Monday, September 29, 2008
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Friday, September 26, 2008
Well, not quite. Last week I buy Roma tomatoes, Thai basil and garlic at our Sunday market. I boil everything down with the intention of making pasta sauce, but at the time I have no idea that it will take a village and many miles to acquire the rest of the ingredients to make what you are viewing in the photo.
I look at two stores for tomato paste, nothing. I mention this to Steve (of the former dreadlocks) and he mentions to me that he can't find any basil but that "his" store sells tomato paste. The next morning I bring him a basil from the morning market and he has two cans of tomato paste for me.
Sugar is hard to come by, too, and I like to put just a little brown sugar in my sauce. I find white sugar (it's in the "foreign" section, along with peanut butter, jam and white bread). I mention this to Tarn, and he goes on a quest for brown sugar and comes back with it on Wednesday night. I know a store that sells wine--it's a few miles away. I make the walk on Thursday night. So Thursday night I cook the tomatoes, garlic and basil with some wine and tomato paste and a little bit of sugar. I need a little bit of salt. Haven't seen it anywhere.
Katherine knows a store that sells pasta, and it's right near the place in the Backpacker's District that sells french bread. After school today I have to commit; they are counting on a spaghetti dinner even though I can barely think about crossing five streets to get the pasta and bread. We are all eager to be cooking in the castle. I go and I find the noodles and bread and fresh lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes. Can't find the salt. "Do you speak English?" I ask about five store clerks. Nothing but blank stares. Finally, I say forget the salt, but I try once more at the check out stand. She has me write it down and I see her ask five people. Finally she returns with a salt and pepper mix. I'll take it.
So, for dinner, we have a fresh green salad with homemade balsamic olive oil dressing (those we found at a foreign store also by the BD), linguine and fresh Roma sauce, parmesan cheese and toasted French bread with carmelized onions and purple grapes (couldn't find the goat cheese). After more than a month, I finally cook something properly. It tastes great, but more importantly, it feels great.
School just has me shaking my head most days...in a good way. The jackhammer guy has completed his job, the elevator is fixed (one day I had the jh on one side and a drill on the other), so it's relatively quiet now (the motorbikes are white noise). This week in English we are reading stories and poems that use hyperbole. I find a bunch of Shel Silverstein poems (I like your guy, too, Amy) and a story from Bill Cosby's "Childhood." At the last minute, I think of You Tubing Bill Cosby and I find his routine about going to the dentist, so I show it to introduce the story. The kids laugh so hard that two of them fall out of their chairs. When I say we are going to read the story, they cheer. Great! We get to read a story! Yay! Who wants to play Bill, and who wants to play his brother Russell? "Pick me! Pick me!"
Last week I showed the Twilight Zone...doesn't it sound like I am in one now? These kids are just too cute and eager to learn. They are so passionate. They are supposed to write paragraphs using hyperbole (my dog/friend/mom/dad is the coolest in the world) and all of them want to read theirs to the class. One kid named Sam, from China, stands and says "Mine is a poem, is that OK?" And he reads the most beautiful description of his friend. The whole class erupts into spontaneous applause; it's that good, and everyone recognizes it. In Ancient History, I make all the kids nametags according to which god/goddess they are and they must come to the front, spin three times, I hit them on the head three times with a fork, then they become the god. They love it. We are also reading Gilgamesh. I am learning so much about ancient history, for the first time. I certainly never studied it in school...or if I did I was unaware that I was studying it.
Some of the school system things have been changed, which is great. Things aren't totally smooth by any means, but now Nam picks me up at five every night, regardless (tonight I don't have to do any meeting or greeting with his family, thank goodness). This is still later than I would like, but it's getting better all the time.
All week I have been planning to get out of town this weekend. But maybe it won't happen until next weekend. I may just take a day to do nothing...no party planning, no school planning...it just sounds so dreamy.
Oh, and something funny: Yesterday, K runs into our real estate agent, Linh, at the Baguette place on the corner (not my lady...she's only there in the mornings. There's also a commercial Baguette King on the corner, at twice the price and not near as good). Linh says to her "I hear you had a party last Saturday." K asks her how she heard about it. "The police told me." She tells K that she told the police that we are foreigners, we don't know better than to have loud parties at night. We are living in a city of 9 million people, and we feel like we are living in a large extended family. I bet all of the HCMC network knows about our party. Maybe next time we should just invite them all.
