Thursday, June 18, 2009

Summer Classes

The past few weeks have been really slow in terms of work. I saw a lot of movies and was pretty homesick because there wasn't anything else to think about. The Vietnam Australia International School had a three week summer vacation before summer classes began this past Monday. Now I have my own second grade classes every afternoon (Monday through Friday) and I am substituting indefinitely for some other woman. The substitution is every morning for some first grade classes.

The first grade classes are quite the challenge--the students have never been in school and have no English background. I had to start my teaching with "Hello. My name is ___." Rough. They all have new backpacks, books, and pencil cases, and are constantly rifling through their books, searching through their desks, and getting up to visit classmates. Every time I turn around to make sure one student is on the correct page, another student decides to write on the wall or wrestle with a friend. They're all adorable but the teaching is incredibly slow and sometimes frustrating. However, today I taught most of them the names of six shapes--heart, star, square, rectangle, triangle, and circle. They can also say "I see a star/circle/square." It's awesome. I almost cried when I realized that they were actually learning something amidst all the chaos.

My second grade classes in the afternoon are awesome. They're active, love giving hugs, and really learn quickly. I also teach those classes with a co-teacher who's a good friend of mine. We work really well together.

Next Friday through Monday, June 26-29, I'll be in Singapore with some friends. I'm glad I decided to go with them because it seems I'll really need the break from teaching seven to eight hours per day. In Singapore we're going to go on a night safari in the zoo and enjoy hanging out in a developed country. I'm stoked.

In other news, my helmet was stolen and I had to buy a new one. I have to keep reminding myself that everything's impermanent because otherwise it makes me angry.

Nothing's new besides working ALL the time. Only a few more weeks to go!
Miss you all...

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Being an Adult

Yes, I know that I haven't been as diligent in posting blog entries. I apologize. My day to day activities just aren't as glamorous as the last time I lived in Viet Nam. But yes I am alive and still having an awesome time in Viet Nam. :)

And somewhere in the past week or so I've had a horrible realization: I am doing adult things. I dress up, go to work, get drinks with friends at bars, run a couple kilometers at the gym daily, drink coffee, book flights, etc. I had to buy nice shoes for work. My student loan payments begin in early July (and will last until the year 2024. For real.) I have also been working with my dad (who kindly did all of the footwork) to find a car back in the states. We finally found one in my price range with less than 100,000 miles. Also, it's purple, which is awesome. I have to think of a good name for it. Maybe something Vietnamese...

Here's a photo of what my car looks like. It's not my exact car but it's the same color, model, and year.

Andy and I will be hardcore roadtripping in this car. At the end of August we'll be going from Florida to CT. I'm stoked. :)

Besides worrying about my new status as an adult, I've been continuing to eat lunch at my favorite place, drink coffee and watch games of Chinese Chess, and work at Sai Gon Movement. I teach a lot on the weekends too. My daily teaching job at the Vietnam Australia International School doesn't begin again until June 15th as the kids are on a three week summer vacation. Then many of them come back for summer school. During the day I've been taking the bus around the city, doing errands, and attending rehearsals for the upcoming Haydn concert I'll be singing in.

Other than that, nothing's new. Only two more months until I'm back stateside. Then I'll miss it here. Can't win.

Here are some of my favorites from the past couple weeks.

Miss you all...

Monday, May 11, 2009


To make a long story short, before I could post the previous blog about my crazy Vietnam vacation, my computer broke and I'm picking it up today. I think it's fixed...

Also, the HWS Library finally purchased and is displaying the books they bought in honor of the senior library workers. "Everybody Poops" is proudly displayed in honor of me. No more boring books for the college library! :)

I'll post about the vacation either today or tomorrow...

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Crazy Vacation of Blood and Buses

The last weekend in April/first in May brought one of the craziest adventures I've ever had. (Yes, I'm a bit late with this post. My computer broke and is now fixed. Then I got sick and eventually got better.) The entire country had four days off (Thursday through Sunday) in order to properly remember the victory over the United States and democracy (note the error in one of my last blog entries about defeating the French--that anniversary's in early September).

Thursday morning I awoke at 5:30 and joined DiDi, Inny, and Phuong for some coffee. We then shared a taxi to the bus station, grabbing some breakfast sandwiches on the way. Upon arriving, we discovered the rest of the nine million inhabitants of this city also at the bus station. While Phuong and DiDi watched the luggage, Inny and I used a tactical blend of flirting and outright pushing to get to the front of the ticket mob. There are no lines in Viet Nam so it was utter chaos. We waited for about half an hour before they began selling the tickets to Nam Cat Tien (the jungle and national park), which was our first vacation destination.

