Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The end is near

As I write this I am packing because I will leave what has been my home for the past 8 weeks. The emotions I feel are conflicting. I am sad. I will miss my new friends, my students. I will miss coconut juice and sugarcane juice. I will miss the smiles, the waves, the "hello teacher" that greeted me wherever I went. I will miss the music at 5am, the street vendors, and the ladies in the cafeteria. 
And yet I am happy. I have done something not everyone gets to do. I will soon be back in my own bed, my own house. I will be able to eat in my own kitchen, I will use a microwave. I will drive. I will see my colleagues and friends whom I have missed, I will enjoy a beer at the Green Onion. Most  importantly, I will see my children. I will kiss them goodnight and I will enjoy their company. 

 The end is near. Tomorrow morning I will say Tam biết to KGCC. And while I still have another week in Vietnam, tomorrow I say goodbye to the place that has been my home for the past 8 weeks. It's difficult and yet it's not.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Happenings over the past few weeks.

I apologize for the long absence, believe it or not I have been quite busy over the past few weeks (despite what gets posted to Facebook) I am in the classrooms, observing but also teaching. I am giving presentations on American culture, history, customs, and anything else people may be interested in. So just a few highlights....
1. A few weeks ago I was asked to be a judge for the English Olympics. An academic decathlon sort of competition where participants were judged on their English abilities in various forums (general knowledge, impromptu speaking, prepared speech) yours truly was a sort of celebrity judge since it's not often that native English speakers are present and I was asked to prepare the questions that were used for the impromptu Q and A round.
2. At the competition I became acquainted with Mr Hieu, one of the organizers who promptly invited me to the wedding of one of his co workers (this is a common practice and it is expected that your guests will bring guests of their own). So I was fortunate enough to experience a Vietnamese wedding the next day. By comparison American weddings are down right boring (sorry Italians who think Italian weddings are crazy), i cannot completely describe here what it was all like but I will say there were fireworks present. Indoors. 
3. The same week I visited U minh thương National Park. It was quite fascinating and beautiful to explore on these tiny motor boats and to see some of the indigenous wildlife.
4. Then came the trip to Phu Quoc Island. A tropical paradise in the middle of the Bay of Thailand. The island was absolutely stunning. I did get a small taste of what awaited me back home though. All this time in Rạch Gia I have stood out and I have become accustomed to the stares and curious questions. The first thing I noticed on Phu Quoc was nobody stared, people really weren't interested in me (shocker I know) as I looked around I realized that I wasn't the only foreigner around. The island was full of tourists. Many of them westerners so I was definitely not a curiosity, just another potential customer. I did have the privelege of getting to know an Australian, a man and a woman from Slovakia, two ladies from Italy, a couple from France, and two British couples. All lived in Asia and had come to Phu Quoc "on holiday" (gotta love British English). 
5. During this time I did become sick (don't worry I'm fine) and I got an up close look at the Vietnamese medical system. Rest assured that my hosts took VERY good care of me during this time and I walked away with some rather interesting souvenirs (not everyone gets a copy of their bloodwork IN Vietnamese, right?) but I was out of commission for several days.
6. As far as teaching goes  I have been in a classroom almost everyday this week. They've also started allowing me to teach alone. I'm not sure who's more afraid, me or the students but needless to say it has been a learning experience for all of us.
7. Ok last thing. This week in addition to teaching alone I've decided to be more adventurous in my experiences so I finally decided to go out to eat, alone. Yes I've been doing it already but that's been on KGCC campus. The kitchen staff knows me and will slowly tell me my choices or will just bring something out to me (and hope I like it). I've been out to restaurants but always in the company of someone who would quickly translate my poor Vietnamese pronunciation for the poor waitstaff. One day I decided to go on my own, order on my own, pay on my own. I walked to a place about a quarter mile from campus and sat down. I wish I could describe the sheer look of terror on the faces of the two servers who had no idea what to do with a foreigner sitting in their restaurant. One approached and with a hesitant voice said "hello". I said hello and after a few seconds of silence I asked for "cơm tạm" (a rice dish with pork and egg). I didn't understand every word but I understood they had none left. So then I asked for "bùn ca" (fish pho basically) which they quickly brought out with an obvious sense of relief. After finishing I asked for the check, ( I understand numbers ) paid and left. Feeling confident I ventured out later that day for some banh đã and nước mía (rice paper and sugar cane juice, there's a picture on Facebook). 

