Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Home Again, Jiggity Jig and a Pig

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Home again. Here’s a wrap-up of my last 40-something hours. Yesterday morning I went with Susan to the post office and then for some last minute shopping. The post office had a sponge to wet my stamps, but my cold, sweating water bottle was more effective. We took a cab over to a store called Craftlink. This is a store that supports the minority craftsfolk in rural areas to get a fair wage and keep alive the crafts of the regions. It’s like a Ten Thousand Villages store in Vietnam and supported by Church World Services. Some of the craftsfolk are actually Mennonite. It was a wonderfully cute, 3-story store so we started at the top and worked our way down. With the power of Visa and knowing that I was providing a fair wage for workers, I had no trouble stocking up for gifts for the future!!

After shopping, we went to a restaurant called Koto. It was so cool and trendy, it could have been in LA or NY. It was started by a chef trained in Australia and is run by street children who are being taught to be cooks and waiters. They have an 18 month training course that is an apprenticeship, allowing the kids to learn a skilled job. Their slogan is, “Know One, Teach One” and there are a lot of great pictures of graduating “classes,” including one with Bill and Hillary Clinton!!

In the afternoon, I went with Liz (another Sandy-friend who had just arrived from the states) and Sandy jewelry shopping and to order more clothes. I was so impressed with the clothes I had had made, I ordered more shirts and a pair of pants. Liz will bring them back to the States next week. On our way, I saw a new thing on a motorbike that made me laugh so hard, that I had to replace “coffin” from my “number-one-funniest-thing-on-a-motorbike.” [The coffin was on our way to Ha Long Bay. When I told Sandy I had seen the bright red and gold coffin, she said, “It’s probably empty.” As if THAT was the funny part!] So I look ahead of us and notice hoofs hanging in front of the driver’s left leg. Before I can fully explain to Liz and Sandy what I’m seeing, I realize that there are hoofs and a HEAD hanging off the right side. The driver is going through traffic with a full-grown, albeit dead, pig hanging over his bike lying on its back. While I was (unsuccessfully) trying to get out my camera, Sandy said she pulled up next to a motorbike like that once—and then the pig started PEEING. Hers was still alive and on its back!!!

I got a manicure and pedicure while Sandy and Liz got massages and then we headed home. I had more pho (soup) for dinner and ate almost the whole thing!! After dinner we headed over to a ‘Culture Night’ from one of the school teams. They were doing an version of American Bandstand with music through US history. The team performed or lipsynced for everyone from Tammy Wynette to Greenday to Kelli Clarkson (of American Idol). On the stage with them is a statue of Ho Chi Mihn and he seemed the happiest when ‘Elvis’ was on!!

I took a cab to the airport for my 11:30pm flight. Once though customs, there was a little shopping center with the opportunity to spend what little VND I had left. I got some last minute small things. One of the Duty Free shops had Droste chocolate and I thought that the whole Dutch theme from the Japan portion of my trip was coming full circle. I didn’t get any sleep on the flight, though not from lack of trying or lack of space. I had no neighbor on the flight again. In fact, except for Japan-LAX, I had space next to me on every flight!! When I got to the airport, I had to go through customs and immigration to be able to stay in the airport for the day. I didn’t have to pick up my bags, however.

Now I had booked a Day Room on-line through the advice of several friends. When I got to the main lobby, I went to information to ask where the day rooms were. This is where the best laid plans go awry. Because I didn’t have my boarding pass for my 4pm flight, I had to go through customs, but now I find out that the Day Rooms are on the other side of Customs. However, I can’t go BACK through customs because I don’t have a boarding pass. And…I can’t get a boarding pass because the counter won’t open for another 2 ½ hours!! At this point, I REALLY tired from still being a bit sick and all the travel. I go up by the shops and find the observation deck, thinking I might be able to stretch out there for an hour or two, but the observation deck is actually outside and it’s been raining. I find a fairly empty hall with 3 seats in a row that don’t have arms and I just curl up and doze off and on.

I know once I go through customs that there aren’t any regular shops, just Duty Free, and since I don’t need any Chanel, Guess, Izod, or cigarettes I need to do any shopping I want to do before I go through. I’m also not thinking overly clearly and am trying to find somewhere that will serve a “bland” breakfast. I finally find a little restaurant that has pancakes and eat my breakfast and the new 5-day does of antibiotics. Somewhat fortified, though still sickeningly exhausted, I head down to try to get my boarding pass. This is a fairly long line, though moving fairly quickly. I head through customs (convinced that there is nothing that I NEED to shop for in Japan that I can’t get in Little Tokyo in LA) and head into “Duty Free Land.”

Mental and practical note: just because it FEELS like Mall of America, doesn’t mean that it IS!! I’m staring at the map (no mention of Day Rooms) and looking at the “Guide to Narita Airport” brochure (mention of Day Rooms, but no map) and feeling like a hidden camera must be somewhere, when a middle-aged man, who is also a tourist, not an employee, says, “Can I help you find something?” I tell him I’m looking for the Day Rooms and “Gabriel-san” (my name, not his real name) kindly walks me over to the information booth that was around the corner. They point me in the direction of the Day Rooms and within minutes I am signing up for 4 hours of sleep. They give me a key to room D, and I am pleasantly surprised to find a twin bed and my own bathroom with toilet, sink and shower!! I sleep off and on (mostly ON) and was ready to go.

As I get on the plane and get settled into my seat, a group of US students get on the plane. This eighth grader gets on and realizes, to his EMENSE horror, that he is sitting not by his friends, but by ME!! The look on his face was slightly amusing, but when his friends walked in, saw who he was sitting by, and snickered or laughed!!! I’m officially the old lady that kids don’t want to sit by. As we landed, I said, “So, was sitting by me as bad as you and your friends thought it would be?” He blushed and said, “Yes,” but I’m thinking he meant “no” and was just flustered that I actually spoke to him.

So now I’m back, safe, and sound. Not as sick as even 2 days ago!!

Thanks for following this journey.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Should have chosen plan A

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Always go with Plan A. After an attempt to get up and ready to go see “Uncle Ho,” I realized that I had none of the energy required. Susan was going to pick me up and we were going to meet the Lomonoxop team and some of their students to go to the Ho Chi Mihn Mausoleum, the downed B52 bomber that’s sitting in a lake somewhere, and the Hanoi Hilton Prison Museum. When she got here, she and I agreed that a trip to the doctor would be a much better option.

