One day while walking around ho chi minh, we saw some kids kicking around in a group something that seemed like a hacky sack. Though it looked a bit different, as it was long and had feathers attached.
When eating lunch that day, a guy sitting next to us told us it was called Cao, and is one of the favorite sports of the Vietnamese, along with badminton and volleyball. They refer to it as a shuttlecock in english. It has a bit of a spring at the bottom and long feathers attached. According to wiki, the game is officially called Jianzi.
That night, as the sun set, we strolled through a large park and there were tons of groups of kids playing with these things, some of the in uniforms, like it was a league or something. A guy came up to us with a basket of them and tried to sell us some. So we bought three of them for 1 dollar apiece, each complete with a nice plastic tube for protecting it when not in use.
We decided to have some fun and try it out ourselves in our group of 3, a little ways away from the main action, even though we knew we'd look out of place. After only a few minutes, a young boy maybe 12 came over to join our circle and teach us some moves. We were hitting it off our chest (at least attempting to), and off the back of our foot. Then, two girls came over to join, making us 6. Then, two or three more came, and eventually we were a circle of 10 or 12 playing this game.
Its bloody hot and humid in vietnam, so after 45 minutes my shirt was soaked in sweat and I sat down exhausted. One of the girls came up and started to speak to me in basic English. After a few more minutes of playing, Mark and Dennis sat down. Soon, 3 others sat around me, first introducing themselves, and then all were all talking to me in English. And 4 or 5 more seemed to sit around Mark and Dennis. People came and went, joining our English chat circle.
Basically, all these kids, most of them between 17 and 21, really wanted to speak English. Some of them said they come here occasionally to find foreigners to speak with. They said their English teachers aren't the greatest, and that knowing English is one of the most important qualifications for their job prospects when they graduate.
I also got to learn a little bit about them. For example, one guy, who had graduated and started working at a construction company already, explained to me that since his family is from the south, all of his cousins now live in the US. A lot of the south supporters were granted asylum in the US. After the war, they were first sent to Minnesota, and now all live in Los Angeles. He said his cousin left when she was 4. When she came back to Vietnam recently, she was completely surprised, knowing how to speak Vietnamese but not really know how incredibly different of a place it is than the US. He also recently quit his job and took one month to travel to Thailand, which I sensed is a huge huge leap of faith as he elected not to tell his parents. He went for two month to live in a Vietnamese buddhist pagoda north of Bangkok. He also referred to Ho Chi Minh as Saigon, the south vietnamese name prior to the war. Another guy and girl were studying law, in their first year, and another girl studying accounting in her third. Apparently the cost of their education is about 400 dollars. To us, that seems like nothing, but they said for them it is really expensive. Amazing to know that with 400 USD you can get someone who needs it a University level education for a year. Small amount to us, huge to them.
I was very impressed with the serious enthusiasm and desire to learn English from these guys. I've never been to a place where I really felt people wanted to go out of their way to speak with me and learn English so much, and which in the end could be of so much use for their careers. Where only one hour of my time meant a lot to them. They had tons of questions to ask. I wanted to ask them more about their opinions of the war, but I sense it is a touchy subject, as the US pretty much mangled the country for several generations to come. These kids, however, were still enthusiastic that I was from the US, a native speaker that they could practice English with.