Sunday, September 28, 2008
How do we dump our trash every day? We take it to the "dumping area" in the back of our building. Here's a picture of the back of our building and 2 pictures of the dumpster. Can you imagine what happened to this area during the flooding a few days ago?
The blue one is Grace's. It was left behind by the previous teacher Adrianne. Grace puts her groceries in that front basket.
The black one is Andy's. It belongs to our teammate Ruth, but Andy uses it when he needs it. He takes Caleb on the back on Sunday mornings.
These steel-frame bikes weigh a ton (compared to my aluminum mountain bike in SJ).
Saturday, September 27, 2008
These are pictures of what we saw looking out from our dorm room during the typhoon that went through Haiphong. There was so much water, it was incredible. Thunders, lightning, howling winds,... and sheets of water just came pouring down for hours. The whole thing lasted 3 days. The nice thing was that the air was nice and cool, for the first time since we got here. The bad thing was we couldn't get out to buy food, had to roll up our pants and wade in the flood water to get to the classroom, the laundry that we hung outside didn't get dry because it was so humid, and the smell from the stuff that floated out of the sewer. Most students still showed up to class though! It was amazing.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Here is a belated picture of Team Kien An. It was taken during our retreat back in August. Manny and Ruth have both been teaching in Asia for over 14 years and we are learning so much from their lives, from shopping at the meat market to interacting with students. They just celebrated their 4th anniversary. Isn't that sweet?
Yes, as Andy mentioned, I've learned that we can live without a microwave, a kitchen sink, and a dryer! I cook the amount of rice just enough for the night, have an array of basins and dish rack set up on the floor of the bathroom, and hang dry everything from sheets to underwear in front of our dorm room.
Homeschooling with Caleb has gone on full speed as well from math to history. He started learning additions and just studied about nomads in ancient history. Biking to the market is still a challenge for me. Did I mention I didn't learn how to ride a bike until I went to college? But all the years of riding in the rain in Davis has helped with the transition of having to ride in a poncho.
We had beef for the first time, and it tasted really good! We got it from Metro (Vietnamese version of Costco), since we got paid and so we went there to load up. It took almost an hour of bus and walking to get there. I also bought a box of Mì Lẩu Thái (instant noodles), spaghetti, fish sauce without MSG, ham, chả lụa, frozen chả giò, juices, coke, and a 50-pak blank CD-R. Our teammates also loaded up on stuff too. We bought so much, we had to call a taxi to take us back. We're all set for a while.
This morning, power went out from 7am to about 10:30am. I was teaching from 6:30am to 11:30am. It was so hot and one girl got really sick (I think she passed out) and some students had to carry her to the school health center. Ruth had to use the CD player in class, so a student had to run outside to buy batteries.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
T. A. 's family lives in a small town 70km from here. His father had 3 years of school, and I don't think his mother had any schooling. He has two older sisters, already married and with children. They did not make it to college. He is the only one in the family who made it into a university, so his parents are REAL proud of him, talking about him all the time with their neighbors. But he said he is the only hope for his family, so he bears the weight of this responsibility on his shoulders. He would like to find a job where he can be his own boss because, like most other young people like him, bosses here tend to be very controlling. He wants to be independent and not having to work under a strict boss. I have heard this from a few students already and am finding it interesting.
We also talked about where Vietnam is headed economically, and he was quite positive about its future. Overall, it was an interesting conversation and I got to learn a few things about him. His English was still a little limited, so we couldn't get very deep into the topic. But at least he got to have some practice, and hopefully that was good for him
For dinner, among other things, we had brown rice and red bell pepper, both of which he tasted for the very first time and was not too crazy about. There was eggplants, which I was not so crazy about. We also had pork, which was given to us by a family we had visited last week from their special own homegrown stock in their backyard. For dessert, we had some pomelo, American melon (that's what they called the fruit, but I told them I have never seen it in America before), and brownies which my teammates baked using rice flour (Manny is allergic to wheat). Wonder how T.A. felt about the whole experience, having dinner with foreign teachers in their home and was treated with respect and hospitality.