Turns out I have “amoebas” and, even though I wanted souvenirs and I like pets, this was not what I was hoping for. The good news is that they know how to treat them and have started me on a European drug regiment that will kill them all. As a pacifist, I’d like to be appalled by that, but considering I didn’t invite them, I’ll let it slide! Today I have one thing that I have to do, but everything else is still up for negotiation. My extroverted self is really missing social interaction. With a few exceptions, this is day 6 of hanging out at home with only an occasional social distraction.


Sunday p.m.

I started feeling really good this morning and decided to go with Sandy to Hanoi International Fellowship. It was good to see a lot of the teams that I’d interacted with throughout the week and to worship in a international congregation. After church, I rode home and had pho, a Vietnamese soup for lunch. It was all broth an noodles, but it tasted WONDERFUL after several days of nothing.

This afternoon I packed and this evening, I went with Trang to go pick up my clothes. They turned out amazingly well!! I’m really happy with all of them. They are comfortable and beautiful. We walked around “Sword Lake”, I can’t remember the name in Vietnamese and looked at the pagoda and the “turtle tower.” It was a lovely full moon over the lake. We walked over to a bookstore and found a copy of Harry Potter book 1 for my collection. It was a hoot standing in front of the bookstore and hearing all these little kids say, "Harry Potter" in the middle of their sentences!!

It was GREAT to be out of the house and to have social interaction. I have really enjoyed getting to know Trang and spending so much time with her. Tomorrow there are 2 items on the agenda—some shopping and a massage!!!! Then it will be on the plan and home again. I probably won’t post again until I’m home.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Why antibiotics aren't just for breakfast anymore.

Friday, July 27, 2007

So I stayed home last night and still not much better today, so I decided it was probably a good idea to see a doctor. I do not want to travel like this. The doctor gave me plan A and plan B. Plan A was to run tests to see if it’s something more rare. Plan B was to give me Cipro and 24 hours to see if that helps before doing plan A. I went with Plan B. If I’m not better by 11am tomorrow, I get more tests.

Tonight I actually got a piece of toast down successfully. Also, the great thing about awesome antibiotics is that you just feel like you SHOULD feel better because you’re taking them!! If they work, tomorrow will be a “tourist” day in Hanoi. If not, back to the doctor.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Harry, Pottery, and the deathly bowels

Thursday, July 26, 2007

So Tuesday morning we get up to go to Bat Trang (Pronounced “bach” “chaung”)Village. This is a pottery village with the whole street lined with pottery stores. They also do a large part of the pottery export to other parts in Vietnam and internationally. When I got up, I felt a little “funny” and figured I had eaten too much the night before. Around the 3rd time I had to use one of the bathrooms in the pottery shops, I realized I wasn’t feeling well. We came home and I crashed for a 4 hour nap.

When I got up for dinner Sandy’s friend Susan was there. Susan had been in the states and was coming back. She had, graciously, agreed to bring me the new Harry Potter book to save me hunting for it in Japan on my layover. The American teachers from the Lomonoxop team came for dinner and we had waffles, eggs, and bacon. One of the teachers, Clay, had been sick when we got back from Ha Long Bay and was just starting to recover. Sandy and Susan told me (and Clay) to be careful with eating. The rule is 24 hours with only liquids, then ONLY thing like rice, white bread, and bananas. By about an hour after dinner I realized I had pushed the envelope!! I was faint, nauseous, and sure I was going to die from the stomach cramps. Turns out you don’t die, but just feel like that would be less work!!

Wednesday I had been scheduled to go “grass skiing” with the school, but I stayed home sleeping, etc. I had told Sandy the night before that, if I was going to be sick, I would at least want to read my book. However, Wednesday was so awful in the morning that I didn’t even feel up to holding the book until around 2pm!! You know it’s bad when you don’t even feel like starting the new HP book!!!

Now it’s Thursday and I feel like 2 days are unaccounted for. I’ve finished the book, so that’s something—I won’t spoil it, but it was written in a different, more reflective tone than the others. Tonight we were scheduled to go jewelry shopping with the team, but I’ll see how I’m feeling. Things seem to be on the mend. Sandy said she sent an email to UV to pray for my health and that seems to have helped!!! We’ll see what tomorrow brings….

Monday, July 23, 2007

Around town

Monday, July 23, 2007

Today was a low-key day of hanging out at home and sleeping in!!! After lunch, I went shopping with Trang (“Chuung”). We went to a store to have clothes made. I picked out fabric and styles for 4 different items—an “alsii” (I need to check on spelling), a blouse, a reversible jacket, and a dress. It was fun choosing colors. They will be ready for me on Sunday.

For dinner, we met friend of Sandy’s at this very fun restaurant. There we food “stalls” all around the patio that had all types of “street food” from various regions in Vietnam. It was like eating at an open air “food court” except we were seated, had a menu, and were waited on. There is a phrase here: “Same, same, but different.” That was definitely the evening. We had lots of different dishes that were the same, but different. I had Vietnamese Spring Rolls, which I love in the US, but they (of course) were different here. We had lots of shrimp dishes, but my new favorite food was tonight. It is call “banh cuon nhan thit” and it’s a mushroom, pulled pork thing wrapped in spring roll wrapper with the equivalent of Durkee fried onions on the top. Sandy and I are going to hunt for it in the US. We also had a dessert with something like a custard around bananas which was delicious. Tomorrow, we’re off to the pottery village!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Ha Long Bay-Day 2

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The wake-up call for today was just as harsh as yesterday. We met for breakfast at 6:30 to catch a 7:15 boat. We had bread, jam, butter, and sugar on a plate, but the Vietnamese teachers had a rice dish. We all got on the bus and headed sleepily down to the sea. There was a huge swarm of people and just trying to get through it to the gate was a challenge. The school had hired a private boat, so it was just our group on the whole thing. All the boats we crammed into the harbor, but you had to walk across the closer ones to board yours, if it was further out. We had to go up and over 2 other boats to get to ours.

Once we were all on board, we needed to get out. As we backed up, we did some bumping into other boats. There were men physically pushing one boat away from another. We finally got free and headed toward the open sea. We each had a ticket with 10 numbers on it to be punched off at various points. The first one was punched to get on the boat.

