Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Theodoseus the Great

There once was a spider warrior by the name of Theodoseus the Great. For years he feasted on the remains of mosquito families and dragonfly babies he captured in his great webs. When humans came into his territory he creeped into their quarters, only to force them out minutes after his arrival.

His reign of terror spread from the jungles of Vietnam, to the countryside villages, and even as far as the metropolitan area. For Theodoseus, every human he encountered screamed and ran in the opposite direction.

One night-- as Theodoseus preferred to travel by nighttime so as to avoid being potentially stomped on by human feet, he stumbled upon a gated community. Oh, this will be great, he thought to himself, a bunch of sleeping people I can scare awake...then I'll take over the whole building to myself and get to work on creating an empire. So he crawled through the somewhat rusted white bars, past the sign reading Hoa An Center.

Once he reached the white tiled stairs, he decided to clear out the first floor of rooms first. Creeping through a window, he mounted himself right next to the bathroom door. Surely an unsuspecting human would stumble towards the bathroom in the middle of the night and then shout out upon finding Theodoseus. So he sat, and waited-- not even bothering to spin a web to settle down. This would all be his soon enough, no need to rush.

Around 5:00 am, Theodoseus heard an alarm clock ring, and a shaded image moved towards the bathroom. No flashlight. Perfect.

The human entered the bathroom, did their business, and as they began to wash their hands their eyes must have adjusted. Sitting there perfectly still next to the mirror, Theodoseus heard the scream. But it was not nearly as loud as he expected. They're not terrified? Merely taken back? This had never happened before. The human left, probably to tell the others they needed to get out because of this great spider. But instead, one by one, the humans came out to do their business and just avoided Theodoseus like the plague. They completely ignored his very presence!

Thinking that a better location would give him the results he wanted, Theodoseus moved into the actual bathroom and sat next to the window across from the showerhead. The humans hardly reacted. They just closed him into the room and continued to use the other stall.

Hanging his head in shame, Theodoseus decided these humans were a new breed-- no longer afraid of his kind, and so he headed back into the jungle. He would wait each night, hoping to see these humans leave, and a new breed arrive. A new breed that he could once again torment and terrify.

Humans- 1
Theodoseus- 7435198374

Monday, August 15, 2011

Phu Quoi?? Phu Quoc!

Holy day of learning lessons. We started our morning with finding a legitimate taxi driver in Ho Chi Minh City after a blank silver car rolled up and the man inside started to cart away our luggage. Luckily, the real taxi driver took us directly to the domestic terminal without delay. Once we arrived we searched around for a luggage storage area to keep our big bags for the next week while we went around. The airport personnel informed us we could store our bags at International (which would be better in the end anyway) so we lugged everything over to International and were greeted by a glorified storage closet with a few shelves and three or four people sitting around a desk. There were maybe two bags sitting on the shelves. Completely sketchy in my mind. But we forked over forty American dollars and they took down our flight information and names and we watched as they locked our bags and put them together by flight arrival time. So here's to hoping my bag is still in Ho Chi Minh on Saturday evening.

Once we got into the airport, we waited in the small gate area. When the time finally game to board, we walked down a set of stairs and out into the open air. A bus was sitting outside and carted us to a plane with wind-up propellers. The runway for take-off seemed entirely too short but the plane really had some power to it! Our flight was gorgeous-- white fluffy clouds painted the skyline and just underneath us, thousands of houses were crammed together along windy roads. Once we hit the skyline everything turned grey. But before we knew it, we were once again descending into Phu Quoc, a mere 127 miles away.

The airport was pitifully small, but quaint. We stepped off the plane into the overcast daylight, and stepped directly into the greeting area/baggage claim. A man met us with a Saigon Resort sign and motioned us to a mini-van that drove us all the way to the Resort. Once there, we had to wait in another room for three-person room to be ready, which was well worth it because they gave us vouchers for the day-spa. But after we settled in a bit, we rented a bike from the hotel (for free!) and the six of us headed out on an excursion ride. We headed to the right at first but couldn't find much outside of coffee shops and other resorts. Then we headed back past our Resort and found the highly-acclaimed night-market. We stopped for a bite to eat at a random place that had a sign advertising various types of sandwiches.

Phu Quoc Lesson #1: Never eat at a place that advertises their best dishes on a sign. You will end up with pieces of raw meat in your sandwich, but not realize that fact until your last bite. No, I'm not sick yet.

After we had our mediocre meal, we headed back to shower and meet up with Amy and Erika who had just arrived to the island. Around 5 we headed to the Resort restaurant for dinner, which was over-priced but American. I had two Blue Lagoon drinks; (Yes Diane, that does mean Happy Times Lemonade) vodka, blue curacao, lemon juice, 7-Up. I also got a cheeseburger with fries. Nomnoms.

After I paid my $25 bill (by far the most expensive meal since I've been here, but still better than Miami), we grabbed some more cash and went to the night-market in search of cheap, but very real pearls.

The vendors had ridiculously jacked up prices in comparison to what our director said from last year, but we managed to find a few good deals. It was great to bargain some more, even though we probably only bargained down to what their actual prices would be. You win some, you lose some. Gonna go back tomorrow for a couple more gifts and a book about the war. Wednesday night I promised the girls I would eat seafood if we ate at the market...there was an elephant snail there. It literally had a trunk coming out from under the shell. Everything looked so fresh that I can't help but trust it.

