An evening stroll on Christmas Eve in Bien Hoa, Viet Nam

The streets were all lite up.
I was surprised at all the lights. This is a very long street and there were lights like this for at least a couple kilometers.
The staff of a newly opened bar. They were posing under a fake snowfall, but it didn't show up in the photo.
The staff of a newly opened bar. They were posing under a fake snowfall, but it didn’t show up in the photo.

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AH! my favorite meal: stuff-on-a-stick. It was served with a lot of vegetables, including some pickled veggies that reminded me of kimchi.
Ah! my favorite meal: stuff-on-a-stick. It was served with a lot of vegetables, including some pickled veggies that reminded me of Korean kim chi. There are few westerners in Bien Hoa, so if you sit down to eat, you can expect people to come up to you to talk, practice their English. Often, they only know “hello” and “how are you?” But the smiles are genuine.
And this is the woman who deep fried my stuff on a stick.
And this is the woman who deep fried my stuff on a stick. You grab a plate and fill it with whatever she has that you want to eat. Then hand it back to her to fry.
This gentleman made me a fresh nouc mia--sugar cane juice drink.
This young gentleman made me a fresh nouc mia–sugar cane juice drink. The contraption squeezes out the juice from the cane. It’s not very sweet and has a pleasant “green” taste to it.
Clearly the love of white skin and light hair is learned. This young child was very wary of me and finally decided not to sit near me.
Clearly the love of white skin and light hair is learned. This young child was very wary of me and finally decided not to sit near me. She didn’t cry, but some very small children do. I may be the first western foreigner they have ever seen and it’s a shock.
The night market. I thought it might be bigger for Christmas Eve, but it was about the same. It was very busy, though.
The night market. I thought it might be bigger for Christmas Eve, but it was about the same. It was very busy, though.

Christmas program at KTV school

As the sun goes down, the KTV Christmas program warms up. I had not been given any information about the party--in fact I had not even been told about it until 3 days before--so I did not know what to expect.
As the sun goes down, the KTV Christmas program warms up. I had not been given any information about the party–in fact I had not even been told about it until 3 days before–so I did not know what to expect.

A cautionary tale about working in another country.

Last night was the children’s Christmas program at the school. It was not listed on the calendar and no one had mentioned it to me, so the program came as a surprise.  My contract states that I will attend school events, but I simply didn’t know about this one. I was told that I had misunderstood the 2 line email saying that “all classes on the 23rd were canceled” and that I had “three days off.” I had made arrangements for a trip to Da Lat with others from the school (only the native English speaking teachers were required to attend the party, not the bilingual Vietnamese teacher). Da Lat is located high up in the cool mountains, a 5 hour bus ride away. I was looking forward to cool breezes and new sites. After I had bought my non-refundable ticket, the school informed me of this event. There was no remorse about their lack of communication as I “should have known” and I “should have asked.”

Clearly my mind-reading skills need work.

This is one of the issues with working in a foreign country. You don’t know the customs. You don’t understand the culture. You don’t know the conversations and planning going on around you if spoken in another language. And, if organization and communication is poor, you will only figure out what’s expected of you when you make a mistake and are suddenly accused of breach of contract. At least, this has been my experience here. And it’s not like the contract really protects YOU, anyway. It protects the school. In a foreign country, you aren’t going to be able to access the legal system.

...and always, the V sign.
…and always, the V sign, even from Santa.

So, I didn’t get to take my Christmas trip, I didn’t have a three day holiday, and I lost the money I had put down on the vacation. Ba Humbug! Not a nice start to my holiday. And it certainly didn’t help me get a good attitude for the Christmas program. But I screwed on my smile and did my best–it wasn’t the children’s fault, after all. I did not understand much of what was going on, but from the outside, the entire holiday seems a surreal example of Western influence on Asian sensibilities. At least the kids seemed to enjoy it all. I’m trying do the same, without understanding much. I hope you can, too.

