Sunday, November 29, 2009

From Hue to Hot Pot in One Day

All good news to report regarding our Thanksgiving Hue trip (and Jessica's beach trip - thanks for sending the good beach vibes her way), but all of that goodness will have to be reported "later."

Jessica and I got up early this morning for the beautiful bus ride from Hue to Danang and flew back in time to celebrate Thuy's birthday at the Weasel BBQ Place. (I'm really glad that Jessica got to see weasel being grilled on her second to last night in Vietnam.) Here she is posing with the best hot pot I have had yet:

We had a great dinner - T and T, Jessica, Tarn, Katherine and I - but we are all extremely tired. Take a look at Katherine, who has the most right to be tired - she was the first woman to finish a race to the top of the Black Virgin Mountain near Tay Ninh on Saturday (Tay Ninh is where my Uncle Rex was stationed in '68 and he still talks about that mountain). I'm very proud of my castlemate! And we are also tired from fighting cockroaches in the castle, which is something I will post about at another date, too.
I hope my family still wants to come after reading that last sentence...

Monday, November 23, 2009

Good News and Bad News

The good news is that we had a superior teacher day buffet dinner at The Majestic Hotel - the oldest hotel in Saigon. Jessica also experienced a White Lotus spa day, is getting quite proficient at Bum Bum hair washes, ate rice cakes and did the Ben Thanh market - all of this before she decided to get sick, and this just a few hours after she took a bad spill right on her tail bone and scraped up her arm in the backpacker district (this is the bad news). After the spill she said, "I think I will go back and lay down in my balcony room where it's safe."

And later, after she got sick in her safe balcony room, she said, "It's kind of interesting to get to know how the medical system works in Vietnam."

Something else she said (that really bothered me) was, "Maybe it was the rice cakes that made me sick."

I didn't say this to her, but I will say it to you: "Impossible!"

So, ever the optimist, Jessica - despite many mishaps and a sickness that lasted more than 24 hours - has maintained a good attitude. Right now she is on the bus to Mui Ne to rack up some beach time while I work. She is on the bus with the most nasty of nasty Saigon kisses, an arm scrape, and a mere, "I'm feeling well enough to go on a five-hour bus ride" perspective.

While Jessica did her sick thing on Sunday morning, I went shopping with Thanh for ingredients to cook Indian chicken curry. Every single time I go to the market, I get some kind of surprise; on this morning, I learned that Indian spices are sold together in little packets at a few of the vegetable stands. One spice packet includes cumin, curry powder and bay leaves, another includes a mixture of curry oils.

In this picture, Thanh is mixing up chunks of chicken (hacked with a cleaver just minutes after the poor chicken was killed) with the oils and spices. While the chicken browned in oil, she poured boiling water over the shaved coconut meat and then squeezed it out to make fresh coconut milk. The curry was fantastic. Everything these girls make is fantastic.

The highlight for Jessica, though, was the entertainment that Monkey Boy provided. He is getting awfully cute and warm in his old (5 years old) age. While we cooked, she, Tu and he played computer games on the Disney Website. (Her highlight was not going to Family Medical to drink terrible electrolite formula to replace all of the nutrients she lost the night before.)

Everyone, please send Jessica the most positive of beach vibes. She could use them!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Alley Rice Cakes - 5th Visitor to Try Them...

Within a month, that number will more than double!

It kind of looks like a creepy hand is about to grab Jessica from the ledge behind her, but she ate her cakes unencumbered. We are supposed to cook with just Thanh tomorrow, and it looks like we are going to make Indian chicken curry, of all things...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

For a Guy Hate Writing Like Me

November 20, Teacher's Day in Vietnam. It's such a great day.

Cards, flowers, gifts, saying "Happy teacher day!" all day long - and the school is hosting a teacher dinner tonight at a cool old hotel by the Saigon River. Jessica gets to come.

Here is what is written in my two favorite cards:

"Happy teacher's day, Ms. Marjorie!" You're a fun teacher. First thing when I stepped into Language Arts class, I thought it will be boring but nah, your class was fun, for a guy hate writing like me." - Long

and this one, from Luan:

"When I study Language Art, I see my grammar is better. Thank you to teach and help my gramma better."

