Thursday, March 31, 2011

Eventually the 'music' stopped

THURSDAY 31st March
The drums, and music began again with gusto at 5:30am!!! Yup, it was very loud, very raucous... and it continued, interspersed with speeches, until the Brass Band arrived after lunch.  They were all decked out in white, and there were at least 20 of them. When they started to play I ducked downstairs and shot a shot video.
The floral tributes have started to overflow up the laneway.

The Procession umbrellas were ready to go
At about 3pm I heard the Brass Band marching off down the street... apparently that’s when the procession with the coffin headed out. The mournful dirge they were playing was quite moving.
On the way to work, I ran into Dave, who was returning from the wedding. He was pretty ambivalent about it... being the only westerner, everyone wanted to have their photo taken with him, dance with him, and drink shots with him. When I got to work, Linh was saying that the bride cried a lot... by custom, she leaves her family and becomes part of the groom’s family – serving and waiting on the in-laws. She comes from a small rural community, so I guess life will be very different for her in the big city.
After work Eathen, Amie, Sarah and I  had dinner at a new restaurant, down a side road on the way home – Trong Thanh. The houses near-by are very up-market, and it is obviously aimed at the wealthier clientele. The food was pricey, and I only had 72,000D left (pay day today...) so I had Russian Salad (a kind of potato salad) and coke. They had a wall of fish tanks with the sea-food from the menu on display – turtles, huge lobsters, fish, eels, prawns and shellfish I didn’t recognise. You can point to your selection for dinner and know it’s fresh!
It was so nice to wake up this morning to birdsong and the odd hawker instead of funeral clamour!  I have 2 classes tonight to prepare for, but it no longer takes me over 2 hours for each class... I’m down to about 60-90 minutes... so I’ll read / watch TV / do my washing / talk to Katie this morning.
I got my pants back from the tailor, and she has done nothing other than add a back pocket to the front of the black pair. I’m really not sure it’s worth the bother of taking them back again... it’s certainly not worth having Sun as my intermediary, she’s not managing to get results!  I wore the grey ones to work last night and they are very uncomfortable. The only good thing is that my tops are loose and long so they cover up the awful mess around the waistband... but the low crutch and the legs too short?... not much I can cover up there!   Ah, Vietnam!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Hijacked at the funeral

TUESDAY, 29th March

9PM....  Oh my goodness, you wouldn’t believe what just happened to me!  I went down to the restaurant round the corner with Sarah for dinner, and on the way home as I was walking past the funeral a group of ladies started talking to me and urged me to sit down. They gave me some tea and a little dish with a fruit, a leaf and something dried (part of the funeral fare) then asked me to go with them. At this stage a young lady walked past and translated that they wanted me to go with them to their house. They were very friendly, so I agreed.

They grabbed hold of my arms, laughing and talking ten to the dozen and we headed off... down the lane that had fascinated me this morning! First we stopped at Dot’s house, went in and had some slivers of sugarcane. I met her 2 adult children who translated a little for us. I thought Dot looked like she had been crying... turns out her husband died only 7 months ago, so I guess funerals are still pretty raw for her. Anyway, she was laughing along with the rest of us at our attempts to communicate (none of them speak a word of English!). I’m not at all sure I have their names right, but it didn’t matter...
This is Laparm,  Dot, and Tang ... how could I resist their invitation!
Next stop down another alleyway was Tang’s house. It is quite beautiful, with quality furniture, obviously wealthy. Her poor husband was watching TV when we burst in, and after saying hello he quickly made himself scarce. These 3 Vietnamese women never stopped talking, trying to make me understand.. I was just parroting back as best I could, much to their delight. We sat there in that lovely house while Tang shouted for her children to come down and meet me, but either they weren’t home or they took no notice... By then they were dead keen to go and sing Karaoke at Laparm’s house, just across the lane. So we trooped over there (with them still wrapped around my arms). Again, the husband was watching TV and rapidly retreated in the face of the onslaught!  They set up the Karaoke and here they are, my gorgeous new Vietnamese friends!

They wanted me to sing too... the songs were Vietnamese so It was pretty funny when I had a go.  When it got to 9 o’clock they all walked me home... arm in arm, laughing and still talking a mile a minute!   Ah, Vietnam!

You know how it says in Psalm 37:4 Take delight in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart....  and only yesterday I commented on the lack of physical contact. And lo and behold, God brings along three lovely ladies at a funeral and I was smothered in hugs and hand-holdings and cuddles!.. even kisses on the cheek goodnight.
Unfortunately the funeral music is still blaring unabated... oh well for a while I couldn’t hear it!

