Tuesday, July 30, 2013

(un)Lucky number 7

While in Siem Reap, our way was blocked by a huge parade for the candidate of a brand new party supported by many working class Cambodians. They blocked roads and gave us stickers with the Khmer symbol for #7 on it (we did not know this at the time, in fact, we had no idea what was going on). I wore my sticker all day and EVERY Cambodian I met smiled and laughed and pointed to my sticker and yelled "Numba Seven!!" and then proceeded to treat me even more nicely than before. After some research, I found that #7 is the ballot number for the new Cambodian National Rescue Party and is running against an authoritarian leader who has been in power since 1985. Cambodia is a monarchy but also a republic, and the election was four days after we arrived in Phnom Penh (we arrived by sleeper bus, a mode of transportation I do not recommend for anyone intending to actually sleep).


The remainder of our Cambodian journey in Phnom Penh (minus the museum, which I will describe later), brought all three of us to memories of  Can Tho, Vietnam, especially because of the river passing through. Because we wandered by the Royal Palace all the time, we were constantly having to avoid (or join in) huge parades and gatherings for the political candidate and incumbent #4 (Hun Sen, the authoritarian leader). Outside the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh was the only place we ever ran into supporters of #4. The #7 crowds were a lot rowdier and favored by all of our tuk-tuk drivers and hotel service people and street food vendors. The Khmer people thought it was hilarious when we cheered for their political candidate (only #7, in my case).

Riot police were in all the crowded parks, just watching and waiting. We were woken up by parades at 6:45 am, and kept awake late into the night by excited #7 supporters. Apparently, tourists were told to get out of Phnom Penh for their own safety on Sunday (we left on Friday morning so this was not an issue for us). I never felt worried, only welcomed by each party.

**update** Apparently, #4 won the election, but not without some fishy election rigging. It was the biggest election in 20 years!


We ended a boiling hot day of touring the Royal Palace (including the amazing traditional outfits worn by the monarchy and staff) and plenty of wats  with a visit to the Toul-Sleng Genocide Museum at the prison complex S-21. The prison was used to hold and torture political prisoners by the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979. The Khmer Rouge (AKA Angkar) converted a high school to a prison, forgoing all of the architectural prowess of their ancestors from the Khmer Empire in favor of netted barbed wire and hasty 0.8 x 2 m brick cells in the class rooms. They used the school exercise equipment as torture devices, in addition to many other modern and ancient methods of torture including starvation, electrical lashes, and far more gruesome acts of hatred.

In this prison, the Khmer Rouge killed approximately 10 to 30 people every day, usually by driving an hour out to the killing fields and beating them or slitting their throat. I read that a total of up to 20,000 prisoners were killed in those 4 years, including children (the total regime killed somewhere around 2 million people). There seemed to be little rhyme or reason as to who stayed to be tortured and who was executed, because all were forced to confess to the exact charge of treason demanded by the Khmer Rouge. Most charges had to do with being associated with Vietnam, the CIA, or the revolution.

The city of Phnom Penh was deserted during the reign of the Khmer Rouge except for party officials, because non-party members were evacuated to the country side to work essentially as slave laborers to produce food for the regime. The people were fed very little. Most of the food they grew was exported. In pictures, it is clear to tell the party officials from the non-officials, not only from their all black dress and Khmer scarves and caps, but because the officials were fairly plump and stilll strong in comparison to the weak and very thin, starving majority.

I had heard of the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot, but I did not know much about the details and I honestly would have had some difficulty pointing to Cambodia on a map. Being here makes all of that history become so much more real. The Khmer Rouge was in power during my parents' adult lifetime, and they existed through my own life, until they were officially dissolved in 1999.   I realized that I had met people much older than me who must have survived this regime, and many more who were directly or indirectly affected by the regime or the immediate repercussions. Pol Pot died in 1998 but the other masterminds behind the Khmer Rouge are still waiting to be tried in court, with the help of defense lawyers form America and Europe. It is unbelievable to me that a lawyer could have such a lack of moral compass to stand in front of the entire world and defend the instigator of a four year long genocide.

