Monday, November 17, 2008

Chapter 2 Leaving the Comfort Zone

Chapter 2…Leaving Home

Wedn. Aug. 20, 2003…11 PM… San Francisco International Airport…Cathay Pacific Boarding Area…

Just said goodbye to Roy, Jack, Tim and David. They went with me as far as they could go. I feel very much alone now. I have no idea what awaits me on the other shore….there must be more than 200 people in this boarding area and roughly less than 5% are Caucasian. They all appear to be headed home and I am leaving home. I am surprised that I have no strong feelings at this point. I have no fears and I have no excitement. Why am I void of emotion at this critical point in my life? Next stop: Hong Kong.

Fri. Aug. 22, 2003…noon…Hong Kong Airport…

The flight took 13 hours and for the first time in my life, I crossed the international dateline. An entire day fell out of existence. Talk about time flying! Slept most of the time on the plane. From my vantage point here on the upper concourse, I look down on people from so many different continents and countries crisscrossing this place. When Rudyard Kipling wrote, “East is east and West is west and never the twain shall meet…” obviously had never been in the Hong Kong airport. There are people of every color and dress imaginable here and they all seem so oblivious of each other. There seem to be an equal number of Caucasians as Asians.
(Now on board a Vietnam Airline flight for Hanoi) This French Airbus ??? is not what I had expected, thank goodness. I first pictured a Vietnam Airline plane as being a rusted out, bullet-hole ridden C-47 from the war era. Not only is this airliner modern, the flight attendants are decked out in traditional Vietnamese dresses and speak pretty good English, although I couldn’t make out a word the pilot said in broken English after we got airborne. Next stop: Hanoi.

Mon. Aug. 25, 2003… 3:15 AM…in my bedroom on Pho Doi Can, Hanoi…

Finally, the horns have stopped. But just woke up at 3 AM, as I have been doing since I arrived. Have not written in my journal for a few days. Roger (24) from Australia and Rex (72) from New Zealand came to the airport to pick me up. I’d never met either before and it was a horrendous ride back to Hanoi (42 kms.) from Noi Bai Airport. I was ready to hop back on a plane to the US after the taxi ride…here in the city it is mostly motorbikes and bike traffic…constant honking…nerve wracking…dogs barking…roosters crowing. No one could have described the noise and traffic…and Roger informed me today that I’ll start teaching Tuesday. Nothing like going right into the furnace from the fire. Everything here moving 160 mph. This is all like a bad dream. Heat and humidity excruciating but I have AC in my room and our house is a palace. I even have my own bathroom with hot water…so much for the grass hut with the dirt floor! Roger and Rex each have their own room and another American teacher is coming next month to the school. Have been to the school once to meet the staff. Both secretaries are VN with good English, Minh and Thuy. Have not yet met the director, John, who hired me.

Tues. Aug. 26, 2003…first time to teach…

Crossing the street here is like walking a tightrope. You just slowly walk out into the street and traffic goes around you. This is going to take practice. The smells, sights and sounds make me wonder if I’ve lost my mind. Today I went out by myself for the first time. The alley we live down looks like something out of a spooky movie. I fear the first time I walk home alone in the dark I’m gonna get mugged. Roger assures me this is the safest place on earth. He taught in Cambodia before he came here. Rex taught for 35 years in India before he came here and he says in India they had to lock and bar “their camp.” Rex uses a lot of words and phrases, either from New Zealand or India that I don’t understand. Sometimes I wonder if he is actually speaking English. Roger seems easier to understand but has a real Aussie accent. Can’t tell if it is still jet lag or culture shock that makes me feel like this place is so insane…
…taught my first class tonight. All the names are difficult to pronounce; Phuong, Hien, Hanh, Tuan, Huong, Thuy, (actually 3 Thuys)…8 girls and 3 boys in this intermediate conversational English class. Roger taught most of the class tonight because he can see I am still shell-shocked. The kids are between 18 and 25. Most have already graduated from college. They need English for their jobs. Many international companies have come to VN in the last few years and they only hire people who can speak English. Met John today…he is Canadian thank goodness! He speaks perfectly good English eh? Rodney’s cousin left Hanoi to teach in Saigon before I arrived so I’m the new kid on the block…very NEW!

