TOEIC and Teacher’s Day

So life has gotten busy lately, which is why the frequency of the posts, although that is not really a good excuse, just an explanation. I am here under the auspice of the title volunteer, which means one who works for no money, so I certainly did not come to Asia with the goal of becoming rich. However, I assumed that a “living stipend” would be just that, however I came to realize that living only means food, forget shampoo, or laundry detergent, or teaching supplies, or a printer (which is a necessity when you are provided with no books). Basically, I think it was a stipend created several years ago, but one which has not taken into account the fact that published rate of inflation in the country is 20-30%, so I decided to seek additional employment, which came by way of tutoring the TOEIC exam at the center for foreign languages. Never heard of the TOEIC exam? Neither had I until I took this job abd that is where you will find me four nights a week, flailing around attempting to teach a test I know little about to students, many of whom speak very limited English. (And if you are interested TOEIC stands for Test of English for International Communication). This account for some of my lack of time. The rest is consumed by my regular classes, editing, some freelance writing, and life crisis of determining my action plan for the coming year.

I have to decide soon what I want to do in the comming year. I can stay on with VIA and work hard for very little but feel as though I am contributing to students who would otherwise not have access to native speakers, either in Nha Trang or at another post, or I can go to HCMC or Hanoi and find a job in a private language school and teach rich students, and also make money, with the possibility of making a difference on the side, maybe working with a non-profit organization working in the public health field. The third option would be to return home, but I am currently planing another year here, as I would like a year where I feel like I know what I am doing and to further develop my language skills, and simply because I like Vietnam. So if any readers have suggestions, I’m open. I can argue really well for both sides, so I would love to hear any ideas others might have.

Apart from my life-crisis, the big activity of the past week was teachers day which occurs on November 20th each year. I think I got off fairly easily, since I was told that I would have to sing and dance but no one asked me too, I just got to watch all the other teachers sing and dance. I actually think the holiday would be more aptly named teachers week, since the activities began on Monday with a dinner held by the Center for Foreign langueges, fallowed by a singing and dance contest in which the departments competed against one another in to win the title of best performance. Wednesday was games day, a three-legged race (which two of the English teachers won, although i did not have a change to see since I had class at the time) followed by tug-of-war. In the evening there was a big dinner for the whole faculty of general studies (which the English department is part of) at seafood restaurant at the beach (although this is Nha Trang, all restaurants serve seafood and everything is near the beach). Finally, on the actual teachers day we had the day off work, but we had a ceremony to attend in the morning where outstanding teachers were awarded prizes. Traditionally the day is a time when students return to visit old teachers and current teachers and bringing them flowers and thanking them for their work. It is a nice holiday, especially for teachers and it demonstrates how deeply regarded teachers are in this society.

And you get flowers. Lots and lots of flowers.

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Baamboo-Tra từ “”

Bạn đang tra ở từ điển Việt – Anh.
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Thêm mới | Thông báo cho chúng tôi!
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Anh – Việt


Xem thêm tại: Baamboo-Tra Từ

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Wedding


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So I attended my first ever Vietnamese wedding, the marriage of one of the teachers in my department (who also happens to be one of my Vietnamese teachers), Wednesday night, and it was quite a spectacle, very different from American weddings. In Vietnam, the actual marriage ceremony is a quite affair that takes place in the morning when the husband’s family comes to the wife’s home with his family bringing gifts. After the gifts are exchanged, the families are united. I am not sure how exactly this all works, since only the family is invited, but this is what I gather from talking to other people.

In the evening there is a huge banquet which all the guests are invited, usually in a hotel. This wedding was in the Yasaka hotel, one of the largest hotels in Nha Trang right on the beach, which I have gotten to know quite well since all the visiting Norwegian professors stay there. Another good discovery was free bike parking, and from what Mallory and I can tell they really do not care if you are staying at the hotel…so if you ever find yourself in downtown Nha Trang looking for a good place to park your bike, the Yasaka is your place. Anyway, the wedding banquet took place in the main dinning room, which was all decorated with disco balls, strobe lights, hearts, garlands, a slideshow presentation of the wedding album, and a stage where the band would play.

As you enter the room you pass by the bride and groom and their parents, deposit your gift (money, usually used to pay for the banquet), and find yourself a seat at a table. There were several hundred people there, mostly friends of the bride, since she is from Nha Trang and works here were as her husband is from a province to the North and only his immediate family was able to attend, although they will have another celebration in a month for his family and friends. Because it was the first day of the lunar month (a time when Buddhists traditionally eat only vegetarian food) there were two “ban chay” (Vegetarian tables), which was great for Mallory and I, although we soon realized that few others shared out desire to forsake meat, and that it might just be the four of us, Mallory, her boyfriend, myself and Peter another volunteer English teacher who is also a vegetarian (we are afraid everyone at the university thinks that westerners do not eat meat…). Even Steve, who does not eat mammals and is usually happy to go along with our vegetarian antics moved when he found out our table would not get shrimp or deep fried squid. However, there were two other English teachers who eventually joined our table (okay, they did not realize that they would be roped into eating vegetarian food when they sat down, and we kept trying to tell them to move to another table, but they stuck it out, we owe them some good seafood for that).

