24 November, 2006

Substitute teaching

The last three days of this week I spent subbing at the International School. The night before I started, I couldn't sleep: I was nervous, and jittery, and I had the same old dream that I used to have all the time when I started teaching a few years ago. In the dream I'm trying to get a large group of students to hear what I'm saying, and we're always in an auditorium or some other sort of really big room. Usually the students are talking to each other instead, and I can see that they know I'm trying to get their attention but they can't be bothered; they don't respect me. I'm trying tactics, I'm wheedling, I'm waving my arms (and in this most recent one, I was using a microphone but it wasn't working) to get them to listen to me. The meaning is obvious: I'm afraid I won't be an effective teacher. The cool thing is that in this week's dream, I had some helpers. There were a few of my best students from Pisgah in this dream, and they were trying to shush the other students for me, helping me regain control of the class. It didn't work, but it made me feel a little glimmer of hope. [ever notice how these words always want to go together, glimmer and hope? I don't like how contrived it sounds but that's what came out.]

Anyway, sleeplessness and reoccurring dreams aside, this week has been great. I love being at this school. Too bad they can't hire me for this coming semester, because the ceramics teacher needs an aid and the dance and music teachers want a drama person to help with the production of their spring shows. The campus is clean and beautiful, the kids are *uber* respectful (at least, in English-- but some of the Korean girls I'm pretty sure were talking smack), and the cafeteria food rocks. You're not teaching in Vietnam until you've had little plastic mini-bowls of pho in the morning. Today has been the best day of them all. Since it's Friday, most of the classes are viewing movies (Uncle Tom's Cabin in US History and Luther in World History) but the best one has, very surprisingly, been in AP Economics. I would seriously recommend this DVD to anyone: it comes with their textbook and it's called DiscoverEcon with Paul Solman. Brilliant wit, truly funny scenes, and crystal clear examples that made me go "Ohh!" out loud and all the kids looked at me and giggled (hey, I never took Econ). I am going to try not to steal it and take it home with me. What a fun day.

Tonight is Thanksgiving Dinner: we're doing it supra style with lots of wine and toasting. Kenny and I are making our famous (sorta) tofu chocolate mousse pies, and garlic mashed potatoes, and green beans, and we ordered a turkey (it comes cooked already: that was actually the only option). Yum.

In other news: now that we've watched all the Deadwood there is to watch, I've moved on to Carnivale. It's pretty great so far, and juuust enough like Deadwood to keep me happy.

Also: on Wednesday morning my xe om driver took me to the wrong end of the city (whoops!) and we backtracked through the part of the city I think that maybe no expat knows about: the network of marshes and fields and dirt paths that make up the "other" side of An Phu (District 2). I felt like we were in the middle of the country somewhere. It was straight outta National Geographic. The scenery and the poverty were together so brightly hued and poignant and just striking, and I thought, "ah ha: Saigon has not always been what I know it to be." And I was late for work, and we got on a ferry to get back to town, and my driver was stressed, but it was very memorable.

Right now, it's planning period, and if you look away from the white boards and the faux-wood desks and the computer and the American flag and out the window, you can see a river winding around the edge of the land. The school has planted trees but they're not big enough yet to bock the sight of the water. On the banks are low bunches of palms and every once in awhile a little makeshift hut, and there is one canoe dipping its oars into the water, far away, in profile. There is one airplane in the sky, flying fast. How amazing it is that you can just go somewhere like this, and be here, and be so far away from where you were.

16 November, 2006

Mmm, morning

My shiny green bike ride in to work this morning was ridiculously gorgeous and somehow very poignant. It had the kind of lighting that I think would be appropriate for a "last beautiful morning on Earth" kind of scene. Really yellow sunlight, streaking white clouds, deep blue sky (does it always look like this at 8am?). All along the roads, people were gathered, hunched over their midget plastic tables eating the best looking beef noodle soup you could ever hope to see, dressed in office finery and nylon pyjamas, whichever. As I biked along, people stepped out to cross the flow of traffic as we do here, slowly and steadily, watching the traffic swirl around 'em and part and come back together, like motorbike water ballet. One old woman wearing extremely wide-leg pyjamas that were fluttering in the breeze stepped off the curb, bowl of breakfast in one hand and chopsticks in the other, and just opened her arms Jesus-on-the-cross style and walked out with closed eyes. Gorgeous. Let's see what else... kids on their way to school, little navy blue and white ducklings bobbing along. The four guys who hang out on my street and offer rides to people on their motorbikes, waving and smiling at me (it's nice to be known). The market looked especially good this morning, too. Before 10am is definitely the time to go.