A Blackout, a Funeral and a Policeman...

TUESDAY 29th March
We had a blackout this morning from 7am till now – 3pm.  There’s a housewarming (we think) going on just down the lane and when they were setting up the awning which stretches across the lane, they apparently upset the power-lines... anyway we’re back on line now but so is their PA... oh my goodness, they must all be deaf!  There is a lady singing a song that has been going without pause for at least 15 minutes... it sounds like an epic poem or something, cause the melody is just going round and round and it is so loud they’d be able to hear her in Hanoi!  This is accommodating guests Vietnamese style... just take over the road if there’s no footpath!

  ..neighbours watching.
Since it’s my day off, I was planning to do a load of washing first thing. Even though it’s not sunny, it is not cold today.  I had lunch at our laneway cafe, pointing to a few things not knowing what the yellow things were in the meat section... turned out to be chicken’s feet... Still it lunch cost me 12,000D (60c)!...
...compared to $5.00 for the prawns & cashew stir-fry and melon juice I had at the restaurant at the top of H Tower for lunch yesterday...

This morning I walked to the supermarket that Dave showed me when we first got here, but this time, instead of following the main roads, I took the laneway just near our house. What an amazing place... so many different houses (rich and poor), little shops and cafes, twists and turns. Some of the houses had little gardens, many had dogs, some had bird cages... all behind high gates and glass topped walls. There weren’t a lot of people about since it was in the middle of the day when many have a snooze. Next time I’ll take some photos coz it was so intriguing.
I did however take a picture of this building under construction... now there’s a very resourceful solution to the problem of how to support a lintel while the concrete’s still wet! This brickwork will be plastered over and possibly tiled, too.
You can’t really see it, but the props are Bamboo poles wedged on piles of bricks with a few boards tacked on for bracing!
I also took some pics of this stall selling Chinese Pottery outside the supermarket. What caught my eye were the fabulous crystalline glazes on those huge urns... The white ones were quite extroardinary...  Mountain Ash Pottery eat your heart out!

Well, you just never know what’s going to happen next in the big city... I just went downstairs when the singing changed to a cacophony of noise from some ‘musical’ instruments I don’t recognise...

I stepped outside the gate to take a video, because you’d have to hear it to believe it... and a policeman left the gathering I was filming and invited himself inside!
Turns out he was just being friendly and wanted to invite me over to his house to meet his wife who teaches English at a secondary school nearby! His name is Than and he has a son and a daughter at university in Hanoi who come home for the weekend once a month. He had limited English, but was very friendly. Apparently the ‘celebration’ is not a house-warming but a funeral, and will continue till about 9:30 tonight. Then tomorrow they will move the body to the cemetery. Than was very keen to get me to come over to his house this week, but I have to work in the evenings. He has my phone number and he gave me his and told me to ring him if there is every any trouble.  He lives not far from here, so I do hope we can become friends.
This is Than, my friendly neighbourhood policeman!

Monday, March 28, 2011

I was a smashing hit at the local market

MONDAY 28th March
Now that was a good book... quite engrossing.  In the meanwhile life goes on in Hai Phong.   Let me think back... Bowling was fun, although I was quite pathetic, only scoring 37 in my first game, but I did improve and doubled my score for the second game. And to think I’m so much better at it on the Wii...
Dave had been all aches and pains for a couple of days and he came down with a full blown gastric bug on Saturday night. By Sunday lunchtime he was wretched, so I got him some lemonade and did a load of washing for him and Amie gave him some of her anti-nausea drugs and he slept all arvo. Needless to say, we called off the house-warming party... maybe next Sunday.  This morning he’s looking much better (no longer like death warmed over) and managed to eat some breakfast. I scrubbed the bath upstairs (it was filthy) so he can have a long hot soak and rest up for today. He doesn’t have any classes till tomorrow night.
He patted me on the shoulder to say thanks and it made me realise that I haven’t had any human contact since I left home... no hugs, nothing but the occasional handshake!  And it’ll probably be like that till I get home – really appreciating family and friends!
The most exciting thing that’s happened in the last few days was at the local market.  Not far from school there’s a small market down a lane off the road I walk down every day. Up till yesterday, I hadn’t gone down to have a look, since on the way to school I’ve usually got no time and on the way home it’s shut.  So last night I finished teaching at 5pm and the market was still open. It’s pretty much like a grotty version of the markets elsewhere... in the laneway people sitting behind little piles of produce... fruit, vegies, eggs, noodles, chunks of meat, cooked  or whatever... Invariably I get pointed at and often laughed at, but other people smile and say hello.