When everyone was seated the music began and six young girls come out and did a brief dance performance. Then the bride, groom, and their parents came in, followed by a parade of waiters bearing sparklers, and they family takes their place on stage. Then comes the cake-cutting, where the bride and the groom symbolically cut the cake on stage (although I am not sure if it was real cake, we certainly we not served any and the cakes were all sitting there when we left). Next was the Champagne ceremony, where five bottles of Champagne were opened and poured by the bride and groom together into a pyramid of Champagne glasses. Once the glasses were filled the bride and groom linked arms and sipped together and everyone clapped. At the end of the presentation, the waiter brought the first dish on stage, presented it to the family and then began serving the guests.

The food was definitely the main even of the evening. There was a huge amount, and if you ever have the opportunity to go to a wedding in Vietnam be sure to pace yourself. First we were served papaya salad, complete with very convincing looking fake shrimp, a plate of noodle-mesh with chopped scallions on top, and a plate of fake-spare ribs (so real looking that it took me a while to convince Peter that this was in fact the vegetarian table). Then came a plate of fake beef slices with sesame seeds, red sticky rice in the shape of a heard (it is died red with a seed that imparts a slightly sweet flavor), and fake drum sticks made of bean-curd skins rapped around pieces of lemongrass. Then, if this was not enough (and the portions were all large, eaten Vietnamese style, taking a small amount from the communal dish into your bowl), then came the soups. One I really cannot identify, it was pinkish in color, I think it might have had some type of mushroom in it, but I am really not sure. The second soup (you would think that they would let us off with just one) was really good, consisting of a hot broth made of mushrooms, pineapples, tomatoes, tofu, and something that was spiral shaped and chewy, I think it was fake squid, served with a plate of noodles in a kind of do-it-yourself noodle soup. The soup might have been my favorite part of the meal, but at that point I was too stuffed to enjoy more then a taste. The meal was completed with a plate of oranges (which are actually green in Vietnam since it never gets cold enough for them to turn orange at all), which no one could even bear looking at since we were all so stuffed.

As we were eating the soup, we noticed that everyone was leaving, indeed, most people had already gone and the staff was beginning to clean. So we left, need we overstay our welcome, and after bidding good luck to the bride and groom and thanking them we were on our way home, which for me was quite an adventure. Have you ever biked in an ao dai and heals?

My forays into freelance writing

Pardon my delinquency in posting recently, but I have been really busy with various ventures. My most recent idea to increase my monthly income ifs freelance writing. After beginning this blog, I realized I really enjoy writing, so why not get paid? I have published my first piece on Associated content, a review of the Vegetarian Restaurants in Nha Trang. It is nothing groundbreaking, but it provides some useful advice to anyone traveling to Nha Trang. If you are interested in checking it out, here is the link:

http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/1098409/vegetarian_restaurants_nha_trang_vietnam.html

I have also had an article accepted for publication in Transitions Abroad, an online and print magazine which publishes alternative travel articles. I still have to fax back the publication rights agreement, so it will be a little while before that one is published, but I will let you know when it happens.  Right now I am working on developing a portfolio and figuring out the lay of the land, but I have made almost as much money by writining a few articles then I do from a month’s work at the University, so its really not a bad deal, especially since much of my work at the University gives me ideas for topics to write about. If anyone has any freelance experience they would like to share, please feel free, I am trying to learn as much as I can and welcome feedback from anyone.

Poverty


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What is poverty? Poverty is having to sleep 10-12 in a dorm room without running water. Poverty is not having enough money at the end of the month to buy food. Poverty is a lack of clean water, pluming, or reliable electricity. Poverty means being woken up every night of the rainy season because the rain is coming through the ceiling. Poverty is being forced to sleep on the floor because you cannot afford your own room. Poverty is wearing cloths until they disintegrate, and then using them for other purposes. Poverty is having to work rather then attending school. Poverty is never being able to save money, a constant battle to live pay check to pay check. Poverty is not having a telephone, or a radio, or a TV, still communicating through letters despite the digital age.

These are not abstract ideas, this is the daily reality for may students at the University I work at. Even through my daily life here is really not that difficult, there are still constant reminders that Vietnam is a developing country, the power outages that occur every few days, the inability to drink the water, even the complete lack of relevance that many ESL lesson plans have for my students. Teaching the vocabulary used when booking a plane ticket when none have been on a plane, or comparing customs in Vietnam to those abroad, when the farthest many students has ever gone in Ho Chi Minh City.

