Power outages and other adventures in teaching ESL

Flowers and plants (Hoa, Cay) seem to be very important to the Vietnamese. They are everywhere and so beautiful.
Flowers and plants (Hoa, Cay) seem to be very important to the Vietnamese. They are everywhere and so beautiful.

Oct 28, 2014

Was disappointed to find that I had to work Monday (today), but I guess with the Halloween holiday on Friday, everyone has the same day off. I should not complain. The Vietnamese office workers seem to work seven days a week, sometimes a split shift. Brutal! But this morning I woke with a splitting headache and all my joints ached. My feet are swollen and I just wanted to sleep. But I had an appointment with William, a native Vietnamese teacher, and I didn’t want to miss it. We had breakfast at a lovely restaurant, one that Thom had taken me to my first week. Now I can go back since I think I can find it again! We sat on cushions on the floor and I worried with my stiff and sore joints I would not be able to get up. William went over pronunciations of the Vietnamese alphabet and told me what buses to take to get to Saigon. Then he drove me to the bus station and back to my apartment so I would know the way. I will still have to Google it, but I know much more than I did. It was very kind of him to spend this time with me, but I was completely exhausted when we were done. I went straight to bed for two hours. Then lay around and worked on my lesson plan for tonight. The ibuprofen isn’t even taking the edge off.

Isn't William handsome? I'm not sure of his age, but, like most unmarried children, he still lives with his mother (his father is dead). William is certainly one of the best teachers at the school and is very concerned about his students. I can learn a lot from him. I'm grateful for his friendship.
Isn’t William handsome? I’m not sure of his age, but, like most unmarried children, he still lives with his mother (his father is dead). William is certainly one of the best teachers at the school and is very concerned about his students. I can learn a lot from him. I’m grateful for his friendship.
This was breakfast, a beef noodle soup with a rich broth and vegetables, like carrots and onions (Hu Tieu Bo Kho). That's a strawberry smoothie. The small bowl to the right has salt and red pepper. to the left is a plate of chilis and limes (which they call lemons here) and a "salad" of sawleaf and fresh basil.
This was breakfast, a beef noodle soup with a rich broth and vegetables, like carrots and onions (Hu Tieu Bo Kho). That’s a strawberry smoothie to drink. The small bowl to the right has salt and red pepper. To the upper left is a plate of chilis and limes (which they call lemons here) and a “salad” of sawleaf and fresh basil. Yum!
The restaurant has a tropical feel with a pond in the middle and all these plants I used to think of as "house plants." Pathos, philodendron and more grow wile here and snake to the tops of trees.
The restaurant has a tropical feel with a pond in the middle and plants I used to think of as “house plants.” Pathos, philodendron and more grow wild here, snaking to the tops of trees.

But I should not have gone to so much trouble to prepare a lesson. The power was out in most of the classrooms and we couldn’t really teach. It isn’t just that it is dark. It is also HOT with no fan or air-conditioning. With my splitting headache and aching joints, I did not do well. All the kids were screaming in the dark and there is simply no way to stop them or control them. By the light of a cellphone, I did a couple simple songs and review vocabulary with my youngest students. Mostly lighted by a cell phone. Then managed to find another classroom for my WE students. By the time I got home, I was exhausted and fell into bed.

It is hard to figure things out here in Vietnam—what things are, WHERE things are. But this is what I signed on for. And my students help me with words and pronunciations. I have coworkers at the school have befriended me and they are helping too. I have the weekend after next off and want to see Saigon, so I’m glad for all the directions, language help and information.

Isn't Miss Andy beautiful? Breakfast at Café Boo Boo.
Isn’t Miss Andy beautiful? Breakfast at Café Boo Boo.
This woman has a small café (cart) on the street near the school (Truong). She's making  me a Banh Mi (sandwich on French baguette) to eat at school while I prepare lessons.
This woman has a small café (cart) on the street near the school (Truong). She’s making me a Banh Mi (sandwich on French baguette) to eat at school while I prepare lessons.

Weekends are brutal–from Friday at 6p to Sunday mid-afternoon, I can teach as many as nine 90-minute lessons, plus three or four 15-minute vocabulary review lessons. (this weekend I have 6 of these lessons, back to back.) It’s hard to prepare and I’m exhausted by the end of Sunday. And sleep most of Sunday evening. Starting November we have a new schedule and it seems worse to me. I will mostly get Mondays off and one weekend a month. One week a month, I’ll get no days off, however. The two other native English speaking teachers (Marcus and Bob) really wanted weekends off, the most difficult days to schedule time away. So to do it, we had to agree to one week with no day off and two weekends that are very heavy. Personally, I don’t care what days off I get as long as I can have two days together at least once a month to see the sights.

I struggle with the language each day, but seem to be improving slowly.