Tomorrow I'm taking the hydrofoil down to Vung Tau beach and leaving Kenny here (he's teaching this weekend, but I am not. Ha ha.) and I plan on regaining my nice American tan and hopefully having a much easier time with beach hair now that said hair is hacked off.

In other news, I realised that even though it's a solid idea to buy a Vespa here and import it back to the States where it'll be worth at least twice what I paid for it and I can be the coolest teacher in the world, tooling around on my little vintage Italian putter... I just don't have enough money to buy one in the first place. Dang. Dang dang!

I can still drool over them, though. That ain't expensive. Look at these guys and imagine what they look like 40 years older (and wiser).

15 November, 2006


I am SO excited right now, because we just booked our Christmas vacation on the island of Phu Quoc, which defies all superlatives and just continually blows peoples' minds one after another, blam blam blam! I can't believe we're going! Here's where the island is, compared to the mainland:

The island is just off the western coast of S. Vietnam, nestled up under Cambodia. See it? Isn't it just adorable?

Now here's a map of the island itself. Keep in mind that this whole place is reputed to be unspoiled paradise with minimal tourists (it is unspoiled, after all). Not only are we going to this place, we're going to one of the most remote beaches, Bai Sao [Sao beach], which is just there on the bottom right hand corner of the island. So while the rest of the holiday crowds are watching the sunset on the West Coast, we'll be far far away on the SE Coast, looking out for the sunrise.

There's a little cluster of three red names on the southeastern tip, you see it? The top name says, a bit blearily, "Sao Beach" [just under it is Khem Beach, which means cream beach, as in ice cream- because the sand is supposed to be creamy colored and smooth].

The resort that we're staying at is the only one on Bai Sao, or so I've read on the interwebs and in the Lonely Planet tome. It's called My Lan, if you want to google it, and here's a picture from someones blog who's been there before:

And since you know I love things more when they're affordable, I gotta say that we're booked in a beachfront bungalow for six nights at 220,000vd ($13.75) a night. Can you believe it??

The plan is to travel overland to the city of Rach Gia, which means spending a night or two in the Mekong Delta, gradually leaving the crowds and modernity behind, so as not to shock the system. Then on the 24th of December we'll fly over the short distance of water to Phu Quoc, which takes about 21 minutes and costs about that many dollars. Spend six nights in remote creamy turquoise seafood paradise, and then fly directly back to Saigon on the 30th: just enough time to rest, shower, have some Indian food or whatever we're craving after a week of nothing but crab legs and pineapples, and get ready for the birthing ceremonies of 2007. It seems unbelievable.
I found so much truth in the following blog, I found myself substituting out the specific details that make Tbilisi and Saigon their own and being wowed at the parallel experiences of moving to a brand new old city. Just for my own enjoyment, and certainly not to steal from the writer, here is my edited version tailor made to suit our life.

When we first got here, everything was very new, and very weird, and very fresh, and I felt like I was bursting at the seams to write about all the strange things I encountered. As I'm sure usually happens, we've begun to acclimate to our surroundings a bit, and there is less and less that I find specifically worth writing about... I'm not sure that makes sense.

On the one hand, our living situation is very romantic, and very much what you might expect from
[a UU drama teacher and a Waldorf kid turned-amateur-ethnomusicologist/law student] living together in [South East Asia]... the buildings are very turn-of-the-century, and partly run-down.. one of us walks to the corner most mornings for [steaming bowls of rice and fish parts] to eat with our [giant cups of sugared iced coffee]... crazy [old ladies] dressed in [a technicolored nylon rainbow] squat on every street corner, [hawking sandwiches and fruit]. There's even a [row of Japanese specialty shops] across the street, and so we walk out of our little apartment building to the sounds of [bus loads of picture-snapping tourists].

On the other hand, living is living: 90% daily drudge. We run out of [gummy fruit snacks]. We watch [the latest episode of LOST just hours after it debuts in the States, courtesy of Limewire]. The [pipes leak and there are hoardes of cockroaches]. I'm tired from staying up late last night, and I have to [catch the bus and go tutor], and there's [these] guy[s] loudly [building a sky scraper in the middle of the mud pit outside]. In these moments, it doesn't feel any different than living in Marshfield, or Burlington, or Oxford, or Columbus, [or Swannanoa, or Charlotte, or Canton] or anywhere else.

