Saturday, August 30, 2008

Welcome to Hai Phong University

After having spent 5 days of more training at the Vresort in Hoa Binh (a resort with nice pool but very cheap rates), where I also got all my take-home exam papers done (yeah!), we took the bus back to Hanoi, got all our luggage from the storage, and then hopped on a van (sent by the university) and headed for the school in Kien An, a district outside of Hai Phong. It was a 2-hour drive from Hanoi to the school. The pictures show our new living quarters (dorm room) for the next two years. The whole thing smaller than our living room back in the States. We got here yesterday afternoon and started cleaning the mildew and dust and dirt and whatever else... It's as hot here as in Hanoi, but our room has working AC. Yeah!

Some staff from the International Relations Dept of the school took us and our teammates out for a welcome dinner. Then they took us out for smoothies after the dinner. We've been cleaning and arranging the furniture so that everything would fit in the room. It's hard, and last night we were wondering why we're here!? Caleb missed his home in SJ. Grace cried.

Sept 2 is a national holiday in Vietnam, so the campus has Monday and Tuesday off. At first I was told that I would be teaching Reading to 1st year students who will not start school until a week after next. So I thought I would have a week to settle in before preparing for classes. But today, our teammate looked at the postings outside the office and saw my name assigned to teaching Speaking to 2nd year students, who have already started school over a week already! We have not heard anything official from the English Dept yet. I assume they will talk to us on Wednesday after they come back from the long weekend, and tell us me to start teaching the same day. I have no clue how to teach the class, whether or not there are text books,...We'll see. Welcome to Vietnam!

This morning, our teammates took us on bicycles to the open market nearby. We were out for only 2 hours, but it was tough. The heat, the dust, the noise, the smell, the pollution,...We bought 2kg of rice and some fruits. Our teammates were very nice and bought stuff to make lunch and dinner for all of us. They also introduced us as new foreign teachers to the sellers at the market so that they wouldn't cheat us tomorrow when we start grocery shopping.

Just a quick update to let you know we are done with hotel living and have arrived to our final destination and are trying to settle in. We don't have DSL here, only slow dial-up, so updates won't be too often and won't have too many good pictures. Thank you for all your thoughts for us--we've been kept well because of them.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Welcome to a new culture

Three of our teammates were robbed today. They were shopping today at a mall where there are usually lots of foreigners because of the availability of western products there. As they were making their way through a crowded place, their purses were slashed. One teammate lost her brand new camera, the other lost her passport and wallet with $200USD and a debit card inside. The third teammate quickly realized her purse was slashed and grabbed it and pulled it to the front and did not lose anything inside.
One teammate was shocked, felt intruded, and hurt. She talked to her parents, spent some quiet time by herself, and is feeling a lot better now. There's a purpose in everything, and she's feeling sad now for those who robbed her. The other teammate has been in Vietnam several years already and has gotten her place broken in a few times, so she was not too surprised.
We all realized that living here does not come without some costs.

Funny Pomelo

A taxi driver was taking us back to the hotel after dinner, and the whole time I was having a good conversation with him in Vietnamese. I was speaking my South Vietnamese and he was speaking his North Vietnamese, and I sensed we were understanding each other at least 80% of the time. He talked about wanting to go to Saigon because he bought a house there for investment and how as much as 1/3 of the populaton of North Vietnam has moved to the south. I asked him why he used the name Saigon instead of HCM city, and he started to explain to me that HCM city used to be called Saigon. How funny! Anyway, as he drove up to the front doors of the hotel, he turned to me and said, still in Vietnamese, "You are a foreigner, how come your Vietnamese is so good!?" I am wondering whether that was meant as an insult? Haha.