We crossed a large part of the bay and headed toward a dock by the Dau Go Cave. There were 20-30 boats crossing this section with us and we were surrounded by small fishing boats. There were several women who came along the boats to sell fresh fruit. At one point a small boat came up and rode along with us and one of the girls climbed up on our boat. It was the fruit sellers equivalent of being boarded by “pirates” except they were selling, not pillaging.

Disembarking was parallel to embarking in that we had to cross a boat to get to shore. When we got there, we were surrounded by a throng of thousands of people. We stayed together as best we could as we were swept along toward the stairs. We had to have our tickets out for punch #2 and we started to climb the stairs to the cave. It was a long steep climb up to the entrance. Once inside the Dau Go Cave, there were stairs and paths carved right into the cave. There were trash cans shaped like penguins throughout the entire cave and all over the island. This made NO sense to me, but apparently they got a really good deal on them, because they were all over…who knows? Maybe the penguin was indigenous to Vietnam. After all, they just found remains of a 5 foot penguin in Puru! We continued to be swept along and to just keep walking. You would expect a cave to be cooler, but when there are thousands of people in it, the temperature is comparable to the outside. We took many pictures and wandered through to the end. On the way out was another steep flight of stairs up. As we got near the light, there was a brief moment of hope that it would be cooler outside. I think it was—for about 3 seconds. We crossed several wooden bridges and then started a steep descent to the boats. The view was amazing, but the angle of descent was pretty amazing also.!

We re-boarded and headed out into the archipelago to look at different rock formations. Apparently, there are/were 1969 different rock/islands at last count. There is one famous one that is on shirts and tourist items from Ha Long Bay that looks like the sails of a ship (from 1 of the angles). “Ha Long” means “Dragon Descending” and they have their own version of the Loch Ness Monster story and how the dragons protected Vietnam from their enemies by putting the rocks in the bay and then scaring off the opposing ships. Supposedly, people still see the dragons in the water occasionally. On our way to our next stop, we pulled up next to a house boat and purchased fresh seafood for lunch.

At our next island, we were going to go swimming(the beach was punch #4, but we never found out what #3 or #5-10 were), but there was the opportunity to jet ski and parasail. Many folks (including Sandy) went up on the parasail and the Vietnamese teachers went for a ride on the jet skis. This was very atypical and one of them commented that, if her mother saw this picture, she would be upset. Sandy said she thought they were hanging out with too many Americans:-)

We were all a bit late getting back to the boat and our lunch which was now waiting. We had freshly steamed shrimp, but they all had eyes! I tried it because my rule is to try everything, but it wasn’t that great and couldn’t handle my lunch staring at me. We also had a freshly caught white fish, but, overall, this may have been my least favorite meal in Asia, which was disappointing. We did, however, have lots of fresh pineapple, mango, plums, and sugar cane (which tasted like a brown sugar cube), which made the snacks a highpoint.

On the way back, we were going with the breeze, so there was NO air movement. I don’t know when I’ve been so hot. I also didn’t know that the tops of my outer arms, near my shoulders, could sweat!! It was just as hot out on the deck as in the cabin, but out on the deck you also had direct sun! When we arrived at shore, we headed to the hotel to get a quick shower. Wow, did that feel amazing!!

When we came down to the lobby, the owner of the hotel (and one of the mother’s of a student who was along) greeted us and then gave us all presents to take back. We thanked her and told her again how lovely her hotel was and then we all got on the bus. When we were on the bus we unwrapped out gifts. Under the wrapping paper was a box for a battery-operated, singing dolphin. Though this had a lot of appeal for me, it turns out there was a small figurine of the ship-shaped rock formation in the box. Too bad, that dolphin was very intriguing for me…

On the way back in the bus, we closed the curtains and pretty much everyone was out very quickly. Half-way back, we again stopped at the rest stop from the day before. Trang said she wanted to buy me a treat and asked what I liked. She ended up buying me something that she translated as “milk candy.” It tasted like a slightly less sweet type of fudge, but it was white. As we pulled back on the road, we stopped by a stand on the side of the road and the English Department head bought a bunch of fresh pineapple. We had some on the bus and then it looked like she took about 20 back, probably for meals for the teachers later that week.

We passed several fields and workers on the road home. In one field, amid the workers, water buffalo, and labor, there were 2 kites flying high overhead. While it was too far from the road to see who was flying the kites, it gave a great sense of joy and playfulness.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Ha Long Bay-Day 1

Saturday, July 21, 2007

We met the teachers at the school at 6am (actually, we arrived around 6:15, but the bus didn’t come until 6:30) to go to Ha Long Bay. There were 24 of us total. 12 Americans, 4 kids from the school, and 8 teachers from Lomonoxop School. The 4 students were students who would be heading to the States to study. 2 this year, 2 next year. One of them is the daughter of Ms. Ha, who is the head of the English Department. Another was the daughter of the people who owned the hotel we stayed at and a third was a boy whose parents had paid to rent the bus for us to drive up. Lomonoxop has a very good exchange program with a school in Louisiana called Christian Life Academy. They take kids who are Juniors and Seniors and then many of them apply to colleges in the states.

We drove for about 1 ½ hours and then stopped at a rest area. It was a covered market with a bathroom building out back. It seems like it’s the ½ way point for the trip and several busses were stopped there. When you walked into the bathroom, there was a row of squat toilets. Fortunately for me there were also 2 restrooms with doors!! When I walked out there were about 25 people using the squat toilets at the same time…my was that crowded. When I got out, one of the US teachers was taking a picture of the bathroom building and Trang (Pronounced “Chuung”) commented that she had never seen someone take a picture of that!! While we were waiting to get back on the bus, there was a pond, small rocks and the US teachers (boys!). With boys, water and rocks, the only logical thing to have happen is that the boys start throwing rocks into the water to see who can throw the farthest.

We drove a couple more hours as the sky clouded up. We asked if it was supposed to rain and were assured it would be dry, however it started to rain and pour for the daily monsoon. I was glad we were in the bus and not out walking in town. When we got to the hotel, it was still sprinkling and cloudy, but it looked like we had driven through the worst of it. We stayed at “Number One Hotel.” When we got there our rooms weren’t ready yet, so we all dropped our stuff in one room and got ready for lunch.

