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!
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!
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.
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?
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!
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 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.
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.
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.