Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas Time

I had the 24th and 25th off, as most schools are closed and everyone wants to celebrate Christmas. So, I celebrated on both days! Even though I was away from home I had some great people to celebrate with. In Vietnamese, the word for "celebrate" is "an", the same as the word for "eat". If you say that you want to celebrate Christmas, it sounds like you want to eat Christmas. I think it just emphasizes how important eating is on a holiday, in every culture.

On the 24th, our maid prepared a lot of food and my roommate Le invited some friends over to eat, listen to Christmas music, and gift swap. We had a shrimp and noodle and veggie mix that was actually served cold and tasted great. Then there was a beef stew with potatoes and carrots, just like back home. His friends brought over desserts like cake. AND I couldn't buy eggnog so I made it myself using a recipe online. It came out alright, didn't taste as good as regular eggnog and the eggs kept wanting to separate, but at least the guests got a general idea of what eggnog tastes like. Rather than go on and on talking, I'll just show some pictures.

Here's a picture of our group:

And my parents sent me a nice package from home with some candy and toys and an elf hat that I bought last year, so I posed in front of my freshly-decorated tree:

The next day, the 25th, Uyen and I went out to take pictures of the decorations around the city. There was a nice wintery theme outside of Diamond, the one big department store in Vietnam, although it didn't have the same effect when I'm wearing shorts and a T-shirt next to supposedly icy trees. Also, the big Notre Dame Cathedral was all lit up with people coming to the church services that night. Lots of people were out and about taking in the sights, although it did start raining. Perhaps I spoke too soon about the dry season, because it's been raining every day again. We got pretty wet, didn't have jackets, and now I'm feeling sick, but slowly recovering now. Oh, also, before we went looking at decorations that night, we stopped to eat sticky rice and chicken at a local Vietnamese place. Uyen got more exotic fare and had my try one of her pieces of meat. After I bit into something very rough and chewy, she told me that it was pig's tongue. That in itself didn't turn me off, but I just didn't like the taste that much. I didn't have my camera at the time to snap a photo, but here are some other pictures.

More pictures can be found here:
Some other Vietnam picture can be found here:

Merry Christmas and happy new year everyone!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Unrelated Thoughts

There's many things here that I take for granted now, and I don't even realize are worth mentioning. For example, it seems common sense now that when you order a pizza, they will also bring you a free banana. I've gotten so used to it, that I forget that if this happened in America, it would be very confusing or at least worthy of a chuckle. Here I just welcome the extra fruit, and after my pizza I have a way to cleanse my pallet and feel like I've been slightly healthy.

Time keeps moving, and sometimes we don't realize it. At home, the passage of time is obvious, because it gets about 50 degrees colder during the fall and into the winter, plus it's hard to ignore the snow. (I've heard about the blizzard that hit the northeast.) But here, there are only two seasons, and the passage of time only becomes evident twice a year. Recently, we entered the dry season. Perhaps it is still in transition, but I think it must have rained only maybe twice so far this month, when it used to rain every day. Now the air is drier, but the temperature is just as high as before. The mornings and afternoons can be sweltering, but if you don't think about it too much, it's not that bad. Since it's dry heat, you don't sweat as much, and when you're riding on a motorbike you can sometimes feel a breeze. With no humidity to hold in the heat, though, it gets kinda cool at night. It's nice and refreshing, though. When I check the temperature online, the lowest it ever gets is about 72 degrees. And this feels cold to me and everyone else here. I think it will be a shock going back to America, but at least I'll be returning in summer.

Another random observation, it looks to me like certain things don't have the same stigma as in America. Like colors, for example. I see boys riding motorbikes that are pink or yellow, with helmets the same color. I think it's just a matter of what they have. Maybe they're borrowing someone else's stuff, or they just don't care. Either way, it seems like pink is not necessarily a feminine color.

