Thursday, July 23, 2015

Wrapping up and winding down

One more day of teaching! It has gone really fast in a blur of changing classes and wonderful dinners and scooters everywhere. I achieved my usual goal of being able to walk around town on my own, buy souvenirs with the local money and find my way home.  And taught English, too.

I had one teacher ask for a lesson on houses so since I teach the same lesson to all the classes - adjusting some for different grades - I downloaded  pictures of hut, igloo, tent, pueblo and RV and made a power point. Love the Internet! Kids chose the one they would like to spend time in and guess what won by a landslide?

Also the 5 lb of magazines I brought over have been good teaching tools, so it was worth it. They are not coming back because I really do not read Car and Driver or Twist for Teens - even at the airport.

Tonight is banquet given by the school - since today at lunch there was browned pork crumbles, rice and peanuts, I am ready.

And tomorrow we say goodbye. Not as tearful as other years since I see 30 kids a class, 6 classes a day, 5 days a week...but they all know me!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Daily News

I am always excited to get an English paper when I travel to see the news from a different point of view. I was impressed that I could pick up Sunday's paper on Friday night! But here were some headline from yesterday:

Vietnam's fist science complex breaks ground 
National day to set amnesty record 
Vietnam a global bright spot in 2015 
VN petrol prices fall Mobile phone imports from China increase 
European visitors set to rise on Visa exemptions 
Chattanooga a reminder to combat extremism 
Hostile Aussie PM a threat to renewable energy 
Wife of US Vice President welcomed   

Draw your own conclusions.....

Who is here?

 83% of a Vietnam are Khun. Certainly everyone in Hanoi is. The 53 minority groups are in the mountains of along the borders with Chicago and Laos. But they have a very interesting museum about the ethnic groups. Inside are some nice displays, but outside are life sized reproductions of the houses in the ethnic groups. Very elaborate. But no wonder they did not understand how Obama and I could live in the same city!

The biggest contribution was switching the language or reading from Chinese characters to Western ones. The literacy rate soared as children could form and read the 26 letters needed. The only signs in Chinese characters are on Temples.

Don't believe everything....

I was asked to explain a power point the teacher had about important sights in America. What would you pick? This showed NY without the Statue of Liberty, Washington DC mall, Saturn rocket center in AL, Golden Gate Bridge, Badlands and an arctic preservation in Alaska. The next section showed characteristics of each area: north, south, east, west. West of course showed Hollywood, a buxom blond and a star in the sidewalk. North showed snow, east, cities. But the south featured "southern drawl" (to non English speakers) and "wife beaters"! Also Disneyworld. Don't believe everything you see on the Internet!

Mystery solved

Ah the suspicious mind of the westerner! I was sure the loud speaks at every corner were pumping propaganda - turns out it is the current weather and what is on TV tonight. No pays attention because they all have on demand. And nothing will change the weather anyway.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Every day grammer

This is one of my 6 classes I teach we each day. I have a topic planned but the teacher at any moment can decide she wants to work on...the different uses of "will" vs "am going to." I tried to tell her mostEnglish  speakers use them interchangeably, her work sheet that is what I did too.

Sunday in Hanoi

I wandered to the Hanoi Cathedral (technically St. Joseph's) for 11 am mass and discovered it was in French! A fair group of expats and travelers. About the 2/3 of the congregation were VN and I know they did not sing the hymns, but I wonder what else they got out of it.  Seems like Martin Luther talked about the language of the people....

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Little snippets of culture

In case you are tired of compound sentences!

There are 10 million scooters in Hanoi. I have seen about 6M of them. Been almost hit by only 3 or 4. The trick is to find a VN native and just fall in step. Failing that, find a pack of tourists and get in the slip stream. Or just don't look and they all miss you.

I saw a Buddhist monk in orange robes - apparently from India. They all have cell phones so that is nothing but he was wearing Abercrombie sandals. I wish I had seen him carry home the bag.....

The traffic lights count down red and green. So not only do you know when it go faster to get the last few through, but you know when to prepare to jump the gun. And start honking!

There striped cross walks but what happens in one is not covered on the driver test.

