December, Pre-holiday

Sorry for the long delay in my blogging. But, then, you all know that I am not ever frequent in my communications, so trying to post even monthly is a challenge for me!

Scout’s “CAS” Week December 2-5

After a lovely Thanksgiving feast with the Sumrows, the following week Scout had her first time away from us–a three night/four day school trip to Vung Tau. Her school does this each year for the first week of December. Each grade level goes to a Vietnam location for 3-5 days for Creative/Activity/Service experiences. She loved hers, and the Year 6 girl drama was deftly dealt with. She returned full of stories.

In the meanwhile, I ran a SEAMEO staff training: “How to talk about your job in English” and Shannon concluded his fall semester online UAA courses.

Travel: Cat Tien National Park December 6-8

At the conclusion of CAS week, Scout had a 3-day weekend, so we booked a trip to the national “jungle” park, just a 3 hour drive north of HCMC. A driver picked us up at 7am Friday and we saw, for the first time, the city north o f us and its surrounding areas. We stayed at a hotel just a 2 minute walk away from the park. We spent the first afternoon at Cat Tien on a slooooooooow walk through the jungle. I must say it was the slowest walk I have ever taken. It was like doing meditation or yoga so that you could take in the world that none of us live in.

Then we took a bike ride through the local “town.” This felt great after the slow pace of the jungle walk. However, I did one of my classic falls (which happens when I bike slowly). I turned a corner, looked back to tell Scout to also take the turn, and ran into Shannon. Down I went into his bike, hitting my right knee. Blood streamed down my leg, so I rinsed it off and got back on the bike to continue the tour. Scout played nurse in the evening. 🙂

Saturday we hiked to the crocodile lake. We started on bikes, but mine fell apart after 5 minutes, so a truck came along to get us and we rode on seats in its open back until we arrived at the hiking trail. (Scout loved this.)

Crocodile Lake reminded me of more secluded places in Alaska, except that crocs were swimming around! Both Shannon and I want to return to Sapa and Cat Tien, but our goal this year is to see as many places in SE Asia as possible. I guess that means I must spend more time in VN because, like Alaska, there is so much to see.

Sunday morning we woke very early to take a boat slowly and quietly along the river that separates the town and the national park to watch for birds.

Once we returned and had breakfast, we jumped on the back of motor bikes and took a tour across town to a local waterfall for a swim. What a cool experience to travel at 30 mph along country roads, stopping to look at rubber plant farms, temples, etc.

My favorite “take a way” from this short trip was seeing and hearing gibbons in the wild. Marina Kenyon is the English primatologist who started the gibbon rescue center here 10 years ago, and she is my friend whom I met through my waterfit+ classes. (Scout doesn’t know this yet, but I am learning the gibbon calls, which I practice with Marina sometimes in the pool!) My other favorite take a way from this trip is how much it is NOT touristy. Although not quite Alaskan, it is very real.

November Life!

We find ourselves in our routines this month–no big trips, and a lot of daily activities that keep us busy. Shannon preps his online classes and grades, Scout manages her school work, and I have been delivering workshops and teaching at SEAMEO. Still, we started the month with a 3-day trip to the local Vung Tao seaside and mid-month, we spent 5 days on the beautiful island of Phu Quoc!

Vung Thau is a quick weekend get-a-way for the locals in Saigon. We took the 2 hour fast ferry with our friend Helena and arrived to the seaport in the early afternoon. We stayed at Léman Cap Resort and enjoyed swimming in one of the 3 greatest pools we have experienced. We walked through the town, ate fresh seafood, and had many wonderful talks with Helena.

Scout had a few days off from school mid-month, so we booked ourselves into the Mango Bay Resort on Vietnam’s famous Phu Quac island. We stayed in thatched roof bungalows that used fans for cooling and outdoor showers and toilets. The ocean was calm and warm and the beach private. A few other ISHCMC families were also at the resort. Scout made friends with Danish 4 year old Maya; we each had a few great massages; and we found eating at the resort restaurant was likely the best dining experience around. The surrounding towns were quite dirty and non-visitor friendly, but we have heard that the VN government wants to turn this island into the Singapore of Vietnam. Hopefully, Mango Bay will not lose its charm.

