Vietnam Team Journal

Monday, June 29, 2009

Monday June 29, 2009

The class was a little rocky today. We hadn’t seen the students for four days and they were a little wild. Plus, because of the new cabinets, we had class in a new room in which students sat at a big horseshoe-shaped table facing each other. The boys all sat together.

What worked: The most successful activity was one in which pairs of students were given a picture of a young man or woman in a current magazine. Students were asked to write three descriptive sentences of the clothing worn, including name of article, color and pattern. They had fun with this. Another successful activity was having students come to the front of the classroom and find a particular article of clothing from a pile of things teachers had brought in. Students knew their colors and most patterns. Activities that work best are those in which students compete and the class is divided into teams.

After class, volunteers, ladies all, had an afternoon of shopping. We have very few days left here and there were things each of us wanted to buy. We had great fun and it was good having the encouragement of each other as we tried on clothes and jewelry. We all agreed that having the support of one another made the experience much more enjoyable than shopping solo.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Weekend - Free Time!

The words that come to mind when thinking about this weekend’s trip to Ha Long Bay include: stunning scenery, luxury and ultimate relaxation. After a very productive, but somewhat tiring first week of teaching, 2 days on the Valentine was just what we all needed!

The four of us (minus Warren who had his own adventure to Viet Tri) set out from the Handspan office at 8 am Saturday morning and were entertained by our tour guide, Nam, and his Hanoi trivia. After a stop at a workshop benefitting victims of Agent Orange, we arrived at Ha Long City in a downpour. Thankfully, once we had taken a tender to our boat, been greeted with a drum performance and a “welcome drink,” and gotten settled into our beautifully appointed cabins, the skies began to clear. The boat had just 5 cabins, so we shared with 6 others: an adorable young couple and a glamorous Malaysian family.

As soon as Toni, our very industrious cruise director, laid out the itinerary, the first of three impressive meals was served. Ruth took pictures of every course, as the presentation itself was something to marvel at! With our stomachs/tummies/bellies full, we made our first stop at Teatop Island for a “walk” up the “hill,” which we soon discovered was more of a treacherous hike up a mountain of slippery stairs. The views at the top were pretty incredible! But I think we all gained an appreciation for why all of the Vietnamese people seemed to stay on the beach below, while only the Westerners were silly enough to walk up all those steps!

Next stop: kayaking! Toni opted out, so Patrice got to ride along with the guide, while Ruth was stuck with me. We managed pretty well though; I only ran us into the wall of a stone cave a couple of times. We paddled through a bat cave and between the beautiful karsts and saw some interesting wildlife, including BROWN jellyfish, as well as pink and blue.

Lounging on the sun deck, sipping fruity drinks and taking in the sunset, I think all of us were as relaxed as we have been since arriving in Vietnam. Another delicious meal followed and most of us found it impossible to keep our eyes open after that; however, Ruth stayed up later than everyone else, trying her hand at squid fishing and watching some of “The Quiet American.”
We rose early on Sunday morning (as soon as the engines turned on for me) for tai chi on the sun deck. The teacher was incredibly graceful; I much less so. We then set out for the “surprising cave,” a set of three increasingly big chambers filled with stalactites, stalagmites, and rocks in the shapes of dragons, turtles, a heart which Patrice spotted, Toni’s King Kong and a “finger.” The colored lights were a bit much, but they couldn’t ruin what was truly an incredible natural site. We showered, packed up and, of course, ended the trip with another meal – topped off with mango and watermelon smoothies adorned with mini-American flags, of course. We had a few intoxicated passengers up front on the bus ride back, but Patrice enjoyed some friendly conversation with the guys in the back. Feeling refreshed when we returned, we had an efficient lesson-planning session and stuck with the tried and true Chica restaurant at the hotel for dinner. All and all, a wonderful weekend and a much-appreciated respite from the hustle and bustle of Hanoi!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Thursday, June 25 2009

"Life is like a kaleidoscope; if you don't like your view, change it!" Warren Williams.

Early, early morning Hanoi is another city entirely from the one we see during daylight hours. Most of the city seems to come out to the lake to walk, participate in outdoor aerobic classes or, if you are a man, some kind of bizarre kicking-in-the-air thing. Dynamo Ruth roused her sluggard roomie Patrice in time to see this side of Hanoi, and both of us were glad for the sights as well as the exercise.

A few hours later, we were all off to our fourth day at the SOS Children's Village. Today's topic was Body Parts, and the students seemed to pick up an amazing amount of vocabulary in just a short time. They love the team competition, that's for certain! After our school day, we visited the Museum of Ethnology of Vietnam where we learned about several of the ethnic groups that make up this part of the world. It was bittersweet seeing the beautiful exhibits of tribal/ethic representations, knowing these ways of life are fast disappearing.

We agreed on a low-key dinner and took possession of our usual table at the restaurant Chica upstairs. We like the food and are treated like favorite guests there, always a nice way to end our day.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

"I am an old man and I have known a great many trouble but most of them never happened" Mark Twain

Today we taught the older kids (13 - 15) at the SOS Children's Village. Dividing the class into teams was a big hit. The students love competition, as it turns out.