On our trek back home we stopped in a wine shop to browse around for tomorrow night and a woman recognized our group and asked if we were the bike group from earlier. We said yes, and she immediately told us her bike tour was better than the "crappy Saigon ones" we were riding. So then we got to talking about where she could take us and how, and she said that last minute we could get a mountain bike tour to a waterfall for only $5!! Amazing. So when in doubt, talk to the Vietnamese. They always "give discount" and will always give more discount when you stay longer and/or buy more from them.

That's my only news so far. The weather is kind of a bummer, but we're making it work anyway! Too bad I'm burning a hole right through my pocket with all these excursions.

Hope the final days of summer are treating you wonderfully. Can't wait to see some American faces soon.

Peace, love, and shrimp on a stick!!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

An afternoon of thought.

For years I have compiled a list of foreign countries I dream of seeing one day...Cote d'Ivoire, Italy, Greece, Ireland, Egypt, and the list goes on for days. But travelling to an Asian country never really crossed my mind. Everything seemed so absurdly foreign and terrifying that I couldn't picture myself voyaging all the way across the world to literally be in a new world. It's easy for Americans to want to travel to Europe, most people know English. And the food still mostly resembles our cusine. The people are usually more conservative and while they may hate American tourists, they love to make money off of them.

Asia always seemed like an entirely new breed of conservative, almost cold towards Americans. And I vowed that I could never come unless I was with a strict tour group that kept an eye on me and made sure I didn't disappear down any dark corners. I feared trying completely fresh food that sits out all day while buyers stroll by and bargain for a deal. The thought of crossing a communistic solider sent shivers down my spine. What if my passport got lost? Or what if I couldn't get to the American Embassy in time to avoid being thrown in prison for being a radical American female, doing as she pleases?

I used to want to see Tokyo, stay in a posh little hotel, and experience all the exciting thrills of the city life. But I knew I would never have the balls to do it. But even with all of this doubt and fear of an Asiatic adventure, here I am today. Laying on the floor in a Vietnamese camp. The same floor I've been laying on for the past three weeks.

Spiders don't phase me anymore. I've learned to love the sound of the playful horns from the mo-peds flying by our bus on the wrong side of the road. A bowl of fried fish (scales still on) can sit next to me at lunchtime without any urge to vomit. I'm learning Vietnamese, for crying out loud. I successfully crossed a major road yesterday like a local. Don't look, keep going. And the mo-peds literally swerve around you. I play barefoot soccer with strangers. I eat mystery meat in a brothy soup everyday, twice a day. My chopstick abilities are no longer a cause for concern. Oh, and here's the kicker...I'm already trying to figure out when I can come back!

My cautiously planned out six days of extra travelling suddenly seems like nothing at all. How can I possibly see all of the temples, ride my own mo-ped, snorkel, go to a day-market, a night-market, AND get lost in an old Cambodian teashop if I only have six days to do it? Ah, that's right...their coffee is much stronger than ours. And I'm used to waking up at five in the morning now. But still. I want to stay. I don't want to leave.

I can get over the twice-a-day bugspray applications...because I'm barely applying it once a day now. I don't mind the ant bites, I'm not allergic. I don't mind the chirping lizard that lives on our wall. And I definitely don't mind not showering everyday, because it acts as its own bug repellant. For the first time in my life, I'm not afraid to be alone. I'm not afraid to say, sure let's go down this road and see where it takes us.

My camp director, Anna, told us something while we were in Can Tho a few weeks ago. She said that when disaster strikes, adventure can begin. And on that day, her words rang truer than I thought they could. But for me now, I can see that I'm already on an adventure, and the only disaster that had to strike was getting oddly high and outrageously sick from the Japanese encephalitis shot...twice.

To my friends and loved ones, I hope I have not hurt you by declaring my disenchantment of returning to the States because I miss you dearly and I know that as soon as I come home I will transition morbidly fast into American living again, but for now...I'm really enjoying living like a dirty camper, getting to know my kids more and more everyday. It will be easy to keep in touch with the Vietnamese coaches, thanks to facebook, skype and gmail...but the same cannot be said for my kids. Dat gave me his address so I will try to send them all a picture of me, and maybe a little note or something...but who knows if the package will ever get to them. And then they'll be left wondering what happened, worried that I forgot about them, and hoping for something that will never come. Maybe that's why I really want to come back to Asia, to see them again. To have a reunion and to re-live the memories we've made so far. Maybe it's just me being selfish. Or maybe I'm just like every other new teacher, completely and utterly attached to my first class of kids.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The silent art of cooking.

There are few things in the world that are universally spoken without using words. Giving directions, dancing, and cooking are just three. Since we no longer have camp in the afternoon, we have about six hours of free time from when we eat lunch, until dinner. Today, most of us scrambled onto Facebook the minute we heard the Communist ban had been lifted. I allowed myself an hour to peruse a few profiles, not understanding all of the updated functions.