My first pizza in Vietnam was at a restaurant called Geckos. Pretty good, too. This is a pesto pizza and mango smoothie.
My first pizza in Vietnam was at a restaurant called Geckos, located near the school. Pretty good, too. This is a pesto pizza and mango smoothie.

Oct 29, 2014

Just when I think I’m keeping my head above water with the teaching, I find some new thing I didn’t know about. These are nice folks, but not good communicators. Not much support, though there are teachers’ guides to each book. I always hear, “just ask if you need anything!” but I don’t always know what to ask. The internet “toys” (like a random name generator and a digital timer) adds some excitement to the classes, but I need to develop more physical activities for the youngest kids. I’m doing ok, except for the entry level classes–they simply don’t understand much spoken English and won’t talk much. So I have to prepare PPT presentations, write out everything and get them to read out loud, changing one or two words at a time for a “model” language conversation. It’s tedious. And to add insult to injury, I was tossed a one page sheet just before class. It was a list of things that I needed to check off and sign that I had been trained in and knew all the school procedures. This makes me very uncomfortable and I don’t treat a document like this casually. And honestly, some of the items I Didn’t know on the list. On several I wrote that I was “learning” but not sure. I don’t know what I don’t know and there are no written procedures, SOPs or standards. Obviously this was a “yes” or “no” kind of questionnaire. There was no option for “I’m not sure.” So I added it. This isn’t likely to make them happy. But I had scant training and was teaching within 24 hour of arrival, jetlagged and confused. Without a procedure, it’s anyone’s guess whether or not I’m following protocol. I’m probably being too paranoid, but I just can’t sign that I know how to do something when I don’t know if I do.

Woke up with a mild headache, but feeling much better than yesterday. My feet still hurt, but the joints are not so painful. Plan to do laundry, prepare lessons and be quiet today. Hope to get over whatever this is. I’m sure it is just a local virus, doesn’t seem to be serious. My body has been through a lot in the last month and I’m sure this is part of the adjustment. Rest cures.

Other things I’ve forgotten to mention:

  • Items are priced separately here—even when they are packaged together and it would be difficult or impossible to separate them. If a price seems low, assume you are paying per piece. There is no discount for buying a package of 6 pens.
  • I have to supply all my own teaching items: pens, white board markers, computer. I’m slowly getting all the additional things I need like maps, toys and supplies for games.
  • I’ve found an online Vietnamese language site that I think will be very helpful. Working through exercises will take a few months, but help me be functional in Vietnamese. The program starts with cultural lessons too, which will be good. I’ve not been happy with my Pimslur program. They want you to learn entirely by listening, but that isn’t a good plan with Vietnamese. We only share 22 or the 29 letters of an alphabet and the tones are not something I’m used to. Plus, the last letter(s) of a word are often not said at all, so you’ve no idea how to spell something even if you do know the alphabet and the sounds for each. The program isn’t a complete waste, but not good for a primary source.
  • I see welding and metal grinding as I drive down the street, but no one ever has any eye protection.
  • Miss Rose helped me add money to my phone yesterday. She bought two cards for me, but showed me where to go (right across the street from the school). She says hold up my phone, say “Mobiphone” (my carrier) and ask for “Phon Car” and hand them 100,000vnd. Easy!
  • The internet at the apartment mostly works, though slow. The cable seems to be out every other day, which drives Bob crazy.
Little altars everywhere....
Little altars everywhere….

Alphabets and “teaching” the teacher

I don't understand the "V" symbol, but kids, and even adults, flash is all over Asia anytime a camera is pointed at them. But they are cute, aren't they?
I don’t understand the “V” symbol, but kids, and even adults, flash is all over Asia anytime a camera is pointed at them. But they are cute, aren’t they?

Oct 23, 2014

I try to start my classes off each day with a positive quote. It’s a simple warm up which helps get the students thinking and talking in English. But the quote I used yesterday simply didn’t work:

“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.”

― Abraham Lincoln

I asked three students what they thought it meant, and got blank stares. So I started asking questions. Did they know who Lincoln was? Yes, he was an American president (though they seemed to think he was a recent one). Did they know what a thorn was? A bush? No. So I Googled photos of thorn bushes. But they still didn’t understand. Turns out they didn’t know the word for rose. They had seen the flower, mostly on TV, but I had to explain that roses have thorns. They don’t grow here, so none of them knew that. It turned out to be more of a lesson for the teacher than the students.

My students, doing their work.
My students, doing their work.

The rain seems to fall the heaviest JUST as I need to leave for work. And on a scooter, that’s a problem. I decided to wait out the storm and was a bit later than usual. But everyone did the same. That’s how the combination of monsoon and scooters goes!

