Will my body ever adjust?

Remember the guard who wanted to help push me from behind onto the tall stool? This is him. He decided to keep me company while I had my drink.
Remember the guard who wanted to help push me from behind onto the tall stool? This is him. He decided to keep me company while I had my drink.

1/3/2015
“Naturally” the school schedule changed again—three schedules already for January! I had prepared two classes for Friday and Saturday (since I was traveling, I was trying to work ahead) and now that is a total waste. Sigh. Also notice that I have no more 25-45 minute classes. Only 15 minutes, like before.

The new teacher, Mike, is gone. I had no idea he was a short timer here. He is back in Ho Chi Minh City teaching at his old school. I take it this was the plan all along, but no one told me. Or at least it was HIS plan? And, naturally, Mike borrowed money from me, Bob and Marcus. Don’t suppose we will ever see any of that again. No good deed….

1/9/2015
The Grocery store downstairs at the apartment complex seems to have closed. It didn’t carry much, but I could get the occasional cold beer or ice cream after work. (Note: it was closed for a week then opened again, with irregular hours. I can’t figure out the schedule) It opened about the time I got here, so only three months. In October they sent around a survey asking what we’d like in the store. I said peanut butter, butter and wine, but those things didn’t come. No fresh foods. They only carried yogurt for the first month, It’s mostly high priced snack foods, candy, cookies, crackers and instant soup. It’s not much of a loss, but I did like it. On the positive side, it’s probably going to keep me eating healthy.

My milk tea.
My milk tea.

Outside as I write this, there is a training going on for our guards about fire safety. They are practicing using the fire extinguishers, which is good. Nice to see some training going on. In an emergency, it’s good to have practiced, even once!
Just back from the school (to copy my weekend lessons) and the store (Coop Mart) for a few items I can’t get in the neighborhood. I am now several jars of peanut butter, two loaves of bread, a stick of butter, and frozen bao ahead. None of these items are available within walking distance.

What concerns me is that I’m shaky and a little spacy this morning. Didn’t notice it until I left the apartment. Trust me: I’ve had my two cups of coffee, so it isn’t caffeine withdrawal. And a full breakfast with two eggs and lots of veggies with a little cheese, so it shouldn’t be low blood sugar. I swear I’m tired of being sick! And I sweat constantly—literally sweat dropping from my nose. It’s become a normal activity, but it is annoying and I look so awful. And this is the cool season.

While I was at Coop Mart, I went up to the top floor book store. I got a couple books, geared for children, which give words in English and Vietnamese. My learning level is very basic, so this should help. I lost my beloved Vietnamese vocabulary notebook and lost a lot of the words I was working on. Two women befriended me and introduced themselves as English teachers at a center nearby. Their English was quite basic—better than my Vietnamese, though—but not good enough that I would have thought they were teachers! They were NOT impressed with the books I bought. “Dat fur baby,” one said. “In Vietnamese, I am a baby.” Her response was one of surprise, asking why I learned just words and not sentences. “I need words,” I said, simply. And then, in what I suppose was English, I was told I should “NEVA” learn “juss wor” only senTEEN.” Obviously, she is entitled to her (mispronounced) opinion. I don’t agree. Sentences and grammar ARE important, but useless without vocabulary.

Last night I tried a new activity to start off class, one I learned by watching William’s class this week. It requires you to ask and answer a few written questions very fast, but you get to do it several times. My hope is that it gets a lot of speaking practice in a short time and the speed forces you to think in the second language (L2 See? I’m even learning the lingo!) The only problem is that it takes an even number of students, so if there is an odd number, I have to participate, which the kids seem to love. One of the questions was “what year were you born?” They all seemed SHOCKED when I gave my birth year. Every one of them had to ask the question a second time! Most of them were born in 2001. That was shocking to me! I’m sure I must seem ancient to them.

Last night I was so excited about my classes when I went into the first one. Thought I had two good lesson plans. The first went fine—lots to keep them busy, both physically and mentally. I felt good–like I’m finally beginning to understand how to teach. But in the second class, Firefly, it didn’t seem like they liked the class much. They didn’t get much from The Sword-fight (scene from The Princess Bride) and only a little from Interjections (music video from Schoolhouse Rock). And at the end of class, Billy, one of my favorite Firefly students, said that I didn’t look good, like I was sick. And I am, but no woman wants to hear she doesn’t look good! (Even if it is true and told by someone who is concerned for your health.) So I came home depressed and went to bed early. Good thing I don’t drink. And the store wasn’t open so I could buy chocolate ice cream. I didn’t sleep well. I could use a nap.

I finally had to ask what this was. It's a bicycle tire, wound with colorful tape. It's basically an advertisement--bicycles and scooters are fixed here.
I finally had to ask what this was. It’s a bicycle tire, wound with colorful tape. It’s basically an advertisement–bicycles and scooters are fixed here.