Practicum week was very long for all of us, and we're glad it's over. Teaching in classrooms without AC was pretty tough, especially when the classes were 2.5 hours long and we couldn't wear shorts and t-shirts! But meeting the students and helping them learn some English was fun. I taught one class solo, co-taught 2 classes, and observed two classes. I needed to put in 12.5 hours of classroom time to get the certificate. At the end of each class, we had our teacher-mentors give us comments and feedback on what we did right and wrong.
The class I taught solo had low intermediate students who studied to be secretaries. One of the classes I co-taught had very advanced students who were studying International Relations, and the other had advanced English majors, who were studying to be future diplomats and interpreters. It's interesting to know that one of these students may someday end up to be Vietnamese embassadors in some foreign countries.
Most of the students were very motivated to learn English. Some were very bright. I was not as nervous in my very first class as I had thought I would be. Up until the day I taught (Tuesday), my stomach has been hurting very day since I came to Hanoi. I was worried that I would have to run to the bathroom in the middle of class. But, for some unknown reasons, Tuesday was the very first day when my stomach did not hurt at all. And it has not been hurting since. How about that!
At the start of each class, we generally introduce ourselves and have the students introduce themselves. I had around 20 students in my classes, although the roster showed around 40. Some didn't bother to show up probably because it was their first week of school and that it wouldn't count toward their grades because it's taught by foreign teachers-in-training. So, those who showed up were there probably because they really wanted to learn. As part of the VNese culture, most students came to class late. Sometimes the classroom was totally empty at the start of class (see the picture).
In each class that I taught, the one questions all students asked was my ethnic. Looking at my face they knew I didn't look like the rest of the foreign teachers. I had them guess, and they generally got as far as me being Asian. Some thought I might have been a mix between Asian and American. When asked which Asian country I came from, they listed China, Korea, Japan, India, Indonesia,... but never Vietnam. And they would be totally surprised after they've found out. Then they would start asking questions like whether I could speak VNese, when I left VN, why I came back, my age, ... One class even asked me to say something in VNese, and they got a kick out of hearing VNese coming out of my mouth. In one class where we taught on the topic of Advertising for Toursim, we had each students say which country they would like to go visit. I was caught off guard (not part of the lesson plan!)when my co-teacher turned to me and asked me which country I would like to go visit. I thought and thought, and I have been to a lot of countries already, so I answered, "Israel". The students were sursprised and asked why, and I had to give them an answer. That came out of nowhere!
I also had a chance to talk with four of the Vietnamese English teachers who were observing our classes. Like the students, they were surprised to learn where I was born, and asked me why I came back. My looks and my ethnic made for interesting conversations. And knowing some Vietnamese helps sometimes in the classroom when the students ask for a definition of a word they don't now and it's really hard to explain in English, I would just say it in Vietnamese and save some class time.
I never knew there was so much to teaching and lesson planning, especially in a cross-cultural context. Establishing a safe and comfortable learning environment for asian students is tough, not to mention lesson planning and classroom management. In one of my classes, a student sitting in the back was texting on her cell phone while I was teaching! Some were chitchatting and giggling, some were just zoning out.
I am glad Practicum is over, but a whole year of real teaching is still ahead and coming up soon. I am going to need some serious grace and mercies.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Goodbye Hanoi

