Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Under the weather

Andy's got the flu with cough and fever, and his back is strained too from the cough. He's in bed and in pain. Please lift him up. Thanks! And we've been kept indoors most of these couple days with Typhoon Ketsana hitting the central coast of Vietnam. Looking forward to some dry weather soon...

Friday, September 25, 2009

Cho Da Lat

We visited the big famous market in Da Lat the first week. The lowest floor has vendors for all kinds of food such as rice, beans, fresh veggies, dried goods etc. I've taken the xe om here a few times for groceries (no more biking to the market for me!). The upper balcony that overlooks the market has eateries that serve rice dishes for a dollar. I was hesitant in the beginning about eating there but bit the bullet and am still alive. Hopefully I'll post more pictures of it and the "town" in days to come. For now, just a few snapshots.

First Day of Class

Yes, class finally started. The freshmen come in quite late, 8 weeks after the other students. And some more are still coming, so the classes have not been solidified yet. As of this week, there were only two freshmen classes with 60 students in each, and I taught one of them. Next week there will be another one with 50 coming in. Then the week after that, I was told that these three classes will be reorganized into four classes, and I will be teaching three of them. What does this all mean? It means some the students I taught this week may not end up being my students, and vice versa. Some will have missed one week of class.
I walked into a big class this past week. I asked how many students were supposed to be in this class, and they said 60. But I counted around 80! Since I didn't have the roster, I had no clue who were supposed to be there and who weren't. Where did the other 20 come from? How do you teach speaking to a class of 80 students? You try your best, I guess. My goal for the first week was just introduction, getting to know each other, loosening them up, creating a fun and non-threatening environment, and encouraging them to open their mouths. There were some students that understood virtually everything I said, and some were just totally in the dark. Who do I aim at? What do I do, what do I do? This is probably the most challenging thing for me.
Class started at 1pm. Each period was 50 minutes. I taught 3 periods. There was a 10 minute break between second and third periods. So I calculated that class should end at 3:40pm. When it was 3:40pm, I didn't hear the bell ring and wondered if I did the calculation right. So I asked the students what time class was supposed to be over, and they all shook their heads saying they didn't know. I then went for 10 more minutes and told them it was time to go. They packed up their bags but still sat there, so I asked them what they were waiting for? I finally motioned with my arms and shooed them out of the classroom. Here are two pictures of the class.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Mango Chicken Adventure

Ok, so the 7 of us took a taxi into town to have dinner together as a team. Karen suggested the restaurant Tu Anh because they have the best mango chicken. We showed the taxi driver the business card of another restaurant named Wild Sunflower which Karen knew was a few doors away on the same street, since we didn't have the business card for Tu Anh. It turned out that where the driver dropped us off, we had to walk past Wild Sunflower to get to Tu Anh. But why would that be a problem, you may ask. Well, we know the owner of Wild Sunflower, and he is always standing out in front of his restaurant inviting (persuading, pulling, begging) guests to come in. There are a few restaurants of the same sort on this small street, and all of the them do the same to compete for the same western customers who often walk this street because it's recommended by the Lonely Planet.

Sure enough, we ran into the owner of Wild Sunflower and he asked us to come in. Karen had to turn him down skillfully, saying that we have had other plans for the evening. After exchanging a few words and polite smiles, we walked on and got to Tu Anh. We opened the door and walked in. It's a small little restaurant with about 6 small tables, and there were customers at three of them. The woman owner, very open, friendly, and talkative, greeted Karen in a loud voice from the back of the restaurant. Seeing that there may not be enough tables for all 7 of us, Karen said to the owner, "Do you think there is enough room for us?" The woman responded with a big smile, "Sure!" She then told her assistant in Vietnamese that she had to go show us to our room and will be back. She opened the door, and asked to follow her out. We were all wondering what was happening. While she was taking us across the street and up a small street, we were asking one another if she had an overflow room, and how she would bring the food to us all the way from her restaurant. We kept on following the woman until we got to a building, where she entered and was greeted by another woman. She said something to that woman in Vietnamese, and I caught enough of the conversation to start realizing that she had just taken us to a hotel. Then I thought maybe she wanted to put us in a small room and would bring the food to us. Karen then told her that it was ok, and that we could just order the food first and then walk around while waiting for the restaurant to clear. Now, the restaurant owner was puzzled, wondering why we talked about eating at the restaurant. Then I told her in Vietnamese that we came to her restaurant to eat dinner, not to look for a hotel room. At that point, she broke into loud laughter, screaming that she heard the word "room" from Karen and thought we had wanted a hotel room for the night. We all had a good laugh walking back down to the restaurant.

We all learned an important lesson from that incident--avoid using the word 'room' at a restaurant unless you're really looking for a room for the night. It was also wonderful that a restaurant owner actually took us to a hotel herself--what service!

We all had mango chicken, except me. I wanted to be different and ordered lemongrass chicken instead.