Good night from Saigon!
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Tonight's theme is music in its many forms in HCMC.
First, Cracking Bamboo:
Cracking Bamboo is somewhere in between bizarre, terrible and a little bit cool for about five of the ninety minute set. It's an ensemble of percussionists (and a few really bad steppers) from all over Asia and Europe (mostly Norway)-- ten drum sets, a big gong, a huge water jug, some chairs. Maybe someday someone will explain to me why even at the classy Ho Chi Minh City Conservatory, music must be played to distortion level on speakers. I spend the whole time wanting to be in bed (others from the school are also there, and I can't look at them during the abstract pieces (especially the Norwegian ones...it's like my international school experiences are colliding...because I will laugh). When it's over at ten, I just want to go home and crash.
But...I guess that I got Nam's whole family wrong earlier, because when he picks me up tonight, we turn down a different, narrow alley altogether, a few neighborhoods away from mine, and I mean a narrow, narrow alley, and we stop at a very small stack house. This, it seems, is his house. I meet his two daughters (both high school age. Amy, are you on to something?) and there is his wife--very, very gracious. Their house is small, with a tiny area hosting a TV, a fridge and a staircase upward. I ask if I should take off my shoes and his wife laughs and points at what they have...not much. No, don't take off your shoes. She invites me to sit down and the only place to sit is on the floor. I'm in a dress. But I sit. She offers me water from the fridge and a peach. The peach is to go, just a gesture of hospitality. The daughters know a little English. Nam wants to teach me how to count in Vietnamese at ten on a Thursday night while I am sitting on his floor in a dress. I try to pretend that I want to learn how to count to ten. Fortunately, we are there for a pretty short amount of time when he gestures for us to go. Phew. I wonder how many other family members I will get to meet?? After all, he has ten brothers and sisters, unless I misunderstood that, too, so this could be a long process. I think the house near mine is that of his great aunt, because his daughter tells me that their grandmother died.
Back to music.
The First Annual AIS (American International School) Musical
Each teacher at AIS must be involved with or lead an after school club. So I volunteer to help Alice put on a production of The Wizard of Oz. I know there is so much to learn from her...she is an expert in her field (I googled her and found a very positive New York Times review of a play she was in...that's The New York Times, by the way...) Sixty kids sign up to be a part of it and Alice is a diva at organizing them. Last week, with no notice whatsoever about how big the group would be, she had them walking in circles chanting, doing breathing exercises and playing drama games.
Today she reveals to the club the play we will do; none of them have heard of or seen The Wizard of Oz. So all sixty of us watch the movie for club today--auditions for parts will be next week. Imagine how sweet: sixty naive, well-mannered Vietnamese kids watching that movie all together for the first time. They cheer when Toto escapes from the nasty lady on the bike; they oooh and ahhhhh when Dorothy walks into color and when they first meet the munchkins. They laugh at the scarecrow and especially the lion. I haven't seen it for a long time, so the experience is magical.
In the evenings, K, T and I like to watch MTV Asia because they play the most obscure 80's music videos-- lots of one hit wonders. Last night it was Mr. Big: the three of us can't help but sing it altogether: "I'm the one who wants to be with you; deep inside I know you feel it too; waiting on a line (waaaaiting on that line).....just to be the next to be with you; when it's through, it's through, a fateful twist for both of you; so come on baby, come on over, let me be the one to show you..." You're all singing it now, aren't you, and you can picture them with their big hair (here's some help): Or in the morning, K and I see Rick Springfield singing "Jessie's Girl." Things like that just make your day.
Grocery Shopping Music
Everty time I go to the grocery store, I feel like I am in the "It's a Small World" ride at Disneyland. And yes, they play the Small World music to distortion level.
When's the last time you heard "The Theme from Love Story"? Or "A Time for Us"? Or "Guantanamaro"? Because I hear those songs now every time I get a massage. There must be a massage CD that the government makes every salon in HCMC buy. I can't think of another reason someone would willingly play this elevator music other than by a communist mandate. But they ALL do, and I should know, because I have had my share of massages here. I love the massages, but man, can I make it through that awful music for nine more months? K and I plan to someday bring our own CD to the Bum Bum...maybe they will understand?
