Let me start by saying that weekends aren’t really a thing in Vietnam. It is not unusual for teachers to have a full workday on Saturday, and I, myself, have class starting at 7 am (I know, its practically ungodly). Basically, the intense euphoria of “TGIF” that I once craved in college is now completely nonexistent. I also work every other day of the week except for Sunday. Thus, Sunday Funday!!!
Yesterday, I had arguably one of the best Sundays of my life. My Vietnamese friend, Maru, came over in the morning to make breakfast. She is an amazing cook and put together a sandwich with bacon, eggs, green onion, cucumber, and tomato (yes, I eat raw vegetables and I live to tell the tale!). Maru and I then met up with a group of mixed Vietnamese and foreigners that had been planning on Facebook to do a little field trip to a famous big tree and a cacao farm. The big tree, called Giàn Gừa, is a Vietnamese heritage tree and thought to be very sacred to the people who live around it. The branches grow in all different directions and being there made me feel a kind of peace that I can’t quite describe. Next, we hopped back on our motorbikes and visited a nearby cacao farm with an impressive 2,000 cacao trees. We were given samples of the best hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted along with some surprisingly delicious wine distilled from cacao. Next up on our adventure, we stopped at a restaurant and ate Bánh xèo, a traditional dish that is basically a thin yellow pancake stuffed with meat, shrimp, and vegetables. YUM.
Without more than 20 minutes to relax, Maru and my two American friends, Fred and Connie, randomly decided that we want to take a trip to a fabric market to get an Ao Dai made (a traditional vietnamese dress). The fabric market is HUGE and the process of picking something out took a lot longer than you would think. Funny enough, Fred ended up buying way more than any of the ladies. After dropping our stuff off at the tailors, I went immediately to an orphanage where I plan to volunteer every Sunday from now on. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take any pictures but trust me when I say the kids were stinkin cute and climbed all over me for an entire hour. Apparently, the word American also means jungle gym.
Straight from the orphanage, I went to meet my Vietnamese friend, Anh, for a Bollywood dance class. We recently discovered a new yoga place in town run by a few Indian guys and have been enjoying their yoga classes so we thought we would try some Bollywood dancing! To say it was hysterical would be an understatement… The guy leading the class obviously didn’t know how to dance so we ended up doing various hip girations to hindi music for an hour… but hey, we had a good laugh.
After dance class Anh and I met up with a different group of mixed Vietnamese and foreigners to play ultimate frisbee! A group of us meet every week to play and since it was raining last week, this was my first time attending. I kid you not, I have never sweat so much before in my life. I guess the more you sweat, the better you are because my team kicked some booty!
As I mentioned in my previous post, Matt and I spontaneously decided to take a trip to Phu Quoc island, which is south-west of Can Tho (on a map, it is the big island that looks like it belongs to Cambodia but it doesn’t).
Step 1: Take the bus
Matt and I thought we were being extremely cautious and overly prepared by riding our bikes to the bus station the day before our departure and inquiring about bus times and ticket costs. We arrive the next morning at 6:45 hoping to catch a 7:00 am bus to Rach Gia where we would then catch a boat to the island. We bought the tickets for 110,000 VND (roughly $5 USD) and boarded a small grey mini bus and off we went! As the morning progressed, the bus kept stopping to pick more people up and before we knew it we were both pressed up against the window fighting for leg room (see picture). A little weird, right? But whatever we assumed this was normal and la dee da went on our merry way. Around 11 we stop at a gas station and everyone piles out of the bus to get some food. We end up waiting there for about 45 minutes (Why you ask? I still have no clue) which was worrisome considering the last ferry leaves at 1:00 pm. Again, we convinced ourselves this was totally normal and away we went at 11:45! Before I know it, the mini bus has stopped again and the driver keeps pointing to me and Matt and then out the door, to me and Matt and out the door again. Ok… this is a red flag. The bus drives away and we are left in the middle of nowhere with two men on motorbikes who are supposedly going to drive us the rest of the way to Rach Gia. When the two men ask us to pay them each an extra 100,000 VND, it becomes exceedingly clear that we have been scammed. We finally talk them down to 130,000 VND for the both of us and off we go again… at this point our spirits have been a little damaged but not to worry because it only gets worse!
