Mountain Temple Chau Thoi

Sang, my Vietnamese tour guide, took me to this old Mountain Temple complex, Chau Thoi. It turns out to be on top of the only mountain I can see from the top of my apartment building.

In the morning, Sang had taken me to a waterfall that was east of the city. After lunch, we drove west and over the Dong Nai River. We passed a few temples along the way, but he said I should see the biggest one. He was right!
In the morning, Sang had taken me to a waterfall that was east of the city. After lunch, we drove west and over the Dong Nai River. We passed a few temples along the way, but he said I should see the biggest one. He was right!
This is the only "mountain" I can see from atop my 17 story apartment complex. I had no idea there was a temple on top! We could see it from a few kilometers away.
This is the only “mountain” I can see from atop my 17 story apartment complex. I had no idea there was a temple on top! We could see it from a few kilometers away.
As you approach, you can see how big the temple complex is!
As you approach, you can see how big the temple complex is!
Chau Thoi Mountain Temple entrance
Chau Thoi Mountain Temple entrance
The entrance gate from just outside the compound.
The entrance gate from just outside the compound.

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The entrance gate, from inside the compound. Notice the swastika--a symbol of good luck--and the monkey.
The entrance gate, from inside the compound. Notice the swastika–a symbol of good luck–and the monkey.
Two short videos:
 Chau Thoi Son, praying at Mountain temple
Chau Thoi Son Tu Monkeys

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The entrance courtyard. I look around while Sang does business by cell phone.
The entrance courtyard. I look around while Sang does business by cell phone.
Notice the monkeys climbing on the Buddha. You often see a robe around one of these statues--red during Lunar New Year.
Notice the monkeys climbing on the Buddha. You often see a robe around one of these statues–red during Lunar New Year.

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The dragon wall.
The dragon wall.
The view from over the dragon wall. Looks like they are putting in a subdivision?
The view from over the dragon wall. Looks like they are putting in a subdivision?
The view from over the dragon wall. It was a hazy day, but you can see the rock quarry just beyond the buildings. I only saw trucks with gravel, but know that there is a local marble here, called hoa da cuon. (frozen flower stone).
The view from over the dragon wall. It was a hazy day, but you can see the rock quarry just beyond the buildings. I only saw trucks with gravel, but know that there is a local marble here, called hoa da cuon. (frozen flower stone).
The view from over the dragon wall. These are a pagoda on the left that you see as you drive up and a local home.
The view from over the dragon wall. These are a pagoda on the left that you see as you drive up and a local home.
Did I mention how large everything was? And gilded. No idea if it was real gold, but it looked like it might me.
Did I mention how large everything was? And gilded. No idea if it was real gold, but it looked like it might me.

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I guess that's a good place to sleep.
I guess that’s a good place to sleep.
The two huge Buddha statues must stand 5 stories tall. Here we see just the feet. I couldn't get far enough back to take a good photo of either of them. I found this on the internet: "Guan Yin Bodhisattva opencast 22.5 m high, weighs 100 tons, is considered the highest statue of Binh Duong"
The two huge Buddha statues must stand 5 stories tall. Here we see just the feet. I couldn’t get far enough back to take a good photo of either of them. I found this on the internet: “Guan Yin Bodhisattva opencast 22.5 m high, weighs 100 tons, is considered the highest statue of Binh Duong”
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This boy’s job was to sell birds for people to release–it is suppose to improve your karma. The birds looked like colorful barn swallows and I’m sure he captures them over and over.

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Inside the temple
Inside the temple
This is the happy Buddha. It made me think of my friend Barbara in NYC--she loved these when we met in China. Doesn't he make you want to laugh out loud?
This is the happy Buddha. It made me think of my friend Barbara in NYC–she loved these when we met in China. Doesn’t he make you want to laugh out loud?
I am a sucker for religious monks and nuns. I gave this Buddhist nun money.
I am a sucker for religious monks and nuns. I gave this Buddhist nun money.
Statue of Buddha Amitabha
Statue of Buddha Amitabha

I found this additional information on the web. Thank Goddess for Google Translate! No idea how accurate it is. Nothing in Wikipedia or my guidebook about this place.