Karaoke on Wheels
Everything is on wheels, and almost everything is on motorbike wheels. The other day we see a lady with a huge weighing scale on her bike. All you need to do is to flag her down and she will put the scale down and weigh you right there in the middle of the street. I don't see one person flagging her down. Then, yesterday, Tarn sees a guy with a "To Go" karaoke set up. He's just driving down a busy street on his motorbike when he suddenly stops, pulls out speakers and a microphone and a display screen and the music begins to play. I wish I had seen it.
Friday, Friday, Friday. What to wear? I think it will be my Princess Di.
so I order the red. She puts it in a plastic bag, pours cream on top, and just like everything else here, it is rubber banded so tightly that I will fight for hours to get it off when I arrive at school. It's delicious.
I'm off to see a concert tonight at the Conservatory in District One...it's called "Impulse: Crackling Bamboo" and it's an international percussion festival. You will get the review tomorrow...
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Then one of my students, Alex, who actually reminds me very much of my nephew Devon (therefore making him one of my favorites), pulls up on the back of a motorbike with his mom. He wants to introduce us. After talking with her, I take the opportunity to ask Alex to translate between me and RSBH about the destination. He does this, then I find out Nam's name(by the way, I plan to start learning Vietnamese basics soon if only to communicate with my driver) and Nam then asks him to translate something for me. He says to Alex "Tell her I don't understand a word she says." That's what Chatty Kathy wants me to know. He doesn't understand when I draw an arch and write 6:30 and point to the arch two blocks away as clear as anything, but he can chat and chat away at me no problem. The other thing he wants me to know...if he's not there right away, he wants me to wait for him...he will be there shortly.
He takes me to the tailor through horrendous traffic and he goes up on the sidewalk a few times. But he always seems to be in control, nice and steady, so I don't really mind. I want to get through the traffic, too. When he does some impressive manouevers, I say, "Nice job" and by his smile I think he does understand at least a little. When we drive back through the part of District One that is the "Paris of Vietnam," he points at all of the attractions and wants to know, have I seen them? Have I walked around the Reunification Palace? Have I seen Notre Dame? When I nod yes, he seems pleased. He waits for me to get a fitting with my dresses, then takes me home. We are past the bargaining phase; I just ask him what I owe him and he gives me a fair price.
By the way, the dresses are beautiful. Maybe you'll get to see them someday.
When I walk to the street today, Nam is waiting with his wife. I could be wrong, but I think she is there only to meet me. We shake hands and she is lovely; it's pretty cool. I can only speculate, but perhaps landing a steady customer--maybe especially a foreigner-- is a big deal. Today Nam is supposed to pick me up at the arch at 6 after the gym. When I come out, I think I know a short cut through the carnival, but as is often the case with my sense of direction, I am completely off. I get so lost, and the motorbikes and lights and buildings that all look the same confuse me. I get to the arch at 6:15, wondering if Nam has been patient. He's not there. I'm a little relieved because I forgot to bring long pants to cover my shorts, but I'm also anticipating a scolding tomorrow. I have to hire someone else to take me home, and I feel insecure the whole way. I hope Nam will forgive me!
Monday, September 22, 2008
Saturday, September 20, 2008
3. Since we have yet to hire a cleaning lady, we get up at six a.m. and mop all of our decks (three) and all of our stairs and floors (we've been walking on grimy floors for two weeks). We are dripping with sweat.
4. My two roommates work for hours on their DJ playlists. Tarn, especially, concerns himself with four lists of music to go with any direction the party moves.
6. Not a cloud in the sky all day...but while I am at the salon, it starts to pour and it rains harder than I've seen it yet (Yes, Megan Gallagher, like Costa Rica rain!) We have worked all day getting the roof ready...
