WORK HARD……Last week I had the opportunity to plan and present a 2 day conference on aging issues for medical personnel, social workers, and faculty in HCMC. When I originally discussed the idea of a conference on aging there was some doubt about the level of interest in “old people”. We hoped for 35 participants and had to cut off registration at 70! I arranged for 2 of the medical doctors that I have gotten to know to present on biological issues and palliative care and I presented on elder abuse, caregiving concerns, depression, assessment, community resources, and dementia. It was so interesting to have a group of professionals together to discuss the needs of the elderly in Vietnam. When I look back on my experience I think that I will consider this conference as one of my biggest successes of my time in Vietnam.
PLAY HARD…… After the conference Bob and I took three days off to fly to an island off of Vietnam called Con Dao. Eighty percent of the island is a national park and rain forest. The island also has beautiful secluded beaches. Our hotel consisted of private bungalows that were located right on the beach. We rented a motor bike to explore the island. The island is known for the historical prisons that were used during the French and American Wars. We met a local woman who told us about the cemetery on the island where 20,000 prisons were buried (only 700 had marked names). She explained that people only go after 9:00 at night because that is when the ghosts and spirits come out! We didn’t know what to expect but it was quite an experience – locals (mostly Buddhist) bring gifts of flowers, food, and incense to put on the graves as gifts for the spirits. The cemetery has huge monuments to honor the dead. Unfortunately, I wore shorts which isn’t allowed, so our local friend wrapped me up in a hammock that she had in her bike. I was a sight to be seen wrapped in a hammock walking around a cemetery. I think we scared all the spirits away!
We also decide to go on a hike in the rain forest. We were given the option of a 2 hour climb up the mountain or a 5 hour hike. So I say to Bob – let’s do the 2 hour climb today and the 5 hour one tomorrow tomorrow…. Yea right. The two hour climb up the mountain took us 3 hours and it was not without some excitement. Part way up the mountain we got attached by a swarm of bees. We both got between 10 & 15 stings on our face and arms as we were running through the jungle. Fortunately neither of us are allergic to bees. We also heard from one of our Fulbright friends who studies bees that it helps with arthritis so maybe we will good in our old age. But the excitement was not over – when we finally got to the top of the mountain we stopped to take a rest on a bench at an old plantation. Two other women from Holland arrived soon after and we started chatting noisily. Well out of the jungle came a large group of grey monkeys. They kept coming closer and closer like they were going to attack us. I kept thinking about a friend of ours who had to get rabies shots after a monkey bit her. As they continued to come closer we all went running (again) through the rain forest to get away from the monkeys. We were told later that people come up and feed them so they were looking for food from us. Who knew?? We decide to not do the five hour hike the next day! I loved this place and would like to return there someday.