Wedn. Aug. 27, 2003…depressed…

Feel like I’m free-falling down a mine shaft. Today was terrible. I wanted to impress Roger with my courage so I walked a few blocks to our local open air market and bought some tomatoes, onions and carrots. Have no idea what things cost here. $1 US is equal to 16,000 VN Dong here and Roger tells me I got ripped off because I got charged 45,000 VND for the veggies I bought and he said they should have, all together, been less than 16,000. So much for shopping. At least the little loaves of French bread that Rex buys for 1,000 VND from the vendors is something I can eat. So far Rex has done all the cooking. Have no appetite and would eat nothing if I didn’t have Rex and Roger to guide me as to what if safe. I’ve been gone from the USA a week and it feels like the passing of the ice age. Things now moving about 170 mph. Crossing Pho Doi Can today, a motorbike grazed me and tore part of my pant leg off. No skin damage…noise here never stops until the wee hours of the morning. Then before 5 sellers hawk their goods up and down the lanes waking the dogs and roosters. When do these people ever sleep? If this is just the first week, how am I gonna survive another 6 months of this?

Fri. Aug. 29, 2003…heat unbearable…

Have never experienced such heat and humidity. In the morning, when I come out of my AC bedroom, stepping out into the hall is like stepping into a sauna. By the time I walk down to the kitchen I am drenched in sweat. I can’t seem to get enough water in me. We buy bottled water from vendors who bring it in 25 liter bottles to the house…I’ve never drank this much water before. Just can’t seem to get enough…thirst is constant…taught the class again last night and we don’t have a written curriculum. Each teacher just makes up their own lesson plans and curriculum for each class and you just teach by the seat of your pants. In a way I like this because it leaves a lot of room for creativity. Tomorrow, Rex and I are going to travel by train to Sapa, up on the border of China because it is a holiday weekend…I think it is like the VN version of our 4th of July…Independence Day from France. France ruled VN for a hundred years until 1954 when VN defeated the French at the battle of Dien Bien Phu.

Sun. Aug. 30, 2003…Sapa…

Rex and I boarded a train Friday night, along with Minh and some of the students. Didn’t think the taxi was ever going to get to the train station because of the sea of motorbikes…holiday weekend. No different from the USA on get-away day except motorbikes clog the roads instead of cars…we traveled by sleeper Friday night…beds are just a sheet of plywood…not much sleep and awoke at dawn to gawk outside at banana trees and rice fields…peasants plowing with homemade hoes and water buffalo just as their ancestors did thousands of years before…arrive at the rail terminus, Lao Cai, in a monsoon and with Minh from the school and some of the students, we piled in a van at the train station and trekked up a washed out dirt road that should have been impassable. No driver in his right mind would have made this trip and if I’m ever going to get ulcers, this should be the start. VN girls got car sick. They just barf out the window. My nerves were pretty shot. Sapa is up in the mountains. Mt. Fan Si Pan, the highest point in VN at about 9,000 feet is a day’s hike from Sapa. When we piled out of the van at the village of Sapa, throngs of Hmong met us and wanted us to take their pictures…only to beg for money afterwards. Cold and rain and fog. Finally wasn’t sweating…last night the inn keeper where we stayed came in and looked under our bed. Minh says he was looking for women we might have brought in with us! She said foreigners often bring women in illegally! Wow! They even legislate morality in this country! They asked for our passports to keep overnight when we checked in and I wasn’t about to surrender mine but Minh says its the law. You get it back when you check out and PAY…this morning when Rex and I awoke the sun was shining and what a gorgeous view of terraced rice fields in uncountable shades of green. Fog clung to the high peaks around the village and Rex and I had strong black coffee, fried eggs and French bread with butter and jam for breakfast. This was the first day since I came that I felt everything is going to be OK. It was cool in the morning so Rex and I went for a hike down to a waterfall and back up the mountain to the village. Rex is in remarkable shape for a man of 72 and if I had not been taking morning walks before I came to VN, I would never have been able to keep up with him. Or even survived this long. Tonight we’ll take the train back to Hanoi, about a 13 hour ride.

