Most of the families had been to culture camp before. One of the reasons families go to culture camp is to connect with other families and for their kids to connect with other kids also adopted from Vietnam. I loved looking at all the different license plates in the parking lot. Most of the families drove, and as you would expect, there were a lot of families from New York and Connecticut. I was surprised at the number of families who drove in from the Midwest (Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and probably others). There is a Midwest culture camp, so I had assumed they would go to that one. They come to the east coast one because they meet up with families who were in their adoption group and most of them are from the east, so the mid-westerners drive to the east coast camp every year. Besides the Vietnamese culture which is taught in classes to the children, camp is about relationships, renewed each year at camp.
Danny was in the “Dragonflies” group, the Pre-K group who were mostly 3 and 4. There were around 30 children in the Dragonflies group, the second largest to the middle school group. I can’t remember seeing so many young Vietnamese children all in the same place. Being a mom of a little boy, I will report what the little boys did. When we were not in sessions or eating meals little boys gathered together. Max had several Cars 2 cars, which he was playing with after dinner. That attracted all the other little 3-5 year old boys. Danny brought several small monster trucks to share. So they played and shared cars and trucks; this was after dinner, before breakfast, whenever there was a time to congregate in the lobby or downstairs. Wherever you find two little boys together, it attracted more little boys and cars and trucks were ever present.
Duc, a little 3 year old boy, whose mom is a single parent, found a dad in the group and attached himself to him. It was really cute. The moms sort of traded kids for one afternoon. The mom and dad of Lulu hung out with Duc and the mom of Duc hung out with Lulu. It was a poignant reminder of the need for men to volunteer to spend time with little boys who don’t have dads.
There was time spent in the indoor pool and the outdoor pool. It rained on one afternoon and the kids were allowed into the (normally adult only) indoor pool, since kids outnumbered adults at the resort. At the outdoor pool, there were moms and dads of older kids laying around on chaise lounges. The parents of the younger kids were in the pool.
I didn’t get a chance to hang out at the indoor pool as I was busy shopping at the “Saigon Market”, the best shopping for Vietnamese items since being in country… almost even better because I didn’t have to haggle for price and each item had the price marked on it.
Mornings were spent away from our children. The children were divided into groups by age and they had counselors who did various activities with the children. Some were cultural, some were just plain fun. Most of the counselors were young Vietnamese women and men. There were two counselors who were adopted from Vietnam!. Many of the counselors come back year after year and just love the children.
In the mornings, parents went to parent only sessions, which dealt with adoption, racial issues or talked about things happening in the Vietnamese community. I attended the talk by Vui Le who wrote Forgotten Generation. I bought the book but have only gotten several pages in. Vui wrote about his parents generation of Vietnamese who left Vietnam for America. Vui had a very interesting story and told this emotional story with a dry wit which I appreciated. His wit does not come out in the book so much. I also attended another parent session with artist and author G.B. Tran who wrote a 300 page graphic novel about his parents journey to America, called Vietnamerica: A Family’s Journey. He didn’t have copies to sell right there, so I have to order it from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
On the first evening, they had a “carnival” after dinner, which was all sorts of games for the children put on by the counselors. Danny and lots of other little (and not so little) boys and girls loved the tug-a-war. It was done with a huge elastic band which the children got in and walked and leaned backwards. Peter was a big winner of his age group.
One of the sessions I enjoyed most is where teens, adopted as children from Vietnam, were on a panel and talked about what it was like to be Asian in their communities and schools and about being adopted. I was impressed with these children, who not only were willing to share their opinions but to get up in front of a couple of hundred parents and talk about themselves and answer questions. One of the “teens” on this panel was an 11 year old boy, Tran, who was Mr. Personality.
There was a talent show and later that night, a teen get together, which I know nothing about since by that time, we had long headed back to our room to get Danny to bed. On the last night, everyone who had one, dressed up in his or her ao dai (Vietnamese traditional costume) and each class did a little performance for the audience (parents and the other kids). Danny’s group (Dragonflies) did the names of the animals from the Vietnamese zodiac in Vietnamese. A couple of groups did a skit of various Vietnamese Folk tales. Event the counselors got a chance to do a skit.