I braided Amy's hair for her tennis match with Ania this afternoon but that only took up about twenty minutes. I was antsy for 3 pm to roll around so I could run out back to the kitchen to help 'Grandma' and our camp-crew prepare dinner with Sophia. When the time finally came, Sophia and I put up our hair and changed into some work clothes. All of the Vietnamese coaches went to watch the impromptu tennis match, so we were left wondering how in the world we would figure out what to do in a Vietnamese kitchen.

Luckily, the main director of our hostel was there and she speaks a little bit of English. She explained how we would be having over twenty guests tonight so they were boiling an entire chicken to make rice soup with. There was also a bowl of banana flowers sitting in some kind of liquid. Apparently they are served with the soup.

Sophia and I kind of stood around smiling while the Vietnamese worked away at their various chores, talking about us and giggling every few seconds. Then one woman motioned us into the back area where a fire was burning with a plastic bag melting on top. She pointed to a bowl of pork sitting in an oil blend, and then pointed at a rack. We assumed that meant, cook on here. But we had to wait for the wood to burn down to heat up the coals.

Grandma came around the corner and handed us each a Vietnamese rootbeer. Then she tried to teach us a few words, which I of course have already forgotten. I know one was snails, and the other was pork...but the translated meaning, I got nothin'.

When we got the O-K to put the meat on the rack we started to follow the woman's lead. She laid a piece. So we laid a piece. And then about thirty seconds later, she flipped it over. We had to balance the rack because it was slightly bent and would rock back and forth on the coal fire. Soon the rack was filled entirely and we started our flipping process. We'd wait, and then flip. But then she basically flipped the same piece right after we did. My mind was blown. Everything Paula Dean and Bobby Flay have taught me through the Food Network is suddenly reversed. "Don't flip your meat until it's ready," rang through my head as we flipped the meat every few seconds.

When I thought a piece was ready, I picked it up and showed it to the woman. She either nodded her head yes, or nodded her head no. If it was a yes, I put it down in the bowl where she could cut off the charred pieces of fat. If it was a no, I put it back on the mini-grill. No words needed.

Every few minutes Grandma would come pat us on the back and try to give us a few more words to practice, but I of course have already forgotten them.

Hopefully we don't poison anyone tonight, but the meat is really good...not gonna lie. If everyone says how much they like the meat, I will toot my own horn. For days.

I want to buy a pot and make a coal grill now. My hair smells like a summertime bbq, except for this time I'm covered in ashes and I actually cooked the food.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Shenanigonz on Ba Hon(z)

Let me just start by saying that this weekend was nothing less than incredible. Yes, there were times when I wanted to rip a few heads off, but then I just took a deep breath in, glanced at the distant islands that painted the skyline from my hotel room balcony. I know that I would never be able to find a resort like this one if I was traveling on my own. It's about seven hours away from Ho Chi Minh City Airport, and it's surrounded by security and government agents like the President himself vacations there. I only saw a few white faces though-- one Danish man and another fellow who were both with Vietnamese friends.

Apparently all of the Vietnamese families we saw there are very very wealthy. Vacationing at a resort on the coast is not something everyone can do...which I guess makes sense. This weekends excursion was planned to allow the Vietnamese coaches to travel somewhere new and experience things they would never normally be able to.

We arrived late on Friday night-- around 11:30 pm. Tired from a long busride, and even more sick from all the twists and turns on the unpaved single lane roads, we weren't really up for partying. Breathing in the salty spray immediately revived me a bit, but it wasn't until I looked up into the night sky and realized I could see full constellations. The moon was a small sliver in the sky, glowing yellow giving the starts an eery yet romantic look. I could only remember what one constellation looked like from my brief learning at the planetarium about a month ago. I found the scorpions tail from our balcony and pointed it out to Sophia and Anna. Then we took showers in a two-person jacuzzi bathtub, and snuggled up in the resort bathrobes. We found a crappy HBO movie in English about a man who goes back in time...I think it was the original Black Knight movie? No, not the one with Martin Lawrence.

Saturday morning we got up for breakfast at eight. They made us fresh fried eggs, with a side of pork springrolls, chom choms, sweet bread, and the strongest coffee I have ever tasted. Their coffee is much different here...kind of a mix of regular coffee with an espresso bite. This resort coffee however, hardly lightened up after adding twice as much milk. It remainded a muddy color with a bitter flavor that made me hold my nose to down.

At 9:30 we drove to a dock where a boat met us to take us to an island beach. And this is where the fun began. Seven girls crammed ourselves onto the front of the boat, while the other two Americans and the Vietnamese coaches sat in the back with life-vests and no idea of when the waves would come.

At precisely 9:43, I cracked open a beer with Sophia. Erica and Amy were drinking something out of a gatorade bottle, so the time was right. Bobbing with the waves, we waved and 'ooh-ed' to the passing boats. The salt water felt amazing on my skin, and for a while I actually felt myself missing the salty humidity in Miami. I felt at ease, but then I realized that I wasn't surrounded by yachts and jet skis...I was surrounded by old fishing boats, boat homes, with a new remote island popping up every time I blinked my eyes. Fellas, if you wanna be a part of a heist, the Gulf of Thailand is the perfect location.

