Friday, July 29, 2016

Home 3 Weeks. Vietnam lives on.

[Tim]

We've been in America for just over 3 weeks, and home in Bend for two of those three.  We are loving being home, but we keep leaving Bend and are looking forward to finally just being home!  We were home for just a few days before going up to Spokane to visit my family for a week, for example.  This week was summer camp for three of us (two boys and volunteer-dad) and now we're off to a wedding in Portland, so it will be August 1st before we're home-for-good.

Reverse Culture Shock
Janet and I remember coming home from China in 1998 and experiencing a pretty good measure of reverse culture shock.  It's more than "you forgot what it was like to be home ... SURPRISE!!"  We experienced that, too, when we visited a WalMart supercenter and were astonished and overwhelmed at the abundance and color.  But as you know, shock has definition beyond "unexpected surprise," and it's that other shock-to-the-system that is referred to as culture shock.
Re-entry has been low-stress for us this time.  We are returning to life that is very much "normal" for us.  Same house, same belongings, same job, same friends ... slightly different furniture.  People who have stopped by to visit have been consistent with comments "It seems like you weren't even gone!"  They aren't being rude, like "we didn't miss you while you were away" or anything.  It's just that we stepped out of our lives for a year ... and then stepped back in.  The jumprope kept rhythm while we hopped out and got a drink, and now we're jumping in again, and it all seems so easy and rhythmic.

But there have been days when I have felt simply awful.  Not suicidal, but certainly depressed.  Of the first 10 days after arriving back in the USA, I was "up" on 6 of those days and melancholy/angry/uninspired/self-reproachful/slothful/icky on 4 of them.  The second 10 were much, much better; in fact I think that there wasn't a single sickish day among them.  Today is worse again, but only half as bad as the miserable ones when we had first returned.  Thought you'd want to know an honest answer to the ubiquitous "how is it to come home?"

Keeping in Touch
We want to maintain contact with our Vietnamese friends (and renewed connections among the Chinese students that we got to meet up with as we traveled home), because we love them and because we want to see them again when we return.  Maybe we'll live there again when the kids have all finished high school?  We think it would be neat to see them again at intervals, so the 19 year olds will be 25 and in a different phase of life, and then maybe we go again when they are all 30 and have children of their own.  Or something like that.

Going Our Way?
Recently we met with a couple that is planning to go to live in Vietnam (our city of Danang, in fact!) and it is our great pleasure to share tips/tricks/stories.  If you are preparing to go, why not make contact with us at <edtech2020@gmail.com> and we'll arrange for a Skype call or answer your questions over email.  We'd love to meet you.

And Goodbye.
It's always possible that we'll write in this journal again, but for now I'm signing off.  I feel a little bit like Truman: "In case I don't see ya... good afternoon, good evening, and good night."


Saturday, July 2, 2016

Aannnd... We're HOME!

[Tim]

We arrived home today.  Not all the way to Bend, but almost.  We made it to Oregon tonight and are with friends, then tomorrow we'll go home.

We picked out some photos that tell the story (with some embedded comments, if you click to see them) of our trip north from Danang.  We went north by train to the crazy limestone islands of Halong Bay, then crossed by foot into China, then went by train and bus to two cities in China and finally to Beijing.  Today we woke up in Korea, and now we're in the USA.  A wonderful trip.

Go see the pictures and captions:  https://goo.gl/photos/ZcjZEgefZxQieASS6



Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A Visit to the Countryside

Janet here.  This blog post was meant to have gone out in mid-May!  I wrote it and thought I had published it, but it turns out I never did.  So really what we're doing this week is packing our house and saying goodbye to all our friends, but here's a post about something I got to do with Anna a few weeks ago...

---------------------------------

Last week Anna and I got to go with our neighbor to visit her countryside home. Any Vietnamese English-speaker from the countryside will always refer to their hometown as "my countryside."  This is a slight English error that I never correct because I love what it communicates.  It's not the town itself that is important to them.  It is the fact that it is in the country, that it's surrounded by farms, that the people still living there are still farming.  America has been urbanized much longer, but there's an undercurrent of patriotism and nostalgia in the Vietnamese person's voice that I associate with American books about small town life "back then."  Anyway, this was our first opportunity to actually visit a home in one of these villages.

