Friday, September 30, 2011

Severe Storm warning - classes cancelled

FRIDAY 30th September

There was such a severe storm forecast for today that all the schools in Hai Phong were closed... First up, I had a call from Net cancelling the morning church class as the rain and wind began. Khanh and Xuan turned up at 8:15am anyway, so they came in and we chatted to Katie on skype while I ate my breakfast..

.. until we had a blackout. I got a call from Lynh to say that VAIE had decided to cancel the evening's classes as well, and would be closing the office before lunch. So Khanh and I donned rain capes and headed out into the rain so I could finish cleaning out my locker and pick up my final pay packet. Most shops and businesses were closed and there wasn't much traffic about. Many trees had been lopped where branches were overhanging power-lines. Only a few hardy market stall-holders were still braving the elements. Khanh said they sell out of stock very quickly when there's a storm warning as people hurry to stock up.
    We decided to invite ourselves over to Gene and Becki's since we all had the day off. I asked Khanh if he knew where they lived and he said he did (not realising that they had moved recently). So he gave Xuan directions and Xuan headed off into the rain on his bicycle while I locked the gate. When we got to the street at the end of our lane, we began heading in the wrong direction and I realised Khanh thought they still lived out next to the International School! By the time we caught up to Xuan he was half way across the bridge... Khanh shouted at him and we chucked a U-ey right in the middle of the bridge and headed back in the right direction... wind blowing, pouring rain, puddles deepening. We passed a telegraph pole sagging on its wires completely broken off at the base - obviously the source of the blackout - with a crew of men working to fix it in the rain.
    Gene and Becki live in an out-of-the-way place down a convoluted twist of streets and laneways that is very difficult to find and I hadn't checked the directions because I thought Khanh knew the way... Needless to say, we got totally lost. Xuan was trailing behind on his bike and he quickly worked out that it was wise to wait at each corner to see if we were going to turn around and come back it happened so often! After about 10 minutes we decided we should just head for home when I recognised where we were, so we turned around and had another go... and came to another dead end. This time I phoned Gene and she was telling me directions as we finally got on track - almost. We stopped for the umpteenth time, lost again. I was still talking to Gene on the phone and she told me to look behind me - and there she was 2 streets over waving from her doorstep (there are only a few houses in her neighbourhood). We still overshot the turnoff, but Xuan stopped there and waited for us to turn around. Again.
    We were very wet and muddy when we bundled into the house, bikes and all. Gene took me upstairs and lent me a dry pair of pants, but the boys just toughed it out without complaint. The wind was rattling the door and we could hear the rain but it was very pleasant sitting around the table in their kitchen. We decided to order home delivery from Texas BarBQ and had a feast of ribs, burritos and pizza for lunch

definitely comfort food...

    After lunch we left the girls to enjoy a lazy wet afternoon and headed out into the storm to come home. We only got a little bit lost getting out to the street and came home to find the blackout over. Again the bikes came inside (here there is a curious custom of leaving shoes at the door but bringing bikes and cars right into the living room - hmmmm) and the boys and I played darts - enthusiastically, if not very well.

Being highy competitive as young men are, the losers had to do ten push-ups (them) or sing a song (me)... and we all took a turn at the penalty several times over.

Tony was busy sorting papers.

Lost again... ten more push-ups.

    We watched TV for a while and by 5:30pm it wasn't even raining much. This has happened three times since I've been here - severe storm warning, the city closes down, classes are cancelled and by nightfall it's just a quiet peaceful evening... not windy, a bit of sprinkling rain. Apparently last year there were such violent storms lives were lost, so nobody takes any chances.

    Then Katie called and I got to talk to Greg and Gemma on skype and see little Caelyn. I took these photos as we were talking. Isn't technology amazing?
Caelyn at five weeks

In four weeks and three days I will get to cuddle my family.

    Khanh and Xuan and I decided to head out and see what was open for dinner since I was celebrating the end of my contract. We rode around the block (with a detour to avoid flooded roads) and eventually ended up in the twelfth floor restaurant at H Tower for a lovely dinner.

And so ended my delightful day... quite different from what I expected for my last day of work in Viet Nam!  God bless Khanh and Xuan!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

My very own gấu bông

THURSDAY 29th September

Tonight I handed back all my teachers books except the ones I need for my last couple of classes... then taught these gorgeous young people from 1E1eB
Back row:  Kyn, Rose, Jamie and Jimmy
Middle row:   Peter, Maria, Cindy and Kate
Front row:   Wendy, Physic and Julie

When we came back from the break, they gave me this gorgeous little gấu bông (go bomb) 

so of course I carried him around for the rest of the class... and for the photos...

 with Cindy 
(oops... forgot to take my hair out)
 and Wendy 
(aah... much better)

 and this is Jimmy. 
Lots and lots of photos - cameras and mobile phones all over the place
 OMG - how embarassing
 Jamie took lots of photos before being in one

and last but not least, this little wee lass is Lotus, my TA.