12. This morning I am a bit sheepish when I step outside. All of our neighbors are out; the recycling lady is collecting our cans and I give a nod to everyone. Do you still like us? I am saying with my nod. A man who lives kitty corner comes over. I know he can speak English because Tarn talked to him the other day-- he is in charge of quality control for seafood exports to the US and Canada. He explains about the recycling system (the lady is paying me for all of the beer cans and I'm confused) and then he says, "So you had a party last night."
"Yes. I hope we didn't keep you awake."
"Well, we go to sleep early...but it's OK. The neighbors that called the police, they are in the house right there (he points about three houses down). They will be OK tomorrow, don't worry. Sometimes I have parties and they call the police on me, too. Did you have a good time? Was it your birthday...?" I find out that seven people live in his stack: his mother, wife, kids, brother, brother's wife, their kid.
Then I walk past the seamstresses. They come to the door, smiling. They speak no English, but they motion, "You had a party last night! Was it your birthday? Was it fun? Is that a rash on your shoulder? What is it from? You should put some lotion on it."
I ask if we kept them awake. "It's OK. You were having fun!"
I move on to the morning market. Everyone waves hello and offers to sell me eels, frogs, cakes, noodles, vegetables, jello. I love my neighborhood. The castle is open for business. Everyone asks if they can call and come over to hang out on the roof. Life is good. Think I will do something touristy today, like go to the Reunification Palace or the War Museum. Good night!
Friday, September 19, 2008
And this: our PE teacher from Ecuador named Daniel, who moonlights as a manager of La Cantina - a Mexican restaurant/salsa (as in dance) bar, sends an email out about celebrating Mexican Independence Day there, so K and I decide to go straight from massages/pedicures to the party. We order tacos and margaritas.
You know how some things just create a special secure spot in your mind, so that even when you have taken a crazy teaching job in Vietnam and every day something bizzarre happens-- like maybe a kid puts a snake in his nose and it come out his mouth and you just don't know what to do with that--so at those moments you can go to that special secure place and your whole world feels right again? Well, the tacos...the tacos. They make their own tortillas. They make fresh salsa. They roast pork for carnitas. They serve them with lime wedges. We are in heaven... I have to say: they are better than the taco bus tacos (but not cheaper). K and I decide we will go once per week; it will be my special secure spot, whether I am there physically eating the tacos, or in my mind, just knowing that I can go there and eat the tacos.
And as for Daniel, that Ecuadorian can salsa! We did not come dressed for dancing, but next time, he says, he will give us lessons. I work with some interesting people. They are all coming over tomorrow. We have a very long to-do list, so I think I will sleep now...
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Aren't they cute?
In Ancient History we are becoming gods and goddesses of Sumer and reading Gilgamesh.
In English, we are reading a teleplay called "Herbie" by Rod Serling of Twilight Zone fame, so I You-Tube the episode "It's a Good Life." Both stories are about boys with extrasensory powers. The class loves to make the Twilight Zone sound (of course they had never heard it before...) and today we act out the play. We have an earthquake in slow motion and an injured girl (played by a boy in each class which makes it exreeeeemely funny for them) saved by a helicopter. The boys have been running into class asking "Twilight Zone?" because I can only download it in ten minute increments.
So, yes, it's fun for a change.
Other news: my guy waits for me in the mornings and after school now; it's a done deal. Today he brings me home all the way to the castle (I meet him out on the street by the sandwich cart in the mornings) and he points down the alley to tell me he lives there; we are neighbors. He must be talking to his friends, because I sure didn't tell him where I live; he just suddenly knows. I notice today that his red helmet has a little cartoon Tweety Bird on it. And today, he corners of his mouth turn up the slightest bit when he sees me after school.
Tonight K, T and I decide to go to Seafood Alley to try another place (T is mostly vegetarian but indulges in seafood sometimes to get his protein). A waiter meets us on the street and ushers us in, sits us down, then beckons us to follow him (the hand gesture is a palm down, waving motion). He leads us down the alley and into a stack house with a very long hallway. At the end is a kitchen, and down the hallway are pots and tanks and coolers. He wants to know what we want, even though he already presented us with a translated menu. He takes a live shrimp out of the tank and we nod a yes-- he takes it over to the pot: do you want it boiled? then he takes it to the grill: or do you want it grilled? We want it grilled. We point at long-necked clams (remember those from China?), regular clams (they come in a lemongrass saffron broth), squid (fried in a tamarind chili sauce, and, I don't know...we just keep pointing. We want everything. He takes us back to the table and within minutes our fish starts to arrive. Evidently, we pointed at eight different critters. Each dish costs about $1.80 -- the same price as the place across the street, so we each pay about $6.
