Thursday, March 26, 2009

Care package

We received two care packages containing items collectively sent to us by our friends back home at LBF. We were delighted to receive things from the US that we hadn't seen for months. We are very grateful for these gifts and the kind thoughts! It is too bad packages take up to 2 months to get here. But they are worth the wait! They are a blessing to us, our teammates, and the students!

Caleb's 6th birthday

This is a belated update on Caleb's birthday celebration on March 1. Our teammate Ruth graciously baked a poppy seed cake for a combined birthday celebration for Andy, Caleb, and our friend Chi. She took it to a baker friend to have them frost it nicely. Some students came over for dinner and cake. Other students also came on Caleb's birthday to give him presents.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Link to Listening Homework for K9

Students, please click here. Have fun listening.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Andy’s Language Learning Update

More and more, I realize that my Vietnamese is so different from that spoken here. I hadn’t noticed it as much before, but the more I listened more carefully to my students’ Vietnamese in class, the more I saw that every other word I say does not sound the same as it would sound when they say it. No wonder people have been having a hard time understanding me even when I say just a very simple sentence.

For example, last week when I went to the market to get groceries, I walked up to the chicken lady and asked for some chicken breast. I decided to use my Vietnamese and said, “ức gà.” Now, I’ve used these two words many many times in the States at a Vietnamese restaurant that serves chicken noodle soup and have never had any problems. This time, the chicken lady gave me a blank stare. She had no clue what I was talking about. I repeated several times and even pointed at my chest, but to no avail. I started wondering whether north Vietnamese used a totally different word for chicken breast. So I gave up and just pointed at the piece of chicken breast sitting on her chopping board. Then she said, “Ah, ức gà!” I was thinking to myself, “is that what I said?” I must have gotten the wrong intonation or something. I am going to try it again with her tomorrow, and I am going to just give her the pure Vietnamese southern accent without any attempts to add any northern spin to it to see what will happen.(So I went to the market this morning, but the chicken lady was not there. Another lady at the stall next to her asked what I was looking for, and I said “ức gà,” and, guess what, she understood me! Yeah!

The other week, I had to make up some classes because I came back one week late from Thailand. We had to use different classrooms, and in one of the rooms, there was some ‘graffiti’ on the side of the chalk board. Some male students had used whiteout (or some type of white paint) to write on the board “Em ơi, anh nhớ em nhiều lắm em có biết không?” (translated “My darling, do you know I miss you a lot?”). Apparently, it couldn’t be erased or no one had tried to erase it. I was staring at it when I was trying to use the board, and some students asked me if I understood what it meant. I said yes, and they tested me by asking me to tell them what it meant. I just smiled and went on with the lesson. Later, while the students were busy working on their in-class assignments, I wrote some responses to that sentence on the board (in Vietnamese), and they had such a kick out of it. This make-up class was in the afternoon right after lunch, and the students were already wiped out after 5 hours straight of class from 6:30am to 11:30am. They couldn’t stay awake and I had to do something to wake them up. I decided to write a few lines of broken southern Vietnamese on the board to help jazz up the atmosphere.

Nhớ em anh viết thành thơ

Sao lại viết bảng làm dơ lớp mình

Thầy mà bắt gặp thình lình

Cho anh ăn gậy ai rinh anh về

Anh ơi chớ có mải mê

Nhớ em anh giử câu thề năm xưa

Ngại chi dãi nắng dầm mưa

Học xong có job anh đưa em tiền

Có tiền em shop như điên

Mua này sắm nọ anh khiêng về nhà

Mỗi năm anh tặng em quà

Lầu cao cửa rộng cả nhà chung vui

Anh ơi em nói đùa thui

Vì anh rớt tới rớt lui chục lần

Bao giờ anh học nên thân

Em đây hổng muốn độc thân suốt đời

Grace’s Language Learning Update

What learning!? Originally she had thought about getting a student to tutor her weekly, but ended up not having enough time. So, she’s been asking me for the necessary words the day before she goes to the market, words such as lettuce, bean sprout, noodles, sesame, half, more, less,… and managed to get whatever food she could using those words combined with a lot of hand motions. She usually buys the same stuff every week from the same ladies, so now she really doesn’t have to say much and they would know what to put in the bag for her. Occasionally, some students would try to teach her a few words, but she still has a hard time with the different tones in the Vietnamese language. When I teach her a word, I would give it to her in the southern Vietnamese accent, and then also tell her how it may sound in the northern accent. And a lot of the words are totally different between north and south, making things more complicated. By now, my guess is that she has a vocabulary of maybe 20 words!? Just the other day, she went to the store to get plastic bags, and the Vietnamese word for ‘bags’ here is ‘túi.’ She said it right the night before, but by the next morning when she got to the store, she said something that sounded more like ‘tỏi’ (which means ‘garlic’). So the ladies at the store were puzzled for a long time. But somehow things worked out in the end and she came home with plastic bags! The Vietnamese language can be pretty tricky.

Caleb’s Language Learning Update

How’s Caleb doing in Vietnamese so far? I am happy to report that I have heard three Vietnamese words coming from his mouth! Very impressive! And let me add that he has not had any formal training at all.

We heard his first Vietnamese word from a ‘joke’ he came up with. And this happened on the plane to Thailand. The joke goes something like this:

“There’s a Vietnamese man talking with an American man. The American said to the Vietnamese, “Would you like me to comb your hair?” To which the Vietnamese man said, “Không, không!” So the American went ahead and started combing the Vietnamese man’s hair.”

(for non-Vietnamese readers: không means ‘no’. It doesn’t really sound like ‘comb’ in proper Vietnamese, but it does when Caleb says it with his American accent).

