Sunday, August 31, 2008
Well, Tarn and I decide to wander from school on our way to meet Kathryn (she teaches at the elementary school across town) and see another rental (did I mention that the security guards live at their schools here, so they are always available to let us in?--they sleep on the floor and shower in the gym) and we find a Bahn Xeo Street. Bahn Xeo are Vietnamese crepes made with an egg, rice flour and coconut milk batter and they are stuffed with bean sprouts, shrimp and pork...my mom loves them at the Tamarind Tree. I have barely seen Bahn Xeo here and suddenly, this street is lined with cast iron little stove pots with fires underneath, usually about six or seven of them next to a huge pot of grease.
Bahn Xeo Street also has quite a selection of vegetarian stands, and since Tarn is vegetarian, we find one stand with five teenage girls presiding over about thirty dishes. They are all laughing because they are unaccustomed to tourists here, and they find our wonder at the array amusing. Finally, I pantomime a kind of, "Tell me what is good" and they take a plate of rice and heap it full of their favorite items, giggling as they work. We sit at a table and they bring us a coconut milk drink, soup and bananas. For two huge vegetarian feasts we pay a total of $1.80. We know we are staying in the tourist area, because we sure don't eat that cheaply around our hotel, and the people aren't nearly as friendly.
We also wander into a temple. We see a huge bellied Buddha in one room and many people dressed in green-grey robes lighting incense and praying. This is only the big room...there are so many little side rooms and a place where people sit at long tables eating noodles. We look at a staircase but we are a little shy about tresspassing; then a petite toothless woman approaches and very gracefully invites us to take our shoes off and go upstairs. There we find even more rooms filled with pictures of ancestors (I guess) or Bodhisattvas...I need to read more about what we saw. In one of the larger rooms a Hindu looking figure presides and mostly women kneel at tables with little prayer books. Some are lighting incense and some are bowing. But some are smoking and some are text messaging, too. I'm fascinated by the variety of activities going on and want to understand it more. I keep reminding myself that some of that will come in time- after all, I do have ten whole months to figure it out.
Here is a picture of my classroom and the view from my classroom window. Not bad, huh? Lots of people email and ask how I have the time to blog every day...well, I love to do it, of course. And I have to choose from so many things to write about. Like now, I left out ten other cool things in favor of the temple and bahn xeo. But I suppose we'll see how this week goes as to whether I will find the time to write every day. The countdown is on...hopefully I will write very soon about the very cool place we will live...
Saturday, August 30, 2008
You see all of these little wading pools? Critters are playing in them--they just play and play and play until you choose them out of the pool and eat them for dinner. See the pool in the lower right hand corner? It's filled with clams that are twice the size of my hand.
This is the typical Vietnamese restaurant I'm invited to last night with Alice Audrey Hepburn, her parents and some of their friends- they work at the other international school (last post I said there were two schools, well, there are actually three).
So, yeah, it's a bit different than the Tamarind Tree. Simon, Alice's step-father, orders for all of us: a platter of tamarind prawns, lemongrass clams (twice in one week for me), tamarind crab, grilled eggplant, and tofu. He does not recommend the lizard, but their friend Garreth is set on it. Garreth puts a lizard tail? lizard arm? lizard leg? on my plate and I taste it...it tastes like chicken. But you knew I would say that, right? I have no need to eat any more lizard that tastes like chicken. Look over to the right...which lizard would you choose?
After dinner we go to their house and make music~meaning that Simon plays the guitar and everyone else gets a drum. Alice sings and - #1 Fan, Sbill, I'm telling you, she can sing. Wish you had been there, too.
Friday, August 29, 2008
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Everyone went across the street to eat green papaya salad, but I have only graduated to scrambled eggs in the baguette. My stomach turns a full rotation every hour or so, but I am not sick. I think I just have a very long tapeworm living inside of me. Soon perhaps I will hold a "Name Marjie's Tapeworm Contest." So instead of eating, I decide to wander through District One by myself.
Here is what my Eyewitness Travel book says about about the center of district one..."Arguably the liveliest part of the city, Dong Khoi does justice to the city's old nickname, "Paris of the Orient." This street became famous during the French era, and is home to elegant hotels and boutiques. The communist regime shut down most of these establishments, but Vietnam's economic liberalization in the mid 80's revived the area. Evidently, it is the center of action in Graham Greene's The Quiet American. As I walk, I just think about all of the stories this part of town could tell.