Nostalgia and patriotism are great filters to look through, because without them, life in the countryside is just hard!  If you don't love the land and the people and believe in the value of the work that you do there, you would just feel your life to be a drudgery.  Clearly, my neighbor still has that love when she returns to her home, but she also acknowledges that her early life was like a hardship movie.









 Let me just tell you the summary:  She was born in 1978, the third daughter in her family.  The American-Vietnam war ended in 1975.  Our soldiers came home with a variety of hardships because of their ordeal, but it is difficult to imagine just how awful a time it was for the people of Vietnam, especially those who fought on the losing side, as my neighbor's father did.  They nearly escaped with those fleeing immediately after the war, but her mother couldn't bear to leave her family behind, so they stayed.  The early years of their marriage were simply a matter of survival.  Finding food was everything.  The reason we were at my neighbor's family home on this particular day was that it was marking the day in 1977 when her older sister died as a toddler--from eating rotten food she found discarded in the market.  My neighbor explained to me that many small children died of various accidents in those days because there was literally no one looking after them during the day.  Every adult was needed in the fields.


By the time my neighbor was 10 years old, her teacher recommended to her parents that she be sent to the city for school because she showed promise as a student.  They saw this as an opportunity for the betterment of everyone's future, so they sent her to live with an uncle in the city.  During that time she was treated very badly by her uncle and cousins.  She didn't elaborate, but this was the part she said was "like a movie."  She would sometimes go home on the weekends, but the roads were so bad that she preferred to spend 5 hours riding her bicycle there rather than going by bus and getting car sick (our drive took just over an hour, but she said it was much longer then, before the road was paved).  Of course, she had no food for the journey, and would sometimes stop at people's homes to ask for water.  Her older sister went to work in a factory to earn enough money to pay for her schooling. None of her siblings went to school beyond what the village could provide.  So my neighbor has been the hope and success story of the whole family.



Her schooling years were grim, but they paid off.  She succeeded in college and works as an English teacher in the talented and gifted high school.  She married well.  She says that when she goes home to her village she is quite famous because she is the only woman who knows how to drive a car, and she owns her own car!  She saved money and built her parents a concrete house when she was barely out of college herself.  The house is simple, and not unlike the others in the village, but theirs was the first concrete house when she built it about 12 years ago.  She financially supports every member of her family in some way (there's another whole tragic story about how her sister contracted HIV from her husband and passed it to her child, now a young teen. And then there's the younger brother who gambles and can't be trusted.  Just like a movie, eh?).

As she was telling me all of these stories, I was trying to think of any family stories of my own that she would be interested in.  I'm sure there are plenty of things that would interest her, but all I could think was, "My recent family history is so stable. So boring. So safe."  I'm so grateful for my past, and so aware that many people have it much, much worse.



In addition to learning lots of family history, we also got to see how peanuts are turned into peanut oil.  One of the crops of the village is peanuts, and it's harvest time.  The farmers bring their peanuts to the house next door, and that family runs the press for making the oil.  This family is blessed to have 5 sons, and they all work the family business.  Most other families by this time have sent all their young adults to the city, and the village contains mostly older people and children--the grandparents and their grandchildren.  But the family of 5 sons can keep everyone busy and reasonably prosperous by being the peanut mill.  We learned that it takes about an hour to turn one farmer's bag of peanuts into a 20 kilo jug of oil.  The farmer stays on to watch the process, to make sure all of the oil is put in the right jug.  First, the peanuts (in their shells) are run through a grinder.  Then the the grinds are cooked in a huge vat heated by a wood fire.  When they are done, they are the consistency of sand and are packed like sandcastles into buckets and then dumped onto a piece of rice-bag material.  The material is wrapped around the sandcastle, and then one of the sons steps on it to smash it into a bamboo ring that has just been made by the dad.  About 20 of these rings are filled by one batch of peanut mash.  The rings are then stacked in the press, which turns like a screw and pushes the oil out.  At first it is turned by machine, and the oil comes gushing out.  Then, when it would be damaging to run the engine so hard, they stop the engine and turn it by hand every few minutes.  I watched them do it for a while and could tell that it was hard work, but when they gave me a turn at it, I could barely move the metal bar even when I pulled on it with my full body weight. Strong guys.  When everyone is convinced that no more oil can be coaxed out of the now-compressed discs, the farmer weighs his oil and the mill operators unpack the press.  The warm peanut mash discs are unwrapped and stacked--they'll be mixed with other vegetable matter and used as pig and cow feed.

