By Mia Kataisto
Original post: https://makataisto.wordpress.com/2016/09/16/hi-friends/

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I can’t believe it’s already been 5 weeks since I arrived. So much wonderful stuff has happened!  Lots of amazing interactions and conversations, lots of delicious fruits, lots of learning, and a whole lotta humidity. Picking up and moving to a country I’ve never been before has not been easy. But it has been incredibly rewarding. I’ve had quite a bit of time to think and reflect on so many things, about my life, about the people here, about the world, and I’m incredibly grateful for this experience.
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I started teaching at the university four weeks ago, which I’ve decided I love love love. My schedule is quite bizarre, as I only teach all day on Tuesdays.  I ended up getting a second job at an English center, which I started last week and also enjoy very much. I’m teaching university students on Tuesday, and younger middle schoolers on the other days, so it’s a nice mix. Although it’s definitely exhausting, I really like being in the classroom and teaching in general.  I realized it after I finished my yoga certification and it’s being reinforced now. It makes me feel so good. Also, my students are awesome. They’ve been so kind to me, showing me around the city, bringing me fruit gifts before class, and being patient with me as I try to learn all their names (which by the way is not the easiest thing). I’ve also gone running with a few of my students which brings me so much joy.

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I’ve currently put myself on a day of bed rest, which has finally given me a moment to write another blog post. It’s the time of the Mid-Autumn festival here, so the city is bustling, more-so than usual. Tons of little store-fronts selling moon cakes and lanterns, both important in the celebration here. The festival is one of great importance in Vietnam, as well as other Asian countries.  It’s a time of thanksgiving for the harvest, and a time for gathering with family and friends. In Vietnam, Tết Trung Thu is also called the Children’s Festival because of the belief that children, pure and innocent, have the closest connection to the natural and spiritual world. So, story time.  Wednesday night I went to witness some of the festivities, and I was not disappointed. I left my English center job and rode my bike along with the madness that is motorbike traffic heading towards the lake to light some candles in paper-made lotus flowers (another tradition). I’ve gotten used to biking here, although crossing the big streets is still a little bit terrifying.  I did actually get rammed by a motorbike in my side as a I was turning last week, but I was all good. Anyhow, I got to the lake. A very small, man-made lake right next to the river. I did a loop on my bike, and then stopped to take it all it. People sitting with their families enjoying the evening, enjoying the community, enjoying the lights. And let me tell you, the lights here are incredible. They are everywhere. At night it literally feels like Times Square, Christmas, and an 80s dance club all in one. So as I was observing, a group of English-speaking students came up to me and asked if I wanted to buy a flower with a candle. I did, and one of the girls took me to put it in the lake. I went to walk down the steps to place it in the water, and stupidly went off onto the slanted and very slippery concrete, and proceeded to completely eat it and slide into the water. The very murky water. The girl pulled me out quickly, but I could feel everyone’s shocked faces staring at me. I couldn’t help but laugh the entire ride home on my bike, completely soaked. Also, fell right on my butt and hurt it pretty badly, but I’m alright. Had my phone in my pocket too lolol.  It was a nice little wakeup call telling me to slow down.

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(The lake I fell into…)

If there’s one thing that’s struck a chord with me about being here, it’s the concept of time. I wrote about this in my first blog post, and it’s something I’ve thought about so much in the last few weeks. I was having a conversation with my neighbor, one of the Australians in the guesthouse the other day. I was telling her about my teaching schedule and how I just felt like I had to do more, to be constantly busy. She reminded me that it’s Vietnamese time here. Not clock time, but life time. Things just happen when they happen. It’s a much more relaxed pace, and people take time to just sit and be. Especially during the middle of the day. A siesta is definitely a thing here.  Yes, they are incredibly hard-working, but there’s something about making time for a little nap, or just to relax that I’ve noticed is so important. I love this. I sometimes (often) fall victim to taking on too much, putting too much energy into things. We all do it on some level, even if we don’t want to admit it. Being here has been a nice reminder that it’s okay to take a step back. To relax. To just be. Because we aren’t defined by what we do.

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I took two weekend trips these last two weekends, both of which were wonderful and exhausting. The heat really hits me here; it’s still taking my body a bit of time to get used to. Two weekends ago, I was invited on a bus tour by the international department at the university to go to a few different provinces in southern Vietnam. The tour bus was filled with 17 people, five of us foreigners. We went to the southernmost province of Cà Mau, where we took an hour long boat ride along one of the rivers to sea which was quite spectacular. We stayed in the city that evening, and I got to know some of the people working in the international department. The next day we went to Bạc Liêu, where we saw the opera house and the home of a traditional Vietnamese folk singer.  On the same trip, I also visited an incredible Khmer pagoda in Soc Trang province, which was one of the most beautiful I’ve seen. The intricate details, all the vibrant colors. It was stunning. Definitely a wonderful trip with such caring and kind people.

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This past weekend I visited two other Teachers for Vietnam fellows teaching at Can Tho University. It was a much needed getaway and was so nice to be with fellows who are going through similar things I am experiencing here. We ate some fabulous veg food, went to karaoke, went to the floating markets, and just hung out. I even met a UM alum who was visiting other fellows in Can Tho. Literally everywhere you go, go blue!

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Major life lessons in these past few weeks, and I know they’ll continue. It definitely hasn’t been all fine and dandy here. I’ve had some days where I just don’t have any energy to do anything. There are things here I need to think about that I normally wouldn’t think about at home.  It’s mentally and emotionally taxing, really. But I wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s also frustrating sometimes when I come home and there’s no running water, or the electricity has stopped working for the day. Or that I have ants and gecko poop literally everywhere in my apartment.  But it’s life and I’m alive and that’s what’s important.  It’s been a bit strange being basically alone here, as this city is not at all populated by tourism, or foreign people in general. Overall though, it’s been an incredible learning experience thus far, and only reinforces the importance of getting out of my comfort zone. To learn, to grow, to experience all life has to offer. As much as it’s been difficult, living here has been a blessing with little gems of experiences each and everyday. And for that I’m truly grateful.

Finding comfort in the uncomfortable, in the temporary, in the craziness that life throws at you, that’s what it’s all about. So go out, say hi to a stranger, make yourself uncomfortable. You might surprise yourself and discover something wonderful.

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Love you all!