Non-work life: I wake most mornings around 6:30. While Shannon runs every other day at this time, I get Scout up and ready for school. At 8am, she takes a school van for a 10-15 minute ride and I bike away to my 8:30 water fitness class. These biking, boxing, and circuit training classes have been essential for my spirit and health. Great instructors, friendly participants, and I can push myself more than I have in years. I joined mid-September and rarely miss a week-day workout. I weighed myself for the first time since August and discovered that I have lost 13 lbs!

Work Routine: On Tuesdays and Wednesdays and some Thursdays, I take a taxi to SEAMEO in District 1 about 11:00. I work in my office until I teach. On Tuesdays I tutor and then teach an adult general English communication class until 8:30 pm. On Wednesdays, I teach a business English class for social entrepreneurs for the American Consulate. Some Thursdays I run a workshop for the SEAMEO staff. Every other weekend during the afternoons, I substitute teach, train teachers, and facilitate the English Speaking Club. Both Scout and Shannon remind me that I am on a sabbatical and am working too much. I plan to reduce my work schedule starting in January to exclude tutoring and the ESC. My Tuesday night class will be done, so that leaves me with just one class and trainings/workshops. (Wish me luck!)

I have not been reading as much as I would like to. I did finish And Then They Killed My Father, a memoir of a child about the Cambodian Khmer Rouge life. I also completed A Short Ride in the Jungle, by a British woman who rode her cycle down the Ho Chi Min Trail. I am currently reading Bulgakov’s 1930’s The Master and the Margarita. Shannon has discovered at Scout’s school library the Everyman’s Library collection–he is working his way through the books, and as usual, I tend to pick up some of his favorite reads myself.

Friends: I have three worlds of friends here in Vietnam.

  1. SEAMEO: Slowly, I get to know different groups of staff. First, I have enjoyed time with the professional staff, especially Linh. She coordinates the English Speaking Club and tutoring. She has taken me to lunch, helped me look for size 40 shoes, and helped me navigate some of the political relationships at SEAMEO. The upper administration sees me as their “equal.” They make sure that I am seated with them at the head table for each event, and have given me an office, even though I am at SEAMEO only 12 hours per week. (I work more hours from home.) It is taking longer to get to know the teachers. Most “foreign” teachers are Brits and Australians. There are a few Americans. Most are men….who are finding themselves Vietnamese young wives. I am an oddball amidst these crusty guys, but they seem to be accepting that I am not placing myself in some hierarchy above them.
  2. WaterFit+: The people are so friendly and welcoming! Anupa is a 47 year old Indian Brit–raised in London, and 20 years now in Saigon. She owns the boutique across the street from WaterFit+. She is a delight in my day. She shares stories about her 4 year son Sasha and how ex-pat business works in VN. Northeast Londoner Marina Kenyon is a primatologist for Cat Tien National Park. She is also a friend with Anupa. She has an inner brightness, always smiling, and is genuinely kind and open to the world. And then there is the delightful couple Frederik and Irbana. He is a 52 year old Austrian and she a 40?something Siberian Russian. They decided to stop living to work and instead experience more life together with their toddler.
  3. Riverside Palace: We had the best Thanksgiving dinner Saturday with the only other tenants in this villa–the Sumrows. They are from Texas and Minnesota, but have lived many years in South Africa and Sweden. They have 14 year old Emma and 12 year old Gabe and their dog Milo and a cat. Although we don’t hang out with the Sumrows, we communicate often, help each other out, and Shannon and Kyle watch weekly Vikings games. We also are developing relationships with the staff and owners of this villa. Our favorite security man, Phuc, suddenly was sick and we have now not seen him for a few weeks. Mr. Doi is another security guard. He pushes me to say more than “I go swim” and “I go work.” Vui and Thuy clean the apartments and grounds. Thuy’s aunt cooks for the villa staff. Mr. My is the grounds person. Weekly, we all share evening treats and encourage each other language communication. The owners, who live in the upper 2 floors, are extremely wealthy. 60 year old Mr. Minh is the CEO of a multi-media television company and his 32 year old wife is a past super model. They have 3 young children. We see them most every day, but they keep their distance.

This is, again, a too long blog. Many things I have not shared–like the pre-teen girl drama of Scout’s 6th grade class, nor my 5 week coughing brought on likely by pollution. We try to stay informed of Alaskan and US politics, but so much more enjoy seeing Sadie Bjornsen getting 3rd place in the classic skate sprint at the first World Cup race in Finland!