The food is good - lots of fresh vegetables but not very spicy. No McDs in this area, but lots of KFC. 

Huddling at HoChiMin's

The rain let up after we left the burial site and we wandered past the palace the French built that the new government found useful for its new headquarters. The we had a scheduled tour of the house of the leader that is fashioned after a rural dwelling, built on stilts. Better view of the lake and more breeze. The skies opened up again and we squished and squeezed - as only people can do who do not need 26 Midwestern inches of personal space - into the 2 food edge of the house. We stood there 20 minutes, no one moving. Then  an official guy blew a whistle and said something loudly and my guide yelled "run"! Where? To the bomb shelter? To the hills? To the bus? And he ran. Totally left us on our own to see that he went to the exit area. There he collected money for raincoats -I have Jewel bags that are thicker plastic - and we headed for the door.

There was a One Pillar House that had a great story and was interesting - I got a picture as we trotted by.

Thus ended the HoChiMin part of the tour. There's more.....

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Morton salt tour of HoChiMin's tomb

When it rains, it pours.

About a 50 minute wait to get into HoChiMin tomb - body preserved I for viewing.  Met a number of Vietnamese who spoke English and wanted to converse.

The first asked if I knew HoChiMin and I said "I know who he is" but she said, "oh, I know him, he is my father and my uncle. He is founder of Vietnam." Sounds like the Evangelicals back home saying " do you KNOW Jesus?" I think it is very much the thing they believe in most.

The second was a kid with a soccer shirt on so I commented "futball" and then he and I had a long conversation (encourage by mama who wanted to find out if the tutoring money was well spend) about what as going on.

Which was rain. We were under a long plastic cover but as soon as it started pouring people began to poke the plastic which of course cause it to drip. Or plop. Or stream. Or pour. Some folks put up umbrellas and some of use just huddled. Still 30 minutes to wait.

Because as we got to the head of the line it all stopped and tons of photographers ran out. Having been told NOT to bring cell phone or camera, I was amazed.  But suddenly a long line of official (but wet) looking folks marched by. The soldiers brought out a wreath and everyone came to attention. Special guards came out and the huddled masses looked on as they went in first!! Found out later it was a Chinese ambassador. He was under an umbrella but many black suited handlers were very wet.

So we finally got in and walked by the glass encased body (a la Stalin) and that was it. Disney at least shows films while one waits for the 2 minutes ride...


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Outside class

Last night we saw water puppets which are 1100 years old. The people who run the puppets stand behind a screen and have the puppets on rods so they move on the water surface. Somehow the fish also manage to jump sand the dragon spit water. Amazingly coordinated so puppets did synchronized  swimming. It was all fun.

So this is a Friday for you folks who work "all week"? I'll go back to 1/2 day on Sunday...I planned a tour of Hanoi for the weekend and hopefully some shopping for gifts in a native craft area.

There is the usual mass of random electric lines on every telephone pole - which is a vast understatement. It is an electrician's nightmare or delight depending if he is paid by the hour. Also on posts are loud speakers. They go off randomly at large intersections with message. Slow down? Don't text and scoot? Time and temperature? Message from the president? No idea. No one can make out the words over the scooter noise.

Afternoon off

We only teach until noon on Thursdays which was very helpful since as we all know as a clergy I only work1/2 day on Sunday. I am exhausted!

So I set out too explore since daytime is not quite as insane walking amid the scooters as after 4 PM. I booked a day tour for all of Hanoi for Saturday since so far all I have seen is the Old City and the school. There will be numerous  Ho Chin Min sights but some cultural stuff, too.

And two doors down was an ice cream place. How does one have ice cream when there are no freezers? It is made to order. Milk, salt in a mixer. Then a metal jar is filled with the steam from a CO2 container and dumped around the mix container. The result is flakey, not creamy, but plenty cold and refreshing.

Off to a water puppet theater event tonight!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Sights and sounds

We are in a hotel in the Old City - about 30 minutes from our school by insane taxi. A sane taxi would never make it. Swarmed by scooters I keep humming Flight of the Bumblebee.