A trip to the street markets of Bien Hoa

We went to two markets this day. The first was not so much a "market" as an alley. It was narrow, but scooters and motorcycles still zoomed past. At the entrance were clothing and kitchen utensils, but most of the rest was food.
We went to two markets this day. The first was not so much a “market” as an alley. It was narrow, but scooters and motorcycles still zoomed past. At the entrance were clothing and kitchen utensils, but most of the rest was food.

Last week I was able to take a tour with Sang, a local hostel owner and tour guide here in Bien Hoa. This is not a touristy area, so Sang is probably one of the few professional guides here. I’m posting the photos in groups, because we did so much that day–too much to put in one post.

Sang, his sister and I walked to this market from the hostel, Lu Khach Quan. I hope to also come back and see the overnight wholesale market in the area.

Sang’s sister bought food for our lunch later in the day. Tasty! I really must learn to cook from her!

People just put their wares on the ground. I was introduced to some root vegetables I've never seen before including a purple sweet potato that was very attractive.
People just put their wares on the ground. I was introduced to some root vegetables I’ve never seen before including a purple sweet potato that was very attractive.
To the left is Jackfruit, which contains nodules of sweet flesh inside. The peel and starchy connective tissue is on the ground to the left Jackfruit are huge--weighing several pounds. If one falls on you from high atop the tree it grows on, you could be seriously hurt.  To the extreme right is a local melon. It's not very sweet, but somehow satisfying. The Vietnamese often serve it with sugar.
To the left is Jackfruit, which contains nodules of sweet flesh inside. The peel and starchy connective tissue is on the ground to the left. Jackfruit are huge–weighing several pounds. If one falls on you from high atop the tree it grows on, you could be seriously hurt.
To the extreme right is a local melon. It’s not very sweet, but somehow satisfying. The Vietnamese often serve it with sugar.
They love flowers and plants in Viet Nam. This woman is also selling sweet "soups" called che here. Notice the traditional hat, which older women and the poor wear. It's actually quite comfortable--keeping you shaded with good airflow. They are sometimes tied on with a colorful scarf.
They love flowers and plants in Viet Nam. This woman is also selling sweet “soups” called che. Notice the traditional hat, which older women and the poor wear. It’s actually quite comfortable–keeping you shaded with good airflow. They are sometimes tied on with a colorful scarf.
This woman is shooing away the flies. There are surprisingly few flies here--even with all the food about. To the right are deep fried balls that contained a sweet green bean paste that was quite tasty.
This woman is shooing away the flies. There are surprisingly few flies here–even with all the food about. To the right are deep fried balls that contained a sweet green bean paste that was quite tasty.
They are selling sweet soup, served chilled.
They are selling sweet soup, served chilled.
Much of the alleyway was covered by tarps to keep off the sun. There was everything you might want to buy. If only the clothing here would fit me. I swear the shirts are all size small and the bras are 32 to 34 B. What's a 38C to do?
Much of the alleyway was covered by tarps to keep off the sun. There was everything you might want to buy. If only the clothing here would fit me. I swear the shirts are all size small and the bras are 32 to 34 B. What’s a 38C to do?
To the far left are cubes of cooked, congealed blood, used in soup. It tastes better than you'd imagine. I don't mind it flavoring the soup, but I don't usually eat it. In the bags at the bottom left corner is fresh blood. The center is intestine, stomach, kidneys and other innards.  The woman at the chopping block to the right is cutting pork belly. Nothing is smoked here, so I can't find bacon, except in large, expensive groceries that cater to foreigners.
To the far left are cubes of cooked, congealed blood, used in soup. It tastes better than you’d imagine. I don’t mind it flavoring the soup broth, but I don’t usually eat it. In the bags at the bottom left corner is fresh blood. The center is intestine, stomach, kidneys and other innards.
The woman at the chopping block to the right is cutting pork belly. Nothing is smoked here, so I can’t find bacon, except in large, expensive groceries that cater to foreigners. I miss bacon.
This woman is selling dried seafood of all kinds and eggs. To the left is mostly different sizes of dried shrimp. Eggs are rarely refrigerated here, even in grocery stores. But they have that deep yellow yolk I remember from being raised on the farm with free range chickens. There's also usually a dot of blood on the yolk, showing that they are fertilized--something else you don't see in store bought eggs.