I wandered into the undercover part where the stalls are bigger... food, clothing, kitchenware, shoes, chickens and ducks... all sorts of stuff. It was the end of the day, so it wasn’t busy. The walkway was probably about 3m wide. Then about 5m in front of me this man suddenly started up his motorbike and gunned it towards me. I don’t know if the throttle was sticky or if  he saw me and was shocked... either way, he came careening towards me with a startled look on his face. I managed to step out of his way and he only knocked my finger as he accelerated past, but by then he was wobbling wildly (still accelerating!). He just clipped a table loaded with crockery and smashed into a steel column. How embarrassing! As he shamefacedly started crawling out from under the bike he gave me the dirtiest look!! Like it was my fault he was an idiot!  People from all over were gathering to see what had happened and all eyes were on him, so I just kept walking. There were plenty there to help him and I couldn’t defend myself if he decided to try and say that I had caused the accident!
After that, my wander through a half closed market was a bit tame! As I stepped out into the laneway, a man grabbed me by the arm and pointed excitedly at some meat. He picked up a piece and waved it at me, obviously wanting me to buy it. Apart from the fact that I wasn’t shopping for meat, it looked like it had been sitting on the slab all day, and I didn’t recognise the kind of meat (and I didn’t really want to know). So I just smiled and said ‘No thank you!’ and kept on moving.
I stopped off at my Pho place and had fried rice for dinner... delicious. Then came home. Dave was on the improve so I made him some vegemite toast, then I settled into bed and finished reading House Rules.
Today is again overcast and cold. The forecast is for this weather to continue for another week. Oh well, it’ll be too hot before we know it. This week I have Tuesday and Saturday off, and only 14 hours teaching. The roster is always changing and seems to be all over the place. I would hate to always work like this. I sympathise with our hospital staff back home. I understand they have to put up with ad hoc rostering all the time. How on earth could you ever plan ahead? Surely a more efficient system could be designed, even if it was 2-3 weeks in rotation?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

‘Teacher, you have to do this..'

THURSDAY, 24th March

My students have a great sense of humour. Last night my beginner adults class were struggling with the th sound as in this, that, these and  those, so I was demonstrating that you have to put your tongue between your teeth so I could see it the beginning of the word. Several times during the lesson I went round each one trying to get them to say the words correctly. Anyway, towards the end of the class we were playing ‘What’s this?’ and I pulled out a Vietnamese English dictionary. Just to help them realise that It’s just as difficult for me to pronounce their words as it is for them to pronounce mine, I tried a few phrases... much to their delight. I was trying to say ‘xin loi’ when one wag (Terry) called out ‘Teacher, you have to do this...!’ and showed his tongue in an exaggerated position for making the L sound. The whole class cracked up. They are a lot of fun!

How the wealthy expats live

THURSDAY 24th March
Yesterday was Ladies Lunch at the Texas BBQ  again.  With Sarah still in Hanoi, Amie and I went along. This time we sat next to a lady from Denmark who was visiting her son and his family, and Lorraine, a lady from Britain, whose husband is here overseeing construction of a plastics factory. She has lived for years in Malaysia and loved it, but hasn’t connected with Hai Phong. She’s looking forward to going home in a couple of weeks to meet her new grandchild and may not come back.

Like most of the Wednesday ladies, she lives in a gated community which consists of a couple of apartment blocks with a big courtyard and modern western apartments (@ $60 US a night...). She invited Amie and I over and gave us a couple of novels she’s finished with (books in English are like hen’s teeth around here). This is her place...

