Thursday, September 25, 2008

Teacher, this time for real

Sorry it has been so long since I last posted. Life has gotten busier.

I taught two classes last week which both went alright, but both days it started raining on my way to work, and I showed up soaking wet. I also didn't finish the lessons I wanted to teach. But, I got a better handle on the time it takes to explain and run activities.

So far this week, I've taught five classes, and I have one more tomorrow. They have been going much better. Elite has been very kind and helpful and forgiving of my mistakes. When I work two classes in a row, I have 15 minutes in between classes and they give me a free snack or drink. I've been getting fruit and vegetable shakes. Those avocado shakes are amazing. Next time I should get food, though. It's tough waiting until after 9 to eat dinner. By then I'm so tired I don't even feel like eating.

Anyway, I enjoy teaching. Some of the classes are low level and have trouble understanding things, so I have to expect that and train myself to talk slowly and loudly. I'm getting better at slowing down and being patient. It can be difficult when you have the students working on something for 5-10 minutes, and then you ask someone to share what they talked about or wrote about, and the class is dead silent. Students here are just more shy and afraid of saying something wrong. But with a little coaxing, you find that they have interesting things to say. In the higher level classes, some students are just itching to get a chance to share. One class I taught yesterday was pretty smart, and we were just flying through the activities so that I thought we'd have too much time leftover, but it ended up working out.

Yesterday I was also a little late to my classes, because I was teaching at a school I hadn't taught at before, and all I knew was that it was on the street that I live on, just in a different district. So I thought, ok, I can find this, I just drive up. Except, when I got to a busy intersection, the street turned from one way my direction, to one way against me. It made absolutely no sense. I could even see the school right there. I wanted to just drive on the sidewalk to get to the school, but the cop shook his head at me and I pleaded with him, asking "how do I get... right... there!!" and he pointed to another street going into the intersection. So, I took that up and took the next sidestreet to try to get back, but there was stop-and-go traffic the whole way, and it took me another 20 minutes to get there. Luckily I was only 5 minutes late and they seemed to understand. They also told me a much easier way to get there if I take another sidestreet and get to the school from kind of a backdoor. So, it should be easier next time.

Today is my... day off! I'm just going to be lazy today. I've been kinda tired and sick, just from lack of sleep and some stress. This past weekend we went to the Mekong Delta, which was a lot of fun, sailing up and down the rivers, visiting floating markets, eating seafood, getting caught in monsoons, and just watching how people lived their lives everyday. But, I didn't get much sleep that weekend. Last night I took some tylenol PM and slept for like 12 hours, so that helped.

Oh yea, I also got a roommate, so I can cut my rent in half. She's a Sri Lankan university student named Chethana, and her English is pretty good. She's pretty nice and I don't think we'll have any problems.

I don't think there's anything else to say, so I'll put this rambling, haphazard post to an end.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

An Observation, and a Prognostication

An observation on restaurants in Vietnam:

They will never give you bread before a meal.
They will always give you a moist toilette or two. If you use it, you will be charged 1,000 dong. Slightly more than 6 cents is a good price for clean hands.
They will always give you toothpicks at the end of the meal if they are not already on the table. Picking your teeth is simultaneously socially improper and a national pastime. The result is that you will see people impatiently reaching for a toothpick as soon as they've had the last bite of their meal, hurriedly cleaning all their teeth and using their other hand to cover their mouth so that you can't tell what they are obviously doing. I like to just sit there with the toothpick in my mouth, like I'm either Clark Gable with a cigarette or a farmer with a weed in my mouth, but I don't think this is proper.
Most places will also give you a free iced tea, which tastes like green tea but I think it's slightly different. I've already gotten sick of it. I crave berry and lemon teas. I should try and buy some packets so I can make some at home.
I think that every restaurant must hire three times as many people as they need at any given time. Granted sometimes I eat at odd hours, but every time I've eaten out, there have been extra wait stuff just hanging around doing nothing, gazing off in the distance, half-interestedly watching a Viet soap or melodramatic music video, or watching me eat if there's nothing more exciting to see. Maybe in the States the waiters are just better at hiding when they have nothing to do.
When you have a motorbike, parking at anywhere in the city becomes a non-issue. Just pull up front and a security guy will take the bike and give you a ticket. Half the places I've parked at so far have not charged me. The most I've ever had to pay is 3,000 dong. That's like 20 cents. Less than a quarter to park anywhere in the city for as long as I want, or at least until they close. There's one area where American cities can look to Ho Chi Minh for guidance.

This week Elite has given me two classes to teach. That's only 3 hours of work... One class Monday evening, one class Tuesday evening. I like that I don't have to get up early, and I have time to really review my lesson and plan everything out before I start. I wanted to work more this first week, but I think it would also be good to ease into things, especially since it's a new format from the one I'm used to, but with a lot of the similar ideas. The school says that depending on how I do with my first classes, I'll get more the next week, and more the next week, etc., until I'm up to 20 or so hours a week. With planning time, transportation time, etc., I think that's pretty good. If I still feel that I have too much free time, I can try to take on some tutoring.