Does anyone know of another country that has Teacher Day? Or perhaps Doctor Day? Lawyer Day?

Jessica's Epic Day

Guest blog from Jessica: Hello Marjie's faithful readers. I am Marjie's friend/former student who is visiting for the next two weeks. I arrived Tuesday night, and this is the story of my day yesterday.

I met Marjie downstairs at 6:45 after a restful sleep in the balcony room. I'm sure Marjie has mentioned this before, but there is open grating high up above the front door of the Castle and so it sounds like everything that is happening in the alley is happening in the house. In other words, when the neighborhood wakes up, you wake up. And they are all up very early. We walked down the alley into the market and Marjie pointed out her favorite vendors to me (or where they would be if they were there this morning, which some of them were not). We stopped by Thuy and Thanh's fabric stand to find material for the clothes I want to have made. They didn't have have what I needed so we moved on to the food. I ended up with two spring rolls, a bag of rice with beans and tapioca, a mangosteen (amazing little fruit that looks like wet garlic but tastes like candy) and some rice cakes (but not THE rice cakes). Oh, and coffee. Sweet, sweet Vietnamese coffee. We said hi to vendors and saw an escaped crab make its way down the alley.

Nam picked me up promptly at 9 outside the castle and we began our adventure. I had ridden on the back of a motorbike yesterday, so I knew the drill a little bit (like which side to dismount from - painful lesson), but as we pulled out into traffic I couldn't help but adapt a line from the movie "Almost Famous": "I'm riding fast through Saigon on the back of a motorbike, and we're all about to die." Nam was a very cautious driver -- especially after we saw a four-bike accident - including a woman holding a child - happen a few feet away from us.

Our first stop was Reunification Hall. In short, this was the White House of Southern Vietnam and was where Northern Vietnamese troops drive tanks through the gates on April 30, 1975 ending the war and reunifying Vietnam. The place is amazing. It was rebuilt from the French building that once stood in its place by a Vietnamese architect in 1960 and is basically frozen in time. Very mid-century modern. I only made it as far as the second floor though before getting asked to leave the tour group that I was apparently crashing. Marjie had mentioned that I should take a tour rather than just walk through on my own and as soon as I walked in, there was a little tour starting in English, so I figured that was where I was supposed to be. When we got upstairs to what was essentially their situation room (detailed maps on the walls and a row of different colored phones on a table) a man in the group turned to me and said that it was a private tour that they had paid for and that it was really rude of me to tag along. I asked if he was asking me to leave but I'm not sure what he answered, I had already turned away to go. Another man said that it was ok for me to stay, but I certainly didn't need to be in a group where I wasn't wanted.

So I left and told Nam to take me to the War Remnants Museum, formerly known as the American War Crimes Museum. I'm not sure if it was the jet lag, the heat, or the gravity of the photographs, but by the time I made it to the two rooms filled with pictures of Agent Orange deformities I was past fighting back the tears. I randomly bought an American soldier's dog tag and a Vietnamese uniform patch from the little gift stand and left.

When I got back to Nam- the bossy driver who Marjie has told us so much about- his bossiness started to show. He pointed through the fence where you could see the front of the museum and told me to take a picture through there and then from a different angle. His art direction of my photography continued for the rest of our tour. The next stop was Cholon, which is Saigon's Chinatown. About a block away from the main market Nam's bike broke down, so we walked it around the corner to a bike shop and then he directed me to go to the market. He proceeded to direct me through the maze of knock-off handbags, shoes, hats, plastic things (chairs, containers, etc), spices, pickled things, meats . . . . finally to a beautiful courtyard with a dragon fountain. We lit insence and then headed back into the maze.