Lunch was an amazing event. We sat at a very large table with all of us and began dish after dish…boiled eggs/tomato and cucumber slices, shrimp, squid (of varying sizes-see picture), beef, French fries, soup, greens, rice and watermelon for dessert. Plate after plate kept coming. We knew when we saw the rice, we were near the end, but there were 9 different dishes in all.

After lunch we had our “siesta” time for everyone to rest and take a nap. I played cards for a while and then went to read a book. We met at 3:30 to go for a “walk along the beach.” What is said and what is meant are not always the same. We actually went swimming. There was a long pier with a floating dock off the end. There were 5-6 of us who didn’t swim, but most of the American Teachers did.

When we went back to the hotel for dinner, we were at 2 different tables. All the Americans at one, being served a version of “spaghetti” (actually noodles with butter and garlic) and the Vietnamese having fresh seafood. It was definitely a situation of the local food looking better than the “American” food. In the evening we took a van/taxi to the “Dolphin” show. Actually, it was folk dance, folk music, then sea lions and a beluga whale. Some of the Vietnamese teachers stayed for “water music” which was like a musical fountain. We were all ready for bed by the time we got home and everyone said they slept well. The American teachers are on thin mattresses on wood at the school, so a bed (even an extremely HARD bed) was far more comfortable for them.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Thai Nguyen Road Trip

Friday, July 20, 2007

This morning Sandy, Bella, and I headed out to Thai Nguyen, the “capitol” of one of the outline provinces. It was over 80km away and it took us a while to get there. Sandy had said that it was a “windy” road and having stuff along for carsickness was a good idea. She said she often sleeps to avoid being sick. It turns out it is not a windy road, but that the whole time you are swerving back and forth between bicycles, motor scooters, semis and various other vehicles including cows and waterbuffalo. Actually, there was never a water buffalo IN the street, but close enough to the edge that the people with him (or her) were in the road and we needed to go around them.

We got to the school a bit before their morning break and go to listen to their ending “cheer” with the classes. The did the call/response “I said a boom, chicka, boom…” However, they had janitor style, “I said a broom sweepa broom…” and Astronaut style, “I said to the moon to the moon…” I was laughing at the creativity. Apparently there is also cowboy style, but we didn’t here it today.

We walked over to the guest house where the team is staying and the front lawn was filled with goats. Big, small, black, white… Bella was trying to figure out if this was a fight worth having and decided, wisely in my opinion, that just walking with the humans was enough. We had an amazing lunch. I must say that I have never had such great food as on this trip!!! There was molasses-roasted boar with lotus seeds, egg flower soup, stir-fry shrimp, and a tofu wrapped meatball of sorts. We also had passionfruit juice to drink. We spent after lunch with the team as they got ready for their culture presentation on Christmas and its origins. We stayed while they presented and then headed back to HaNoi.

As we headed back into town a storm rolled in. The motorbikes were still racing around, but everyone had on rain slickers. Apparently, no one wants to be the first to stop (out of pride) to put on the poncho, but once someone pulls over, about 20 other bikes will join them. The slickers draped over the front of the bike and many of them had clear sections so the front light still shone through. In addition, some folks had a “double” slicker with 2 head holes so both people on the bike were covered.

For dinner we went with friends of Sandy to a Pakistani restaurant that was amazing. I have never had so many rich flavors in one dish, let alone all the flavors in the meal. The owner was very friendly and brought us some dishes that he just wanted us to try. One of the dishes had “pinkle” in it. That is actually the English word, but none of us had heard it. We had some carrots and mango that also had pinkle and it was a cross between vinegar, pickled, and anise flavoring.

Tomorrow we need to be at the school at 6 am for a trip to Ha Long Bay. We will be gone until Sunday night. We’re going with the teachers at the school I taught at.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Inner terrain...Outer adventure

Thursday, July 19, 2007

“…as important as methods may be, the most practical thing we can achieve in any kind of work is insight into what is happening inside us as we do it. The more familiar we are with our inner terrain, the more surefooted our teaching—and living—becomes.” From The Courage to Teach by Parker Palmer. This is the passage I used to open my teaching with the idea that I wanted this to be my guide. I loved working, playing, and laughing with these teachers.

I was picked up by the principal’s car again this morning. Trang (pronounced “Choung”) came with him, which made the ride nicer. She had ridden home with me yesterday and will be going on the trip with the (American) teachers this weekend. It was a smaller class today, but I had done some research on syllable stress rules in English and was able to give them that information. I also ran across some ESL grammar games that we spent some time playing today. Now that my initial nervousness was over, it was easier to interact and see each of these teachers as individuals. What a lovely group of women. The assistant English head, Ms. Huong, had her 5-6 year old son along today. He walked in and said, “It’s nice to meet you.” I laughed because I was so surprised by this little boy’s English. He showed off more of it during the morning and gave me a pen when we went up to the office for our break.

One of the games we played this morning was “Secret Word.” The class chose a word while someone was in the hall and then we had to ask them questions to get them to say the word in the answer. My favorite moment was when Lan was being asked questions. One of the other students said, “It’s something all of us have.” She said, “Breasts” without missing a beat. I laughed along with everyone else, then I said, “True, but not what we were looking for.” She eventually got “mobile phone,” which was the answer.

I had wanted a picture with the class, but when I got to school, I realized that my camera was gone. I called Sandy to see if she could find it, but she didn’t have any luck. I spent time retracing my steps and figuring out when I last had it. When I got home, I did finally find it, but it wasn’t anywhere near where it should have been. I quickly caught up on backing up all my photos, in case that really DOES happen!!

After lunch at the school, they sent me home by myself in a taxi. There’s nothing like a cab ride in a foreign country to make you realize how much trust you need to put in humanity. I wasn’t completely confident in the route home and I couldn’t have found it myself yet, but I know we went through many new areas that I had never been to. Sandy said her street is hard to find, but you never know whether you’re being “taken for a ride” or just taken for a ride. He was the SLOWEST vehicle I’ve been in (or on) here. He even yielded for pedestrians. I was just beginning to wonder and remembering what Sandy said about just paying what is fair, even if they tell you a different amount, when he asked to see the address again. He looked around and seemed as genuinely glad to find it as I was (and his rate what exactly what it should have been!).