This woman is selling dried seafood of all kinds and eggs. To the left is mostly different sizes of dried shrimp. Eggs are rarely refrigerated here, even in grocery stores. But they have that deep yellow yolk I remember from being raised on the farm with free range chickens. There’s also usually a dot of blood on the yolk, showing that they are fertilized–something else you don’t see in store bought eggs.
At first glance, I just thought this was pork.....
At first glance, I just thought this was pork…..
....But the woman turned the heads over to show me it was dog meat, the first I've seen for sale. Often the head and feet of the animal are displayed to show what animal is for sale.  I remember when I first got here, Thom told me not to be afraid of all the dogs that ran loose. If a dog was mean, they ate him. At the time I thought it funny. Now? Maybe it was true.
….But the woman turned the heads over to show me it was dog meat, the first I’ve seen for sale. Often the head and feet of an animal are displayed to show what meat is for sale.
I remember when I first got here, Thom told me not to be afraid of the dogs that ran loose. If a dog was mean, they ate him. At the time I thought it funny. Now? Maybe it was true.
In the center is insect larval. It looks just like the bee moth bait my grandfather used to fish with. At the top left are frogs. They are alive, but tied together at the waist to keep them from getting away.
In the center is insect larval. It looks just like the bee moth bait my grandfather used to fish with. At the top left are frogs. They are alive, but tied together at the waist to keep them from getting away.
This is a special item, which I expect to see more of around Tet (Lunar New year). A bundle of rice with meat, vegetables and/or an egg is inside these banana leaf wrappers. The item is unwrapped and pieces are cut from it like a cake. Delicious! Banana leaves make wonderful plates--strong, biodegradable and easily renewable.
This is a special item, which I expect to see more of around Tet (Lunar New Year). A bundle of rice with meat, vegetables and/or an egg is inside these banana leaf wrappers. They are cooked by steaming. To serve, it is unwrapped and pieces are cut from it like a cake. Delicious!
Banana leaves make wonderful plates–strong, biodegradable and easily renewable.
To the left is tofu  and soy milk. To the center and right is pork skin. The one in front may be cooked, but the one behind is not. The small sacks the woman has in front of her are a type of flour and spices that you mix with the pork skin and eat. The high fat content and chewy texture of skin is prized.
To the left is tofu and soy milk. In the center and right is pork skin. The shredded pile in front may be cooked, but the one behind is not. The small sacks the woman has in front of her are a type of flour with spices that you mix with the pork skin and eat, no cooking. The high fat content and chewy texture of skin is prized.
These are salads. Some are fermented and some have a vinegar base.  Almost every meal is served with fresh vegetables--especially cucumber, carrots and garlic. Even spring rolls are first wrapped in lettuce and other leaves and herbs before dipping in a sauce and eaten.
These are salads. Some are fermented and some have a vinegar base.
Almost every meal is served with fresh vegetables–especially cucumber, carrots and garlic. Even spring rolls are first wrapped in lettuce, other leaves and herbs before dipping in a sauce and eaten.
We left the alley to walk to another enclosed market. On the street, past religious shops selling life sized Virgin Marys. This is a mostly Catholic area--almost all the teachers at my school are Catholic and a little shocked that I don't go to church on Sunday. How can I? I work Sunday morning.
We left the alley to walk to another enclosed market. On the street, we  pasted religious shops selling life sized Virgin Marys. This is a mostly Catholic area–almost all the teachers at my school are Catholic and a little shocked that I don’t go to church on Sunday. How can I? I work Sunday morning. A couple of woman who seemed quite interested in Bob (my roommate) as a potential date, got rather cool when they found he was not religious at all.
Can you spot the jackfruit, papaya and dragon fruit in this (poor) photo? Vietnamese have no trouble reaching their requirement of fruits and vegetables a day. Even in class when I recently asked kids their favorite foods, they mentioned a dozen fresh fruits and vegetables before anyone said a type of meat (chicken) or pizza. I finally had to put in a good word for chocolate.
Can you spot the jackfruit, papaya and dragon fruit in this (poor) photo? The round, green fruits on the bottom right are oranges, which are rarely orange here, but that’s a sure sign they are locally grown. This is a tightly packed market with narrow isles. Still, a few scooters drove right inside.
Vietnamese have no trouble reaching their daily requirement of fruits and vegetables. In a class of 11 and 12 years old, I recently asked kids their favorite foods. They mentioned a dozen fresh fruits and vegetables (carrots and bananas were the first two items) before anyone said a type of meat (chicken) or pizza. I finally had to put in a good word for chocolate, myself!

