After a 23-hour plane ride, I was exhausted. Do we have to travel across the world for my great grandma’s birthday?
When we landed in Saigon, Viet Nam, we went straight to our hotel, which lacked air conditioning and an elevator, meaning we had to drag our luggage up four flights of stairs in the middle of a heat wave. Why can’t I call her on the phone or mail a present? I’ve never even met her before. I have eczema, and for all I knew, the Saigon sun and heat would just give me an irritating heat rash.
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The next morning, my dad took us shopping. We went to a toy shop. Toys? My brother and I are in high school and no longer play with toys. My dad told us each to pick out 20 items. I had no idea what was going on or what my dad was planning, but I found the mystery to be amusing. I grabbed Barbie dolls and action figures. As we hopped on a rickshaw, I asked my dad where we were going, but he just smiled. The rickshaw finally reached our destination: the front steps of a temple.
A woman monk greeted us and welcomed us into the temple (chua) as though we were her own. As she led us around, I caught an adorable little girl peering at me from behind a pillar. She was bare foot and only wore some shorts. “Where was her mom?” I wondered. As the monk opened the door of the back room, I finally realized my dad’s intentions. We were visiting an orphanage. The children had no shoes, were half dressed, and were very frail. My field of view expanded as I discovered there were many, many more rooms in this temple, filled with orphans.
The 10 year olds looked as if they were 6 or 7. I was shocked. The young infants in the next room had snot-filled noses and were lying in hard metal cradles with no mattresses. I could see the rashes that covered the infants’ bodies. They were so small, so vulnerable, so helpless. I suddenly remembered the toys we brought and ran to my brother, urging him to quickly distribute them. It was soon obvious we didn’t have enough toys. The faces of the toyless children pierced my heart. I wish I could give them something, anything. I noticed the bracelets on my wrist. I got them for my birthday and liked wearing them, but that didn’t matter anymore. I quickly handed them to the few girls who were left. I was delighted as their twinkling eyes lit up. I nudged my dad and insisted we must return later with more toys.
As I left the temple, I felt tears tickling my cheeks. The interaction with the children had touched me.
Outside, the sun was still shining overhead, but it wasn’t so hot anymore. What a different world.
I think to myself, why do some people have so much and others have so little? Why am I so different from those orphans? Why am I so blessed? I wish I could give them more than the immediate satisfaction of toys. I wish to give them a home, an education, a better life. I gave them toys and in return they gave me something much bigger; they taught me to be grateful for everything I have, from my family to the food I eat. I am so lucky.
I’m glad my great grandmother turned 100. Without this trip to visit her, I never would’ve had the experience of a lifetime.
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