My Last week of Teaching

TUESDAY 27th September

This week is a continuous stream of last classes but it hasn't really sunk in yet that I'll actually finish up tomorrow. As I've said goodbye to my regular classes, we take photos and they say they are sorry to see me go, which is nice to hear.
On Tuesday morning, it was my 3-4 year olds Kindergarten class:

These pictures were so gorgeous, I posted both of them

These two classes were on Tuesday night at VAIE:   
This lively bunch of bright sparks is KET1E1o - Back Row - Peter, Dave, Jennifer, Jenny. Front Row - Mickey, Dragon, Tony and Tiger.

and 1E2oA - Back Row: May, Mark, Peter, Max, Anh, Alex, Bella
Front Row:  Lily, Seven, Obama, Sushi and Jenny

WEDNESDAY 28th September

My day began when Khanh picked me up at 6:45am to take me to watch him play soccer at a 7:30am game for the uni, then Hero took me to the church class at 8:30 and then dropped me off at Sunflower so I could go with Helle to lunch with the Wednesday girls at BKK, a Thai restaurant in town. Then Maria dropped me home, I had a brief nap, looked at the night's lessons and Mr Cuong picked me up to take me to school at 4.... finished teaching at 9:30 and one of the security guards dropped me home.... 8 trips with 7 different people!    Won't life in Coffs feel tame!

Now here's the pictures from my day, beginning with a tour of Khanh's university - Hai Phong Maritime University. Khanh's class was playing soccer in the opening match of the inter-varsity season, so I went along to cheer him on. Hero came too, to keep me company while Khanh was with his team.  We took a look around before the match... this is 7am... classes begin at 6am here... (Xuan arrived a little later.)

How beautiful are these bonsais... and Hero, too of course...

The teams took the athletes pledge and each team captain was presented with a flower. To my surprise, the Umpire (in the yellow shirt) came over an gave me his! I guess I stood out like a sore toe amongst all the students... they probably wondered how I came to be there.

Khanh is no. 9...
 We've had a lot of rain lately and you can see how muddy the ground is - the ball came to a dead stop every time it ran into a patch of mud!
The final score was a nil all draw, but I had to go to teach the church class at 8:30.

I took this photo of Hero getting his bike out of the parking lot... just a few bikes... and you wouldn't believe how many bicycles they can park in a small space.
After the church class, I went with the Wednesday ladies to BKK Restaurant for a green prawn curry lunch, which was delicious, then home again. When Mr Coung dropped me off for the evening classes, Bich was sitting outside with one of the security guards - Phong. Ian reckons he looks like a Vietnamese version of Sargeant Gilroy from A Country Practice. Waddayarekon?
Phong and Bich

This evening's class goodbyes were to 1E1eC - lovely class...
Back Row: Tommy, James, Alex, River, Max, and John
Middle Row:  Rose, Carlos, Pink, Candy, Try and Pheonix
Front Row:  Kate, Ruby and Anna

THURSDAY 29th September
I woke up this morning with my thoughts jumping between classes, travel plans and home... so much to think about!

Today was my last time teaching the Kindies at Mr Thanh's school

Today Gene came with me and we had fun. She's the first to admit that singing is not one of her strengths. And of course, I do a lot of singing in my classes with these littlies. When Jean joined in with her low register the kids stopped singing and stared in wonder. It was priceless!
These 5 year olds are so responsive, it's a joy to teach them... and sad to say good-bye
Miss Tran Anh always walks me across the road to the taxi with an umbrella to shade me from the sun... or keep the rain off...

The taxi driver waits for the hour that I'm teaching... relaxing...
He was sleeping so soundly we had to shake him to wake him up!  :)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Madame Tra and Bun Cha

MONDAY 26th September

Today I taught the church class for Tony, because he went to Do Son for some R&R last night. It was great as usual. The class format is that we read an article about a given topic and discuss new words or concepts for the first half, then break into smaller discussion groups for the second half.  Then one person from each group summarises what they discussed and answers questions from the rest of the class. What was special today was that Madame Tra (Cha) talked about her wedding. She speaks English very well, but has always said no when urged to be the spokesperson for her group. She is a beautiful, gracious 75 year old who comes to class with all the young ones and is clearly loved and respected. Her husband died a few years ago, and her three children are all grown and live with their families in other parts of Vietnam, so she enjoys the fellowship of the enthusiastic young students when they gather to practice their Engish each morning.