1/10/15
Oh Joy. Another new schedule for January. That’s 4, and it’s only the tenth of the month. Not likely this is the last one, either. My days off have changed again, so it’s not possible to plan ahead. But my “favorite” is a new teacher training. On SATURDAY nights from 7:30p-9:10p. All the Saturday nights. Of course, we aren’t paid for it and it’s mandatory. This place just keeps getting better.

No idea.....
No idea…..

1/14/15
Had a surprise class observation from Khanh (business manager and common-law-wife of the owner) last night. It was a good class and she conceded that my Teacher Talking Time (TTT) was good and generally said positive things, though in a tone that made me feel I was being chewed out. I’m so confused.

Though I think I am learning and getting better at teaching, my worst classes are WE Intro and WE1 (World English, adults with little to no English skills, the lowest levels). I’ve been asking for help with these classes since the beginning. I need better activities for adults. Specifically I’d like ideas of how to practice vocabulary and structures with this age group without doing kid’s activities. I have issues with getting them to talk at all. I would not be offended if the school would prefer I did not teach Liberty or any early WE classes (that won’t happen). I expect I’ll have another observation by Marcus this week too.

Saturday night, after working all day (first Saturday class is at 7:45a), we were required to sit through a teacher training class until 9:10p). Most of us had to teach the next morning, too. The activities that Marcus shared were fine, but I had trouble following his directions. I didn’t understand most of the exercises until he was through, which makes it hard to take notes. But, IMHO, many of the listening activities will not work here, since the speakers are blown in most classrooms. As a native English speaker, I had extreme trouble with the final listening exercise (the best one)–part of it was the speakers, as well as heavily accented English.  And the teachers were talking non-stop (I’m sure they didn’t want to be there either but they would NEVER want their students to talk so much!). I found the whole thing depressing. I barely got through the meeting without screaming at someone–simply kept my mouth shut and head down. Was glad just to make it to my bed without losing my mind. Went to sleep in a horrible mood and it wasn’t much improved the next morning. If it had not been a day off, I would have simply called in sick for fear of what bad behavior I might exhibit.

I hate working so many days in a row and ending them on such a negative note. I end up spending my days off recovering—physically and mentally. I’m trying to see this experience as “teacher training boot camp.” But it’s loosing it’s charm.

The honeymoon is clearly over. But the adjustment period isn’t.

A very basic public bathroom. You have to fill the red container (a Tide soap bottle) with water from the blue drum and dump it into the toilet because there's no running water in the stall. And most of the doors don't close either. And you get this luxury for 3,000VND (about 15 cents).
A very basic public bathroom. You have to fill the red container (a Tide soap bottle) with water from the blue drum and dump it into the toilet because there’s no running water in the stall. And most of the doors don’t close either. And you get this luxury for 3,000VND (about 15 cents).

Random thoughts from SE Asia

Not posted for a bit. Things are changing here and I’m not quite ready to post it all yet, but I’m alive, well and still living in Bien Hoa, Viet Nam. I have been working very hard at becoming a decent English teacher–it’s a more difficult job than you would think and I spend more time preparing classes than giving them. Hope it will all pay off, eventually. At least I think my classes are better than when I started with less lecture from me and more opportunities for my students to practice conversation. In the meantime, a few random thoughts:

Cotton candy—there’s a section of the main road that I pass daily and I swear I smell cotton candy. It’s not every time I go by, but often. Can’t seem to find the source, but what else would smell like cotton candy? It makes me hungry!

imagesDurian–I accidentally bought an ice cream cone. OK, I meant to buy the ice cream. It but said “socola” which I know is chocolate, so how bad could it be? Well, my first bite was not as pleasant as I’d hoped. Once I got past the chocolate coating, the ice cream was….green….and not lime flavored, either. What it turned out to be was durian ice cream coated in chocolate. It’s not the taste. It’s the smell, which is off-putting. The taste is ok. Not my favorite, but the chocolate makes it palatable. I would have preferred vanilla or, well, just about any other flavor on the planet. Durian is a SE Asian fruit and it’s an acquired taste … and smell. It’s banned on public transportation and nice hotels throughout the area. In American, it is only sold in a few ethnic groceries and then frozen solid. I’ve tried the fruit a couple different ways and survived. I decided that this would be just another culinary experience. And this might be the last time I try it, too. Durian ice cream “repeats” on you. And it doesn’t taste so good the second time around.

Passengers gives hand signals—I don’t understand how this happens, but when hand signals are given by a motorist, it’s always by the passengers. I’m not talking about left turn signals, I just mean a hand put out to say, “We are moving into your lane illegally, please slow down and let us through.” I guess it’s hard for me to trust the information of someone who isn’t actually controlling the bike or car. But so far, it’s always been right. Still, I feel I take my life in my hands every time I get on the scooter.