Wed. Sept 2, 2003…2 weeks…

Today makes 2 weeks since I left the US. Only 5 months and 2 weeks left until my 6 months are up. So glad for email. Without it, I’d be so homesick…or more homesick than I already am. Everything moving about 140 mph now. I still blink to see if this is a dream or if I really am in Vietnam. I’d love to have a pizza, hamburger, or anything red white and blue right now. Mostly we eat rice and veggies. Blistering hot today. In 2 weeks we are to get another teacher from the US, a young man named Brandon and he will occupy the 4th bedroom here in our home.

Mon. Sept. 22, 2003......A FULL HOUSE!

Finally, we have a full house. It was one month today I came to Hanoi and we’ve had an empty bedroom for that period of time but now our 4th mate has arrived. I feel very fortunate to have 3 excellent “flat mates” as my English textbook says at school.

Brandon arrived on Thurs. Sept. 18 from America, so now I have someone I can understand who speaks perfectly good English. Brandon, 24, is from Ontario, Ore. He taught high school for a year in Idaho before coming here to teach at our school. Rex (New Zealand) and Roger (Australia) will learn proper English pronunciation now and they will realize that the words like “sport” are REALLY not pronounced “spot” but “spoRt” It is amazing how British, New Zealanders, and Aussies mistakenly think we Americans have an accent!

Our 4 story house is full now. The ground floor is where the kitchen, living room, dining room and one of the 4 “loos” (British for bathroom) are. Then the second floor is where Brandon’s bedroom and Rex’s bedroom are. They share a “loo.” Then the third floor is Roger’s bedroom with an attached bathroom and then there is my domain, a spacious bedroom with it’s own bathroom. On the roof we have our washing machine…strange place I know…but there are stranger things than that here. All 4 bedrooms have their own separate air conditioning system.

Yesterday morning, on the way to class, I noticed a little less humidity in the air and just a tad cooler temperature. There is just the slightest hint of fall in the air. The ever present and ominous “THEY”, meaning most people I talk to, tell me that it gets very cold and damp here in the winter time. Since all I’ve experienced so far is heat and humidity, alternating with days on end of monsoon rains that can drown a duck, I will be anxious for cooler days. The houses here are without heat so I’ll have to purchase an electric heater for my bedroom once the winter arrives.

Hanoi is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen. There are lakes everywhere. When I ask most of my students, “Where is the most beautiful spot (no “r” in spot this time)in Vietnam?” They often reply, “Hanoi!” The citizens love their capitol city and for good reason. This is the Washington D.C. of Vietnam and all the government buildings are here. Also, Ho Chi Minh, considered by almost everyone here to be the “Father of Vietnam,” has his mausoleum in the heart of the city where you can view his body resting behind glass. I have not been to see “Uncle Ho” (Bac Ho as the VN say) yet.

On Saturday, an American friend, Ted, took me on his motorbike on a tour of Hanoi and we covered most of the main attractions of the city. We spent about an hour in the sacred palace of literature where all the famed intellects and scholars came to study since about 1100. It has been restored to its former glory and color and it is really more esteemed by the citizens of Hanoi than Ho’s resting place. It was a sunny day, so perfect for viewing this venerable old city. Most Americans would find Hanoi extremely beautiful and exceptionally fascinating.

Things have finally slowed down to the place that everything is making sense and I now see a sane flow in the traffic whereas all I saw at first was chaos. It is amazing how the human mind sorts out sensory stimuli and in time, makes order out of chaos. There are unspoken rules in operation that the uninitiated do not see at first. After a month in Hanoi, I’ve been initiated.

Thurs. Sept. 25, 2003…Brandon…

Brandon is a quiet lad. I liked him from the get-go. He stays in his room in the morning and does email. He also brought a guitar and sings well. Although Rex and Roger are wonderful roomies, there is something strangely comforting about having “your own nationality.” It is also noteworthy that the VN don’t despise Americans. This has been such a pleasant shock to discover this. 70% of the 81 million people in VN are 35 or younger. No vivid memories of what they call the “American War.” This has been a real PLUS!