And then there is the really difficult part, the homeless street children who beg instead of going to school, the elderly with no family who are reduced to sitting in markets or outside maximart and waiting with an outstretched hand until you give them something. People with deformed limbs who cannot walk or work who must spend there days on the corner or going table to table in restaurants downtown, these are the really difficult parts of poverty. Even when I stand at the balcony and look out at the sea and the city spreading below (all the buildings at the university have amazing views), I see the some of the old homes where fishing families still live, with corrugated tin roofs, chickens running around, dirt floors, and the whole family sleeping in one room, several to a hammock. Poverty here is everywhere. Poverty is everywhere.

This entry is part of a blog action day to raise awareness of poverty around the world. Tomorrow Oxfam is hosting a fast for a world harvest. If you are interested in participating you can skip a meal tomorrow and donate the money you would have spent to Oxfam. Or you can just donate.

Fish herb and other culinary (mis)adventures


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So after several months, I am beginning to know what I am eating (maybe 75% of the time) and venture into new territory. The discovery of several new vegetarian restaurants has also aided in this transformation, allowing me to venture away from the standard plate of greens, rice and tofu into a whole new world of Vietnamese delicacies which are usually only for those not apposed to the consumption of unidentifiable marine and animal life forms.

One of the favorite restaurants in Nha Trang is a place called Co Tam, an all vegetarian restaurant with my two favorite dishes, papaya salad and bun xeo. Papaya salad is wonderful, a mix of green papaya, roasted peanuts, various herbs, fake shrimp, chopped tofu, cucumbers, and carrots all doused in a limy, sweet-spicy sauce. There are also variations on this salad where the papaya is replaced with mango or seaweed (also very good and nothing like Japanese seaweed salad). The salad is always served with a basket of rice crackers flecked with black sesame seed which are perfect for scooping up the salad. Bun Xeo is also a personal favorite which is available all over the south and varies widely depending on your location. Basically it is a rice flour crepe, usually filled with seafood (in Nha Trang) or meat (Saigon), bean sprouts, chives, and served with greens and sauce. In Saigon bun xeo is a huge (think of the largest crepe you have ever seen), very thin and filled with (depending on what you order) vegetables, pork, shrimp or squid and served with a huge basket of leaves. In order to consume you take a leaf, break off a piece of the bun xeo, place it in the leaf, roll it up, dip in sauce, and consume. I had the pleasure of going out to a vegetarian restaurant in Saigon where sampled this delicacy, and was quite please that I had mastered one Vietnamese food.

However, little did I know the bun xeo of Saigon is a unique beast, and bun xeo in Nha Trang is a very different animal. Here the crepes are very small, the size of an average American pancake with shrimp and squid cooked right into the crepe on this unique pan made especially for the activity. Here bun xeo is served with a plate of greens which have been all chopped up, and apparently the eating technique is completely different. The correct operation here is to take a bowl, ladle in sauce (this was all gesticulated by an old women who seemed to severely doubt my abilities to feed myself.), put in the pancake, chop it all up, toss in some greens, and then consume the salad-cum-crepe concoction with chopsticks. Very good, but different, although this is the bun xeo I have come to expect, although I realize that if I go somewhere I will probably end up with something else entirely, least I feel lulled into some type of food complacency. There is however, one thing that you must be wary of when eating bun xeo in Nha Trang. Fish herb. What is fish herb, you might ask? I certainly had never experienced it until I got to Vietnam either, but there is this sneaky herb they put in the greens that looks like ivy and tastes just like fish. Really, I did not think it was possible for a green leaf to taste this much like fish but it really does. Finally last week I decided to get to the bottom of the fish herb situation so I could at least learn to avoid it (although I am slowly developing a taste for the stuff) so we ask the waiter at the restaurant what it is called. He said it was called diep ca, literal translation lettuce fish. Go figure, we could have thought that one out ourselves.

I have also had the opportunity to try some new soups, branching out from pho, my standard order at the Vietnamese restaurant at home. One of the best I have tried so far is Bun Rieu, usually made with crab, but at the vegetarian restaurant made with tofu disguised to look like crab, with some seaweed (I think) thrown in to give it that sea-y flavor. The soup has a nice, thick broth with tomato overtones, but also pleasantly different, with chunks of fried tofu, tofu-crab, imitation meat (this was a little rubbery, but it’s better then the chunks of congealed blood that are in the read version), pineapple, thick bun (round) noodles and some miscellaneous UFVs (unidentifiable floating vegetables). This is all served accompanied by a plate of shredded lettuce, banana leaves, mint, and basil which adds a nice, fresh flavor.

