Back on 2 September, I wrote about my frustrations in not having friends here in Việt Nam to communicate with. I received some very supportive comments to that posting that I appreciated very much. However, I obviously had to be the one to take action and find a way to develop some conversation partners.
Charvey had the best suggestion, seconded by Jon Hoff -- attend the "English Conversation Hour" at 8:00 a.m. at the large youth center in downtown Saigon. So I did today -- there were 500 Vietnamese young people there (plus a few older citizens), and me, the one non-Vietnamese person there. There was no leader -- everyone just distributed themselves into conversation-sized groups and started in. The conversation "hour" lasted until 11:00 a.m., though, which is a lot of talking. I wish there had been some mechanism to encourage the shifting of participants every half-hour or so -- there was some shifting in of new people into and out of our group, but I spoke with many people in our group the entire three hours. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this gathering very much.
These young people seem to take the importance of learning English very seriously. Many of them told me that speaking English fluently was imperative for advancement in their careers. It certainly takes a great deal of motivation to give up three or four hours on a Sunday morning to come in and work hard trying to speak a second language. Most of them said they come every Sunday even though the conversation topics are somewhat limited to what people can ask, and are therefore repeated over and over. Many of the students came from living places far out in the outer reaches of HCMC (there is a large university in Thủ Dức, a suburb of Sài Gòn, but still within the city limits of TP. Hồ Chí Minh.)
Although this group of Vietnamese is probably not representative of the population as a whole (being mostly university students), they impressed me for the future of Việt Nam. They were lively and gutsy individuals and weren't shy about jumping into the conversations.
I am sure there will be some good friendships developing with some of these young people. I am looking forward to working hard to earn their friendship. Some said they will help me to learn Vietnamese, too -- I need all the help I can earn.