Because we teach at night, I’m free during the daytime so John lined me up with a daytime job as English editor for the Vietnam Social Science Review. I correct translations that go into the English edition of the monthly government publication. My dad would turn over in his grave he knew I was getting paid by the communist government. Like the school, they pay me in cash. Minh, our school finance treasurer was puzzled when I said I needed a checking account to pay my bills. She said everything is done cash only. My first pay was last week and I made 2.3 MILLION VND!!! I’m a millionaire! Now I know why all the Vietnamese have heavy metal safes in their homes. No one has a checking account here and most credit cards are not accepted. Cash and carry.

Sat. Sept. 27, 2003...My Day at the University…

Superlatives and adjectives are inadequate to describe my day yesterday at Hanoi University of Technology, the largest university in this country. At the invitation of one of the English professors, I spent most of Friday touring the campus and talking to Vietnamese students who are learning English there. It was an exhilarating and exciting day!

The day started with professor Hanh (pronounced HI-n) picking me up here at our house at 9 AM and taking me on the back of her motorbike to her university where she has worked teaching English for the past 15 years. As we navigated thru morning rush hour traffic (that is a story in itself) she gave me a little background about the university. She had to get special permission from her superiors to take me on campus as Westerners are not allowed access otherwise. Permission was granted.

When we first arrived, I was struck by how quiet and serene the campus was. Everywhere you go in Hanoi noise abounds. Here there was an atmosphere of tranquility and reflection. 4 of her students met us as we arrived. Two were first year English students and two were 4th year students. Although all 4 were eager to explain to me things about themselves and their university, the more polished skills of the seniors won out over the neophytes. School had just started the fall semester on Monday.

One of the first buildings we toured was the library. It was the QUIETEST library I’ve ever been in! I didn’t know such a place like this could exist in Hanoi since horn honking seems to be a prerequisite to getting a Vietnamese birth certificate. My eyes widened in dismay as the students showed me the antiquated card catalogue with handwritten cards detailing every book in the huge library. With pride, they then showed me the 2 computers that held all the same information, with a row of students lined up to get on the 2 computers. Perhaps because I expressed total dismay at having seen the outdated card catalogue system, a supervisors insisted we meet the director of the library. I was astounded to learn that there are only 200-300 books in English but thousands of books in Russian here. During and after the war, most educated Vietnamese learned Russian as their second language as their were close ties between the two.

Even professor Hanh was a little intimidated to be ushered into the directors office and seated. The white-haired, venerable gentleman explained to Hanh in Vietnamese that a new, modern, state-of-the-art library was being built on campus and he invited me to be his special guest at the grand opening in October…of 2004! I told him if I am still here then, I would.

We then walked around the huge campus and saw the new library under construction. The way buildings are erected here, one brick at a time, is a story in itself…best left for another day. As we walked about the campus I noticed how students would just stop in their tracks and gawk at this portly, graying American, the whole day. Hanh explained that because no Westerners came on campus, they probably thought I was a dignitary. This was rather amusing to me. Nowhere else in Hanoi, will a Westerner get notice because they are so common. And Westerners act as if they don’t notice other Westerners either.

The 4 students and Hanh and I had tea in the faculty lounge. There on the wall was a picture of “Bac Ho”, Uncle Ho Chi Minh. Not only does his body lie in state at the mausoleum in Hanoi, but his presence is everywhere here, as well as his face on each monetary bill and he securely rests in the hearts of all the citizenry here as the “Father of Vietnam.” In that peaceful moment, with just the six of us sipping tea, I mentioned to them there was a man in America I regarded as highly as they do Uncle Ho. His name is Abraham Lincoln. After reading several biographies about Lincoln, including Sandbergs, I feel an esteem for Lincoln much the same as the people here feel for Bac Ho.

After tea and a tour of some more of the sparse and stark campus, we had lunch at the student canteen. It was a Vietnamese buffet, the first I’ve seen here. The food was passable, but not my favorite cuisine. Since the 2 freshman had class, they did not join us for lunch, just the 2 seniors, Thuy (pronounced Twee) and Duong (pronounced Zoom) as well and Hanh and I. What the food lacked, the conversation more than made up for. They delighted in chatting in English and loved it when I would correct their pronunciation. They thrive on learning English. This is a country where English is viewed as the means to escape poverty.