I tried to ask him if we should both sit down and eat but apparently he wasn't hungry because he led me over to a counter, pulled out a stool for me, told me where to put my bag and ordered lunch for me. Then he told me that either he was going to go have a drink and come back for me or go get his bike, I'm not sure, but I was able to communicate that I would wait there for him. I held my bag between my feet on the ground in front of me, but had the phone Marjie had bought for visitors on the counter in front of me. There are people who come around asking for money here who hold these little tickets. I'm not sure what they are, I like to think they are lottery tickets, but I'll have to ask Marjie. Regardless, an old woman came up to me with them while I was asking how much my lunch was. I felt really uncomfortable since I obviously had money out in my hand but was trying to be polite and tell her no thanks. She stayed right by my side through the transaction but disappeared suddenly before I turned back towards her. My phone disappeared with her. Luckily, I already had a plan to meet Marjie, I'm just hoping the phones are as cheap as everything else is here...I'll be filing that under "miscellaneous travel expenses."

After we left the market there were still two hours before I was supposed to meet Marjie at her school. From the way Nam exaggerated his hand making an around the clock motion (it was from then until 2:30) I got the feeling he was done with me. We looked back in my guidebook and decided to go to the general post office. After my 10 minutes looking at the giant poster of Ho Chi Mihn (keep in mind that Nam just sits outside wherever I am waiting for me to finish), I thought it best to just have him drop me off at Marjie's school so I could read or something until she was ready. I was also hoping to have a chance to visit the school nurse so that she could have a look t my "kiss" which I had been covering with a make-shift bandage of a tissue taped around the edges with bandaids that kept slipping off and falling out from under my pant leg.

The rest of the day was great. Marjie's school was air conditioned -- so much so that I was actually a little chilly by the time we left. I was able to use a computer in the lobby until Marjie came down and retrieved me and her whole class greeted me when I came in the classroom. Then we bought fabric and dropped off clothes to the seamstress and headed across town to the Continental Hotel for drink at the rooftop bar. Except they apparently don't have rooftop bar like I could have sworn I read in a guidebook. We went into their non-rooftop bar but it wasn't right. See, we were going there because that is where a lot of the Graham Greene novel The Quiet American takes place. This falls under the lesson that you should not try and recreate scenes from books or movies, as your own experience in the same places will never be the same.We instead went down the street to the Sheraton where they did have a top floor bar and a breathtaking view of this massive, sprawling, living city. Over a dinner of Banh Xeo, Marjie and Katherine told me about my many options for day spas that I should try out today and I think I will do just that . . .

Getting Kissed In Saigon

It took me over a year to get kissed in Saigon, but it took Jessica only one day.
Unfortunately, I am talking about the most unromantic kiss's the burn you receive when you dismount a motorbike on the wrong side and sear your leg on the exhaust pipe. I got my first one after school a few weeks ago right above my ankle.. let me tell you - it is painful. Jessica noticed it when I picked her up at the airport.

"What is that?" were her exact first words to me (after "hi!").

"It's called a Saigon Kiss - you don't want one," I answered.

Well, the next day I received a text from her in the morning (I bought a "guest phone" for everyone about to visit) saying that she had already met Thuy and Thanh, had taken a xe om (mototaxi) and had already been kissed in Saigon.

She didn't think it was too bad. Then.

But look at it now... it's bad.

It is also referred to as The Saigon Souvenir. She is going to take home a big souvenir.

Impressed with her bravery and accomplishments for the first day? Me too. Well, I will let her tell you about Day #2 with Nam, but will "spoil" it by telling you that she met me at school in a very cheery mood despite the fact that she had witnessed a bad motorbike accident, gotten her phone stolen, had experienced a bike breakdown with Nam, and had been kicked off of a tour at the Reunification Hall.
Not bad, Jessica, for only 48 hours in Saigon...

Monday, November 16, 2009

Just Like Old Times

It's 7:15 when I hear Franco yell up the stairs, "Marjie - there's someone here to see you!"

It's just like old times. I know it's Nam, here to non-communicate with me about Jessica's visit. I had hoped he would bring Minh by earlier so I could write an itinerary; however, that didn't happen. Of course, he is here now, right when I need to be gathering all of my stuff together and heading out the door.

I run down five flights of stairs to communicate with my ex-mother. "Hello, Nam!" I say.

"Mari, hi, see you again!" he says. Very sweet, this man.