We waited in the school accounting office for about 20 minutes, and then it was our turn to see the office lady. She had us sign in two books, and then took a stack of bills out of the safe and put them in the counter. I walked away with a thick stack of 90 bills! I felt rich!
The office lady saw me for the first time and was wondering who I was, so my teammate told her I was new at the school, replacing the other teammate Adrianne who had gone back to the US. Her first question for me was, "Are you married?" The next was, "Do you have kids?" The third was, "Are they here with you?" And then, "How old are you?" All this in Vietnamese.
Then she said, "For a foreigner, your Vietnamese is pretty good!" Haha. I get this all the time, and I should just end the conversation there. I made the mistake of telling her I was actually not that foreign. Usually after people find this out, they have this expression on their face that says, "For a Vietnamese, your Vietnamese should be a lot better than this!"
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
The weird thing about today was that the Cử Nhân class was quite unresponsive and the other did very well—totally opposite from what happened the previous 2 days. I was totally taken aback by how well the Su Pham class participated this morning. Perhaps, Monday was their very first day at University, so they were still a little scared. Oh well, I was thankful.
Since they were Speaking classes this morning, I had them learn how to greet and get to know their classmates as an activity. Before the activity, I had written on the board some common questions they could ask and some they weren’t supposed to ask when talking to a westerner (such as “How old are you?” which is totally acceptable here in VN). They were supposed to find 3 people they didn’t know and get to know them. I walked around the class monitoring their progress, making sure the students were doing what they were talking (English and not VNese). Once that was done, I asked for volunteers to come to the front of the class and introduce themselves as well as the people they had just met. No one volunteered! I stood there in front of the Cử Nhân class waiting. Total silence! My eyes scanned the class, looking at each face hoping someone would raise his/her hand. Should I start picking on them? I waited some more, and finally one student raised her hand. She walked to the front, I walked to the back of the class, and she started speaking. I made some notes of what she said wrong so I could go over it later on.
She finished, we all clapped, and I asked for another volunteer. Again, total silence. I then gave them another encouragement talk, and also mentioned that their final exam will involve having them talk for 2 minutes on a topic in front of 2 foreign teachers, and they might as well start practicing now! That little talk helped, and more students started to volunteer. It was like a snowballing effect, once some students took the courage to talk, others followed suit.
But I noticed a really quiet and shy girl sitting way in the back of the class who didn’t even meet 3 people as she was supposed to. During the break, I went and sat next to her and talked to her. Her name was L. She said her English was really weak, and that she didn’t understand anything I was saying the whole time, not even a single word. She only had 3 years of English prior to university, whereas most of the others had 7. L asked me to speak really slow, so I spoke really really slow to her, and she was able to respond. Her pronunciation was not bad, but she really lacked confidence and was really very shy. Her voice was extremely soft, and she kept saying she was afraid of speaking. I went through the questions with her slowly, she answered them, and I wrote them down. Then I told her I wanted her to volunteer and come to the front of the class and just read out these responses from my notebook, and that I would stand right next to her. She kept refusing, but I kept reassuring her that she would do just fine. It was better for her to practice now than to wait for the final exam to come, and that it was ok to speak with lots of mistakes. The important thing was for her to practice.
The break was over, and I was up in front of the class asking for more volunteers. No one did. I looked at L and motioned for her to come up. She hesitated a while, but finally got up from her seat and walked toward the front. She came and stood next to me, shaking a little bit. She put her hand on her tummy, took a few big deep breaths, and the whole class was watching and waiting. I put my notebook with the answers in front of her, and told her it was ok. Then, she started speaking. She didn’t even look at the notebook and just spoke naturally. She became less and less nervous as time went on, and the whole class clapped loud when she was done. I told her she did a good job and she walked back to her seat. That was some experience.
