Thursday, September 18, 2008

Phu My Hung is for lovers

In the event that I am biking home after dark (6pm or later) I pass by two streets lined with couples on motorbikes. I like to refer to these alleys as "Make-out Lane(s)." In a country where public displays of affection are unwelcome (and sex trafficking and prostitution commonplace) this practice of retreating for physical attention is surprising. Teenagers and middle aged folks take it to the streets of the suburbs when looking for a place to cuddle. I can't help but smile and giggle a bit as I pedal past.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Moon Festival

The clouds are selfish tonight
I arch my neck as I pedal the streets of Saigon
Hopes of catching a glimpse of the moon, full

Tonight is Moon Festival
Though the clouds are selfish
Unwilling to share the moonlight

Raindrops pelt my skin as if to taunt me
I retreat unsatisfied
What is Moon Festival without the moon?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Wonder-filled and wonderful!

It's Sunday and I have again found myself migrating to Gloria Jean's Coffees for conversation and wi fi. I find this a nice Sunday retreat- if not a bit strange still. The stereo continues to play Western pop hits and is currently playing a song in which the refrain repeats "I've got it made." I find myself singing the same tune- unconsciously sometimes. Last week treated me very well! I am learning a lot about myself as a teacher and as a person about to launch into a world full of opportunities. I am so grateful for this experience and find myself questioning why I find myself in this position of privilege. I hope I never stop asking myself how my privilege influences the way I relate in this world/to this world and how I am called to share my blessings with others.

Friday, September 12th I celebrated my 24th birthday! My school day began with a staff meeting and chorus of "Happy Birthday." I proceeded to my room where I was greeted by my students who were anxious to share hugs and homemade birthday cards. A fellow staffer presented me with a bag of lychee fruits. I shared birthday treats with my students at the end of the day- sugar infused "Hello Panda" cookies for all. Next I played a riveting round of volleyball games with the my teaching colleagues (our Friday after class tradition)and followed up with a trip to The Tavern for drinks before going out on the town with my girlfriends. It was our first evening downtown. We enjoyed ourselves: first having dinner, then strolling through the bustling streets, and finally enjoying ice cream atop a rooftop terrace. I also enjoyed receiving phone calls, emails, and Facebook messages from family and friends. I feel very loved and supported- and there's not much more one can ask for of life! A great way to celebrate my birthday!

I thought a lot about this past year as I celebrated my last birthday in Ecuador. Can't believe a year has already passed since enrolling in my courses at IES. There are so many things I miss about that place... This morning I have a Skype date arranged with some of my closest friends from my program. Can't wait to catch up with them!

On Thursday I received sad news that a good friend and church member Jim Nisser passed away in a tragic bike/car accident. I will remember Jim for his commitment to Wooddale's youth program and his kind nature. Whether he was serving pancakes at church, vending hot dogs at the Dome, recording baseball stats (be they Twins or Bulldogs), or ushering he did so selflessly and with a smile. Jim will be missed by so many and I'm wishing I could be home with the Wooddale community to mourn and celebrate Jim's life. Another reminder of the fragility of life.

Another friend from Wooddale, Jerod, asked me some thought provoking questions that have been on the back of my mind for a while. I have been meaning to answer, as I feel that others of you may have similar questions.

How do the Vietnamese feel towards America?
Do they have a realistic view of what America is like?
Are they following the presidential race?

To be honest I feel that my interactions with Vietnamese have been rather limited- for a few reasons. I live in a dormitory occupied primarily by young professionals who are predominately Taiwanese. I work at an international school staffed by a mix of mostly Canadians, Australians, and Americans. In each classroom at the school there is Vietnamese assistant though I haven't discussed these questions with any of the assistants (I'm realizing that I could/should). The other Vietnamese people I interact with on a daily basis (taxi drivers, guards, restaurant and shop owners) generally don't speak English and/or we aren't in a position to discuss American politics or compare our world views.

I do perceive the Vietnamese to be rather shy. Obviously this is a generalization, but unlike in other countries I have visited, I am rarely approached by the locals here. I receive many inquisitive looks- most often when I'm biking besides other Vietnamese, but rarely have anyone question why I am here or join me for conversation be it on the bus, at dinner, or even here at the coffee shop.