"My friend?" he asks. Nam says "my friend" for everything concerning friends, whether it is his friend, his friend's friend, or my friend. To him, it is just one word.

I make the Vietnamese negative gesture and say, "Not today. She comes tonight." To which he responds with his own Vietnamese negative hand gesture and an "I don't know" - as in, I don't know what you are saying.

I spread my arms like wings and pretend I am an airplane. "Tonight," I say, then when I know he still doesn't get it, I just say, "Minh?"

"No Minh," he says. Then he points to his phone; he wants to exchange numbers again. Knowing Nam, he has probably lost five phones since we last communicated with phones in June. I sigh because I have left my phone charging upstairs (and I have been too lazy to memorize my number that I have had for over a year now) - all five flights up. I tell him to wait and sprint up to get it.

I bring it back down, find my number and hand the phone to him so he can enter my number into his phone. His freakishly long fingers still shake when he handles the phone; he is not used to it yet. He enters a number and tries to call. The "no number" recording sounds. He enters another number. Same thing. I gesture to him to let me try, but of course Nam can do it himself. He won't let me try.

Katherine comes in from her morning market run and I roll my eyes at her. This is taking so long, and I wanted to get out to the's Vegetarian Day (Full Moon Day) - my spring roll lady sells sweet potato spring rolls only on this one day per month. Believe me, Katherine rolls her eyes right back at me. Remember, she is my physical extension when it comes to Nam irritation.

Finally, on the third try, Nam gets the number right. I save his number. Then he asks again, "My friend?"

"Not today."

"My friend, when?" he asks.

"Tonight. But you will drive her on Thursday." Of course he doesn't understand.

"Minh," I say. Get Minh to call me, I gesture. I will explain it to him.

This transaction takes fifteen minutes. I still have to climb the five flights again to get my gym bag and the pants I still must iron, plus trek to the outskirts of the market for the sake of sweet potatoes.

When Nam leaves, I look over at my bike and feel like kissing it.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Tart, Soft, Oily, Oregano-Y and Olive-y: They Didn't Like It

I made dinner for Thuy and Thanh tonight. I made a Greek salad and babaganouj from the eggplants that are roasted in the market to go with it. I picked up some naan from an Indian restaurant and found feta cheese for the salad. I brought the Greek olives from home. It was delicious.

But... they don't like raw tomatoes. They both made a pile of the feta and olives in the middle of their plates. They spread the babaganouj on one piece of naan and didn't touch it again.

The only things they ate were the cucumbers and the naan.

Katherine tells me that I shouldn't worry about giving anymore; I should just focus on taking. They get so much pleasure from being my cooking instructors - that is enough, she says.

I think I will listen to her.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Wall of Flight

Jessica comes Tuesday night around midnight (all of my guests arrive at midnight...I need to train them better) and so my string of visitors is beginning. I think I am ready.

Here is the bedroom wall I told you about- I will refer to it as The Wall of Flight: on it are confirmation tickets for two people to Hue (Jessica and I are going to Central Vietnam over Thanksgiving to explore the food capital of the country), tickets for eight people to Hanoi for the Halong Bay cruise, etc, tickets for eight people to Danang to see Hoi An, tickets for eight people back to Ho Chi Minh City (my family's trip), tickets for two people to Jakarta (Sue is coming back in February and we are going to Java/Bali over Tet, and one ticket to Phuket, Thailand for the last weekend in January (Katherine found round trip tickets for $50, so we are giving Thailand another try...)

I took Katherine to my new favorite Haianese Chicken place - Singaporean food - last night. Over steamed chicken, barbecued pork and black peppercorn beef, our conversation turned in a very familiar direction: our lives are good here. The above-mentioned plans, the food that is so amazing and cheap, the personal hour and a half long home massage I have on the calendar for Monday night, the endless cheap movies and HBO series to watch on the roof, the fruit juices made for less than sixty cents, having clothes made, waking up to a market full of freshness every single morning, good friends to cook with, a friendly neighborhood, hair washes, pedicures, manicures, lying by the pool after school and on the weekends...