Now, I know that it is trendy in America right now to talk about small processing plants and farm-to-table lifestyles and all that.  I have a lot of respect for that movement and think it's a healthy direction to go.  But we also have ideas about hygiene and quality control, and hooray for that!  I'm glad peanut oil is used for high-heat cooking and probably nothing really unsafe would happen with it, but as I watched people working on the dirt floor, stomping on food products with bare feet, using equipment that may have never been cleaned (looked like years of cobwebs to me!), letting their chickens roam in and out, and filling jugs that were being used multiple times without cleaning, it made me a little bit glad that we have a lot of laws about food safety.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Letters to Someone Moving to Danang

[Tim]


This is a final installment, maybe. We will leave here in less than a week, and I don't know how valid any advice from me will be when once we've gone.  These are some things I've remembered to remind you to bring:

Straps:
We bought with one motorbike a flat metal contraption that could be strapped to the seat so that it sticks out in back and allows us to carry stuff.  A scooter stuffhauler.  We don't use it often--it's much simpler to use the hook between our knees and load on big bags of groceries out to either side.  But sometimes ... sometimes we are taking a big cooler to the beach, or we're going camping, or it's a day away at a waterfall or something.  And on those days, I wish I had a cinching strap (cambuckle).  I've got ropes and chains that I bought here, but I haven't ever seen a strap like I have at home for lashing things down.

Games:
I have dearly loved having the game For Sale.  We bought it specifically to bring to Vietnam, and it's a winner.  It plays perfectly with 6 players, and it's fast and small and fun.  Another fast game for 8 players is Incan Gold.  These two games provide me a relief from the game that everyone always wants to play but I secretly can't stand: UNO.  The students here are for-real crazy about UNO.

We love playing Nertz, and we had friends bring us 6 decks of cards (each with a different back) so we could play it with people here.  It's a winner.  

If I were coming for two years, I would bring more games.  I'd bring a double box of Jenga blocks.  Between Jenga and Spoons and Farkle, those would cover my bases for an easy "let's play a game" with a group of friends.  I would bring Werewolf to play with friends with language skills.  I'd bring some boxed games such as Tikal, Wits & Wagers, and Carcassonne.

We loved having a box of Mascarade, because with a group of more than 7, there are not so many games that are easy to organize that don't require verbal skills.  

Newbery-Award Winning books:
Nowadays I can send students to their favorite online source for eBooks, but I'd also like to have a library of good lend-able books at the middle school reading level.  I find that books that have earned a Newberry Award are both high-interest and the correct reading level for most of our English-speaking friends here.


Hydroflask:
We may not have mentioned it recently, but it's distressingly hot outside.  Imagine living in Oklahoma, but nobody uses air conditioners much and it's summer 6 months out of the year.  If you put ice water into an uninsulated plastic or metal container, it will quickly warm up and the outside will be ridiculously wet with condensation.  You dare not put such a bottle into a backpack, or all else in the backpack will be wet with the condensation.  Our Hydroflasks have been life savers here.  The wide-mouth kind can fit the larger Vietnamese ice cubes.

Earplugs:
You may never need to sleep on a train or find yourself at a performance with excruciatingly loud speaker systems, but it's better to come prepared.  We always sleep in earplugs when we are traveling.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Letters to Someone Moving to Da Nang

[Tim]

Another couple of topics for someone moving to Da Nang.

