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Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Nun's Story

When I'm in town on Sundays, I go to a Buddhist pagoda for an informal English study group. My pagoda friends are eager to learn English & excited to be able to talk with a foreigner. In return, I get to spend the afternoon at a beautiful spiritual place & talk with a great group of people.

One member of our group is a nun who lives at the pagoda (seated in the middle wearing grey). She doesn't speak much English, so I could only get part of her story.

Trang 16 years old & has been living at the pagoda for two years. She's one of six children from the central part of Vietnam. She said that she wanted to study as a nun so badly that she ran away from home. Her family doesn't know where she is. The rest of the story is unfortunately lost in the language barrier.

Another young nun once told me that she came to live at the pagoda because it offered her a better life than she would have if she stayed in her hometown. The nuns receive food, clothing & shelter, as well as an education & spiritual practice. For many, it's an alternative more appealing than poverty.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

My Vietnamese Tutor

When I started teaching the English class at the bank a few months ago, I expressed interest in learning Vietnamese. One of the students introduced me to Phuong, & we have been meeting every Saturday since.

She picks me up at 2:00 & takes me to her house, which is surrounded by plants & flowers. Her familly is warm & generous, & they have a very sweet dog. It's a great place to spend the afternoon.

Phuong speaks very good English & has traveled outside Vietnam several times. We spend the afternoon studying Vietnamese, as well as chatting in English about movies, travel, books, & living healthy. Her mother always makes me something delicious: fresh fruit juice, homemade soy milk, whole grain rice & tofu with vegetables. & they always send me home with a bag full of yummy goodies.

I'm so lucky to have met her. Our Saturday meetings are one of the highlights of my week.

Phuong's house

Phuong is shy, so this is the only photo I have of her so far. She's trying to get out of the way so I can take a photo of her courtyard.

The dog is much more accomdating of photographs :)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Spaghetti Dinner

My wonderful sister-in-law Mae sent me a care package, which I picked up from the post office yesterday. It was filled with yummy treats from the US.

Last night I shared some of the booty with Katie & Jimmy. We had a basic American style spaghetti dinner, complete with bread & olive oil.

It was Jimmy's first American meal. He politely ate a few bites as Katie & I chowed with joy (nom, nom, nom). But then Jimmy decided to pour on some soy sauce (instant Vietnamese yum!), & quickly devoured the rest of what was in his bowl. After dinner, we taught Jimmy the phrase "food coma" :)

Thanks Mae for a great meal!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

10 Things I Say Every Day in Vietnamese

1. cảm ơn = thank you
2. đẹp = beautiful
3. cà phê đá = iced coffee
4. ống hút = straw
5. em ơi! = hey you!
6. tính tiền = bill/check
7. ba mươi tám = 38
8. người Mỹ = American
9. là gì? = what's that?
10.không hiểu = I don't understand

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Eating Out

One of the teachers/housemates moved out recently & took his refrigerator with him. Our kitchen was simple to begin with, but now without a refrigerator, we can't keep any food in the house. So Katie & I have taken to eating out every night.

It sounds extravagant, huh? Eating out every night. But the bill normally comes to about 150,000 Dong (=$8.33) for the two of us, including drinks.

Eating out often includes random conversations with other restaurant patrons trying to improve their English skills. Last night we were joined by two guys, government officials, one with really good English who plans to do his masters program in the UK or the US, depending on where he is accepted. It's always interesting to talk with the people who approach our table & hear a little bit of their life story.

Katie is going back home to New York in a couple of weeks, so I will lose my late-night eating partner. It won't be the same without her.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Great Weekend

This weekend I went with some of my students to Ninh Thuan, a seven-hour road trip from Bien Hoa. They were attending a conference where they were hoping to convince some of the top investors in Vietnam to develop tourism in the area.

On Friday morning, we all piled in the 15-passenger van & took the Ho Chi Minh City-Hanoi highway north.

This is the main highway connecting the two biggest cities in Vietnam, a busy two-lane road. On the way, we passed small towns, rice fields & beautiful mountains.

In Ninh Thuan, we stayed at a new resort there. They said that we were the first guests to stay there. It was very posh.

Our room faced the pool area, & the ocean was just 100 yards away. While my friends attended the conference, I relaxed by the pool & read a book.

When they were finished with the conference, we went around the grounds of the resort taking photos. Taking photos in Vietnam means standing in front of various beautiful scenes while your friend takes your picture, & then switching to take photos of your friend in front of the same beautiful scene. Thus, I have lots & lots & lots of photos similar to the one above.

Unfortunately, my camera battery died before I could get photos of dinner, which consisted of snails & lizards & intestines, oh my.

What a great weekend!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Going to Ninh Thuan

The students in my class at the bank are going to Ninh Thuan this weekend for a banking conference, & they have invited me to join them. It sounds like we will be staying in a resort hotel on the beach, but I'm not entirely sure. They said to bring my swimsuit & a tennis racket. I have the first, but not the second. I'm looking forward to getting out of Bien Hoa, maybe seeing some Cham ruins, & spending some quality time with this really great group of people.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Katie, Jimmy & I were at a restaurant eating dinner last night when the lights went out. Now, blackouts are pretty common here in Bien Hoa, but they mostly happen during the day time (would that be a brown out, then?). This was my first night time blackout in Vietnam. The restaurant staff quickly lit candles & placed them all around us, but we decided to head home anyway.

Once at home, Katie lit some of her own candles, we opened a bottle of wine, & I broke out the Scrabble set. We played in the dark for about a half hour before the lights came back on. We finished the game & the bottle of wine under the fluorescent blaze of the kitchen lights.

