Sunday, November 30, 2008

The 5th Post of the Month

Welcome to the Christmas season! Actually, with no buffer holidays like Halloween or Thanksgiving, Christmas decorations start popping up in October here. For a society with only a minority of Christians, they sure love Christmas here. It must be the commercialization of it, and how it's associated with American culture. At any rate, I bought my own 4 foot fake Christmas tree, and I'll be adding lights and ornaments another day. It's nice to have some festive charm in my house.

We all celebrated Thanksgiving here last Wednesday, with a complete meal delivered from an American restaurant. The turkey and mashed potatoes and stuffing and everything was great, just like back home. Unfortunately, there was no football on TV. Not that I would really follow it or understand what was going on, but it is tradition.

I'm starting work this week at a new school, the Vietnam National University. So, I have yet another style of lesson to get used to, but the variety will keep things interesting. I think the university students will be that much more eager to learn, and many are probably hoping to study for some time in an English-speaking country. A lot of people go to Australia or New Zealand just because they're so close. That leaves them with an interesting accent, and vocabulary including "cheers" and "mate".

I was able to get 5 posts in this month, so that's an improvement! Hopefully more adventures await me in December.

I'm one third of the way through my overseas excursion.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Of Cockroaches and Kings

It's no secret that I hate bugs and small creatures.

The only ones I don't mind are the small geckos who live on the walls in my kitchen. They're very shy and run away when I turn on the light. I tolerate them because they eat all the little bugs and they look kinda cool.

It's a different story with Mortimer. This is the giant cockroach-like-insect who lives in my bathroom(s). I first met him when I lived in the bedroom down the hall and used the other bathroom. As I came in to brush my teeth, he poked his head out of the drain to say hello. I addressed the situation as I do any other, without any action but a determined staredown. He retreated to the safety of the pipes, and I brushed my teeth at a distance from the sink. I decided to name him something like Archibald or Seymour and I eventually settled on Mortimer. When I moved to the master bedroom, I thought I might never see him again, and I was glad. But tonight as I walked into my bathroom to take a shower, I found him scampering on the floor and I resumed my stare. It looked like he couldn't find a way out through a pipe this time, and he didn't fit through the drain on the floor. He was very shy, though, and dashed under a table. I had him cornered this time, and I was going to end things once and for all. I grabbed a box from my bedroom and wheeled the table to the side, which caused him to appear, terror in his eyes and trembling in his antennae and mandibles. I brought down the box on him and placed a sneaker on top, because I figured that the strength of an insect with a name like Mortimer should never be underestimated. He will spend the night in his airless prison and I'll have my maid dispatch of him tomorrow morning. It is very likely that she is less squeamish around bugs than I am.

That's all for today!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Teacher's day

On Thursday is Teacher's Day in Vietnam. It's kind of a big deal since teachers are traditionally given a lot of respect in this society. Students give presents like flowers to their teachers on this day, but I don't know if I'll be getting any gifts. My classes fluctuate too much from week to week, and on Thursday I'm filling in for a class I haven't taught before. Unless the students are so zealous about teacher's day that they bring gifts to class even when they don't know who the teacher will be, I won't be expecting anything, and I'm not that big into flowers anyway. It is kind of a good feeling to know that they have a day that honors teachers, since I suddenly randomly chose that job for the time being. I'm still trying to figure out what I'm going to do after this, and the time is ticking on making a decision, since graduate school application deadlines are coming up.

A couple days ago I had a dinner party at my house with my fellow English teacher friends, and it was nice to see them again and act like a host. My maid prepared a lot of quesadilla mix, we fried them up and they came out delicious. I also kept things classy with a plate of brie cheese and crackers, because I couldn't find feta in the supermarket, and some cornichons. I always associate those things with the idea of a dinner party. I take great joy in planning things and getting all the details right and having everything go well. Maybe that's my calling: I can be a wedding planner, haha.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tales from the Classroom

So much for new leaves.

Ants seem to be everywhere. Everywhere indoors, that is. I'll often see a stream of ants crawling up the walls in the kitchen, or crawling on the counter and threatening my dinner. And they often show up in my bedroom as well. I really can't understand. They're tiny and innocuous enough that it doesn't bother me too much. Still, it's unsettling. The ants must have discovered some tiny forgotten morsel of food. I kinda solved the mystery last night. In between teaching two classes, I went to the break room of the school and had a snack of fried rice. It was an interesting concoction, there were like 6 different kinds of meat inside, as well as bunch of other things. As I was wolfing this down, I dropped a small bean sprout or something on the floor and I didn't pick it up. About ten minutes later, I got up to get a drink of water, and I looked down at the floor in front of my chair. I observed a sea of ants emanating from a hole in the wall to the place where I dropped my piece of food. About halfway to the hole, a dozen or so ants were carrying the food, slowly inching it closer to their home. It was like an epic trophy that they were putting all their effort into recovering. It was partly disgusting and partly awe-inspiring.