Check out the sofa! I haven’t sat on a sofa since I left home!  Amie and I reckon we should drop in to visit her again then we can sit on the sofa and have a cuppa!
She has a balcony on both sides, too.
She’s up on the third floor and when I looked over the balcony we could see somebody’s  cooks preparing chicken for dinner:

I started reading one of the books Lorraine gave us last night – House Rules by Jodi Picoult.  It about an 18 year old boy who has Asperges who is accused of murder.  It’s going to be a great read.
We thought we probably wouldn’t get to see Lorraine again because we were off to the wedding next Wednesday and she would be gone by the next one... but last night Ann called Amie, Sarah and I into the office and told us we couldn’t go to the wedding because she was worried that if there was a traffic jam or something and the bus didn’t get back in time then classes would have to be cancelled... we weren’t too impressed!  But like she pointed out it’s not like we know Oscar really well and several of the Vietnamese staff who do cannot go either... Apparently the issue is that it’s on a Wednesday and out of town....   Blah blah blah... excuses, excuses!  But we can still put money in an envelope and it will be given to the Bride and groom!
Sarah came back from Hanoi yesterday with a new tattoo – a phoenix that covers the top of her left foot. She’s delighted with it.  Eathen came back from Hanoi with a haircut.
Last night was pizza night, so Dave and I caught a taxi home after the last class and we had Wedges and pizza for dinner at 10 o’clock...
We are hosting a house-warming party come Trivia night on Sunday (Dave knows lots of other teachers and locals) so I have been delegated to go to the supermarket and get party supplies since it’s my day off today. The weather has turned cold and bleak again, so I won’t go exploring Hai Phong today... I’ll curl up and read my book when I get back... if only we had a sofa!
I wore my new pants to work last night... the ones with the crutch halfway down to my knees and the waistband up to my armpits... and as I walked they rode up my legs till my red walking shoes were fully on display like a pair of clown boots!!! Needless to say, Sun and I are going back to the tailor tomorrow to see what she can do to try and fix them.
I just had a text message from Sarah... we Aussies are bowling against Europe this arvo at the local bowling alley, so I'll join in and then shop after that :)
And so life goes on in Hai Phong...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Yea! I worked out how to upload videos!!

This is a video I took out of the bus window as we headed out of Hai Phong for Hanoi. It's very typical of the streetscape around here. This next video is too...

Little darlings...

TUESDAY 22nd March
Wouldn’t you know it? I taught that hideous teenage class again tonight and they were co-operative and sweet and we had a great class...! Yukito, the girl I had the stand up confrontation with on Friday even asked me at the end of the lesson if she and her friend could come and visit me at my house!!!
And I got a wedding invitation! Oscar (one of the Vietnamese teachers) is getting married next week and we’ve all been invited.  It’s a morning thing at the bride’s village, so we are to meet at the school at 6:30am to catch a bus at 7!! Dave tells me that Vietnamese weddings are simply a gathering of people to eat and drink, then go – no ceremony or anything. Ann was saying the bus will return to the school at 4:30, but perhaps those rostered with classes that night shouldn’t go as they’ll be too tired. I wasn’t sure quite how to take that, since I usually teach 2 classes on Wednesdays. I certainly wouldn’t consider it if I can’t get prepared on Tuesday. But bottom line is , it will probably be the only Vietnamese wedding I will be invited to so I don’t want to miss it! This is my invitation:

Over here the wedding photos are all taken in the weeks before the wedding. They hire lots of different outfits, and the albums are finished ready for display on the day of the wedding. Here are a couple of Oscar and Ngoc Anh's wedding photos

I  only had one class tonight so I walked home with Dave and we stopped off for dinner at the place just near us where I stumbled in late and the father cooked me chips. Tonight, however, we were not late and shared a delicious plate of mực xào cần tỏi (stir fry squid and vegies), Vietnamese mint and rice. I thought of taking a photo way too late... it was nearly all gone... sorry.
Today the weather has been lovely... quite balmy and no sign of the 100% humidity we had yesterday. That’s right, the weather forecast was actually for 100% humidity!  I even got a load of washing done and dry!
It’s one month today since I left home and so much has happened! I wonder what tomorrow will bring? I will go to the ladies lunch at the Texas BarBQ and see what that leads to ... and I have 2 classes tomorrow night to prepare for. Since it’s only 10 o’clock and I’m all showered I think I’ll just watch a movie!

Hanoi at last!

TUESDAY 22nd March         I’ve Been To Hanoi At Last!
After our last class on Sunday (5pm), Sarah and I caught a taxi to the bus stop and a coach to Hanoi! Heather (from HJ Consultancy) asked us if we’d like to join her and some other teachers for dinner... and why not??  Since I only had one class to prepare for Monday night, I decided to go. Sarah has Monday and Tuesday off so she was definitely in. Amie was undecided till she got her roster and also had Monday and Tuesday off so she decided to come, but had to catch a later bus because she wasn’t packed and ready to go.

