The PBS documentary The Vietnam War by renowned film maker Ken Burns and Lynn Novick is a remarkable multi-part film. James Lapp, a Teachers for Vietnam board member, taught co-director Lynn Novick Vietnamese so that she could interview people for the current PBS documentary on the Vietnam War. We’re proud that James helped with this historic documentary and that he continues to help make our organization the best it can be!
Pictured L to R: James Lap, Lynn Novick & Ken Burns
James Lapp (L) with Mike Heaney (R)
Mr. Heaney is a combat veteran and applicant for our program who is featured in several episodes of the Vietnam documentary.
By Julia Davis, Can Tho University
In some ways, it’s hard to believe that it’s already been a month.
But most days, I feel like it’s been a year. Not because time is moving slowly, but because the United States feels so distant, and because Can Tho has become home so quickly. From the harshly lit (but somehow homey) house that we live in, to the restaurant where Maddie and I go twice/week to get vegetarian dry noodles (similar to a Vermicelli bowl), to the campus, which still feels huge, but so much more familiar, everything has begun to feel comfortable. I’ve started to feel like a life is coming together…if that makes sense.
When I arrived in Los Angeles four years ago, after deciding to leave home for college, I felt so incredibly overwhelmed and isolated. I had never been away from home for more than a month, and I found myself swallowed alive by the beast that is LA, too intimidated by it to really explore, and asking myself why I had ever chosen to move. But slowly, surely, something within me shifted and the place that had once felt so scary and huge, became small and warm. I found a favorite coffee shop and neighborhood and beach, and friends who felt like family. Now, when I think of LA, my heart aches with home sickness. I think of cruising down one of the million different highways in my little Prius, or of the home I made with my beloved roommates last year, or of sitting in a politics class at Whittier. I think of the life I built.
It happened more quickly here. I remember my first days in Can Tho, wandering around on foot (before I got my motorbike), sweating my face off, asking myself if I made the right decision coming here. I remember my first day of class, facing 40 students and asking myself how the hellllll I’m qualified to teach them. It feels so long ago! The culture shock has worn off, my stage fright in the classroom has shifted to excited confidence, and I finally know how to order a vegetarian meal and ask for the check in Vietnamese—not much, I know, but it’s a start. Ok so I know this has been rambling, but basically what I’m saying is, I’m happy. I’m so happy. Like, whooping on my motorbike, occasionally feeling tears of joy well in my eyes, falling asleep smiling happy.
All that being said, I’ll share some more concrete developments and events in my life (this is for you mom and dad). I started teaching my two Freshman classes this week, which are both pronunciation classes, and I think they are going to pose the biggest challenge this semester. English levels are quite low, and during my first class, I was a fumbling, anxious mess. Hopefully next week will go better….
I bought a violin!! Last week, I went on a solo mission to HCMC to find one, and after spending all morning trying out cheap, mass-produced Chinese instruments, I resigned myself to just buy one. As I was walking to the ATM to get cash for it, I stumbled upon an artisan violin shop, owned by a retired concert violinist who carves all the instruments in his shop by hand! He and his wife, who spoke perfect English, let me try about 10 different violins and showed me videos of their son playing violin, who is studying music at a university in Northern California! I came home with the beauty pictured below. It was so serendipitous and amazing! And a friend has since connected me with a young composer living in Can Tho who plays cello and is trying to arrange a string quartet! Life sometimes man. I also got some craft beer and ramen while in the city, so that also made the 3.5-hour bus ride wellllll worth it.
Yesterday was awesome, because Maddie and I met up with a girl (Tiny) whose mom is a tailor, and she took us to a fabric store to pick materials then to her house to get fitted for a few fancy new items. It was so much fun, and as we were leaving, Tiny asked if we like shopping and getting massages, and if we want to go to a vintage fair on Saturday, and get massages together some time. Um yep. Glad we share interests. That kind of thing keeps happening, where we meet someone and they immediately offer to show us the town and do all the fun things and basically just be our friend and resource. Something that definitely wouldn’t happen if we were the new kids on the block in the U.S….
Also, this weekend we are heading to Long Xuyen, a city about 2 hours away, to motorbike and hike through the rolling green hills that the city is famous for. It’s also where Tyler lives!! Reunion! I can’t wait, and I will post pictures when I get back!
With that, I think it’s time to sign off, because this post has gotten super long and I know you all have a life and don’t want to read an essay. The last thing I’ll say is, I got a pretty gruesome burn this week on a motorbike exhaust pipe, so if anyone has good advice about burn treatment let me know! I’ve been told this type of burn is called a “Saigon kisser,” so at least my injury has an awesome name!
