Monday, December 15, 2008

First Hike in Vietnam

Last Saturday, a few students came to take me and Caleb up the hill near the school. They came at 7:30 in the morning, and we walked to the hill and hiked up to the peak. It was a very pleasant morning and a nice little hike. We had nice chats along the way and got to know the students a little better. On the way back down, we stopped by a cute little pine grove on the hillside. It was carpeted with pine needles, and the air was filled with the pine scent, and I felt for a brief moment as if I was in Yosemite. Caleb enjoyed picking pine cones and playing with the students.

Crazy Mike

I have a friend.
His name is Mike.
He has a bike.
Mike and his bike
are now on their way
to Vietnam for a 1000 mile ride along the coast of Vietnam.
He'll be spending his Christmas and New Year with his bike somewhere
in a country totally foreign to him.
Please remember him in your thoughts and prayers.
I hope to see him on Jan 5th here in HP, in one piece.
You can check out his US coast-to-coast trip last year here

Monday, December 8, 2008

December is here


It's been getting cooler here, and I actually had to wear a jacket to class this week for the first time. First time wearing a jacket in VN. The students almost didn't recognize me with a jacket. All this time, they have been bundling themselves up in the classroom with scarfs and gloves and wondering why their teacher is still in his short sleeve shirt! This week, they finally saw a jacket on me, and so some were taking pictures of this rare sighting.

I have actually been enjoying the cool air, treasuring it because I know when spring and summer come, I will be suffering in the sweltering heat again. I am trying to savor and suck up all the cold air now, saving it for the hot summer days.

Not only has the weather turned cooler, the air has also become a lot dryer. It can get so incredibly dry here in the winter, in contrast to the 100% humidity of the summer. The skin now is trying to cope with the extremely dry air. It would be nice some rain now!

Teaching has been busy as usual. I just gave the students their 2nd listening midterm last week. This coming Wednesday will be their 2nd speaking midterm. They're all busy preparing for the speaking test this week. They say speaking is the hardest of the 4 skills. The test is very simple. Each student comes into the classroom when it's his/her turn and sits down in front of me and speaks for 2 minutes on a topic that I choose. I have given them seven possible topics to prepare for, and I will pick one in random during the test. Grammar and pronunciation will be the main things for which I will be listening.

Electricity and water have been quite flaky these days. We just don't know when power gets cut off and for how long. When there's no power, then the pump doesn't work and we also run out of water. On Friday, I woke up to no water and had to use drinking water to brush my teeth to get ready for my 6:30am class. I also used the stored water in the barrel in the bathroom to wash my face, wondering whether it was clean enough to use. This morning, there was no electricity in the classroom, so a student needed to run outside to buy batteries so we could use the CD player for our listening lesson.

On a positive note, the school gave us a driver and a van to take Grace and Caleb to the airport in Hanoi. We had planned to take the bus and taxi with our luggage, leaving HP at 5am to make it to the airport in time. But at the last minute, the school said they could provide a driver to pick us up right outside our room at 6:30am. We felt like VIPs. We hope that they will come through for us again this coming Thursday when Grace and Caleb need to be picked up at the airport in Hanoi.

The past two weeks, Manny and Ruth have been taking good care of me. They cooked and invited me over for dinner almost every day. They are a kind couple. Some students also brought over snacks like chestnuts, dried lychees, and "banh bot loc". I have been provided for. I am grateful.

Just got news yesterday from a good friend and ex-coworker in San Jose that she is getting married in January. Too bad I won't be there for their wedding. Wishing them joy and many blessings in their life together!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Little excursion to the countryside

Lien and Hanh biking up Kien An bridge.