This is Sarah and me on the coach................... off to Hanoi!
When we started out there were only a few of us on the coach, but the nearer we got to Hanoi, the fuller it became till they had the aisle full of people sitting on little blue stools!  The on board movies were both kung fu.....
The trip took two and a half hours, then a ten minute taxi ride to our hotel.
We booked in to The Sports Hotel... a quaint little hotel in the French Quarter which is clean and comfortable for only $16 a night. This was my room:
We bustled off for dinner with Heather and other TESOL teachers at this Italian restaurant near St Joseph’s Cathedral ... an expensive rip-off by Vietnamese standards! But the company was great. Several had left before I took this pic..
It was very noisy when we arrived, so I didn’t catch everyone’s name, but they are from the back left: Mike, Des and Lynn Rees, ? and ?; and in the front row: yours truly, Mike’s fiancé, Sarah and Heather. They’ve all been teaching for way longer than we have and had many stories to share (all Aussies except Mike’s fiancé). I was sitting next to Lynn and it turns out we are both turning 60 in May!  They are living in Hanoi right in the middle of things, so I will get in touch next time I go  so we can catch up. She and her husband have been TESOL teaching for several years... 6 months on, 6 months off... in India and China. They did several stints at a University in central China which they loved and Lynn assured me that if I want to go there, she can get me the job no problem.  Now I’m actually teaching, I love teaching the adults. They are so keen to learn and are so much more responsive than the children (and don’t even mention teenagers!!!).
By the time we finished dinner, it was after 11pm.  Amie had arrived, checked in and gone out for a meal at her favourite vegetarian restaurant (... way better value than what we had! ...) and was waiting at the hotel. The girls were set on going out on the town, so it was time for Grandma to say goodnight and turn in...   I heard them come in at about 5.30 am...
Needless to say, next morning I went for a walk on my own. I was looking for a shop recommended to me called the Russian Shop in the Hanoi Tower, which stocks large sizes. I was hoping to pick up something warm. Anyway I walked to the Hanoi Tower and couldn't identify a Russian Shop... So I walked back via the lake. It was a pretty dreary old day, I look forward to seeing it in sunshine!
The Ngoc Son Temple in the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake in the middle of Hanoi
 This dear old gentleman was doing his exercises.
 I stopped for breakfast...

...but couldn’t go past this !
I didn’t take many photos walking around, which is a pity because the city is bustling and quite delightful...but here’s the couple I did take:
check out the tree trunk !

A motorbike carpark... I reckon one of the reasons everyone rides these is because they’re so easy to manoeuvre and to park. People simply drive them into the front room to park at night, and the footpath is the go during the day. When walking, it’s always an obstacle course. Even cars get driven into the front room... nothing is left parked on the street at night.
I found a pottery shop... she claimed that these pots are 1,000 years old and they are selling for $100... maybe she exaggerated just a little?

I also found a QX Viet Nam Hand Embroidery shop, which was simply breathtaking. There were a couple of ladies in traditional dress working on big frames. The colours of their silk threads was amazing. They sew with many threads at one time... at least 8... which stand to reason considering they are filling in large areas of colour and the threads are so fine.
The standout was a life-size portrait of an old man. He was set in a large double sided frame, which showed both his front and his back. He was slightly padded, so he stood out from the black background. I’m not sure if his clothing was real or painted on, but each strand of his hair was embroidered in white silk, and his cane was embroidered. He looked so real, you almost expected him to start talking, and he had the loveliest face. Next time I go there I will photograph him. I really hope I can budget to bring home one of the embroideries depicting ancient pieces of pottery. The are simply exquisite.
By the time I toddled back to the hotel it was 11.30 and the Do Not Disturb sign was still on Sarah’s door, so I checked out and caught a taxi to the bus station. Most of the scenery on the way home was grubby humanity, but there were a few places with rice paddies and vegie farms:
 rice paddies

 Tombs on rock outcrops

Since I won’t get my first pay till the end of the month, I borrowed 1,000,000 dong ($50) from Sarah so I could do the trip, but on the bus home I realised that I only had 50,000 left and the taxi from the school to the bus station had cost us 60,000, which meant I didn’t have enough to get home!  It was about 2:30 pm so I decided to go to the school and hope someone would be there who could lend me some money...  Then when I got off the bus one of many motorbike drivers came up. One said he’d take me to school for 30,000 so I jumped on behind and off we went. I really enjoy travelling pillion anyway, so that was all good!  When I got to the school, no one was there who could speak English anyway, so I shouldered my backpack and walked home!
After a shower and a chat to Katie on skype, I prepared the night’s lesson and walked back in to school. Apparently Eathen swapped a class with Dave and that gave him 3 days off (!) so Eathen has gone off to Hanoi to catch up with the girls.