Oct 24, 2014

I’ve eaten some odd things, but Bob has the current record in our apartment for unusual dishes. He went to a “business” lunch and they served pig brain soup. He said he tried it and it needed soy sauce. Lots of soy sauce. But he ate it politely and didn’t comment. Probably won’t have it again. He mentioned this at school and Thom and I had to tell him about balut (developing duck embro, served in the shell, though it is called hột vịt lộn here in Vietnam). He was completely grossed out.

This is the pharmacy. You can't go inside, but have to walk up to the window where the pharmacist will help you. The Vitamin C I wanted was right near the window.
This is the pharmacy. You can’t go inside, but have to walk up to the window where the pharmacist will help you. The Vitamin C I wanted was right near the window, fortunately.

I try to do just one or two new things a day. That keeps me growing, but without getting overwhelmed. Today, I managed to find a pharmacy and buy Vitamin C. I tried to also buy something for diarrhea, but could not make the pharmacist understand what I wanted (just try pantomiming THAT!), nor did I recognize any of the brands. I’d forgotten my English to Viet dictionary, so I’ll have to try this again. I also managed to put fuel into the scooter’s tank. There’s no self-serve here and you have to show the money before they will pump for you. I held out 70,000vnd and that’s all he would pump for me, so it’s a good thing that almost filled the tank. The attendant looked like a bouncer and had a very suspicious expression! When I said, “Bay muoi” (70) he did a quick nod of his head and said “sesenty.” Which I assume means seventy. Of course who knows how poor my Vietnamese pronunciation was!

I drove to a favorite coffee shop with air conditioning, Café Lucid. I’m working my way through their menu, trying to figure out what each item is. I’ve had Com Bo Luc Lac before, but today I had it with xuc xich, not knowing what that was likely to be. It turned out to be a hot dog. Seriously. My students later called it a “sausage” of which there are numerous kinds in Vietnam. But it was fine and had lots of fresh vegetables, some lean beef and rice. Along with an iced coffee, it fueled me to make lesson plans for the next two days. Sausages are simply ground meat, pressed together into the familiar tube shape, but there are no spices added.

Bo Luc Lac with Xue Xich--basically a beef stirfry with lots of veggies and a hot dog, plus rice.
Bo Luc Lac with Xue Xich–basically a beef stirfry with lots of veggies and a hot dog, plus rice.

Oct 25, 2014

Accomplished a few “new” things today. First, a new coffee shop where I worked on my lesson plans for the weekend. They have some posters on the walls, obviously chosen because of the English words. But it’s filled with the words “Put Your Text Here” or a dummy script (Lorem ipsum). Hilarious!

Clearly any English-looking words impress them. This was one the walls of a new coffee shop.
Clearly any English-looking words impress them. This was one the walls of a new coffee shop.

Finally got to try the soup, Bun Rieu, but suspect there is better out there. This was a street vendor and though she was incredibly kind and attentive, her soup just wasn’t that great. The noodles were spaghetti, the soup base wasn’t actually tomato based and there was no taste of crab. Still, if I hadn’t known better I’d have said it was ok. For 15,000vnd, including iced tea, it was worth the money, filling and pretty healthy. After inspecting the situation closer, I think I may not go back to this particular vender. Her cleanliness standards just aren’t quite high enough for me. Yes, I do have standards! I grabbed some Banh Cuon (15,000vnd, meat and veggies wrapped up in a fresh rice paper wrapper, topped with “sausage,” peanuts and fried onions.) from a second vender and a banh mi (12,000vnd, a sandwich on a French baguette) for later from the third.

The soup was tasty, though it wasn't quite as advertised. Still, it was worth the price.
The soup was tasty, though it wasn’t quite as advertised. Still, it was worth the price.
Here is a typical "kitchen" on the street. The woman is dishing up Bun Rieu for me.
Here is a typical “kitchen” on the street. The woman is dishing up Bun Rieu for me.
And this is the proprietor. She was very attentive and kind and she tried very hard to make me feel welcome. Notice the jacket and hat. It was in the upper 80F and would soon be 90F, but she is protecting her skin from the sun.
And this is the proprietor. She was very attentive and kind and she tried hard to make me feel welcome. Notice the jacket and hat. It was in the upper 80F and would soon be 90F, but she is protecting her skin from the sun.
This is banh cuon, but you can't see the delicate rice paper rolls beneath all the herbs, "sausage," Tofu, crispy rice and French fried onions. Tasty! It came with dipping sauce in a bag and a toothpick.
This is banh cuon, but you can’t see the delicate rice paper rolls beneath all the herbs, “sausage,” Tofu, crispy rice and French fried onions. Tasty! It came with dipping sauce in a bag and a toothpick.