Danang International Fellowship (DIF)
There are good people of many nationalities that are part of the local expat-church.  We found that networking with these people was very satisfying, and it was neat to see this local expression of the body of Christ.  http://dananginternationalfellowship.org

Smart Phone
Bring a smart phone.  You need it for the translation and the maps, if nothing else.  As I said before, you can get talk/text and all the data you need for $7 a month.  I don't know how many times I went shopping for a specific tool and used Google Images instead of the translator tool so I could show people what it is I'm looking for.
But you can't bring a smart phone that is still locked by the US carrier or that doesn't take SIM cards. It needs to be the sort with a SIM card, and there are still phones being made that don't use SIM cards.  Make sure yours is a SIM card phone and that it is unlocked for international use.  If you're under contract, you can usually just call and get the carrier to toggle the lock for you if you tell them you're going to travel and need to put a SIM in it while you're overseas.

Dental
Coming to Vietnam with a dental problem or in need of a dental checkup is a great idea.  It sounds like I'm being sarcastic, I know, but actually you can get a full set of x-rays and a modern, thorough exam for $15.  If you've got a hole in a tooth, they'll take before and after photos and do the white resin filling for $15 each.  Very modern, very comfortable.  http://serenitydentalclinic.com

Tall Hotels and Mountains
I'm a sucker for viewpoints.  I'd like to recommend that you head up to the top of Brilliant Hotel on the river and A La Carte Hotel on the beach, sometime in your first couple of weeks here.  Pay an exorbitant $3 for coffee, and sit and enjoy luxury with a view.
Have some students or Viet friends take you up Monkey Mountain and Hai Van Pass.  Both of these have an "all the way to the top" that is worth the extra effort.  We went up Monkey Mountain many times before we continued to the top, and we're so glad we did.  When we finally went all the way up, we arranged to get to the top at sunset and watch the city lights come on below us.  Phenomenal.






Saturday, May 28, 2016

Letters to Someone Moving to Da Nang

[Tim]

I don't know if someone named Paul will actually move to Da Nang in the summer of 2016 or not, but I'm going to write a couple of letters as if there is someone coming here and I can give future-advice to ...

Dear Paul,

Glad you're coming to our fair city!  Some things I wish I had known when I arrived in August of 2016 ...

Vision English Cafe
Vision may be in the wrong part of town for where you need to live, but it's in a great part of town if you're getting to choose where to live.  It's just inland from Holiday Beach hotel, and I'll be including more opinions about where to live later on.  Just know that we would choose the location of our apartment so it would be close to Vision.
We love the cafe staff and all the regulars who come and practice their English on us.  They take us on their adventures and enjoy movie nights and games with us.  Great people.  If they are the only Vietnamese connections you make during your time here, it's not a bad thing.

Lunch/Breakfast
I wish I had known that lunch is hard to find here.  People get up awfully early and eat out.  Everyone eats out, every morning.  The sticky rice, the thin noodle soup is "Bun," and the plate of mushroom and noodle called banh cuon --those are my favorites.  But then lunch is pretty limited, and especially if you wait until after noon.  If you're going to eat at a ubiquitous "Com" rice place, you'll eat the same food at 11:45 that you would have eaten at 10:45, only it will be an hour less-fresh and there will be fewer choices.  Plan on lunch in the early 11s if you can.

Driving
I don't know why you're coming here, but I'll bet you're not coming to reform the driving practices of the Viet population.  Remind yourself of that when the driving gets you nutty.  I say it out loud sometimes: "My purpose in being here does not include teaching the locals how to drive."

Speaking of Driving,
Depending on how much it would ruin your plans to break a leg or collarbone, you can consider leasing a car when you come, or default to learning to ride a motorbike.  Probably if you get into a group of students, one of them will be willing to let you learn on his/her bike.  Then you can rent for $5 a day until you find a used moto to buy.  If you buy anything at less than 7 million, you can't really lose that much value before it's time to sell and upgrade or sell and go home.

Facebook Connections
At the beginning, I accepted new FB friendships from anyone who requested.  The names these local friends use for FB are often unrelated to their real Vietnamese names, so it was easier just to assume that I knew all the people who were friending me.  But then I began to realize that friending a foreigner is a status mark, and if it shows on a student's feed that a friend had become my friend, that friend-of-a-friend might go ahead and friend-request me just to see if I'll say yes.  So long story short, I now hand my phone to the person I want to friend and say "look yourself up on FB and I'll friend-request you right now."  And I reject all other friend requests--several each day I've been here.