The Old City has streets 1/2 the size of regular ones - even for VN. And twice as many scooters. The doors of the hotel are thick glass so it is a quiet lobby but crack them a little and the blast of noise - and heat and humidity - put us right back into the subtropics. We are almost to the rainy season so there are a lots of clouds and that helps with the sun intensity but means we can almost swim through the air. Even so people purposefully walk and shop and sell and eat on The sidewalk.

In the lower level of all The buildings are shops and the families live in whatever is above - once in a while an apartment looking building but mostly a ramshackle hodgepodge of walls and windows. Sidewalks are uneven and, of course, 2/3 full of motorcycle parking. There're are a lot of Western tourists here - it is very colorful. Some talk of purse grabbing, but I have not any any fear. The vendors some times approach but take "no" as final and go on to the next person. There are plenty of us!

I scored an English paper and it looks like not much has changed. Shockingly their sports section did not have CUBS scores or a singe word about the Green Bay Packers!

Lost in translation

We met the principal of the school here - it is huge private school in downtown Hanoi. The kids read and write English but need native speakers to help with pronunciation.

Asking the principal about his family he told us about one son who had graduated and was working for the Central Comedy. I assumed there was a VN version of Comedy Central- maybe on TV? Cool!

 I just about said something about jokes but asked again to be sure. Ah - the Central Committee. A different group. No joke.

Everyone is very nice and I am trying hard not to touch off an international incident.....

Fashion statement on wheels

Scooter wear has to cover all body parts from the sun but not restrict movement - or interfere with your high heels!

Kids start driving electric scooter at age 10 though "most wait for age 12' to go out into traffic." Full sized scooter are driven at 18. Everywhere. All the time. Waaaaaaaay closer to each other than most people sit in church!

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Team and the schedule

Sharon will be 75 when she gets back from this trip - her 10th or so with Global Volunteers. She is an ordained Lutheran pastor and pastor's wife who did mission work when her children were small in Ethiopia.

Barbara worked for the government in Vietnam during the war, flew transports into restricted areas and survived the bombing of Saigon in the Tet Offensive.

Francesca is 20, college senior at Kentucky, but her folks are in Switzerland and brother in Denmark so she spends all holidays in Europe.

I am feeling like Midwest Womder Bread! These ladies are fascinating. Good team.

We teach 6 45-minute periods a day, 8:30-4. The mornings are easy - kids behave and learn. After lunch it is chaos. Especially since this private school goes back a month earlier than regular so they know their friends are out there having more fun than the Hokey Pokey!


Sunday, July 12, 2015

On the job and around town

We have had our first 1/2 day of teaching - I haves grades 6-9 in the Bilingual wing of a private school. They are bright and some want to know all about the USA. I did get a wonderful question of how Obama and I could both live in Chicago if he was black and I was white! What an opportunity to talk about the USA!

There are about 5 million bjillion scooters here. Not bitty putputs but serious sub-Harley's. Weaving in and out and generally honking and scooting. The big question - where to park all these coasters when people live stacked up and shop and work where there are no parking garages or anything off street? On the sidewalk, of course. So the sidewalks are wide but 2/3 of the path is scooter parking. The other 1/3 is teeny plastic stools and tables for food service.  We walk in the street with the moving scooters and a few cars and busses.

I saw what I thought was T-shirt misprint: "Let's Taco about It!" But either it was a big run of misprints or some new campaign. They are everywhere. Am I missing something?

Night Market

On the ground in Vietnam. We are staying in an older hotel - lovely curved stairs and entry. Rooms tidy and functional. We met the rest of the team ( 4!) and had a typical Vietnamese dinner. The food is not as spicy as Thailand but lots of interesting new tastes. Even after dinner and sunset it was dark and hot. Saturday night the Reece's a huge market on many of the streets in our area. It is typical random variety of men's underwear to shoes to knock off or real (?) North Face clothing.  Not being in the market for any of those our goal wAs to be out with the locals. They were all there.

Actually I think it was that all of them we outside to stay somewhat cool. There are tiny garage like shops with typing tilting upper stories for the family. So kids, babies, grandparents - everyone was outside sitting or fanning or eating. Lots of looking - not too much buying. How many pair of Calvin Kline's does one really need?