One of the most heart wrenching sights I saw was in the first two prison cells, where hundreds of mug shots of the prisoners/victims covered the walls. I was surprised to see at least ten or so elderly Cambodians, wearing khmer scarves (everyone wore these scarves at the time, not just the Khmer Rouge members) and looking slowly and carefully at each picture. It looked like they were searching, and would sometimes stop and point at one of the grim faces. Many faces were anguished men, women, and children, many looked confused and disoriented. I imagine that the elderly Cambodians were looking for signs of friends and family, and my stomach sank when I realized that was a very distinct possibility. Its insane and sobering to realize that such a genocide can occur at all, and especially so recently.

I tend to feel some sort of superiority when looking back at terrible historic events, thinking that those people must have been so ignorant, and we have learned now and would never let something like that happen. But first of all, who is we? And clearly "we" have not learned enough. Terrible inhumane catastrophes still happen and ARE still happening! I have seen so many different torture devices since visiting South East Asia ( including some used by the American military), and I know that torture is still present, even with prisoners of America (i.e. Guantanamo Bay). Though hidden, its not so secret. How can we turn a blind eye?

Angkor What?

To all those who were worried about me traveling to Cambodia, I hope I can change your perspective, and encourage you to travel there yourself! Cambodia is an incredible, beautiful, and friendly country (at least in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh) and I felt quite safe for our entire stay.

Mary, Clark and I arrived in Cambodia on Tuesday afternoon and immediately hopped in a tuk-tuk to our hotel. Tuk-tuks are the primary mode of transportation for tourists in Cambodia, and consist of a chariot/carriage hooked to the back of a motorbike. Our first evening in Siem Reap, I met a friend named Rhat at the night market, and he taught me the basics of Khmer (the Cambodian word for Cambodian), which I will write phonetically because Khmer is written in a distinct script that looks somewhat like Sanskrit:
  • Suas'dai= hello
  • Awnkoon= thank you
  • 1,2,3= muy, bi, bai
Monks and monkeys

We made the most of our afternoon by stumbling across a pagoda (also known as a "wat") that was huge, beautiful, and ornate. My crew team travel buddies felt at home pretending to row a giant gold dragon boat in the main square of the Wat. As we wandered through, a nice man beckoned us to join the monks in a Buddhist worship service, so we took off our shoes, sat down on the floor and attempted to chant along, transfixed by a statue of Buddha whose electrical "halo" flashed silver and alternated neon flashing lights of pink, green, and blue. The colors of the Halo complemented nicely the  bright paintings along the walls.

The many monks in orange robes sat in rows and sometimes smiled for the pictures. Later in Phnom Penh, we visited  many Pagodas and often ran into monks walking around collecting donations. Their English was quite good, and some of the young men struck up conversation and were even flirtatious at times. We saw numerous monks walking around using their smart phones. One monk named Sareth asked us to friend him on facebook and visit his website, www.raisethepoor.org.  I enjoyed conversing with these monks and learning about the charity work they do.

Some of the Wats are like monk cities, with an ornate pagoda or two, numerous ornate stupas (like memorial statues/towers for kings and important Buddhists) which often were reminiscent of the towers of Angkor Wat, and living spaces and even street food within the Wat for the monks. At Wat Ounalum in Phnom Penh, it was comical to see the orange robes hanging ot dry on wires hung between stupas.

We also saw some sweet monkeys on our way to the Wats!

What Wat? Downtown Siem Reap was very fun but also very touristy. All vendors speak English very well (much better than most of the Vietnamese that we met) though fewer people spoke English in Phnom Penh, the nation's capitol.  We also found that bargaining with Cambodians in the markets was ten times easier than in Ho Chi Minh City (and definitely easier than Bangkok), even if we had assistance from Vietnamese friends. Khmer people who I interacted with are still very friendly, though I was taken aback by the number of children soliciting money from tourists on the street.  