 

This is an old market and it is in serious need of repair, though reasonably clean. This woman's fish was fresh--mostly still swimming!
This is an old market and it is in serious need of repair, though reasonably clean. The government would like to shut it down, but the local vendors and area residents depend on it. This woman’s fish was fresh–mostly still swimming!
This woman eats her soup which waiting to chop meat for customers. The Vietnamese are very flexible.   At the left of the photo is papaya. The right has logan fruit--which is sweet and tasty, but has a large seed in the middle.
This woman eats her soup which waiting to chop meat for customers. The Vietnamese are very flexible. They are able to squat comfortably for a long time or get up and down from the floor like a child, even when they are quite old.
At the left of the photo is papaya. The bottom right is logan fruit–which is sweet and tasty, but has a large seed in the middle and must be peeled.

We passed a store that sold things just for weddings and I wish my photo had some out. There are traditional gifts the potential groom needs to bring to the bride’s parents when he asked to marry her–tea, wine, flowers and fruits. Sang showed me a red concoction here. He told me that women during the Viet Nam War (called the American War, here) would chew this to make their mouths red, even spitting the juice at men who wanted to rape them. It looked so much like blood that the men would usually leave the woman alone, thinking she was sick. Ingenious!

This shop sells items for funerals including candles, incense and things to throw into the fire for the dearly departed. Buddhist tradition is that if you burn paper money (not real money), paper clothes, paper cars.....the dead can use them.
This shop sells items for funerals including candles, incense and things to throw into the fire for the dearly departed. Buddhist tradition is that if you burn paper money (not real money), paper clothes, paper cars…..the dead can use them.

 

Exploring Bien Hoa: Lu Khach Quan

I finally had a day off (and was well) to explore this new city I moved to just 7 weeks ago. Luckily, I found an expert to help. Sang has a hostel here in town, called Lu Khach Quan (Quan is a place for visitors, and often means a restaurant) Sang gives tours of the area.

Because the hostel was in an ares I hadn't been to, far from my apartment, I decided to take a taxi. I just wrote down the address and phone number for the driver. He got very close, but had to call to find the place. It's a big, busy city!
Because the hostel was in an ares I hadn’t been to, far from my apartment, I decided to take a taxi. I just wrote down the address and phone number for the driver. He got very close, but had to call to find the place. It’s a big, busy city!
We passed an area where they sold birds. Once in awhile I see people taking their birds out for a walk or a drive on the scooter.
We passed an area where they sold birds. Once in awhile I see people taking their birds out for a walk or a drive on the scooter.
Sang. on his garden rooftop. At the left of the photo is one of his favorite plants, an evergreen with long needles. He says there are many of these in Da Lot, a university city in the mountains, and he likes how the needles feel.
Sang. on his garden rooftop. At the left of the photo is one of his favorite plants, an evergreen with long needles. He says there are many of these in Da Lot, a university city in the mountains, and he likes how the needles feel.
The view from the top of the four story building. Bien Hoa was an area where many Catholics from other parts of Viet Nam were resettled. Sang and his family are Catholic and there are at least 8 large churches within easy walking distance of his house.
The view from the top of the four story building. Bien Hoa was an area where many Catholics from other parts of Viet Nam were resettled. Sang and his family are Catholic and there are at least 8 large churches within easy walking distance of his house.
Sang's mother served lunch--chicken in a wonderful ginger sauce, stir fried morning glory, stir fried cauliflower with carrots, an egg pancake with green onions, a shredded vegetable salad and french fries. I notice that when they are done eating, they just get up from the table. No lingering over dinner!
Sang’s mother served lunch–chicken in a wonderful ginger sauce, stir fried morning glory vine, stir fried cauliflower with carrots, an egg pancake with green onions, a shredded vegetable salad and french fries. I notice that when they are done eating, they just get up from the table. No lingering over dinner!

Friends–when you come to visit me (you are coming, aren’t you?) we could stay here and go to the overnight wholesale market nearby. Then Sang’s sister will teach us how to cook! Doesn’t that sound like fun?