Step 2: Take the ferry
The bikes drop us off at a ticket window and we begin a series of outlandish arm motions and broken english to ask for two tickets to Phu Quoc island. The man informs us that the tickets for the last ferry are sold out. Before the panic sets in, a man rolls up on his motor bike and tells us he has two extra tickets which he will sell for 500,000 VND (about $25 USD) which is way more than the normal ticket price of 340,000 (about $16 USD). At this point we’re both pretty pissed off and I call my Vietnamese friend, Khoa, to talk to the guy and make sure the tickets are real. We buy them and get on the boat. Which, by the way is called “The Superdong”. LOL.
Step 3: Go to the Hotel
After getting off the boat, Matt and I made a last minute decision to cancel our current hotel reservation and show up at a different hotel located closer to the main downtown area of the island. The Eden Hotel is a breath of fresh air and the yummy ice tea the staff brings us in the lobby melts away all of our woes immediately. They even upgrade us to a better room for free! Over the course of the next 3 days, I laid by the pool, got a massage, when on a boat tour, and snorkeled. It was a fabulous trip and I highly recommend traveling there if anyone ever gets the opportunity to go to Vietnam! My one advice is to avoid the trouble we went through and simply fly to the island.
— Taylor Caldwell
One thing I have come to know and love about Asia is that everything is chaotic. Everything from street traffic to making dinner plans takes on an air of casualness that I can’t quite put into words. Instead, I will give you an example. Yesterday I met with Ms. Hong, an administrator at the Department of Foreign Languages at CTU. We finalized my teaching schedule and I was told to drop into class on Friday morning to observe the teacher and see how things are being done. I show up 20 minutes early and start conversing with some of the students who are slowly trickling in. They are all SO excited to have a new foreign teacher which is flattering and helps to boost my confidence. As soon as the teacher comes in, Ms. Thuoy, she pulls me into another room and says “I heard you were coming today so I made plans with my friends. You will teach the class, yes?”
Suddenly alone in front of a classroom of 30(ish) students, I find myself awkwardly talking about gender roles (which happens to be the lesson topic for the day). Like a true Pitzer alumnus, I spend half the class explaining the concept of “stereotyping” and “gender nonconformity”. I’m not quite sure if it stuck but hey, at least I tried! Tomorrow I’m supposed to teach about gender issues in the modern day… wish me luck y’all…
On the bright side, I don’t have to teach again until next Friday so Matt and I have spontaneously decided to take a trip to Phu Quoc island! Stay tuned for pictures of tropical drinks, sandy beaches, and cozy hammocks that will surely make you jealous!
— Taylor Caldwell
I figure I’m going to get lazy about posting so I might as well post as often as possible while I still have the motivation. I arrived in Can Tho, the city where I will be teaching for the next 9 months, yesterday afternoon. Matt is in house 4 and I am in house 6. I have a French roommate named Marie who is teaching French at Can Tho University and I also have a little cat (see picture above) who roams in and out of my abode. Yesterday was very disorienting and after I ran out of water, I definitely let the heat get the best of me. Amidst my first bout of homesickness and culture shock I wrote a list of tragedies that have occurred thus far:
1. There’s no AC. It’s f$&?!*% hot.
2. We don’t know where/how/when we are supposed to teach. Everything here is very chaotic.
3. There’s no AC. Did I say that already?
4. Matt found a pair of someone else’s underwear in one of his drawers. Don’t worry, he happened to pack a pair of yellow rubber gloves (don’t ask my why).
5. My mosquito net has holes in it. Joy.
6. Lastly, there’s no AC!!!!
Just when I felt like shriveling up and calling it quits, someone knocked on my door. Turns out there is an Australian woman named Brooke conducting research right next door! I swear this girl is my guardian angel because she cheered me right up and took me to get some delicious pho, which, by the way, was only $3. This morning she also knocked on my door and brought me two huge bottles of water and a bag of bananas. Later on in the evening I met Joe, one of the Princeton in Asia boys who are also teaching English at CTU. He let me ride his motor scooter around the block and I’m seriously considering purchasing one (sorry mom and dad).
— Taylor Caldwell