In the middle of dinner, we hear "Hey!" Tarn and I turn around (Katherine is already facing the street) and we see two boys, also probably sixth grade age, dressed in silk costumes. One of them has two sticks of fire and he is swallowing them, over and over. He keeps yelling "Hey!" before swallowing the fire and after a few minutes of watching, T and I turn back around to eat. Suddenly, K goes white and puts her hands to her mouth. Because when T and I turned around, the other boy (not the fire eater) puts a thin, long green snake in his nose, which reappears seconds later through his mouth. K has to put her forehead in her hands for a minute; she has lost her composure and appetite. Tarn is disappointed. When they come around for money, he asks them to do the snake again, but of course they don't understand.
What did we pass up on the menu? Well, mixed intestine salad, grilled intestine, pig marrow, fried bird, fried frog, sapo duck tongue, stomach stew, cow ball, wild boar, and tons of snails. Can I put an order in for you?
Before we head out to dinner, our neighbor comes over to scold us about not using our padlock when we are in the house. The people here are crazy about padlocking their doors. The castle had four padlocks when we found it; its got an outer gate, an inner door and bars on all the windows. We want to be like everyone else in the evenings and leave our door open, but our neighbor, who is pantomiming in frantic gestures, tells us that someone will come in and do damage. So we are going to listen to the prophetess. We are very very careful about padlocking when we leave, but now we wonder how much of a target we are, living in this huge place. At least we have neighbors who are looking after us, but we keep hearing..."make sure you padlock your upper door (right by my room)" and now this from our other neighbor.
It's just a little disturbing, ya know?
Tomorrow is Friday, thank goodness. We sent out an email for the castle warming and everyone is coming. We think we could have a hundred people...so stay tuned for lots of pictures when we get everything ready on Saturday!
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Back to the mototaxi quest: this morning I find my guy. He's low key, drives slowly and carefully, wears a blue shirt with a red helmet, and charges 15 thousand, straight. I'm so enamoured with his driving style that when he drops me off and I see Iain the Scottish science teacher who has been here for two years, I ask him to make a request to this driver to come back for me at 5:00.
Nice. Then massive amounts of sixth graders fill my life for hours and hours. I really like them. And I like learning about Sumer.
At 5:00, there is my mototaxi guy waiting patiently, in his blue shirt and red helmet. I show some enthusiasm that he is there, but he merely nods and starts his bike. I hear a "hey!" from across the street and it's Creepy Taxi Guy from yesterday. He laughs a sinister laugh and I just shake my head. I will tell people about that ride for the rest of my life. My guy takes me home nicely and I tell him, "See you tomorrow!" when I slide off the bike, and he just gives me that same emotionless nod.
And then-- because I am wearing the beautiful purple dress that my next door neighbor made for me, before going the two doors down to my house I step up into their shop to show them the dress on me. Both she and her work partner smile and laugh...they are so happy to see that I am wearing the dress and that I like it. I tell them how much I love it -- it's a great moment. How lucky am I? My seamstress is the definition of "sweet," too. I don't like to use that word to describe people, really, but that's what she is. Kind, gentle, unassuming, a little bit of sly humor in her.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Nicest guy in the world, and K and I get the balcony guest room ready -- we already got our landlords to put a single bed in, but now there is a small table and a guest towel as well. What else do you need? What a gracious guest. He comes in and is in absolute awe of the castle. He loves his balcony and cannot help himself; he recites something from Julius Caesar: He wants to stay with us longer (especially after we take him to the roof and he swings on the hammock under the palm with a beer in hand), but the rest of Vietnam calls him and he will catch his bus to Hanoi in the morning. K and I decide that we will post pictures of all of our guests in the room. We plan to have many of them between the three of us.
By the way, both Pam and Jessica, friends who plan to visit from Seattle (actually Pam will be stopping by while on her world journey) write to me today asking: when I come, do I get a party with DJ's too? The answer is "of course!!"