We heard live music and stumbled into a square with a stage for performers in  costumes, instruments. But the big attraction was the guest singer. Age introduced her son in what sounded Asian to my ears only to have the MC translate it into...what still sounded Asian to my ears. Finally figured she was Chinese or Korean and he was translating for the locals. After a lot of settling and clapping she began to sing. In Chinese or Korean. After a minute I looked at my fellow volunteer and we both said, "She is lip synching!" It was like watching a movie with the sound track slight off. Very strange.

But it was a happening night in Hanoi!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Slumber a party in Seoul

If forced to spend 16 hours in an airport, be sure it is the one Seoul, Korea! Not only is it the most upscale designer shopping zone in the world but the re is a lovely area call "Rest and relax" and they mean it. Open and free to everyone! A little kid zone and tons of real comfortable seating, like layback cushy chairs. Plenty of outlets and the nice man at the "rental" (no charge) window has books, I Pads, blankets, adapters. Tables and chairs for snacks. There are lots of beach chair shaped chaises but upholstered and available to any one. I scored a beach chair shaped piece and lined up with 150 very polite strangers we slept. Most did not get blankets but just threw on whatever jackets we had. One arm around the back pack but no one was doing anything suspicious. No guard, no signs, just very polite people sleeping. By the time I got up, every bench of any kind was filled. It was astonishing and wonderful!

Found coffee and the plane (in that order) and another 5 hours to Hanoi. Asian airlines must be producing a line of lovely thin gracious stewardesses. In heels and hats and gloves. Conversely there is no boarding order. The gates open and everyone - and their abundant duty free purchases from the high end mall - gets on anyway they can.

So more rested than usual I arrived at the hotel in the old part of town. It reminds me of old gracious hotels everywhere in the world, minus the cage elevator...

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Tomorrow...if there are no computer glitches...

NOT flying United or any domestic flights - Korean Air all the way.

99% packed and repacked  - managed to find a $3 "watch" or at least something that tells time and is not too complicated to change for time zones.

Bob is busy google mapping my hotel and surrounding area. It is amazing how clear the pictures are. The map makes things look very close and the streets are not jammed. Lots of scooters. Making me very excited!

I wonder how much the natural Asian graciousness and desire for tourist dollars will balance with the prevailing political caution of all things Western. In Russia we could only use the approved computer and in China there was a blatant spy hole in the hotel room wall. In India and Thailand the people could not have been more welcoming or lovely. Soon find out!

At least it will be warmer than Chicago!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Movable stacks

It will be 85-100 degrees in Hanoi while I am there - but we stay in air conditioning. No idea about teaching site. With the humidly over 80% hotels can be super cool - like sweater wearing. So I have replaced tank tops with shirts with layers and shorts with capris and jackets. And back again because we do go outside. The only things for sure are a hat and sunglasses.

Thursday I fly Korean Air - 13 hours to Seoul and 5 more to Hanoi. Plus some random layovers. In some time zone on some day. Kindle loaded with good books. Now I need a sleep inducing airport paper back to put me to sleep at 12:35 PM.

I will be working with older teens and college students so the Hokey Pokey may not be what it is all about. I tried to find some magazines today the students could look at - without too much nudity or  articles on life as rock star. More challenging than I thought! We do like to read about us!

I can check in 48 hours before take off - tomorrow morning!

Friday, July 3, 2015

New adventure

I am traveling with a different group this year, Global Volunteers. We live in a hotel rather than a group house and work for only 2 weeks but the format and goals of the program are the same. Cross Cultural Solutions ran out of places I want to go in the time frame I had. I am sure the other volunteers will be just as interesting. And Hanoi will be fascinating.

I remember in Grade 8 only one kid in our class could find Vietnam on a map (show off!). By the time we left college we were all caught in the draft or lottery - or draft card burning or heading for Canada. So the Vietnam era was a defining part of my life. The travel books say it is now a popular tourist destination, especially the beaches. I am excited to see it all!

I leave July 9, via Seoul and Korean Airlines.