Sandy had errands to run and had asked if she should do it in the morning or wait until I got home. I asked her to wait, I mean, after all, one woman’s errands is another woman’s adventure in the city. And what an adventure it was…

We took Xeoms (pronounced SAY—ooms) which are motor scooter taxis. The 2 men came to pick us up. We had a large bag of books that Sandy was selling and an LCD projector. With our bags and our beings, we loaded up. Riding through the town awake and at daytime was amazing. In the course of today, I saw a 26” TV (in a box—I didn’t measure it.), a ladder, a 10-12’ bundle of molding or trim, 5 1-gallon paint cans, a small mattress, and (my favorite for the day) a gym-sized exercise bike ALL traveling by motor scooter. That’s not even counting the regular bicycles with flowers, fruit, pots, etc.

Intersections were the best (and the worst). We ran several red lights, or so I thought, until I realized that there is a “countdown” monitor for both the red and the green lights. When I light is changing to red, many folks run it. At the same time, the light that is ABOUT to turn green gets to about “5” left and people start going. In this way you have a 5-10 second overlap of traffic going in both directions and the same time. At most intersections or crossings, there is a weave of motor scooters, bicycles, cars, trucks and an occasional pedestrian! In order to turn right on a scooter, you go to the farthest LEFT in your direction, get all the way to the front of the line by the intersection, then merge through traffic within 5 feet to turn right. This works “really” well, especially if you have a horn and hold it down the whole time!

One of the stops was the bank. When we walked in there were several open lines, however, we needed to go up to a small box to get a “Queuing Ticket.” The directions were to push button “A” and a ticket with a number would come out. There was also a button “B,” but there were no directions on what would happen if you pushed it. When I exchanged money at the airport, I got over 3,000,000 VND for $200 USD. Apparently the $200,000 bill of money is new, but the 200VND is being “retired” as no longer necessary. There is now 500, 1000, and 5000 VND coins (as of the past 2 years) which means that now there can be (and are) vending machines. Coins did not exist before this.

Sandy and I went out for dinner tonight. We were having rice and 2 great “hot pot” dishes when Sandy looked over my shoulder, got very wide-eyed, and said, “Kimberly…Kimberly…” As I looked over my shoulder, there was a waiter walking by carrying a turtle by his head. The rest of the body was just hanging and swinging underneath. She said, “Kimberly, did you SEE that turtle. I’ve never actually SEEN a turtle being carried by his head.” That was NOT what we had in our meal!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

One tired teacher...

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Amazingly full day and nights. Last night the Amsterdam teaching team came over for dinner along with 3 or 5 other people. The “Amsterdam” team is not from Amsterdam, but that is the name of their school. Apparently, the city of Amsterdam donated money to start this school many years ago. It was pizza and ribs and Coke for dinner, so the college students felt right at home. They were here until past 9:30, which doesn’t sound that late, but I was completely exhausted!!!

This morning I got up and got ready for my full teaching day. I was up by 6 am, at breakfast with Sandy and waited for my ride. I wore pants and had my laptop, etc. in my backpack because Sandy said I would probably be picked up by motorscooter. This time I was ready for that. (Just for reference, I realized that I was SO surprise on Monday because I had only seen 1 scooter and 2 people. I was trying to figure out how we were going to get 4 people on that bike. I’d seen it done, I just wasn’t seeing how Sandy and me being 2 of the people was going to work.)

Lan called to say she was on the way and get the address from Sandy. When she got there, we asked something about the motorbike, but she said “no, we will go by car.” It turned out that the principal of the school had sent his DRIVER with Lan to pick me up and that he would also bring me home. The principal’s car is a very comfortable (and new) Toyota Camry. It is not what you normally see on the roads here. Lan took my arm and walked me down the alley, chatting the whole way. At one point she took my hand and walked me hand in hand the rest of the way to the car. While that’s not something we’d do in the States, it was a very sweet gesture.

We actually left by around 8:15, so my thoughts of starting “on time” in my Western mind, were quickly ended again (though this time I was expecting it, so not as anxious). When we got to the school, we were not dropped off on the street. Rather, the gate at the school’s entrance that is guarded was opened and we were driven right through the courtyard to the door of the classroom. If you’re going to be 35 minutes “late” for presenting, I guess driving up in the head master’s car is the way to “apologize.”

We spent a great morning on a variety of vocabulary instruction techniques, including 2-column notes, mind maps, and vocabulary cartoons. Before lunch, we did some phonics instruction, but the teachers really wanted “rules” for syllable stress. How do you know which syllable to stress? How do you know when to say RECord and when to say reCORD? We had some conversation about it, but I hadn’t prepared that, nor had I brought the books that I would need. I told them I would look up what I had at the house, but when I got home tonight, I realized I hadn’t brought the book I thought I had. I’ve sent emails to a couple people who might be able to help, but I’ve also found some great internet sites that I’ll use tonight.

At 11am, we broke for lunch. I was just going to wait for the other Americans from ELI down by the gate, but the young women from my class, ushered me upstairs to the English head’s air-conditioned office. Specific rooms here have “aircon” and so we waited. While there, someone made me glass of iced tea and we chatted a bit. I am SO amazed at how young all the English teachers are. I think a few are older, but most of them are in their 20’s and look even younger (14-17). At 11:30, I met the team for lunch. One of the teachers walked me down and then introduced me to some of her English students who came to see her.

After lunch, I was stopped by one of the teachers and told that the principal’s office was open for me to go in and have my rest. I went over there and knocked, but no one was there. He was at home having his noon rest. I had the room to myself and looked over some things for the afternoon and then listened to “Wait, Wait. Don’t Tell Me” on my iPod. It was relaxing, but an odd disconnect to hear an American news quiz show in a Vietnamese principal’s office. At 2pm, I went downstairs and, on my way, stopped at the faculty restroom only to discover my first restroom without toilet paper. It wasn’t “out” like at my school at home, but rather there was no place for it and it had never been a thought. Fortunately, Sandy had warned me and I had a travel roll in my bag!

