On Thursday April 10th, at 3AM, Huyen's cell phone rang. It was Huyen's sister in Hanoi giving us some news you never want to get -- Huyen's mom was just diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Needless to say, this was a shock. Huyen's mom is only fifty eight, in great health, and probably the nicest person you'll ever meet. She was having back pain so she went to the doctor who ran some tests and discovered the cancer. After a few more tests they realized it had already spread to her liver. Immediately upon hanging up the phone we decided to move back to Vietnam. Within a month we packed up our lives, rented our apartment and car and moved back to the other side of the world. Huyen and I had always talked about living in Vietnam again for a couple of years so Shayna could learn the language and know her family, but obviously this wasn't the reason we wanted to go back.
We've been in Hanoi for nearly two months now and, most importantly, Huyen's mom is doing pretty well. She's been responding positively to the chemotherapy and, for the most part, is feeling great. She does yoga every morning, cooks every night and smiles every minute of the day. She's truly a remarkable woman and a great role model for anyone who has to take on a hurdle in life.
Things have been much harder this time around for me. Being here with a kid is a whole new and sometimes terrifying experience. When we first arrived we put Shayna into "the best" day care in the near vicinity of my sister-in-law's house. The place was a prison for children. Literally when we walked in, every child was standing with their back against the wall in near darkness. Shayna though smiled and went right up to some kids to play. After we got the nerve to leave her there for the day (with her cousin Hien who goes there) she apparently had a good time. She was all smiles when we picked her up and we thought that the old idiom was true, "all a kid needs is a cardboard box to play with". You know, since the day care had no toys. But what do you want for $75 a month? The next day reality set in when Shayna freaked out upon going back. My heart broke seeing her so sad and I told Huyen we had to get her into one of the international day cares. Thankfully we found a phenomenal place about thirty minutes away. This meant we had to take Shayna in a taxi to and from the school. The problem with this is that Hanoi traffic is terrifying and we don't have a car seat. In fact, I've only seen one car seat in all my time in Vietnam. After a week of a terrible commute, we decided that we needed to move closer to the school. We found a great place but unfortunately it's not available until this upcoming weekend. So we paid a deposit and decided to suck up the commute (and living in a three bedroom house with nine people) for a month and a half. I'll be honest though, I've nearly gone crazy. Somehow I've become the de-facto babysitter for my sister-in-law's kids. Our bedroom almost always has Shayna, her 4-month-older cousin Hien and her 8-year-old-cousin Viet Hoang in it. The three of them tear it apart every day and her cousins have basically broken all the toys we came here with.
There's a thousand stories to tell so let me just try and give a few highlights:
1. We've been trying to potty train Shayna as kids here don't wear diapers. Needless to say it's been a messy couple of months. On top of that, her cousin Hien has also decided that our bed is a suitable place to go #1.
2. While looking for another day care we heard rave reviews about a former teach in our neighborhood who watches a handful of children during the day. We called the teacher and asked if we could bring Shayna in. She sounded very skeptical but hinted to the fact that if we paid more money than the other kids that she'd be able to watch Shayna too. So the next morning we went to her house and when we walked in we saw two kids playing with an odd looking toy. It turned out to be a dead cockroach. Great teacher!
3. One day I went to the swimming pool with Su, Viet Hoang and a neighbor kid. While taking a break from swimming laps the lifeguard came up to me and said he was impressed I could swim. I'm pretty sure he couldn't. And even if he could, he was piss drunk.
4. I was just on VTV News for playing ultimate frisbee. I'm trying to resurrect my Vietnam soap opera career but so far I haven't had any bites.
5. I can barely recognize Hanoi. In three years the city has doubled in size. There are literally hundreds of new tall buildings. One can only imagine the safety codes these places wouldn't pass in the states. There's a new giant mall called Royal City that we went to the other night. There's an ice rink in the mall which means my dream of one day playing on the Vietnamese Olympic Ice Hockey Team is getting a little closer.
6. I've been playing tennis with the parents of my former private students. These families have been amazing to Huyen and me for years. It's really nice that we've been able to stay in touch with them and they've taken us under their wing once again. Every Monday I play doubles with the fathers and then go to one of their houses after for a huge meal. My favorite part of playing tennis though is that these guys drink beers while playing. They told me it's good for your health to drink while exercising.
7. Yes, we've taken Shayna on a motorbike. We've only done it a couple of times in quiet areas. But she loves it. I'm gonna need to buy a side-car so we can take some road trips!
8. Shayna misses her family back in the states. She's constantly pointing at the computer and saying "Grandma and Pop Pop."
9. Shayna speaks more Vietnamese than me. It's pathetic and everyone lets me know it.
10. I'm trying to convince Huyen to let me invest in a bar in Da Nang. Can someone please send me a copy of Cocktail to get her fired up!