Reel Vietnam – “My Accident”

Reel Vietnam – “My Accident”

by Cameron Brtnik

Excerpt from a letter I wrote to a friend in Taiwan just after moving to Vietnam

Speaking of accidents…

    I had a bad one last month (worst one since I started driving a motorbike in Asia). I was going about 50 km, which isn’t that fast in Taiwan. I was in a rush as it was a Monday morning and I was running late for a job interview. It was an old bike and I knew the brakes were shoddy, so I shouldn’t have been driving so fast in the first place.. but it totally wasn’t my fault. I was driving merrily along, and the car in front of me made a left turn – and suddenly there was this old dude on his motorbike just stopped in the middle of the goddamned road!

    Now that I’m more experienced I realize this “maneuver” is “normal” here. The back of his bike had about 100 boxes loaded on top of it. He was just sitting there like he was daydreaming, and I saw him too late… I tried to brake but the brakes were shit, so I swerved to miss him and flew off my bike like Superman… landing on the pavement with my entire body weight broken by my left hand. I got up and dusted myself off – seemingly fine due to the adrenalin coursing through my body – thankful I was alive and apparently uninjured, but furious… The guy actually stopped on the side of the road, but didn’t get off his bike to help. He just looked somewhat scared and confused (*note like in Taiwan locals are often scared of hitting foreigners). I then did something I’ve fantasized about since I started driving a motorbike: I walked right over to him and kicked his bike as hard as I could, tipping it along with him and his boxes over.. but he somehow caught his balance on one leg (these old dudes are strong!), then drove off.

    My bike was shattered and leaking gas, but miraculously it still worked. I defeatedly drove off and continued to my job interview.. and that’s when the adrenaline dissipated and the pain kicked it… It felt like my left hand was broken, so I drove myself directly to a hospital (where the doctor actually laughed at the frantic state I was in). It was extremely painful driving, but luckily my hand was only sprained. I wore a cast for two weeks. My hand is still healing and sore if I use it, but I’m sure it’ll fully heal. So there’s my accident story! On the plus side I now feel a lot more confident when I’m driving – It’s a different art altogether in Vietnam.

Your Taiwanese buddy, Cameron

Reel Vietnam – “A Little Goes A Long Way”

Reel Vietnam – “A Little Goes A Long Way”

By Cameron Brtnik


      On May 27, 2017 I jumped in a van – joined by my fellow teachers Peter from America and Marty from Australia, both living and teaching in Vietnam, and Toby, a winemaker from California and one of the sponsors, – and rode the hour long trip to Tien Hiep Secondary School in Ha Nam. This was my second excursion to a rural school in the countryside with BLV – Better Life Vietnam – a non-profit organization that promotes learning and reading to students who attend schools that don’t receive enough funding for school materials or resources or even programs like a library. BLV does this by visiting these schools, often located in rural areas of Vietnam, and providing English classes and activities taught by foreigners, an opportunity that students in these villages would not normally get. BLV also does this by donating books to those children who don’t normally have access to an abundance of learning resources.

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{BLV’s wonderful team of supporters and volunteers from USA, Canada, NewZealand, Australia and Vietnam}

      On my first trip to Hà Nam, I had such a great experience bringing joy to these underprivileged children I had to do it again! When you arrive at the school, the students’ eager looks, the excitement in their voices, their enthusiasm to speak and learn English – If you’re an English teacher in Vietnam, you understand that these are all the reasons we teach in the first place. This is an experience you may not find teaching at schools in the larger cities. It was no different this time around. When we arrived at Tien Hiep Secondary School, we were greeted by bright, smiling faces excited at our arrival. The students were very shy to speak to us at first; keep in mind their speaking level is at the “Hello, what’s your name?” level. We split up into various classrooms and each volunteer teacher taught the students a 30 minute class. They were so well behaved, they made us forget all about the naughty kids we had back in Hanoi!

See here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2qUsEgl0qHg&feature=youtu.be

      We then hit up our second school for the day, Trinh Xa, where we played activities and handed out books to nearly 300 students! The organizers, Thinh Nguyen and Nhung Nguyen, hosted the school’s event and introduced each of the volunteers. One at time, we took to the stage to talk with the students, play games, perform magic tricks, teach English and give them advice – namely sharing with them the importance of reading – all this to 300 students!

Watch here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nPnYx9Ws2ew&feature=youtu.be

     Then the best part: Handing out the books. It was like a hundred Christmas gift-openings at once! The children tore open boxes, reached inside and hurled out books, choosing a book that perhaps caught their eye or had a familiar title. Lots of photographs and video were taken throughout the day to document the day’s events. After all the fun and games, the organizers again took time to talk about the importance of reading, and encouraged students to keep learning no matter what their education or family’s situation is.

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After a full morning, we joined the school principal and teachers for a lovely locally-prepared  lunch, enjoyed with a toast with their local rice wine. What a splendid way to end an already awesome day!

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     Started by Thinh Nguyen in 2017, Better Life Vietnam was established as a way to reach underprivileged areas of Vietnam, and to help less fortunate children and families in Vietnam: “Better Life Vietnam was founded with the belief that access to education, food, healthcare, clean water and a decent quality of life are basic human rights.” BLV is an outstanding organization that develops programs to sponsor schools, provide educational material, donate books, and organize events – all geared toward underprivileged schools in rural areas of Vietnam. They also initiated a superb program that interviews students’ families about their family and financial situation, choosing one of those families (based on various factors) to sponsor by providing livestock so that they, typically farmers, can earn money. Visit their website www.betterlifevietnam.org for more information.