One evening in Siem Reap, we stumbled upon a free "lady boy" show, which in terms of creativity was worth every penny, though it was entertaining. I've heard these shows are even more common in Bangkok.  Clark and Mary and I also got a very inexpensive aquatic pedicure, meaning we stuck our feet in a fish tank and the hungry fish come and nibble off all of our dead skin. We were laughing hysterically the whole time, it was such a funny sensation! It was definitely effective, too--our tired feet felt so soft afterward.

The following morning, we woke up at 4:20 am to watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat, the most famous of the ancient Khmer temples, and one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It reminded me of the setting of a board game I was introduced to this spring. Due to the overcast morning, the sunrise was less than spectacular. Angkor Wat, however, was still incredible to behold. The walls and columns are inticrately carved with lotus, Anspara dancers, and scenes of Hindu gods and Khmer kings. The Wat (and the other ancient wats as well) had a moat around it (I believe for aesthetics and spiritual purposes more than for defense), and a long straight stone walkway that perfectly centered the balanced symmetrical temples. There are now many Buddha statues throughout the halls, as Angkor Wat was converted from a Hindu to Buddhist temple in ancient times. Some of the other temples, like the Baphuon at Angkor Thom, seem to be Buddhist from the origin because the giant image and shape of a reclining Buddha is skillfully incorporated into the architecture of the building, along with towers displaying four faces of Buddha.

We spent a marvelous day bicycling around to most of the major wats and pagodas, biking about 30 km in total. A day like this was definitely a perk of traveling with athletes. All of the wats are intricately carved sandstone. We got a sense of how old the temples are from the extreme disfiguration of the original stones due to the natural weathering processes the rock experienced,  and from the enormous trees growing right on top of the walls of the temples, their roots stretching as far as 15 feet to reach the earth.  This was such an exciting day for me, as someone interested in ecology, geology, and human culture--all three in one day! My favorite of the ancient temples were probably the Baphuon and Ta Prohm. I wish I could learn more about the architects and actual builders or labor force of these temples.

Cambodian food:
In Siem Reap, we tried a delicious Cambodian Banh Mi, which was tasty but oculd not compare to the ones we ate in Ho Chi Minh City. We also tried the Khmer equivalent of Banh Xeo, a kind of savory yellow pancake on top of flavorful cooked vegetables and meet., which is very tasty and one of my favorite dishes so far. The best food, however, was the uniquely Khmer fish Amok, served in a bowl of palm leaves. Clark's cambodian Curry was also excellent. I highly recommend Khmer Amok, Curry, and Khmer noodles.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

War and peace

I apologize that I am a few days behind on posting because of busy travels, but more to come! Currently en route from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

From 7/22:
Yesterday the group spent a day in Ho Chi Minh City being tourists. Having already visited the American war museum and the zoo, we went to the Cu Chi tunnels to see for ourselves a site where major guerella warfare went down during the American war. 

The tunnels are in the jungle and on rubber plantations, and consist of 3 levels of VERY small tunnels all networked together and complete with disguised air holes and fresh water wells. We got to crawl through the "expanded"version of these tunnels (which are still uncomfortably small), which reminded me of some of the obstacles we completed during the tough mudder this past spring. To give you an idea of the size, fellow wildcat Davion (football safety) got stuck for a moment in between tunnel levels. Given, most Vietnamese people are much smaller than most Americans, but that is still an extremely uncomfortable place to be--those with claustrophobia should definitely avoid crawling through these tunnels. The Vietnamese guerillas lived in the tunnels during the day and farmed their rice paddies at night, picking bullet casings out of the way. The whole system was incredibly clever, with tons of trap doors and misleading signals to confuse and slow the opposition. They made tiger traps, which are swinging trap doors covered in grass such that when a tiger or American soldier stepped on it, he fell into a ~6 foot deep pit and onto many 2 foot long sharp spikes. There were lots of gruesome traps tat aimed to wound and slow down the opposition instead of killing them instantly. The Vietnamese re-used everything. For example, they made awesome sandals out of tire treads such that one could not distinguish the direction a man was traveling based on his footprints.