The Opera House, City Hall (pictured) the Municipal Theater and the General Post Office are all beautiful colonial buildings. But what is absolutely breathtaking is the Notre Dame Cathedral, sitting in the midst of everything. It was built in the 19th century of locally quarried stone and the red ceramic tiles were imported from France. The Virgin Mary was added in 1950.
I have to cheat and find these pictures on Google because I can't capture any of it at night. Standing in front of the Virgin tonight are about fifteen people holding books and candles, reciting a very very long prayer, followed by raised hands and singing. It's a very beautiful sight...they are surrounded by sunflowers and candles. I do have to say, though~ what they're doing does not seem very Catholic at all. But I suppose it must be.
After walking down Dong Khai, I decide to get completely lost. I have the name of the hotel in my purse and figure if it comes down to it I can just show the address to a taxi driver. What a magical place asia is at night... at least what I have seen of asia. Like in China, everyone takes advantage of the cool evenings. People are ballroom dancing on rooftops, so I can just see heads bobbing up and down, flowing gracefully together. Kids are practicing both karate and Tai Chi if they aren't text messaging while lounging against their scooters. Adults play badminton on the sidewalks.
Speaking of scooters, imagine this: You want to cross the street, but the army swarm of scooters does not stop. You scout the horizon for a break, but there really isn't one. So you just step out into the street. And you walk. And the scooters move around you, filling in the spaces between. Walking here is all about faith in the movement of people. No one gets angry...I haven't seen one bit of road rage...they just move into the open spaces. And they honk to let you know they are there. According to one of the school's Saigon experts, motorbikes stop and move for you, cars do not. Fortunately, a car did stop for me tonight when I got myself into a bit of a tight spot while practicing my walking faith. I must practice more. I'm not sure if I will ever be able to hire one of these motorbike taxis. They give you a helmet and you just get on the back. Lots of people from school do it, but I just don't know. I would have to close my eyes the entire time.
Returning to my hotel, I pass the Reunification Building. Tu did not point out many landmarks on our way from the airport, but she seemed very proud of this one. During the 19th c
entury, this was the palace of the French governor general. Later, it was occupied by Ngo Dinh Diem, South Vietnam's president. In 1962, most of the building was destroyed by his own airforce in a failed assassination attempt. It was rebuilt soon after, but Diem was killed before he could move in, and the succeeding president fled from the rooftop in a chopper before North Vietnamese troops took over Saigon. in 1975, the South surrendered to the North, and the palace gates were knocked down by a N. Vietnamese army tank. The photograph of this event has become symbolic of the reunification of Vietnam. Everyone here talks about reunification.
OK, here's Cecilie's part: right after leaving my friends at the restaurant, feeling a little sad about my stomach, etc, I find a shop with beautiful silk clothing. I have heard that you can have clothes made very cheaply, but I don't know how that works yet (of course). So I'm just looking at all of these exquisite clothes that are very small and a cute young shopkeeper follows me, smiling.
Finally, I pantomime that I am a giant and cannot wear any of them. "Oh!" she says. "We will measure you and make your size!" Her English is perfect. We talk for quite a while and I find that she moved to the city from a rural town to learn English. Her Vietnamese name...well, I try to pronounce it but cannot. After three attempts, she says, "In English, it means 'Sweetie.' You can call me 'Sweetie.'" Now, calling someone "Honey," "Hun" or "Sweetie" does not come naturally to me. Casey and I agreed that there is a waitress at Mama's Mexican Kitchen who can call other women that (the same conclusion that Julie, Jessica and I came to years earlier about the same waitress). And perhaps someone who rides a Harely could as well. But I will call her 'Sweetie' and feel really weird doing it. I am going back tomorrow and I'm going to have a dress and a sweater made. I think they will cost about $40 and $80 respectively, but I will have to check on that. Sweetie, like all Vietnamese people I have met so far, are so eager to befriend Americans. The support staff at work today, the builders, people on the street...they are all looking and waiting for a smile and friendliness. When they get it, they give it back times one hundred.