After some chores in the apartment, I got out the scooter. First I needed to visit the ATM, but accidentally drove past it. Rather than turn around, I decided to just go around the block. Mistake! There are no blocks here. The side streets are a rabbit warren of narrow passageways and it was harrowing on the scooter. I finally found my way out and back to the ATM. Then to the CoopMart. I needed to get my own helmet and rain poncho (I’ve been borrowing Thom’s) plus some groceries (it’s the only place I can find peanut butter) and other items. It’s frightening to see the bill come to 600,000! (Fortunately that’s only about $30) There are some things I’d love to buy, like plastic shelves, but don’t know how I’d get them home on the scooter.

This is the "demonstration man." It slices, it dices and it makes julienne fries! Behind him is the KFC, probably the most popular fast food in the area.
This is the “demonstration man.” It slices, it dices and it makes julienne fries! Behind him is the KFC, probably the most popular fast food in the area.
The CoopMart is three floors, but the grocery takes up most of the ground floor.
The CoopMart is three floors, but the grocery takes up most of the ground floor.

Oct 26, 2014

Saturdays are brutal teaching days. I have five classes! Two of them are short, just 15 minutes with the very youngest students, to review vocabulary. But those classes start at 7:45a. Then I have three 90 minute classes, spaced through the day. My last class is over at 7:30p, so it’s a very long day. The kids have so much energy and I have so little!

This is the teacher's room. You can see we are all busy at work. None of the Vietnamese teachers own laptops, so they use the school's two computers every day.
This is the teacher’s room. You can see we are all busy at work. None of the Vietnamese teachers own laptops, so they use the school’s two computers every day.
I'm saved! I found the Vietnamese "Liquid Plumber."
I’m saved! I found the Vietnamese “Liquid Plumber.” It isn’t as good, but better than nothing.

I find that I’m pretty much on my own when developing lesson plans or tools to use in class. None of the native Vietnamese teachers own a laptop and as far as I can tell Marcus, Khanh and I are the only ones who use one in class. I can deal with smaller classes pretty well, but large ones can be tough. I scour the web and the resource books in the library for “tools” to keep the kids interested. Last night I had the Dragons class which has been so loud and unruly in the past. I only had one page of the textbook to cover and I knew that wouldn’t take very long. The topic was different countries and people, so I put together a PowerPoint presentation. For each of the countries suggested in their book, I had a photo of the native dress and a famous site. We found the countries on a large world map (which I had to buy since the school does not own one). Most of the pictures came off the web, but some of the photos were my own. The kids have never traveled outside Vietnam, so they seemed impressed with my travels. Then I had them write “I would like to travel to _________.” And they had to put down at least 2 sentences about why they wanted to go there or what they would do. They hate writing exercises, but seemed to tolerate it when I put up a “timer” from the web with some soothing music underneath. I’d already told them that I’d pick at least four students to read aloud. I used the new Random Name Generator. They loved it so much that they voted to go through the entire class (rather than play a game!), reading their “essay” just so they could see their own name pop up on the screen. It got them talking and writing without complaint. And they paid attention better than they ever have. That is a WIN!

Speaking of things I had to buy, I saw a simple set of alphabet letters at a shop and quickly grabbed it without looking closely. Obviously, I should have expected this, but they were Vietnamese letters. The set includes all the tonal and diacritical marks plus a couple letters we don’t use in America. Since I’m teaching English, I put those aside. But there are also a few letters missing, like F, J and W which are not used in this language. Guess I will have to do without those!

This is a restaurant near the school. Often these small places are a single, small room for the "kitchen" and seating is on the sidewalk on tiny plastic tables and chairs.
This is a restaurant near the school. Often these small places are a single, small room for the “kitchen” and seating is on the sidewalk on tiny plastic tables and chairs.
This woman had just cooked up some fresh spring rolls for me, right on the street. Yum!
This woman had just cooked up some fresh spring rolls for me, right on the street. Yum!
The entrance to my apartment building. It is 16 floors, one of the tallest buildings in the area. Never thought I would live in a gated community.
The entrance to my apartment building. It is 16 floors, one of the tallest buildings in the area. Never thought I would live in a gated community.

Settling in

The school is gearing up for a BIG Halloween celebration. Notice that there is KFC (the words just before it are Ga ran, fried chicken) on the menu--I asked my students about it and the LOVE Kentucky Fried Chicken, called Kentucky Chicken for short.
The school is gearing up for a BIG Halloween celebration. Notice that there is KFC (the words just before it are Ga ran, fried chicken) on the menu–I asked my students about it and they LOVE Kentucky Fried Chicken, called Kentucky Chicken for short.

Oct 23, 2014

I try to start Off each class with a positive quote. It’s a simple warm up which helps get the students thinking and talking in English. It also makes them think outside the box. But the quote I used yesterday simply didn’t work:

“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.”