During the tour, gunshots were being fired in the background, which I initially thought was a scary way to make tourists understand what the "ambience" was like during the war. We found out later that there was actually a firing range that tourists could pay a buck or two to shoot  military weapons without experiencing the kickback (they were fixed). I have never shot a gun (aside from shooting tin cans with bebes in Gabe and Eli's backyard), and my group all wanted to split a round so I gave it a shot (pun intended). Never in my life have I  wanted to even come close to an AK47, but YONO so I somehow was convinced to shoot 2 bullets from an AK47.  It was SO loud and shot very far. I will never do that again, but it really gave me an idea of how powerful these guns are from such a long range--I can see why they are so deadly. I was even more surprised when a a tourist next to me shot a round from a REALLY scary gun, an M16. Honestly, it seems pretty twisted to me that we come to a site and learn about how many people died in a really tragic war, and then a bunch of European and American tourists get all excited about shooting machine guns. The more I think about that, the  more upset I get.

Monday evening, Juicy, Thao and Snowee (three awesome Vietnamese coaches living in Saigon) came to visit us at the hotel. It was so nice to see them again! I realized how much I will miss them (and the other coaches, both Vietnamese and American), and how lucky I was to have made such great and interesting new friends. They are already planning to visit the kids in Hoa An again (despite a 6 hour bus ride), and they receive calls from the campers all the time telling them how much the coaches are missed.

Aside from the kids and my new friends, the thing I will miss most about Vietnam is the open and ubiquitous friendliness. Especially when they find out that we know/understand a little Vietnamese, they are so surprised and excited! These are collectively the  nicest people I have ever encountered. I feel so fortunate to have had this experience!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A victorious Tam Biet

Saturday was the last day of competitions at CFC.  My Green 9th graders did incredibly, finishing 1st place in basketball, soccer, and tennis. Soccer was mostly barefoot sliding in the mud, but we pushed and kicked harder so we were a dominant force.   I loved the enthusiasm with which all the kids dived into the mud. No one held back on this final competition day. Our 8th graders were 2nd or 3rd place in all the sports, but I am almost more proud of them because they played with so much heart. Basketball was an especially amazing example of their character.

The game that qualified the green tornadoes to the championship game was possibly my highlight of CFC. Red and green were tied (2-2...they struggled with  making baskets) and we didn't have time to play overtime, so we did a free-throw shoot-out: best of 5 for each team, just like PKs in soccer.  Both teams were tied after 5, so we went to rounds of sudden death. Both teams' 6th man made their shots, which was quite exciting. At that point we were down to our weakest players, so I tagged a small, uncoordinated and slihgtly (uncharacteristic for Vietnam) chubby boy named Duy to shoot our 7th shot. Red team had already missed, and he was under a lot of pressure from his teammates. Duy had a very scared, but also very concentrated face as he stepped up to the line. He chucked the ball with terrible form (so much for 3 weeks of technique training) and the ball swished perfectly through the net. He bounced about 3 feet in the air (approximately his own height) and was the happiest kid I have seen. Great photodocumentation of this to come. IT was a great moment-- the teams erupted into cheers, and Green team carried him on their shoulders and threw him in the air. It was so awesome! But by far the best part of the story is that Duy  went from being a shy, insecure kid to a confident boy strutting around the school in just a matter of seconds. He finally got some recognition from his classmates, and that can do a lot to a enhance a kid's self-esteem. What a guy, and what a moment. When I said goodbye to him today, he couldn't look at me because his face was so red and upset and tears were streaming down his face.

The saga continues: Having joyfully qualified for the championship game, green tornados were faced with a choice as the afternoon monsoon began. I gave them the option of playin gon the covered but very slippery tennis courts or on the basketball court in the rain. They instantly and unanimously cheered to play in the rain. They got soaked, but played ferociously (such that we had to call quite a few fouls). Unfortunately, the green tornados lost to the legend of Sunflower. The look on their faces as they left the court was heart breaking...its so hard to cheer kids up after they lose.