Got my clothes from the tailor... can anyone lend me a sewing machine?

TUESDAY, 22nd March

When I got to work, Sun had picked up my clothes from the tailor (and I got 80,000D change.... money for dinner!).  The shirts fit really well... but the pants?????   Dear me!   She has put elastic in the waistband at the front, and  a flat waistband at the back... who does that????  And the crutch is about 3” too low... and the waist 3” too high at the front..... By the time I roll over the front to make the waist sit on my waist and the crutch wearable, they are too short... TALK ABOUT UNCOMFORTABLE!!!   The frustration is that I took a pair of shorts which fit really well to the tailor so she could cut a pattern off them, but oh no! she didn’t need them! ...  such a shame, because the fabric is fabulous!
Guess I’ll wear my comfortable clothes to work and get changed for the teaching... how unnecessary!   If I had a sewing machine here I could make some adjustments myself...  I will have to talk to Sun about the possibility of taking them back and getting the tailor to fix them...
Gripe, gripe....
But today is Tuesday, and Dave has lent me 2,000,000D to see me through till the end of the month. It was sunny when I got up so I did a load of washing and now it’s overcast again.  Because of the rainy weather, yesterday was incredibly humid even though it wasn’t even hot. Everything was covered in condensation... it was running down the internal windows of my room, on the banisters and walls and floor.  At school the whiteboards had to be constantly wiped or they were too wet to write on!  I guess that explains why all the buildings here look drab and old because of mould on the walls and windows!
This is the class I taught last night – 3E2eA:
Ben, Riley, Anna, Jess, Moon 1, Rosa, Tom, Eminem, Kevin, Robin, Moon 2, and Hannah.  Most of them are students except Robin, who’s an engineer and Anna, who’s an accountant.  A great class of ‘beginners’.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Ah yes, after the mountaintop, there's always a valley...

SATURDAY 19th March
Well there you go... after the high of teaching a great class last night, tonight I scored a class of non-cooperative, belligerent teenagers- mostly girls. It was a battle of wills to get them to do anything and the lesson was just horrible. I will have to pray for some strategies to counteract the power struggle. Silly thing is, they can do the written work so easily, but their speaking is not up to scratch. Maybe next time I have to teach them I’ll tell them to do all the bookwork in the first 20 minutes, then come up with a variety of activities that are not in the book... I just need to get them to do what I say without arguing! The CD player in the room wasn’t working tonight so I had the students read the script from my manual, but one girl declared that she was going to read the boy’s part and the boy was going to read the girl’s part. She was quite prepared to argue with me till I told her she could either do what she’s told or leave the room. She did comply churlishly, but that sort of confrontation leaves such an unpleasant atmosphere. And when I tried to get them playing a game, it took a ridiculously long time just to get them all out of their seats and lined up!  When the game finally got under way, they loved it!!!  AAARRGH.... teenage girls....
But then I had a new adults beginners class, who are delightful. Their spoken English is very poor, but they have an amazing written vocabulary. We played a game where they took turns to write any word beginning with particular letters of the alphabet, the longer the word, the more points they scored and these guys wrote words like application, manoeuvrability and navigation!!!    (Some of them must come from the Maritime College...) yet they can’t yet put together a few simple sentences with understandable pronunciation.  They will go ahead in leaps and bounds because they are so teachable.
Oh yes, and the thing that made today special was that we woke up to SUNSHINE!! It was a gorgeous day. When I walked to work at 4pm there was a really festive atmosphere on the streets... lots of people about, and especially lots of little children (who have been confined indoors during the rainy spell). The sun was still shining on the upper storeys of the buildings along the street and it was warm.  Now at midnight it’s cold again, which wont be a bother as soon as I go to bed!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Finally hit the 80:20 ratio!