Yeah, we have been mourning the idea of leaving this place ever since we got here. We know we will never find another Saigon. That's what we talked about over our feast last night, the feast that ended up costing us about $5 total. I was so enamoured by it, I forgot to take a picture of the food. It was both beautiful and delicious.

I saw Nam today - the first time since he spied on me at school. I hardly ever pass him on the street anymore because a new road opened up for my journey to school and it takes me in the opposite direction. But I found Minh this morning to request Nam as Jessica's driver, and went to confirm it with Nam. It was good to see him; he had just gotten a hair cut and was wearing his classic blue driving shirt. We shook hands and communicated in our normal, inefficient manner. He is happy to have a purpose coming, so Jessica, hope you are ready.

Hope you are ready for hair washes and markets and great cheap food and clothes making and massages~

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

All ________ People Look Alike (choose a color)

I forgot to mention the best part of a story from a few weeks ago...

The Sunday I was showing T and T pictures of my family - when I got to the picture of my parents - Thanh literally gasped.

"They look just like Katherine's parents!" Then she ran over to Thuy to show her.

"Just like Katherine's!" Thanh repeated to her as she showed her The Replicas.

This statement was seconded by Thuy. "Exactly!"

Both T and T now have my family memorized; good thing Katherine's parents don't return until after my parents are gone... how would they tell them apart?

Saturday, November 07, 2009

It's Not Even Thanksgiving!

Have any of you muttered the words "It's not even Thanksgiving!" yet- disgusted over the shameless grasp of Christmas consumerism that seizes our society at the earliest possible moment? We have to say these words every year, right?

Yeah, I've said them already, too. This morning, I see a man walking through our old-world market selling Christmas wrapping paper.
"It's not even Thanksgiving yet!" is my automatic American thought-response. Then I remember where I am: the seller is in bare feet and tattered clothing; he's not exploiting anything, he's just trying to feed himself.

I get back to the castle to report this to K and she says, "I know! Did you see the Dancing Santa at T and T's stand yesterday?"

No, I didn't. And I didn't see it this morning, either. So I run back to the stand to get a picture and only Thanh is there - no Thuy nor Santa.

"Where is your Santa?" I ask.

She doesn't understand.
"You know, Santa Claus? Ho ho ho?"

Completely blank.

"Merry Christmas?" I do a little dance to show her I am speaking of the doll.

"Oh! The Christmas Man?"


She hops off of the table and disappears inside to retrieve him.

"He will bring us good business and welcome customers!" she tells me, producing the doll. She turns him on and he begins his little dance. Seems that Santa - to her -is more like one of their Business Buddhas, meant to bring luck and money to their year. I don't have the heart to tell her that what Dancing Santa actually inspires in people is a desire to grab an axe and chop him up into little tiny pieces.

"Where did you get him?"

"Monkey Boy (our nickname for her nephew)," she says. And then, "What you call him?"

"Santa Claus."

Angie, Mom, Dad...I think I know what you need to bring: your Christmas movies. "The Grinch," "Rudolf," "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." We need to educate these girls ~

Speaking of my family, I have everyone's itinerary hanging on my wall: calendars, plane ticket confirmations...and a list of everything I want them to eat. I am beginning to enter my Food Panic Mode. The voices in my head often fight over food priorities when it comes to what I want other people to experience, and I don't really like this personality trait I have.
I'm sure, though, that the clam woman around the corner from the castle is a top priority. These two plates of clams are so delicious - one plate is long-necked clams and morning glory stir fried in tamarind sauce and topped with peanuts, and the other plate is clams steamed with lemon grass and beer.
Both plates come to $1.80. Yep, top of the list~
p.s. I thought it was pretty cool that the first Vietnamese member of Congress, Anh Cao, was also the only Republican representative to vote in favor of the health care bill. He was born in Vietnam and "fled with two siblings after the fall of Saigon in 1975 to live with an uncle in Indiana," according to the New York Times.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Salsa and a Flat Tire

When I got up early this morning to buy 15 tomatoes, five onions and a few peppers at the market, dice them up and put them into a huge container and balance it on my motorbike for the ride to school, how could I have had any idea that these tomatoes, onions and peppers and I would spend an hour and a half sitting against a wall by the side of the road on one of the hottest mornings in Saigon so far this fall?