The afternoon session was nice and we talked about and practiced reading strategies. We also had some classroom management questions that we talked about. This was something I was very familiar with. After the session, we went back up to the English chair’s office and then the driver from the principal met us up there. He will also pick me up in the morning (at 8:15, even though we said we’d like to start at 8!). One of the teachers rode with me to Sandy’s and communicated with the driver. I was surprised she was going with me, but very grateful that she did and could help with the questions.

When I go home, another of Sandy’s teams was here, hanging out, checking email and doing laundry. Some of the locations are very expensive for laundry, so the teams use Sandy’s washer. The team from last night was doing a ton of laundry and, when it got picked up, some of mine went in the pile. I rescued some, but I don’t know if I got it all! We had Indian food delivered for dinner and Sandy and I ate with a friend of hers who was having a meeting here tonight. Sandy and I were supposed to go see one of the teams do a culture presentation on Christmas tonight, but I decided I needed some down time this evening. Tomorrow is the last day of teaching, so hopefully, I’ll feel more rested after that.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Teaching begins

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Teaching began today. We left for the Lomonox school around 7:15 am. On our way there, there was a major road block that made our taxi driver need to figure out a new way around. It was closed in front of the stadium that hosted the Japan vs. Vietnam game last night for the Asia Cup. It was unclear why the road was closed off, though, because the game was last night while we were at dinner. It was actually on TV while we were at the “sportsbar” for dinner last night and we had to pause conversations several times for major cheering and celebration. Even though Japan won the match, they showed another match that meant that Vietnam stayed in the tournament. The drive home was like any drive out of a sports stadium—crowded and full of major cheering, shouting, and horn-honking (though this is more common in everyday driving here).

By the time we got to school, it was 7:55 and there was no one to meet us. We waited in the lobby of the main building and about 10 minutes later the principal arrived and was dropped off by his driver. We went up to his office and waited until the head of the English department came in. We then went to her office and had iced tea as other teachers started arriving one by one. We talked about the teaching “schedule” and they wanted me to do “all day” for 2 days. We decided that today would still be just the morning, but that we would do “all day” tomorrow.

When there were 20 or so people in the office, we all went down to the training room. All the seats were neatly lined up in rows with attached desks, so the first thing Sandy and I had the students do was turn them to create groups with two desks facing each other. This would make it easier for them to do the type of work in groups that I was going to require and also make it easier for me to get around the room. We started around 8:30 after the desks had been moved, already challenging part of the comfort zone.

We had a wonderful morning together. One young women was very sullen and not engaged, but when we went around doing the introductions and I invited her to share, the woman next to her said that it was her niece and that she wasn’t a teacher. This now made sense and it was easier to feel at ease. For introductions I gave them a sheet of symbols and they needed to choose one and introduce themselves and explain why they chose their example. One woman chose a key because she liked finding the answer to unlock her questions.

I did a lesson on multiple intelligences and then we read a story together. After we talked about the story, each group was assigned one of the intelligences and they needed to use that one to retell the story and explain the moral. The kinesthetic group did an entire play of the story and another group retold it as a comic strip. It was a very fun morning together. We finished at 11 and discussed the schedule for tomorrow. It was decided that we would go from 8 (or 8:30…) until 11 (11:30 was vehemently protested) and then the afternoon would be from 2pm until 4pm. Later, at lunch, I found out that this is the school schedule and that, if I wanted to take a nap, there would be an office for me to do that.

We went to lunch with a team from Auburn, Alabama at a restaurant across the street. It turns out, the assistant principal/head of the English department’s family owns the restaurant and the ELI team that is there eats lunch there every day. I will eat with them tomorrow and Sandy will leave me all on my own!

When we got home today, I took a major power nap. Now I have some details to finish for tomorrow’s lesson and in an hour we’re having 16 people over for dinner. Thanks for all of you who were praying for my first day. It went really well.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Feed me, feel me, feed me

July 16, 2007

Wow, wow, wow…Well, today was scheduled to be a quiet, at-home day so I could prep for my workshop. Currently (9pm), it is quiet and I am at home. I woke up early. No big shock, I’ve been up at the crack of dawn for the past week. I came down and worked for a couple hours on my presentation. It’s pretty good. I think I’m mostly ready for tomorrow. Sandy has just left to run copies for me, however between this morning and now has been anything but stay at home and chill.

At noon we went to meet some people from one of the summer teams that Sandy is supervising. We went with Ana, Marsha, and Steven to lunch across from their hotel on a street that is know for its bun cha. “Bun” is the generic name for a noodle made with rice. This was a soup with rice noodles, ground pork “meatballs” shaped like mini hot dogs, various greens. We also had a sort of fried egg roll that was shaped like a thick hamburger. The whole meal came out to 16,000 Vietnam Dong each or about $1.

After lunch, we went to the salon that Sandy uses and had a massage. Marsha had a manicure/pedicure instead and Steven got a haircut also. It was fairly relaxing, but very different to be in the same room as someone else getting a massage. That was a bit strange. We each paid 150,000 VND (under $10) for a 1 hour massage which is an amazing price, since I pay $75 at home.

When we were done, we walked over to the Gloria Jean’s Coffee Shop (yes, the same one as in the US) where Sandy was having a meeting. The contrast of the Americanized franchise business where 2 large drinks cost the SAME as our 1 hour of service from a human being was not lost. There is a big upward trend here and MANY changes since Sandy arrived 7 years ago.

We took a cab home (around $3) and waited for a friend of Sandy’s to come and take us out to dinner. Tony’s (Thanh) family was taking us out. He is a student at Louisiana State University and home for the summer. We went out with his parents and his cousin Mia’s family. She is also a student in the US. Imagine my surprise when Sandy mentioned that I needed a helmet because Tony and his mom had come to pick us up on scooters. We each hopped on the back of a bike and were off through the streets of Hanoi. We did the appropriate weaving in and out of traffic, followed behind a motorbike with a full mirrored dresser strapped to it, stopped and started behind buses, and in general took our lives in our hands…so much for that relaxing massage! It was a wonderful meal with everything from seafood to a grilled fish (minus the head, but with the tail) to French fries and fish porridge.

After a filling and full day, I’m back at home with both Bella and Chloe (the visiting dog) fighting for lap time without Sandy here. Neither of them are very good at typing, but they are both great at licking and hanging out on laps, though neither of them are Xiao Nu! They do both send barks and sniffs to her, though.

