Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tây ơi! Tây ơi!

I went to the market this morning to get the few grocery items that I always get every week: vegetables, tofu, chicken, mint, and fruits. Usually, I speak just enough Vietnamese to get by and come home, but Grace always wants me to socialize with these ladies because she thinks it's fun. As I walked through the fruits aisle looking for some good fruits to buy, I had my hat down low so that these ladies wouldn't know that I was checking out their produce. I tried to avoid making eye contacts or letting them know that I might be interested in what they had to sell or else they would be calling out to me and begging me to help them out by buying something from them.
All of a sudden, one lady started yelling out, "Tây ơi! Tây ơi!" (westerner! westerner!). I looked back and smiled, shaking my head signaling to her that I was not interested. But then I remembered that I was supposed to socialize, so I yelled back, "Không phải Tây, tôi người Việt!" (I am not a westerner, I am Vietnamese). Pretty soon, a few ladies congregated around me, checking me out and asking me questions to verify that I was indeed Vietnamese. After a while, one lady conceded that I was not a westerner but must be racially mixed. Then I told them that my parents are 100% Vietnamese. They looked at me from top to bottom, and then one lady said that a Vietnamese wouldn't have a nose like mine. Another one followed with, "And you have hair on your arms!" By the time I left, they were still not convinced. I walked away with 4 nice looking mangoes that I bought from one lady and 3 pears from the lady next to her. They were still calling me Tây as I walked away. Tây or Ta...?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Caleb learning math

I was teaching Caleb how to add numbers today during dinner, and he was excited. Then he said he wanted to add letters. So I told him to finish dinner quickly, then I'll reward him by teaching him how to add letters. He finished dinner really fast, and then I decided to teach him some algebra. After a few exercises, he got so excited and said, "Algebra is so fun, let's PLAY some more!" The high fever he got last week probably messed up something in his brain.

Updates on Caleb

Just a quick update on Caleb. Thank you everyone who thought about him. His eye infections are completely gone as far as we can tell, thanks to that med from the local pharmacy. We're grateful. His fever is also gone, and most of his cough also disappeared. He's just coughing a little bit here and there, especially at night. For the most part, he's almost back to his normal self again, and we didn't have to use the antibiotic that the doctor in HN prescribed. We'll keep it in the fridge here for the next time. Next week, he'll resume his once a week 'Big C' outing with Grace again. He's happy about that. He'll be able to go to the nice bookstore there to read books, then eat lunch at his favorite KFC, and have a sugar cane drink.
Some local folks here were surprised why we had to go all the way to Hanoi, a three-hour each way trip, to see a doctor instead of just going to the local hospital here. I didn't know how to answer them. I just felt more comfortable with a doctor with whom I could communicate. I am sure if it had been an emergency, we would have had no choice but to check into a local hospital here, which is about 25 minutes away by bus. It's Viet-Tiep Hospital built by Czechoslovakia, and people say they have a section there which meets international standards. I have visited the mother of one of the students there once last year.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Shopping for medicine for the first time