Coming up is Christmas, and while it's not the same as back home, there is definitely excitement in the air, from the overwhelming decorations and lights to the Vietnamese Christmas songs blaring out of the shops. Most of my friends won't be around, but my roommate Le is cooking a Christmas dinner and inviting a few friends over, so I think Uyen and I will partake. I'm going on a quest to find eggnog somewhere in this city. Christmas just wouldn't be the same without it. Then, I would like to just drive around District 1 and look at all the decorations. I guess that's what a lot of people do here on Christmas. I don't know if anything special actually happens. Already there are tons of decorations everywhere. But I guess we'll have to see. I'm definitely bringing my camera to snap some pictures, though. I dread ever looking like a tourist, but I guess I can run that risk for one night.

I did take a picture recently, though, when I stopped to eat at a place I found called Red Hot Saigon that has burgers and hot dogs. I spoke to the owner for a while, he's very friendly and speaks English well. The food is pretty good, but they really pile on the sauces and extra toppings, so it's kind of a messy affair. The hot dog I got did taste like a hot dog, though, which is more than I can say about some other hot dogs I've had. I liked the style, too. The places to eat were in closed-off rooms where you take off your shoes and sit almost on the floor, like a tea house. It was nice and cozy, so I hope to make it a regular spot to dine.
Here is a picture of the hot dog, half-eaten and next to an imported Shasta Root Beer:

Also, last weekend Hien had her birthday. She's the program leader here, and she's the nicest, most helpful person, that I can always call with my problems and she provides an answer. She turned the big 3-0, and people are not afraid to reveal their ages here like in America, so I don't think I'll get into trouble for saying it. Anyway, Uyen and I bought her some nice flowers, which we put on the table of the restaurant where we ate, and it was kind of like a centerpiece that everyone liked. The table was very nice, as all of Hien's friends and the past and current Languagecorps students were there.
Here's a picture of me, Hien, and the flowers:

Yet one more thing to mention, this week I've been covering Genessa's classes at a public school for young children. The classes are only 30 minutes long, but it's as exhausting as a 90 minute class for adults, because they're so energetic and hard to keep focused. They're a lot of fun, though, and very friendly, saying "hello!" several times when I come in. They like a lot of games and songs and stuff, and some of them can't sit still for more than a minute. It's very satisfying because they're learning basic English words and structures, so you feel like you're really teaching them something new each time, and the games give them a chance to practice.

My roommate just made some che, which I'm eating now. It's kind of a sweet dessert made with beans, sometimes very cold and icy, but this one he made is very watery, but it's nice and refreshing and seems healthy since it's made with beans. They look like very big kidney beans, and even though I'm not a bean enthusiast, I don't mind them much, and they're kind of sweet.

Well that's all the news that's fit to give. Merry Christmas everyone!

Monday, December 8, 2008

My December

Hello, hello.

One of the gas companies here is Saigon Petro. It seems fitting, so I added a picture of the logo to the left.

Not much new to say really, but people keep clamoring for posts. I may have forgotten to mention that I started working at a third school, Vietnam National University. So, this is serious business. Same kinda stuff though, teaching lessons and getting students to talk English with each other a lot. I don't like the lesson books as much as at Elite. There aren't a lot of fun activities, and it's mostly centered around listening exercises. The one class I taught so far only had five people. Still, I bet I can think of some activities and games to make class more interesting.

I've been going out to karaoke a lot lately. They get a kick out of me singing in Vietnamese, and I can barely pronounce the words in time to the music, but it's alright. The collection of English songs they have mostly predate 1990, so the ideal songs to sing are the cheesy, over-the-top ones. Obviously, I showed off my Tom Jones impression.

I got a new roommate. And a toaster. He brought many things with him. But I especially am loving the toast.
He's a very cool guy, and I think we'll become friends as well as roommates. He's Vietnamese but very easy to talk to in English. He goes to work early every morning, so I feel like a bum since I usually get up around 11. He also goes on business trips a lot. Right now he's in the Philippines for the next few days.

And now, by popular demand, here is a picture of a recent energy drink which I consumed:

When I drank it, I briefly became a samurai. Then I reverted back to my normal self. It was actually pretty uneventful.