Dec. 6th, 2011
Last night I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, (also known as Saigon) Vietnam, and today I took the bus, about three hours, to Vung Tau City where I met with the Blue Dreams Group, a band of disabled young people, many of whom are Agent Orange victims. Agent Orange is a chemical weapon that the USA used in the Vietnam War to make the countryside uninhabitable to guerrilla soldiers and their sympathizers. Unfortunately, the effects are still being felt by people today who are eating food that is grown in contaminated soil. Agent Orange enters the gene pool, so people who are exposed can pass birth defects to their children. US soldiers and their offspring were also exposed to Agent Orange, and the symptoms range from debilitating birth defects, skin disease, heart disease, diabetes, and more.
When I first met the Blue Dreams Group, we had a little performance right away in Vung Tau. They had set up a little stage in the street and a couple hundred villagers were there to watch. Most of the members of Blue Dreams are blind, and many have other disabilities too. Despite their disabilities, the level of musicianship is high. On a humorous note, the leader of Blue Dreams introduced me to the audience, and said my name is Economy.
Dec. 7th. 2011
Today, I rehearsed with some members of Blue Dreams, because we were getting ready for a charity performance at the Ho Chi Minh University of Industry. Christmas fever has now spread throughout Vietnam, so we created a little rendition of Silent Night for saxophone, vocals, and piano.
Unfortunately, the plans for Blue Dreams to join me at events this weekend have fallen through since this rehearsal. It is due in part to the hardships of travel for disabled people. Nonetheless, I feel the performance we had in Vung Tau and the subsequent rehearsal was time well spent, and I will miss Blue Dreams at the Ho Chi Minh University and Cu Chi this weekend.
Dec. 8th, 2011
Back in Saigon today, I had my first street performance since arriving in Vietnam. It entailed a parade from my hotel to the market and included some small treks into the congested intersections. I’ll have to get used to that, as chaotic as it is, because as I continue street performances here, I intend to engage the motorbike traffic more. I should also add that it’s safer than it sounds, because the congestion gets so thick that no one’s moving. Hopefully, I’ll have some better photos soon.
Dec. 9th, 2011
Today I performed at the Faifoo Hotel, where I’m living here. It’s the perfect hotel for me, as the owner, Tina, is herself a musician and holds weekly concerts in the restaurant, including Vietnamese traditional music, jazz, and opera. It was quite a blast, and I was happy to learn some Vietnamese music. It was also nice to meet some solid Vietnamese jazz musicians.
Dec, 10th, 2011
This evening was the long awaited “Dreams of a Christmas Night” charity event at the Ho Chi Minh University of Industry. It was the first charity event to take place at the university, and the hope of the student organizers is that it will become an annual tradition. It was a great success! The students were pleased, and the dean was visibly delighted. The event was even covered by the local news. $2000 were raised, which is a lot here, and over the next week the students will visit several orphanages and other desperate places, to give gifts and provide services. The evening included singers, dancers, a magician, and a panel discussion about education and charity. For my part, I marched through the audience playing saxophone, then told stories and showed slides from the Parade of One project and played some more music.
Of course, seeing the dean dressed up as Santa Claus is what really put a red ribbon on the evening.
Dec. 11th, 2011
Today, I took a trip to Cu Chi, cosponsored by Helping Hand Saigon. First, we visited Thao’s library, where I was accompanied by a blind a guitarist to entertain neighborhood children. Thao, the founder of the library, is severely handicapped from the USA’s use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. (She was born after the war, but due to the lasting contamination and genetic effects, Agent Orange continues to devastate lives here.) Thao was too sick to attend school as a child, so she educated herself at home, then opened her library to help educate others. The kids at the library were delighted with the music. We also played “Name that Tune,” and if someone named a tune their reward was that they got to kiss the person of their choice, but the kids were all too shy to claim their reward. Thao also recited a poem about Agent Orange.
In the afternoon, we visited a rice field in Cu Chi. There weren’t many farmers out, but I played for the ones who were there.
After the rice field, we headed to the Thien Phuc orphanage. Many of the residents there are mentally challenged; oddly, they are the only ones who understand when I try to speak Vietnamese. They enjoyed the music, and requested some spiritual music, as they are a Catholic orphanage. Luckily, they had the sheet music for me!
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