One of the impressive things at the last night get together was getting to see all the counselors dressed up in their ao dai’s. Even the male counselors were dressed up in their ao dai’s and it was fabulous. One of Danny’s male counselors, Duy (whose name is pronounced zoo-ee or you-ee, we get to pick–the first pronunciation was north Vietnamese, the second from the south,) said he was glad to get to wear his ao dai. The last time he wore it was in college and besides at camp, the next time he was going to wear it was in 3 weeks when he was going to marry Hannah (the head counselor at camp, who has been a counselor for 8 years).
On two different occasions, I asked 10 year old campers where they were from. Both times they said “Vietnam”. Of course I was actually trying to elicit if they were from New York or Maine or some other state. I will have to learn to ask the right question, “Where do you live?” since I pretty much knew where they were born.
The middle and high school students learn about human trafficking in Vietnam. That is the main focus that Catalyst Foundation spends its time, energy and money to stop in one province in Vietnam.
Here is a day at a glance:
- 7:45 – Preschool boys play cars in the lobby
- 8:00 – Breakfast
- 8:30 – Preschool boys play trucks in the lobby
- 8:45 – deliver children to their counselors for children’s program
- 9 – 12 – children’s sessions by age group
- 9:00 Parent session 1
- 10:00 Parent session 2
- 11:00 Parent Session 3
- noon – pickup kids from their sessions
- noon – lunch
- 1:00 free time, which we spent driving around getting Danny to take an early nap
- 2:00 family session 1
- 3:00 family session 2
- 4:00 free time — pool was very popular
- 4:45 – preschool boys play trucks in the lobby
- 5:00 pm dinner
- 6:00 pm free time – preschool boys play cars downstairs
- (we used part of this hour for Danny’s bath, before getting dressed again for the evening program
- 7 – 8 evening program
- after 8 — who knows, my kid is 4
No session was required, so if an adult wanted to stay by the pool all day instead of attending the parent sessions, that was OK too. I met a parent who didn’t attend the parent sessions and spent part of the time in the pool or in the row boats. (We never even made it to the pond to see the boats.)
I haven’t mentioned the food. It was very good. I was a little worried about my four year old finding something at every meal to like, but that was not a problem. There was always kid and adult friendly food and plenty of it. They did serve dessert at both lunch and dinner (and I mean cake, ice cream) everyday. I had a hard time explaining to Danny that we couldn’t have dessert at every meal when other kids were eating dessert. There was one mystery. They seemed to put out lemons at dinner but not at breakfast when I want some for my tea. By the third day I figured it out, get lemons at dinner and save them for breakfast the next day. Actually I probably could have requested some at breakfast, they were very accommodating. And there was lemonade and water in pitchers at every table for lunch and dinner. We don’t have lemonade at home, so Danny really liked the drink selection at camp.
One last thing I forgot to mention, scooters. All the older kids brought their scooters with them and they scootered around the halls and other places. I think it was leftover from the camp being at Rowan University where there was a long distance between the accommodations and the conference center or something like that. Had I known, I would have put Danny’s scooter in the luggage. As it was we brought his bike which he has only had for a month but there was not much time to ride around, because there were so many other activities and kids to play with.
Although this place, (Honors Haven Resort), south of the Catskills in NY was a wonderful place, part of me wished it was a little closer to Washington, DC. The last hour was all about trying to decide if we should leave now or wait until the last get together where they were going to give out a bag lunch. We waited. Caroline even imported Banh Mi (Vietnamese Sandwiches) from NYC as lunch while we watched photos of the long weekend on the big screen. It is a good thing they served a bagged lunch, otherwise there would have been 100 families at the McDonalds in Ellenville on the way out of town at lunch on Sunday. We got back home about 8:30 pm after having dinner at McDonalds closer to home.