So that's it, a busy couple of weeks which will only get busier but it's great and I'm learning so much and doing more than I thought I could. 

Tam Biết (goodbye) until next time.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

This week in Rạch Giá.

It's been a busy week, one filled with observations, presentations, and of course teaching. It's been interesting to be able to sit and watch both the differences and similarities in language teaching and I will definitely write about my observations. For now I just want to list a few things I've learned/ observed during my time here:
1. Sidewalks are not meant for walking, sidewalks are for parking your motorbike. 
I've been out for a few walks on my own and my instinct to walk on sidewalks was quickly changed because they are few and far between but the ones that are there are usually crowded with parked motorbikes. 
2. Never, never, never apply Deet immediately after shaving. It hurts. Trust me.
3. Speaking of Deet, there needs to be an addition to Murphy's Law that says the day you forget to apply Deet is the day you will be bitten by three Mosquitos. 
4. Speaking of Mosquitos, sleeping under a mosquito net is an experience all should have. It has taught me to be thorough in completing tasks because once I'm under the net it's too much trouble to crawl out and back in again. Forgot to turn off the light? Tough, I'm not leaving the net.
5. To quote Maimun Khan: "There is nothing else on the planet like fresh green coconut water" 
6. Except maybe ground up sugarcane juice. I can't decide which is better. 
7. Vietnamese coffee. Enough said. 
8. I need more junk in my trunk. 
Last weekend I was taken to the countryside again, this time to a place called Hòn Đẩt (I'll share my experiences there in another post). The trip took about 2 hrs (once again via motorbike) over less-than-ideal roads. At the end of the day I was very sore, I'm certain had I had more padding "back there" it would have been more comfortable. 

Me at Hòn Đẩt

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

New adventures

A lot has been happening this week and I've been kept rather busy. I've started observing classes here at KGCC and I must say the differences between students here and students in the United States are rather striking. In addition I've started teaching at one of the local high schools and have interacted rather extensively with those students. When I enter the room (in both the high school and KGCC) students rise and don't sit until I tell them to. In addition, whenever I see students in the hallways they always stop and do a slight bow. While a bit disconcerting at first now I fear I will expect this when I return (I'll try not to get too used to it). They say the more things change the more they stay the same. Students here can be seen laughing and giggling, playing on their cellphones, obsessed with someone's Facebook status and listening to popular music (one of the questions I've been asked is if I know Taylor Swift or Katy Perry). 

People have been friendly and extremely generous the entire time I've been here. Sandy Engel said I would be treated like a rock star and so far that has in fact been the case. I'm watched wherever I go, the braver souls jump at the opportunity to practice their English, the more timid ones stand in the background and try to absorb what I say. Whether in the grocery store, restaurants, or just out in public I draw attention. Not in a negative way mind you but as a sort of curiosity. I smile, wave, and use the Vietnamese I have learned. Children seem to be just as curious as the adults (a supply of Lifesavers candy seems to help) and tend to be braver in speaking--"hello. What's your name? How are you?"-are the things children shout at me wherever I go. 

No matter who, no matter what, no matter where I am greeted with a smile, a wave, or a slight head bow. Everyone, from the Rector to the youngest student seem to be doing their utmost to make me feel at home and to make me feel welcomed. Guess what? It's working. Despite the fact that I understand little (I'm starting to decipher a word here and there) and I feel lost a portion of the time, I feel very comfortable here. Vietnam is a beautiful country and the people are some of the friendliest I have ever met. 

One of the staff members asked me how I feel being in Vietnam for so long, away from my country and family--after thinking about it I told her "it feels right, it feels like I'm supposed to be here". So to those of you who are wondering, I will share the same comment--I'm well. It feels right to be here. 