Suddenly we all lunged forward and the boat halted to a stop. Our captain began shouting out the window to my left...in Vietnamese of course. Jerking our heads to see what the problem was, we saw a boat of about seven men gathering up a net, and the captain kept yelling. So one of the girls started yelling to the back to get a translation. But I knew what was happening...poachers. They were stealing fish from a fish farm. I guess it kind of made sense, minus the fact that we were practically in open water and there did not appear to be any lines containing some kind of fish farm. Either way, we floated a bit more until the captain scared them off with the threat of calling the cops. And then we were back to sailing along the choppy waters.

We arrived at the island wind-whipped and a little typsy about ninety minutes later. We were told to store our stuff in a little room and then we were free to explore until lunch at 12:30. There was an island about 400 meters away that had a sandy beach instead of a rock beach on the island we were visiting. Sophia, Keara, Ania, and myself all jumped into the water and asked where the path was to cross to the other beach. Turned out that the wall was being repared from recent monsoon weather so we would have to swim about halfway to a sandbar labeled with tall sticks and from there we could walk the rest of the way over. Shit, I tohught to myself. My mom is going to kill me if she finds out that I tried to be a big girl and swim in open water, with a beer in hand when I can barely doggy paddle more than ten laps in a pool. But the competitive, adventuresome girl in me took over and I headed out in my Vibrams with the other girls to make it across to the forested island. Swimming with a tiger beer in one hand and trying to stay afloat with the other, I found myself really struggling about halfway to the sticks. I've only known these girls for a few days, way too early for an anxiety attack, get it together. So I flipped on my back and just kicked, beer straight up in the air. Salt water got in my mouth with every wave and I felt like I was getting now where. And then I finally felt some seaweed wrap around my ankle. YES! Almost able to stand again. I'm not gonna die. Awesome.

When I got to the island I immediately claimed a hammock and started rocking away. Not five minutes later was I laughing out loud along with Morgan and Keara...Sophia's hammock snapped off at one end and she fell about six inches flat on her back. "Guess these weren't designed for fat Americans!" she said as we helped her up. And that's when the rain came. The wind took over and we had no where to go, and we weren't about to cross the ocean in the middle of a monsoon, even if the waves would have helped us a bit.

Then I saw a local wave to me from behind a little tiki-bar. He was motioning us to his home where we could sit until the rain passed. Since most of us swam over to the island, we didn't have money tucked away inside our bikinis to pay the man for a drink. He brought us a table and chairs and even some small bananas. The house was quaint, hidden inside the thickness of the jungle. The large white tiling stood out against the wettening mud all around us. Inside, I could see a bed with a brightly designed covering. It sat next to one of four altars in the room. Painted pictures and golden statues decorated every shelf of the cabinets. The man himself couldn't have been more than twenty five years old, wearing a Ralph Lauren polo and cutoff khaki shorts. Barefoot like the rest of the locals, he glided across the slippery flooring to hand us a place to sit while we blushed and attempted to cover our bikini-clad bodies.

Once the rain cleared we swam back to shore, amazed at how the suddenly larger waves did not in fact help our swim. I once again thought I was going to drown. But I didn't. So yay?

Lunch was put off by about forty five minutes, even though the table was set. The other girls who had taken a boat over to the island for 20,000 dong, were still there. Once the boat got them, they appeared to have mechanical issues around the sticks. So one of the girls jumped in to tug the boat, but for some reason the TH-director jumped in from our end and started to swim out to the dingy. The wind picked up and the boat drifted further and further from the director. I think he started to cramp up because suddenly one girl was swimming over to him while the other two were swimming after the drifting boat. Amy got him up onto a dock and Laura, our medical aid borrowed a canoe from shore and started trying to maneuver it towards the dock....meanwhile, Lindsay and Erica made it to the original motor-boat/dingy and Lindsay was now swimming a life vest out to Amy at the dock. I thought at least three people were going to drown. Laura decided to stay back after all and the boat started working. Moral of the story? No idea, it's too complicated and backasswards to even try to follow. Onto lunch, shall we?

Lunch was a long buffet of sea food, very practical I think. Fried rice with shrimp, crabs, oysters, fries, shrimp, veggies and watermelon. I had fries and rice to start since I had spent most of the morning drinking Tiger beer and salt water. I mustered up some guts to try one of the oysters but I must have scooped up part of the shell because when I started chewing I heard crunching noises. Trying to pick out the little pieces and continue eating, all I could taste was the fishyness of the meat. I ran over to the water to spit out what was in my mouth, but not quite fast enough. And up came the rice, beer, and salt water. Yay, Vietnam. After that, I stuck to the watermelon and a newly mixed drink of Vietnamese 7-Up and Vietnamese knock-off Absolut vodka.

The afternoon turned dreary and the storms returned. We ended up leaving the island around 2:30 and took our time getting back. The only brave souls to sit up front again were Morgan, Sophia, and myself. We wrapped our towels around us and cuddled through the wind and rain. Morgan and I found ourselves nodding off a bit, with one foot ensuring we wouldn't slip off the side of the boat. When we got back to the hotel I passed out for a bit, then showered and got ready for dinner. We started to watch Valentine's Day on Vietnamese HBO and were a bit sad to leave it behind.