According to my guidebooks, museum visits, and conversations with other coworkers it is my understanding that many Vietnamese feel that America was a "savior" during the war. Saigon still has a strong French influence- most evident in the prevalence of French bakeries on most streets of the city. I won't pretend that I know much about the war and politics surrounding the French, American, and Vietnamese relations, but I will say that I generally feel welcomed here as an American.

American life is broadcasted on cable TV through CNN, Disney Channel, Hallmark Channel, Nickelodeon, and HBO to name a few. I fear that viewers will believe that shows such as Desperate Housewives, The Nanny, Oprah, Camp Rock, and CSI Miami represent America as a whole. Students are familiar with American cartoons, movies, and video games. I feel the view of America is one which presents the "American Dream" as being accessible for everyone living there.

CNN and BBC provide daily coverage of the presidential race. My conversations about the upcoming election are held primarily with teaching colleagues from Canada and Australia and not with the Vietnamese. Though there is a woman- seemingly Vietnamese- donning an Obama shirt here at Gloria Jean's!

And with that it is time for me to wrap up my work here. Like my third graders- filled with wonder and feeling wonderful!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

To the temples of Angkor and back

My trip to Angkor Wat was great! I could have done without a stop in Phnom Pehn though as I was quickly bored with the market scene and wasn't looking to be drunk the whole weekend. It was fun to take the bus there, meet another university student, and see the countryside surrounding the Mekong Delta. I found it hard to meet people at my hotels as my tour package had me staying at fairly expensive places. I learned a lot; for instance next time I would prefer making my own arrangements and staying at a youth hostel in hopes of meetings other young singles with whom I could share conversation and costs with. We live and we learn. This has become my mantra.

The temples were INCREDIBLE! They cover such a large distance (think upwards of 50km between some of the temples)! I really enjoyed seeing Bayon, the temples with the faces- 216 faces to be exact (they reside in Angkor Thom- a series of temples in a 9km square area). It was really special to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat too! That would be the highlight of my trip; I took a tuk-tuk (motorcycle carriage) tour to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat and then to other more remote temples. There were swarms of people at Angkor Wat, but after that I found that the other temples were less crowded- I even had one to myself for 20 minutes. It was nice to see the temples before it got so hot. All in all a great long-weekend adventure/solo trek. Check out some of my photos here.

This has been a good weekend to catch my breath and look towards next week. I'll be teaching social studies and reading groups and helping a lot with math this week. Though I don't know about this teaching gig- I'm pretty bored with the third graders and not as patient as I should be. They are so little, and need to be taught how to open three ring binders and the like. I do love them- as individuals they are bright, caring, and friendly. I guess I'd just rather spend more time teaching content I enjoy- say humanities, sociology, English or the like to middle schoolers or even high schoolers. I guess it's best I learn this now rather than later, but still frustrating to come this far and feel like I need to go back to school (for another degree) before I can really enjoy teaching.

But again, I do love my students! Personalities are coming out and classroom dynamics are changing. Students are losing teeth, passing notes, playing with Pokemon and folding origami in their desks as though they think that we don't see them, and tattling on each other. I forgot what it was like to be a third grader! I do remember being more concerned with my sticker collection than with learning my multiplication tables though. My other mantra has become "Be patient with yourself and others." These kids are really special, and though I don't think I'd like to ever work in a third grade classroom again I am learning a lot in the process.

Last night I went with my cooperating teacher Nancy, her husband Bill, their grandson Stevey and two other couples to a restaurant owned by one of the families from the school. They are from Hong Kong and served us a 10 course Cantonese meal! I think 5/10 courses were shellfish based, but I was served chicken and vegetarian options instead. Had to pass on the shark fin and crab soup though, and three courses with shrimp. Our students dined with us, and their mom too. The food was incredibly tasty and they wouldn't accept any payment. So generous! The restaurant is 4 stories tall and serves up to 2,000 guests. There was a wedding reception on the floor above us. Quite an experience!

Also- I'm still allergic to something. I saw a doctor who thinks it may be alcohol, the sun, or the swimming pool. So I am to avoid these this week, take some more meds and report back for a check up. I don't know what I'll do without my nightly swim... I'm starting to think I may be allergic to third graders.

And with that I will return to the experience of lesson planning while listening to Jack Johnson and Coldplay as it streams on the stereo here at a favorite coffee of mine here in the 'burbs. Oh life...