Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Teacher in his natural habitat

Recently, we caught on camera an English teacher in his natural habitat, the classroom. You must be very quiet if you spy him, so as not to scare him away. So here it is, just for you, exclusive photos straight from the public school!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Here we are again

March is always the month that feels like a black hole which swallows me up and never seems to end. This is probably because it comes after February. Or maybe March drags on because it seems like a time for change, but change is slow to happen. At home, it's the beginning of spring, but it usually stays cold with the potential for snow even into April. It may get warmer for a few days and then plunge back into winter. So, the delay and even backwards motion of change seems to make March into a month that becomes an eternity. Even now for some reason I feel like I've been living in March, 2009 forever. Maybe this is because the heat makes every afternoon unbearable, and now instead of spending the afternoons snug in my air-conditioned pad, i have to brave the sun's rays to drive to the public school, sometimes more than one in the same day. One day I actually had four different schools to go to, almost all right in a row.

I also have been waking up earlier on the weekends to teach children's classes at Elite. These classes are 45 minutes each, using the same books I've been used to at the public school, but it takes more creativity to fill up a longer class time. The classes are smaller so it allows for better interaction. But the students are no less restless, and begin to demand games after 15 minutes of class.

So, waking up earlier and having more to do in a day certainly makes each day longer. Which in turn makes the whole month longer. At any rate, it's not bad. Time doesn't move faster or slower, just our perception of it. So, I'm only in Vietnam for a limited amount of time, and I want to enjoy every moment while I'm here. I'm taking chances to eat out at various places for lunch or hang out at a coffee shop when I have the chance. Mostly because it's so cheap. And now with my busier schedule, I'm making more money and I'm starting to feel like part of the aristocracy. I was surprised to hear, but I guess it shouldn't be surprising, how much money a foreign English teacher makes compared to locals. Even working about 20 hours a week, I make twice as much as someone working 40+ for a company.

So, while I keep hearing grim news about the economic recession from the US, I haven't really felt the effects here. Nevermind my debts from college for the moment...

So my vacation to Nha Trang is finally going to happen, next week. This is a trip I paid for when I first came to Vietnam but I delayed going on it. Finally I have an opportunity to go, and I feel that it's at the perfect time for me to take a little time off to relax. I also haven't seen the beach in quite awhile. It will be good to hang out near the ocean and go swimming a little before the rainy season kicks in again. It's supposed to be a really beautiful place, very popular with tourists and locals as well.

As for the future... I was planning a glorious trip around all of Asia, stopping in every country for a brief time to soak up the culture and move on... but I realize that that's quite impractical and expensive to book so many flights. So I'm now interested in just traveling around Thailand and Laos, checking out some relaxing beaches and nature and temples and such. When I think about what I like to do on vacation, I realize that I'm not big on shopping. So, there's really no point in going to Singapore or Hong Kong, two big cities that are sophisticated and wealthy but I think I've had enough of cities for now. However, I think I'd love to make it up to China to check out Beijing, the forbidden palace, the great wall, maybe even Tibet. And rather than fly everywhere, I want to utilize trains. It will take longer, but the experience of riding through the countryside will be worth it, I think.

Since tonight I don't work, I decided to wander to a cafe on my street to blog from there, because I always drive past it and it advertises free wifi. However, it's not airconditioned, the fan just moves back and forth, and although it's wide open to the outside and it's 9:30 at night, it's sweltering in here and I'm sweating bullets. Specifically, about one bullet per minute. That's some record fast sweating. I just checked the temp online, it's 82 degrees, feels like 90, 79% humidity. I'm starting to feel that rainy season can't come fast enough.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The time has come, the peter said, to talk of many things...

...of bricks and gifts and lecture halls, of pizza huts and things.

Well I tried to fit the events of the past week into a rhyme by Lewis Carroll and it didn't quite have the punch I wanted. Plus, the only thing I could find to rhyme with thing was thing.

Bricks: The empty lot a couple doors down from my house is finally getting built upon. Maybe there used to be a house there that fell apart or something. Now there are several people there working on the house, starting in the early morning and often waking me up. They've got the bricks piled on for the walls and also a roof, but the inside is mostly bare. There's also an old woman who sits outside during the day bending metal wires into rings. I'm not sure what it's for. I haven't really inspected the area because people are always there and stare at me when they see me, even if I cheerfully yet awkwardly greet them. Sometimes in the evening they're eating or playing cards, and even at night, the workers sleep there in hammocks or on blankets on the ground. I don't know if they're going to be living in the house or if they were hired to build it. If they were hired, I don't know why they'd sleep there at night.