I was offered a tasty snack. Green tea with pressed meat between sticky rice. The green is banana leaf, to keep the rice from sticking to your fingers.
I was offered a tasty snack. Green tea with pressed meat between sticky rice. The green is banana leaf, to keep the rice from sticking to your fingers.
As with many Vietnamese homes, the ground floor is a shop, the place to greet visitors and also the dining room.
As with many Vietnamese homes, the ground floor is a shop, the place to greet visitors and also the dining room.
Sang's brother is becoming a Catholic priest. He has many fish and birds in the house. Here is one of the colorful, male betas, also called Siamese Fighting Fish.
Sang’s brother is becoming a Catholic priest. He has many fish and birds in the house. Here is one of the colorful, male betas, also called Siamese Fighting Fish.
He has this huge fish in the front room, called Sam Jr.
He has this huge fish in the front room, called Sam Jr.

 

Teacher’s Day in Viet Nam

This past week was Teacher’s Day, a big holiday here. Our school is just an evening and weekend school, so we had our celebration at a local restaurant Sunday evening. So much wonderful food!

Our table. In the Batman shirt is Marcus. He has not been feeling well and this isn't his best look. Bob is still sick and didn't come at all.
Our table. In the Batman shirt is Marcus. He has not been feeling well and this isn’t his best look. Bob is still sick and didn’t come at all.

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I have not learned the names of all the teachers yet, but aren't they beautiful? They left early for "second shift." The young can go out on Sunday night and party.
I have not learned the names of all the teachers yet, but aren’t they beautiful? They left early for “second shift.” The young can go out on Sunday night and party.
A table of men nearby had loud drinking toasts and were very happy. They knew a few words of English and asked where I am from. I've learned to reply only "America" since anything more specific isn't usually understood.
A table of men nearby had loud drinking toasts and were very happy. They knew a few words of English and asked where I am from. I’ve learned to reply only “America” since anything more specific isn’t usually understood.
This salad had peanuts, shrimp, young coconut and ....pig ear! It was very tasty even if it seems like nothing they would serve in the Midwest. When I asked what was in it no one would admit to the pig ear, thinking that I would be upset. But I've eaten it before and guessed.
This salad had peanuts, shrimp, young coconut and ….pig ear! It was very tasty even if it seems like nothing they would serve in the Midwest. When I asked what was in it no one would admit to the pig ear, thinking that I would be upset. But I’ve eaten it before and guessed.
I'm not the only one who takes photos of food!
I’m not the only one who takes photos of food!
Largest shrimp I've ever seen. Still has the head on it. They are inside a coconut.
Largest shrimp I’ve ever seen. Still has the head on it. They are inside a coconut.
Grilled fish. YUM!
Grilled fish. YUM!
Grilled pork. Very tasty, even if I had to eat around the bones.
Grilled pork. Very tasty, even if I had to eat around the bones.
Lots to eat and drink for everyone. On the far left is William and Thao.
Lots to eat and drink for everyone. On the far left is William and Thao.
Then they brought out the hot pot with vegetables and noodles. The pot already has fish cooking inside. Turned out to be catfish.
Then they brought out the hot pot with vegetables and noodles. The pot already has fish cooking inside. Turned out to be catfish.
Once the fish is cooked, you take it out (so it won't over cook) and start adding the vegetables. There was morning glory vine, banana flower and two other vegetables there is no English word for.
Once the fish is cooked, you take it out (so it won’t over cook) and start adding the vegetables. There was morning glory vine, banana flower and two other vegetables there is no English word for.
Pour photo, but the cooked catfish is taken out of the hot pot and put on a plate with fish sauce and chili peppers. It was a very delicate tasting meat.
Pour photo, but the cooked catfish is taken out of the hot pot and put on a plate with fish sauce and chili peppers. It was a very delicate tasting meat.
Once the vegetables are cooked, you put noodles in your bowl and ladle the soup broth on top of them.
Once the vegetables are cooked, you put noodles in your bowl and ladle the soup broth on top of them.
Then you add the vegetables on top of your bowl of soup and eat. There were no spoons, so once you've eaten the contents of the soup, you drink the broth.  The beer (bia) is the local Saigon Special, a very week pilsner served on ice.
Then you add the vegetables on top of your bowl of soup and eat. There were no spoons, so once you’ve eaten the contents of the soup, you drink the broth. The beer (bia) is the local Saigon Special, a very week pilsner served on ice.
And dessert was this lightly sweetened layered jello "cake." Very good. It was already sliced into squares, though you can't tell by the picture. You eat it with your fingers.
And dessert was this lightly sweetened layered jello “cake.” Very good. It was already sliced into squares, though you can’t tell by the picture. You eat it with your fingers.
Mr. Toai eating cake.
Mr. Toai eating cake.
The men were still drinking!
The men were still drinking!
Several restaurants have playgrounds for children.
Several restaurants have playgrounds for children.