FRIDAY 18th March
Yeaaay! Tonight I taught my first 80:20 class!!!.... that’s students speaking English 80% of the time and me only 20%. That’s the optimum teaching ratio but so hard to achieve as a novice.  Both my cases tonight were great, but the adult class was just fabulous. They all participated with gusto and we played lots of games and I managed to come up with interesting stuff to do on the spot and the 2 hours just flew by. We all thoroughly enjoyed the class and I think the students will be well satisfied.
The young’ns and I had dinner at Megans and agreed that it must be the convenient location that makes it the ‘in’ place coz the food is very ordinary. Poor old vegetarian Amie just cannot get it through that when she asks for vegetables and no meat, she wants a variety of vegetables (like we get in our meat dishes) not just a heap of water spinach... Turns out that Vietnamese call greens 'vegetables'... if you want carrots, or onion or capsicum etc, you need to specifically name them - they are not considered 'vegetables'...  I had my first beer ... I think it’s called Halinda and it’s quite a light beer they serve icy cold on tap here in Hai Phong.  A very large glass costs 10,000D (50c). I was thirsty and it wasn’t bad.
We left Megans at 11pm and Sarah and Eathen stopped off at the Tulip Bar, but Amie rode slowly and kept me company as I walked home which was very nice of her. Much better chatting along the way than striding along on my own!
So now it’s after midnight... not as cold as it has been, but too cold for a shower, so I’ll go to bed grubby.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A smelly puppy and a drunk

THURSDAY 17th March
Today was my day off but it has been cold (12o) and rainy all day. I was going to go to the supermarket coz I’m out of fruit and teabags, but Dave recommended staying in and keeping warm, so I did. I watched ‘Burlesque’ and ‘Alpha and Omega’ then at 5pm decided to wander down the lane to see if I could get something to eat. They weren’t open for business yet, but Bich was there... she has a little stall in the middle selling snacks and drinks and oil and essentials. So she invited me to sit down and poured me a glass of this awful bitter tea and we tried to communicate... Then her daughter came and sat down. She’s 25 and understands written English a little, so we ‘chatted' for a bit. I came home and got some of my family photos to show them and they were very interested.
There was a very scraggly (no fur) female dog wandering around that is obviously feeding pups and I commented on her. Next thing I knew, Bich was handing me a gorgeous fat little puppy to hold. It was way healthier than the mother, but it was so very smelly, I didn’t want to hang on to it too long. But I got the perfect excuse to put it down when it started to wee on me!  Lovely... It was very cold in this open space and Bich started to talk about me needing warmer clothing.  She came out with some knitting and held it up to my arm, then a crocheting pattern book pointing to a crocheted cardigan. I hope I misunderstood, but she may have been saying she intends to make me a cardigan or something, coz next she came out with a ball of white wool casting on a long row of stitches....
At about 6 the lady in the restaurant section brought out some food and people started drifting in out of the rain. One of them was a charming young man who spoke a little English. He came over and started to chat, then went over for dinner. After a bit, Bich sat me down at the table next to him and his friend for my dinner.  They are 21 year old Maritime College students studying navigation. He was good company. I had rice and green vegies (hot) and fish and pork (cold!). It all came in little bowls.  As they got up to go, a very loud drunk cane in shouting the odds. The little lady serving the food shouted him  down, but he had no intention of going anywhere. Maybe he lives there... there are at least 3 houses opening onto this covered area. Anyhow, my young cadet came back over and hovered protectively, explaining to me that the man was very drunk and was using foul language, but not to be concerned, just ignore him.  What a lovely considerate thing to do! He and his friend waved goodbye when I got up to leave.
A little excitement to flavour a day of bleak, miserable weather! Now I’m home, tucked up under the quilt all warm and toasty... very glad not to be out teaching tonight like all my housemates.  It’s only 7:30, so I will watch another movie before lights out.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Too cold and wet for students

WEDNESDAY, 16th March

Tonight I walked to school in the cold rain at about 5pm. I printed off my lesson plan and sorted some photocopying and was all ready to go by 5.45 (for my 7.30 class). So I went to the little canteen and had Bánh đa cua(crab) a delicious broth with rice noodles, vegies crab fritters and tofu. I was sitting with Ann (the boss) when one of the girls from Monday night’s class came in and rushed over saying “Why aren’t you teaching us tonight?” What is really cool is that I remembered her name (Henley) and the two friends with her and they were obviously pleased to see me.  Exactly what every new teacher would like to have happen in front of the Principal... J
So at 7.30 I toddled upstairs to my classroom all prepared, but no students turned up!!! This was supposed to be 10 of my Monday class of 21 students... more students had registered, so they split them into 3 classes, but tonight was so cold and rainy most of them stayed home and only 7 turned up, so they were all put together and I came home early!  That’s fine by me... I asked the receptionist to phone for a taxi for me, but she was having trouble getting through (a very busy night for taxis), so the doorman asked me if I would like to go by motorbike. I had my raincape, so I was quite happy about that, but I must admit the rain on my face was freezing! The poor doorman had taken off his good shoes and was wearing crocks... I can’t imagine how cold his toes must have been! ( I paid him double the going rate for his kindness).
So tonight I am unexpectedly at home alone again!  It’s Wednesday night, so Dave is going to order pizza again and we’ll be five around the table for the first time! Like a regular family...  Till then I think I’ll just watch a little telly.

