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.