Arriving at Lien's house

Inside Kim Anh's house

Vegetable fields

This woman is carrying a lot of stuff on her bike

Lien's house

Kim Anh's house

A man walking his buffalo bare footed along the main street to An Duong

This morning at 7:30am, 3 girls waited for me outside of the school gate with their bicycles to take me on a little tour of their hometown. They come from farming parents and live in a small village called An Duong, about 5-7km away from the school. Two of them, Lien and Hanh, were on one bike (if you look carefully, you can see both of them pedal together up the Kien An bridge in the picture) and Hang on another. I followed them on mine. It was a nice, sunny but cool morning, and biking there was actually very relaxing and enjoyable. I took a few pictures as we were biking and they showed me a few different things along the way.
Our first stop was Lien's house. It was a very simple house with a small living room and a small bedroom. The kitchen and the bathroom were in a separate unit. Her parents came out to greet me. They are farmers. They get up at 3am each day to go out to the field to harvest. This is the season for 'rau xoong' (a vegetable,) so they picked it early in the morning before the sun rises and her mom takes it to sell at the local market. They rent this field from the owner and pay him a certain fee or share of the profit each month, if I understood her correctly. We got to her house at around 8am, and both her parents were already back from the field. They will go back out there and work some more after lunch. And they go to bed at 8pm.
Next we went to Kim Anh's house, which was close by. Her house was recently built but not completely furnished. Then, after resting a few minutes there, we left and biked quite a distance to get to Hanh's house. We spent a few minutes there, and then they took me to their high school to show me around and introduce me to their former teachers. I talked to one of the teachers for a few minutes, and then we left and went to Thuy's house. She gave us a tour of her house, and then her mom served us lunch. We had lunch on the floor, sitting on bamboo mats. I remember doing this 30 years ago when I visited some relatives in the countryside. She made a lot of food. Her dad and I talked for a little bit during and after lunch, and then I left. I biked fast, so it took me 20 minutes to bike back to the school.
Overall, it was a pleasant trip. Now I know where they live and saw the road they bike on to get to school every morning at 5:45am.

Trip to Hanoi

Grace and Caleb had to catch an 11am flight out of Hanoi on Thursday. At first we had planned to take the 5am clock bus from where we are to be able to make it to the Noi Bai airport in time for the flight. It usually takes 2.5hrs from Kien An to Hanoi by bus, and then at least another 2hrs to go from the bus station in Hanoi to the airport (we would take the bus to a place downtown Hanoi and then catch an airport taxi, which costs less than a normal taxi, to the airport). With luggage, getting to the airport is not a simple matter. The flight to HK itself actually takes less than 2hrs.
On Tuesday, however, when we notified the school of Grace's trip, they were kind enough to arrange the school's driver and van to take us to Hanoi instead. At 6:30am, the driver showed up right in front of our building and picked us up. We felt like VIPs. He drove us straight to the airport, dropped us off, and waited for me outside in the parking lot. Grace checked in and went to the gate. I went out to meet the driver and he drove me into town. On the way, I saw Metro (Vn's version of Costco) and asked the driver to stop in so I could do some grocery shopping. The driver was kind enough to stop and let me go in to buy some stuff. I was able to get some big heavy things like a box of instant noodles, a flat of coke, a bag of rice, and canned foods, a bottle of olive oil (for Ruth and Manny), and other bulky items that we usually cannot carry with us without a car. Living with just a bicycle as a means of transportation does have some limitations, but we have learned to wait and depend on 'random' occasions such as this to provide when we find ourselves running out of food supply.
Anyway, the driver had to pick up three other people in HN at around 5pm that day and taking them to HP, so I had a few hours to kill. I went to a little restaurant for lunch and then paid a surprise visit to Will, who's an ELIC teacher at a university in HN. I also ran into 3 students from this school who still remembered me from that one week of teaching practicum. What a small world! After that, I was able to stop by a little shop that sells western goods to get a bottle of basalmic vinegar for Ruth and Manny. All in a day in Hanoi.
Here's a picture of a typical power pole that I took while waiting for the driver to pick me up and take me back to HP.