Anyway, I wanted to share some stories from the classroom.
One of the classes I taught last week was incredibly raucous. Usually the students are relatively quiet and respectful, but sometimes they can get loud and out of hand. In America, I would just scream at them and strike fear in their hearts, but I've been warned not to yell in Asian classrooms. So I try a small hush and the few students who are watching me join in and eventually the class quiets down. Anyway, these guys were kinda out of control, and maybe it was the topic. We were talking about love, and since the students were all late teens or early 20's, it was a hot topic. One girl in particular was incredibly vocal. In one activity, they were practicing talking about likes and dislikes, and they had to write down things they liked and things they didn't, like countries, cities, food, music, etc. When we got to cities we didn't like, this girl kept yelling "HANOI! HANOI! HA-NOI!" And I said, ok, ok. When we got to food we liked, she kept yelling "KFC! KFC!"
Anyway, the topic got a little serious when I divided up the boys and girls and had them write the characteristics they look for in a member of the opposite sex. For some reason, the boys chose to list characteristics that pertained to this girl, and it was kinda funny and interesting to see what they wrote. They meant to say "talkative", but wrote "talk a tea", which is how they also say it since they don't pronounce final consonants. Well, I don't mean to make fun of them, I just find it interesting. So, the girl found out that they were talking about her but she wasn't too embarrassed. Next, she read what the girls were looking for in a man, and he had to be rich and handsome and tall. I asked them if any of the boys in the class fit the criteria, and they said "no, but maybe the teacher", so I assured them that I was not rich.

After that class, I taught a class where the topic was food. I asked them what food people eat on special occasions. I was expecting to hear something like cake. A girl tried to tell me something but I had trouble understand what she was saying, so she spelled it out for me. Even that didn't work, because they mix up how to say a lot of letters in English, like "g" and "j" and "z". Finally, I got all the letters correct and looked at what I had written on the board: dog. I laughed nervously as the students nodded.

Yesterday I taught two classes, and in one of them the power went out in the middle of the lesson. The students seemed content about the break in the lesson, but I took out my cell phone and used the flashlight function to read my book and keep asking questions, which was met with groans. The lack of A/C was starting to get to me, so I didn't think I'd be able to teach much longer in a dark, hot room, but luckily someone came up and flipped a switch to get the power going again.

I taught another class where they were reviewing for a test and had to go over a bunch of review questions. When of them was about goals in life. One girl stated that her goal was to make a lot of money, to which another replied that her goal was to find a rich husband, and the other girls smiled and nodded in agreement. For a non-capitalistic society, there sure is a lot of obsession with money.

In other news, I checked out a Greek restaurant here the other day. It wasn't exactly Greek, more Mediterranean, but it serves a lot of Greek dishes so I figured I'd give it a shot. The spanakopita is really good, at least. The gyros are nowhere near actual gyros, but as pita pockets filled with meat, they're alright. Uyen got moussaka, which I tried a taste of and it was alright. She really liked it. I've never been a big moussaka fan. For some reason, pasticio wasn't on the menu. They had a lot of dishes that sounded like shish kabob, skewered lamb and chicken and such. Baklava was on the dessert menu, but since I've been having a lot from what my parents sent me over the past few weeks, I didn't feel like trying it. I haven't ever really had bad baklava, honestly, so I don't see how they could screw it up. Overall, it's the best Greek food option in Ho Chi Minh City, so it will have to do.

Over and out.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


Now it's November, and looking back I made 11 posts in August, and 4 posts each in September and October, so I seriously slowed down to about a post a week. I'm hoping to turn over a new leaf in November.

So after some complications, my friend Brad was able to visit for a day, and it was nice seeing a familiar face. He was really enamored with the city, even though it rained most of the time he was here. We pretty much avoided all Vietnamese food and had a nice Italian dinner at Good Morning Vietnam. He enjoyed riding around on the back of my motorbike, dodging traffic and trying not to fall over at red lights. I wasn't used to having so much weight on my bike, so it took a lot of getting used to. We finally got the hang of it, though. We checked out the big outside market called Ben Thanh, which stays open really late, bought some cheap t-shirts and stuff. We also ended up buying some DVD's, I picked up seasons 1-2 of 30 Rock, which I look forward to watching every episode of. Uyen also met us for lunch at a French cafe type place that had good sandwiches and fruit shakes.

Then, I took Brad back to the airport to go back to Singapore, and I had to teach one class yesterday at a faraway campus. It went pretty well, though, and I feel that I'm getting the hang the lessons at Elite. I just wish I could teach the same classes every week and get to know my students better.

Luckily I started picking up some classes at a journalism school, whose name I don't really know for some reason. On Wednesday nights, I teach two classes back to back which are "interpretation classes". It's a different style where I work with a Vietnamese teacher to help the students understand a passage in English. This week, we had an interview with Bill Gates, where he talked about what it's like to be rich and what his work with Microsoft is like. The Vietnamese teacher read the class the interviewer's questions in Vietnamese, and one of them had to think and translate it into English. Then I would respond slowly in English, and one of them had to think and translate it into Vietnamese for the other teacher. So, since I don't know Vietnamese well enough, all I have to do is read the responses in English and the other teacher is the one who evaluates the students. Sometimes I also explain a word or phrase that they don't understand. So, it's kinda fun and easy. There are only a few students in the class, too. Wednesday night might be the night I look forward to in the week. If I don't start getting more classes from Elite, though, then I will have to look for yet another school to pick up classes at.

One complication came this week when my motorbike wouldn't work after my classes on Wednesday. It would start up, but if I gave it any gas it would shut off. It had plenty of gas, so I was stumped, and the guards kept trying to play with it and figure it out but they didn't know either. So, the next morning I called the place I rent my bike from, and they sent a couple people over to look at it and get it serviced. They fixed it and brought it back to my house, no charge. So, there's one bit of luck I've had.

In other news, now I've finished all the other books I brought, and it's time to delve into Don Quixote.