This morning was the final awards ceremony of CFC, and it was quite the emotional roller coaster. It started off with the amazing news that our 9th graders won 1st place overall and earned medals! I am so proud of the progress they have made: ethically, academically, and athletically. They were all very happy and we screamed and jumped and beamed as I hung plastic gold medals around their necks. A little later, I was proud that Victor (Tha.nh) was awarded 3rd place in academics for 8th grade, though unfortunately my fierce 8th graders took a sad 4th place in the competition.

Thanh, Nhu, and Ngan say "go 'cats!!"

 After the ceremony, it took us about an hour to tearfully pry ourselves away from the saddest group of kids I have ever seen. I wasn't surprised to see a lot of the girls crying as they hugged me, but when my big, tough, trouble-making 9th grade boys started sobbing, my heart broke. Everyone from muscle-man "gangster" Truyen to little fat Duy to the cutest little 12-year old Ngan had the salty red eyes and anguished faces. One does not need to share a language to communicated emotion with that kind of intensity.



Snowee and Trinh (muscle-man)

 It reminded me of how I felt when I had to say goodbye to my friends at college, except my college relationships developed over four years and CFC was only three weeks long. Some of the letters I received in thanks from the students really touched my heart and made me feel as though I may have been an impact on them by encouraging them to go after career and education goals. I will miss them a lot!
The letters were written in Vietnamese and graciously translated to me by my friends Thao and Thai. Here are a few samples:

From Thanh (James, 8th grade):

Dear lovely Allie,

Sister, when you leave, will you remember us? But I'm sure that I will miss you so much. I think you are a great person and have very good relationships with everyone. Do you remember the time when we played basketball in the rain? it is absolutely the best memory I have in the CFC camp. Sister, why do you come here and then you leave us after such a short time? I am so sad. You and sister Devon are far away from me now, but you stay in my heart. When you come to Vietnam another time, please pay us a visit!
Green team #1!!
Your brother,

From Hang (Raven, 8th grade),

Dear Allie,

Raven feels so sad because we finished three weeks together but I don't know how to say goodbye to you. I will try to study hard and achieve my goals, especially to have a steady job. I can go abroad and visit you in America to meet you again. You are just like a sister to me.
Last but not least, I wish you can achieve your goals, and I wish you health and strength. You are always #1!



I was surprised by the collective sadness of all of the students in the camp, who all gathered in tears (boys and girls alike) as we boarded our bus to head back to Ho Chi Minh City. Goodbye is the roughest. I must now say goodbye to my great American and friends who were all very adventurous and outgoing while in Hoa An. Mary, Clark, and I will continue on to Cambodia and Thailand to travel on our own next week.
Tam Biet!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Vietnamese Hot Dog

Monday. Back to school today from a relaxing weekend. We found out the results from the tests on Friday, and I was appalled to find that 90% of our students failed the physics portion of the test (less than 50% correct). This was extremely frustrating news, given that the test was entirely multiple choice and true/false (dung/sai) questions that perfectly matched the examples we went over as a class. At least half  of the students participated and answered these problems (the EXACT SAME PROBLEMS) on the board to demonstrate their comprehension. At first I was in denial. It must be that the answer key was entered incorrectly into the computer. It was NOT a hard test, and we are SURE that they at least know how to plug in numbers to the formulas because they did it in class. I feel like I failed as a teacher, but I don't know what I could do to make the class or test more straightforward than it already is.

It is now Thursday, and today was our last day of teaching new material. We have only tests and competitions left, which I am very much looking forward to. I have now come to the conclusion that the material we have been teaching is very advanced. After all, in America I did not learn most of this material until Junior year of high school, and these are rising 8th and 9th graders, so it seems like the program has slightly unrealistic expectations of the students. From what i have seen, only a small percentage of very smart kids really grasp the concepts, and its very cool to challenge these individuals because they really shine. Most of the others can regurgitate what we have drilled in, but that isn't quite as satisfying.
I can relate to most of the students (except the ones who don't even try), in that I have been in physics classes where I really grasped everything and participated a lot, but I have also been completely mystified by certain concepts despite many repititions (e.g. 1st quarter Quantum mechanics). Unlike college courses, Matt and I put a lot of effort into requiring the students to think in class and contribute answers. We also have a sports-related demonstration everyday to help out the kinesthetic learners and get the class engaged. Each lesson ends up being pretty fun, but once I see the test results my heart just sinks. Hopefully this Friday will be better!