She told us that she was a teacher - teaching Russian in a place 70 Km from Ha Noi, and a colleague played match-maker. Her groom was in the army (it was during the "American Invasion") and everyone was very poor so they didn't have an engagement. Her family came up from Ha Noi on the train and they all had a meal at a little restaurant near the station. The wedding and the party were held in the school hall and they both had five days off work for a honeymoon (but they couldn't afford to go anywhere). After that he had to go back to the barracks and they were separated for a long time. Life was hard, but she never cried. Some time later, they were all evacuated because the Americans began bombing. She said they were all terrified of the B52s.

I was acutely aware of the sad fact that Australians got sucked into that war. I was at Uni when they started conscripting our young men into the army, forcing them to come here and fight, in support of our allies, the Americans. No-one here in the North seems to recognise the fact that the South Vietnamese government at the time asked for military assistance, and their version of history records that it was an invasion by America. But the overwhelming thing is that the Vietnamese people do not hang onto the past. They are not filled with hate or bitterness, and we westerners are welcomed regardless of the atrocities of war and the hardships and sorrow they endured. I apologised for our involvement and thanked them for their gracious acceptance of me and their love and friendship which is so freely offered. What would the rest of the world be like if all peoples could be so forgiving. Conflicts in the middle east and Africa and Ireland etc, etc... so many people's lives are twisted by hatreds and prejudices that are generational.

After the class, Khanh and Xuan and I went for Bun Cha for lunch - fabulous.

My last weekend of teaching

SUNDAY 25th September

It's hard to believe it's nearly over! My contract ends on Friday (30th September), and this was my last weekend of classes... no more children's classes... and the farewells have begun. Lots of photos and videos (sorry - they won't upload...)
 Tony and litle Alex

  Anna and Mary

 Jerry and Alex with Peter, Tom and Nick
 and Mike... the lively lads of Kitty1M2

   And these beautifully behaved darlings are from Ian's class and that's Lotus, one of our TAs. The boy in the red and white shirt is Superman from my very first kiddies class.

These gorgeous kids are my S1A2B class
The teenagers in my PET2E1o class have been a delight and a challenge to teach and when I told them it was my last class with them the girls filled the board with messages during the break:
this honest appraisal was written by Katherine

 This is Cassie.
She also wrote me a letter:
Dear my lovely Teacher,
My name is Cassie, PET2E1o student. To me, you're the best teacher in the world. You're the party of the candy store. I know I have to say goodbye to you, I'm so sad but our friendship never gone because I always keep the faith, you always in my heart. You're my beautiful teacher. I love you so much. You like my mother, my star. Enjoy your trip. Hope you never forget us, never forget our class. We'll remember you. Please always be our teacher. I don't wanna say goodbye to you, our fairy.
Love you - your student
 Lee, Tracy, Julie and Sammy

  Jane, the quiet achiever... lovely girl. 
               Jane wrote me a letter, too:
Dear Teacher,
I'm Jane. I'm a good student of you. I'll miss you a lot. You mustn't go away. You must be here. You have to keep this letter because you can keep our memories when you keep this letter. Although you are quite old but you are so beautiful. I swear that it is the truth. Your voice is so sweet. Yeah! Don't cry! Always laugh because you have many students who love you so much! Good luck for your trip... love you, Jane - Student in PET2.
  Lee and Katherine

 lots of phone photos!
  Cookie and Tom
  Lass and Alan

 one of the receptionists... tiny, eh!

So that was Saturday, and this lot are from Sunday...
Nick, Tim, Book, Dolly, Sarah, Tom, Julie and Sue ... gorgeous kids.

On Sunday evening the Level 5 VIP class took me to Sunflower Restaurant for a farewell dinner...  lovely company and delicious Vietnamese food...
Aline, Laura, Celine, Mountain, Mike, Red and Sarah.

I was doubly blessed - they also gave me a beautiful necklace of black stone from the mountains here and coral from Do Son.

How perfectly does it go with my one good dress !

Mountain, Aline (Huong Nguyen) and her husband Mike

You can see in these photos how huge I am compared to everyone around me.. it's always a rude shock to see myself in photos. I look like an Amazon woman( albeit a happy Amazon !! )

We were joined by Blue (Pham Thu Xanh), who was sucessful in the recent elections and is now an MP here.

This is beautiful Blue. She is so very busy these days, it was lovely to see her.

Laura (Tran Thanh Diep), Blue, Red, Celine, Sarah, Mountian, Aline and Mike.

It was such a balmy evening, it was lovely sitting on the patio enjoying tea and fruit to finish off our meal. I feel very honoured that these friends came out this evening to give me a warm farewell.