Vietnam is one of the poorest countries in the world. This past week, in reading UN literature about Vietnam, I learned that the poverty rate in Vietnam 5 years ago was 70%. Poverty, as defined by the UN for this country, is less than $1 per day per household. Now the poverty rate is 35%. A mass influx of foreign business investments has infused new life into this once depleted economy and most of these businesses have come from America, Canada, Australia, and England…so the largest common denominator to getting a better job here is to speak English.

Hanh had arranged for me to meet all of her advanced English students, and to make the class more enjoyable for them, and for me, she assigned the class to meet us in Lenin Park at 2 PM. Unlike most of my English classes here at CLASP, the students were on time but the teachers were late. As we entered the beautiful park, me riding on the back of the professors motorbike, Hanh pointed out a group of students, standing waiting, on the far end of the gorgeous lake from the entrance gate. I felt nervous about meeting her best students. I felt I would be under a magnifying glass.

After a crisp walk to where the students stood watching us gallop toward them, Hanh made a general introduction and we then took seats at a large table inside an open air café by the lake. There were about 20 students, about 18 girls and 2 boys. I’ve noticed this demographic to hold true in most of my classes here at the school as well. It is primarily girls who study English, not boys. I really don’t know why that is, other than the fact many of my male students have to work late or work at 2 jobs in order to support their families.

What followed was the most incredible interviews I’ve witnessed, little less been a part of. Hanh had told the students they could ask any question they wanted of me, no matter how personal, so long as it was all conducted in English. The students mostly wanted to know all about America, what was it like, what kind of food did I eat there…what did I think of Vietnam, where did I live, what did I like, (everything except the traffic) what did I not like, (the traffic) and on and on. After about an hour and a half, I asked the students to each tell me something about themselves and why they were learning English…always it was to get a better job.

The class, which started a little after 2, went on and on. Surprised that there was no set time to stop, we visited until after 6 PM! I felt such incredible sense of warmth for these kids, not one of which was over 21 and most even looked younger. Since I had to be going…I’d been gone from home and school all day…I had to get back. We made plans to meet again next Friday at Lenin Park for round #2 of what we decided to call the class: “The English Club.”
This will go down in my journal as my most incredible day in Vietnam yet. Next week I hope to take some of the other NES teachers with me, (Native English Speakers) as I’d like to share this “little gold mine” with John, Rex, and the others. Eventually I’d like to see some of these kids come study at our school!

Sun. Oct. 5...Homesick…

I’ve been here for 6 weeks now and today, for the first time, I think I’ve finally come to that place that we commonly call “homesickness.” It seems that there has been an advent of collapses in my world that triggers that unwanted thought, “What am I doing here in Vietnam?” Sometimes nothing works here…and sometimes that happens all at the same time. I bought a cell phone today and it does not work. My internet connection does not work anymore so I’ve not sent or received any email in the last 2 days… I crave someone to speak English with at the moment but there is no one here at home except me and my computer. I am hungry for pizza, hamburgers or anything else I don’t have to use chop sticks to eat with…something firm and juicy I can hold in my hand and put in my mouth…something that tastes red, white and blue and familiar.

One American who lives in Ho Chi Minh City told me before I came over here that the 2 things that would help fight homesickness were pictures and email. Well, I’ll just have to get my pictures out and look at them again. And I’ll have to get a new email card. Here in Vietnam there is only one ISP…and you have to buy cards, like phone cards, to use for internet service and I think my service ran out. How good it will be to get reconnected to friends and home.

The first time I ever experienced homesickness was when I was 5 years old. I went to spend the weekend with my grandpa and grandma Weir, who lived all of 2 miles from our home in Denver. After the first night, I asked grandpa to take me home. I told him, “Grandpa, I want to go home…I forgot what mama looks like!”

The second time was when I was a Boy Scout in France, and our troop traveled to Germany for a 2 week Summer Camp. I got blue and lonely and missed home again…just like when I was 5. I thought I must just be immature…only little kids get homesick. Well time would prove that even 57-year-olds can experience a longing for the familiar.