VOLUNTEERS WANTED!

BLV is currently looking for volunteers to help with teaching classes, hosting activities, taking photographs/video of the event and video editing, as well as other jobs. This is a fantastic opportunity for you to donate your talents and time to a worthy and fun cause: providing better living for students in Vietnam! Note: Some organizations in Vietnam make the volunteer pay for their time. This opportunity is free for all volunteers!

If you would like to get involved please contact Better Life Vietnam at
Email: betterlifevietnam@gmail.com

Cameron is a freelance writer, English teacher, and volunteer living in Hanoi, Vietnam

Travel-ogue: Reel Vietnam – Ninh Binh Family Homestay “Home From Home”

Travel-ogue: Reel Vietnam

Ninh Binh Family Homestay 

“Home From Home”

SO YOU’RE TRAVELING in Vietnam: You’ve been to the South and navigated the dizzying traffic of Ho Chi Minh City (still referred to by its original name Saigon), visited the amazing Cu Chi Tunnels, and took some selfies in front of the magnificent Notre-Dame Cathedral. Perhaps you worked on your tan on the pristinely white sand of Phu Quoc. You certainly explored the luminous and magical Ancient Town in Hoi An, and definitely visited the capital of Vietnam, Hanoi, walking through the bustling Old Quarter, strolling around the beautiful West Lake, and stopping by some historical temples where you can even view Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed body at his mausoleum (which amusingly was named the world’s sixth ugliest building in 2012). And of course, no Vietnam trip is complete without a boat cruise through the hauntingly beautiful Halong Bay. But, perhaps towards the end of your trip, you’re ready for some peace and quiet away form the hustle and bustle and all the tourists… That’s when you open your Lonely Planet and discover the small city of Ninh Binh. Located in northern Vietnam, and the capital of Ninh Binh Province, the area is best known for its largest nature reserve, Cuc Phuong National Park. “But why travel to Ninh Binh?”, you ask. To stay at the Ninh Binh Family Homestay, of course!

Run by a young, lovely Vietnamese couple, Mr. Nguyen Thanh – or Scott as his guests call him – and his wife Mrs. Tran Hang, along with their two adorable children Bo and Min, the Ninh Binh Family Homestay really is, as their motto says, “Home From Home” (mind the endearing grammatical error). And I should know; I’ve been here for one week! I discovered the NBFH on the Southeast Asia Backpacker Facebook page, advertising that they were looking for a “volunteer English teacher,” and that they provided free accommodation, food, as well as a motorbike! I was traveling through Southeast Asia at the time and couldn’t resist; a chance to do what I love – teaching children, a profession I’ve been working in for the past five years in Taiwan – and explore a remote and authentic region of Vietnam.

I was welcomed graciously by Scott and his family, and on the first evening we enjoyed a delicious traditional dinner on a rug shared by other homestay guests from Australia, and the States, with a hearty chicken and vegetable soup, crispy spring rolls Vietnamese style (both Family Homestay specialties), and homemade “happy water” – you’ll find out what makes it “happy” once you try it So far I’ve taken my motorbike out on day-long excursions, exploring the countryside, and generally getting lost – the best way to figure out your bearings! It’s not unusual to encounter a herd cows blocking the road, free range chickens frantically scurrying about, and “goat traffic” which, instead of being gridlocked behind a line of cars, you’ll find yourself stuck behind a traffic jam of goats! We also take morning bike riding excursions with the guests – and there are plenty of guests to keep me company during my stay as the the Homestay is always at 75% occupancy – through the peaceful rice fields, admiring the local farmers as they plant all the rice seeds by hand, and the abundant livestock as you’re sure see some intimidating but friendly oxen lazing along the dirt roads, gaggles of garrulous geese (sorry for the cheesy use of alliteration), as well as a wide array of other farm animals grazing in the grasslands.

There are of course some excellent local tourist destinations you can visit just a bike-ride away: Ninh Binh City contains the impressive Bai Dinh Pagoda, the largest pagoda in Vietnam, as well as the biggest bronze Buddha statue in Southeast Asia! For a unique excursion, you can take the Trang An boat tour, winding through the Song Sao River and breathtaking mountains made entirely of limestone, and even passing through natural cave – but just a “heads up,” you’ll have to duck your head! Cool fact: Trang An is the site where they filmed the new King Kong film “Kong: Skull Island!” Scott also offers his own unique tours, scenic bike rides through the countryside, and his “special tour” designed only for the bravest guests with a sense of adventure, and danger… I have posted some photos, but pictures cannot do justice to what you’ll see when you explore Ninh Binh yourself. I’ll be updating you again soon, and posting photos daily on their Instagram account “Ninhbinhadventure.”

So stay tuned, and when visit the Ninh Binh Family Homestay, remember to say, “Mot hai ba zho!” as you down your first, but certainly not last, shot of happy water. Cheers!

-Cameron
Ninh Binh, January 26, 2017

Cameron is a freelance writer and blogger, and currently works as a tour guide in Hanoi, Vietnam. He now enjoys happy water on a weekly basis