Week Two in Bac Giang in Four Parts

Bac Giang

This week’s installment arrives in four important, mostly unrelated, parts.

Part I: Teaching

After two weeks in Vietnam, I finally got to start teaching. Beforehand, my occasionally-induced anxiety peaked, but I left my first three-hour class on Monday full of adrenaline, motivation, and inspiration. Schedule-wise, I teach seventh graders on Monday and Thursday, sixth graders on Tuesday and Friday, and eighth graders on Wednesday. People-wise, I teach around 80 or 90 enthusiastic, high-quality students who may or may not understand any words I say. Luckily, I have support and translation abilities from the school’s two English teachers and from my local buddy Chinh.

On Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, class begins at 7 a.m. (on Tuesday and Friday it begins at 8), which means I wake up at 5 a.m. to run (and am still the last one up in my homestay). This also means I go to bed around 8:30 p.m. every night, which would reduce past Monica to tears of laughter and disbelief.

Like the things I love most in life (running, writing, reading), teaching is at once challenging and arduous, yet rewarding and soul-fulfilling. I think I will like my job here.

Part II: Disaster in Do Moi Village

On Thursday, I returned from my run to an abandoned homestay around 6 a.m. and hurried to the bathroom. Somehow, all the fates aligned and when I accidentally tapped the water pipe that connects the toilet to the wall, disaster struck. Water sprayed everywhere; or, water surged directly at me. All attempts to reconnect the pipe failed; so, frantic, I pranced around the property looking for the magic switch that would halt all water flows. When I also failed to locate that magic switch, I texted two of my host relatives, neither of whom speak English, asking for help, and called Chinh. Nobody answered me, but I knew that my ride to school would arrive at 6:30, so I decided to ignore the situation for five minutes and shower (because priorities).

Marginally clean, I then engineered a method to slow the flow using several cloths and some rubber material that I found in the bathroom. A neighbor showed up and I gestured toward the bathroom, but once she saw the problem, she left, either uninterested or gathering backup. Finally, my ride arrived at 6:30 and when I showed her, she cackled and told me to get dressed for school. By the time I returned outside, my host father was home and my ride assured me that everything was fine, so we motorbiked off to class, I still sweaty and wondering how long until the situation would become funny rather than embarrassing.

Part III: Independence Weekend

At the precise minute that my friends and family in Eugene began the Butte to Butte—a run I have done every Independence Day for as long as I can remember—I serenaded Chinh and two of his cousins with an incredible karaoke rendition of Sweet Caroline. Okay, it could have been a different song, but Sweet Caroline seems patriotic. Karaoke is the thing to do here (there are signs for it every block), but my first attempt was the night before, again with Chinh and another cousin. Of course, I had to go back for another round. This time, we all belted My Heart Will Go On in cross-cultural unison. Titanic knows no boundaries.

Saturday in the daylight featured all-day celebration in Chinh’s hometown—I celebrated the fourth of July and everyone else celebrated my visit. We drank beer, ate giant tropical fruits, cheered to homemade alcohol that Chinh claimed was “wine,” and visited another pagoda nestled in the mountains. The next day, I visited my other local buddy, Hang, in Bac Giang City. Two hometowns in the same province, but an observation in the contrast between rural and urban Bac Giang.

In short, for this Independence Day, I did both American and Vietnamese things, but I feel lucky to have spent it here rather than there.

Part IV: Pictures

Karaoke selfie--one of the few socially acceptable selfie types.

Karaoke selfie–one of the few socially acceptable selfie types.

This kid found us so we put my sunglasses on him and took pictures. He's a rockstar.

This kid found us so we put my sunglasses on him and took pictures. He’s a rockstar.

This is what a Vietnamese meal looks like. Note the homemade alcohol to the left of the bia.

This is what a Vietnamese meal looks like. Note the homemade alcohol to the left of the bia.

The crew (minus one) at the pagoda.

The crew (minus one) at the pagoda.

These two matched perfectly (brands and all). All denim everything.

These two matched perfectly (brands and all). All denim everything.

Sometimes it's necessary to stop on the side of the road and pet some cows.

Sometimes it’s necessary to stop on the side of the road and pet some cows.

Typical Vietnam.

Typical Vietnam.

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