Katie beat me hands down :)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Monday, October 12, 2009

10 Things Every Vietnamese Knows How to Say in English

1. Hello
2. Bye-bye
3. Ghost
4. Same-same
5. What's your name?
6. Where are you from?
7. How old are you?
8. Are you married?
9. H1N1
10.Tom & Jerry

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Another Great Sunday

On Sunday morning, I went with some students from my class at the bank to eat breakfast at a vegetarian restaurant. Vegetarian restaurants in Vietnam offer a variety of dishes made from soy or wheat that are made to look & taste like meat. They offer plain old vegetables & tofu as well, which I enjoy much more.

After breakfast, we went for coffee & then saw The Rebound at the movie theater, in English with Vietnamese subtitles.

In the afternoon, I went with Jimmy & Katie to watch them eat crazy Vietnamese food. Here's Katie trying frog legs. She also ate a very slimy eel.

In the evening, Katie & I went with some students to a coffee shop on the river & watched a beautiful sunset while helping them with English pronunciation.

Another great Sunday with friends.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Vietnamese Wedding

I was lucky enough to attend a Vietnamese-style wedding on Saturday. Many things happened that I didn't fully understand because I don't speak the language, but what I did observe was very interesting.

The festivities started at the bride's home with her whole family present: aunts & uncles, cousins, nieces & nephews. The groom & his family showed up in a car decorated with flowers, much like we decorate a newlywed car in the US.

After some formalities between the two families, including exchanging gifts & making speaches, the bride finally appeared wearing a traditional Vietnamese wedding dress. The groom's mother adorned the bride with gold necklace, earrings, & bracelet. Then, the members of both families gave the couple envelopes full of money. I had my own red envelope with money inside ready to give to the happy couple, but never got the chance.

The couple left in the decorated car soon after, & the rest of us crammed into various minivans, & we were off to the reception.

The reception hall was huge & full of people. The above photo only shows about one quarter of the room.

After a show of dancers (apparently employees of the reception hall), the bride & groom took the catwalk up to the stage for the remainder of the ceremony: cutting the cake, sharing a glass of champaign, accepting of toasts. By now, the bride had changed into a Western-style wedding gown. The groom was still in his original suit & tie.

Just like a wedding reception in the US, the guests sat around large decorated tables, ate dinner, & exchanged pleasantries. Well, I imagine that people were exhanging pleasantries. I couldn't understand them. Amazingly, almost none of the guests paid attention to what was happening on stage. They just continued their meals & conversations, unimpressed by the goings on at the head of the room.

After the stage events, the bride & groom stood outside the reception hall, under a heart-shaped arch, taking photo after photo with each guest as they left. I was asked to be in several of the photos. They all seemed very happy that I was there, & I was honored to be their guest.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Dental Bliss

I noticed yesterday that one of my teeth was chipped. It wasn't bad, but I wanted to get it looked at before it became a bigger problem.

At 10:00am, Tyler, one of the students at my school said he would take me to a dentist, & asked me if I had time to go the same day. I said yes, & he made an appointment for me at 11:00. He came to pick me up on his motorbike (aka: scooter), & we arrived at the dentist's office a few minutes before 11:00. There were no clients in the office, so the dentist saw me right away. She gave me a filling & a polish, & I was back on the motorbike by 11:20.

All told: 120,000 Dong (=$6.67). Amazing.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Double Whammy Package Day!

What a day! I got two packages today - both filled with love, among other things.

My friend Sherry sent me a package full of things on my wish list: tank tops, ginger chews, jelly bellies, & Emergen-C. I just ran out of Emergen-C today, so that was perfect timing. Thanks Sherry!

The second package came from my sister-in-law Mae. She sent me all the books that I had to leave behind in LA because they were too heavy to take with me to Vietnam. Plus she filled the spaces between the books with some yummy granola snacks. Thanks Mae!

Monday, October 5, 2009

A Trip to the Doctor

I've come down with something. It feels like a cold or the flu.

My landlords saw me sniffling & immediately whisked me off to see a doctor. The doctor checked my blood pressure, listened to my heart, asked about symptoms, & then gave me three little baggies of pills, saying to take the pills from one bag right away, another in the morning & the third the next evening. The whole visit took less than ten minutes.

I've taken the pills. I'm also drinking lots of Emergen-C, & I'm resting a lot. My landlord even made me some rice soup, the Vietnamese remedy for a cold. I still feel sick, but I think I'm on the upswing. I hope I'm well enough to go to the wedding this Saturday.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

On Being a Tourist

Katie & I went to Saigon on Sunday & Monday. We stayed the night in a backpacker hotel in the heart of tourist central for $15. We were surrounded by foreigners & tourist shops galore. There were restaurants of many different cuisines: Korean, Indian, Italian, American - even an English pub. We spent the day time shopping & the night time socializing at one of the bars there.

Sometimes it's nice to be a tourist for a few days. It was nice to be able to speak English with people that I don't know, & it was nice to be able to be out past 10:00pm. I wouldn't want to do it all the time, but it was a nice change from the small but industrial town where I live now. I'm glad we went.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Night at the Olympic

I went back to the Olympic Club last night with Katie & two of our students. This is the closest thing to a dance club I've found in Vietnam, although there is no dance floor. The place is crowded with bar tables & the music is pumping. It's impossible to have a conversation, so you just dance around your table & drink.

There are security guards everwhere & photos are not allowed. The above photo was taken in July before I was politely told to put the camera away.

A "club girl" (read: working girl) hung out at our table most of the evening, pouring our beers & flirting with our Vietnamese friends. At the end of the evening, one of our Vietnamese friends tipped the woman 50,000 dong (=$2.75). We stayed out until the wee hour of 12:30am.