Yesterday was our last day of Practicum! Yeah! It was a very long week for all of us. I stayed up til 2am doing lesson planning and printing out handouts for my 7am English class. That last class was the best class I had this week. More on Practicum in a later post. We're now packing our luggage to be brought to a temporary storage in Hanoi because we're moving on.
This morning at 5am, the Laos teachers and the Cambodia teachers went to the airport to fly to their respective countries. Yesterday, we had a dinner celebration for the completion of our Wheaton Certificate (still have take home exams and papers due at the end of the month) program as well as saying goodbye to all the teachers who are moving on to Laos and Cambodia this morning. Over the past few weeks of living, training, and teaching together with them, we have gone through a lot of new experiences together and have grown closer to one another, leaning on one another in difficult situations. We've had opportunities to share with one another the reason for which each one of us ended up here and the different paths we have been on to get to this point. Many lives, many stories, and many memories...
Only the Vietnam teachers are left now, but we'll see the others again at the mid-year conference in January. Today, some of us are packing our stuff to be brought to a storage place in Hanoi. Tomorrow, all of Vietnam teachers will take a 2-hour bus ride to a hotel in the small city of Hoa Binh, where we'll spend 5 days together planning and casting vision for our upcoming teaching year. There is very limited dial-up access to internet there, so you won't see us online for this coming week. We may not be able to check email much at all.
At the end of this gathering, each Vietnam teacher will depart to his/her respective location in Vietnam for our year of service. We'll be bused back here to Hanoi on Friday 8/29 and our school in Haiphong will send a van to pick us up and take us to Haiphong on the same day. Internet access in Haiphong will also be very limited, so we'll try our best to keep up with the post entries and emails as much as we can in the next coming months. We hope to post more pictures when we have time and when the internet works. All for now.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Last of the day?

I am on the roll here before internet connection goes down again. Some teammates highly recommended this dumpling place in town and so we ventured out there last night. Caleb said after the first bite, "It's the best sui gao I ever tasted!" even though when he first got there and saw the surroundings he wanted to eat somewhere else.

This other picture I took the other day when I saw this lady walking in front of me with a basket balanced on her head. I followed to see what was in there until she stopped in front of a store and the owner came out, and she pulled a french loaf out.


Andy wanted to show our dinner at KFC, the very popular American fast food here. It is funny we don't eat KFC at all back home. And here we are actually having a shrimp burger and some chicken soup! They serve Milo (the chocolate milk) and Caleb loves it.

Friend from San Jose

We met a couple on Sunday and the wife is actually from San Jose. They've been in Hanoi for 10 years and invited us to their home for a visit. They are so glad to have met another Vietnamese family from the States and provided valuable insights from their years of experience here.

Training continues

The team has been busy in class all day for the past 3 weeks. Classes went from 8:30am to 5pm with a 2-hour lunch break. Caleb and I took our breaks up in their classroom sometimes and Caleb always looked forward to his break and playing on his mobile climbing structures since parks and playgrounds are hard to find here.

This final week the teachers are busy with their practicum. Andy just taught his first class this morning which started at 7am.


The internet connection at the hotel has been down for a few days and it is finally back up!

We saw a Lego store in Hanoi, and here is a picture for Mr. Ling. We had thought we'd look for something for Caleb. However, we discovered Caleb loves to build with K'nex when our director lent us the set from his boys to play with at the hotel. And one of our teammates who played with K'nex when she was a little girl was so kind to ask her parents to send hers from the States through someone coming to Hanoi to give it to Caleb. We just received her childhood cherish a couple days ago and Caleb built a few things to show here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

What resolution?

We ate sandwiches with raw lettuce and tomatoes today for lunch. I guess we'll just have to deal with the worms when they show. It's hard to eat a sandwich without any kind of vegies. Saying grace before each meal now includes real petitions.

The Hotel

The hotel we've been staying at is a little different from what we had been used to:
1. The tub is really tall, and there's no shower curtain, so the floor and toilet next to it gets wet after a shower.
2. The ceiling is really high, so it feels spacious up there.
3. Our particular room has hardwood floor, so it's kinda nice.
4. Today, we got nice bedsheets that look just like the ones shown in the hotel brochure.
5. Some our shirts now got the number "306" written on them after they've gone through the laundry service.
6. Read this nicely written panic story by one of our teammates
I got locked in once too, but not as bad. As the story mentioned, culture affects everything. Sometimes these little cultural things do cause some of us to miss home and question why we're here...and we all have to have something to fall back on. How about them mangoes and pomelos?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Random updates before internet connection disappears again

We just finished our TEFL Methodology class. Now we just have to write 3 papers, 1 long and 2 short, and email them in by Aug 22, then that class is done. The teacher just left Hanoi this morning on his way back to Nebraska. We had a short quiz yesterday, and I had to run to the bathroom in the middle of it, no, not because the answers were there but because my stomach was acting up, really. It has not been well ever since I got to VN. Wondering if I should get on a course of Cipro to take care of it.