Dinner was hot-pot, yet again, but this time we started our meal with beer we brought in ourselves, and some pork ribs that I literally drooled on. I knew the hot-pot would be made of entirely seafood, so I chowed down on pork and rice. And my beer, of course. The hot-pot came out and was full to the brim with fresh herbs and vegetables. But what we found beneath the mound were large pieces of fresh fish, scales still on. The waitress brought over a plate full of calamari, shrimp, and fresh octopus. Yes, all eight tentacles still in tact, head on top. Gross. And yes, I took a picture. I named him Roderick.

And then the night begun. After grilling the Vietnamese about their significant others on the island, I found out that Ricky's birthday was in fact Saturday. So naturally, the Americans decided we had to get him wasted in addition to corrupting them with our Western ways. The girls pregamed a bit and then once everyone was decently sloshed, we headed to the hotel's karaoke room for some more fun. Almost everyone was there, and we got three Vietnamese coaches to chug a glass of Vodka and Sting (the Vietnamese strawberry flavored Redbull). And then we sung the next hour away. At one point, I was understanding Vietnamese, and then the next I was teaching Ricky how to salsa to "Buy You A Drank". Yes, "Buy You A Drank". Yes, salsa-ing.

When karaoke ended, Amy, Morgan, Erica and I headed down the scary steps to the edge of the beach and had a long and deep conversation. Typical drinking behavior. After an hour's worth of star gazing and chit-chat, a few others joined us and we conjured up the brilliant idea that most drunken Americans get while at a beach, at night. Yes, you guesed correctly. Blue, one of the Vietnamese coaches, followed us on our mission. When she realized what was happening, she quickly said, "Okay, I think I go back to my room now." And the next thing we knew, she was booking it around the corner and up the steep cemented staircase. From that point on, what occured was sworn into secrecy. I will not answer any questions. I will tell you that I woke up this morning with wet hair and one of the girls' rooms had about five cans of beer in the bathtub. Oh, and one girl wet the bed. But I will not say who.

No, it was not me. And yes, she was sharing the bed with someone. No, she did not urinate on her bed-mate. Yes, they did cover it with a towel and fall back asleep for two more hours.

Okay, now I'm officially not answering anymore questions.

Sunday morning breakfast. Woof. I ate four fried eggs and fried porkrolls. Bring on the grease. The bus left at 9:30 for the marketplace. When we tried to leave the resort the guards asked us precisely where we were going and when we would return. So then I began to wonder if harboring our directors to take us to a local city was such a good idea. When we stepped off the bus at the market we got a whiff of fresh seafood and sea salt.

Wandering through the village, we got a lot more staring than in other cities. I of course narrated what the people said.

"Mommy, look at that white girl. She has such big eyes."
"Don't stare, honey. They don't like that."

Yes, Vietnam is comparable to the U.S. during the Civil Rights Movement.

Most of the shops sold decorated sea-shells, or hand-made shell bracelets. A few others had touristy tshirts and random tea sets. I'm still holding out for the Ho Chi Minh City marketplace for a sand-made tea pot with teacups. Sophia and I wandered around and ran into what looked like an old cemetery. But there were tents and vendors surrounding the two above-ground tombs. And around the corner, along the shore, vendors sold fresh crabs, still moving their legs around in the baby pool. Some others sold fresh dragonfruit juice or popcorn. Even more staring and giggling occured. Sophia thought maybe it was weird to them that two young women were traveling together. I think it's because I'm just F.A.S and they can't handle it. Okay, ego-overload. Back to the story-telling.

At the end of our walk, Sophia and I took touristy pictures on a pier and I tried to imagine what it would be like to live and work how the Vietnamese do every single day of their life. No wonder it's so hard for them to take a vacation...their shop or their business is the only source of income they have. And they live on it day-to-day. There is no steady salary when you have to rely on people to constantly buy trinkets or small amounts of food from you each day. I suddenly felt guilty for expecting a vacation period once or twice a year when I start to work. And it's crazy that America is one of the only major countries who doesn't give ample time for relaxation.

As I walked back to the bus I came upon a cow. A beautiful white cow. Within touching distance. But Sophia said no. So I took yet another touristy picture and sighed my way back onto the bus. But then I saw another cow. And another. And another! We were surrounded by peacefully eating cows!!! And I wasn't allowed to touch any of them. So sad. So close, yet so far away still.

The ride back to Hoa An was rough. Morgan got sick. I felt sick the whole time, and the seats are designed for a person no taller than four foot six. Two hours to lunch. We had a 'normal' meal of pizza and ice cream. Then another two hours passed back to camp. Thank goodness for Midol. And iPods. And now that we're back, we have already planned for our lessons tomorrow. We will only be teaching in the mornings this last week because school is starting. So now our classes will have twice as many students, but only half the day will be spent teaching! I asked our campsite "Grandma" if she would teach me to cook tomorrow afternoon. And she said yes, so my first Vietnamese cooking lesson will start tomorrow at 3 pm. Sophia is coming along too. She is quickly becoming my booze, beer, butt, picture, and obsessive-ab-circuit buddy. Plus she loves peanut-butter. And all food.


Quotes from the weekend:

Sophia: Sorry, I probably shouldn't raise my arms in your face.
Me: It's fine, I'm not breathing anyway.