Ladies Lunch for company wives

WEDNESDAY 16th March
Today it’s cold and rainy. Amie, Sarah and I went to the Texas Restaurant 10 minutes walk down the road (well I walked, they rode...) to join up with a group of ex-pat wives who meet there for lunch every Wednesday. There were nine of them – from Denmark, Sweden, Finland... I think they are all full time housewives, with husbands working with various companies in Hai Phong. Some have been here for years, and some have children here. They were talking about shopping in Hanoi, so I asked them how they get there? By private car... most of them have drivers, although it looked like several rode bikes to the restaurant today. They were delightful company.
A couple of them are keen to get us volunteer teaching at a near-by church. I think the students there are from fishing families, too poor to buy uniforms and pay for government schools. Marita (from Sweden – she’s been here for several years) was telling us about a couple of orphanages that they visit and support. One of them is a lady on her own who takes in handicapped children (agent orange victims) from local farm villages and looks after them for extended periods while their parents are busy working. We exchanged contact details, and will get involved down the track.
Apparently the people in Vietnam are very ignorant about HIV/AIDS. Anyone who contracts the disease is completely ostracised by their families. Only the church here (all Catholic) offer any assistance to these victims. Marita was telling us one such lady here. She got married and had a son, who became ill when he was about a year old. They took him to the hospital and he was diagnosed with HIV. When they tested the parents, both of them were also HIV+, the father having passed it on to the mother. Immediatel, the little family was cut off by their families and the community. The husband became very ill, and the wife had a to pay dearly to get someone to take them to the hospital. When they got there, they were ignored until she bribed someone else. But he died, and she was desperate. She went to the church and they assisted her and her son. The little boy is now 6 and she has a successful tailoring business and is supporting them both, and both are keeping well.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Hot Pot Dinner

SUNDAY 13th March
Today I taught my first children’s class... aged 7-11. They were boisterous, and we had to play lots of games as well as written work, but it was all good. I have found that every class I’ve taught, the students already know the vocabulary and much more, so if I just stuck to the curriculum they’d be bored silly in 10 minutes... let alone 2 hours!... but at the same time there are always a couple who are way behind the others. There is so much for this teacher to learn!
I got my first ‘real’ roster. This week I will  teach 2 classes on Monday and Tuesday nights, have both Wednesday and Thursday free (yea!), Then a 5:30 class on Friday night,  2 evening classes on Saturday, and the same kids class on Sunday as today.... 16 hours. Out of those 8 classes I get 3 classes twice and 2 classes once. So the good news is with that degree of continuity, I should be able to get to know my students quite quickly... thank God they have all adopted English nicknames to make it easier. Today I taught Batman, Tiger, Tom and Levi...
After classes finished, 10 of us went out to dinner to a new teachers welcome dinner. It was sumptuous. The restaurant was a BarBQ -  Hot Pot restaurant... Lẩu Tứ Xuyên .  Braziers are set into the table and you BarBQ your own meat...
L to R: that’s Linh, Frank, Lina, Amie, Eathen, Sarah, Dave and Ann
                    Squid, quail, and goat’s meat, pork, kangaroo (!), eel and fish.
Our Vietnamese colleagues are  a very cheerful bunch. This is Oscar, Linh, Frank and Lina. They all seem to really enjoy their work and life in general.
Then when you reckon no-one could eat any more. They bring out a big pot of soup that heaps of vegies, mushrooms, tofu, rice noodles etc gets tossed into and that’s the second course!

                                                 The aftermath of our banquet!
After that we all headed over to Megan’s for a Trivia night with a bunch of the English-language teachers from other schools. They're a rowdy bunch...

The winning team ... Sarah, Dave and Lance (USA)

At about 11pm Dave and I walked home while the young'ns went off to play pool. Unfortunately I didn’t realise till we were half way home (at a very brisk pace) that I was still wearing my teaching shoes, not my walking shoes... big mistake. By the time we got home I had blisters on the balls of my feet. Wont make that mistake again!