We finally secured the tickets, extricated ourselves from the mob by walking on some benches, and left the station smelling like many other peoples' sweat. Upon boarding the small 16-passenger van, the four of us were seated on the longer back seat and began to eat breakfast. After about half an hour, the van was overfilled and we were driven to the exit of the bus station. Here the driver let off about 15 people and then returned to the exact same parking spot we occupied before. A policeman got onto the van and demanded to see everyone's tickets. I think we were the only people who had actually bought tickets and the driver gave the cop some money. This led to the instant disappearance of the cop and another 20 people who boarded our van. We then drove out onto the street and the 15 people who had gotten off before were packed into our van. Our seat was folded down and between the flat "seat" and the slim strip usually set aside for the van's trunk, there were 18 people. Our luggage was relegated to our laps and our arms were pinned to our sides by the insane volume of people in a very small space. My back was up against some random Vietnamese guy's back and I felt like we were participating in some sort of ropes course team building where we were both leaning on each other, creating a makeshift seat in the ocean of sweaty, unhappy passengers. It was also a million degrees in there. I'm not one for exaggeration, either. It was a million degrees. Celsius.

Four hours later we had picked up some more people along the packed roadways and by the time we exited the bus early (the bus driver was only increasing his speed as the roads got narrower) there were 39 Vietnamese, 1 American, and two puppies on the 16-passenger van. It was hellish - trust me.

At about 3 PM we got off the bus, yelled at the guy for endangering our lives, and began to walk beside the road. We ate some fruit, felt happy to be alive, and waited for some motorbike taxi driver to find a friend who could take us to the jungle, where our reserved bungalow was waiting. The half hour motorbike ride was awesome (even though it rained) and we were let off beside this awesome muddy river with the jungle on the other side. A three second boat ride and we were standing in front of the national park's check-in office. We signed in and they put us onto a pickup truck with benches on the back. It reminded me of skydiving and the pickup trucks with couches in the back.

After a 45 minute ride into the jungle, the truck stopped and we were told to hike five kilometers to our bungalow beside Crocodile Lake. The hike was going well until the skies opened up and the jungle became a rainforest very quickly. The torrential downpour began at about the second kilometer, so our pace was slowed as we slogged through the river that had previously been the trail. It was only a couple of minutes before one of us found the first leech on them. The cry went out and then everybody was walking while trying to survey the ground and their legs. The leeches soon began to attach to our legs and when you stopped to rip one off, more just jumped on for the ride. After a while we were all hurriedly wading through the rushing water (aka the trail). Inny fell and cut her elbow and injured her ankle towards the end of the hike.

After a while I was only half wearing one of my sneakers, which began to feel like I was dragging around a soggy waffle anyways. My raincoat did not cover all of my bag and my body so all of my clothes were wet. I had stowed my camera under the raincoat so that was the only one of my possessions that didn't get wet. Priorities. After walking three kilometers in an hour, we reached our bungalow and stripped on the porch. We lay out the nice white towels the park had given us and put all of our shoes and clothes on the towels. I then set out to alternately and burn and rip the leeches off DiDi, Inny, and Phuong, who did not enjoy touching the leeches. By the time I got to my leeches, they were fat and pulsating with my blood and had moved all the way up my thighs. Sneaky guys. There were large clusters of them on my ankles and all of our wounds continued to bleed for many hours after we had removed the little guys, thanks to their highly effective anticoagulants. After isolating all of the leeches on the towels, we burned them with cigarettes and a lighter and then collected them in a sealed water bottle. No one went inside the bungalow until they were leech-free but the porch soon looked like we had murdered someone there. The towels and wooden planks of the bungalow were covered in our own blood and we applied small pieces of newspaper to the wounds to get them to clot properly.

It took a couple of hours to solve the problem and end the madness. Then we cleaned up and began to enjoy the quiet and fresh air. We had a good dinner of rice, frog, fish, and chicken which we ate on a porch overlooking the lake. After dinner I went out to see if I could find any crocodiles but we only saw the reflections from their eyes in the spotlight. All four of us shared one big bed in the bungalow and played cards, made a massage line, and talked until we fell asleep early under the mosquito net.

In the morning I was awakened by Phuong demanding I arise and begin the day. We had a breakfast of instant noodle soup and then packed up our stuff. All of my stuff was still wet but went back into my bag. The Vietnamese guys who work at the park came and gave us some chemical goop to slather on our shoes. This deterred the leeches and we all arrived back at the pickup truck with no fresh leech bites. At about 10 AM we walked the five kilometers back through the jungle and the truck picked us up for the 45 minute ride back to the base camp. We signed out, paid, and left on the boat back across the muddy, red river. Upon reaching the other side, we discovered that there was a schedule of buses that came to drop off and pick up tourists there. We chose a bus leaving at 1:30 and then one of the Vietnamese park rangers came to ask us if we wanted to have lunch at his house. Only a stone's throw away, the four of us joined about 20 guys for some pork, rice, beer, and rice wine. We toasted to everything and it was awesome.

We left in time to catch our bus and were dismayed to find the crazy driver and crowded bus we had left the day before. After only 20 minutes, we switched to another bus and were on our way to Mui Ne, a small beachfront vacation town about a four hour drive away. Everyone actually had their own seats in the next three buses we took. Every time one bus would deviate from our course, we'd get off and hail another bus going in our direction. I sat next to the window and attempted to air dry my clothes. It actually worked with one of my t-shirts and about two hours of holding it in front of me.