I’ll begin the story of my morning's saga by explaining about the vegetables:

At most international schools, teachers are required to run some kind of after-school club. Last year I helped with Drama Club, and this year I am in charge of Cross-Cultural Club. We – fifteen of us – decided to focus on a certain country for three or four weeks; our goal is to learn about food, music, art, holidays, etc. Our first country of focus has been Mexico (I influenced this a bit). We got a late start on clubs this year, so our first meeting was just a few weeks ago. We learned about Day of the Dead (Nov. 1 and Nov. 2, the days the dead come back to visit) and did a skeleton art project; skeletons were supposed to be doing something the kids love to do – the whole “death as a part of life” idea. That's why mine is eating two tacos:

The kids were really excited to make quesadillas and fresh salsa today, so that’s why I had everything chopped up and ready to be mixed, cilantro’d, limed and salted by them. I was very excited for this, because I love giving cooking demonstrations. I really wanted one of those adjustable mirrors that the real cooks use, but had to settle for a plain old table. I had set it all up and talked to the sweet cooks in the lunchroom, asking for permission and for the location of pans, cutting boards, etc.

So I was on the road this morning, all loaded up, when I felt my tire go flat. No surprise... flat tires are rather common in this City of Motorbikes. But, for some reason, I panicked, and I forgot about all of the tire fixers at most every corner. I thought that, just maybe, I could make it to work and then deal with it.

But then I felt the tube blow out, too, and I was forced to the side of the road. I got a hold of a friend who reminded me about the tire fixers on every corner. I saw a guard sitting inside the pumping station where I had stopped and pantomimed my dilemma. He gestured over just around the wall, and, sure enough, there was a tire – fixer stand. The tire fixer, though, was nowhere in sight. The guard walked over to the cart and lifted the tarp covering it. A man emerged - from what I'm guessing was a twenty- year-long deep sleep.

Not a Sleeping Beauty sleep, though - he looked at me and smiled with his three remaining teeth and seemed happy to go right to work on my bike. “Great,” I thought, “Better than Jiffy Lube! I will be out of here in no time!”

I notified the school at eight that I was late, but it wasn’t a big deal because I have first period prep. So I leaned against the wall to wait. When the guard brought me a plastic chair, I felt comfortable enough to pull out my book and read, sweat already pouring off of me.

After fifteen minutes, I looked up; my tire fixer was crossing the busy street. I looked over at the guard and he informed me that he needed to buy a part. Fine. I went back to my book. Tire Fixer came back and worked some more. I continued reading. And sweating.

After fifteen more minutes, I looked over to the station; he was crossing the street again! The guard looked at me and made the Vietnamese negative hand gesture, indicating, “This guy isn’t really so good.”

I was beginning to wonder when he had last fixed a tire. 1982? He didn't have any parts.

After another twenty minutes went by I looked up and my heart literally stopped: my bike was gone, and so was the guy. I looked desperately over at the guard. “Have I given my bike to a con-man?” was the look I gave him- because motorbike theft is rampant here.

But the kind guard assured me it was OK, that he just had to take the bike somewhere. Again, I got the "he is a crazy tire fixer with no parts" hand gesture. OK. I waited ten more minutes, and during that ten minutes I called my principal again and told him the latest. He didn’t like the sound of my bike “going away” and told me he was going to send someone who spoke Vietnamese over to help. This entire process should have taken about fifteen minutes.

But fifteen more minutes went by before my bike returned. Tire Fixer was rolling it right by me, dressed in his greased – covered grey jumpsuit. Taking a closer look, I could see his hands; I couldn't tell where the fingers ended and the fingernails began – they were completely black.

He took it back to his station and continued working on it. Meanwhile, enter a passing crazy woman who was obsessed with my collection of tomatoes, onions and peppers. She took them out of my bag and spoke to me in non-stop Vietnamese, like I understood her (just like Nam's family). Finally, I took my bag from her and walked away and pretended to receive a phone call. What a hot, strange morning this was.