Cell Phone
I don't know how to be successful without a smartphone here.  I use it all the time for Google Translate and Maps, and I sometimes turn on the hotspot and use the cellular data for my laptop.  I didn't find much difference between Viettel and Mobifon, though I did appreciate how easy it was to grab a mobifon sim card from a cheap kiosk and just go.  At first I went to the fancy cell phone stores and it took them a small mountain of paperwork and my passports to get me a sim card, but later I learned that I could walk in any neighborhood and get a sim card sans passport and sans trouble.  Data and talking won't cost you more than $7 per month here.

Lotte Mart & Metro
There are some other big-store options, but when you first arrive you should just plan to do all your shopping at these two stores.  They are on the Central side of the river just south of Asia Park, at the southmost of the 5 bridges.  Both stores accept credit cards, and you don't go very wrong deciding not to shop around when you're setting up house--just go ahead and bite the bullet and buy what you need.  This is from a dedicatedly frugal guy, too.  You might save a bit shopping elsewhere, but it isn't worth your trouble in the first two weeks of living here and getting everything you need.

Xeom & Taxi
You can inexpensively get to Lotte Mart on a moto-taxi.  There are lots of guys sleeping on their motorcycles on street corners who will bargain with you and give you a ride for a price.  They are called Xe Om drivers, and I only rode with three of them (and talked to several others) before I decided they are a rip-off.  Usually the price they would agree to was equivalent to the cost of a taxi, so why bother?
But this company uses a meter and has a good reputation: http://xeomdanang.com.  If you take a xe om down to Lotte Mart or Metro, then when you emerge with a huge shopping cart (or two, if you are the Chases and a family of 5) you can grab a big taxi and pile your goods into it for the ride home.  Lotte Mart always has taxis of all sizes waiting out front, but at Metro you have to get someone to call one for you.

Sofas
If I were doing it again, I would go unconventional with the sofas.  We had a sofa made and we like it, but the whole setup was $600 (sofa, ottoman, and floor cushions).  The next time I'd do more floor cushions and ottomans and skip the expense of the sofa itself.  My students love the unconventional sitting options.  Actually what I would do is go to the fabric and foam shops at the west end of Le Duan where it dips down to join Hung Vuong, and I'd have them build me 10 foam cushions.  Each would be 1.5m x .5 meters, so rectangular, and about 15 cm thick.  I'd choose an upholstery fabric and have them make me the cushions or recommend someone who can do the tailoring.  But I think most of those shops will do it.  Later, I'd find a shop that makes bamboo tables and chairs (there is one on Pham Van Dong just east of Vincom near the White House Hotel) and have him fabricate for me two very short bamboo platforms to put some cushions on, and that would be my erzatz sofa.

What to Bring
The students are nuts about the game UNO.  And you won't regret going to a thrift store and snagging a set of UN-GAME cards--it's an old game that has a bunch of conversation-starting cards.  Leave the game board at home but bring the convo-cards.
Bring shoes--you can't easily replace shoes here, though you can have some made down in Hoi An.  Gifts for other expats--you might check with folks on the Facebook group (search Da Nang Hoi An Expats and you'll find them) and see if anyone needs anything brought in from out-of-country.  Shaving cream is available but oddly expensive--it's something I'd bring from home.  Sunblock, too. Available but very expensive.