Ants—I will never win the battle of the ants, but the daily skirmishes are greatly reduced. When I first arrived, it was thousands of ants to sweep up every morning. Within a month it was a few hundred. Now it’s just a few dozen. Amazing what constant cleaning can do, huh?

The bat—while the ant problem seems to be decreasing, the fruit bat is worse. He’s been visiting us every evening and leaving a “pile” on the utility porch to clean every morning. It’s a hideous, sticky mess of overripe fruit, seeds and feces. Bob got up on a ledge and sprayed the light fixture (that the bat hangs from) with a cleaning solution in the hope that he/she (how could I tell?) will hate the smell and stop visiting. So far it has worked. BTW, being a bat must be the most unsanitary situation. They hang upside down at rest. To have your nether parts above your head and then “go” can’t be pleasant. Gravity being what it is, it must take some serious contortions to keep clean! If there’s anything to this reincarnation thing, I do not want to come back as a bat.

Random thoughts from a foreign land

The construction is constant! There's always a new business opening up (and closing), new home construction or improvement. No idea what's going on here, but they are hard at work on Christmas day.
The construction is constant! There’s always a new business opening up (and closing), new home construction or improvement. No idea what’s going on here, but they are hard at work on Christmas day.

Some of the funny things I’ve seen lately:

  • Sports jersey with “Death” printed on the back, worn by tiny, young teenaged girl. She had a big smile and a pink, flowery headband. Can you say incongruous?
  • T-shirt with Obama picture and slogan “Yes, we San!” Suspect typos are sold here since no one knows.
  • Tiny, Vietnamese man, singing “All About The Base”, an octave too high.
I tried a new pizza parlor near my apartment. Well.....it looked like pizza, but it wasn't quite pizza. It will do in a pinch, but somehow I've turned into a pizza snob and want the real thing. Not going to find it here. And as much as that looks like bacon, it isn't. It's pork belly, but not cured. No idea why there is mayo on this and the cheese is tasteless. The toppings were cold, but the pizza hot. It was served with catchup and hot sauce.
I tried a new pizza parlor near my apartment. Well…..it looked like pizza, but it wasn’t quite pizza. It will do in a pinch, but somehow I’ve turned into a pizza snob and want the real thing. Not going to find it here. And as much as that looks like bacon, it isn’t. It’s pork belly, but not cured. No idea why there is mayo on this and the cheese is tasteless. The toppings were cold, but the pizza hot. It was served with catchup and hot sauce.

Have been seeing far more rats than I’d like–and during the daytime. There’s lots of garbage for them to eat and cover for them to hide in. Not surprised, but not enjoying it. either.

Selling jackfruit. The aroma is distinctive--overly sweet, like pears that are just a touch too ripe.
Selling jackfruit. The aroma is distinctive–overly sweet, like pears that are just a touch too ripe.

Had almost forgotten about that silly baggy pants fashion back in The States. Saw a teenager wearing his pants low and showing most of his boxers today. It really looked out of place here.

Vietnam is a comunist country, so there's no official religion. Bien Hoa is mostly Catholic, but the rest of the area is Buddhist. This is a Buddhist nun and the first one I've seen here. They must beg for their food and can eat two meals a day. I gave her enough for lunch.
Vietnam is a Communist country, so there’s no official religion. Bien Hoa is mostly Catholic, but the rest of the country is mostly Buddhist. This is a Buddhist nun, the first one I’ve seen here. They must beg for their food and can eat two meals a day. I gave her enough for lunch.

Spent most of my holiday working on English lessons–mostly English music. It’s a good way to explain expressions, practice listening, learn vocabulary in context and the kids love it. I ask discussion questions and they work in in small groups to practice talking. Less “sure” students are more likely to talk in a small group than raise their hand in class and risk making a fool of themselves. I also worked up three reading comprehension exercises on varied topics that I think will interest students and teach vocabulary. I try to pick short, unusual topics. One of my readings is about a woman who fell from a plane and survived!

Flowers everywhere.
Flowers everywhere.

Bats, dragons and pirates, oh MY!

I learn a lot of Vietnamese from signs or the grocery store. Tra is tea. Chanh is lemon (thought it is what we would call a lime). Dal is Apple. The fruit in the middle is Dragon Fruit, or Thanh Long. And the candy is often given instead of change of 500vnd, about 2.5 cents.

I learn a lot of Vietnamese from signs or the grocery store. Tra is tea. Chanh is lemon (thought it is what we would call a lime). Dal is Apple. The fruit in the middle is Dragon Fruit, or Thanh Long. And the candy is often given instead of change of 500vnd, about 2.5 cents.