I will blog next once we return from our Thailand Winter 2-week Holiday. Until then, Happy Winter Solstice!

October: Settling In and Our Trip to North Vietnam

This past month finds our family settling into work, home, and relationships, while keeping travel at the heart of our year abroad.

Scout’s first term at ISHCMC has gone well–she made two “best friends”; she is slowly figuring out how to learn Spanish (daily practice!); she volunteers for her school’s Empty Bowl Project and gardening club; and she LOVES her product design and visual arts classes! It is great to see her thrive in the IB program, where they integrate studies and provide various forms for assessment. I wish Anchorage School District would follow suit with IB for middle school years (they only offer IB for year 11-12).

Shannon is mastering Vietnamese cooking in a our limited kitchen–which means, we still eat well at home. 🙂 I gave up running here after only 1 month, but every other morning at 6, Shannon runs an 8 kilometer route around Thao Dien’s sleepy yet hazardous streets. He breaks up his online teaching by interacting with our security staff: Mr. Phouc wants to learn English, so daily he works with Shannon, and Shannon learns some Vietnamese from Phouc. Shannon also masterminds our adventure travels. Out big October trip took us around North Vietnam.

(My next blog will be about my work, relationships, and activities.)

October 11-12 Hue: While I attended a 2-day VietTESOL conference, Shannon gave a lecture at Hue University on the influence of Asian poetry on 20th century American poetry. In his words, Shannon was treated like a “rock star.” He was given a campus tour, greeted by top administrators, advertised, photographed, given flowers and gifts, treated to meals, and eventually written about in official publications.

I started this trip with a bad cold, which limited my conference participation. However, I learned a lot about current research into teaching reading and successful online educational language tools. I met a couple of young American women who are currently on special one-year assignments to teach English in Vietnam. Most of the attendees were Vietnamese public school English teachers. Since 2008, Vietnam has taught English as a second language beginning grade 1, but they have had difficulty with this since the Vietnamese teachers do not know much or any English. Therefore, there are TESOL conferences, workshops, etc., going on somewhere in Vietnam about every week to help the public school teachers.

Transit: We spent a miserable day at the Hue airport. We arrived four hours before our flight, and then the flight was delayed by almost two hours. In smaller VN airports, you are not allowed inside the secure area until 2 hours before your flight; thus, we waited in a tiny area with limited seating, food options, etc.

Lesson: NEVER get to an airport more than two hours before departure!

We arrived at our Hanoi hotel, The Golden Rooster, about 11 pm. We were tired from being stuck in a small airport for hours, I was coughing, and we just wanted to sleep. Because the ceiling in our room was extremely low, we felt cramped, and the air conditioner system blew oddly, leaving us sweating on top of our beds throughout the night. We were miserable, we couldn’t sleep, and woke believing the hotel was not a place we wanted to sleep in again.

Lesson: Arriving late to a hotel is not optimal; if it occurs, take the time to figure out how to control temperature and air flow, no matter how long it takes, especially if you are sick.

October 13-15 Sapa: The rest of our trip was fantastic! We had a great guide (Mr. Nhà) and the best driver (Mr. Long) for 5 days. We didn’t know what to expect. It took most of the first day to drive to Lào Cai Province. We spent each of our trip’s 4 nights staying in ethnic minority “homestays” as their guests, which included eating authentic home meals with them.

Once settled at our first homestay, we took a walk in the misty rain around the village and then treated ourselves to a mineral “tea” bath. A young professional family (he, a Vietnamese from Hanoi, is a school principal and she, a local from the village, works as a tour guide) hosted us for dinner and breakfast.

We spent the next day trekking about 15 kilometers in the local hills. Three H’mong women followed us for the first few hours, carrying baskets with goods to sell. We only had 700,000 dong (about $30 dollars) with us on the trek, so eventually we did purchase a few beautifully hand-stitched tapestries from them. (These now hang in our villa bedroom.)

October 15-17 Ba Bể National Park: We spent the next day on a loooooong van ride from north-central to northeast VN. This is when I learned how incredible our guide and driver were: Because they could not find a restaurant “good enough” for western tourists, they commandeered an empty restaurant, paid to use their kitchen, and cooked us a wonderful meal of rice, vinegar cucumbers, tofu, warmed peanuts, and soup….more than we could eat, but so delicious!