There’s online homework, too?

 

My first flowers for Teacher Day. Notice the date on the sign. In most of the rest of the world the day comes before the month.
My first flowers for Teacher Day. Notice the date on the sign. In most of the rest of the world the day comes before the month.

November 18, 2014

It is clear that I spend WAY too much time, compared to other teachers, preparing and worrying about my classes. Some of it is just my nature. I want to do a good job and I want to help my students. It’s never just a job for me. It’s a calling. I have had a lot of beginning student classes lately (all adults) and those are the hardest for me—I have to prepare a very detailed lesson, with a full PowerPoint presentation because their language skills are so low. They are able to read simple instructions but they are not able to hear them. And they may not be able to verbalize anything without time to think it through and write it down first. And, frankly, the adults don’t learn as fast, are more afraid to speak and are not interested in trying anything new. It’s hard.

But the other thing is that I KEEP finding things about teaching these classes that I should have known, but no one told me. Marcus wanted to know why I hadn’t assigned the Firefly group (World English 3) any online homework. There’s online homework? This was the first I had heard about it! So this morning, I spent two hours figuring out how to get onto the website, select and assign homework and then email everyone. Then I spent another two hours going through the online homework I had just assigned and putting together my lesson plan so that it complimented it but didn’t repeat it. THEN I did the lesson plan for my second class of the night. And I work 6 days a week with a heavy schedule on Saturday and (often) Sunday.

God, I hope this gets easier eventually! In the meantime, I’ve finding very little time to explore the area, though teaching is giving me insight into the culture and my students help me with Vietnamese words.

Last night’s classes were a bit mixed. The first was an Our World 4 class—kids of about 9-10 years old with intermediate speaking skills. After we had done the regular lesson, I decided on a lark to try the music video with them (One Thing by One Direction). I had thought their speaking skills might be too low, but they loved it. They understood the contractions and most of the English expressions.

Next was my adult class, World English Intro. These are all young adults, late teens to early 20s. Some are college students and some work at jobs. I’ve asked them why they enrolled in the class, and most say to get a better job. But it is a completely different vibe than the kids and—worse—completely different than what I expected. I realize that while I tried not to have too many expectations about teaching, I couldn’t help myself. And this is not what I expected. I had a “review” class last night. It’s hard enough to teach students that have few speaking or listening skills, but it maddening to just be told: “Review the units they’ve covered.” There are no materials. You may only have taught the group once and not be sure of their skill level. So I had to review four chapters and create a lesson from scratch, which I did, and it only took 2 hours or so to prepare. Did I mention I’m paid to teach and not paid at all for preparation?

But, again, I’m here for the adventure and to learn about a new group of people. So here’s what I learned in class last night: My oldest student in the Moonwalker class is younger than 25. All of the students have lived their entire lives in Bien Hoa. All of them live with their family in the same house they were born in. None have traveled outside the country—not even Laos, Cambodia or Thailand, countries you can drive to in a couple hours. Only about half of them have even been to Hanoi and most have only been to the beach or the mountains a couple times in their lives, with their family. “Sheltered” doesn’t begin to cover it.

I’ve already mentioned that many of the adults take English classes more as a social activity.  Learning English is not that important to them. I was really surprised by this, but I’ve simply come to accept it—these are adults. This class is optional. They can choose to learn or not. I can’t force them and I won’t get frustrated about it. (but it does make me wonder why I work so hard on lesson planning)

Last night, I started the Moonwalker class reviewing simple informal greetings, which I had them repeat, chorally. Then we practiced shaking hands. This is a foreign concept to most of them, so I had to explain why and where it is used. Then I shook everyone’s hand and showed them how much pressure, eye contact, smiling—most had a very limp handshake. I tried to make it fun and they even laughed a few times. Then we moved on to some simple exercises on a worksheet I had created and handed out.

