Temple Soccer

April 20, 2010 Vietnam by Steve Martin Edit

The shriek as we walk into a temple with the children is alarming. The boy who yelped puts down his cheap plastic soccer ball and kicks it at James. The response is instant. James runs at the ball in his fussy 3 year old way and kicks the ball as hard as he can. The smiles are huge on both boys.

What follows is fantastic. For the next 15 minutes in the Hoi An heat James, Emily and their new friend run like madmen after the soccer ball in the forecourt of the temple. The boy's father and mother appear to be the temple caretakers and revel in their sons game.

Tourists who come in look a little confused. This is a temple, a sacred place. But here three children are running, playing, laughing and screaming in pursuit of that ball. We watch the locals for their reaction to know what is and what isn't acceptable and so far they love it.

Hoi An is an amazing place. The ancient port town was once a major trade center for people from all over Asia. Now it's on the tourist trail, selling cheap tailor made clothes and art work to travelers from around the globe.

You have to be on your guard. As you walk down the streets the shop owners call out to you, "Mister... mister... you look in  my shop?. I make clothes for you... very cheap". Once inside they are excellent salesmen, dangerous even.

Everyone it seems come from a long line of tailors. Lai who ends up making clothes for Jo is studying tourism in Saigon, but has learnt the trade in clothes from his mother. He cuts the cloth and gets another tailor to make the coats and pants, but sews the shirts himself.

In 24 hours Jo has made a significant addition to our luggage. When I go into town with her to pick up the clothes I can't resist either. Lai hassles, harangues and harps at me until I pick something out. He does it all with great humour, but great insistence... and I succumb. [Mind you it's a better deal than 4 tablecloths masquerading as bed sheets!]

Hoi An has been a welcome break. There's a beach, a pool, several restaurants and bars, and this great little town near the hotel to take you off into another time and place. A place where the local food markets smell a bit like a wet dog, the fruits and vegetables include items that seem impossible for nature to imagine, and a wily bunch of sellers on the lookout for western wallets like mine.  

When I bought bananas I knew I was paying too much. I paid 15,000 Dong for a kilo of decent looking green bananas. As I walked away I heard the womans voice mocking me to her friend confirming her victory. But I shared the victory because 15,000 VND is about 85 Australian cents, and that makes it a remarkably cheap bunch of bananas to keep my daughter happy. 

Vietnam is an eye opener. Most people are dirt poor by western standards. Many of them look like they have aged beyond their years and all of them seem to be on the look out to get the best deal. I don't think they are looking to rip anybody off, they are looking to win the bargaining. I suspect there's a pride from bettering someone who obviously has more than they do. Perhaps there's a pride from getting more money from someone who doesn't need to save a few cents. Then again perhaps they have all just watched the haggling scene from "The Life of Brian".

Back at the hotel Jo has made a friend. While eating lunch the table next to us seats a couple with a small, quiet Vietnamese boy. The couple is fussing over the boy like new parents because that is exactly what they are. Barbara and Maurizio have traveled to Vietnam from Italy to meet their new son.

Marco was abandoned at birth and has been raised by the state for his two and half years. He watches everything. Quietly. Intently. He says nothing. Barbara explains that while the nurses at the orphanage give the children excellent care, they have no time for real personal attention. The result is that Marco has interacted with children his own age, but not with adults who love him and teach him.

They are waiting for the paperwork to clear so Marco can fly home with them to Rome and start a new life. The adoption process has taken them three years, and they had no idea which child they would get. Slowly but surely we can see that Marco is taking to them. They have known him for only a week.

When he starts to get tired he climbs onto Maurizio's chest and snuggles in. Maurizio, whether he realises it or not, snuggles back. It's clear that these two are smitten by their new son.

Over the three days we see them Marco is a little more animated each time. By the last day we see them he even cracks a shy smile, at what I don't know, but a smile nonetheless.

I can only imagine what it's like for this new family. It's hard enough dealing with two children that you know from birth. Knowing what will set them off, and what will calm them down. But taking on a new child at two and a half who doesn't understand your language and who has only known an orphanage seems like a huge and scary commitment. But this family has begun and nothing it seems is going to slow them down or hold them back.

We have swapped contact details and plan to catch up in Rome. We can't wait to see how they all settle in together. We want to see how this little boy takes on his extended adopted Italian family. We want to see how he changes and comes alive.

I saw Marco watching Emily a little more than James. Emily is a busy child who never stops. She is the naughty child, into everything, daunted by nothing. If Marco was looking to take any behaviour cues from my daughter then Maurizio and Barbara are in for a wild ride. We will see how it turns out in coming months.