Good Night and Good Luck

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.

Snails taste just as good as they look.

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.

Audrey got pretty creative with chopsticks and a disembodied chicken head.

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

Even though I rarely sing at karaoke, I am going to miss these moments of craziness.
As always, the men brought out the shot glasses and got started right away. After several tries, they stopped asking me and moved on to trying to convince Stuart to give it a try.
Stuart finally got them to stop asking if he wanted a shot of Vodka by pouring it down his back. The burn on his skin was enough to convince him that it probably isn't so healthy going down one's throat, either.
Picking through the bits of meat to find the edible-to-us parts.
Just a handful of the A2 students: Na, Duc, Phuong, Chinh, Dan, Chien, Cuong and Chinh.

B is for Babies

This precious little one weighed in at less than 3lbs. at birth.

Today we were, after much planning and procrastinating, able to get out to the Thanh Hoa orphanage. Located much closer to the beach than the city, it’s a good-sized orphanage that is home to more then sixty children from the area. We’d gone at the request of an adoptive mom who had brought a little girl, Thuy, home from there last year. She had a letter and photos to be brought back to the caretaker and I volunteered to do it. It’s just taken me a few weeks to get it arranged with people to come along with me.

Giang, my student from two years ago, and Thang, a current student, accompanied the kids and me out to the orphanage with a bag of clothes and an envelope with the caretaker’s name on it. On arrival, the guard didn’t seem too sure what to do with us, questioning who we were, where we were from and what we wanted. The buildings were quiet (“Where are all the kids?” Audrey wanted to know. I assumed, correctly, that they were in class) and only a few adults roamed, looking us over a few times. Thang did all the leg work and tracked down the vice director of the orphanage who invited us up for a bit of tea and a little conversation. Continue reading “B is for Babies”

No Look Monkey

Last Thursday, a monkey tried to attack me.

Unfortunately these didn’t taste any better than they look.

One of my evening students, Nam, and his wife took the kids and I out for a delicious meal of bun cha and then over to an enormous coffee shop/resort that is tucked away behind the city. The expansive grounds are covered with umbrella-covered tables interspersed with play structures, primarily metal swings in the animal shapes.

We meandered through and around to the other side of the building where an empty stage sat waiting a performer. Music blared from worn speakers, distorted. Nam asked if we’d like to sit up on the hill, a slight berm that overlooked the area and we jumped at the chance. The path was strung with Christmas lights, as were the slight trees that dotted the hill. We followed it up and each grabbed a swing.

There were eight of them up there—metal swings meant for two—perched above the crowd of empty tables. On a Friday night, I bet this is a hot spot to take your date.

We enjoyed the view of both the café and, behind us, the city park where locals were taking an evening stroll. Stuart and I had both ordered orange juice, though they were quite different when they arrived. My guess is that one was orange juice and the other was an orange lassi (made with yogurt).

dark night + flash = blurry pic (sorry!)

It was strawberry, chocolate and taro ice cream for Audrey, melting down the side of the dish before it even arrived at our table. She enjoyed the accompanying miniature umbrella more than most would, but it entertained our hosts, as well.

Mr. Nam had said there was a monkey and since we hadn’t seen once since our time in Tam Ky two years ago, we wanted to check it out before we left. Sure enough, tied to the tree by the motorbike parking was a sad little monkey. And then Stuart noticed the other one. Tied to another tree twenty feet away, another monkey sat, then stood, then paced. Not quite as depressing as the first, I went to take a photo of it. But it moved and the zoomed in shot only caught his tail end. Time to try again.

He wouldn't even look at me.
He wouldn’t even look at me.

So I squatted at the edge of the sidewalk and zoomed in again, determined to get a better shot of the animal. And in the matter of a second the thing was lunging at me. I jumped back faster than I have moved in a long time, heart racing, the monkey halted only by the length of his chain. It sauntered back toward the tree and we left without another pause. If I don’t see another monkey for another two years, it’s fine. I’ve seen it closer than I ever wanted to.

Hi-ho Hi-ho, off to work I go

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.

Attack of the Mosquitoes

Since we moved last week from room 211 to 213, our mosquito population has been near zero in our room. Nary a bite for any of us. It’s been wonderful.  But outside our room, there are openings in the sidewalk, close 3 feet by 3 feet wide, where the water sits. Why they are uncovered or where that water is going (or is from), I don’t know. What I do know is that they’ve been a breeding ground for mosquitoes and yesterday, was their birth day.  Audrey and I tried to head to the badminton range, but the swarms of them were intense. Little tiny mosquitoes flocking together by the thousands.

I had to teach my evening class, but while I was gone the kids had kept the door open, as we always do. The mosquitoes found it and the room was home to hundreds and hundreds of them. Out came the bug zapper (the electrified tennis racket) and the kids started killing them, then hid under Stuart’s mosquito net. When I arrived home after 9, I unwittingly let in hundreds more than had been following me back from class. This time, I went after them. The mattress and floor and bathroom sink and kitchen counter were all littered with their dead bodies.  This morning, there are more dead. Thanks, I’m guessing, to the chill of the air conditioner and lack of food.  To be honest, though. I’m a bit nervous to walk to class. I’ll just have to spray myself down first. And hope that the influx dies as quickly as it appeared.

Free Time

It’s all the kids have these days–hours and hours to do as they please. Of course, this often resorts to playing video games, but not always. On Saturday evening, Audrey and I went swimming with some students (past and present) while Stuart rested. He’s had a cold for the past few days. I managed to press through the embarrassment of a bathing suit, just for my daughter’s sake, and enjoyed swimming in the cool evening for a couple of hours.

The past two days have been only in the low 80s, much cooler than the past week. It began heating (and humidifying) again last night, so I’m expecting another hot one today.


For a project that Audrey is working on, we needed plain, unlined paper. There are a few shops at the market that sell school supplies, so we decided to check there first (rather than take the taxi to the supermarket). Sure enough, four stalls in a woman had an open pack of A4 paper. “Bao nhieu?” Out came a string of words and I caught the 10,000VND part, but something came after it. Six.. something, it sounded like. She repeated it and I though perhaps it’s 10,000VND for six pieces of paper, though it sounded like a ridiculously low number. Then along comes a Hong Duc student to help me out. Yep, 10,000VND, but for 60 pieces, not six. So I handed her the money and we waited patiently for her to count out exactly 60 pieces of unlined paper and wrap them in plastic for us.


Anyone know how to use fresh turmeric? I couldn’t seem to get the shopkeeper to understand that I wanted dried turmeric and she threw the fresh root into my bag. I haven’t a clue how to use it and have had little luck hunting online.

Really, I must buy some more spices when I get paid and head back to Hanoi.