I had two favorite moments from this northern trip. The first was about an hour before we reached Ba Bể Park: We stopped at a mountain top and watched as 2 dozen goats were shepherded. I loved the sounds of their clanging bamboo bells.

The second was the next day after we arrived at Mr. Linh’s homestay: We hiked for a few hours to a remote H’mong village; then we participated in their harvesting of rice. For lunch, Nhà and Long made a picnic out of hard boiled eggs, rice (wrapped in banana leaves) topped with vinegar cucumbers, tofu, and peanuts. We ate looking out over the farmers and mountain valley, eating the best food this world provides. I wanted to stay in that place. Something felt beautiful and right. However, as a tourist, I have no concept of the reality of living in this Khau Qua village.

We met people who lived in the poorest conditions I have yet to see. Much much much poorer than any Alaskan village. No windows in their homes, dirt floors, smokey kitchen fires that blacken the walls. Girls age 15-17 who are married and have babies and work in the fields all day. People with blisters on their legs; elders with blackened teeth.

Oct 18-19 Hanoi: This old city feels more crowded than Saigon. We returned to our same The Golden Rooster hotel and the same room, but this time, we were refreshed and figured out how to control the air flow! The next day, we were given a tour by our first female guide, Ha. She showed us all the local historical sites. We began with Ho Chi Min’s life: his mausoleum, Hanoi home, and museum. The Russian influence, especially the architecture, was obvious. I learned a lot about this famous Vietnamese leader–“Uncle Ho,” and can appreciate the conflicting narratives about him. We also toured “Hanoi Hilton” (where John McCain was imprisoned). I am reminded of my friend Henry Graham’s note about Japan’s World War II museum propaganda when he visited there as an 8th grader; like the Japanese, many of the northern Vietnamese people are proud of their 1975 success over the United States.

Our last day in Hanoi we spent biking around their great lake with our previous guide, Nhà. It was crazy car and motorcycle traffic, and after 2 hours, Scout needed to stop. Nhà treated us to a fantastic lunch before we taxied to a ceramic village. It seems that every piece of pottery and ceramic we see in Vietnam comes from this one village.

October 20-21 Ha Long Bay: Our final two days we spent on a mid-size cruise boat (15 cabins). A gorgeous bay, just as all the pictures show. However, this is tourist central: the bay was packed with boats and our hike through the caves was packed with a steady stream of people. We did find our peace while on the cruise boat–great food, staff, and one of my best night’s sleep of the trip! We even fished for squid (with no luck) off the back of the boat for hours in the evening.

Thanks for reading!

(for She…)
Lào Cai homestay

September: Trip to Siem Reap and Greater Angkor

September 19 we left Vietnam to explore part of Cambodia for 6 days. I just finished reading Loung Ung’s memoir First They Killed My Father about her life age 5-10 (1975-80) as she experienced Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge work camps, starvation, and the killing of family members. Eventually, her oldest brother was able to get her secretly to Vietnam, then, Thailand, and finally immigrated to the United States. I truly did not know what to expect on this journey.

Day 1: We were surprised that our entrance into Cambodia was easy–we handed our passports and $35 US dollars each to the airport officials; minutes later, they returned our passports, stamped. Next thing we found ourselves riding in a “tuk-tuk” (pronounced “took took”) for a glorious open-air 30 minute ride to our first hotel. (Note: Scout claims that the tuk-tuk ride was the best thing about the trip!)

We spent the afternoon walking around Siem Reap’s town center, which led us to Les Chantiers Écoles, an artisans school for under-privileged children. Here they teach teens stone carving, lacquer-making, silk painting, and wood sculpting http://www.artisansdangkor.com/. The teens train daily for 6 months on one skill; then, they are eligible to be hired to produce artwork that is sold in the Artisans d’Angkor shops. Some become master artists who work on commissioned pieces.

We met the most kind and lovely people who had been trained there. One young woman chose to work in the shop rather than continue working with silver, likely due to her deformed hands. We returned to the Artisans d’Angkor shop a few times, knowing both the history of the pieces for sale, that they were authentically made, and that we (hoped) we were supporting Cambodia’s most impoverished people.