Gravity demonstration in physics class

The students DID learn how to do proper layups!

As for the rest of our daily life, we have had an exciting week of 'Nam noms! On Monday alone, I crossed three novel foods off my bucketlist I ate snail for lunch (marinated in a yummy sauce), and for dinner our bus driver treated us to cooked dog leg. It is very dark meat, with a lot of fat and skin around the edge, which I could not handle. I piece with no fat or skin, and then boiled it in fish broth for about 15 seconds (it was already cooked), and found it to be quite tasty. This hot dog tasted nothing like hot dog (or chicken). Most of the others could not get past the chewy fat or skin.

 For dessert, we were treated to fertilized duck eggs. These are essentially soft-boiled duck embryos. If I did not look at or examine or think about what I was eating, it actually tasted quite good. The crunch of the beak was disconcerting, and you could see feathers if you looked carefully. Devon opened hers up to examine, and found it much harder to eat after the beginnings of wings became visible. The Vietnamese coaches were mostly disgusted by the dog meat (they didn't dare to eat it because they keep dogs for pets), but they all considered the duck embryo a delicious delicacy  and were excited to introduce us to this new food!

See the beginning of a feather?
Friends enjoying duck eggs

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Second place and spelunking

Our second week at CFC culminated in another test and competition day, which was a lot of fun and very competitive. My green team had much more integrity this time around. After drilling in the lesson about how we weren't allowed to cheat at CFC, my 9th graders got the picture. I am very proud of the students progress in both the 8th and 9th grade classes. They were very well behaved, and the "cool boys" who cheated last time bonded with me quite a bit this week after they realized that I appreciated their skills in sports. To demonstrate this bond, I was invited to ride on the back of Khai's bike up to the bridge! About 40% of kids get to school by riding on the back of someone else's bike.
Biking to school with sun protection

No cheating this week!

Quang had a blast winning the volleyball competition

Go Green Tornados!! Toi Xanh Co Len!

The whole competition day was a blast, and the green tornadoes kept doing very well and then losing in the championship. Thus, my voice was completely gone by the end of the day from screaming "dôi xanh cố lên" at the top of my lungs to a team that let 3 championships slip through their fingers. Next week our lifeskills lesson is about dealing with failure :). After the competitions ended, we drove straight to our weekend getaway at the beach in Ha Tien. Somehow we all found second winds in our tired voices to sing karaoke on the bus the whole way there!

The view from the bus on the way to Ha Tien

View from the hotel

The bus ride was a rough 5 hours long, part of it on a tiny one lane unpaved road through rice paddies. The road had no shoulder, and besides narrowling missing 100s of motorbikes, our bus driver (Uncle Minh) managed to avoid 7 or so collisions with other trucks and buses going the opposite direction. It was quite a thrillingn ride, and helped to explain why such a short journey could take sooo long.  Once we reached Ha Tien, the first thing I noticed was the incredible clarity and sheer number of stars in the sky. We could easily spot the milky way, a sideways scorpio, and many many more constellations. The stars are also marvelous at our base in Hoa An, but I can't enjoy them due to intense mosquito paranoia.

The view from the hotel is quite marvelous. We are right on the beach and mountainous, lush green islands and peninsulas dot the horizon. We see tons of fishing boats and boys standing in the water and dragging their nets to shore to catch fish. Families clean and process the fish right on shore, leaving an abundance of fishheads on the beach. This surprised me, because at our meals in Hoa An, Mr. Tuan usually cooks and serves the entire fish--eyeballs, scales, and all.
There is a ton of trash on these beaches, and lots of makeshift shacks along the shore full of curious people. I asked Dung (Yoom) about garbage services here, and she said that a truck comes by quite often, but she says the people lack "awareness." The Vietnamese coaches are unimpressed with the water quality of the ocean, so we didn't go into water. This area is the first place I have noticed such abject poverty with slums on the outskirts of town by the mangroves and ancient women squatting toothless by the sides of pagodas selling dried fish. Its quite eye opening for me.