― Abraham Lincoln

I asked three students what they thought it meant, and got blank stares. So I started asking questions. Did they know who Lincoln was? Yes, he was an American president (though they seemed to think he was a recent one). Did they know what a thorn was? A bush? No. So I Googled photos of thorn bushes to show them. But they still didn’t understand. Turns out they didn’t know the word for rose. They had seen the flower, mostly on TV, but I had to explain that roses have thorns. They don’t grow here, so none of them knew that. It turned out to be more of a lesson for the teacher than the students!

The rain seems to fall the heaviest JUST as I need to leave for work. And on a scooter, that’s a problem. I decided to wait out the storm and was a bit later than usual getting in. But everyone did the same. That’s how the combination of monsoon and scooters goes!

Oct 22, 2014

I have begun a simple, daily routine now. I get up around 6 or 7am, when the temperature is still cool. I stretch and have a large glass of water. Dehydration is a real issue here since it is hot all the time. Best to start off hydrated. Then I have some yogurt (sua chua) and coffee while I organize my backpack for the morning.

I’m out of the house in less than an hour, walking (for exercise) to a street side café (quan) for breakfast. I can get Com Tam (literally, broken rice) for 15,000-25,000vnd and it’s served with about 2 ounces of grilled pork, a fried egg, a small salad of cucumbers/tomato/onions and iced tea. That’s only about a dollar and cheaper than I can buy the ingredients. Plus it’s very fresh food. I study my Vietnamese while eating.

This is the "kitchen" of the small breakfast place I go to once a week or so. The man is sitting at a small fire where he grills slices of lean pork. The large aluminum pot holds rice. Eggs are cooked on a simple hot plate. The floor is dirt and there are long communal tables or small (child sized) plastic tables.
This is the “kitchen” of the small breakfast place I go to once a week or so. The man is sitting at a small fire where he grills slices of lean pork. The large aluminum pot holds rice. Eggs are cooked on a simple hot plate. The floor is part dirt, part concrete and there are long communal tables or small (child sized) plastic tables.
This is Com Tam (broken rice), a common breakfast on the streets here. Under the grilled pork and egg is a small salad of cucumber, cilantro, onion, and tomato. Everything is topped with nouc cham (literally "fish water") a dipping sauce of fish sauce, lime, sugar, water and spices. Very tasty and cheap.
This is Com Tam (broken rice), a common breakfast on the streets here. Under the grilled pork and egg is a small salad of cucumber, cilantro, onion and tomato. Everything is topped with nouc cham (literally “fish water”) a dipping sauce of fish sauce, lime, sugar, water and spices. Very tasty and cheap.
This is the restaurant (quan) where I had Com Tam. I shared a long table with these nice people. Everyone is very helpful, making sure you have a glass from the communal iced tea pitcher or napkins from the one dispenser.
This is the restaurant (quan) where I had Com Tam. I shared a long table with these nice people. Everyone is very helpful, making sure you have a glass from the communal iced tea pitcher or napkins from the one dispenser.

Next I do any shopping I need. I don’t keep much in the kitchen, but always have fresh fruit, yogurt, instant noodles, dumplings, tea, coffee, and peanut butter. All of these are easy to get nearby, except the peanut butter. Today I bought candy for my students. If they are very good, I toss a piece of candy to them. It gets students to volunteer to talk faster than anything else I’ve tried.

Lucky Viet turned out to be two floors of shoes. Ladies, you would love this place. Seems that women in Vietnam also want lots of fancy footwear! A shopgirl, who spoke no English, followed me around through the entire store, trying desperately to get me to try something on.
Lucky Viet turned out to be two floors of shoes. Ladies, you would love this place! Seems that women in Vietnam also want lots of fancy footwear! A shopgirl, who spoke no English, followed me around through the entire store, trying desperately to get me to try something on. As if they have anything to fit my large feet!

Then I go to a coffee shop and do my lesson plans and read while I drink ca phe sua da (coffee with milk and ice). If I get hungry, I’ll eat there or I might pick up a banh mi (sandwich made on a French baguette) or banh bao (steamed, filled bun) to take home for later. Each are about 15,000vnd when purchased on the street. I’m back to the apartment around noon, which is about the time Robert gets up.

This is the latest coffee shop I've tried. The rumor is that it's owned by the son of the local mafia head. At night the music is VERY loud with a hard driving beat. I'm glad I don't live that close to it.
This is the latest coffee shop I’ve tried. The rumor is that it’s owned by the son of the local mafia head. At night the music is VERY loud with a hard driving beat. I’m glad I don’t live that close to it.
Interior of Café Boo Boo. During the day, it's a family oriented café, almost completely with outdoor seating.
Interior of Café Boo Boo. During the day, it’s a family oriented café, almost completely with outdoor seating.
There is even a small play area for children. Not sure how these are used at night.
There is even a small play area for children. Not sure how these are used at night.
Not sure what this was that I ordered. They didn't have the first two dishes I requested, so I pantomimed asking "what DO you have?" And I got this, which was tasty and healthy. Wheat noodles (mien) with beef (bo) and veggies, all in a tasty sauce.
Not sure what this was that I ordered. They didn’t have the first two dishes I requested, so I pantomimed asking “what DO you have?” So three waiters pointed at a very poor photo, while assuring me I would like it. And I got this, which was tasty and healthy. Wheat noodles (mien) with beef (bo) and veggies, all in a tasty sauce.