Time for bed and a good night’s rest before training.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

From Typhoon to Mansoon

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The day began with a typhoon and ended with a monsoon. It’s definitely the rainy season!

This morning I awoke to the solid downpour of the edge of Typhoon Man-yi. Hotel Skycourt Narita, where I was staying, had a great breakfast buffet. There was everything from toast and eggs (scrambled, poached in sauce, or raw) to fried rice, dumplings, soup, and any variety of things I have no name for.

When I got on the shuttle to head out to the airport there was a couple (Malcolm and Nancy) from Calgary on my bus, heading to the same flight to Vietnam. He is a high school history teacher and she is a librarian. We chatted some on the bus, stood in the long line together, and decided to walk through several of the stores. I wanted to find a bookstore and see if I could find a Japanese copy of the first Harry Potter book for my collection.

We first went to a small magazine and book kiosk. I asked if they had it and the clerk indicated “no,” but then pointed us down the hall to a larger bookstore. This looked promising so I asked one of the clerks. She walked me over to the English book section. I told her that I wanted it in Japanese, so she took me over to the Japanese/English dictionary section. I told her, “No, I want Harry Potter” and pointed to a magazine cover with Harry Potter (from the new movie) on the cover. Then she took me to the magazine section. I could tell this was going nowhere, so I thanked her and went to look by myself. Meanwhile, Malcolm and Nancy were also looking, but it’s not easy to even find the section when you can’t read the covers or know what the cover looks like.

Just as I was about ready to call it a day, I decided to ask another younger woman by the other cash register. She immediately had a look of recognition in her eyes and walked me over to the area we had established was the kids section. She looked around for a few moments and then said, “No Harry Potter.” We thanked her and went to the doorway. We were realizing that they had some of the Harry Potter books in English, which bodes well for my option of getting book #7 on my return trip. As we were standing there, the same clerk came out with 3 wrapped Harry Potter books (#1-3). I chose book #1 and she asked, “Gift?” I said no, it wasn’t a gift and asked how much it was. She said, “Gift” and pushed it toward me. At that moment there was the realization that she was GIVING me the book as a gift. I told her, “Thank you, thank you.” I asked Malcolm to take a picture of me by the front of the store holding the book and he suggested taking it with the clerk. She was a bit shy, but willing. What a fun moment!! I spent the rest of the morning really enjoying that moment.

We took off in our typhoon and within 15 minutes were above the clouds. Not too rough of a flight considering what we were flying out of. We flew over much of Japan and some of China and I landed in Hanoi. Sandy met me at the airport, we rode to her house in a taxi, and went for a dinner of Pho (a noodle soup). On the way home, Sandy stopped to buy some flowers—we got them all. Some of her summer team was here (including 2 girls who lived in the Simple Way community house in PA that burned down a month or so ago) and we talked about community living. Currently, Sandy and I are sitting at her dining room table, catching up on life, and it has started the POURING rain. The streets that we walked down for dinner are now flooded, the person who was coming over won’t be (because once it starts raining, you’re excused from all obligations), and I’m getting ready for bed.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Travel Day

Saturday, July 15

Today is transition day 1. I didn’t have to switch airports in Tokyo, so I ended up leaving in the afternoon. This left one last morning for play in Sapporo. Teresa and I walked to a gorgeous local park called Nakajima Park Chuo-ku and the kids rode their bikes. It was the first and only truly sunny day. The park had the original hotel from Sapporo called Hoheikan, which had been moved to this park. The emperor has stayed in this hotel in the past and now it is often used for weddings. Next door to Hoheikan was a Japanese Garden. We had a good time enjoying the tranquility and taking pictures of the kids.

Around 11am we headed out to the airport. Jeremiah rode with the adults. We got there in time to check in the luggage and then have lunch—of course, it was more delicious sushi. I’ve decided that the squid is a bit chewy for me. It’s not unpleasant, it just lasts a lot longer that one would expect when the other sushi is a melt-in-your-mouth experience. However, I’m staying in the ‘try-everything-once’ mode on this trip.

When I flew to Tokyo, it was really obvious we were heading into a storm. There is a typhoon heading to the southern part of Japan and then working its way up. There were 2 flights from my airline cancelled because of the typhoon and we flew right into the rain. I’m not in the red “danger” part on the map, but I’m in the yellow part. Hopefully, it won’t cause any problems on my flight tomorrow.

JAL planes have a camera on the nose of the plane and they show the runway and what’s in front of you on takeoff and landing. On the descent, it was clouds, rain, clouds, rain, clouds, rain, clouds, rain, runway. It’s still pretty warm, but it’s wet, wet, wet.

When I got to Tokyo, I had to figure out how to get to my hotel. Those of you who know my “I’m lost in Schipol (Amsterdam) Airport” story will realize that I learned from those mistakes. When I got to the airport today, I found the information booth and asked where to catch a shuttle to my hotel. It turns out, you have to call for this shuttle. Now I have to use a payphone in a foreign country (statistically speaking, a low probability for success). However, new calculations on the statistics will need to be done because I was successful!! I called for the shuttle, went out to stop number 26, and waited for my shuttle.

I am now at a youth hostel/hotel sitting on my bed and watching Japanese TV (baseball, talkshows, and fishing—which is just a boring in a foreign language as in English). In a few moments I’m heading out of my room to the dining room for dinner. I have a private room with twin beds and my own full bathroom. It has a nice deep Japanese tub, so I’ll be doing a little soaking in hot water tonight, now that Mike and Teresa have walked me through the process and introduced me to the pleasure.

Time for a relaxing evening and some work on my presentations. I will be teaching this first week from Tuesday through Friday so I have some work to finish. Tomorrow is the travel day to Vietnam. I wonder if it will be as much like France and Japan was like the Netherlands? However, since I’ve never been to France, I won’t know.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Herring and Chocolate

Friday, July 14

The plan for today was an adventure to Otaru, a seaside town build on the herring fishing industry (sound Dutch to anyone, else?) We went to Nishin Goten (Aoyama Fishermans’ lodging). This was a house on the hill where 120 fishermen lodged at night and then went out during the day. At one point the Okhotsk Sea was so teeming with fish that the sea shone like liquid silver. I really liked seeing the large glass “floats” that the fishermen use to mark and float the nets.