A highlight of this weekend was getting to tour some caves formed by carbonate dissolution. Not quite a Mexican "cenote," but the two have a lot in common. I was definitely overexcited to share my geologic knowledge about the formation of the cave networks :). These caves were used by Vietnamese soldiers to hide out during the American war. There are now a number of Buddhist shrines in the caves.
I realized that I was taught very little about the Vietnam war in school, so it is quite interesting to learn about it in detail for the first time from the other side. I am immensely curious to compare stories once back in the USA.

A giant jellyfish on the beach! Did not go in the water after seeing this guy!
Carbonate dissolution anyone?

American coaches at the beautiful beach

After the caves, we explored a market and spotted some wild monkeys! We are having a blast teaching the Vietnamese coaches American slang (i.e. "that was clutch," and "whelp, see ya later!") and simultaneously realizing how often we speak using idiomatic expressions.

We are excited to find out the results from competition day and to begin our final week of CFC.
Green tornadoes, we are number one!!!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Geese and generosity

I continue to  be amazed by the friendliness and hospitality of the Vietnamese of the Mekong Delta. Strangers sit in small plastic chairs or lay in hammocks outside their houses or shops and wave at us everytime we pass by. The house across from our "hotel" has two small children (a girl of ~4 and a boy of ~6) who run outside their house to wave at us with adorable beaming faces EVERY single time we return to the hotel, which is at least twice a day, every day. Our bus driver and his wife made us all a special crab and quail egg soup. He shared the leftovers of this Ngong (delicious) soup with all of his neighbors.
Nhu, one of my favorite students, is a mischievious but adorable 9th grade girl who bought both Devon and I bracelets over the weekend. This is very generous inthe context of the class, given that we had just heard from the students about how they have to help their families fertilize and put pesticides on their farms or rice paddies when they get home.

Our adorable neighbors!

There is a young girl (about 8 years old) who is not old enough to attend CFC but who watches in on all of the classes I teach (both physics and life skills) and grabs the basketballs to practice when they aren't in use. I taught her how to dribble and shoot with a goose ("vit") follow-through. She is so cute and wants to learn so badly. I always greet her with a Xin Chao, and we once had a successful two-sentence conversation during which I discovered that her name is Ngan (pronounced Nyan). She often presents me with a small gift of a mint or candy and a huge smile. I hope that she will grow up to be an athlete!

Nhu learns the "Vit" follow-through

My 12 year old friend, Ngan
On our way walking to the internet cafe today (we have no wifi at the "hotel"), we passed by many houses and had a couple of close calls. Some of the bridges across the river are sturdy, concrete bridges that a bike could ride over. Many of the bridges, however, are two wooden poles very close together with little scraps of wood nailed on them like a flat ladder. They are pretty precarious! Lots of families raise baby ducks and chickens (to eat, I presume), but a few families also had some big, adult geese. As we were passing by, 3 big geese came out squawking loudly with straight necks, and turned toward us as if they were about to charge. We (four girls) were pretty intimidated, and we were considering finding another route, until a woman from next door came out with a machete and laughed at us, and grabbed Tessa by the arm and dragged her toward the ducks. We knew she was friendly, but it sure looked like she was ready to chop up Tessa to feed to the angry ducks! Instead, she kept the geese at bay and we scurried past while the geese squawked angrily and the Vietnamese lady cracked up. Tessa saw her life flash before her eyes. I'm pretty sure we are going to find a different route back!!

Tonight  we are celebrating two birthdays of our Vietnamese friends (Thao and Mai) with birthday cake (courtesy of the French influence) and Vietnamese spring rolls. Maybe some karaoke if we are lucky?

Much love to you all!