OK, now for a re-creation of an interaction with a motortaxi driver after school. Scene: dark clouds, smells like rain, nighttime (sad, at work until 6 again), wondering--do I get a taxi or a mototaxi?
(Keep in mind that he is speaking Vietnamese. But I know what he is saying.)
I show him my address. "How much?"
"I can walk down to that street and get one for fifteen."
"OK, get on. I'll do it for fifteen."
I get on and The Intersection is massively congested. He spins a wheely and goes onto the sidewalk. His bike dies. I get off.
"I will not ride with you if you go on the sidewalk!" I say.
"OK, OK, no more sidewalks."
I get back on and then begins my wild Saigon ride. He weaves in and out, in and out, into oncoming traffic, in front of cars. Finally, when he is about a mile from my house, he goes not on the sidewalk but on the side of the road that is kind of a walkway. He is going the wrong way on the walkway, swerving to miss pedestrians. He swerves onto the road again and just misses an oncoming bus and curses at the bad bus driver, getting in his way. I hit him on the shoulder.
"Let me off!"
He stops. He's confused.
"Let me off. You are scaring me! I will walk the rest of the way," I say as I slide off the bike. I pound my heart. "You scared me to death!"
He is wide-eyed. "But miss, I am a good driver. I know exactly what I am doing. I will take you the rest of the way home, like I promised."
"I don't want you to take me home. You are a crazy driver and you were weaving all over the place and you almost hit some people and a bus. Here, take your fifteen thousand and let me walk."
Now he pounds his heart. "But miss, I am a good driver. I have been driving this motorbike since your uncle was in Saigon forty years ago. I have won medals for my superb driving skills. The way I weave in and out of traffic, it's what I am known for. It would be against my honor if I don't take you the rest of the way home."
This goes on for a few minutes. He will not take my money. I tell him if I get back on, he has to stay on the right side of the street, and he must go very slowly. He agrees.
He drives slowly all the way to my alley. I get off and he tells me that even though he swerved everywhere, he is a good driver and got me home faster than anyone else could have.
Crap. I only have a twenty thousand bill. I give it to him and he shrugs. He doesn't have any change. "It's OK miss, I won't charge you, since I scared you so badly." He hits his heart. "I don't want you to think badly of Saigon motorbikes...this one is on me. Have a nice night."
I start to walk away. Only, oops...I translated that last one incorrectly. What he said, evidently, was, "I did such a good job, you should really pay me twenty."
Because he suddely produces change.
He gives it to me, tells me "Thank you" in Vietnamese and makes me say it back with perfect intonation before he lets me go.
Now. What do you think his translation of this interaction might be when he is having a beer with his fellow drivers tonight? Something like "I was just driving this lady home and she kept getting off the bike and pounding her chest like a mad woman!"
Other news: I finally found a can of Raid in the backpacker district where K and I met Simon tonight. When we get home, the ANTS are GONE!!
I picked up my first dress and shirt tonight from the seamstress next door. She did a fantastic job! When you come, bring your patterns and ideas!
Monday, September 15, 2008
What do you do when you are driving a Saigon motorbike and you get to an intersection that is COMPLETELY jammed? Use the sidewalk. Nothing is sacred. Pedestrians having the right of way? What a strange law to remember.
I've already forgotten so many of them.
The intersection by our school, which happens to be right next to the largest pagoda (Giac Lam) in the city, is what I've been telling you about. I take my third motorbike taxi trip this morning and the guy is smoking a cigarette the entire time, blowing smoke right in my face, and when we get to the jam he does not hesitate to swerve onto the sidewalk. That is when I tap him and tell him I'll walk the rest of the way.
A bit about dong...the mototaxi costs me 15 thousand dong, or about 90 cents (every thousand dong is about 6 cents), each way to school. A regular taxi costs around 40 thousand, or $2.40 in the mornings and as much as 50 thousand, or $3.00, in the evenings, just because the jams are harder to negotiate. So it's $1.80 per day for the motorbike or almost $6.00 per day for a regular taxi for transportation back and forth to school. Many teachers have already found regular guys who pick them up for school and back on a daily basis. My smoke blower will not be hired again. But there are many guys lining our street in the mornings. "Motorbike, Miss?" "Motorbike, Miss?" Now that I am in the swing, I will look for the best one and hire him. And I will tell him "absolutely no sidewalk scootering!"