Last week, in addition to having fever and cough, Caleb also had green stuff oozing out of his eyes. His eyes were red, a little swollen, and itchy. We suspected it was infection, so I went across the street to a hole in the wall shop that sells medicine. I told the lady I needed something for eye infection. She looked on the shelf and grabbed a something that looked like a sort of eye-wash solution and gave it to me saying, " 10,000VND." I read the Vietnamese on the box, opened it, and read the piece of paper inside. I understood enough to guess it was just a Vietnamese-made solution for itchy eyes caused by dust or allergies. I asked the lady if she had anything else and she gave me a more expensive box with a Japanese brand. I read that one and I think it was something similar, used to treat strained eyes. There was nothing else, so I gave the lady 10,000VND and took the little box home. I googled the name of the drug but found nothing, of course.
I applied the drops to Caleb's eyes a few times that day, but they didn't seem to improve the following day. So, I got on my bike and rode farther, visiting three other local shops. At one better-looking shop, the guy didn't want to talk to me and just told me to go see a doctor and come back with a prescription. I was surprised!!! I stood there and thought, "that would be a lot of work! how would I go about finding a doctor here?" So, I got back on my bike and went to the next shop. This one was not as big, but the lady didn't tell me to go away. Again, I asked for something to treat eye infection, and she pulled out a box from under the counter. It was the same box I bought the day before from the shop across the street. I asked for something else, and she gave me the same Japanese-brand eye wash. I asked if there were something else stronger, she asked me how much money I was willing to spend. I didn't know how much to say, so I just told her something more expensive. She went to the back of the store and came back with a small box with the name Tobrex and said, "38,000VND." I saw the word "Tobramycin" on the box and knew it was antibiotic. Next I looked for where it was made. It came from Belgium. I asked the lady if it could be used for children, and she said no. I asked if she had something similar to this, but for children, and she said no. I opened the box and read the paper on the inside, it didn't mention anything about children. Since I was desperate, I decided to buy it. I gave her the money and rode home. Once I got home, I googled the word Tobrex and found good information on it, including the fact that it could be used on children. I gave it to Caleb, and two days later, the green gooey stuff was gone and his eyes were back to normal!
Belgian drugs and Belgian doctor, in Vietnam...

Sunday, April 19, 2009

First visit to the doc

We made our very first visit to the doctor’s today since we’ve been in Vietnam. Caleb has been having this fever for over a week and so we decided to take him in. The nearest clinic of Western standard is in Hanoi. So we took a 2-hour bus ride this morning there. Caleb was given some antibiotics to be taken if his fever continues for a few more days. We are grateful for having gone through this exercise so we know better next time what to do.

The doctor and I had a conversation about being in Vietnam. He’s Belgian and has been in Vietnam for 12 years. He asked me if I am happy here. I wasn’t sure how to answer the question but I did tell him that life is definitely not as comfortable here as it is in the US. I guess I have to say I am not happy in a secular sense, but I do have much joy within.

Many students express their sympathy towards our adjustment here in this town. Though I miss having a kitchen sink, clothes dryer, and many other perks of life in the US, I am grateful for all I’ve been given (and not been given) here. Afterall, who said I deserve to have what’s been provided for me? My creator, out of his sovereignty and grace, granted me life and so much more. I am simply humbled by his mercy.

Friday, April 3, 2009


Last weekend marked the 30th anniversary of the Foreign Languages Department of Haiphong University, so part of the festivities was overnight 'camping' for all the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd year students with Chinese, Russian, and English majors. They camped right outside our rooms, so it was very convenient for us to watch what was going on without having to walk out. But one drawback was all the noise generated, especially the extra loud music and the drinking late into the night. Grace had to put on earplugs to be able to sleep.
Each class got to set up their own tent, decorate it, and cook and sell foods during dinner time. When I first heard 'camping,' I imagined the traditional tents and sleeping bags used in the US. But as it turned out, these so-called tents looked more like big picnic canopies and the whole activity resembled more like a fair, with each class having their own stall or booth where they put up their decorations and sold foods.
My students seemed to have lots of fun. Even though it was a lot of work for them putting their tents together, it was a good chance for them to work together as a class and to gel. The activity started at 2pm on Saturday and lasted to Sunday afternoon. They all went home really exhausted in the end because many of them had stayed up the night before, either because the mosquitos were feasting on them or because they simply preferred to hang out and talk. The afternoon heat on Sunday didn't help either. The event went by without any major incidents, except, I heard, one boy threw up from over-intoxication. The following morning, both classes had a writing midterm, and a few students missed it because they were still in bed recovering from the weekend.
Guess what, as I am typing this entry, another 'camp' is happening right outside, probably by another department. This time, the music sounds 10 times louder. The walls and windows are vibrating because of the insanely loud bass.
Anyway, here are some pictures from last weekend. Enjoy!