Anyway, back to Cecilie. I want you here as my shopping partner. After the silk shop I find a shopping center with every top label you can imagine inside at very low prices. I really need an expert to help me! And I am just laughing that shopping has trumped eating for me so far. Are you all thinking of names for my Tapeworm?
Monday, August 25, 2008
Sunday, August 24, 2008
1. New teacher/parent orientation at the Saigon Sheraton Hotel
2. Brunch buffet with a group of teachers at the Regence Hotel
3. Next door at the spa
1a. Downstairs, a breakfast buffet is served every morning, and this is where the adventure really begins: "Hi, are you teaching at AIS? Where are you from? How did you find out about this job?" And thirty-six stories of how and why people from all over the world decided to come to HCMC within a matter of weeks begin to emerge. Here are a few short versions:
Doug: I'm choosing to introduce him first because within seconds of meeting me, he is using large hand gestures to describe the crab legs and scallops on the half shell he had for dinner last night. He has been teaching in South America for 17 years...Columbia, Venezuela, Chile, Peru. This summer he decided to jump to Vietnam. He's always wanted to come here. He doesn't miss the US at all.
Alice: She is a true international girl. Born in England to a French mother and a British father, she has gone to school in France, Equador and Thailand (and speaks all of these languages fluently). She spent the past six years attending CUNY University in New York City where she studied theater and dance, was married briefly, and because of her divorce and her decision to join her parents here in Vietnam (they teach at the other school), she cannot return to the US for ten years (the divorce made her illegal). She considers New York more "home" than anywhere else, so this is a hard choice. She is exotically beautiful and she will be teaching drama.
Tarn: From New Zealand, has been teaching in Chengdu China, was there when the earthquake hit. Loved China, but found out about this job and said "Why not?"
Most of "us" are from the US: Chicago, San Diego, Portland, Iowa... but a few come from Canada, the UK and Australia/NZ. I like everyone; it seems to be a good, fun group.
After breakfast we are picked up from this hotel and are taken to the Sheraton Hotel, where all parents and students have been invited to attend an orientation. None of us want to stop chatting in the lobby, but we have to sit through four hours of PowerPoint presentations about EVERYTHING school related in a packed auditorium...kids of all ages have come with their parents. I can't believe how still they sit through this boring meeting! The parents ask tons of questions at the end. I can hardly stand it~ I never got back to sleep last night~
One last comment on pt 2: I really like the principal. If my first impression is correct, he is smart, genuine and has a gentle spirit. An American, he went to high school in Costa Rica and most recently has been a principal in China. He, too, has always wanted to work in Vietnam. He was circulating in the lobby of the hotel, meeting and greeting all of his new staff. When he met me, I was in a large group of people. "Oh! Marjie! I'm glad you made it! (he was not in charge of interviewing and had only slight input in hiring). (He says to everyone) "Marjie took a group of students to save the Leatherback turtles of Costa Rica!" Of course I thought that was so cool that he remembered that detail from our brief email correspondence, but I guess if Costa Rica is close to his heart then he would definitely remember.
2a. Even though I am exhausted after the meeting, I have made a pact to stay awake as long as possible to beat my jet lag. Some of the teachers decide to get the gourmet buffet at the Regence Hotel. It's not really my thing, as you know, but it turns out to be a great social gathering. I sit next to one of my future sixth graders, Di Wa. Her mother and father have both been teachers here, but are each pursuing other careers now. He is black and from North Carolina and she is from the Phillippines. Their two daughters are beautiful and have been raised in Burma (what they still call it), Thailand, and here in Vietnam. Her name is Vangie. We eat and drink wine all afternoon (I mean, Di Wa doesn't...), and I just don't have the energy to write about all of the other great people there...
3a. When I return to the hotel, my goal is to stay awake...what to do? I decide to go next door for a pedicure and an hour-long massage. Both cost me a total of $18 (twice as much as in China!). While I'm getting the pedicure, Cynthia, my new hero since last night at 1:30 am, comes down from the massage room looking all noodly and says, "I have never done anything like this. I think I'm going to do this here a lot. Is every other day too much?" After my massage, I come down to find her in a chair "getting a new doo." I think she is going to be one of my favorites. She is giving this all she's got.