We just started on our last class for this training. It's called Classroom Dynamics and Practicum, taught by a PhD who also has been an English teacher in China for many years. She flew to VN on short notice to sub in for our original teacher who couldn't make the trip due to pneumonia. First day of class, and the room lost power right when she tried to show the first slide of her presentation. Of course, the AC went out too, so we had to bring in fans (running on backup generators) to keep all of us alive and sane. Welcome to VN, where we're told over and over again that flexibility and greeting the unexpected with a smile are key.

Next week, we'll have our practicum at the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam, where we'll be taking turns teaching real classes of real VNese students with trained teachers, both national and foreign, observing us to grade us and give us feedback. After that, then training is over... and real real teaching begins, if we passed the course, of course.

Yesterday, a worker from the hotel approached me and asked for a favor, in Vietnamese. She had noticed over the past weeks that I knew some Vietnamese, so she handed me one of the brochures of the hotel and asked me if I could help correct the English portion of it. I got it done for her this morning, and got the chance to tell her more of what our group is about, where I came from originally, and why I have been living here in the hotel. I was glad I could be of help. Incidentally, for the practicum next week, we'll be teaching a class on English for Tourism, where most of these students hope to get a job in the toursim industry upon graduation. Maybe I can bring a copy of this brochure in and show the class as an example?

This morning, I also got to talk with another worker at the hotel, again in my broken Vietnamese. She was saying that both her husband and she work and keep their two kids, 10 and 5, locked up in their house the whole day with no babysitters. She leaves the food there, so the two kids just serve themselves at lunch, and she will come home at 6pm after work to give them dinner. She asked why we were always in class and whether it was tiring, I told her we're being trained to be English teachers and that pretty soon everyone in our group will be leaving to go to his or her respected assigned country and city to teach. It's quite tiring because we're trying to learn in one day what's normally taught in a semester.

To end this entry on a pleasant note, we've had some good success today at a small eatery that was introduced to us last Sunday. My order was just 25,000VND, and it came with rice, stir fried beef, some tofu, some boiled green vegetable, and a small bowl of fresh vegetable soup. It seemed clean and tasted good too. The only drawback was that it was not within walking distance, so we would have to take a bus or a taxi (some taxi drivers have ripped us off with their rigged meters) to get there. But then the eatery told us they can deliver as well, so I'll give that a try next time and avoid getting out into the heat and humidity and the crazy traffic here. Talking about food, after hearing from one of our teammates' experience with 5 worms the size of night crawlers, we tentatively renewed our resolution to avoid raw salads and vegetables. Either that or take a pill every few months to take care of these (harmless, according to local doctors) worms, like one of the other veteran teachers has been doing in past years. What do you think? I guessed I lied about ending this on a pleasant note.

Visiting Kien An

Last Saturday, we felt adventurous and decided to take a 2.5-hour bus to Kien An to check out the school where we'll be teaching and its town. The arrows point to the two dorm rooms inside 'the cage' assigned to us by the school. We also found a nice little park with a lotus pond nearby the campus. It was very hot and humid that day (actually every day), so we couldn't do much walking. The bus ride there was also quite interesting. The bus basically picked up everyone along the way who wanted to get on, and there were little plastic stools set up in the aisle to accommodate all passengers. Not knowing the language and not being familiar with the place, we were amazed that we didn't get lost. Since Kien An is a small little town, everyone knew we were strangers and stared at us. I managed to convey to the school guard that I was a teacher there, so he let us in. We also checked out a small store in town to see what they have available so we'd know what we'll need to buy in Hanoi before we move to the school. On the ride back, we ran into a young guy from SJ (Evergreen area), who's there working with a group for the summer. What a small world!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Miscellaneous update

We found out the unknown bird in the noodle soup we were eating the other day was the swan. It tasted so good we went back to that same alley for another dinner there. And the husband was in the back cleaning the swans and posing for us.