Me: Two things: one, I have never had this much ear wax. And two, I'm pretty sure I have diaper rash.
Sophia: Me too! Well, for the diaper rash thing.

Morgan: Is it normal to go to the bathroom here by yourself? Or do you have a buddy system like we do in the States?

Ricky: We keep secret!! It secret. We keep secret!

Anna: Holy shit balls, I can poop again!

Me: Hot-pot isn't even traditional, why are we eating it for the third time?
Morgan: Wait, it's not??!
Sophia: 'Cause it's easy.
Me: That's what she said! Eww, hot-pot is so nasty.

Me: Whyyy does this keep happening?
Keara: There is no answer. It's Vietnam. There are no answers here.

Off to read my espionage book. Hopefully I won't have night terrors for the millionth time. Stupid malaria medicine.

Peace, love, and motion-sickness.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Hanging with the locals.

Instead of having Team & Coach Relationship Class at the end of the day, most of the teams have now switched to playing games with each other. Yesterday, I chose to play soccer with the Red Team, some Coaches, and a few teenagers who have nothing better to do than hang around camp all day. I'm not quite sure why they feel the need to school eleven year olds in soccer all day, but they do. During shooting practice, they always run up behind the kids and steal their ball to score. And then during games they tower over the kids, with the American coaches towering over them...it's usually a high-action game that ends with somebody falling over.

I've never really played soccer in my life, except for fun when I was younger. And even then, I didn't really get the hang of it. The ball didn't go straight, and I couldn't run with it well. But one thing I've always been great at is defense. I can run down the field and get the ball away from just about anybody. So yesterday I joined in on the fun. The jerk-fourteen year old had just stolen the ball away and was bobbing down the field with the ball. When he got close enough to the goal that I was the only other player he had to pass, he tried to dribble through my legs but my mother's old wisdom of never keeping your legs spread too far in a game brought me quickly back into the game. I snatched the ball away from him and launched it towards my teammates on the other end of the paved field.

But instead of the ball going up and over. It just went over. Straight over, right into the crotch of the jerk fourteen year old. Keeled over, he wasn't laughing anymore. Lauren - 1. Vietnamese local - 0.

Later in the game I was running down field with the ball and passed across. Except another fourteen year old jerk sprinted to it before Lindsay could. He stopped it with his feet and was about to pass it to the teste-less Vietnamese when we both lunged for it at the same time. Next thing I knew, I was on the ground and he was somewhat under me, legs tangled to bits. I stood up, gave him the okay sign and helped him up. For the next five minutes he showed everybody the tiny scratch on his shiny pants and the slight marks on his arms. Meanwhile, my knee had been cut for the past thirty minutes from another tumble on the pavement. I couldn't believe he was being such a baby after talking smack to the eleven year olds for the past two weeks. So I played even harder on him.

Act like a prick, get treated like one. That's my motto. (And it's a good thing they can't understand a word out of our mouths because we get a tad bit frustrated sometimes...)

Everytime we faced each other in the game, he would hold his elbow or point to his knee and then make a face at me. So I made a crying baby face and wahh-ed at him. I had to kick the ball down field at one point and he just so happened to get in the way...once again. But this time, he got it in the face. Lauren - 3. Vietnamese local - negative 2. It was an afternoon filled with blood, sweat, and the Vietnamese tears. The camp kids quickly joined in when we saw how badly we kicked the locals' butts in soccer. It was a victory for the little guy in all of us.

Linh and the Lotus flowers.

Today however, the locals were much nicer. He pointed to my still somewhat-bleeding knee and asked if I was okay. I said yep and then he sat next to me and started counting the piercings in my ears. Surprisingly good English for such a jerk. We had a pretty decent conversation for not really saying anything. He asked about the cuts on my arms and I somehow managed to communicate what happened to him, with a few details left out of course. I think he asked me to play soccer, but that's when the lack of speaking became an issue. Maybe the epic blood-bath of yesterday afternoon won me some street-points with the locals.

The locals who wear Tommy polos and shiny black pants everyday.

Rocked the barefoot look for the AM match yesterday, Mizunos in the PM, and today I shall wear my Vibrams! The kids love them.


Peace, love, and the skinned knees of summer!

Dat and the bike ride. Also known as, a date in Vietnam.

PS: I scored a goal on a nice play AND successfully hit the ball off my head to one of my teammates. Basically I was #winning all afternoon.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Booze, Boys & an Hour-Long Busride

Tonight after Spaghetti Wednesday, the American coaches and a handful of the Vietnamese coaches hopped on the brown bus and headed to Can Tho to stock up on more Panda cookies and snacks, and of course lots of booze for our pre-Director Thirsty Thursday celebration. We mostly just wanted to get our weekend started since all we do on Fridays is manage the competition.

The bus ride was supposedly only going to be twenty minutes long because we were going to a closer supermarket on the outskirts of Can Tho. Sophia and I chatted it up the whole time. We started out with swapping boy stories. The latest on her dating fiascoes and my brief history of college. Then we realized the ride had already lasted twenty minutes and the sun was long gone. So brought up families, chatting about how amazingly crazy our grandparents all are, how close we are to our parents, and how our siblings both seem to be in very serious/very awesome relationships.

