30 Day Travel Series: Dance Party to Russian Military Music

I have a wife and a kid of my own now and sometimes we will just be at home and turn on Russian military music and dance around.

The music paused; Julian told the people in the group to find a new partner. I was a little nervous because this was our first workshop abroad. I monitored the room to make sure everyone had a partner. I tapped the person closest to me to be my partner. He was a forty-five year old man who grew up in Northern Vietnam. Julian announced the next instruction: “Please tell your partner about a musical memory - a band, a song, a concert or type of music that is close to your heart. Something that makes you nostalgic. You have a minute or so each.”

“You can go first,” I said.

“Well, honestly the music that I feel most nostalgic for is Russian military music. When I was growing up the Vietnamese government banned most music. So Russian military music was really all that was out there. It was what I listened to growing up and until I was in my twenties. It was pro-communist. Even though I'm not a communist now that is the music that reminds me of my childhood and growing up. I have a wife and a kid of my own now and sometimes we will just be at home and turn on Russian military music and dance around.” He laughed and shrugged.

“But the music that changed my life the most was Pink Floyd. I discovered Pink Floyd the very first time I logged onto the Internet in the 90’s. I saw the lyrics and boom - it was like the whole world was turned upside down in front of me. I thought this world is so much bigger than Vietnam - I want to go out and see it.”

Whoa. I felt like I might fall to the floor because my mind was racing with a hundred thousand questions for him. How FASCINATING that one person’s answer to a question about music can reveal such a vivid snapshot of a piece of political history.

His answer made complicated political history so much easier for me to understand. I do not retain information very well when I learn it from books, and sometimes, because of this, I’m embarrassed about my lack of historical knowledge. Five minutes into the first workshop I could tell that this trip was going to be good for me. I was going to learn so much. I knew at some point I had learned about Russia and Vietnam’s political relations, but hadn’t retained any of that knowledge. Now that I had the image of Thuc and his wife dancing around the house to Russian military music I realized I had the context and human connection that made the history real to me.

Julian spoke up over the group and said, “Time to switch. The second partner should share now.”

My partner opened his hand, inviting me to share. My brain was still spinning in circles from his story as I shared mine. “The music that is closest to my heart and that makes me feel the most nostalgic is a song called Christmas Island. It is a song my Dad plays every year around Christmas. It is sorta country bumpkin, but I love it because whenever it is on I know I am home. I can usually smell something my Mom is cooking or the fire my Dad just started and I know that no matter what is going on in my head or in my life, I can just be there at home right then. You know how music can do that to you?”

He nodded and smiled, “I totally get it.”

When we finished the ice breaker I was like jumping around in circles in excitement. I wasn’t nervous anymore; I was just pumped about what the months ahead had in store for us!

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This is one of 30 untold stories of launching a global project (with my boyfriend, Julian) about love, story telling and connecting change makers.

Read all 30 days here: http://www.smithmag.net/community/people.php/HBOX

Throughout Vietnam, South Africa, and Uganda, we engaged with 650 everyday people working to make the world a better place to share their stories. Inevitably, there were parts of our adventures we couldn’t tell while on the road, because we were a start up trying to prove our merits as a serious social change project or because of nervous families monitoring our journey. But the truth is while we worked passionately to bring our dream project to life we also had an adventure of a lifetime. Here are the stories behind the stories of the Million Person Project: http://www.millionpersonproject.org.

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