I told the class how grateful I was for their effort and willingness in speaking a foreign language in front of a crowd. I knew how hard it was for them and appreciated the fact that they took the courage to try. I just hope L is not going to have a nightmare tonight and that she will still keep coming to class. Poor kid. I wish I had some good chocolate to give out as bribes. These are girls, I bet chocolate will work wonders. But then there’s no chocolate here, and it’s too hot for any chocolate to survive anyway. Oh well.
In the other class (the Su Pham class), I had them do the same exercise. More students volunteered and things went a lot smoother. In fact, one of the boys went up and introduced himself saying that one of his hobbies was singing. Here in
I taught my second class, a “Cử Nhân” (bachelor’s) class, Tuesday morning. I also had them for Listening, so I got to reuse the same lesson plan. These students for some reasons were more responsive and lively than the ones in the other class on Monday, so we were all wondering how they were so different. There were 56 students in this class!
Again, I walked to class (3 minutes from my dorm room to the classroom – the shortest commute ever!) carrying my backpack and the CD player. It was 8am, but boy was it hot! Same as the day before, I made my ‘grand’ entrance into the classroom and they all stood up. I felt embarrassed as I asked them to sit down. I plugged the CD player in, got my stuff out of the backpack, walked down the platform, greeted them, gave them a short pep talk, and jumped straight into the lesson. Since these students were more responsive, I got a little farther with them then I had with the other class. Same old thing again, they asked me my Vietnamese name, I wrote it on the board, but they requested that I say it out loud in Vietnamese. I complied and they got a big kick out of it. They repeated it with the Northern accent. I told them I would speak Vietnamese more if they would try hard and speak English more in class (I was desperate—anything to get them to practice their English more). By the way, there’s only one Dao in this class, so she will be the only one getting an A++ in this class.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
I walked into the classroom, and all of them were already in their seats from the previous class, a writing class taught by my teammate Manny. They all stood up as I made my entrance. I walked to my desk, put down my backpack, and stared at them with a smile. They all stared back at me, still standing. It felt weird to be greeted in such a way, so I motioned with my hand and said, with a smile, "Please sit down." They dutifully complied.
I got all my stuff out of the backpack, including my lesson plan, a notebook, a pen, my Supergo bike squeeze water bottle, chalk, and a wet rag to wipe the board with. Oh, and I brought with me a portable CD player too, which I checked out from the school. It's a listening class, so I played a lot of audio clips and had them listen for certain information (for this week, they were supposed to listen for numbers). At this point, the class was quiet, and the students were staring at their new foreign asian looking teacher, watching his every move. They were probably looking at my bike bottle and wondered why a grown up would still be sucking from a bottle! (Most of them probably have never seen a bike bottle before)
I walked down the little platform, scanning the classroom and looking at a few faces, still with a smile on my face. They were all looking at me and waiting for me to start speaking. I thought to myself, "Ok, here I go, my very first class. What should I say? I should start off with a few words of wisdom" So I said, "Good morning!" with my teacher's voice.
And they responded, "Good morning." Next, I was going to say, "How old are you?" (I learned this from Manny), but I didn't want to be mean on the first day, so I said, "How are you?" instead. I will save that for another day. I went on and introduced the class, asked who the class monitor was, and went through some logistics stuff. Then I gave them a pep talk, encouraging them to try their best to practice and to learn. I started out with a nice and slow, but then I started speaking faster and faster without knowing it. So one of the girl raised her hand and asked me to talk slower. I felt good that there was at least one student that was willing to talk.
Anyway, I stuck to my lesson plan pretty close and was able to cover most of what I had planned for the two periods. It was so hot in the classroom, and I was soaked with sweat. I had to keep drinking water the whole time.
There were a whopping 52 students in the class. Unbelievable! I was expecting low 40's. I am going to have to learn 52 names and faces! And guess what, 3 of them share my same last name, so you know which 3 are going to get A++'s in this class.