I do what I want in the afternoon, but today it is quite hot. It’s already 33C (91F), so I’m not likely to move around too much. If I do get out, I go on the scooter. If I was up late, I might take a nap after lunch, during the heat of the day, or just retreat to my air conditioned room to read. If I have two classes to teach in the evening, I try to be at school by 4:30p for my 6p class.

This routine seems pretty boring, but it allows me to try different restaurants and coffee houses, learn and sample new foods, and practice my (very) basic Vietnamese speaking skills.

This is probably a fighting cock. He was very beautiful. This photo does not do him justice.
This is probably a fighting cock. He was very beautiful. This photo does not do him justice.

Oct 21, 2014

I’m settling in, feeling less anxious. The routine of teaching is beginning to take hold and I’m better able to understand what’s needed to prepare and teach classes. I find I do better with Boost classes, later ODI classes. I loved the IELDS group and would teach them anytime. But I’m not doing so well with new adult learners or the very, very young. I have to do a better job with these groups. Slow down, focus, and figure out their level. Today Marcus gave me some good feedback on the class that was videotaped last week. He offered some excellent suggestions, ideas for improvement and additional options for how to accomplish tasks.

I find I have lots of new injuries, mostly below my knees. The bed has low, sharp edges which I run into, particularly at night. I have half a dozen bruises. Ouch. I also have a small scrape on my left forearm. Going up the concrete ramp to the second floor parking deck on the scooter, I scraped it on the wall. Getting better…..

Condensation on glassware is such a problem here! It’s due to the combination of high temperature and humidity. I’ve taken to saving the lids from instant coffee and peanut butter. I put my drinking glasses in the lids to catch the water. Many of the cafes do the same and I notice that outdoor cafes will pour the excess water directly on the ground (if the floor is dirt) or into a floor drain (if it’s tile or concrete).

Turns out the thing I hate most about my new home is the plumbing. This is a very new building, but the plumbing is substandard. I never put any paper down the toilet, but I still have to spend time coaxing it almost every day. I’d gone three days in a row without an issue and thought I had it cleared, but today I had five separate rounds with the plunger. Nothing seemed to help. Then when I came home from class, it was working just fine. But now my bathroom sink is running slow. They’ve never heard of Liquid Plumber here, but perhaps I can find something like caustic lye? Can’t even find baking soda to combine with vinegar to clear the sink. (They don’t bake much here.) I’ve tried pouring boiling water down the drain. Not sure it helps, because I doubt this is actually a clog. It’s more likely that the system simply is laid out poorly—inadequate pipe diameter, sections where the water has to rise rather than fall.

Good news! I may be getting my own class. The World English 3, Firefly group, has been taught by Marcus, who is from the UK. Possibly he just needs to free himself up from some classes, but he’s suggested that I take the class permanently. Whatever the reason, I told him I would, but I’ve not gotten confirmation. I’ve taught the group twice. Once the class was videotaped, so Marcus has seen me with them. It’s a wonderful group of young adults. Three of the men have a good enough grasp of English to crack jokes. Frankly, I do better with a more advanced group. I can work on pronunciation, idioms, and cultural differences. I can expand their vocabulary, too, though sometimes inadvertently. I used the word “sloppy” to describe something and they’d never heard it before. I defined the word and gave some examples. Later, we were doing a short listening exercise on how words like “Did you” become “Didja” when they are spoken. The class asked asked for more examples and I came up with a few, including “ya’ll.” This one was completely new to them (having had a teacher from London, not Atlanta) so I explained it and even did a Southern accent. At the end of class, Marcus came to check on us, using some slang greeting. One of the young men mimicked my southern drawl and told Marcus, “Ya’ll are just bein’ sloppy with your speech!” We both fell out laughing. Hey, at least they are paying attention!

The other big success tonight was the Random Name Generator. There are several on the web and all you have to do is add a list of names to it. The generator will digitally spin a dial or wheel and select a student’s name at random, along with sound effects. This way when you want a volunteer, you really pick someone at random, and the students don’t feel “picked on.” The kids loved it, even the adults were facinated. This is the one I’m using.

Grand opening for a new night club near my apartment.
Grand opening for a new night club near my apartment.

