I’d hoped to take the Pacific Coast Highway down to my sister’s, but after talking to Uncle Dennis and my brother-in-law Will, they convinced me that it was foolhardy to think we could make it down there in one day. It would slow-going and expensive, two things I didn’t really want. So, instead, we rose early and got back onto my least favorite highway: I-5.
Eight hours later, we rolled into Los Angeles swarming with people and pollution. Just being in LA makes me a little insane and I’m sure the kids were completely baffled by the dramatic rise in my stress level, but the highways just mix and mingle and get all backed up and I feel like I might just lose my mind. I’m sure it has to do with the fact that I’m the driver; I didn’t stress out in Bangkok, Hanoi, Boston or New York City, but I never had to drive there. In LA, I really feel like I’m gonna blow my top. Music turns off. Kids keep quiet and my knuckles turn white on the steering wheel.
I’ve been trying to update this page for some time now with pictures, but rarely can I get on and even more rarely can I upload pictures. What a shame. So what’s been happening?
Last Sunday we went to the beach with students from the first year: Giang, Giang and Thanh all came, the last two bringing along their families as well. The group of us took a taxi out to Sam Son beach and hung out for hours with Audrey getting a new kite, courtesy of Giang (her former tutor) and playing in the water. I wish I’d had more time to chat with the students but Audrey wouldn’t go into the ocean alone and neither Zach nor Stuart would join her swimming. Too bad, boys, because the water was great. So nice and warm with no crabs or rocks to step on. The big group of us headed out on cyclos after dark to enjoy dinner at a seafood restaurant. And of course, the kids had to play with their food. Crab claws were the hit of the party to be sure.
My other student Ha had her baby on Wednesday-woohoo! Nearly two weeks overdue she was more than ready. I’ll head over next week for a quick peak, but since I’m still fighting a bit of a cold, it has to wait.
And tonight we head south to Tam Ky. We’ll be there tomorrow, early afternoon. I’m looking forward to seeing Mrs. Hanh again and hope that some of the volunteers stick around so I can talk to them about the kids. After our quick jaunt there, we’ll head off to Nha Trang (another 10 hours on the train). The plan is to be there for about two days then head back to Thanh Hoa on a 21-hour train ride. Me and three kids…should be entertaining!
Last Friday was the last day for the A2 class; they’ll be taking the TOEFL-iBT in just a couple more weeks. As a way to celebrate the end of their studies and the final push toward their test, we went out to dinner as a group. Our original dinner with the students had been at a restaurant that prominently features goat meat (called “The Most Goat”) and we’d been secretly hoping we’d return there, but the students chose another restaurant, practically a stone’s throw from our dormitory.
Built over a small (possibly man-made) lake, the restaurant consists of a dozen huts perched in the water. It’s a quaint setting with palm-leaf thatch roofs that shade your view of the other diners and definitely gives it that oh-so-tropical feeling. Thang and Chinh made sure to order some food that the kids would eat (chicken, always chicken) and took care of the rest of the food. After about a 20 minute wait, it started coming out. First the bits of pineapple and cucumbers. Then nem… these little sausage style rolls of pork skin, meat and spices that are wrapped in banana leaves. They are actually pretty tasty if you can avoid thinking of skin while you chew.
Next came the snails and after trying them I am completely perplexed by the Western notion of these as some sort of delicacy. They are chewy and thick and covered with a thin layer of mucus. It looked a bit like mildewed cartilage wrapped in nasal discharge and, personally, I’m not sure they tasted much better than that either. Yeah, definitely not a fan of the snails. It took forever to chew it up and get it down my gullet. Stuart tried, as well, and liked it just about as much. Audrey wouldn’t even come near the stuff.
But she did eat some chicken and rice. Chinh was nice enough to take it off the bones for us, not always an easy task, and find the best bits every time. We had both lemongrass chicken and grilled chicken, but they were vastly different. The lemongrass chicken came with mostly leftover bits of the bird. Rib pieces, tails, sections of the neck. Nothing with any meat and everything that made me feel like a neanderthal while chewing on it. Needless to say not much of it was eaten. Audrey found the head in there, though, nicely fried up, and was somehow able to get past the “ew” factor of plunging a chopstick in and made a little puppet. Oh my.
And I got my palm “read” by the Vietnamese teacher. Supposedly, I have a good Luck Line, meaning that I will travel abroad often (not often enough yet!). My Study Line is strong and shows that I will continue to learn and get more education (if I can ever afford it). My Love Line though is, as she put it, difficult. She said that your left hand is your love/romance hand and wanted to take a look at that to see if she could get a better answer, but the best that she could come up with after much inspection was that my love life is “complicated.” I think non-existent may be a better word for it, but it still got a good laugh. And then she measured the thickness of my hand, which isn’t so thick, and decided that I will never be rich (I was already quite sure of that) and that sometimes I will struggle financially (oh yeah, like every day). Audrey got the advice to exercise as her Health Line was a little weak and that she would get a Master’s degree someday. I can only hope.
After the palm reading and eating as much of the meat (including squid and fish, along with the snails, chicken and pork skin sausages), we headed out for karaoke. Well, the kids went home and most of the students went out to, as they call it, carry-oh-kay. I enjoyed myself as they belted out Vietnamese love songs and joined in for a mediocre rendition of “Let it Be.”
Thanks so much to everyone in the class who was there and for those who couldn’t be. I had a great time teaching you all and wish our time together could have been more than these quick seven weeks. The best of luck to you all! -Co Teresa
There’s nothing like a lot of work to keep you from being social, whether it’s stateside or abroad. And while my social life these days consists mostly of spending time with my kids and posting on this blog, both have been neglected the past few days.
Due to the national exams this week, the company was not able to find a Vietnamese national to teach the Reading and Writing segments of the course and asked me if I’d take it over for one of the classes. Usually I teach two different groups of students both the Listening and Speaking segments, but since I need the money, I agreed to take over the subjects for both classes. So instead of the regular 7-9 a.m., then 1:30-3:30 p.m. classes, I am teaching from 7-11 a.m., then 1:30-5:30 p.m. And then on Monday and Wednesday, I teach a community English class from 7-9 p.m. Needless to say, I’m a bit tired. 8-10 hours a day in front of a classroom full of students wears you out, in addition to the prep time that is required for each class. The kids have hardly seen me, but next Thursday I’ll end the 44-hour work week and go back to 20. Thank goodness.
Last night a few students came over to watch “Jumper” and eat popcorn with us. What a great snack! I found it in Hanoi and bought two bags of popcorn kernels. We also managed to find bacon, grated cheddar cheese, baking soda, real butter, a few spices (cumin, oregano and “Italian seasoning”), dried chickpeas and rice flour. Of course, it cost as much, or more, than it would have in the States, but it’s nice to have a few things that will help make food more palatable for Audrey because despite her expressed intention to eat three square meals a day here, it’s turning into an issue again. At this point, I’ll do whatever and spend whatever to make sure she gets enough calories.
Despite my own best intentions, I haven’t managed to get as much writing done as I’d planned, though I have managed to get a few pages written over the past week and did some editing the week before. It just requires a lot of time and a lot of focus, something I haven’t had as much as I had hoped. Although, I must admit, it’s been helpful to be here when writing. The sounds and the smells had diminished in my memories and to be back makes it all clear again. I guess what I’m saying is that even though I’d planned to be done by now, it’s kinda good that I didn’t finish. There’s still so very much to be written.