Day 2: We had arranged a private tour of Angkor temples so that we would be deeply immersed in the history of these special sites. King Suryavarman II began the construction of the most famous temple, Angkor Wat (which means “City which is a Temple”), in the 12th century in dedication to the Hindu god Vishnu. Long-term guide Borady first took us to Angkor Wat through the east side backdoor–where tour buses are not allowed. This is the largest religious temple in the world and is truly magical both from outside and inside. For example there are detailed carvings of battle scenes and epic events throughout.

NOTE: Many reliefs showed signs of people touching them–especially women’s breasts, but also the eyes of elephants and gods, and swords. Today visitors are kept at an arm’s distance from some of the important carvings.

We also went to the ancient city of Angkor Thom, founded by King Jayavarman VII in the late 12th century. The city has 5 impressive gates. The most famous ruin is located at the center of Angkor Thom: Bayon. I was impressed by this temple perhaps more than the others: It is shaped like a pyramid and has more than 200 huge stone faces that are smiling and “enigmatic.”

We toured Ta Prohm (where a famous scene with Angelina Jolie was shot for Tomb Raider). This was a wealthy Buddhist monastery, but due to nature re-claiming the abandoned temple, the French were limited when they began restorations because the roots of the giant banyan trees were keeping structures intact. Today, these trees and their roots make this place mysterious.

Day 3: Borady took us to the greater, outer ring of temples. It was raining most of the tour, so we did not spend as much time exploring as the day before. We learned that the rainy season was 2 months late, and thus they were experiencing heavier rains in September than usual. We toured Prah Khan, Neak Pean, Eastern Mebon (my favorite!), and Pre Rup. To get to Eastern Mebon, we crossed a lake that surrounds the small ruin on a wooden walkway. Like with most of the temples, along the path was a group of musicians with missing limbs who played Cambodian tunes. They let us know that they they chose dignity over begging by playing as a band, hoping we would support them so they could support their children. Their music was a welcome as we entered each temple.

We moved to a new hotel–“Sala Lodges.” This authentic Cambodian hotel has 12 wooden salas each on stilts. Quality/luxury standards. Wow! Not only was the space calming, but I felt like we were living in an earlier century. AND—the best pool EVER. (The owner told me it was a perfect 28 degrees C–with the perfect amount of chlorine so that the eyes don’t sting.)

Day 4: We spent Sunday biking around the town center, exploring the National Museum, and concluded our evening watching a traditional dance performed by the Sacred Dancers of Angkor. The dancers hold their hands so that their fingers bend back in a “graceful” arc; however, to do this, their fingers are bound back for long periods daily–painful. The dance, I admit, was mesmerizing. I felt like I was put in a trance.

Day 5: We had one more day on our 3-day pass to the temples, so we used the hotel’s bikes and went back to Ta Prohm and Angkor Wat, but also explored a lesser known temple: Ta Keo. It was great to be one of the few people at this temple, yet to scramble all over such an important place–no toilets available, for example–with the volume of tourism today must bring about changes to how these temples are experienced. More important than whether one gets hurt, the human impact on these structures is extensive.

Day 6: We decided to take a one-hour tuk-tuk to a floating village on lake Tonlé Sap, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. The inhabitants are partly Khmer and largely Vietnamese (a complicated history). Scout and I found we needed to wrap our mouths and noses with a scarf due to the road pollution, but the ride was still fun. A woman boat owner, accompanied by her toddler, took us on an hour ride to see the floating village. I still have not figured out why people live on this lake, but there is a school, a temple, a government building, and some restaurants. The constant and multiple boats on the lake are louder than what I experience on any given Saigon street. Seeing life outside of Siem Reap, though, was important–new houses next to thatched shacks, flooded streets with youth swimming and fishing in them–I wonder how each person survives, how they “make a living.” The resilience of people is strong.

Other Notes of Interest: The people in Cambodia are extremely deferential. They apologize for “anything that they are unaware of but may have made one unhappy.” They tell their life stories to strangers; they criticize their government, knowing that if they are overheard they may be imprisoned or killed. They care for their impoverished children with special schools, training’s, and campaigns to help tourists understand that they shouldn’t contribute to certain activities (i. e. buying from children who are selling goods at temples or visiting orphanages).