Gifts: Yesterday was international women's day, which no one seems to care about in America, but it's a big deal here, even though they also have a vietnam women's day. Uyen adamantly told me she doesnt like flowers, so when I drove down the street and had flowers thrust in my face by the roadside vendors, I had to politely refuse. Instead I found a cute stuffed bear that she liked a lot and practiced saying "happy women's day" in vietnamese. Even moreso than Valentine's day, this is a day to go out to eat with girls and treat them to things. Also, many husbands will do the housework and cleaning and cooking that the women usually do.

Lecture Halls: Well, not quite. But I just started teaching more classes in the afternoon at another public school, and the classes are much larger than what I'm used to, with students all packed in in nice rows. There must be at least 40 in each class. The Vietnamese teachers helps to keep them in line, even slapping a ruler on a desk to calm them down if they get loud. They all greet me with 'hello teacher' in unison at the beginning and when i say 'how are you' they all respond with 'Fine. Thank you. And you?' Doing certain games and activities is difficult with such a big class and so little room to move around, but the teachers helped me out. It's easy enough to make two teams by splitting the class in half, and taking one student from each side to square off in a game on the board, like writing or drawing or saying or slapping the right word.

Pizza Huts: I went to Pizza Hut in Vietnam for the first time, and just like in Greece, it's a fancy place to eat. It was nice having a thick pizza for once, with all the greasiness and crispiness I was missing when I got pizza at other places. I also finally got some real pepperoni. This pizza hut also has lots of other things like pasta and salad and soups, so it's a far cry from the pizza huts in America where you just run in to get your pizza and get out.

Things: I'll admit it, nothing to say here. I've been busier with more work, and Uyen got a full-time job last week where she works monday-saturday, which is pretty standard. I guess she's working as a secretary for a construction contracting company or something. So now I only see her on Sundays or if I happen to have a night off, which is ok. It gives me time to work on my novel which I will probably never start or finish.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

the tangled mess that is my mind

Well, it's been a long time since I gave people any real news, so I want to update people on a lot of things, and give some observations, but it's difficult to organize my thoughts, so I will be presenting ideas randomly and not in any logical order. Enjoy!