We had a lunch of herring and ramen soup. The herring is on a stick and grilled over an open fire which was being stoked by a blow dryer. We sat facing the sea and watching the boats go by. After lunch we went to Aoyama Villa, which is the home of the owner of the herring company. He is now a “gabazillionaire” according to Teresa. Then entry hall had beautiful paintings on the ceiling with one painting for each native flower in Japan. This home was beautiful with the amazing dark wood, carved wood d├ęcor, and lacquer screens.

This afternoon, when the kids came home from school, we all piled in the van and took off for the Ishiya Chocolate Factory. It was part “It’s a small world,” part art/history museum, and part amazing cookie/ice cream shop. There was a large model of the factory made out of cake and icing. There were also several other displays that were all frosting, including a “cage” with 4 large parrots. It was wonderful and a great time was had. While we were in the ice cream shop, we looked out the window and there …wait for it… was a WINDMILL!!!! My suspicion for the past 3 days has truly been confirmed…Japan IS really part of the Netherlands.

After the Chocolate Factory, we played in the park and then went to dinner at a place called Sasuke, which is a Kurukuru sushi bar where the sushi travels around a rail. We had many options that rode past, including salmon, egg, crab, eel, and squid. Happy tummies and lots of satisfaction all around. What a lovely Japanese day.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Botanical Gardens and Barnabas Sausages

Thursday, July 13

Last night, when I went to post the blogs, I connected to the Sherrill’s internet. I went over to Google and…whaala…my computer had become fluent in Japanese. It was a bit disconcerting not knowing where to click to edit or post or…really anything. However, a moment later, after a momentary cry for help, Teresa had talked me through the page enough to find the “translate to English, now, dummy” button and it was all good.

Today Teresa and I went to the Sapporo Botanical Gardens in between running children and grandma to school and appointments. There were beautiful flowers and landscaping along with old buildings that were used by one of the famous botanists. There were collections of letters, medals and other awards by the botanist. In one of the houses was a collection of taxidermy animals of all sizes. There was a giant seal and sea turtle. I also got to use my first squat toilet!

At noon, Teresa, Juanita, Sophia and I went to the 10th (top) floor of the MaruImai department store and at the restaurant of the Sapporo Grand Hotel and had Hokkaido sushi. I had a lovely combination with at least 10 different kinds of sashimi that are native to the island. There was a GREAT view of the city. The restaurant was on top of a shopping center and we rode up all the escalators and got a quick glance of all the homewares, clothing, toys, etc. Apparently, bell bottoms are coming back in here!

For dinner we had all local Hokkaido foods—local potatoes and Barnabas sausages. After dinner, Teresa and I went to the grocery store and got lots of fun snacks. Mike showed us his warm-up games for his presentation and we were laughing our heads off when his turned around with a stuffed fish on his head. This was a definite missed photo op. In fact, we were laughing so hard that it drew the kids got up out of bed and played, “ika, ika, tako, tako, mambo, mambo” with us as a practice session for Mike.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Church and Skiing


Wednesday, July 12

This morning I was up early and ready to go. Teresa asked if I wanted to go with her to their church’s Bible study and prayer group. Since I won’t be with them this Sunday, I thought it would be a nice idea. Teresa gave me a tour of the building which has been added to a house that was renovated to be the Sunday School and youth rooms. The group that gathers for the Bible study meets a bit early and cleans the entire church.

There were 21 people gathered. It was a variety of ages (from HS to grandparents) and about ½ men and ½ women. There was a study of Matthew 15:10-20. We sang “Rock of Ages” and “Amazing Grace.” There is this cute little digital machine about the size of a phone book and they punch in the number of the hymn and it plays the music to sing with. There was also a passage that the pastor used to think about the text that was written by Wilbert Shenk. We then broke up into small groups and then gathered back together to eat our lunches. I tried natto (soybeans) in a sushi roll. We also we given some pickled veggies to try along with squid (both the body and an “arm”). It was all good!

This afternoon we picked up the kids from school and went to the Sapporo Winter Sports Museum. We took a lift up to the top of a ski jump and then looked out over the jump that they used in the 1972 Winter Olympics and now use as a training jump. There were actually a few people practicing, so we got to watch about 3 jumps from the top. We then went into the museum where we got to “practice” on things like speed skating, ice skating, bobsledding, crosscountry skiing, and hockey. The highlight was doing a virtual ski jump in a simulator machine and then seeing the “replay” on the screen.

Travel Time

There is something fascinating about traveling. As I make my way to the airport, I realize that it is the middle of the night where I am going. I’m also really interested in the idea of crossing the international date line. I leave today in the morning and, 11 hours later, it is tomorrow afternoon. I leave at 12:40pm, land at 4pm, but have lost an entire day.

The flight was great and the plane wasn’t full so I had space to stretch out. It was light the whole flight, so 2 movies and several TV shows I still wasn’t tired. As I opened the window shade to look at the view for landing, I was struck by the fact that it looked a lot like landing in the Netherlands (and it took almost the same amount of time to get there). After I went through customs, one of the first signs I could read said, “Wilkommen in Narita.” Narita is the name of the airport and the welcome was in several languages, but I still thought maybe I had landed in the Netherlands!

Other similarities to the Netherlands: Bikes everywhere, bike paths, narrow streets, Gouda cheese (yes, really), weather feels very similar

I arrived in Sapporo around 10pm. Teresa picked me up and on the way home we stopped for dinner—at 7-11!! However, here it’s called 7iHoldings. It was like a Japanese deli, so we got some sushi and a other snacks. We were home and I was in bed by 11pm, which meant that it was 7am my time and it had be about 24 hours of awake time.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

The journey begins...

The summer of travel is here. I just logged about 4000 miles on a road trip to Montana and now am on the verge of my big adventure to Asia. I hope you enjoy these musings as I travel literally and figuratively through the next phase of my life.





Here is a photo of Xiao Nu and I entering Bryce Canyon National Park. We had spent most of the 4th of July week in Montana with Thea's family. I got a chance to meet up with Joyce and Bill for dinner with the kids and an opportunity to try waterskiing again. We watched fireworks from the end of Tad and Karen's driveway and were treated to an hour or so of aerial fireworks courtesy of the local fireworks stands. This was really something and not what you (legally) see in California.