Worksheets are odd. I find I have to walk to each student and get them started on each section. It was just a simple set of fill-in-the blank sentences, and the word choices were provided. It’s only hard to get them to start the work, but once they start they complete it in a couple minutes. I’d spent time individually with every student except the one guy who did the best speaking out loud. He is the oldest in class and seemed to be working away when I checked on him. He didn’t seem to need help. When I called on him to answer a question from the worksheet he didn’t respond at all. He just looked at me. I asked again. Nothing. I tried encouraging him and smiling, “Just read sentence 3.” He sat there looking at me like I was a movie screen. I walked over to his paper and had simply decided NOT to do the worksheet. Ok! Moving on……

So I’m learning a lot. This is a very different culture and I may never understand completely.

Bob called in sick last night and won’t be teaching tonight. Marcus was sick Friday. He had the weekend off, but went to Saigon (an hour away) to the hospital there where he has an English speaking doctor he trusts. Khanh was sick two days a week ago. It’s clear that something is going around. Everyone reports a headache, sinus trouble, swelling hands and feet, and a very foggy brain. Sound familiar? So I may have had more than just Dengue Fever. I’m washing my hands, eating healthy, drinking water, taking my vitamins….anything I can do to keep my health up. I don’t want to be sick again!

This was my "haul" of fresh flowers by the day before Teacher's Day. I also got some artificial flowers and will keep them at school. The floral arrangements are much prettier than this photo shows.
This was my “haul” of fresh flowers by the day before Teacher’s Day. I also got some artificial flowers and will keep them at school. The floral arrangements are much prettier than this photo shows.

November 19, 2014

Bob is still sick. That’s three days in a row he’s not taught classes and I will cover one of his classes tonight. I barely see him. He stays in his room, but I hear him playing his ukulele. His laundry has been hanging out to dry for three solid days. I think it’s dry by now! And he’s been even worse about washing dishes and wiping up his spilled drinks. Since our “housekeeper” hasn’t shown up two out of three weeks, I’m guessing we don’t have one. I’m beginning to feel like Bob’s mother, or at least the housekeeper in this relationship. Once he is well, we will have to have a conversation. Or as my Plurk friend @JustJ says, “When someone says ‘we need to talk,’ you are about to listen.” LOL But I need to be fair and talk to him about it. The situation may seem very different from his point of view. Roommate situations, particularly between otherwise strangers, is pretty tough. No one wants to feel taken advantage of.

I’m supposed to test drive a scooter today that is owned by Miss Rose from reception. I’m told it is almost new, low mileage. She’s asking 20,000,000vnd—not a lot of money in US$ but thats most of my salary for a month.

Yesterday, Anne, one of our new native speaking AdMins, took me back to the place I bought my phone. She served as translator. The phone has stopped texting. I can receive them, and everything else works, but I can’t send a text. They said I needed either a new SIM card or I need to talk to my carrier MobiPhone. Anne has promised to take me to the carrier tomorrow. When anything goes wrong it takes me ten times as long to work anything out since I don’t know the language, the customs or the area. I hate having to be a burden on the school, but I am learning a lot this way. Anne has been married for just over a year. Her husband is from India and working in Canada. They speak to each other in English and she took the job at the school to improve her skills. She thinks it could take two years to get a visa to join her husband in Canada! I can’t imagine that.

This is Miss Rose and Anne. I'm always surprised by how short and tight the women wear their clothing here. And I could never walk in those shoes! When did I become so old?
This is Miss Rose and Anne. I’m always surprised by how short and tight the women wear their clothing here. And I could never walk in those shoes! When did I become so old?

This weekend is Teacher Day in Viet Nam. Last night one of my students brought me flowers! I was almost speechless—and we know that seldom happens! It really made my day. Sunday afternoon the school is closed and we will all be taken out to dinner. I could like this holiday!

The first class yesterday was adults just starting at our school. It’s hard to determine their volcabulary level. We had a video to watch, with subtitles, and we always watch it at least three times for comprehension. The video was about puffins in Iceland. I went over much of the vocabulary, but clearly there were still words they didn’t know. It took two times of watching the video before someone asked me what a “nest” was. Oh dear! Then one of the activities was to mark true or false. One of the best speakers in the class was struggling with it. Turns out she didn’t remember what True or False meant!