Finally, Tire Fixer rolled the bike over and told me it was fixed and quoted me the price I was expecting: about four dollars for a new tube and 90 minutes of "labor" - or "part-finding." I waited for Nate to get there and we learned that my tire fixer didn’t have any air, either. He had no parts nor air. So he had to wheel my bike to a place that had it – a place that, I am thinking, was just a block or so away. That place most likely had parts and tools, too, and a tire fixer that had been awake for at least some portion of the last decade to fix tires.

He sure was smiley, though.

Anyway, my salsa ingredients and I finally made it to school by the end of second period - my hair ruined for the day from sweat.

The after-school quesadilla making was a success - despite the stress that the vegetables had to endure. The kids loved the quesadillas and wanted to go home and make them for their families. My favorite part: the kitchen staff was so curious to watch us mix the salsa, fry the tortillas and fill them with shredded cheese (you don’t see cheese much here) and were so gracious to assist in any way they could, so I topped three quesadilla triangles with salsa and took them to the kitchen. The cooks were shy at first, but then one took a piece and said, “Thank you, Teacher!” The others followed, and their eyes lit up at their first taste of salsa.

Every once in while, you get that feeling that you’ve just done something very good. When those eyes lit up at tasting salsa, I definitely had that feeling.

And giving that tire fixer a job- The Most Unprepared Tire Fixer in Saigon. That made me feel really good, too.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Classroom Management

Last year, one of Katherine's first graders, Giami, came in to teach her one Vietnamese word per day. It was nice. She was cute. Giami would teach the word, then leave.

Words like "mother," "father" and "teacher."

This year Katherine has a teaching partner, Ron, who shares her office. Giami still comes in at lunch to teach the one word per day, but Katherine says that as a teacher weighing the heavy load of TWO students, she is beginning to really take things seriously. She has come up with systems - like her tally system: she will say a word like "dog" and they must repeat "dog" correctly ten times before she will pass them on that word.

She has implemented techniques to handle inattention, too. Whenever they get distracted by anything, such as students or phone calls, she uses her Hang Man Strategy: when they misbehave, a limb goes up on their respective nooses (they each have their own).

Lately, she has become quite weary over her teaching load, saying things like, "I'm having a bad day," and "You're not listening," and "I'm gonna quit."

Katherine thinks that this weariness has forced her into using more "Non-Western Teaching Techniques." The other day, after a lunchtime filled with other-student distractions, Ron and Katherine looked up to see the following messages on the board: (the first one says " You are better than Ms. Katherine - just a little bit!)

Mungo, I couldn't help but think of how fast you would have been hung in Mr. Smith's class. That strategy would have saved you from having to do those fake book reports, right?
Seems that Giami, as a seven-year-old teacher with experience, will be able to weigh the pros and cons of positive vs. negative reinforcement a lot sooner than most of us~

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Sunday Night Spring Rolls

Here are the beautiful shrimp in their cooked (boiled) form, and below is Thuy ready to eat a head. She ends up eating every one of the heads and does not pressure me at all. She doesn't even eat any bodies, she is just so happy with the heads.
Aren't the legs of the Daddy Shrimp great?
We roll these guys up into fresh spring rolls tonight - along with rice noodles, lettuce/basil, star fruit, crispy onions and my favorite fish paste mixture with lime, chili, sugar, pineapple and water. Pictured below is a pre-rolled spring roll.
Because my family will be here in about five weeks, tonight I give T and T pictures of everyone so that they can learn names. Thanh practices during Thuy's dinner preparation...she calls my brother-in-law Lewis "Lewey" and notes the similarity between "Brian" and "Brain." What a strange name, so close to "Brain." (She's memorizing you, too, Brian and Kristi, just in case you come...). She likes it that Megan's name is so close to mine ("Maggie").
Dinner is, of course, so tasty again that I ask them if they will move in and cook for my family in December. "You can sleep in the balcony room and make us breakfast, lunch and dinner," I tell them.
Without hesitation, Thuy replies, "One hundred dollars a day."
I'm afraid that they are finally understanding what they are worth~