My uncle, who was in Vietnam from '66 to '67, just wrote to tell me that the videos reminded him of Saigon 4o years ago, except that there were more three-wheeled carts and not as many cars. Hard to imagine that it has stayed the same for so many years.
Now, back to dong:
It's funny how quickly you switch into another currency and things seem SOOO expensive when they really aren't. To give some perspective, I will be paid $2600 per month here, which is about half of what I'm paid in Edmonds. We also get a $300 housing allowance per month and the castle rent is $1100, split three ways. The three of us will spend just a bit over our allowance on this place, which we can't believe. We got such a great deal.
Dinner can cost between 10 thousand and 100 thousand dong, depending on where you eat. Karrie and I tried to keep it under $5 per day for food when we crossed Mexico; I could do the same here without much effort at all.
Most teachers who have been here for a while can save quite a bit. As soon as we get our castle the way we want it, I'm going to try to live on as little as possible, giving priority to 1) travel and 2) food, or possibly 1) food and 2) travel. I'm thinking that the weekend after this one, after the big grand opening castle party where my roommates will be DJ's on different decks and balconies, it will be time to venture out of Saigon. We have a big map by the door and are putting sticky notes all over it, marking places we want to go.
To answer a few questions: Amy, pictures of the castle (including the lamp) will come as soon it is picture ready. And Chris, the pirated movies we have purchased are too many to list (again, at 90 cents a piece) but include: The Kite Runner, Letters from Iwo Jima, Sex and the City and Into the Wild. You have to pick through them a bit because the main staple is action, but everything is there.
It's Monday night and we are off to some kind of acoustic guitar place. Good morning, Seattle, Montana, Norway, Canada, China, America, etc.~
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Saturday, September 13, 2008
I found a couple more videos of traffic in Ho Chi Minh City. Is this pretty accurate to what you see? I find them somewhat mesmerizing... (I a "I'm glad it's not like that here" sort of way")
This first one is just 10 seconds:
This one is death defying for just over a minute:
Friday, September 12, 2008
This past summer, Dennis made me buy a scooter. Here they are (mine is the cute little one, a 125 Yamaha Vino, his is the big mean Bergman 650):
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Remember a few posts ago I told you that the motorbikes outside my classroom window sound like a never-ending loud Scriber lawnmower? I long for that lawnmower. Construction on the building right next to my window started on Tuesday. The jackhammer goes all day long. All day long. Every day. The jackhammer operator must eat while he is jackhammering. I can't hear my students and they can only hear me if I yell. By the end of the day...well...
Today I started at 7am and ended at 6:30 pm and didn't get everything done. We have to enter lesson plans into a computer system every single day for every single class; even though I teach only two preps, I have to reenter information five times every day. I must turn in weekly plans to my principal with all copies of work attached (plus student work). Every time we enter a grade for a student we must save that individual grade. I can't read the Vietnamese names of the kids so it takes forever just to find who turned what in. We started clubs today (we are supposed to lead a club after school on Thursdays) and they weren't organized so I made up games for an hour and a half. It's been raining for five days straight. The picture of my toes in my hammock, well, that was the first and last time I have had to enjoy it. It's monsoon season. And the rice cake lady is still MIA. And the ants still crawl up my wall.
Monday, September 08, 2008
Things seem to be running rather smoothly, considering how much change the school has experienced in the last year. Many of the new students were required to attend summer school, so their English is OK. Some are so difficult to understand, though. One in particular, Minh, is so darned cute...the most prominent feature on his face: big teeth with even bigger (dirty) braces. He loves to talk and every time he raises his hand I try so hard to understand what he is saying, but I just can't. It doesn't help that the constant drone of motorbikes outside my window drowns out most of what he says. It sounds like the loud lawnmower that would always visit Scriber at the worst teaching moments, the times that you really just wanted to make a point. Plus, construction on a building started today and poor Minh might as well be a big set of clattering braces for all I can understand.