Last weekend I was asked to give a speech to about 200 high schools students about college life in the United States. I agreed to do this and upon my arrival at the school was surprised to learn that I was also expected to lead the students in a rendition of the “chicken dance” (it’s supposed to go something like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UmfEMWaJ-Qg).
Since then, I have given a speech in front of a crowd of 600 people (including party leaders of the province (i.e. important people)) for the university’s opening ceremony, given another speech about the importance of the university’s library, and judged an English-speaking competition. The fact that I’ve been asked to make these ‘public appearances’ simply because I’m a foreigner makes me a bit uncomfortable, but I do recognize that being a foreigner probably does give me a unique perspective. In order to try and reconcile these competing narratives about the legitimacy of my thoughts, I’ve begun to start my speeches by acknowledging that “I am entirely unqualified to speak on this topic, but will nonetheless do my best!”
This past week I tried to teach Transcendentalism to my American Literature students (I started class by asking my students to try and tell me “who they are”) and I’m finally starting to pick up on some Vietnamese. This has been great, but it has also enlightened me to some things that I would have been better off not knowing.
For example, this Wednesday my Vietnamese teacher explained to me that what I had previously thought was just a weirdly boiled egg (it had a white shell and a yolk-like thing in the middle, but also had a strange black and chewy object inside) was actually duck embryo: http://www.culinaryschools.org/cuisine/10-disgusting-delicacies/ (it’s number 3). I sort of knew that what I was eating wasn’t exactly a normal chicken egg, but I was eating the egg in the dark from a street vendor and figured that whatever it was couldn’t be that strange. I’m proud to know that I’ve eaten this, but now that I know what it is I don’t plan to eat it again.
I’ve also started to get a handle on how to buy fruit from the market. I’ve gotten mangoes, bananas, dragon fruits, and all sorts of other things I don’t know the names of. Unfortunately, though, fruits (particularly those that come in clusters) tend to be sold in large quantities. As a result, yesterday I ate twelve bananas because I thought that green bananas meant unripe bananas, but apparently in Vietnam green bananas mean VERY ripe (like falling off if you touch them) bananas.
I also love my yoga class. My teacher takes really good care of me (she’s constantly explaining to me in her limited English how to do the poses), and I think my classmates enjoy my presence because we all smile to each other as we walk in and out of class. I also sometimes hear them laughing at me when I can’t do a pose, which I’ve chosen to interpret as endearing. I have also realized that the most common thing that my instructor says to me is “relax face” which for some reason I like.
All in all things are going well. I think I’m becoming more acclimated to the life over here— perhaps transitioned out of the honeymoon
stage and into the “Wow, I’m actually LIVING in Vietnam” stage.
Post by our teacher in Long Xuyen, Nick Schcolnik.
Original blog post from http://nicksexcellentadventures.wordpress.com/