Last night I taught Firefly,  the only class I’m the main instructor for. I teach them two days a week (Tuesday and Thursday) and they are really a lovely group of early 20yos. I talked to them about adding music to the class and they seemed open to the idea! I’ve also just found a website that has lesson plans using short videos to learn English. I’m really excited about the possibility of using this for Firefly and for some of my other intermediate and advanced classes. I knew teaching was hard work, but honestly I had no idea how much time it would take to prepare lessons.  Anytime I can find several well organized lessons, I get excited. All my classes have a textbook and I usually have two pages to cover each day, but that’s usually only an hour of material, sometimes less. I always need a 30 minute lesson to add to the class. Part of the difficulty is also that I may only teach a group once or twice in a month. Last week there was a group I taught for the first time and I’ve been here 6 weeks! It’s tough to know their comprehension level and even remember the group once you’ve seen them.

This is still the most popular phone in Vietnam, but I don't see iPhone 6. I bought an iPhone 4 when I came here because I could get an unlocked one and buy a new sim card. The iPhone I used in the states was locked and no one here could unlock it.
This is still the most popular phone in Vietnam, but I don’t see iPhone 6. I bought an iPhone 4 when I came here because I could get an unlocked one and buy a new sim card. The iPhone I used in the states was locked and no one here could unlock it.

November 20, 2014

Today is Teacher’s Day and most schools are holding large celebrations. As I sit here eating my lunch, I can hear music from one of the schools. The guards below me sing along to some of the songs. While they are enthusiastic and LOUD, I don’t suggest they give up their day jobs! At least they seem to be happy. This morning I met Anne at school and she took me to Mobiphone to try to get my texting situation fixed. We passed a half dozen schools with large, outdoor programs going on. All were decorated with huge displays of balloons and flowers. Most had a large podium and a loudspeaker system blasting away. I wish I knew what they were saying!

Anne and I spent over an hour at Mobiphone, but they could not fix the issue, even after I bought a new sim card. While it is inconvenient not to be able to text, what really bothers me is how very much assistance I need to do anything here. I feel helpless all the time and I am not used to having to rely on someone else. I enjoy being independent and I do not take it for granted that the school employees spend extra time helping me to learn the area and adapt here. I thank them carefully and when we go out to eat, I try to pick up the check as a way to thank them. Most western men who move here simply get a Vietnamese girlfriend and use her as the translator and helper in their lives! It would make things easier, but it doesn’t seem fair. I hope it feels like a fair trade for the Vietnamese woman, but since most of these relationships don’t result in marriage, I doubt it.

Bread, at least as I've come to know it  in the US, is tough to find. But this is pretty goo. It's shaped like a crescent roll, but steamed. The green color comes from pandam leaf, a common coloring here. If you use a lot, it also imparts an interesting taste, but this one didn't have much coloring.
Bread, at least as I’ve come to know it in the US, is tough to find. But this is pretty good. It’s shaped like a crescent roll, but steamed. The green color comes from pandam leaf, a common coloring and flavoring in SE Asia. If you use a lot, it imparts an interesting taste, but this one didn’t have much taste.

I continue to work on learning this language and it often makes me smile. Vietnamese is mostly monosyllabic, so you see lots of small words put together to create another. The word for lamp is đen bàn—which translates literally to “table fire.” The word giáo mean to teach. You combine it to create words about school and education: teacher–giáo thụ. “To educate” is giáo dục (which, if you took Latin is pretty interesting. “Duc” is the root for “educate”, from the Latin word to lead. Literally, “educate” translates as to lead out [of ignorance].) But because education–and the Vietnamese system of writing– came from the French Catholic Church, this word is also connected to religion. Phồng is the word for room, so it is combined to create other words. Phồng tắm is bathroom. Phồng ngư is bedroom. I find knowing even a little Vietnamese helps me to explain English to my students. Yes, I can occasionally say a word, but more importantly I use it to explain how to take a word they do not know, take it apart and make an educated guess about what it might—it’s a great way to explain prefixes, suffixes and root words for my intermediate to advanced students.

I love studying language–Latin is a personal favorite–but I am not good at it. Every word that I know is hard won. One I can also speak and use at the appropriate time is practically a miracle! I wish I had studied languages when I was a child. I think I could have been very good at it. Now, I just hope to be able to order a meal, buy groceries and ask/give directions in the language of the country I’m in! Let’s hope within a year, I can do those things here.

There is almost always a dying mantis in the hall outside my apartment door. Usually a few hours later I will see them on their back, being eaten by ants. But why do they come to my hall when they want to die? And why only mantis?
There is almost always a dying mantis in the hall outside my apartment door. Usually a few hours later I will see them on their back, being eaten by ants. But why do they come to my hall when they want to die? And why only mantis?