January 2010
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I hate grasshoppers!!

Ngan Hac Giay Volunteers

Last Sunday, I went to meet with some volunteers from the Ngan Hac Giay Organization.  I was picked up at my Aunt’s house at 8:00AM by Son…one of the lead volunteers of the group.  We were going to meet the other members at a park right in front of Diamond Plaza in District 1.   I was told that the purpose of this meet up was to do some final fund raising for our weekend trip to Chu Prong and Duc Co to aid the Gia Rai ethnic minority (see this post).

When Son first told me about the trip to help the Gia Rai…he mentioned that there were going to be a diverse group of people coming….locals, foreigners like me, and medical professionals.  Son also told me that coming to the fund raiser wasn’t necessary…but I wanted to meet some other volunteers before our trip.  I had assumed that there were going to be some other people new to the group or at least a few foreigners….but it was just me and a bunch of kids from Ngan Hac Giay….most probably in their early 20s.

I felt really old.

There were only 3 people at the park  when Son and I arrived.  One of the first persons I met was a kid named Phi.  He might not have even been 20 years old.  He was in the process of turning what I believe is a coconut leaf into a grasshopper.  The group regularly met to create beautifully intricate grasshoppers, birds, and flowers out of these leaves…hence the name of their organization…..Ngan Hac Giay = A Thousand Paper Cranes.  The organization would give out these creations to people to advertise their cause….and in return hopefully garner some donations for their efforts.  I would have never believed that you could conjure up such amazing creations out of a single leaf if I hadn’t seen them do it right in front of me.  The birds were apparently the easiest the make, then the flowers and the most difficult was the grasshopper.

my misshapened grasshopper

When Son and I showed up….he asked 2 of the guys that were already there to follow him somewhere and it was just me and Phi.  I wanted to feel useful…so I asked Phi to show me how to make a grasshopper since he had already started on his.  He proceeded to show me how to cut the dried withered part of the leaf off….and then unfold the 2 layers of the leaf so that we had one flat long leaf with a thick center vein to work with.  That turned out to be by far the easiest and perhaps the only thing I managed to do right the next few hours.  I’ll be the first to admit that I have no artistic ability at all.  I have a hard time drawing a circle without screwing it up.

After about an hour of trying to mimic Phi….I still had no idea what I was doing.  Now I know how my dad feels when I try to teach him how to use a computer (Hi Bo!).  More people started showing up…until there were about 15 people in total.  Everyone was doing their own thing….I was the only one that appeared completely lost.  One of the guys that showed up was apparently the expert in all things created out of coconut leaves….he eyed my lumpy leaf thing…which looked nothing like a grasshopper and told me to start over.  According to this guy, Ngoc Anh, I had wasted the last hour learning from Phi… who unbeknownst to me had  just started learning how to make grasshoppers since that morning….and apparently had been teaching me everything wrong.  Arghhh!!

What it was supposed to look like

But it turns out that no matter who taught me….I could not wrap my head the whole concept of making things out of a leaf.  After fiddling around for a couple hours and not being able to make anything….even though a few people were nice enough to stop what they were doing to try to teach me….I was completely hapless and helpless.  I felt really bad that not only was I not helping…I was slowing everyone else down too.

A little later on, a couple of new people showed up with balloons to blow up.  I was never so happy to see balloons in my life.  Finally something I could do.  There were a lot of balloons to blow up…and instead of doing it the old fashioned way….they had one person using a little plastic hand pump to blow them up.  It was slow going…and instead of waiting for the pump to free up…I began blowing up the balloons by mouth.  Everyone was very impressed. 🙂  I believe I blew up more balloons than everyone else….although half of them ended up bursting in the hot sun.

The Coconut Leaf Master at work

After blowing up balloons for an hour, Ngoc Anh (the coconut leaf master) offered to show me how to fold flowers.  Drat!!  I thought I wasn’t going to be asked to fold anything anymore after the fiasco that morning.  He cuts a coconut leaf in half and shows me how to twist the leaf into little loops, counterclockwise to make the petals of the flower.  He told me not to worry so much about the shape of the petals…since he could fix it for me afterwards.  I can definitely say I did a better job with the flower than I did with the grasshopper.  I decided to quit while I still had a little bit of dignity left and called it a day.

My flower....after it was fixed

It was definitely a learning experience and hopefully if I ever come to one of these fundraisers again I will do a better job.  I don’t know if they would ever want me back though.  Hopefully the trip this weekend will entail more of a hands on approach and I won’t be required to do anything artistic….for the sake of the Gia Rai people.

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1 comment to I hate grasshoppers!!

  • PaulinaE

    That’s so cool! The Vietnamese do have some amazing talents, especially when it comes to things such as creating a rose out of the coconut leaves. I used to know someone who could create unbelievable scenery on Vietnamese style jelly (rau cau). Love it. Thanks for sharing.

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