When I pay at the front, a very cute girl asks me where I am from. When I answer "Seattle" she just about jumps out of her skin. "I am going to Seattle next month!!!!!!" Can you believe that she has finally been granted a Visa and will attend Seattle Central Community College on Capital Hill to pursue a degree in International Business. She is so full of questions about Seattle...she doesn't know anyone there. Her sister is behind the counter and does not understand much English. When Michelle, the Seattle bound one, tells her I am from there and tells her that I say there are many Vietnamese people in Seattle, she begins to cry. "My sister is very scared for me to go there. I keep telling her it's OK!" I ask her where she will live. "I'm not sure, but I think I can find a homestay through the internet." So of course, I need to ask all of you, do you know anyone who might be interested in hosting a very cute, articulate Vietnamese girl who has ambitions to study business in Seattle? I don't know, it's worth asking!
I'm just about to go out and meet some people for dinner. No pictures today, only a lot of words. I'll leave you with this: I'm feeling really, really good about being here. I like these people and today I enjoyed the energy of HCMC. Today's kind of day is absolutely one of my favorite kind of days: meeting people who do the same kind of crazy things I do is pure fun. I think the last person flies in tonight. What will her story be?
(Sorry for the poor grammar and tense changes. Maybe I will edit this later!)
Saturday, August 23, 2008
Anyway, I'm retrieved from the airport by a cute girl named Tu (pronounced "Du") holding a card with my name on it right outside the airport. She introduces herself as the "Director of Student and Staff Relations." During the bus ride (the Mercedes Benz bus is owned by the school) to the hotel (which is in District One, the most interesting district, according to my Eyewitness Travel guide), I ask her what her job entails. At first she says she is not exactly sure, because she is new along with most of the teachers, and then she lists a variety of duties and says, "And I have the most important job there is. I count the days you work and am in charge of payroll!" (she cracks up). Then she hands me a new SIM card loaded with time as well as one million Dong (the name for money here, which is ripe for fun). "Now I am making you a millionnaire!"(cracks up). I ask if Ho Chi Minh is on every bill. "Yes, he is. We call him Uncle Ho!" (cracks up.) "Just like you have Uncle Sam, right?" (cracks up). Well, I guess...except her uncle is real and inspired a gritty movement for independence, I think.
Friday, August 22, 2008
I really, really want a Hello Kitty meal.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
I posted about another taco bus last summer, one just south of this one in Columbia City "Taco Bus=Happiness." That bus is great, but JP, who knows both humbao AND tacos (and what else, JP?), was quick to set me straight. And I listen to JP. Ever since December, I have taken at least one person per month to the bus (which you actually climb into to order, instead of ordering through the window) and my efforts have resulted in many conversions. The truth is that there is no better taco, in Seattle or Mexico (or Texas, so I've been told). My search has been thorough. Now, only through this posting, can I continue to spread the word while I am gone.
Here is what I order, every single time, clockwise from the left: 1) Mulita with avocado 2) Sopita 3) Taco. And I always get them with carnitas: roasted pork, rendered crispy fat on the edges. Squeeze a lime on all of it and don't forget the hot sauce.
Go forth, and tell me when you do.
Friday, August 15, 2008
But then I pulled out card #2 and felt chills. Look at it! I had forgotten about these completely. If that is not a Vietnamese child, maybe she is Cambodian, but still...by the way, I just got word I am teaching sixth grade instead of high school. What age is this child, anyway? And is that the universe in the background? With a transparent plastic bag? Did my soul know about the beginning of my quest and the end result of it back in January? Did it know it was going to last most of the summer until I had two weeks to pick up my life and rent my condo? Could it maybe have given me just a little heads up, if so?
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
viewing for a K-5 position. I thought, well, that will be different and I want different. Then I was told they had an opening in high school social studies. I thought, well, OK. Then they found out that English was my "thing." The end of the story: I will be teaching English at the American International School in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. That's right...two nights ago, I bought a one-way ticket to Saigon. Pushing the "purchase" button for a one way ticket to Saigon was a little weird.
When I called to tell my parents, my mom responded with the usual. "We never know what you're going to tell us when you call." I responded with, "Just think how I feel." This couldn't be any more last-minute.