Dinner out in Bien Hoa

Bob and I decided to go out on Sunday night since we both had Monday off. This is the Kaisern restaurant, walking distance from our apartment and probably the nicest place nearby. Bob isn't quite ready to eat off the street like I do, so it was a pricy meal for me, 440,000vnd (vnd=Vietnamese Dong, about $22).
Bob and I decided to go out on Sunday night since we both had Monday off. This is the Kaisern restaurant, walking distance from our apartment and probably the nicest place nearby. Bob isn’t quite ready to eat off the street like I do, so it was a pricy meal for me, 440,000vnd (vnd=Vietnamese Dong, about $22).
I had the dark beer, a house special, brewed for them. Bob had the light beer, a local Pilsner. I'm not much of a beer drinker and the rumor is that they add formaldehyde to keep it fresh. Hope it's just a bad rumor. The snacks are peanuts, roasted, but with not sale or oil. The plate in the middle is tart green mango. These are snacks that came with the beer (bia). Oh, and beer is served with ice here. It's so hot most of the time that you need the ice if you want cold beer.
I had the dark beer, a house special, brewed for them. Bob had the light beer, a local Pilsner. I’m not much of a beer drinker and the rumor is that they add formaldehyde to keep it fresh. Hope it’s just a bad rumor. The snacks are peanuts, roasted, but with not sale or oil. The plate in the middle is tart green mango. These are snacks that came with the beer (bia). Oh, and beer is served with ice here. It’s so hot most of the time that you need the ice if you want cold beer.
These are the house spring rolls with seafood. Tasty! On the left is a carrot rose on purple cabbage with cucumber slices. It was lovely.
These are the house spring rolls with seafood. Tasty! On the left is a carrot rose on purple cabbage with cucumber slices. It was lovely.
This actually came by mistake. It's shredded zucchini topped with dried fish. Not crazy about the fish, especially the tiny bones, but the rest was good.
This actually came by mistake. It’s shredded zucchini topped with dried fish. Not crazy about the fish, especially the tiny bones, but the rest was good.
This is an eggplant dish that fortunately tasted much better than it looked. It's roasted and topped with peanuts. I forgot to take a photo of the best dish, shrimp with "five colors" of vegetables.
This is an eggplant dish that fortunately tasted much better than it looked. It’s roasted and topped with peanuts. I forgot to take a photo of the best dish, shrimp with “five colors” of vegetables.
This little girl was part of a big party that was going on at the restaurant. She came over to see the fish near us.
This little girl was part of a big party that was going on at the restaurant. She came over to see the fish near us.
Don't you just love translation errors? This was on a package of toys I bought to use with classes.
Don’t you just love translation errors? This was on a package of toys I bought to use with classes.
I learn a lot of my Vietnamese vocabulary from signs. But it's amazing how many of the signs are in English. Oh yeah, there are lots of beer clubs here. The word for beer is bia.
I learn a lot of my Vietnamese vocabulary from signs. But it’s amazing how many of the signs are in English. Oh yeah, there are lots of beer clubs here. The word for beer is bia.

Learning to be a classroom teacher

Duck, outside my main balcony. Notice the folks on the street, just walking for exercise in the cool evening. It rained very hard about noon, so things feel much nicer now and their is a breeze. Vietnamese typically have small houses and sit outside each evening. In fact, their "dining room" may be the front porch or in the yard with a canvas tarp overhead for shade.
Dusk, outside my main balcony. Notice the folks on the street, just walking for exercise in the cool evening. It rained very hard about noon, so things feel much nicer now and there is a breeze. Vietnamese typically have small houses and sit outside each evening. In fact, their “dining room” may be the front porch or in the yard with a canvas tarp overhead for shade.

October 19, 2014
Saturday, something happened that I didn’t have the verbal skills to handle. I was charged for 3 coffees at a coffee house when I’d only had 2. I used my English-to-Vietnamese dictionary, but could not get them to understand (or believe me). In the end I paid the extra money and will not go back until I’m able to say “You have overcharged me. I only had one (two…) coffee.” Some lessons you have to pay for and this is one. It’s possible that it was an honest mistake. I certainly want to believe that. But if they can’t keep track it’s a place I should avoid anyway. It’s not a lot of money (the USA equivalent of $1.10) and losing your temper is a major faux pas here, so it was better to pay.

It was bound to happen. It’s the rainy season and I’m on a scooter. I got caught in a heavy rain! By the time I got to work, I looked like a drown rat. I was wet all through both my classes. I also have helmet hair each day from reign a scooter. Yes, I’m a picture!