When we saw some shining lights, and what looked like a small town and/or civilization, we brought up partying. I'll leave those details out though :) That information is definitely on a need-to-know basis.

After an hour, I stopped our on again boy conversation and shouted out, "Where the hell are we? This is definitely not a twenty minute ride." All of the city lights had vanished and we were sitting at an intersection with a karaoke bar on one side and a dark field on another. But just a few minutes more, and we arrived at the exact same supermarket we shopped at this past weekend...not on the outskirts of Can Tho but completely in the center of the city.

This supermarket is not Publix or Schnucks. It is a Walmart that meets Kohls-- then they have twin babies together, and those babies are named Tilt and Borders. The first floor has a food court, a grocery store, a meat department, a bag check, and an ice cream shop. The second floor is all clothing with some stuffed animals, while the third floor is reserved for books and an arcade.

My mission was simple: buy snacks, booze, and bug spray for the weekend.

Two bottles of vodka, one wine-spritzer, 24 Tiger beers, a box of crackers, four mixer drinks, a box of cookies, one candy bar, and a yogurt later, I was checking out of the store with a bill of 450,000 dong. Yes, that is only $22.50. We all sat down and had a little bit of ice cream before heading back to Hoa An.

The trip back was filled with yet another flavorful conversation. I am now sitting in a room with my American director, Anna, who is pretty sick, and my other too roomies, Sophia and Morgan, who have been doing nothing but chowing down on snacks with me for the past hour. My laptop is perched on a case of beer, and I'm surrounded by crumbs. #Winning like a fat kid at camp! We didn't have to have a meeting tonight so I've got all the free time in the world! Here are a few pictures for you to enjoy.

Linh, Ren, Dat and me during my sick day...no volleyball in the hot sun.

Burning rice pods behind camp.

Captain of my Chubby Ship.

Making s'mores on a coal fire with chopsticks as skewers

And my favorite quote from camp thus far:

Anna: There is so much money in porn.
Lauren: Is that why Vietnam is so poor?

Yes, I went there. Peace, love and sex baby!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Testng my luck...an array of Vietnamese photos.

Hiding from the monsoon.

Yes, this monsoon.

Our daily wake-up calls.

English class, Simon Says...

Orange Tigers, rawr.

Yes, I can balance plastic spoons on my nose.

Beef, cucumber, lettuce, rice noodle, pineapple, and banana spring roll that I rolled myself.

Best latte ever. Best hang over cure ever.

Friday night rave partner.

Soccer relays, week 1

For more photos of camp, check out my American director's website, http://annarosin.blogspot.com...

Can't believe I could finally upload some pictures. Many more to come, hopefully with a posting about Can Tho...wild and crazy Can Tho.

Lost in Translation: 8.1.2011

Ever since I can remember...ever since before I could read...I told myself I wanted to teach people in some way. Sitting in my bedroom I made up stories to the pictures in my Franklin the Turtle books, and soon after I was reading to an imaginary class, calling on students who were talking over me, and making up discussion questions at the ripe age of six. At eight, I bought a teacher's planning book, complete with an attendance record. Everything was perfect. I saved papers from each grade that I thought I could one day use in my classroom, whatever subject I ended up teaching. I'm sure I still have most of that stuff somewhere. I certainly still have all of my French papers starting from the ninth grade, up 'til now.

I'm twenty-one years old, teaching English in Vietnam. Instead of having a wire-bound planning book, I have a photo-copied lesson guide that was bound at a Vietnamese Kinko's. There are no dry-erase boards, and the erasers have to be clapped on a peeling wall every few minutes. The fans don't work, and the windows don't all close properly. But the kids are interested. They're everything I've ever imagined and hoped for. They're brilliant, yet annoying, individual yet somehow all the same. I wish they asked more questions when they're confused, but the few questions I have heard are incredibly insightful and relevant to what I have said...not just the typical question a student poses when they haven't been paying attention.

Everything has been wonderful up to this point. I can get over the heat and I can get past the language barriers, but what took the wind out of me today was when a little boy on Yellow Team, Thuong, asked me how to form a sentence from the verb "to be" because he just started learning English at this camp. We have already moved past the ABC's, numbers,and introductions...and now we're on forming linked sentences with varied pronouns. It broke my heart. Just last night, Sophia and I were talking about how ridiculous the curriculum is for a camp filled with high-risk children for dropping out of school, yet we try to teach them a bundle of information all at one time, and expect them to retain it all for not just an end-of-the-week exam, but a final exam as well.

I wanted to bite my tongue, but I had to tell the boy that if he just memorized the boxes we filled out together in class, he would be able to answer the questions on the exam, even if he didn't understand the material. I can't believe I don't even have my degree yet and I'm already "teaching the test". But we have to here. I understand that not everyone here is waiting for the day they get to run their own classroom, but I look forward to the first day of school. One of my favorite stores is Office Depot. And no, I don't love the first day of school because it means the return of homework and mid-terms, I love the first day of school because it means another year has come for me to observe the way my teacher's work, and to hopefully improve my own methods of teaching. The sick feeling didn't leave my mouth all day, and I can't figure out how to make this a better situation.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Week 2, Day 1...Oh Lordy.

