Friday, January 22, 2010

Pause and commercials

We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City last night with my parents (Andy is still in Dalat proctoring exams). Caleb got sick and is resting in the hotel now while my parents ventured out themselves. This is Caleb's first time seeing a TV since the summer (we don't have a TV in Dalat), and he usually just watches a couple videos on our laptop. This morning while he was watching some cartoons on TV he asked, referring to the remote, "How come there's no pause on this thing." And later he asked, referring to the commercials, "Mommy, why are they showing these things in the middle?"

Monday, January 18, 2010

Mom and Dad are here!

We are so excited to see them! We went to Dalat airport to pick them up last night. It was our first time riding down the mountain since we came in September! Caleb loved the 30-min ride through the hills. And when the taxi stopped in front of the airport, I thought he took us to the wrong place because I did not recognize the modern structure in front of us. Turns out the airport was remodeled and just opened two weeks ago! When we came in September, it was an old little building, and now it is a two-story airport building with very modern architecture, and two huge Christmas trees all decorated at the entrance! Yes, Vietnam is developing indeed.

We helped my mom and dad check in at the hotel and went to dinner. It was a little chilly for them and the sidewalk was a little hard to maneuver but they've been to China experiencing similar things on their short-term trips. My dad said Dalat reminds him of Cheung Chau (Long Island) in Hong Kong.

It started raining last night, which is quite unusual for this time of year. And our teammate is hosting a January triple birthday party for herself, a Japanese teacher, and Andy this evening in the backyard. My parents will get to meet students and the community here.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

3 firsts with students

Ever since we came to Dalat, we've heard of three new foods that are local specialties: chả ram bắp, chả ram, and xắp xắp. We kept hearing about them and wanted to try them out, but never had the opportunities (even though they were just right there on the streets and we passed by them all the time). But opportunities do come in God's timing.
A few weeks ago, two students came to visit us and wanted to take us out for chả ram bắp (Grace explained this dish in her blog, and notice the correct spelling). But we had to refuse because Grace was not feeling well, so we missed the opportunity. And then just last week, one of those two students stopped by right before dinner time with a big bag of fresh hot off-the-wok chả ram bắp that she had bought to-go, with all the trimmings and sauce. That was very nice of her to remember and to bring it. We chowed it down in no time, in the comfort of home.
A few weeks back, I went with a bunch of students hiking up LangBiang mountain. On the way back, a student took us to what she called the best xắp xắp shop in town. That was my first time eating it even though I was tempted many times before that to just try it on the streets. While I was sitting there enjoying it, a couple of Vietnamese tourist ladies passed by, and one pointed at the words xắp xắp and asked the others what that meant. The other ladies shook their heads. I knew from their accent that they were from Saigon, so I wanted to help them out (or maybe just to show off). I yelled out "gỏi đu đủ" (papaya salad) and the ladies were happy and walked on. It's what the Dalat locals call papaya salad with beef jerky and hot sauce. I once asked a student why the name xắp xắp, and she said maybe it's the sound made by the scissors when the ladies cut the papaya into shreds.
As for chả ram, three students came a couple of months ago bringing them for us to try. They kept saying that it's a Dalat specialty and it's really good. At first, they brought some ready to be fried, and I fried them myself. But then after they found out that I didn't fry them correctly, they came again a second time and fried them for us, the right way. We ate them with vermicelli and it was delicious. It's similar to what's called chả giò in the south, but here, it's called chả ram. And in the north, it's called nem rán. And in English, it's called egg rolls. VN is a small country, but it's amazing how there's so much variation in the language. And Dalat is a city where you can find all the variations, and so the local accent sounds like a combination of all of them.
I could have tried these three dishes by myself a long time ago, but I later realized it was more special to wait for the right opportunities to come along and to enjoy them from the hands of the students or with them, especially when they initiate it.