One of the classes I've taught here

Monday, September 15, 2014


Food. Yes this entry will deal with food. I don't think I've ever had so much delicious food in my entire life. I don't think I've ever had such a wide variety of food either (when I return ask me about the goat and chicken hot pot). I had a small inkling of what to expect (from having visited Vietnamese restaurants in Utica) but I must say those meals came no where near to preparing me for the yummy ness of what I've experienced these past few days. For some reason I was under the impression that I would be losing weight on this trip, quite the opposite I'm afraid I may actually gain some considering the amount of food I've eaten.
Rach Gia is right on the coast, so obviously seafood is the preferred meat. You name it, I'm pretty sure I've had it over the past few days; shrimp, crab, squid, and numerous types of fish which have names that cannot be translated into English. In addition to seafood fresh vegetables are numerous as well. Except for the occasional lettuce or cabbage, most have names that cannot be translated either but rest assured they are delicious. I will be eating in the faculty dinning room and I have been told I need to inform the cook by 7 am if I will be eating because each morning she goes out and purchases fresh food for lunch and dinner.
Since words alone cannot describe the dishes (and a picture is worth a thousand words) I will leave you with a small sampling of images of the delicious meals I've enjoyed so far. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Rach Gia

I've been in Rach Gia now for a little over 24 hours and I must say I feel overwhelmed by the newness of it all. This is a busy place, everyone seems to either be doing something or on their way to do something. I understand why some of our visitors from KGCC describe Utica as "quiet". It truly is when compared to Rach Gia.
The drive to Rach Gia from Ho Chi Minh City was a memorable one. I'm not sure how to best describe the traffic here, "organized chaos" doesn't seem quite right. Signals and lines seem to be merely suggestions. Everything weaves in and out, sometimes going in the opposite direction. I am uncertain as to which car part is replaced most often, the brakes or the horn. Horns are used to indicate "hey I'm here" in addition to "get the heck out of my way". It all seems to work though, everyone gets to where they're going without incident.
 With all due respect to racing legend Dale Earnhardt, I truly believe that the title of "The Intimidator" goes to Mr. Trun, KGCC's driver. Riding shotgun with him is something everyone should do in this life. You have not experienced exhilaration until you've passed up a truck that is passing a bus on a two lane road while dozens of motorbikes (scooters) weave in and out and there's another car coming at you from the opposite direction (this happened on more than one occasion BTW). 
Speaking of motorbikes, yes I've gotten to ride one already (well on the back of one) and yes Sandy I wore the helmet. Ms. Thanh was piloting, aware of my trepidation she took things slowly and barring one MINOR incident with an umbrella we arrived at our destination in one piece. I think for future visits, MVCC should invest in a motorbike that visitors could use. Most importantly, I want to recommend that Mr. Trun should be our next visitor to MV. I can envision the AWESOMENESS that our CCED truck-driving program would be with him as the instructor.
Tạm biệt for now. 
Passing up a couple in the KGCC van

Thursday, September 11, 2014

I am here.

I have done it. I have arrived in Vietnam. Impressions so far? 
1. I grew up in Southern California, in the desert. I also spent time in Argentina where summers are hot and humid. After a few hours here I don't think I knew what heat was. Mind you I arrived here at night when it was cooler. I am certainly going to have a different idea of what "hot" is. 
2. People are very friendly, I met several people in Newark and later in Hong Kong who were also traveling to Vietnam. It's like we formed a small clique, helping each other with luggage and finding gates. We all had our reasons for coming here; some for work, some were visiting family, one gentleman was coming for a cousin's wedding, most were returning home. But once we discovered each other, that was it. Everyone looked out for each other. 
3. It never ceases to amaze me how much can be accomplished with a smile, hand gestures, and pointing to words in a dictionary. 

This post will be short, hey I've been here only 6 hours, but to those who have asked Sandy; yes I'm here, I'm safe, and I'm anxious to explore.