Friday, July 13, 2012

How I became a Superhero in Kon Tum, Vietnam!

While the rest of the world was going gaga (not Lady Gaga) over “The Avengers” movie, I was busy being a superhero to some enthusiastic kids at a minority village in Vietnam.

The town of Kon Tum is located in the central highlands of Vietnam. While not as popular as the beach resorts of Nha Trang or Mui Ne, Kon Tum is where a high density of Montagnard minority villages are concentrated

Most of these villages are known for their traditional communal structure known as a Rong House. They are used as places of worship, weddings, village get togethers and sometimes as a school. As a rule of thumb, the bigger and more intricate the Rong House, the more affluential the village.

Motorbiking through the region I had the chance to meet and spend time with many minority villages. A great majority do not see many western travelers so it was always a treat to be welcomed in their homes.

After spending the morning riding around the various villages and seeing my umpteen Rong House, I was about to pass up another one when I saw some children playing outside in the yard, so I stopped and starting talking with two boys who were climbing a pole.

The other children came by and invited to come inside the Rong House which served also as their school. Apparently their teacher was too busy having a conversation with somebody outside so I quickly introduced myself to the classroom and decided to be their teacher for the next couple of minutes.

“My name is Sam and I’m from America,” I announced.

“Sam!” they enthusiastically responded in unison.

“I will be your English teacher today and I will teach you a couple of phrases,” I stated.

Before I could start my informal lesson they demonstrated their proficiency in English by peppering me with questions.

“How many brothers and sisters do you have?”

“What city do you live in?”

“Are you married?”

“How old are you?”

After handling their barrage of questions (these are common questions Westerners are asked when traveling in Vietnam), I started my informal lesson.

“Now everybody repeat after me,” as I started the lesson, “Sacramento is the capitol of California.”

“Washington, D.C. is the capitol of the United States of America.”

“I love to eat carne asada burritos.”

“Sam Antonio is the world’s greatest travel photographer.”

There was a young boy dressed in a yellow shirt who was overly enthusiastic. He had made a paper plane and was launching it in every direction. If that wasn’t enough he would climb a top a chair, desk or on the side of the walls to launch the paper plane from a higher elevation.

After observing him do this a number of times, I said out loud, “Spiderman!”

He responded by pointing at me and crying out, “Superman!”

“That’s right I’m Superman Sam!” I replied.

Then the whole classroom erupted in unison, “Superman Sam! Superman Sam! Superman Sam!”

The English language lesson had now turned into a chorus so I started to photograph the children in their over enthusiastic state. We had fun just laughing, screaming “Superman Sam,” and passing my camera around so all the kids could see themselves on the LCD screen.

There was one girl who was very shy and always avoided my camera. Each time I tried to photograph her she would always hide behind her friends. To get her to open up I abruptly grabbed my camera and declared, “Superman Sam is leaving! Goodbye!”

I just exited the doorway when she ran out and in her quiet voice said, “No.”

I turned around with a big smile and replied, “OK, I’ll stay.”

The whole classroom erupted in cheers and I quickly composed this photograph with the shy girl in the doorway. I think National Geographic would be proud.

Marvel may have their superhero team in The Avengers, but I had my own superhero team, although brief, that afternoon in Kon Tum, Vietnam.

Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!

Yes, that’s me...Superman travel photographer Sam Antonio!

Stay tuned for more of my adventures in Southeast Asia.

Happy Travels!

Text and photo copyright by ©Sam Antonio Photography

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