Things that I do miss:
- Being the student in a classroom—this week, I’ve started feeling pangs of missing school. I miss my advisors, and excitedly sharing excerpts from awesome journal articles with my roommates at night, and the general feeling of being a student
- My puppy
- Cozy sweaters—I may be acclimated to the weather here, but not to the point where I’m able to wear wool sweaters like many of my students
- Craft beer
- Driving a car
So it is my third week here and I think I have finally adjusted to my perma-sticky state. Thank god for deodorant…don’t get me wrong the Mekong Delta region has some serious perks but the heat is not one of them. Jules and I feel fairly settled in our new house, although it took a fair bit of getting used to. The row of houses we live in are gray and concrete, we call it dystopia. However, we have done our best to make it feel like a home. Thankfully we discovered a store called Big C, which is basically like a Vietnamese Walmart, and have made a few major hauls to liven up the grayness of our space. Mainly, we reside on the floor of our living room amid our fan sanctuary. A major bummer of the house is that there are slats in the upper parts of the ceiling in the entry way, as well as, in the doors leading outside, one of which is right next to my bedroom. Joy.
A couple of days ago I watched a snake slither into my bedroom via the lovely slatted door near my bedroom. At which point, I realized that my grit level was at an all new high. It only took three screaming girls, one heroic guy, and a dirty old mop to trap and kill the snake. The fun never stops in Nam. Aside from the minor snake hiccup, life is good. When I first arrived, I thought life in Can Tho seemed extremely fast paced. But once your eyes adjust and blur out the traffic hum of the streets, you start to realize that there is a lot of chilling to be done here.
I just started teaching my first class this past week, so I have a feeling the open hours of my day will start to become few and far between. My first class was a success although the process of assimilating into the classroom flow was a little rocky. This was mainly due to the fact that I took over the class from a teacher who had been teaching the course for the past two weeks. The initial transition had me a little anxious because I was not given any sort of syllabus or rubric for the course. I am teaching fourth year university students in a Listening and Speaking class, so most of them are around my age (also a factor that is extremely intimidating). All I have been given is a textbook and other than that it is up to me. I know, deep breaths. I’m doing my best to go with the flow and take advantage of the autonomy that I have been granted. The good news is, I am feeling much more comfortable after some planning and meeting with my class a second time. I am thrilled by the potential for this semester and I am excited to share my upcoming plans for my students. My hope is to utilize their interests about American culture and shape the class into something that is unconventional and worthwhile to their education beyond just the English language.
Before our school year began, Jules and I set off on one last adventure with two of the Princeton In Asia (PIA) boys who live a few houses down from us. Their plan was to hit two places in Vietnam, Đà Lạt and Nha Trang, and we were more than willing to tag along. I am so happy that we did because it was amazing!! Our first stop was in Đà Lạt. We flew out of Ho Chi Minh City last Thursday on a short 45 minute flight and arrived in the early afternoon. Đà Lạt was exactly what the doctor ordered: temperature at brisk 70 degrees and breezes that actually felt like breezes, ah it was heavenly. Our first day there we palled around on some motorbikes (Jules and I’s first time…woot woot we survived) and explored the city. We visited the Hằng Nga Guesthouse, also called the “Crazy House”, which is an unconventional series of buildings by Vietnamese architect Đặng Việt Nga. I can best describe it as the Vietnamese Gaudí meets zen nature garden vibes, aka where you want to be. It was so magnificent and breathtaking. We had a ball.
The following day was one for the books. It was day two of Julia and I riding motorbikes, so naturally we decided we could handle biking 150 km in the Vietnam Countryside (sorry mom & dad). BUT WE DID IT. That day was the most life affirming day of my life AND the wildest. Jules and I kept remarking on the overwhelming sense of immensity that came over us on our bikes, riding on the back of mother nature, totally at her will. If you ever have the opportunity to do something similar, take it, you won’t regret it! As for the waterfalls we visited, I am going to let the pictures do all the talking because I don’t think I can do them justice.
After our jungle adventure we boarded a bus to Nha Trang, the boys opted for motorbike, but Julia and I didn’t feel like testing our livelihood any further. The drive over was incredibly gorgeous and took about four hours. Along the way, we winded our way down the mountainside in a sea of green and caught glimpses of small waterfalls in the cracks of the hillside. Our first night in the new city we went to dinner per the recommendation of our hotel keeper. When we arrived at the restaurant, we were instructed to go over and select our desired meal, all of which was alive and swimming in about 25 different tanks. We chose crab, oysters (sorry Bailey I had to let them take my oyster virginity), and some sort of white fish. It was a mad luxurious moment and I loved it. The next day we spent solely at the beach with four fresh coconuts and a bottle of rum. As you can imagine, we had a terrible time. Ha. But for now its back to reality, sort of, as we begin our year! Cheers!