1. I asked my maid one day to cook avgolemono soup. This is a Greek soup, and one of my favorites, it always reminds me of home, especially when I'm sick and my mom would make it for me. Basically, the name means 'egg and lemon', but it also has chicken broth and pieces of chicken and rice, and I also like to squirt lots of lemon juice in it. Anyway, I tried to explain a recipe I found online to my maid and her daughter, who knows some English, and they sorta got the gist. However, when I saw the finished product, it was quite different from what I was hoping. The egg is supposed to be all mixed together as part of the soup. But there were pieces of egg floating in it. Anyone who knows avgolemono knows that this is a very strange appearance. No matter, I heated it up and ate it and enjoyed it, but it wasn't the same as what I was familiar with. Part of this reason is because...
2. Lemons seem practically non-existent here. Instead, it's all limes. When I ask for a lemon, they point to a lime. I can't remember if I've ever seen a lemon here, but maybe I have and don't recall. At any rate, they're rare. If you know me, you know I like lemon on a lot of food, like rice and broccoli and fish. Lime is not an adequate substitute. I guess that's one more thing to look forward to when I come home.
3. I have applied to several law schools and now I'm waiting to hear back from them. Actually, there's one more I may apply to this week, and my app is almost done. It has a slightly later deadline than most other schools. I probably should have applied to all these schools earlier to increase my chances, but it's been busy and I feel confident about my chances.
4. An interesting restaurant: The City Diner. This place looks just like an American 1950's diner. It has a non-functional jukebox, cozy booths, stools, signs on the walls, a harley davidson hanging from the ceiling, it's got it all. Even pop art pictures of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe. I explained to Uyen all the history and culture of diners, and she got a kick out of it. The food was pretty good too. They have lots of good sandwiches and burgers and even stuff like chicken fried steak and meatloaf. I got a meatball grinder that I enjoyed very much. No diner would be complete without a good amount of breakfast dishes as well, so maybe I'll have to come back to try it out. The place is a little hard to get to, though, and it seems to be almost in the middle of nowhere. From a busy area in district one, you take a long road which seems to stretch on into the abyss, and it crosses the saigon river to the far end of binh thanh district where there does not seem to be much, but development is in progress. There is lots of construction, and half-completed shells of tall buildings. One day it may be a busy area but so far its kind of a spooky, desolate area with a post-apocalyptic feel. The diner itself is part of a massive apartment complex called The Manor, which looks like a wealthier place to live, particularly because the diner had prices in American dollars rather than dong, and the prices were almost up to the level of a diner in America. I mean, dinner for both of us cost about $15 so I guess I shouldn't be complaining.
5. Pizza Hut exists here, but I haven't eaten there yet. They don't deliver. I tried to run in one day to grab a pizza before my class, but I got held up at the post office and didn't have time to wait for the pizza (they told me it would be 17 minutes). But, similar to the pizza hut in Athens, it has the appearance of a nice restaurant, or at least like a ruby tuesday's or something, not like the places in the US where you basically just run in, grab your pizza, and go. Anyway, there are many pizza places in Saigon, but so far I haven't been able to get one with actual pepperoni, just some cheap knockoff sausage stuff, and I miss those red crispy circles. I hear Pizza Hut is the real mccoy, so I'd like to go there to get a taste of home. There's a Vietnamese teacher I've hung out with a couple times and he's suggested we go there some time. Last time we hung out at a Vietnamese place, and I tried rabbit meat for the first time. It was okay, like chicken, but it was on the bone so it was difficult to chew off. My perennial favorite at Vietnamese places is squid. Also on the menu at this place was frog. I'll have to give that a whirl someday.
6. I've been getting some more classes lately, and I hope to get another public school class for an hour every other day, but I've still got mornings and afternoons mostly free, and if I can it wouldn't hurt to find another place to work so I can save up some more money.
7. One of my roommates, the one who just moved in in January, is named Yen (pronounced "een"), and she's spending all of march in Cairo, Egypt for some training program for her job, which sounds interesting. She's very friendly and I just started getting to know her a little. Her English is good, but not as good as my other roommate Le. I hope I'm not embarrassing her, but something she said was very funny, and I think that all mistranslation stuff is funny. I was watching a rebroadcast of the Oscars on tv a few days ago, and she was chatting to me about it and asked "is your favorite waiter or waitress in there?" It took me awhile to realize that she meant to say "actor or actress", and when she realized her mistake she was pretty embarrassed. But they are both pairs of words with the masculine ending in "ter" and the feminine ending in "tress", so I can see how she could confuse them. God knows I've done enough stupid things trying to speak any language throughout my life.
8. Speaking of languages, one of the languagecorps folks is Tzachi, from Israel, and he apparently has started some Hebrew classes just for some of his friends, for 11:30 on Sunday mornings. Sounds like fun, I always love learning the basics of a new language, and it's a reason to wake up before noon on a sunday since I don't have church here. I really miss Orthodox church services and I want to find one for Easter. I've read about a Russian church in Vung Tau and I hope to get more information rather than going on a wild goose chase trying to find the place.
9. I've been pressured to talk more about cockroaches. There's not much else to say. Apparently Mortimer has a large extended family, and sometimes a new cousin will wander into the house. I find them grotesque. Last time I put a box over one and let it slowly die. When I took the box off, it was curled up on its back. I wonder why they always die like that.

10. Today I said goodbye to Genessa and Greta at a special dinner at Pacharan with the other languagecorps crew members. It was a bittersweet time, because as long as I've been in Vietnam they've been there, and we did the whole training in Cambodia and everything. I can't believe that was 7 months ago now. And I'm actually over halfway through my time here. It still feels like it's just beginning for some reason. Anyway, I haven't even explained what Pacharan is. It's a spanish restaurant, with lots of good tapas and dishes, and I decided to go all out and treat myself to a nice big steak. I hadn't eaten a proper steak since I was home, so I enjoyed it. It had blue cheese on top, and came with roasted potatoes and vegetables, very tasty. We were on the top floor of the restaurant and could look out on a good central area of district 1. We were directly across from the gigantic famous Continental Hotel. It was a wonderful night even though it briefly monsooned in the afternoon. The girls will be going home on Tuesday to resume their normal lives and move to different places in the States for jobs, so i wish them good luck.

I'm probably forgetting ten more important things, but for now I think that's a good update. Adios!