Dave's last updates
The school year finally ended for the kids. The end comes as quite a relief for Abbie and Luke as they had several projects to finish and then final exams. Jean and I both attended the school’s athletic and academic awards ceremonies. Abbie and Luke received a number of nice honors and Jean was also honored for her volunteer work at the school. As classes finished up the kids spent a lot of time with their friends at parties and sleepovers. Everything is jammed into those final few days, as most families are leaving for their summer holiday, or to move on to their next assignment location.
Final goodbyes are one of biggest differences between US public schools and the international schools. In both places, the kids are excited about summer and being done with school. But in the international schools you normally have about one third of the kids who will not return the school the following year. This makes the end of the year bitter sweet for the kids. There are lots of tears in the hallways on the last day of school.
Abbie’s friends threw her a surprise going away party and then her 3 closest friends stayed overnight at our house on the last day of school. Caleb stayed overnight with his best friend and Luke’s friends hung out together several times during that week.
For Jean and I it seemed the last two weeks were filled with goodbye get-togethers. My work colleagues had two separate dinners for us, and we had numerous dinners and lunches with various friends we have made here. All these events were wonderful, but it got more and more difficult to say goodbye as we recognized ever more clearly all the great relationships we have made here.
And then…it was somehow time to climb on a plane and head to Vietnam and Cambodia for our last get away in SE Asia. So on Saturday night, we attended our last church service and flew to Saigon (or as it’s now called Ho Chi Min City). In Vietnam we took a boat ride up the Saigon River and visited the Chu Chi Tunnels. Saigon itself is quite modern and very busy (8 million people, 4 million motor bikes!). It’s becoming a go-to destination for many manufacturing firms due to its developing infrastructure and very low cost labor. Between the influences from the French, the American’s, and more recently the influx of expats the city has a much more international feel than I expected. The country side however, still looked undeveloped. On the river you could see people farming, and fishing with their traditional methods the way I imagine their parents and grandparents did.
The Cu Chi tunnels is a complex of underground tunnels created by the Viet Cong during the civil war with the South Vietnamese and the US in the late 60’s and early 70’s. The huge tunnel complex (hundreds of kilometers) was used to hide from the South Vietnamese and US armies and to protect against US bombing. The tunnels were incredibly small. Even getting through the “enlarged” tourist tunnels was quite a challenge (at least for me). The war, as you would expect, was presented from the “North Vietnamese” perspective. But we learned some interesting things and had a chance to discuss war and a difficult period of US history with the kids. The brutality of war was evident from displays of booby-traps and huge craters left by the B52 bombers. There was a lot of discussion about the tactic of the Viet Cong to blend in with the local villagers by not wearing uniforms and utilizing women and children as soldiers. It’s hard to imagine how confusing it must have been for our soldiers and probably similar in many ways to today’s conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Our next stop was north-west Cambodia in the province of Siem Reap. This area has a amazing grouping of ancient Buddhist and Hindu temples that were hidden away in the jungle for more than a 1000 years. The area, normally referred to as Anchor Wat is often listed as one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. It did not disappoint. It reminded us of the Indian Jones movies! We visited the 3 largest temples, but there were literally dozens more that we did not have time or energy for. Cambodia is quickly developing its tourism industry, but it is still a bit of a hidden gem. Unlike going to something like this in the Greece or Rome, here you could climb all over the temples and pretty much go wherever you wanted. In one of the temples we got separated and spent a half an hour try to relocate each other to give you an idea of the size and complexity.
Poverty is a huge problem for Cambodia. Beggars were everywhere. It was heart breaking to see mothers and children sleeping on the street and so many young children begging. We were told by many sources, not to give money directly to the beggars. Apparently there is a highly developed mafia which controls the children and adult beggars and takes the money that gets collected. A common ploy was for a mother with a baby to ask you to walk into a store and buy them milk powder for the child. However, we were told even this was contrived scheme and the powder is simply sold back to the stores so the Mafia can take the money. Of course, that doesn’t make it any easier to not give something to these people who have so much less than we do. The advice we were given was to tip well and make a donation to one of the reputable charities that works in the area which we plan to do.
All in all, it was a short trip with about 1.5 days in each country. But we were really grateful that we had the chance to see both places even for a short time. Unfortunately, the night flight we were scheduled to fly back on ended up delayed by about 3 hours. So we had a long stay at the airport, followed by the 4 hour flight back to Shanghai where we landed at 7:00am.
Our last day 30 hours in Shanghai were a blur of activity. From 7:00am to 4:00 pm with frantically finished our packing and clean up of the house. Our friends, our driver, our Ayi, and teachers at the school received lots of our stuff that wasn’t coming home. The landlord showed up at 3:00 pm for the handover and I think it was finally completed at about 4:30 pm. This included a 30 minute hunt for the front door key which somehow ended up in the garbage just as we needed to hand it over. There were several other China moments as we finished out the day. We found that we couldn’t get our deposits back from the compounds management office for things like our gate keys and water dispensers. We turned everything in, but we didn’t have the tiny slip of paper (unreadable to us, due to being written in Chinese) from 2 years ago. No paper…no getting your deposit back. Sighhh…. We had enough luggage that we took two trips to the hotel that evening. I tried to check the boys in early so they could go to the pool, only to find the passports were with Jean and Abbie who were waiting back at the house. No passports…no checking in. I’d highly recommend getting more sleep the night before going through this process!
We went to one of our favorite Italian restaurants that night as a final celebration of our time there. It was fitting that we stayed in the same hotel that Jean and I stayed in during our look-and-see visit more than 2 years earlier. The emotions were completely different as you might imagine. In our look-and-see visit we were racked with worry and anxiety about the choice we would make and how it might turn out. That night we were filled with a mixture of thankfulness and sorrow. Sometimes in life you make a decision and have no idea how much it will change your life. Like the first time I called up Jean and asked her if she wanted to go out one night. Other times you clearly know you’re closing a chapter of your life and turning to a new page, like high school graduation or when you bring your first child home from the hospital. This certainly felt like the latter.
Thanks to all of you who have kept up on our blog as this is most likely the final entry. It made life much simpler for us instead of trying to catch up with your all via separate e-mails and phone calls. Thanks also to all of you who have supported us in so many ways while we’ve been gone; through staying connected electronically, or reconnecting during our summer and winter visits home, sending care packages, and for several of you even visiting us in China. We’ll miss our friends and life in Shanghai, but we’re very much looking forward to see all of you much more frequently!
|Busy streets of Saigon on a rainy day.|
|In Vietnam at the Chu Chi tunnels.|
|Caleb hiding in one of the tunnels at Chu Chi.|
|Local ladies out in Saigon.|
|Ta Prohm temple in Angkor Wat - built into huge tree roots.|
|This is the temple of 100 faces in the Bayon temple.|
|Famous shot of the Angkor Wat temples with the reflection of the water.|
|The Elephant Wall at Angkor Wat.|
|Angkor Wat temples in Cambodia|
|Luke checking out the temples.|