On the other end of the spectrum of our dining quest, we also found Pizza Hut and Caleb enjoyed pizza there with his new friends Max and Bret.

The streets are really noisy crowded with motorbikes, buses, and cars constantly honking to warn the others out of their way. Having to do walking quite a bit here is hard on Caleb with the noise and heat, and much of the time he wants us to carry him. We are grateful many teammates offer to take turns carrying him. Here's Caleb enjoying Mr. Berkeley's shoulder, and making friends with Mr. Bryant, who will be teaching in Laos and Cambodia, respectively.

Started some homeschooling

We started some homeschooling this week with phonics, math, spelling, and writing, while Andy is in his class. There's a nice desk in the hotel room where we can do some school work. We also made a weather chart to chart the weather each day. And there's actually a storm today and Caleb got to play in the pouring rain with two of the boys of our country director in their apartment complex.

While we are having fun, Andy's slaving away with his crash courses and staying up late to do homework. He finished his first class on cultural training and now onto classroom dynamics/methodology.

Quán ăn ngon nhất ở Hà Nội

...dĩ nhiên là quán ăn ngon...vì ở đây có món ăn Nam. haha.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Văn Miếu - Quốc Tử Giám (2)

Cảm nghỉ về Văn Miếu - Quốc Tử Giám của một người Việt Nam....

"Tôi chưa bao giờ ra thăm Hà Nội. Nhưng trong tương lai, nhất định tôi sẽ ra thăm Hà Nội 1 lần.

Điểm dừng chân đầu tiên tôi muốn tham quan đó là Văn Miếu - Quốc Tử Giám. Tôi đã từng đọc rất nhiều tài liệu về Văn Miếu và tham khảo ý kiến của nhiều người. Những hình ảnh, thông tin về Văn Miếu đã kích thích sự tò mò trong tôi và thôi thúc tôi đẩy nhanh thời gian đến Hà Nội hơn nữa. Khi đọc những thông tin và hình ảnh về Văn Miếu, cảm xúc đầu tiên trong tôi là xốn xang với 1 niềm tự hào. Tự hào vì nước VN mình có được 1 nơi trang nghiêm thờ phượng và tôn vinh vẻ đẹp của nền tri thức con người Vn qua bao đời. Qua đây, cũng giúp cho thế hệ trẻ chúng tôi hiểu được hơn phần nào về lịch sử giáo dục của Vn, những gương sáng trong học tập. Những chú rùa cõng trên mình là những tấm bia ghi dấu 1 thời vàng son của những chiến công lẫy lừng trong học tập của các ông cha. Mặt hồ Thiên Quang phẳng lặng với hàng cây trải dài thẳng tắp - 1 nơi yên bình khó tả... Vẹ đẹp cổ kính với những kiến trúc thượng tầng cũng gợi lên trong lòng tôi 1 sự nghiêm trang và... Việt Nam luôn coi "cái chữ" là yếu tố quan trọng không thể thiếu trong cuộc sống của mỗi người."

Monday, August 4, 2008

Văn Miếu - Quốc Tử Giám

Văn Miếu, otherwise known as the Temple of Literature or the Confucius Temple, in Hanoi was built in 1070 to commemorate the Confucian system of education, a proud heritage of the Vietnamese educational system. Quốc Tử Giám, built in 1076, was the first National University of Vietnam where talented Vietnamese men came to be trained and took exams to become madarins. Education has always been an important virtue within the Vietnamese culture.

What you see is a picture of this year's team of teachers serving in Vietnam taken outside the gate of Văn Miếu - Quốc Tử Giám.