The other day, my roommate Allison related living in Saigon to living in Peter Pan’s Neverland. It’s this magical place where rules don’t exist and time simply does; days blend into weeks which blend into months and 5 years later you’re still here, existing. People can stay forever flying the same easy life with seemingly never getting old or “growing up”.
Your age makes no difference here – feel free to act like a 21-year-old college kid until you’re 40! Unlike the states, where being a year younger than someone in an office is seemingly appropriate grounds for discrimination, in Saigon, it is no matter. As a 22 year old, I have friends ranging in age from 21 to 34, with no difference in interaction between the ages; everyone is fair game for a meal a drink or a coffee.
As teachers, we are encouraged to channel our inner child when teaching kids so we take a deep breath, think of our favorite Disney movie and then prance into our classrooms and experience an alternate universe where kids make animal noises and act like monkeys, the hokey pokey is danced daily and where, as teachers, we get bonus points from the kids the more times we make fools of ourselves.
The other day I was teaching my 9-year-old darlings about jobs and put the word “grow up” on the board and began explaining what it means to grow up and choose a job. I asked them what they wanted to be and got an array of answers ranging from astronaut to veterinarian to architect to singer (mind you, they had a rather limited choice of vocab words to choose from).
But then one student raised his hand and said “Teacher, what do you want to be when you grow up?”
At first, I was offended that my 9 years didn’t see that I clearly was an authority figure and therefore technically should already be a “grown up” despite the fact that I’m a 5’ 4” girl who wasn’t wearing any shoes in class and only moments before had been trying to get the entire class to belly dance…
But then again, do we ever actually become “grown ups?” I decided that the answer to that question is I hope not.
In Jacqueline Novogratz’s Book The Blue Sweater; Bridging the gap between the Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World, she wrote, “Why do some people stop growing at age 30, just going from work to the couch and television, when others stay vibrant, curious, almost childlike, into their eighties and nineties?”
I hope that I become an example of the latter.
At my new volunteer center, Friends of Street Kids Association (FFSC), where I will be teaching English to Vietnamese street kids and helping the organization with their writing, I met some of the kids I will be teaching and asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up.
Their answers humbled me. These kids range in age between 13 and 16, can’t attend public Vietnamese schools, are dirt poor and living in horrible conditions yet they still have had the motivation to learn English and hold the ambition and drive to become doctors, managers, and engineers.
In the same Neverland where a “splurge” on a meal is $7 dollars, the party never ends and one never grows “old,” these kids live in a completely different reality, fighting everyday for food, survival and education. Maybe these children are the true examples of what a “grown up” should be – facing life in the eyes, but all the while wearing a smile upon their face.