After four buses (and some slight harassment by a drunk guy on the last one) we finally arrived in Mui Ne. Since we hadn't booked a hotel, we walked along the main road and inquired in three hotels before we found one that had a vacant room. Actually, the other three women inquired and I hid so that we wouldn't be charged more for the room. After entering our guesthouse we were greeted by a middle-aged Vietnamese woman who took one look at the four of us (sweaty, bloody, smelling of mold and dirt) and sprang into action. She got us an extra mattress and let us use a coat rack to dry our clothes. We all got cleaned up and then headed down the road to find some dinner. We ended up eating all of our meals at this one Vietnamese restaurant. It was right on the beach, had really good seafood, and was inexpensive. We then made our way down the beach and found one of two bars on the beach, WAX Club. I almost fell asleep right on the beach and the other three were talking it up with people. Phuong was also tired and we ventured back to the guesthouse before DiDi and Inny.

In the morning we ate breakfast at our usual place and then caught a local bus to the pharmacy and market. After purchasing some itch relief cream for the leech bites as well as some tasty green mango, we sat and had some sugar cane juice. Then we found Phuong some sandals because DiDi broke one pair and the other pair she managed to leave on a bus. We then walked for an hour or so in the direction of the giant sand dunes. After cutting through a really nice resort, we walked on the beach and finally reached the sand dunes. Inny and DiDi lounged in the hammocks while Phuong and I climbed one dune, took some photos, and walked back down. Then we all took half hour power naps in our hammocks before catching the local bus back to our favorite restaurant.

After a late lunch of more delectable seafood and rice, Inny went to get a massage and Phuong, DiDi and I walked on the beach. The entire weekend was devoid of any sun and we ended up at WAX Club again. I napped on some beanbag chairs while other tourists ate American food and checked their email. After Inny found us we returned to the guesthouse and everybody took turns napping and showering. I also slipped out and bought some new board shorts. When I returned, everyone was getting all ready to go out and after some dinner with friends at our favorite restaurant, we headed to WAX Club again. I shot lots of pool and met quite a few interesting people from all over the world. Then all four of us met guys who adored us and then we told them goodbye at the end of the night, which was predictable. Inny continues to see her French guy and I hear he's pretty cool. :) Inny, DiDi, and I returned to the hotel at 3 AM, but only because we spent some time eating a second dinner at this 24 hour cafe.

On Sunday morning we packed our newly-dried clothes and I placed a fake snake on the ground in front of the bathroom. Armed with my camera, I caught the moment DiDi spied the snake, screamed, and jumped over it in an attempt to escape the plastic snake. This was all before I collapsed on the ground laughing and she threatened my life, of course. We then ate breakfast at the same restaurant, and walked for another hour. We finally caught the local bus to Phan Thiet, a neighboring town, and then hopped off at the end of the line. We stood by the side of the road and Inny made a sign that said "Sai Gon" in hopes of catching a bus back to the city. After a couple minutes, one of the motorbike taxi drivers informed us of the bus station. We got into a taxi and after about ten minutes we were at the bus station. At first the bus people told Inny that there were no tickets. Then they said they had three, so we gave Phuong some food and books and she was prepared to wait a couple hours for the next bus. I ventured off to find a bathroom, stumbled upon the dingiest bathroom I'd ever seen, and made the mistake of asking about something in Vietnamese. After being surrounded by Vietnamese people asking me questions about my life, I escaped back to the bus station just in time. The four of us (including Phuong, miraculously) boarded the same coach bus. I had my own seat next to DiDi AND there was a movie playing in the front of the bus! I had never felt so lucky in my entire life. No more crazy buses. After another five hours on this comfortable bus, we were back in the city.

Since then I've worked so many hours that I can't count, my computer has broken and been fixed, and I've been sick and recovered. This past Friday my computer wouldn't turn on. Unlike the last time my computer failed to work in Vietnam, I didn't panic and simply brought it straight to what I call "computer street" - a street packed with computer retail and repair shops. I was directed towards a shop that fixed IBM's and asked if my laptop was dead. They laughed at me and said it's probably just the power board. Since my warranty's up I let them toy with it and by the next night they had called me to say it was ready. I owed them no more than $22 for the new power board and the labor charges. What an awesome country.

This past Monday I woke up to find intense pressure in my head and jaw pain radiating from pain located in my ears. I dragged myself to work, taught for a few hours, and then came home and slept until DiDi and Inny found me in the room at about 9 PM. By then, I was running a high fever and they moved fast. DiDi made me some lime juice and got me some Advil and chao (rice soup) with blood sausage. Inny employed some of her Chinese healing techniques, which featured dousing my back with tiger balm and raking a metal dog tag across my back. DiDi then pinched the skin between my eyes and at the top of my nose. All of these things produced bruises but they helped kick start my body's immune system and my fever had broken very shortly after. I slept through the entire night and rested on Tuesday. I've been fine ever since. I guess the trick is knowing when to slow down. :)

I've also managed to wire money to the states and bought my plane ticket from CT to Florida. I'll be in Florida before 11:00 AM on Friday, August 7th. I'm stoked for the annual Seadale family vacation. :)

Miss you all...