At the end of class, the school bell rang and I told the students they were free to leave. I was busy wiping chalk off my hands and putting stuff back into my backpack and didn't notice that the students were still sitting there looking at me. What were they waiting for? I think they were waiting for me to make my 'grand' exit, where they would stand up just as they did for my 'grand' entrance. "No way, I am going to let them do that to me again!" I thought, so I motioned with my hands and asked them to just leave first. So they obediently did as I asked and said goodbye as they filed out the door.
I took pictures of the students so I could learn their faces and names.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
I just received my teaching schedule today and found out that I will start teaching this coming Monday 9/15, not 9/22 as I had previously been told. Surprise!! All of my classes are in the morning, and some start at 6:30am! In the States, I had a hard time getting to work by 9am. How am I going to teach a Speaking class at 6:30 in the morning? Nothing in my body is going to be awake at that time, so it’s going to take a miracle to pull it off. I am hoping that this year’s freshmen are bright, enthusiastic, motivated, and understanding. They know that Mr. Andy is teaching them Speaking and Listening, Misses Ruth is teaching them Reading and Listening, and Mr. Manny is teaching them Writing. Three foreign teachers will be spending the next two years with 100 new students to prepare them for their future English teaching and translating/interpreting jobs. What an impossible task, considering the family, home, and learning environment of these students and the cross cultural nature of our jobs! We’ll do the best we can at loving and caring for them in our teaching, and they’ll somehow manage to learn and grow.
N has gone to see foreign doctors in Saigon about her glaucoma and was told there was nothing they could do for her. She will eventually become blind. She had one brother, who died some years ago, so now it’s just her and her parents. Her dad just broke his legs in a motorbike accident. Her mom has turned their house (which is just one small room with a loft where N sleeps) into a place where gamblers would come everyday to gamble. So the house is filled with cigarette smoke and noise, and N can’t study and her glaucoma gets worse. Her mom won’t let up, so N left home and is now bunking in with a classmate who is living here on campus. This classmate shares a small little dorm room (like ours, except without AC and bathroom) with 7 other students. There are 4 sets of bunk beds, and these beds have no mattresses. I just don’t know how N is going to survive and for how long. I am on my knees for this one.
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Caleb is settling in his new home and we are grateful he is liking it and making new friends too! T.A. is the 5-year-old son of a local couple who's been friends with our teammates for years.
We also met with a current student and a former student this past saturday. You can see Andy playing the guitar while we taught them some new songs in our teammates' living room.
Saturday, September 6, 2008
We’ve been trying to set up a ‘kitchen’ in the bathroom, and it’s been coming together slowly. In the meantime, we’ve been buying food from the campus ‘canteen’. We would walk to the canteen with plastic boxes and bowls and point at the trays containing the foods we dared to try. One scoop of vegetable costs 1,000VND. We would point and say 1000VND or 2000VND. One boiled egg costs 3000VND. One small bite-size piece of pork costs 4000VND. We would just walk through the line and point at the stuff and hand them the boxes so they could scoop the stuff into the boxes for us. At the end of the line, we ask how much total and pay. We’ve been spending around 2000VND per meal, which is less than $1.50USD. The food is very simple, and it’s always the same stuff every meal. It’s very convenient (especially since we don’t have a kitchen and don’t want to walk out into the heat and want to save money), but let’s see how long we can survive like this. Sometimes, I would have a hard time recognizing the food and would ask the girls what the stuff was and they would laugh at us foreigners.
The kitchen is now almost ready for prime time. We’ve got buckets that we can use to wash the dishes right on the floor of the bathroom, right next to the toilet. The shower hose is just long enough for us to hang the shower head between the pipes underneath the sink such that it points toward the buckets and we don’t have to hold on to it all the time. We have a stool so we can sit and wash the dishes. As long as no one needs to use the toilet during dish washing, it works ok. We got knives, chopping boards, bowls, plates, chopsticks, spoons, a rice cooker, and detergent.
I am still looking for a Pho place though.
