple classes and participate, to a point. Sounds like they had a great time, happy eager students and a fun experience. Aidan, Maya and I were set to class (downstairs in this very building which was convenient) of twenty or so 16- to 25-year olds where the topic of the lessons was Sports and Hobbies. I’m sure we’ll report more on our classes very soon. We hear that this afternoon we’ll each have a class or two, still waiting to hear final details on that. There is also talk about a more permanent placement for our family, something that sounds like it would be a good fit for us, but which would have us not be here in this apartment. We’re hoping that will all get worked out soon.


After class: beers, dinner and oh here we go it has turned into karaoke. 🙂 Super fun and our first chance to get Aubrey on the microphone, and she killed it, and our new friends loved it, and it became a late fun night! At the very moment Aubrey turned eighteen, the stroke of midnight, she was in the middle of belting out an Adele song with Peter, one of the Vietnamese school directors. Awesome! Unexpected! Haha! But a lovely round of Happy Birthday followed. Everyone has been great with Aubrey and Aidan and Maya too. More on that later as well I am sure.


We’re off to a happy start. More as we are able.