Another fun and successful activity was singing "YMCA" lead by our own North Carolinian, Ruth. There's nothing quite as endearing as hearing sweet Vietnamese voices singing "Young ma-an, there's no need to feel down..." Before they actually sang, Mary wanted to review the lyrics and asked them to listen and just read. They weren't supposed to sing, and yet, all around the room we could hear the song being sung ever so softly. They simply had to sing.

After lunch and a siesta in the cool, quiet guest house, we had a meeting with Mr. Dung, the school director. Because we are the first volunteers to work for SOS, there was some confusion for both parties about our expectations. Warren, our team leader, explained graciously the philosophy of GV, that we purchase materials and supplies for the project on which we work. It was a mutually respectful meeting in which we laid the groundwork on which future projects can be built.

We went to furniture row, and after some serious negotiations in a cabinet shop, we bought four lovely book cabinets for the school library.

The day was rewarding and we all felt some pride and satisfaction with this first program with the SOS community. They expressed their gratitude for our work with the students and we in turn expressed our pleasure for having this opportunity to contribute. We all expressed our hopes for future global volunteer programs with the SOS Children's village.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tuesday June 23, 2009

Thought of the day: “Turns out not where, but who you’re with that really matters.” – Dave Matthews Band

“I sought trains; I found passengers.” – Paul Theroux

It seems that Ruth’s adage proved true today: Don’t over-plan for the mission. After banging our heads against the wall yesterday afternoon trying to find something to fill 40 additional minutes of class time, I think all were relieved to find that we had more than enough material for a very productive second class!

We awoke to a rainstorm, a blessing, as it kept the heat at bay. The group discovered at breakfast that we could count on Patrice’s persistence; she came prepared with 2 additional activities. She was also responsible for determining that we have access to a photocopier at the hotel, which could definitely come in handy going forward!

Today we worked with the younger group of students: about half of yesterday’s group, which allowed us to actually begin to get to know a few names and to have a lot more interaction with the students. We discovered that we have twin boys in class, that group activities are a hit and that introducing a little bit of competition is a great way to up the excitement level! The theme of the day was food and we got the kids to list as many kinds of fruits and vegetables as they could. Groups of 5 or 6 competed to see who could come up with the most and everyone -- including Mr. Long -- got involved! I’m fairly confident that each student could go into a restaurant and manage to order whatever they “would like” to eat, even a plate of shark and a bowl of brown jellyfish! However, the distinction between regular and diet soda seemed to be lost upon a group that clearly doesn’t have to worry about its calorie intake yet.

“Young Man,” aka the YMCA, also continues to draw an enthusiastic response, even from the otherwise quiet Ms. Huong and a few younger girls at the orphanage, whom we could see through the windows imitating the older kids as they tried out the hand motions. Ruth will remain our designated song leader, as hearing a group of 20-something Vietnamese kids sing “Ah se-ud, yung ma-un,” in their best Southern drawl is just way too priceless!

We had another fabulous lunch prepared by Ms. Tam, although she continues to overestimate our appetites. Pumpkin and pork ribs (chicken for Ruth), tofu with tomato sauce, a lovely tomato, cumber and carrot salad, steamed rice and a special dish of pork and bird eggs, ordered by Mr. Dung, was definitely more than we could handle, much less the mango, dragon fruit and bananas for dessert, plus the plums brought over by the neighbors! Needless to say, we continue to eat very well! We also learned the Vietnamese words for son-in-law and old goat – obviously useful phrases, both!

With a new batch of kids being picked up and the second driver attending a funeral, no one was available to take us to the furniture showrooms, so we got the afternoon off. It seems I will have to wait for my motorbike ride with Mr. Long! So after lunch we returned to the hotel, took a short break and had an abbreviated planning session, in which we mostly celebrated the fact that we can re-use our food lesson tomorrow with a few small modifications.

Ruth, Toni and I had a very productive trip to the post office and several silk shops on Pho Hang Gai in the afternoon. And this evening all of the ladies went to a water puppet show. We thoroughly enjoyed the traditional music (particularly the dan bao) and the playful performance! My favorite was the dragon dance, complete with pyrotechnics.

I skipped out on tonight’s dinner, but I’m sure that if it was as memorable as all of our others have been, someone will be willing to supplement my entry a bit. Overall, I would say that it was a great second day, that our rapport with the children and the administrators at the school is building every day and that the group dynamic continues to be very positive!


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Quote: “Leap and the Net will appear" John Burroughs

Pleasantly full, a little tired and looking forward to tomorrow. All our days should end like our first full team experience in Vietnam.

We set goals, toured the Hoan Kiem Lake and brainstormed wonderful ideas in preparation for our first day at the school. Our five person group works well together, so far, and we promise to be an effective teaching force. Everyone brought interesting possible contributions, ranging from Warren’s markers to Ruth’s find-a-word books. We were grateful for Mary’s practical teaching expertise and Toni’s wise observations as we put together a possible lesson plan. This is the most prepared—or, at least, planned-out—Global Volunteer team I’ve ever served with, and I’m grateful.

· Miscellaneous highlights I don’t want to forget:
· The smell of incense at the Buddhist shrine.
· Seeing the beautiful bride allow herself to be arranged for pictures.
· Lunch at Disco Avalon.
· Our incredible dinner at the beautiful Green Tangerine.