Long time no updates

Just finished with classes yesterday (Saturday). Today is the first day of a long Tet holiday break until the second semester starts again in early March. It's been a busy semester, and one where I got sick quite a few times. Two days ago, I went to a 7am class (an extra class I gave just to help the students prepare for their final exam), and, right after I walked into the classroom and told the students to sit down, my stomach started hurting and I had to excuse myself. I ran back home (good thing the classroom was close to home) because public bathrooms here aren't so usable. This was something that I've been fearing since I started teaching in VN, and it finally came. But God provides. The following day I was still pretty weak from the stomach pain and just general body aches from some kind of a flu, and had another 4 hours of extra class. But He carried me through again. I went home afterward and went straight to bed and slept till the next day. This morning, I wasn't sure I felt good enough to walk to church and thought about taking the taxi instead. But at 6:30am I received a text message on my cell phone from a student asking if she could walk to church with me. She said she was sad and tired (I think from too much studying for the finals) and she wanted to go to church for some entertainment. I thought to myself, "This is her second time going to church, and the first was to the Christmas service a couple of weeks back. Maybe she was expecting the same kind of entertainment every week?" Well, she may not get entertained but at least she will get 40 minutes worth of English practice to help her on her final exam. And yesterday, another student asked me the same thing in class. So, I texted back and told the student to meet me at the 5-way intersection (ngã năm) at 7:30am. So sure enough, I had just enough strength to make it there in time with the two students. It turned out to be a pleasant walk (like the many times before) and my stomach didn't act up at all! Praise God! At the end of service, I asked them if they understood anything, they said they didn't understand a thing, even though it was in their native language. We all went out to lunch together afterward, including a teacher from LA who used to teach here 10 years ago and is coming back to visit and staying for more than a month. It was a good fellowship time.
I recently realized that I've been doing a lot of walking the past few months. Added to that are all those hours of standing and walking around in the classrooms. I will need new walking shoes when I get back to the States this summer.
I just remembered that when I was still in the States, I used to dream of a day when I could walk to church with people on Sunday mornings. I just realized that it has come true. The only thing missing is the nice, wide, clean, and safe sidewalks. Here, walking takes a lot of mental power because you have to constantly walk around obstacles and look around you all the time to avoid falling down into a sewer, stepping on undesirable objects, getting bitten by a dog, getting burned by a motorbike exhaust pipe, or, worse yet, being run over by a motorbike. Minor technicalities, though, after your system gets used to it. It's nice to be able to walk with students who have never gone to a church their whole life. One student found her true everlasting peace and happiness as a result last month! Yeah! She is now taking class to get ready to be dunked.
Another dream of mine was to be able to walk to work. Well, that has been true since last year. We can almost walk to the market to do grocery shopping, but not quite. It's still a little far and we still have to rely on the motorbike taxis.
I'll have to proctor two final exams, one next Saturday and the other the Monday after that. Both will be at 7am. Too early if you asked me. Good thing I am proctoring them and not taking them. Right after the exam on Monday, I'll take a grueling 8-hour bus to Saigon, and from there fly to Chiang Mai for a one week conference and training (and dental checkup). After that, we'll come back to VN and spend a quiet Tet here at the school.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Mid-year homeschool update

Home-school has been going well this year. Caleb continues each weekday with Saxon Math 2, reading various classics from The Odyssey to The Trumpet of the Swan to Aesop's Fables, writing, spelling, doing grammar, learning plant science through hands-on experiments, and studying ancient history. I'm learning so much in the process! He's also writing Chinese characters here and there for fun. And since he continued to show interest in learning piano, we picked up a keyboard here in Vietnam and continued on with our lessons. Dalat also makes for a wonderful place for Caleb to study the amazing creation that surrounds us, from stick bugs to caterpillars and cocoons to frogs and toads.

We are trying to finish up this week's school work awaiting for my parents to come visit next Monday! Yes, they've finally taken the courage (being in their 70's) to come visit us in Dalat for four days, and then Caleb and I will fly with them to Ho Chi Minh City and visit for another four. Andy will join us there on the last day after he finishes with proctoring final exams. And we will fly to Thailand for our mid-year conference. Time flies!

Treats from students

The other day a student brought us fresh milk from her family's milking cow who had just given birth to a calf. She added Milo (sweetened cocoa powder) to the milk and steamed it for 20 minutes and out came delicious milk custard! The student said the milk curded up easily by itself because it came from a cow that had just given birth. Caleb enjoyed it thoroughly.

Another student brought us Cha Rem Bap (Corn egg rolls), specialty of Dalat. Instead of meat they put corn in the egg rolls, and you roll it up in rice paper with herbs and pickles. It was another delicious treat!

Finally, we received a heart-shaped sponge cake yesterday to our delight.

Colgate with an Asian twist

Green-tea flavored toothpaste!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Christmas and New Year

Christmas is not celebrated here nationally but Andy did get one day off for New Year and we did receive some presents from the University and students since we are foreigners.

The dry season started back in November so we've enjoyed being outdoor more. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Night, we walked with students to the Christmas gatherings and enjoyed meaningful and fun conversations and relationship building.

On New Year's Day, two students invited us to the newly opened shopping mall in town. It is the first shopping mall opened in Dalat. It has three stories with escalators. So it was actually the first time one of these students ever stepped on an escalator! Vietnam is indeed developing.

The bi-annual Flower Festival in Dalat happened to be going on during the New Years and so we spent the day playing tourists as well. Here are some pictures we've posted of the day.

Thousands of tourists are in town and all the hotels are full. We can see much effort has been put into this Festival. Students told us that the power will be shut down for the whole town after the Festival for a few days just to recover. I hope we'll be ready for this one!