Then, after joining the Air Force in 1968, I left my native Denver for San Antonio and 6 weeks of basic training. Our first week we were not allowed to get any mail or make any phone calls… this was in the age of no cell phones. So when the time came that the men in our squadron were allowed to call home from the one pay phone outside, there was always a waiting line 10 or 15 men deep. I decided to get up at 3 AM to call home and what a shock. There was a line of men in their shorts and tee shirts waiting at the phone booth at 3 AM! There was little consolation in knowing I was not the only lonely airman!

Now Hanoi in Oct. of 2003. After 6 weeks of fast paced, busy days, it has finally hit me…I am not home…I am on a lonely planet somewhere in another galaxy, in another time and place. But, I lived on the roller-coaster of LIFE long enough to know that this too shall pass. However, just as letters from home helped in Basic Training in the Air Force, so too will time…

Sat. Oct. 11, 2003…Yesterday Once More…

Something happened that melted my heart yesterday. For the past 3 Fridays I've been meeting with Professor Hanh's advanced English class from Hanoi Univ. of Technology. I am really coming to love these kids. And yesterday was the clincher.I played an old song that I rediscovered here at the school, "Yesterday Once More" by the Carpenters. I use to love that song years ago so when I heard it this week it helped so much. Music has such healing power. I thought I'd introduce it to the university students so I took a cassette tape player and the tape with the song on it and played it for them and passed out a copy of the words for them to sing along. Much to my surprise, almost all of them knew the song by heart. They love English songs! It brought tears to my eyes. but they are warm tears, not cold tears.This song, "Yesterday Once More" is about rediscovering a familiar old song that brought back happy memories. That was exactly what happened and it was so heart warming to hear my new friends sing it by heart and with gusto. I recorded it on my little tape recorder. I will cherish that tape. As well as this song they sang me many traditional Vietnamese folk songs. I recorded them too. I played this tape last nite and it broadened the borders of my heart and knit my heart with these precious gentle souls. I am glad once more I am here. I feel I am where I belong. It is a good feeling and my heart is more united.

Tues. Oct. 14, 2003…Van’s Confession

An incredible thing happened tonight after the intermediate conversation class…Van, the oldest student in the class at 44 asked if she could talk to me. After everyone left, she said she had a problem she wanted to discuss with me. Van said she’d been married for 20 years and that she had discovered that her husband, a high-ranking police officer was having an affair with a young college student. My immediate response; “Divorce him!” She told me divorce wasn’t customary in VN and that it wasn’t an option to her. When I asked why, she gave me 3 reasons; (1) Her relatives would never approve, (2) It would leave her two children without a father, (3) and it is impossible for a divorced woman to survive or remarry! Wow! What a terrible situation! Here I thought VN was such a moral country. Van said many men in high positions often do the same thing her husband was doing. If this is true, it would explain why so many more women are taking English classes than men. When I go by the bia hois (beer halls) at night, there are only men in there, no women. That would also explain why men don’t spend their extra money on English lessons. I was blown away by her experience and asked why she wanted to share this with me. She said she needed to talk to someone and that I might have some suggestions for her. She asked how a woman in the US would handle such a situation. “Divorce!” I told her…not mentioning that our divorce rate is over 50%.

Walking home after class, I was so preoccupied and mortified by Van’s plight that I walked right past our lane. I intend to do some research on the divorce rate in VN.

Thurs. Oct. 16, 2003…An Answer…

While correcting one of the VNSSR (Vietnam Social Science Review) articles about marriage in VN, the article at hand said the average age for marriage in rural areas was 18.5 years of age. Astoundingly, in the cities, it was 27.8. The reason given for the wide spread was because young people in the city, especially women, want to pursue a career before marriage. It said that the divorce rate in VN, according to state records was 3%. I asked Mr. Cuc, the editor, if this were true and, although he works for the state, he said, “No, it is actually 5-6%!” I laughed and he looked puzzled. I told him the divorce rate in our country was now over 50%. Mr. Cuc, who has traveled extensively in the US told me he knew that and when I asked why the divorce rate was so low in VN, he listed the same 3 reasons that Van had told me about the other night. I find this unbelievable. None of my students come from broken homes. When I was teaching summer school at Waterford, I only had two kids in the entire class that DIDN’T come from a broken home. The family is the cell of any society and a society is only as strong as the family units. The woman is the backbone of the society in VN.