Bug hunts

Being in the mountains, we get lots of creepy crawlies. One of Caleb and Isaiah's favorite activities is going on bug hunts. Here are pictures showing them hunting for miniature snails, Caleb holding onto a stick bug, and a caterpillar attempting to make its cocoon in Caleb's bug jar.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Modes of transportation

Unlike Haiphong, Da Lat has a hilly landscape making it more difficult to get around on a bike (at least for me). So my new mode of transportation so far has been by foot, on a xe om (motorbike taxi) or taxi. It costs about 50 cents for a xe om ride into town and $2 on a taxi. I got myself a yellow helmet and rode on a xe om for the first time in Vietnam last week! I didn't get initiated with a burnt mark from the muffler but did get a bruise on my shin when I swang my leg off the seat against the metal bar behind the seat. As for Andy, he bought a bike from one of our teachers here last year and it has worked well. Here's a picture of Caleb on the back seat.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Outside of our living quarters

We live in building A16 on campus which contains a strip of 9 two-room apartments plus a common storage room and a common laundry room at opposite ends. We live in A16.5, the Rowley's in A16.6, and Karen in A16.7. Here are some pictures of the front and back. We are grateful for the common fenced-in backyard where Caleb and Isaiah can play and run around safely. And the many trees and fresh air around here. I haven't yet had to use my mask here! Though space maybe tight indoor for three, the nice and safe surroundings give us incentives to stay on campus rather than looking to rent off campus.

Friday, September 18, 2009

By the way,

just in case you're thinking of using the chopstick-in-the-tank technique in your own bathroom, it's patent pending. I expect to make good money on this IP.

What you can do with a pair of chopsticks

Having been in Vietnam for a year, I've learned how resourceful Vietnamese people can be. Here are pictures showing how a pair of chopsticks are used to hinge our toilet seat together and hold our toilet tank floater up at the same time. Amazing!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Vietnamese desserts and sausage rolls

Here are a few pictures that show the "che" (Vietnamese desserts) that Andy's been talking about. The menu is quite extensive and there are big pots of different kinds of "che" at this food stall near our university.

Also shown is where we had our "nem nuong" (Vietnamese sausage rolls) dinner with the new shoot that Karen has so excitedly shared about to some. The student even said grace for us before our meal. It was a blessed time.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Hồ Xuân Hương

Here in Đà Lạt, we live very close to a nice little lake called Hồ Xuân Hương. But Hồ Xuân Hương also happens to be the name of a famous poet from the province of Nghệ An who wrote a short little nice poem called "Bánh trôi nước," which happens to be the chè that I wrote about in the previous post. Isn't that an interesting coincidence? Well, here is the poem:

Thân em vừa trắng lại vừa tròn,
Bảy nổi ba chìm với nước non.
Rắn nát mặc dầu tay kẻ nặn
Mà em vẫn giữ tấm lòng son.

This very short and simple poem not only talks about the chè itself but also refers to the resilient character of the Vietnamese woman. If someone can translate this poem into English, please let me know.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Xôi Nước or Trôi Nước

If you can read VNese, here's an explanation for the difference between those two words.
For those who can't read VNese but still want to know, just in case there comes a time when he/she needs to impress a VNese boyfriend/girlfriend, I can offer a simple explanation here.
Both are names of a type of VNese chè. Chè is a general name for a very common VNese dessert, usually made of the basic ingredients glutinous rice and tapioca. Some will have beans, coconut, coconut milk, mung beans, and gelatin. Some chè are eaten cold or with ice, some are preferred hot. Xôi nước is usually eaten hot. It's a chè that consists of big sticky rice balls, stuffed with mung bean on the inside, floating in a sugary, gingery sauce. According to the link above, it was a southern VNese invention derived from the northern version called bánh trôi nóng (now called trôi nước here). I don't know why I am explaining all this because I don't even like chè.

Xe ôm is what most VNese here call the motorbike taxi. If you're by yourself here without transportation and need to get to a place really quick and cheap, just flag down a xe ôm guy, tell him where you want to go (usually in VNese), negotiate a price, put on a helmet (he'll have an extra one for you if you don't mind the sweat and fleas from other people), hop on the motorbike behind him, and off you go. Xe means vehicle, and ôm means to hug. Supposedly, on a xe ôm, you may want to hug the driver for safety or else you may fall backwards if the guy goes really fast or jerks suddenly. Here in Da Lat (and maybe other places too), a lot of people use the term xe thồ instead. Thồ means to carry/pull a load. So, you can either be a passenger and hug the driver (xe ôm) or a cargo and be carried (xe thồ) and not have to hug the driver. I have yet to see a female xe ôm driver.

Monday, September 14, 2009

You look so strange!