I am looking forward to my lesson tomorrow, though understandably a little nervous now that it's an actual job. I just gotta remember that I did two weeks of teaching and it went well, so this is just kind of a continuation of what I've been doing. In the teacher's book we got, all the activities are pretty much planned out for us, but I hope that in time I'll be able to tweak things a little more and more. Some of the games and activities seem kind of repetitive and I can think of more fun ways to do things. Some of them are good ideas, though. There's a lot of stuff in the lesson plan, and I hope we get to it all in an hour and a half. There's also a CD that they provided with audio clips of conversations and such that are part of the activities, so that will help to keep things humming along. My lesson is called "have you ever broken a bone?" and is all about injuries and medical advice and stuff, with some grammatical things thrown in, like separable phrasal verbs (which I didn't even know until I took the Languagecorps course). Anyway... I think it will go well.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Alone in my Villa

Picked up my motorbike today. My new wild hog.

Easy enough to use. I decided to ride it around the city a little this afternoon when traffic was light. I quickly got the hang of it. There are so many bikes on the road, that they all have to kind of go at a moderate speed anyway. Still, it was a bit frightening at times. I pictured myself as the least likely person to drive around a huge crowded city with a motorbike, but I went ahead and did it. If I can confront one fear every day, I'm sure I'll never run out of fears but at least I'll grow more confident at doing new things. I would say the hardest part about driving in this city is finding a specific place. It's alright to just drive around in circles, but looking for a certain address is an exercise in futility. Streets change names several times, many are one-way, numbers on the right and left sides of the road count up differently, and google maps utterly fails at locations outside the US. Tonight I will attempt to drive to Greta and Genessa's new apartment for dinner, and it is pretty much a straight shot from where I live, so hopefully nothing will go wrong.

These past few days I've had nothing to do, so I've had a lot of time to muse on things.

I've been sleeping very unevenly, waking up several times in the night for no reason. Probably just things on my mind.
At 5am, a rooster in the neighborhood wakes up and feels that it is his duty to cooka-doodle his heart out until I know that he's awake and I am too. It makes it impossible to sleep, so I've taken to going to bed with earplugs, which is far from comfortable but at least it lets me sleep, and if I wake up in mid-morning I can take them out because he usually settles down by then..

My maid is really nice, she's only here in the mornings so I make a point to get out of bed before she leaves so I can say hi. She brings me coffee and a breakfast assembled from whatever is in the house, like bread and peanut butter and cheese and a banana. Today she also cooked me up a chicken quesadilla, which I heated up for lunch, and it was really quite good. My maid doesn't know English too well, but she's very nice and good at what she does.

I like my neighborhood. The streets are full of peddlers of all sorts of things, like fresh fruit and coffee and other random items. There are tons of tiny little shops selling everything from rain ponchos to motorbike helmets to lamps to phone cards. Everyone gazes at me as if I'm a martian, and I try to smile back. They'll get used to me. I'm their neighbor.

I've already seen a couple people interested in moving into the extra room here. They were both impressed with the place and the smallness of the rent. They're both British folk working as english teachers who seem to be in their 30's. One is male and one is female. She said "well maybe you'd prefer a lad", but it honestly doesn't matter to me. So, hopefully one of them decides to live here. This house is kinda big for just one person.

Tomorrow is an orientation day at my new school that I'm teaching at. I don't know if that means I'm immediately teaching after that, or even the very same day. At any rate, my free time will probably diminish significantly. Right now, that's a very welcome prospect, because I am bouncing off the walls just a little.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Vacation and House Warming

So from Monday to Friday we took a little vacation to the beach. First we went to Vung Tau, didn't like it too much, too busy and no good beaches, so we journeyed to Mui Ne, which was a lot nicer. It's a resort town but there weren't many people there, it must have been off season. We were able to get a bungalow at a resort for cheap, it was right on the beach and also had a pool. Most of the time we just hung out, swam, napped, read, went out to eat, repeat. It was pretty relaxed the whole time, but it was nice, especially being in such a beautiful area. It was a really nice mini-vacation before we started working.

Last Sunday I moved into my house, but today the guy who was living here before me finally got all his stuff out, so I was able to move into the bigger, better room and start making it my home. I like the house, it's really peaceful, like an oasis in the middle of the madness of the city. At some point I may have to buy some art to put on the walls so I truly feel like a young cultured professional on the rise, or something.

We got the jobs at the school called Elite. All we have to do is show up on Thursday for a training session for a few hours, and then we can start getting scheduled to teach. I'm really looking forward to it. All this free time is nice, but I need some structure, and some money. From my training and practice, I also found that I really enjoy teaching and feel that I'm making a positive impact on people. You can be surprised how well two people can communicate even when one of them is far from fluent in the language.

I've also been hanging out with a girl named Uyen who was one of the students in my practice teaching class. It seems to be slowly developing into a relationship. I am completely confused about the etiquette of Vietnamese dating customs, so I find the whole thing both terrifying and exciting, which is a good combination. I believe that I just have to relax and let things progress naturally.

And now, some pictures:

The beach by our resort.

Posing with my motorbike. We rented them for an afternoon to drive around.

My new bedroom, before I moved my stuff in.

The living room downstairs.

The curvy staircase which leads upstairs.

The view outside my bedroom window, one floor up.

Me and Uyen.