When we come back to live in 5-6 years we may well be bringing in a couple of tabletop puzzles ... you can buy cardboard puzzles in the bookstores here, but they tend to be a style where all the pieces can fit just about anywhere, which makes them a bit of a chore to put together.
Also when we come back we'll bring large chocolate chips, some bags of marshmallows, and basically all the measuring cups and spoons a person could wish for.  And a lime squeezer maybe.  But other than that, nothing for our kitchen.  We seldom cook here, so the spices that we brought are still in the cupboard.  We can buy here all shapes and sizes of knives and dish-sponges and water filtration and everything else.
I'll bring my luggage scale.  I love my luggage scale.  Got mine on Amazon for less than $10 and I love it.
We'll bring our camping mattresses.  And earplugs.  And melatonin and some sleep meds to help with jetlag.  Bandaids are not high-quality here.  All other medications you can buy here, over the counter.  We'll bring Vitamin C and EmergenC packs, though.
I'll bring clothing that I want copied.  I had great success this time in bringing an old pair of much beloved slacks, and they created two copies of them AND repaired them so they are still in the game.  Happy camper!
Umm... I will bring a couple of glow-in-the-dark frisbees.  Dusk happens at 6pm and evening play is indoors or on the beach.  It's a bunch of fun to have the glow-frisbees for nighttime.
Books to lend to students?  I'm trying to think of what else I'm glad I brought from home...

Honestly, I think that's about it.  You can get everything here, and the prices are generally competitive to what you'd pay in the west.


University Schedule & Grades
When I was trying to plan our time abroad, I asked the university when the school year would finish in the spring of 2016.  The answer?  "Sometime around May."
Here's what actually happened in the school year 2015-16:
We arrived August 10.  Classes were starting up--I think it was the first week of classes for most students.  Freshmen, though, were still being sorted by test scores, and I was hired to teach freshmen.  Incoming freshmen had tested in their hometowns in July and now their scores were determining their university and major.  By the middle of August, most freshmen knew which university had been selected for them, and they were set to start classes at the beginning of September.  But not my classes--I am the foreign teacher teaching the "high quality" classes, which hadn't formed yet.  Students new to the university could choose to pay double tuition to have classes in air conditioning and with the foreign teacher 4-6 hours per week.  In all, about 100 students (divvied into four classes) chose to pay for the high-quality program, and they transferred out of their initial classes into the HQ classes and became my students in the last week of September.
Then they all disappeared for a month when it was their turn for military training.
Then they had 3 weeks off for Tet Holiday.  Only they all wanted to go to their hometowns early, so it was more like 4 weeks off.  And I decided to extend a vacation in Thailand, so I didn't see them until a week after break ended, so it was 5 weeks off.  No regrets there.
Now it's mid-May and most students are finished with finals.  But not my freshmen.  They're still going until mid-June.
We're leaving in the week of June 6, so I'll turn in my grades before the semester officially closes.   My grades count for the 40% of "midterm exam" and then the university testing offices administer the final exam, which counts for 60% of the student's overall grade.  If they get 85% in the overall grade, that is the A they all want.

Where to Live
Live near the beach.  It's cooler on the Son Tra side of the river than in central (sometimes you can literally feel the difference as you ride over the river bridges from west to east), and you'll see more surf and palm trees if it's a 4-minute ride to the beach than if it's a 12-minute ride.  Mathematically it's only the difference of 8 minutes, but it results in way more forays to the ocean.  We greatly benefit from being able to take friends out to the beach and throw frisbees and kick balls around after dark.

When we come back, we'll try to get a place that is wider and shorter as opposed to narrow and tall.  Narrow buildings are hard to keep air conditioned, as the cool air all wants to go down to the first level where the motorbikes park.  Apartments provide the right kind flat space for air conditioning, but if we go for an apartment we'll look for a place that has student-friendly parking.  Sometimes people live in buildings with uptight security guys, and we intend to have lots of students and friends in and out.  Parking enough for 10+ motorbikes is important to us.  We would love to rent a standalone house with plenty of parking, but for that we may have to pay more money.  Also, it may not be in great shape, but I'll bring some extra hundreds of dollars to have things fixed up and cleaned when we move in.  It's worth it to work with the landlord and get things fixed and painted and improved before we move in, and not just settle for everything "as-is."  This time, my landlord agreed to go in 50-50 with me on the improvements I wanted to make here: hot water heaters in the bathrooms, a rooftop gazebo, hammock-rings into the walls, etc.

Keep in mind that the landlord will expect the full contract in cash, up front.  We worked it out so that I paid 6 months up front in USD, then later I paid the rest in VND.  He'll give back the deposit in USD so it's more usable for us on our way out.  You might bring a bug-bomb or two to toss into the house before you move in...