Karen took us 6 to her most favorite "Nem Nướng" hole-in-the-wall-and-plastic-stools eatery today for dinner. As we were walking, we ran into a student that we recently met and invited her to come along. She said yes even though she had already had dinner. Then we walked some more and ran into her friend, a boy that Karen has known for two years now and who has also just happily told her last week that he had just got saved over the summer. We extended the same invitation to him, and, again, he agreed even though he had already had dinner. Now, all 9 of us were walking and we ran into one of Karen's former students. Karen introduced her to all of us new foreign teachers, and the girl shook my hand and pointed at my head saying, "you look so strange!" I didn't know how to react except to say, "Yeah, I don't have any hair up there." Later on, as we said goodbye to her, she pointed at me again and said, "You look handsome!" I thought to myself, "So am I strange or am I handsome?" Well, she didn't come with us for dinner, so I didn't get a chance to ask her. But 'strange' is a good word because I have yet to see a bald man here in this town. There were so so so many students on this street around dinner time and so so so many street vendors hoping to get some business from them.
Between my bald head and the Karen's blond hair and the cute little Isaiah, we attract attention everywhere we go. After dinner, I chatted with the owner lady for a while and left. Then we walked to a "chè" parlor to have some dessert, also another of Karen's favorites. I started a conversation with the lady owner and found out that she has two other sisters that are also in the same business of selling "chè." One sister is just a few shops down the street and the other sister has a store on a street downtown. The owner said Caleb looked Korean. That's a first. I saw "trôi nước" on the menu and asked her what it was. She said it's the same as "xôi nước," but most people here call it "trôi nước." I grew up calling it "xôi nước." That reminded me also that here, "xe ôm" is often called "xe thồ"--another local variation.
After "chè," we walked back, and Grace stopped by a book store to get some stationary, and I stood outside answering a phone call from some former students in HP. On the way back I also got a text message from another student that I knew from three years ago saying that she saw us walking to dinner as she was riding her motorbike but she didn't stop because I was with a big group. We passed by a popcorn stand and Caleb wanted to get some. So we got a big cup of popcorn--tasted more like kettle corn, for 5000.
We got back to campus and it still didn't rain, so I thought to myself, "We could have hung our laundry outside instead of in our living room all this time." Anyway, it was a pleasant evening out--lots of interaction with people.

What about teaching?

Yeah, that's a good question. We were scheduled to start teaching this week, when the freshmen are coming in. Laura had her lesson plan prepared with 140 copies of handouts, all ready for to meet and teach the new incoming students tomorrow at 7am, but we just received an email saying classes have been canceled this week because the Foreign Languages Dept has not "received the total students for each K33 class from A1." (don't worry, we don't understand it either) So, maybe next week. We hope we can get started soon or else the whole schedule gets crunched toward the end and we'll have to make up classes because the end date does not move.

Laura has been assigned to teach English Pronunciation Practice to 3 incoming freshmen classes; Karen was assigned to teach Speaking to one incoming freshmen class; and I Speaking to 3. If we don't get assigned more later on, this work load is pretty good compared to what I had last year--one prep and 9 periods in class per week. We may be assigned later on to teach some TOEFL classes to teachers, which was what happened last year. We've also been told to help run an English club on campus.

More glimpses into our daily life

This is what we see looking out our front doors every day. Our dinner table is right behind the front doors and we usually leave the doors open during the day, so we get to see this nice open view during lunch every day.

First home cooked dinner in VN this year.

Our apartment

My desk and 'living room' area

Our kitchen/bedroom

Caleb's desk and bookshelf

Loft-where Caleb sleeps. I sawed, planed, sanded, and nailed some timbers and extended up the railing so that Caleb won't fall over it. It looks ugly but I think it's functional. Our bed is right underneath the loft, and the stove is behind the camera.

This is the original faucet that came with the apartment. The knob is actually just a screw that opens and closes the water pipe underneath. Caleb had a hard time turning it, and I had a hard time fitting my hands underneath the spout.

So I biked into town, looked for a shop, bought this new faucet for 75,000, brought it home, borrowed a pair of pliers from our teammate, and installed it. It works better now.

We've moved into our little 'apartment' on campus a little over two weeks now. All the major cleaning and fixing are done, and we're starting to feel a bit more settled in. We have been very blessed by the availability of internet connection, good food, and, most of all, electricity and water. We have not lost electricity at all the past two weeks, which, we hear, is very unusual. So, we're certainly not complaining. Here are some pictures of our dwelling two weeks after.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

First visit with students

During our first week here, our team was already invited to a lunch by two students of Karen's. We enjoyed a delicious feast on the floor of their room where both of them cook, eat, sleep, and study. There were so much leftovers too.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Team pictures

Here are a couple pictures of Team Vietnam and Team Da Lat this year. Note our Da Lat "team mascot," the humongous lizard hung above us...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

New school year

After spending last week moving in, cleaning, and settling down, we decided to get started with the new school year with Caleb. Here he is at his desk, and we made a schedule together. Andy will start teaching next Monday. He's been assigned three speaking classes so far for the first year students. And we hear the teaching schedule changes every week!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Vietnamese cherries

Caleb found a new favorite fruit--Vietnamese cherries. They don't taste like cherries, more like star fruits.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Caleb's new teammate

Caleb met his new teammate Isaiah in Hanoi and they are together here in Dalat. Here are a couple pictures of the happy couple. Isaiah is a little camera shy so we couldn't get him to look our way while he rode with Caleb on our team leader Karen's motorbike.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Blogger and Facebook

Just a note that I've finally started utilizing Facebook and any new post on our blog will automatically show up under Notes in my Facebook. Thanks to the Shetterly's our teammates from whom I got the tip!