Celebrating Thanksgiving in VN

It was another busy week. I am starting to believe that this is the norm here with life in HP. There's never a dull moment. If it's not one thing, it's another. Something always happens. Our teammates were very busy preparing a Thanksgiving meal for all of us. Manny baked a pseudo-turkey (otherwise known as chicken) and cooked vegetables and yam, while Ruth stayed up very late at night baking a pumpkin pie and an apple crisp. We invited one former student to come share the Thanksgiving lunch, which happened on Wednesday because Grace and Caleb had to fly to HK on Thursday. And we had to do it at lunch instead of dinner because we have a group of students coming every Wednesday night to study. A few other students also came in the afternoon to try Ruth's pumpkin pie. We shared what we were thankful for.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Teacher's Day

Here are some more pictures taken on Teacher's Day. Students came by bringing flowers. The SP class also gave me a nice shirt, and I wore it to class the following day. The Foreign Languages Dept also took us out for a very nice lunch at a fancy restaurant downtown Haiphong. VNese students really appreciate their teachers, and they show it on this occasion. (some pictures were scanned in, so they may not come out as clear)

Visiting HK

Caleb and I have the opportunity to visit my family in Hong Kong for two weeks. It is a 2-hour flight and there's no jet-lag to deal with. Here Caleb is feasting on books, books, and more books at the public library after not having visited a library for over 4 months! And they have a good number of English books! Too bad we can only check out 6 books at a time. My dad got a library card since the last time we visited a year ago so Caleb could borrow English books to read. This is one of the highlights of the trip for Caleb.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Caleb speaks Vietnamese

Not! The only Vietnamese word he has picked up so far is "Không". It means "No". He learned this one on his own while we were living in a hotel in Ha Noi, when I ordered my sandwiches on the phone. After a few times of hearing me say, "No mayo!" in Vietnamese, he figured "Không" must have meant "No". I need to teach him that in the south, we say, "Hông".

Caleb normally does not like to speak anything else except English. But yesterday, during his weekly play time with a Vietnamese boy, he actually used the one VNese word he knows. The boy kept tearing down one of Caleb's K'nex structures, so Caleb had to keep screaming "Không" at the boy to stop him. The boy didn't stop (he probably didn't understand Caleb's VNese), and Caleb ended up crying. I can certainly understand his frustration since local people have a hard time understanding me all the time, and I don't think my VNese is all that bad.

Teacher's Day

Nov 20 is Teacher's Day in Vietnam. This holiday started in 1982. This is the day when students honor their teachers and give them gifts. Yesterday (Nov 17), the Foreign Languages Dept of the university organized a celebration of Teacher's Day in the school's auditorium. We were invited to attend the event and got to see some performances from the students. We foreign teachers also got called onto the stage to be presented with flowers. The school also gave us a card with a 100,000VND bill inside. Afterwards, some students wanted to take pictures with us because we were looking sharp with suit and tie. Today, the CN class gave me a bag of goodies (a box of custard filling cakes, a can of ice tea bags, and a bottle of wine). We can eat the cakes and drink the tea, but I am wondering what to do with the wine (ELIC has a policy of no alcohol while in country).
Here are some pictures taken yesterday.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Problems with roommates: one died, the other exterminated

Two days ago, I saw in our bathroom the biggest spider I've ever seen in my life. It was the size of my palm. I sprayed this ugly unwelcome 8-legged giant roommate with so much Raid, it shriveled to 1/3 its size and lay belly up on the floor. But the whole dorm room smelled so bad afterwards, we had to air it out. It's been two days, and the bathroom still reeks with Raid. But at least, we can sleep better at night knowing that it's gone. Fearing that its siblings might be coming looking for it, we are now protecting ourselves at night with mosquito nets.

We finally figured out why our underwear has been smelling really bad the past week. We store our underwear in these wicker drawers that the previous teacher has left behind. Last night, we opened up one of the drawers and found a dead gecko inside. Apparently, our roommate the gecko had decided to make the underwear drawer its final resting place. The smell was so bad, it didn't even come off from the underwear after going through the washer twice. But this was still not as bad as the smell that our teammates had in their room last year after discovering in one of their drawers a dead rat with maggots all over it.

Then tonight, we saw a huge rat outside our door running away. We have enough issues right now; we're not looking for new roommates.

Caleb enjoying a roadside snack

(Mom, you recognize this snack? Grace)

Creative transportation

Caleb with his friends

Roadside snacks and technology

And more bycicles

I steer, you pedal.
What's in these bags?

Bicycles outside our school

Saturday, November 8, 2008

My teaching uniform

The school gave me 3 pairs of pants, 2 short-sleeve shirts, 1 long-sleeve shirt, and a jacket. I am an official teacher now.

Drying clothes