Sunday, October 11, 2009

Rain, Bees and Turkeys

Speaking of Floods...
I love how the people of this country deal with whatever is in front of them. They don't complain about traffic or weather or construction or hard work, they just go with the flow, pull out raincoats or tarps, go the opposite direction on the sidewalk, and work long, long hours. After all, this is the environment in which they live, and they are resilient people. So when a resilient someone loses it, it does kind of take you by surprise.

This morning, I was sitting at the rice cake table when ominous clouds darkened the blue morning sky within one minute - literally. People here move quickly; as the first drops fell, vendors had already pulled out tarps and long poles like magicians. I don't know where they hide these things, but out they come with just a moment's notice.

Most of the walls have hooks to attach the tarps, so while my rice cake maker kept watch over her two hot pans over two fires, her two assistants hooked up the tarps. Because I was the tallest person around, I stood up to hold the tarp while clutching my cakes, trying to keep them dry.

The rain came fast and hard, but it seemed we had been successful in covering everything up in time. However, after the heavy rain had accumulated on the tarp for one minute, the weight of the water made one of the poles slip. This created two waterfalls; one of them poured directly onto one of the rice-cake pans, forcing two of the eight cakes out onto the ground, and the other one came down right on top of the rice cake maker's head.

As you know, I love my rice cake lady. She is gracious and smiley. She is always gracious and smiley. But at the occurence of these two simultaneous injustices, she let out what I can only guess were a string of very effective Vietnamese curses. She recovered quickly, though, and just re-filled the washed-out cake spaces and continued cooking - water dripping from her head down to the tip of her nose.
My fish sauce dipping bowl was filled with two inches of water by the time I sat back down, but I decided not to say anything to my violated vendor and just ate them plain. (See, I am resilient, too.)

Spelling Bee
I never considered how distinctly "American" spelling bees are before yesterday. Yesterday was our second Swine Flu Make Up Saturday and we devoted the whole day to spelling bee competitions (my idea). I learned from my diverse staff that spelling is not something their respective countries play around with. And as for the Vietnamese language, all of their words are just one syllable and are easy to spell. The tricky part with this language is the pronunciation. So no bees are held in Vietnam.

The kids had a blast. The whole school began the day by watching "Spellbound" - a fantastic documentary profiling eight compelling teenaged finalists from all over the US in a national competition. The kids loved it. After that, we played spelling games with the grade level spelling lists they had been given the previous week and then had classroom competitions and class finals.

At the end of the day we did something that I have really missed while being at AIS - we had a whole school assembly for the finalists from the classes. We had all of the tables and chairs taken out of our small cafeteria and the whole student body sat on the floor - all 230 of them. My principal this year is an easy-going guy; he said, "Well, we'll see if this works." What all three AIS campuses specifically, tragically lack is a gym facility (just ask Katherine about that, who has been teaching PE in a box and in a long, narrow parking lot for two years).

But we made the best of what we had,and the kids sat with rapt attention until the very end. Our principal stood at a podium in the front as the word dispenser and the six class finalists sat in chairs facing the audience. We three grade level English teachers were judges. I held the little bell to ding for words spelled incorrectly.

The crowd went wild for "their people." I'm sure it was the first time many of them had been in a whole- school setting before and the spirit factor was really fun for them. One of my sixth graders reached the top two and got out on "idiosyncrasy." The only letter she got wrong was a "c" instead of an "s." Many kids told me that it was the "best day of school they had ever had." A seventh grader - one of mine from last year - was the grand champion.
Canadian Thanksgiving
Thuc was born in Ho Chi Minh City, but was educated in Canada and worked in Vancouver for the past three years. Now she is back in HCM with her family, working as an assistant at AIS. Her family owns a very popular steak restaurant here, and they have been very generous to treat us to a meal at their restaurant and - already - two parties at their beautiful home.
It was Thuc's idea to throw this party for her adopted countrymen, and putting it together required some of that HCM creativity we must possess; anything can be done here, it's just figuring out how to make the details come together. She ordered bread and apple pies from a new German bakery, and she bought two turkeys from a gourmet grocery store. The grocery store gave her the address for a place that would cook the turkeys for her (remember, hardly any ovens here).
The cookers then sent the turkeys by taxi to Thuc's house. But when Thuc began to carve them, she realized they were still pink next to the bone. In the picture is Van and Eric, carving up the turkeys in order to put the pieces in a pan and cook them some more on the stove. Surprisingly, the turkeys turned out tender and juicy, despite all they had to go through. The mashed potatoes and gravy were delicious.
If water would have poured down on this meal, I would have let out a very effective string of Vietnamese curses (that I probably could have spelled correctly).


Cecilie said...

I only know Singing Bee, but did not know where the word came form. Now I know!

This sounded like a great day! You are creative as usual. All teachers have SO much to learn from you! More ideas on how to make teaching fun, please! :0)

Tubagoa said...

I've said it before, and I'll say it again... If you had been my teacher, I might have actually learned something in school...

Brian Bowker said...

Plain rice cakes... You are resilient, Marjie!

I love that the spelling bee was a success - Isn't that the best when one of your ideas gets that kind of reception from the audience?

I'm also glad I wasn't competing in the spelling bee.

Did you try to make pumpkin pie for your Thanksgiving feast? I don't think it's a real foreign-country-Thanksgiving accomplishment until you've figured out how to manage pumpkin pie.

Brian Bowker said...

In fact, I think we should add a new color of thumbtack on your interactive map for countries where you've made pumpkin pie.

marjie said...

Hmmm...I wil have to figure out the pumpkin pie problem. I guess I could make it and have the turkey people bake it and deliver it in a taxi like Thuc did. I do see the Japanese pumpkins in our market - what are they called? Kabocha or something.