We met wonderful Cambodians, especially at a local restaurant: The Khmer Grill. I won’t easily forget Sanoon and “Mr. Carrot.” They talked about the Chinese tourist invasion and how that drove up living costs (and, like the Vietnames and Japanese, they dislike the Chinese “rudeness” and demands). Specifically, I loved the Khmer grilled eggplant dishes! Not sure how I can live my life without it. We plan to return.

Tomb Raiders still exist
Scout at Sala Lodges

September: Trip to Huế

A few weeks ago, Shannon, Scout, and our friend Helena took a 65 minute flight to spend a long weekend in Southcentral Việt Nam to explore Huế (pronounced ‘hway’), the capital of the Nguyên emperors.

Huế, a small city with just under 400,000, is located on the beautiful Perfume River. After the noise, pollution, and flatness of Sài Gòn, Huế seemed like a magical place, surrounded by green mountains and a calmness just outside the city’s center.

We had a private guide on Saturday who took us on a boat ride to the Bảo Quốc Pagoda, which is a center for training monks. Then we toured the Citadel and Imperial Enclosure (built between 1804-1833). Here is a citadel within the citadel, housing the emperor’s residence, temples, etc. The place was badly bombed 2x, first during the French War and again during the American (we say ‘Vietnam’) War. Only 20 of 148 buildings have survived. There are 10 entrances, but only one for women.

After lunch we saw the spectacular royal tomb of Khải Định (1916-1925). The art in this building was impressive, especially the mosaic glass pieces. Our tour ended with a walk around the royal tomb of Tự Đức (1864-1867). No one knows where the king is buried in this enclosed, large “park.” The king’s body was escorted by 100 men through an underground tunnel; the tunnel was sealed with the workers inside, who chose to die inside the tomb alongside the king. The king made sure that these workers’ families were well provided for due to the loyalty of his escorts.

Sunday we relaxed: We walked through the city’s market and enjoyed drinks at a hotel rooftop restaurant. Around 3pm, we were treated to a vegetarian meal at a Buddhist restaurant with Helena’s friends–both professors at Huế University.

Monday (“National Day” in VN) we were given another personal tour of sites outside of Huế: a bike ride around the Village of Pomelo, a look at an arena where royals watched elephants kill de-clawed tigers (because it was important for the bad tigers to die), and a walk through an abandoned theme park. Our guide, Mr. Ha (from Đà Nẵng), was informative, earnest, and the most intensely real/authentic person I have met in a long time. I hope I get to meet him again while on this year-log adventure.

August: Life Outside of Work and Home (aka “Culture”)

I am attempting to categorize life in Vietnam in order to share my experiences. Not sure if this culture post will work, but here goes…

Our first few weekends we explored District 1 with friend Helena Spector–art museums, restaurants, etc. Lots of walking and learning to navigate traffic. During the week days, we explored the area around our apartment in Thao Dien (District 2)–small boutiques, shopping areas, food stores and, again, restaurants. Lots of walking and taxis. (I have yet to grab a Grab.)

Navigating traffic, eating awesome food, learning to walk around broken and trashed sidewalks is easy. Learning to think in dong rather than the dollar requires little mental calculations. There are some aspects here that are more difficult–Like professional work expectations. Learning to navigate Scout’s international school is challenging, too–online always shows the best of a place, but reality is something else. For example, based on last year’s brochures, there should be many outside of school day activities. Great! Reality: Except for some team sports, nothing is offered outside of school time. I have been looking for interesting activities in our district, but am finding little.

I am appreciating how much Anchorage has to offer, and also am understanding that because we know Anchorage, we also know how to partake in all that it has to offer. I need to be patient.

I keep thinking about culture. One definition is “What people know and believe, what people do, and what people make and use.” I will likely end up writing an academic post about what we are experiencing, so in order not to bore any readers, I will stop now and instead post some pictures to give you a sense of some limited ideas of the cultures I am experiencing 🙂

The Home Front

For those of you who know me (!), I am technologically challenged. I wrote this post yesterday, and while trying to reformat the pictures, I deleted the post. Dang.

Here I go again…

Before we found our villa apartment, we stayed in The Aurora Hotel, complete with yummy breakfasts and a roof-top pool. Now we have been in our 2 bedroom/2 bath first floor apartment for a few weeks. There is a pool, but it cannot be used until the new dock? riverfront? is rebuilt (we are told by the end of September). We do love this apartment, which is not that much smaller than our Alaskan home. We have a great view of the Saigon River, lots of light, a quiet end of street space, and hardly anyone lives in this 6 level villa: on level 3 is a 4 person family from Minnesota and on levels 4-6 lives the Vietnamese owner, the media CEO of “Cattiemsa.”