Tonight, for our topic, I chose: “Why is the divorce rate so low in VN?” The conclusion of all members, including the men, was the same 3 reasons Van had given me. Although, students did say that as VN becomes more Westernized, the divorce rate will increase.

About 90% of what I learn about VN comes from my students. The other 10% is a combination of the VNSSR and my random observations. My heart still bleeds for Van. She wasn’t present tonight.

Sun. Oct. 19, 2003…a day of crisis

Week 8 has been a living hell. This past weekend Roger and Brandon left for a little R&R on Cat Ba Island and Rex left this afternoon with some of the older ones. Workmen are putting a new water main down our lane and the jack-hammer has been unceasing. I’ve not been able to get my email to work for a week and the phone, because of the construction, is not working.

The isolation and noise has become more than I can bear. If God meant for me to be here, why is there this constant sense of loss and loneliness? Why is life so difficult here? I got cheated today at the market and I didn’t care anymore. Some of the vendors have no conscience.

This morning I was so despondent that I got on my knees and begged God for some sign, some form of encouragement just to last out 4 more months. Just as I was thinking about returning to the USA tomorrow, Rex knocked on my door and had a letter for me. It was from Huong, the monitor of the Friday afternoon Hanoi Univ. of Tech. English Club. It began, (and I read it aloud to Rex while still on my knees,) “Dear Mr. David, On behalf or our class, we are writing to thank you for your time with us and to encourage you to stay in Vietnam for the rest of your life…” and before I could read further, with tears, I told Rex this was exactly what I had been praying for. The rest of the letter melted me…these words, written by this precious tender soul, were the exact words I needed to hear at that moment. The letter was written 3 days before and delivered, much to Rex and my shock, by the postal service.

Knowing you are, exactly in the place you are meant to be, no matter how difficult or foreign is a tremendous comfort.

Tues. Oct. 21, 2003…Roller Coaster of Emotions.
Emotions swing like crazy here. I go from elation to depression is one day. Like Brandon said, we are always just a little on edge…and are constantly reminded this is not our homeland. I am still counting the days until my 6 months have ended and I can go home. I never ate very often at McDonalds but there are none of those here in VN, so perhaps, the first thing I eat when I return to the USA is a Big Mac!

Fri. Oct. 24, 2003…Beauty and Morality…

Vietnamese women wear long white gloves that cover their arms when they ride their motorbikes. It is to keep from getting sun tanned!!! Here in Hanoi the very thought of a tanning salon would be repulsive to the women here because they long for white skin…light skin like Westerners! So opposite in the USA. The women also cover most of their skin and don’t look provocative or suggestive like the Thai or Hong Kong women. The women here are very moral and I’ve never had one of my female students flirt with me. I am not saying it would be flattering but 30 years ago, when I was in my 20’s, it would have been deflating if none of the women flirted a little. I am glad that the women of VN help my purpose to be true. Youth has battles that are easily lost. It is hard to defeat an enemy who has battalions imbedded in your hormones.

On billboards, when lingerie is advertised, they always use a Westerner, not an oriental to pose in skimpy garments.

Another thing I like…guns are not allowed here. Not even the police have guns. The only time you see a gun is when you go by one of the many embassies here and see the guards holding a weapon.

Fri.. Oct.31... “We won’t eat Max!”

Last year, when I was substitute teaching at St. Timothy’s school in San Jose I met some adorable 4th and 5th grade kids. I wanted to keep in touch with them, and their teachers, one of which is Alison Dahl who teaches 4th grade there. I asked Alison if her kids would like to have some Vietnamese pen pals. We have a class of “Teeny Boppers” between 10 and 14 and in the first round of letters the kids introduced themselves to each other. The Vietnamese students wrote about their favorite food, one of which is dogs. This shocked the 4th graders from St. Timothy’s and I was amused by their second round of letters…some of which I now share here…this is such a rich cultural exchange between these kids…enjoy! Bon Appetite!