Eating Out
We found that delicious food can be had for breakfast.  Mediocre food can be had for lunch (go early).  And the dinner food is a mix of good and bad.
Everyone eats breakfast out.  Sometimes people go out for dinner, but usually the food is an excuse to drink more beer.  Nobody but the unfortunates (people who work too far from home to be able to go home for lunch) eats lunch out, because lunches should be eaten at home prior to nap-time.
I have no fear for your breakfasts--you'll find good food close by.  Lunch, well good luck.  When you're new in town you might plan your Lotte Mart shopping trips to coincide with lunch... the little cafeteria in the grocery store is not a bad way to try local foods, though the soundtrack they play loops every 40 minutes and sometimes we were in the store long enough to hear the songs repeat for a third or fourth time.  Errrr.
For eating in Vietnam you can know that you've eaten the five major food groups when you've got a good
1. banh my sandwich
2. seafood hotpot
3. noodle soup and noodle stir-fried
4. rice with sides, and
5. things to wrap in rice paper

It's that last one, the wraps, that are the most interesting for us.
For the first one, we've enjoyed meat-and-egg sandwiches out and buy wheat bread at Metro and banh my khongs 6-for-$.50 from the local bakery to make PBJ sandwiches at home.
For hotpots, we don't love seafood as much, but have had some vegetarian hotpots we really enjoyed.
We like most of the soups (stay away from bun mam), and every stir-fried noodle set we've had has been really good.  Definitely look for a good Bun Cha Hanoi when you get the chance.
We're suckers for rice, and our local Com (rice) guys sell a pack of rice "mang ve" (carry-out) for a dollar with rice, veggies, and a grilled pork chop.
But for things that wrap into rice paper ... that's where we think Vietnam really shines.  A crispy eggy banh xeo.  Leaf-wrapped beef bo lo lot.  Stick-meat nem lui.  Fried rolls and lettuce ram cuon cai.  They're all good!

Befriending Teachers
This final piece is more a note-to-self.  This time around we spent much of our time with college students.  It's a great way to stay young, but next time we want to more intentionally develop friendships with English-speaking faculty.





Saturday, May 7, 2016

Learning Who I'm Not

Hi Friends, Janet here.  

We've has some newsy posts lately, so it's time to go introspective for a change. Any of you who have had a year of major changes will be able to relate--aren't we constantly wondering if this or that is a good thing, if all the changes are worth it in the long run, if "we" are changing, or if "we" stay the same while we observe things happening around us?  I know too much introspection can get you stuck in a morass of SELF, but it can also be very healthy to engage in it from time to time.  


Things I have learned about myself this year:

1. I am not a writer waiting for her chance to burst into words. Now, I have long thought that "writer" was part of my identity. I enjoy writing. I admire writers. I love books. I love reading. At different times in my life I've had people tell me that I should be a writer, and I've said it myself. Sometimes in my life I've felt like I have a book inside, waiting to come out. So, when we embarked on this year abroad and created a blog to document it, I thought for sure this would be my thing. I imagined regular posts from me, newsy and profound at the same time. I imagined teaching my kids to write well, helping them find their voices, sending them out into the blogging world. I imagined journaling daily about everything. Well, I don't need to tell you that hasn't happened!  For months I felt really bad about that. I felt the pressure I had put on myself, and I thought surely my muse was just around the corner. I would go to bed at night resolving to be my own taskmaster the next day (blog post by noon, and get those kids writing!), and the next day would pass without my ever giving it a thought. I no longer make friends with guilt, so my awareness of my failure didn't ever grow into guilt, but I have done a lot of thinking about why I have so consistently failed in this area. And finally I've realized it...I was trying to fit a skill I have into an identity that wasn't me. Writing I may love, but the person I pictured doing the writing was imaginary.