But then you look out the window, and see a [palm tree swaying in the sunshine] and think oh, yeah. That's why I'm here.

09 November, 2006

Kiss Kiss, Chop Chop

I cut my hair.

You like? I do! It took some deep breaths and rehearsed some mental reminders that hair will grow back and that it's too hot here for long hair and that besides, I don't ever really wear it down... but for the most part it was easy. I just wandered into one of the many random salons scattered along my street and showed them a few sketches that I had made, and some pictures torn out of magazines for good measure, and then enjoyed my 20 minute shampoo/scalp massage. Easy work, I tell ya. And the grand total was 110,000vd which is about $6.50. Ta da!

05 November, 2006

Little updates

Yesterday was the perfect Sunday: I worked early and was back in my neighborhood before noon. I went to the market and bought a big bag full of veggies, chopped garlic and chillies for under a buck. I met up with Ken back at our place and we had a great conversation about teaching while eating handfuls of crisp pomegranate seeds in our kitchen. Then we took a taxi over to our friend's parents' mansion and swam in the pool and grilled steaks until late afternoon, laughing and floating around and scheming about how what we'd like to import to the states and sell in our communities. [more about this idea later]. Then our roomates called, and we met up with them at the local sushi joint for a housemate bonding session: all five of us ate sushi and sashimi and drinks and miso and edamame for over two hours, and the total was about $9 each. We brought a board game and played until we were the only ones left in the resteraunt. Then we came back home, and I read a magazine and Kenny did some editing until we dozed off. Get better, Life: I dare you.

The dry season is coming upon us, and today the sky is pale blue with little wispy clouds, and it is hot enough to feel the sun toasting your skin (a feeling that I quite like). I've agreed to do an extended substitute thing for the language school factory that I wrote about a month ago, even though it's not the best environment, it is an extra $30 a day, which adds up. I'll be doing that in between yoga and tutoring on Weds, Thurs and Fri afternoons, which is pretty ideal: I can still do my favorite things like bike around town and meet friends for lunch, and in theory I have time to catch the bus from where I normally do in order to get up to Thu Duc district for to make with the tutoring. And it's only through December, which is also pretty ideal. Now to get back in the mindset of controlling dozens of little 4 year old bodies, while trying to establish an all-class dialogue of "Red! Yellow! Bluuuue!".

I cannot believe it's November. This is like the summer that never ends. That's exactly what I wanted.

To celebrate the new income, we're going to walk to Juice, one of my favorite breakfast places. Gotta go put my sneakers on.

If anyone is planning or dreaming about taking winter break overseas, think about coming to south east asia. The plane ticket will hurt your wallet but it's all good once you land.

03 November, 2006

There's a thought!

Or: We could skip town for a month and travel around SE Asia! It's Kenny's brilliant idea but it started with my idea to leave Vietnam for Christmas (Cambodia is only a four hour bus ride away, apparently) coupled with some friends' offers to come visit their home in the Phillipines coupled with K's newly arrived multiple-entry visa. Saigon is full of wonderment and opportunity and city stuff but I think by the time January draws nigh, I'll be ready to feel like a traveler again.

This weekend will be full of tutoring English, yoga, long walks on the hot streets, and hopefully a pool slash grill party, at a real Aussie's house, which means we are allowed to say "throw another shrimp on the barbie!" (though I've heard that real Australians don't say that). Ah, the start of the dry season! Bring on the daily sunburns and hot dusty winds!

02 November, 2006

Blah humbug

Ok, it's fun to spend my time doing yoga and eating great food and hunting for good deals on material to give to tailors so that I can have unique clothes but my life is starting to feel, if not shallow, then certainly lacking depth. The choices are out there: volunteer my time for a needy cause? Take two weeks to go to a silent meditation retreat in Cambodia with the monks? Devote myself to achieving a higher level of fitness, which I said I was waiting for a hot climate to do it in? Write really great letters to friends? Start a band?

I'm also thinking a lot about future plans, relationship stuff, and What I Really Want For My Life.

That's it for now.

I'm on Flickr a lot.

Jessica K.. Get yours at bighugelabs.com/flickr