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
You may be thinking, "What does an RF engineer know anything advertising or tourism?" The answer is, of course, "Nothing". I had to read up on the topic online and learn it before I could sound like I knew something during class. Then I wrote my very first lesson plan, in which I wrote every single word that I would be saying in class, including "Good morning students!" I knew I would be very nervous and would blank out, and I did! I even had typos on the board and didn't realize it til I looked at the pictures. But the students were very gracious, and they didn't say anything. The class lasted 2.5hrs with one 10min break in between. It was very hot in the classroom, even with all the fans on.
I started out having each student introduce him/herself, and then I introduced myself. Seeing that I didn't look like the rest of the other foreign teachers, they were curious. Vietnamese students, I was told, are supposed to be very shy, especially the girls, because they are not confident of their English abilities. They were chitchatting with one another, and then one of them actually got enough courage to her hand and asked if I was Asian? Then the whole class became totally silent, and all the eyes stared at me waiting anxiously for an answer. I then took a survey of what possible countries they thought I came from, and they named every Asian country except Vietnam. Why would a Vietnamese come back to Vietnam to teach English? What an absurd thing to do! They demanded that I said something in Vietnamese as if to prove I was not lying.
Anyway, the class ended well (no tomatoes in my face, no students walked out in the middle of class, just one or two in the back were texting on their cell phone during class), and I got feedback from my Vietnamese and American mentors. A few comments from the mentors were bad class management, bad use of the board, activities were too long, students lost interests (hence they were texting). And I totally agreed. But they also said I had good 'teacher presence' (meaning I didn't wear shorts and t-shirt to class like I had wanted to and talked loud enough) and I monitored well (meanin I walked around a lot during activities and actually sat down and talked with the students in their groups). The groups asked me a lot of words they didn't know, and I had a hard time explaining them. In the end, I had to cheat and use Vietnamese (and that's when they started laughing because my Vietnamese sounded funny). My background, however, was always a good conversation starter, not only in class but also at the market, restaurants, hotels, and with taxi drivers. Anyway, I was glad practicum was over.
In a few days, I will be facing 2 classes of 50 students each. And these will be real classes with real grades and everything. That's what I came here and was trained to do, to provide services to students who want to improve their English. And so far, I found out that these students (at least the ones I met in Hanoi during Practicum) were also interested in a personal friendship with foreign teachers, someone different, someone outside of their familiar environment, someone who can give them not only a peek into a world outside of their own but also observations about their own world looking in from the outside. Vietnam is a very different world. During training, we were taught a lot about culture immersion, being different but yet the same, becoming a learner in the new culture, and being concious of our own cultural biases. These cultural things come into the classroom as well, and both teacher and students have to learn together to deal with them. The students watch their teacher very closely and they draw conclusions from their observations. And they become curious when they see something they've never seen before or heard something they have never heard before (such as a 'foreign' teacher who can speak Vietnamese, albeit somewhat off and with a South Vietnam accent, or maybe a teacher who would actually step down from the platform and go to their seats and sit down with them and talk with them like friends, or one who would ask them if everything was ok with their family in stead of not letting them into the classroom because they were late coming to class). The classroom is often a center stage where there's more than just 'East meets West'. These are also kids who thirst for true love, respect, and understanding in a very dry place, and some of them don't even recognize love when they see it or don't know how to react to it when they actually feel it. And perhaps they will also learning English better if their other needs are met too?! Who knows. I just know that it's been hard living in here the past 6 weeks. There's no comfort anywhere. I was used to jumping into the car, turning on the AC, and driving to one of the many good restaurants and enjoying some awesome food in a nice, quiet, air conditioned environment. Here, well, it's not like that. But I also see how the students live in the dorms next to us. Four to six of them cramped into a room less than half the size of ours. And no AC or bathrooms! Their common bathrooms don't have real toilets. I am living like a king compared to these folks. That means, in the States, I was living like, what's higher than a king?, maybe a queen? Anyway, it's hard to live like a peasant after having lived like royalty for so long...