Saturday night’s last class was just horrible. The group is the Dinosaurs and they are 21 teenagers, which I have to handle alone (without a whip and a chair). A handful of the older boys simply don’t want to be there. They won’t pay attention, follow direction or stop talking. But they are clearly the “cool” kids and the rest of the class takes their cues from them. Another boy seems to have some major social issues. His classmates don’t like him much and he gets attention by roughhousing, taking things or simply being loud. I had to threaten him with being sent out when he would not leave my things alone. It’s a large, noisy group, all in a tile room where the sound bounces off the walls. We finished the lesson with 15 minutes to spare, so I pulled out a word game and divided them into three groups to play. It required each group have a sheet of paper to write down as many English words in a stated category as they could come up with in 2 minutes. The team with the older boys didn’t even find paper until half way through the second round. I disqualified one team in the second round for cheating off another group. The boy lacking social skills refused to play. I told him he could play with his team, sit quietly or leave. No one wants to leave (this is a loss of face), so he said he would sit quietly (he didn’t, of course). In the end, his team won and I rewarded them with candy. He demanded his share. I told him no. He didn’t play. He was shocked and hurt.

When I finished for the night, all I wanted was a stiff drink. But I had class the next morning and settled for a shower and an early night.

On the other hand, Sunday morning’s group, the Kittens, is only 12 in number and about 10 years old. They are an amazingly well behaved group and very smart. We were putting together sentences and I always try to make the kids laugh by using their vocabulary words in unexpected ways. The unit was on differences in appearance and we were discussing hair and glasses. So the final sentence was “Johnny has green and pink hair and he (does/doesn’t) wear glasses.” They chose “does” and one of the boys added that he should wear black glasses. I asked him why (just trying to get him to talk more) and he said it would make him look “more distinguished.” He said it in a way that led me to believe that this was a new word, so I asked why Johnny needed to be more distinguished (just to check his understanding). “Teecha,” he said, disgustingly. ( I will never be able to teach them to say teachER) “He have pink and green hair! He need HELP!” Yup, he understands the word.

This is Com Bo Luc Lac. Com is cooked rice. Bo is beef (produced baw).  I have no idea what Luc or lac is but there were onions and green peppers in the dish. It was good. Portion sizes are small here. With the heat and small potions, I am probably loosing weight!
This is Com Bo Luc Lac. Com is cooked rice. Bo is beef (produced baw). I have no idea what Luc or lac is but there were onions and green peppers in the dish. It was good. Portion sizes are small here. With the heat and small potions, I am probably loosing weight!

Overall, even when I am frustrated or overwhelmed, I’m still glad I came here. The average person I meet on the street smiles and says hello to me. They are friendly, kind and are not constantly trying to sell me something or get money for me. Many just want to practice their one and only word of English, Hello. Friday, the traffic was so bad that I could not cross the street. A security guard took me by the hand, like a child, and helped me cross. Then waited for me so he could help me cross back. These are good people. I’m lucky to have found this place.

I continue to get used to the scooter. I’m not a very aggressive driver so it can take me awhile to get through an intersection. While there are traffic lights (and more importantly, people follow them most of the time) there aren’t stop signs at intersections and no protected left turns. Mostly, I wait for the cars to pass and try to find a hole between the scooters big enough to aim for. Making a left turn onto a busy street is harrowing for me, but I seem to be the only one who is having difficulty. Getting into and out of the parking deck is pretty tough, too. Scooters are parked on the second floor of the garage and there are narrow, steep ramps to go up or down. Yesterday I scraped my elbow on the concrete wall going up since there is less than a foot of clearance on either side. Ouch! There are also gates that raise and lower with a key card to reduce access to the garage. Each is on a sharp turn, then you are immediately on the ramp. The gate only stays open 5 seconds. You have to move pretty fast. I can’t say I’m a great driver yet, but no one has died.

This is the kitchen. It has a small refrigerator, two burner stove, but no oven. We have a toaster oven and a rice cooker, but no microwave. The faucet only has cold water, so when I need hot water, I use my electric kettle (hot pot, white in center of kitchen). The door to the right leads to the utility balcony with a washer and clothesline. This is considered a luxury apartment in Vietnam.
This is the kitchen. It has a small refrigerator, two burner stove, but no oven. We have a toaster oven and a rice cooker, but no microwave. The faucet only has cold water, so when I need hot water, I use my electric kettle (hot pot, white in center of kitchen). The door to the right leads to the utility balcony with a washer and clothesline. This is considered a luxury apartment in Vietnam.
This is the utility balcony in my apartment. The clothes are hanging to dry since I have no dryer. Those bars raise and lower by a pully system on the right.
This is the utility balcony in my apartment. The clothes are hanging to dry since I have no dryer. Those bars raise and lower by a pully system on the right. I can see my neighbor’s wash in the line across the way. Even with the doors and windows shut, the house is open in a few places, so there really is no way to cool the entire house using air conditioning. Bob and I just use the units I our rooms, mostly at night.
I learn a lot of my Vietnamese vocabulary from signs. But it's amazing how many of the signs are in English. Oh yeah, there are lots of beer clubs here. The word for beer is bia.
I learn a lot of my Vietnamese vocabulary from signs. But it’s amazing how many of the signs are in English. Oh yeah, there are lots of beer clubs here. The word for beer is bia.