Is this my new favorite place to drink tea?
Ah yes--something I definitely want to
be a regular at!
2. I am not a café regular waiting to find just the right café at which to be a regular.  This is another image I've long-cherished: they know your name, they know your drink, they know your favorite table and what days you come in. I always thought I wanted to be that person and life wasn't letting me try it!  I thought my schedule, my kids, my dietary habits, or (especially) my budget were all that was standing between me and my dream of being a café regular. Turns out that's not true either. Here in Vietnam I frequently drink coffee or fruity smoothies out. I have been to dozens of delightful, inexpensive cafés, those run and frequented by Vietnamese as well as those catering to foreigners.  When I go to one I really like, I think to myself, "This is it! I love the view from this table! I love this drink! I'm going to come here every day from now on!"  And nothing prevents me from doing so. Except me. For a while I just thought I hadn't found the right place yet. Hadn't gotten my routine down yet. Whatever. Turns out, I have realized that I actually don't want to be that regular. I like finding new places.  I like being anonymous. I like being remembered but not exactly expected. I'm regular-ish at a lot of places, but no one (myself included) knows exactly when I'll be going there next. That whole dream of being a creature of habit?  I was trying to be what I'm not. 

These are just two examples of a general theme I've been experiencing here: "learning who I'm not."  It doesn't sound that great, does it?  But it's actually very liberating. When we left the States I knew we were in for a lot of challenges, but I was looking forward to having all new problems. In a similar way I was looking forward to creating new habits, being a new person if I wanted to be. All new friends, complete change of lifestyle, that would make a new me, right?  I imagined diving into learning Vietnamese and becoming really good at it. Nope. I learned that I want to learn language as an introvert, not an extrovert, and that's pretty useless for a short term experience. I imagined myself shopping at open air markets and enjoying access to all those Asian ingredients I'll drive three hours to Portland to get when we're back in Oregon. Nope. Turns out I don't like the mixture of smells at such markets, so by the time I've been there ten minutes, nothing is appetizing. And without a firm grasp of the language, shopping in such markets means constantly wondering if you've understood the price clearly, wondering if you are going to be cheated.  I caved.  When I go food shopping, it's at one of the two nearby, air-conditioned supermarkets. For a while I felt like a failure for this and didn't want people back home to know. I told myself that after a few more weeks, or when the weather cooled, I would start my fresh market habit. Finally I realized again, it's perfectly fine not to be that person. The image in my mind had no real claim on me; I did not have to live up to it.

Trying to live up to the image in one's mind is, I'm sure, familiar to everyone. I'm not going to philosophize right now about whether that's always a bad thing or not. (But I'd enjoy that conversation!) I do believe that what I've been experiencing is a positive thing. I've been finding out that the person I really am is not an image, not something that can be summed up in a few quaint stereotypes. Tim enjoys the tongue-in-cheek quip, "Stereotypes are a real time-saver." We know we're not supposed to stereotype other people, but have you ever realized that you might be trying to stereotype yourself?  It would be such a time-saver if I could be that girl who stops at her regular café on the way to the fresh market (carrying a basket that will come home with exactly the right colorful fruits and veggies and a bouquet on top) and then goes home and blogs about it all.  That person's life sounds so simple, so beautiful, so easy to emulate. Turns out I don't fit that stereotype. Turns out I'm something other than what I do, other than what my life looks like in broad strokes.  I could list the ingredients of my life in Bend and the ingredients of my life in Da Nang, and most of what I listed wouldn't actually be who I am.  They would be the things I do that are easy to define. In reality, I am the person you know me to be, the person God knows me to be, the person I'm still figuring out, the person who does certain things and doesn't do other things. The outer makings of my life are merely clues to who I am, and who I am is both simpler and more complex than what that list of doings would reveal. As I've realized that I am not a bunch of things I imagined myself to be, I've realized that in some ways, other people know me better than I know myself. They don't know what images I'm carrying around, trying to live up to. They just know who I seem to be when I'm interacting with them, and the people who see me consistently probably have a clearer picture of who I am than I do at times. I don't know how clearly this is communicating to you, but it's something I've been gradually coming to realize for quite a while now, and as a result I am relaxing into a me that is less glossy and more reliable than what I was trying to be. I like it. And I think it's a me that you knew all along.  Thank you for being my friends!


What ARE we seeing here?  This is my face swapped with my
sister Karen's face.  Totally weirds me out.
Somehow this picture seemed to go with this post.