So many children, all dressed up for the evening.
So many adorable children, all dressed up for the evening.
Even Santa and Mrs. Claus were there!
Even Santa and Mrs. Claus were there!
Most of the evening's entertainment was a bit of a mystery, since I had no information and it was all in Vietnamese. My part in the program seemed to be smiling, waving and (at the end) handing out presents to the kids as they left.
Most of the evening’s entertainment was a bit of a mystery for me, since I had no information and it was all in Vietnamese. My part in the program seemed to be smiling, waving and (at the end) handing out presents to the kids as they left.
My roomie, Bob, makes merry. That's Marcus behind him. The new teacher Mike also made a brief appearance.
My roomie, Bob, makes merry. That’s Marcus behind him. The new teacher Mike also made a brief appearance.
I never really figured out what the Tarzan group had to do with Christmas, but kids are adorable, whatever you dress them in. It would have been nice if the school had given ANY interpretation or explanation of the event for non-Vietnamese speakers.
I never figured out what the Tarzan kids had to do with Christmas, but kids are adorable, whatever you dress them in. It would have been nice if I’d had even a little interpretation or explanation of the event for non-Vietnamese speakers, but I’ve come to understand that I won’t get that here. I’m simply learning to enjoy things in a clueless state.
A full house. It started with fireworks--and the whole cast (including the native English speakers) ran up on stage and waved for a solid minute while music played. The music is really, really blaring loud. Most was in English. There was a version of Jingle Bells played over and over. It reminded me of a Hip Hop style, but played by a polka band. Surreal.
A full house. The event was held outdoors under a canopy in the school’s courtyard entrance. It started with fireworks–and the whole cast (including the native English speakers) ran up on stage and waved for a solid minute while music played. The music was really, really blaring loud. Much of the music was in English, with a driving beat. There was a version of Jingle Bells played over and over. It reminded me of a Hip Hop style, but played by a polka band. Surreal.
Santa keeps the troops moving before the show. This is on the sidewalk, just outside the school entrance. The music was so loud I simply could not be inside the courtyard.
Santa keeps the troops moving before the show. This is on the sidewalk, just outside the school entrance/courtyard, where the program was held. The music was so loud I simply could not be inside the courtyard for long.
Don't you love Santa in sandals? And the fu manchu mustache is an interesting touch.
Don’t you love Santa in sandals? And the fu manchu mustaches are an interesting touch.
I felt really, really sorry for the monkey. His trainer was quite cruel and the act made me sad. He was on a very short leash with a choker collar.
I felt really, really sorry for the monkey. His trainer was quite cruel and the act made me sad. He was on a very short leash with a choker collar, here.
Poor monkey. His life must be terrible.
Poor monkey. His life must be terrible. That’s his cage in the corner. After the show I saw the trainer load all of it precariously onto his scooter and drive off.
This cutie sang during the program. Not sure about the pink cowboy boots, but she was so adorable.
This cutie sang during the program. Not sure about the pink cowboy boots, but she was so adorable.
The roll of the NES (native English speakers) seemed to be waving, smiling and handing out presents at the end of the program. Since it was too loud to be in the audience and we weren't needed during the program, Marcus, Bob and I went across the street where we could monitor the action and still hear the music. Mike went off for a beer and I never saw him again. I had a VERY fresh coconut water. This man chopped a hole in a coconut for me and gave me a straw.
The roll of the NES (native English speakers) seemed to be waving, smiling and handing out presents at the end of the program. Since it was too loud to be in the audience and we weren’t needed during the program, Marcus, Bob and I went across the street where we could monitor the action and still hear when the program was over. Mike went off for a beer and I never saw him again. I had a VERY fresh coconut water. This man chopped a hole in a coconut for me and gave me a straw.

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After the event, Bob has fun on stage.
After the event, Bob has fun on stage. The kids begged for the balloons and Bob was tall enough to reach some of them and hand them out. Balloons make everything better.

Merry Christmas from Viet Nam

Many of my friends have asked if they celebrate Christmas here. They do! I didn’t expect some much Western and Christian influence in a Communist country. This is a brief walk around my neighborhood to view decorations. Of course, they are prettier at night with all the lights, but my photographs wouldn’t be. All of these were taken this morning, in an hour’s stroll.

Most of the decorations went up in the last couple days, but this one has been up for at least 10. Santa with a sax, the Holy Family, a red Christmas tree, bows and black plastic representing.....what?
Most of the decorations went up in the last couple days, but this one has been up for at least 10. Santa with a sax, the Holy Family, a red Christmas tree, bows and black plastic representing…..what?

A friend from the interwebs suggested this article as explanation for the Santa with a sax.

“In China, Christmas is associated with Santa Claus as a saxophone player. This tradition stems from the popularity of a jazz-playing animatronic Santa doll mass-produced a few years ago.”

Interesting! I also found this:

“The saxophone is seen as a very Western thing, and Santa Claus is seen as a very Western thing, so it’s almost natural that they go together.”

A hotel lobby. There are several small hotels/guest houses nearby.
A hotel lobby. There are several small hotels/guest houses nearby.

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Interesting combination: A Japanese restaurant with Christmas decorations in Viet Nam.
Interesting combination: A Japanese restaurant with Christmas decorations in Viet Nam.

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A surprising number of Santas with saxophones. Who knew?
A surprising number of Santas with saxophones. Who knew?
It's mostly businesses decorated, not private homes.
It’s mostly businesses decorated, not private homes.
...and all the Santas are white with Western features.
…and all the Santas are white with Western features.
There are huge sheets of foil to represent snow--something few of them have ever seen.
There are huge sheets of foil to represent snow–something few of them have ever seen.
The decorations work better in some places than others....
The decorations work better in some places than others….
No idea what's going on with the decorations here, but it's not working for me.
No idea what’s going on with the decorations here, but it’s not working for me.
Since they have not seen snow, I'm not sure if they know that these are snowflakes.
Since they have not seen snow, I’m not sure if they know that these are snowflakes.
All the Christmas trees are fake. There are no pines here, at least none like we see in the states.
All the Christmas trees are fake. There are no pines here, at least none like we see in the states.
This is a paper mache tree with a Jesus/Mary/Joseph scene in the middle.
This is a paper mache tree with a Jesus/Mary/Joseph scene in the middle.
One of the few trees in a private home that I've seen.
One of the few trees in a private home that I’ve seen.

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