The villa has a maid staff (Vui cleans our floors and counters MWF and washes bedding once per week), and the owner employs security guards, drivers, maintenance, and a manager, who at some point seem to live in the sub-basement.

Life here is not busy, a change from Anchorage, where we each are used to many and various activities. Once we are home by 4:30, we hunker down, read, email, eat, and go to bed early.

As with all else on this blog, I will add to home life ideas later. Now I just want to share some pictures of where we hang our hats.

The Aurora

August: Work

My sabbatical is primarily focused on work with SEAMEO RETRAC, which is located in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City, District 1. After almost a year of discussions with Dean My (Foreign Languages Department), we initially agreed that I would work 15 hours per week, to include subbing when needed. My contract outlines 5 areas:

  1. Teacher and staff trainings
  2. ELT quarterly newsletters (writing and proofing)
  3. Editing/proofing online documents
  4. Student workshops and extra-curricular activities (i.e. English Speaking Club & Sharing Sessions)
  5. Teaching

Once I arrived at SEAMEO, Dean My explained that they have little funds for anything other than teaching. Although they believe deeply in professional development, they cannot afford to contract me for much other than direct work in the classroom. Therefore, we had to alter my contract because I am travelling too much to teach regular classes each week (at least until January). Now I will receive an extremely low monthly honorarium that has me spending 12 hours per week on items #1-4 above. If I sub, I will get paid about $20 per hour on a separate contract. Interesting…..pretty much the opposite of what I am used to for professional compensation!

Currently, My is my supervisor, but she has a medical issue and will need to retire soon. She is placing me under 3 other directors: Mr. Bao, Ms. Hien, Ms. Trang. I also work with their assistants: Ms. Linh, Mr. Phuong, and Ms. Ahn.

Dean My is a good supervisor. She has worked at SEAMEO for 16 years, usually 10:30-8pm Monday-Friday, with weekends thrown in for teacher observations. She travels to the provinces almost weekly to train primary and secondary teachers. She has welcomed me to her office and given me a desk and computer while at SEAMEO. I have much more to add about what I am learning from SEAMEO, but I will post those specifics later. Here are some initial pictures of my new work world.

Day 1 in HCMC (with Helena Spector and Scout): We found SEAMEO!

Moderating conference presentation

Day 2 conference (with bag o swag)

My and my office

Required: conservative work clothes–but not these!

3 Weeks and Not Counting!

I promised to write a blog to keep track of my sabbatical year in Vietnam and to keep my friends and family informed. Now that we are “settled” in our first-floor apartment on the Saigon River, and I have a work schedule set for the next week, I am ready to blog.

The first weekend in HCMC we stayed in a lovely little District 1 hotel– The Saigon River Boutique. Our friend, Helena Spector (who lives here each year for four months), met us at the airport and spent the weekend showing us around this energetic city. We had lovely breakfasts at the rooftop of the hotel, and were treated to the AO cirque performance at Saigon’s opera house.

We moved to the Aurora Hotel in District 2 so that we could be close to Scout’s international school (ISHCMC). Again, daily wonderful breakfasts and this place has a rooftop pool!

Scout has been adjusting to both a middle school, an IB program, and Vietnam (and new home). That’s a lot for anyone. She misses her friends more than anything else. Already she has 4+ new friends (from Malaysia, Saigon, Belgium…).

The food is truly amazing. And cheap by American standards. There is so much to say about it that I will not attempt it at this moment. Until we moved into our apartment this past weekend, we ate out. As lovely as the food is–and cheap–we appreciate feeding ourselves again while sitting around our table watching boats pass by on the Saigon River.

My work at SEAMEO RETRAC is progressing well. I am learning about a well-run English language program that invests in professional development for its teachers. More on that later, too.

I will add to this blog later this weekend. We need to head to D1 so that I can observe an upper-intermediate language class for teens while Scout shops for bedroom decor!

Saying goodbye to Alaskan friends–Susan, Liz, Laura

Starting life in District 1

Enjoying the performance at the Opera House

My favorite dish:

fried silken tofu with “green herb” (mint?) dip!