Camp started off crazy first thing in the morning...of course. The American Coaches were exhausted from travelling all weekend,and the Vietnamese were exhausted from the heat of the early sun. But the kids were far from it. I walked into English class and the normally quiet Yellow Team stood up and screamed out their greeting: "GOOD MARNING TEECHUH!" Whoa. But they listened through the lesson, so I suppose that one turned around pretty nicely. Sophia and I were only able to teach about two-thirds of what the lesson called for because the classes last forty-five minutes, and half of that time is used for translating and getting the information written on the board into their notebooks. But somehow, Sophia and I were meant to teach the students how to sound out the beginning of English words so they could identify the starting letters.

Example: What does 'Basketball' start with? And then the students would yell out B and we wrote it on the board next to the letter B. And the lesson called for each letter to be filled in. But, being the bright students we are, added into the fact that the English test from last week had questions from material we couldn't get to, Sophia and I looked ahead to this week's exam and figured out what exactly needed to be highlighted. So we put a star next to the letters that are physically on the test, and then added in a few letters of our own to cover the basic sports names.

B- Basketball
D- Dribble
S- Soccer
T- Tennis
V- Volleyball

Then we had to move on to personal pronouns. Not only did we have to teach what a noun was, we had to teach personal pronoun, and then specify the difference between a subject pronoun and an object pronoun....in ADDITION to teaching them how to use them properly in a sentence. Note: some of these kids hardly knew their ABC's. And yes, I did in fact re-learn English grammar planning this lesson, in case ya'll need any help in the future. The kids wrote down our simple sentences and cirlced the placement of the verb in regards to the location of the noun. Are you lost yet? Because I'm sure they were by this point.

And as if that wasn't enough, we had to teach linking verbs, aka, "to be". There are five forms of the verb in case you didn't know: is, are, am, was, were. We only decided to teach the three present tense forms. And the kids did alright with that...until we had to add in Nominative Predicates and Predicate Adjectives. The Vietnamese coach had to look up the Vietnamese word for the two in the manual...yeah. Fun stuff for an eleven year old at 9 o'clock in the morning. So far, Yellow Team was able to get through about two-thirds, stopping just before the predicates. Red Team was rambunctious all morning but was able to finish the lesson and get everything written down in time for sports.

I think I practiced my teacher-voice with the Red Team today. They have two of the prettiest girls in the camp, two of the most talented boys in sports, and then all of them just seem to be intelligent and well-spoken. Except for one. So of course, when I had the slower boy stand up to answer a question, the rest of the class was ooh-ing and waving their hands through the air. And even better, they started yelling the answer out. Oh to be smart and eleven again. But now that I'm on the other side of the picture, it's funny to watch. Yet I find myself feeling bad for the strugglers, instead of dying to tell them the correct answer too.

So yes, I did have to tell them to stop talking. Then I said be quiet. And then I said, why would you talk while he's trying to talk? I forgot to mention that I said it so quickly that the translator couldn't keep up...so it was immediately lost in the language barrier. Fail. At least they got to run around after class with Sophia at their basketball lesson.

For our third volleyball lesson, we're reviewing bumps, sets, and serves. Our warm-up/practice consisted of standing in a great big circle, which they had to form by holding hands, and teaching them to call for the ball when it came their way. "Buong!" is what
you shout out before bumping, but half the time I still say "Got it!" and it does the job. This was the first time I really saw all of the kids enjoy the sport. They ran from their spot into the center of the circle, called out their hit, and then did everything in their power to get it to the next person. We still have a few control issues with direction and power, but that is to be expected on the third lesson. After we bumped and setted for about fifteen minutes, we switched and let them try out serving once more. And this time, we had a few more successes! And if the ball didn't make it over, it at least went forwrard every single time! Yay for good coaching.

The highlight of the lesson was when I realized there was no pig being slaughtered in the backyard of the camp! No squealing cries, and no pig being wheel-barrowed up and over the bridge. Yes, that did happen last week. And yes, I did cry.

The final part of the lesson the coaches stood on one side of the net, while the kids spread out into various positions. organ set the ball over the net to them to get it back to us in three hits. It usually happened in one, but most of the time the ball was immediately bumped out of bounds. So I pointed to the ball and yelled, "Chai Lom!" (Run, ball!) to get them to understand that they are responsible for the ball as a team. The day ended with a minor English lesson... we asked each coach to teach important parts of their sport in English. So we taught: bump, serve, set, net, and ball. And they picked it up right away! Maybe Sophia and I should start teaching outside or something...

It is a blistering hot day out-- I'm definitely getting my tan on. I miss Can Tho City, it was a weekend filled with drinking, bargaining at the markets, buying things for next to nothing, and lots of good and not-so-good food. Oh, did I mention I did in fact get to go to a rave? Pictures will be posted. Preview: I spent a total of eighty American dollars this weekend and you won't believe everything that that got me.

Update on the Race for First Place after Week 1 Exams/Competition: Orange Team AM is currently in 2nd place overall, with the highest Lifeskills score out of everyone! So I guess Amy, Ricky, Jenny and I must be doing something right!

Peace, love, and Vietnamese KFC,