The second word we heard from him also came with another one of his ‘jokes,’ with the same opening:

“There’s a Vietnamese man talking with an American man. The American asked the Vietnamese, “Would you like to drink some soy?” and the Vietnamese corrected him saying, “You don’t DRINK xôi, you EAT xôi.”
(for non-Vietnamese readers: xôi is a Vietnamese food made of glutinous rice and sounds like ‘soy’)

Yes, Caleb has been into jokes these days, including the knock-knock jokes. He thinks about jokes all day long, right up till he falls asleep. And he tries to work Vietnamese into his jokes too. One night, we heard him laugh in the middle his sleep. Two weeks ago, our country director in Hanoi had some knock-knock jokes, and so Caleb called him up and the two of them exchanged jokes over the phone.

The third word we heard was “rau muống.” We had it for dinner the other day and he liked it so he asked, “Can I please have some more rau muống?” It’s a green vegetable, very common here, and there’s not a good English translation for it, so he must have picked it up when we said it many times in the past. (‘ung-choy’ in Chinese, and ‘water spinach’ is one translation I heard, and 'water morning glory' is another).

Caleb doesn’t really like to learn Vietnamese, and we don’t force it on him either. We’ll just let him pick up whatever he can. It would be hard for me to teach him because of the difference between the northern and southern accents. I think he may know a few more words, but he has not used them yet.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

March Updates

It's been over a month, haven't felt like writing. Sorry! Life has been slow. Nothing too new. Classes this semester seem easier than last partly because I am not teaching speaking and that I got some good teaching materials for my listening and reading classes over the winter break in Saigon. The weather has not been that great--muggy and extremely humid (over 100% humidity) one day, and then 20 degrees colder and dryer the next. This quick sudden swing in temperature and humidity here causes a lot of students to be sick during this season. When it's humid, the floor inside our room is all wet and sticky and our clothes don't dry for days. This is the season of "mưa phùn," where it sort of rains all day and you don't see the actual raindrops but only very tiny little wet particles floating in the air which permeate everywhere and cause everything to be wet. On the days when it's cooler and dryer, then it feels pleasant. Foods (and everything else) get moldy really easily here because of the humidity.
We have not had power outages as often the past couple of months, so we're very thankful. Our teammates' rooms have been leaking water from the ceiling, so it's been really hard on them. Water drips down from the second floor into their kitchen and bathroom, causing electrical shorts so they have not been able to turn on their lights in the kitchen. They have been having to use flashlights to cook and wash dishes in the evening. It's been tough, but they have been really good about it, patiently waiting for the school to try to find and fix the leaks. Last week, the school finally realized the seriousness of the situation, so they sent some people into the rooms upstairs to tear out the concrete floor to look for the source of the leaks. The jackhammers have been at it everyday from morning to evening. They have finally stopped yesterday, so we're hoping the leaks have been located. There is some minor leaking in our bathroom too, some brownish liquid dripping from the ceiling near the pipe above the toilet. We're thinking the toilet in the room above us is leaking, but the smell is still tolerable so we decided not to pursue a solution.
Our country director and personnel director came from Hanoi to visit us two weeks ago for a couple of days. They had a meeting with the school officials and mentioned some of these housing problems we've been having, including our need for faster internet access. The school mentioned that they are renovating an old building on campus and making it into a guest housing unit hopefully ready to be used by September. The rooms will be a little larger than the ones we're living in right now. So, if all goes according to plan, we'll be living there next school year. They also mentioned that there will be DSL there as well. We gently mentioned to them that we would be very happy if they could put in a sink in the kitchen at the new place. We're not holding our breath, though. We'll take whatever that's provided for us and are learning to be grateful and thankful.
Other than these minor housing issues, we've been doing ok. We're still thankful for relatively good health, given the lack of food and water safety here. Last week, the water coming out of our bathroom sink became suddenly very weak, so decided to unscrew the little filtering screen from the faucet spout to see if there was anything clogging it. What I saw was quite disgusting. A big chunk of green gooey slimy thing was found inside the spout, along with miscellaneous little pebble like things. I couldn't understand how all these things got into the water system. And I had to refrain myself from imagining that I have been washing and brushing with this water all this time. So, it's been a miracle that we have not been more severely sick beyond just occasional stomachaches and diarrhea spells. So, we know many have been prayin for us back home. Thank you. We couldn't have made it each day without your fervent intercessions.
Teaching the students, however, continues to be a joy. It's good to see them learn new things and eager to improve their skills. They are also nice kids. A few of them still come over weekly to study and/or practice their speaking and/or play with Caleb. And Caleb still enjoys playing with all the students who come by. His birthday just passed, and a few students brought him presents. We also had a little celebration for his, my, and a close student's birthdays three weeks ago.
This coming year, our team of teachers in VN will have some changes. Some teachers are leaving (permanently and also temporarily), and some new ones are coming. So the country director is going to have to figure out who goes where. We are also thinking about whether we will stay at this school or move to another school, which may or may not be more suitable for a family with a young child. We have been thinking about what kind of social life Caleb needs. He has lots of students to play with, but no kids his age. It would also be nice to be in a place where restaurants are more accessible to help us during times when we are unable to cook. Privacy and more isolation from noise have also been on our minds. Some have suggested we should live off campus. But we like the safe environment of the campus (inside our cage), and the convenience of a short walk to classes. Anyway, these are some of the issues we've been wrestling with and awaiting guidance for.
Two days ago, we received in the mail two boxes of various foods and goodies from our friends back in Fremont. They were a nice surprise. Although they didn't make it in time for Caleb's birthday, it was still good to know people are thinking about us. We were glad to be able to share some of it with our teammates. Thank you. We know the economy in the US has not been doing well, so we appreciate those who are still supporting us.