My greatest triumph, however, was finally discovering finally discovering bun cha gio, my summer Vietnamese staple which has proved illusive up until this point. Bun cha gio is fresh bun noodles served on a bed of lettuce, bean sprouts, and chopped cucumber with spring rolls, fake (or real) meat scattered on top, sprinkled with peanuts to round off the dish. The true beauty of this dish lies in the fact it is severed cold, a necessity in a climate where it is usually 90-100 degrees. I assumed (wrongly), that since this is available at every Vietnamese restaurant in Boston, it would be easy to find here, but this was not so. I actually found it merely by accident one day when I was eating at my favorite veggie place and I saw bowls and bowls of the stuff being brought to other. The next time I went, I waited until I saw it emerge from the kitchen (it was the full moon so food was flying out that day, world to the wise, if you visit Vietnam, don’t go to the vegetarian places during the full moon, go the other 26 days a month when its you and a few monks) and simply pointed to it. However, since that point, I have come to notice the trappings of bun cha gio everywhere, so maybe it has been there all along and I was simply oblivious (and had no idea what to order).

So, these are some of the highlights, I continue to explore and I am currently working through the menu of noodles at the vegetarian restaurant. I figure I can deal with almost anything assuming there are no intestines, blood, tripe, trotters, ears, or other strange animal parts. Or fish herb, although it is growing on me.

Why I Teach

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So I spend most of my days planning for lessons and teaching, but I have yet to write a blog entry about why I teach. However, I feel as though my students can say it better then I, so here are a few of the reason’s I teach.

“Because my parents are farmers so they have to work very hard to support my studying so I want to prove that I am a good daughter.”

“I wish to gain experience, get some more information, knowledge. However, most of the books are written in English. Thus, if I want to gain knowledge, I have to study English”.

“I don’t like numbering. I quit the school when I was in 11 grade…I lost much time in my life and now I don’t want to loose more….I really want to work for an non-governmental organization in Vietnam to bring happiness to people so that I feel my life is meaningful”.

“but trying is not enough, because I was born in the countryside, so the learning condition is very poor. ..I wish I would come back to my hometown and teach English for the pupils in my hometown after graduating.”

These quotes come from essays I had my students write the first day of class about why they are studying English and what their hopes are for the future. I am continually amazed by my students and their desire to do well for their families. Everyone’s goal is a good job after graduation, but a good job also means fluency in English which means I have work to do…

Birthday

So, my room is officially being overtaken by roses…I guess there are worse problems to have.

Roses given to be by class 48-1

Roses given to be by class 48-1

This was the first bunch, which was given to me by a group of my students waiting outside my door when I returned home from my morning classes.

more roses

more roses

Marryanne, another volunteer who works with the organization brought me more roses at dinner, and my class 47 students also brought by a bunch, forcing me to surrender all my water bottles as vases, and just when I figured there could be no more….

even more roses...

even more roses...

I went was invited to a meeting for foreign experts (I am not sure I consider myself to be an expert on anything, but the title is flattering…) today and was presented with another bunch of flowers.

So there you have it, potentially the most flowers I will ever receive in a 24 hour time period:

flowers taking over my room...and destroying my water bottles

flowers taking over my room...and destroying my water bottles

However, the presents did not stop there, I also received a very snazzy toothpick holder:

devil bear toothpick holder

devil bear toothpick holder

I know what you are thinking, where can I get one of those? I am sorry my friends, but this species of toothpick holder seems only to be available in Vietnam, but if you come to visit, I will take you to Maximart and you can get one of your very own, they have an entire aisle full.

And what room would be complete without a model cyclo, you ask? I agree, luckily, the NOFAME students kindly purchased one for me (it even has a working chain that moves, very cool).

Unfortunately I have no idea where you get one of these, they certainly don’t have them at maximart.

I also received a beautiful pearl necklace from the English department and some shampoo for another one of my classes. I am amazed by everyone’s generosity and kindness, especially since may of these people I have only known for a short time.

The birthday festivities entailed the usual, lots of fruit consumed on the beach. Many of the NOFAME students came along, which was really nice. Since yesterday was also Eid, the end of Ramanan, the Bengali students were also celebrating the end of their month long fast, so it was a nice joint celebration. We also had a cake with an exorbitant amount of frosting, most of which ended up on people’s faces (apparently a Vietnamese tradition, but I wonder if it was not simply a ploy to get frosting all over us and then laugh…either way it was a good time). I also learned that I am 24 here, not 23. When they put the cake in front of me it had a candle shaped as a 24, and I figured that they forgot how old I was, but then I remembered someone telling me, in Vietnam your first year is the time you are in the womb, so I am actually 24.

I gained a year of life just by coming here. If that is possible, I wonder what else is.