12/7/14
A couple of nights ago, I came home after a double shift, just short of 10p. I noticed stuff on my bathroom floor–a couple pieces of partially eaten fruit, some leaves and dirt. Bob and I don’t share a bathroom. He has an ensuite bathroom and I use the one open to the living room, near my bedroom. So I asked Bob what’s up and he has no idea what I’m talking about. He mentions the pile of dirt on the utility balcony next to the wastebasket and asks where that came from. I say that I saw it the day before, but was, frankly, a little put out at cleaning up another big mess I hadn’t made. Bob says he didn’t make either mess, but he cleans up the balcony (which does make me feel better, because I had decided that mess on the balcony could stay there for the rest of my life what-did-I-care!) Neither of us had any idea what caused this.

The next morning, Bob said he had found a quarter-sized dollop of loose feces on his bedroom floor. Ick! He also admitted that he might have left the utility balcony door open when he left for school.

Last night, I explained the situation to Marcus, who was mystified. Other teachers kept saying “mice” or “rats.” But I knew that wasn’t it. One suggested a cat, but we are on the fifth floor and that seemed unlikely. Besides, a cat would still be in the apartment, right? They all ruled out monkeys. Then Thom came in and suggested fruit bats. I’ve seen small bats here, but fruit bats are quite large. I think that’s the answer. Lesson learned! Close the exterior doors every time. And I may keep my bedroom door closed too, just in case.

The market new the school.
The market new the school.
Market near the school.
Market near the school.
Market near the school.
Market near the school.

Had a horrible class with my least favorite students, Dragons. They are about to finish the level they are in, but probably all of them will move to the next. I think I have to either ask never to teach them again or kick out half the class each lesson. Honestly, they were so bad, I was ashamed of their behavior. Yelling, throwing things, talking, and they left the room a huge mess. Can I reject a class of students?

12/5/14
My Vietnamese comes in handy again today! I had a student who was really put out that an English word had two very different meanings. I let him vent for half a minute, then told him that while this was unfortunate, it happened in every language. “No!” he assured me. “In Vietnamese, each word mean ONE ting!”  (the -th sound is tough)
“OK,” I said. “What does duong mean?”
“Sugar,” came the curt reply.
“And?”
“Uh….Street,” he added sheepishly.
“What does da mean?”
“Rock.”
“And?”
“Kick,” he said more quietly.
“AND??”
“Ice. OK, Teacha.”
I sooooo seldom get to be right. I really love it when it happens. (any Vietnamese are probably cringing right now. The words I used have inflection and diacritical marks, but I’ve not sued them. Sorry.)

My favorite Banh Mi seller slices meat for my sandwich.
My favorite Banh Mi seller slices meat for my sandwich.
The husband toasts the bread.
The husband toasts the bread.

So, according to Marcus, we are getting another native English speaking (NES) teacher on Monday. The last I heard we were at capacity, so this is a surprise to me. No idea if it’s a man or woman or their age. Marcus said there had been complaints that there were too few NES (native English speakers) in each class. And with all the sickness we’ve had, I’m sure we have been short. Wonder where they are putting the new teacher? Gotta live somewhere. And nothing has been said about any arrangements, like lending them the scooter or anything. I wish the communication was better. Or I was less paranoid.

I woke up around 5am and decided just to get to work on a few things. I needed a new short reading to use in class and I found some news articles. I took out some of the more difficult words and phrases, defined the words I thought might not be known. Then, added reading comprehension questions. It took a couple hours. So the reading I started today is about a restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City with a food challenge—eat a huge bowl of pho (noodle soup) and win 1 million Vietnamese Dong (about $50). This was very novel to the two groups I gave it to this evening. They seemed to enjoy it, learn a few more words and got some reading comprehension practice with current events. Last week’s reading was about pirates, because how else can you teach vocabulary like eye patch, peg leg, skull and cross bones and introduce phrases like walk the plank!

Went out to dinner with others from the school.
Went out to dinner with others from the school.
Beef steak with egg and cheese. (Bit-Tet trung, pho Mai)
Beef steak with egg and cheese. (Bit-Tet trung, pho Mai)
Bit-Tet is beef steak. Trung is fried egg. Pho Mai is a soft cheese. Xuc xich is hot dog. Ca is fish.
Bit-Tet is beef steak. Trung is fried egg. Pho Mai is a soft cheese. Xuc xich is hot dog. Ca is fish.
Andy's plate of Bit tik-- beef steak.
Andy’s plate of Bit-tek– beef steak.
Tra sua (milk tea)
Tra sua (milk tea)
Sunday I saw several small shrines like this-- not sure if it was a special holiday or just because it was Sunday.
Sunday I saw several small shrines like this– not sure if it was a special holiday or just because it was Sunday.