Here are their second set of letters. Uncorrected..Hi. My name is Samantha. I like to sing and dance. I was wondering why you like to eat dogs. We are studying Language. Hi! My name is Josh. I like to play soccer. I am 10 years old. My hobbies are building, reading, and playing on the computer, and watching tv. My faorite foods are chocolate, shrimp, porkchops and burritos. At school I learn math, Language arts, Religion, Science, Social Studies. Do you eat dog? Does it taste good? From, Josh Hi my name is Hannah. I am 9 years old. My favorite hobby is football, soccer, hockey, and baseball. At school we are studying math, language arts, spelling, social studies and reading. My favorite foods are chocolate, and ice cream. What parts of a dog do you eat? Here we don't eat dogs. HI! my name is Susanna. I am 9 1/2 years old. I like to play soccer, dance, and sing and play piano. We are studying Language Arts, Science, Math, Social studies, and reading. My favorite foods are pizza, pasta, and peeps. (they are marshmallows covered in sugar) I have a brother and a mom and a dad. I have a pet hamster. Why do you eat dogs? Is it really good? I asked that because I 've never had it before. From, Susanna Hi! My name is Jessica. I am 9 years old. My hobbies are soccer, softball, and piano. In Language arts we are studying nouns. In math we're doing subtraction. My favorite food is chicken nuggets. Why do you eat dogs? Are they good? Love, Jessica I'm David. I am nine years old. I like to collect coins. My favorite foods are spaghetti, pizza and and bean and rice burritos. I'm studying nouns in Language. I have a dog, cat, hamster, and cactus. These are not foods. Do you like cactuses? What are you studying in school? Do you have any pets? What kinds of games do you like to play? Hi. My name is Nicholas. I like motor cycle riding. I am 9 years old. In school we are studying nouns. My favorite food is pizza? What is your favorite food? Hello. I am nine years old. I like football, hockey, and baseball. We are studying subtraction in math. My favorite food is Burger King. From Jason Hi I'm Sarah. I'm 9 years old. In Math we are studying subtraction. My favorite foods are strawberies. watermelon, or any fruis or vegetables. What is your favorite sport? I have blond hair and blue eyes. My skin is very light. I have lots of freckles and I am 4 feet 4 1/2 inches tall. Hi my name is Nicole. I am 9 years old. I am a girl. My hobbies are softball and soccer. I am studying a lot of subjects. My favorite food is calamari. What is your favorite food? My name is Matthew. My age is 9. I like to play football and soccer. I learn math and reading. Why do you eat dogs? What is your favorite sport and game? Hi my name is Jordan. I am 9 years old. I am 4 feet 7. My favorite hobby is football. My favorite food is mashed potatoes. My other favorite food is ice cream. I am studying for a math test. We are also learnign spelling. Hi. I'm Kaitlin. I am 9 years old. My hobbies are playing at parks, and running. At school we are studying math, language, and social studies. My favorite food is mashe potatoes. Do you have any pets? Do you have any favorite people? I like Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds. Well, talk to you later. Kaitlin Hello. My name is Molly. I am 9 years old. I like to collect elephants. We are studying language. We are workin on nouns in Language. I love to eat choclate, and chicken and Macaroni and cheese. That is noodles with cheese on it! Hello. My name is Andy. I am 9 years old. I love football, baseball and hockey. We are studying math and language. My favorite food is pizza. I am 4 feet 7. I have a hamster and we might get a dog. I have a good family and house. My friends are Matthew, Jason, Peter, Jordan, and David. Hello. My name is Ashley. I'm 9 years old and my birthday is July 12. I'm a girl. My hobies are reading, golfing, and swimming. We are studying Math, Language, Science, Social Studies and Reading. My favofite foods are steak, chocolate, and strawberries. Do you like to read or draw? I have 5 people in my family. I have a dad, mom, sister and grandma. My grandma is away on a trip to visit a friend. Does your grandma live with you? My grandma lives with us.

Hi. My name is Leanna. I am 9 years old. My hobbies are horseback riding, dance class and piano. I have a brother and a mom and dad. In studying science in class. My faovrite food is BBQ ribs. I also love Mac and cheese. Why do you eat dogs? I have a puppy names Max. I don't think you would want to eat him. He is cute and cuddly. You should try cow and pig. Love your pen pal, Leanna

No comments: