Wednesday, September 28, 2011

They put the Diamond in Diamond Plaza...

I'm staying with my friend Katie for a few days. She and her husband live in Diamond Plaza Apartments which is amazing. He works for Chevron and they put them in amazing housing. There's a gym, pool, tons of shopping, bowling alley, bakery, grocery store, security and on top of that they have a personal driver. It's awesome. They also live on the 18th floor so the view is amazing. :)

Check it out.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Wow, I really did get hit by a motorbike...

I got hit by a motorbike today. I was crossing the street right outside my school when he struck me. There are some crosswalks in Vietnam but rarely any crossing lights and the few that there are, are very rarely heeded. So I was halfway across the street and looking in the direction of the oncoming traffic when he struck me from the other side. I don't remember what happened and how it happened. I just remember lying on the road looking at him drive away. It was pretty shitty of him. I'm laying on the road and my friend Bridget is trying to get me up and out of traffic before we both got hit but I couldn't move and I knew I couldn't put any weight on my right foot because of how much it hurt. People started stopping their bikes and running across the street to help me. Finally Bridget and a couple of girls helped me across the street while other people were stopping oncoming traffic for us. I finally got back to the sidewalk and they sat me down in a chair. Bridget ran for a first aid kit and some help. Everything's a blur but everyone came out of the woodwork to help me. They were so nice. One of the security guards at the school cleaned my legs with hydrogen peroxide (OMFG that hurt) while another woman held my hand against her belly and rubbed my head. She wouldn't let me look at my legs while they were cleaning it. I don't even know these people but they helped me because I needed help.

One of my classmates Thomas came out at the same time and sat with me and checked that nothing was broken. He was a doctor in a previous life. He insisted that I get x-rays done though because he wanted to be on the safe side. Miss Oanh (pronounced Juan) who works at the school called a cab for us. Both Thomas and Oanh insisted on coming with me, which I was thankful for. Not only to have someone but because we went to a Vietnamese hospital instead of a foreign hospital. Initially they weren't going to treat me because I'm a foreigner and I think legally they couldn't but Oanh worked her magic and they decided to treat me. On a side note: they didn't have wheelchairs and brought a gurney instead and Thomas had to lift me on that. It was humiliating. I think I might have flashed some unfortunate bystanders because I was wearing a dress. 

Anyways, they did xrays and nothing was broken, which I thank God for. The bad news (in addition to everything else) is that my right leg is so badly off and I think I twisted my ankle, so I'm on crutches. The funny part is that they're the tallest that they carried and its still short for me so I'm kinda hunched over while using my crutches. 
So I'm back in my bed. I cleaned my legs several times already with iodine and hydrogen peroxide. The girls that work in my guesthouse brought my extra pillows so I can elevate my legs and they brought me ice so I can take down the swelling. I even called a guy from the CELTA course who is living here with his Vietnamese fiance. Denis and Sandy have been amazing. I can't even begin to explain how nice they are. I mean I'm super nice because I know I'd help someone else like this but I never expect others, that I'm not related to, to do this for me. Sandy just ran out to get gauze so I can bandage my legs tomorrow and she's bringing me food. 
So this blog is to let you know that something crappy happened but I'm alright and I have people here who can help me. I miss all of you even more though after all this because I'm just missing home right now.
Other than the most random accident ever, life here has been good. I was supposed to go to the beach next week.  We'll see how it goes. :)

And I'm done...

...that's pretty much all I want to say.
I taught my final lesson today and I got an above standard, which is amazing to me because it's my first. What's also amazing is when my other trainees heard that it was my first they were like "really??" They thought I was already producing above standard work I guess. I took it as a compliment. I had my students laughing, I had my fellow group mates and tutor laughing, AND the students actually learned something. I mean I could actually hear their pronunciation changing as I drilled them. It was a good feeling. :)
I'm off to bed.

Sorry...that was abrupt. So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodnight! :)
 Lauren and I pre-dried squid.
 Our Korean tourist photo.
 Dried squid. It's really not that bad.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Massages are a new life requirement...

I've been in Saigon for four weeks now and I've had a massage for three out of those four weekends. It's pretty much a life requirement. I now get antsy if I go too long without one. It's more expensive in District 1 because I'm a foreigner. My first massage was 80,000VND and not that good. My second one was 60,000VND out in District 4 and it's totally worth the cost of the xeom ride out there. I found one girl that's pretty amazing and I now only want to see her. I'm getting quite spoiled. The first week I went to see her my knees and ankles were paining me (because I walk everywhere) and the second week I went to see her my neck and shoulders were hurting (because of my heavy book bag) and she just knew. I'm not sure how she knew but both times she focused on the right spots and worked away all the pain. I swear she's magic. So that's my new hobby. 

Tonight I went out to dinner with Lauren and because Bui Vien (the main street where all the weirdo foreigners hang out) is so small you'll inevitably run into someone you know. So our little group of two became a group of seven before we left for dinner. I pretty much slept all day today and was too lazy to venture out so I didn't eat anything all day. I did make 2 cups of tea. That's the West Indian in me. Or the Inderjit side of the family. Anyways, Laur encouraged me to eat something to tide me over until we left for dinner so she ran off to get something and came back with dried squid. I'll have to take a picture of what it looks like before they put it through the grinder to flatten it and then shred it up. It looks so weird! It also has a very distinct aroma which can be off-putting but my Guyanese brethren will understand when I say that it tastes and smells like saltfish. Practically the same texture except they flatten it so much it's like a dried piece of a cardboard until you dip it in hot sauce. Plus it sort of re-hydrates when it mixes with your saliva so its not that bad. TMI I'm sure.

On an even better note, CELTA is almost done! I have to turn in assignment 4 tomorrow afternoon (I finished it in an hour) and then my last teaching practice is Tuesday morning and then.I'm.done! Technically it ends Friday afternoon and I still have input sessions in the afternoon that I really need to focus on but there's no more stress or teaching practices hanging over my head so I'm pretty much checked out. There is a course assessor from the British Council coming on Wednesday to do the final assessment. He's basically there to make sure that we were taught the correct things. He's there to assess the ILA tutors, not us so that's also a relief. The even bigger relief is that he is going to sit in on two teaching practices on Wednesday to look at how the tutors assess us during our TPs and because I teach on Tuesday I don't have to worry about him randomly picking my group to sit on in. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I got yelled at today... my classmates. We teach in the morning from 9-11. Then we have a feedback session. Then lunch. Then an afternoon tutorial. Then a break. Then another session. Then lesson planning for those who have to teach the following day or we can leave if we don't. Today's afternoon sessions got switched around a bit and we had a tutorial and then watched a video of someone else teaching. One hour I'll never get back. Anyways, between the sessions our tutor wasn't going to give us the 15 minute break we normally get because he can be funny (weird) like that sometimes. All the smokers in the class erupted in outrage. "WHAT???? I can't go fill my lungs with poison?!??! How dreadful!" Or something to that effect. I was pretty disappointed because my bladder was yelling and quite loudly at that. So Ian, our tutor, asked if we wanted a break, all the smokers and I said yes. He then asked "non-smokers?" I again said yes. So he asked how long. Thinking only of myself and how long it would take to get to the bathroom and back I said "5 minutes" which got me yelled at very loudly by some nicotine-deprived zombies. They seemed kinda desperate so I changed it to 7 minutes. (Teehee.) I have no idea how long it takes to smoke one cigarette! Anyways, that's today's tale. I'm about to take a nap, then scrounge for some food and then plan my lesson on second conditionals. It'll be great!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Too much is happening...

...and my brain is slowly melting. The end is near! I've taught two lessons this week. I turned in assignment three. I have two more lessons to teach and 1 assignment to write. I think today's went not too badly considering I woke up at 8:30 and I'm supposed to be in class at 9:00 and I still had to shower, pack my bag and walk there. Thank god for living only 5 minutes away. I teach a grammar lesson, second conditional, on Friday. Let's see if I can correctly explain the second conditional. The second conditional is used to talk about hypothetical situations. For example, 'if I had a million dollars, I'd sail around the world." Okay...I can't think anymore. Alee just came over and we started talking about jobs/the future/food and then lost our train of thought because we were too hungry. If we don't get food in our bellies soon, we'll die. Aha, second conditional. Bam! Done and done.
Anyhoo, we ordered food from La Cantina Saigon through It's a pretty awesome website. You can order from over 100 different restaurants through the website and have it delivered to your doorstep. You pick your City, District and then the type of food you want and they narrow it down for you. Also, if you live in District 1 (woop woop) they usually don't charge a delivery fee. So we went crazy and spent an entire $4/person on a meal. In Saigon, when you don't have an income that's pretty expensive. I kind of don't care though because I cannot wait until my roasted chicken and potatoes arrive! It's the most solid food I've had in days.:D
Hey Selina, I ordered a mango smoothie today and it tasted a bit like they used green mangoes for the smoothie and a little part of me died and went to heaven because it was sosososo good. I CANNOT wait until you visit!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Weird night...

Last night I tried working on planning lessons 7 and 8, both of which I'm teaching this week, doing assignment 3 (not as futile) and redoing lesson 2 (still waiting). Around midnight I lost wifi and was feeling sick anyways (I think our entire class might be getting a cold) so I took some advil and went to bed. I had the weirdest dreams. I'm not going to say what they are because this blog post is mainly a post to thank my wonderful sister Selina for...being wonderful. I cannot wait until you come visit! :) Akshully...last night I dreamed that you visited and I was like "why the heck would I tell her to visit during CELTA????" I was overwhelmed even in my dream. Blech. I'll be all done next Tuesday! Woot!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

To my favorite follower...

Dear Ashley Singh,

Thank you for being such an avid reader. Knowing you're out there reading my blog and appreciating it all helps a lot and gives me incentive to write more. You're such a good friend. :)


Sipping on a pineapple smoothie...

I'm not sure why but smoothies are all the rage here. I mean sure there's access to endless amounts of fruit but I'm not sure why it's more prevalent in smoothie form instead of in juice form. I'm only thinking about this because I prefer fruit juice to smoothies but I'll sip on a smoothie once in a while. Why am I talking about this crazy random subject? Cos I'm sitting in my chair on my balcony, sipping on a delicious pineapple smoothie (yeaaa, I know) thinking of ways to kill the rooster that doesn't know that he's only supposed to crow at dawn. Seriously, bird???

I'm feeling good these days because my lesson took about 2 hours to plan last night, my materials took about an hour to assemble, and TP 5 went really well today. I mean it wasn't super fantastic but it was the best one so far.

Also, teachers ABC (yours truly is Teacher A) had our one on one sessions with our tutors because tomorrow is the end of week two and so we did a midpoint assessment. I'm happy because everything is 'to standard' at this point. I'm not failing miserably, am actually 'strong to above standard' in some aspects and what I think of myself is pretty much what my tutors think as well. Sure I'd like to be above average but seeing as how I have NO teaching experience I'm happy. My tutorial finished at 4:00. By 4:10 I was home sipping on a pineapple smoothie that I bought for 10,000VND. Gotta love that commute home. And those prices. :)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Duck, duck, goose...

Well it's more like lunch, mooncake, lunch, dinner. :)

Zucchini soup, bok choy, sticky rice, salad, pork and pineapples (not shown) for dessert. All for $31.000VND. If you can do the math it's approximately $1.50.

A mooncake that one of my students gave me. They eat them during the moon festival. :D

The most delicious pho I've had in HCMC. Right next to ILA Centre 3.

Tonight's dinner because there's only so much that broth can do for you. Shrimp, pasta and a TON of veggies. My body literally was humming from happiness.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Things I'm not loving as much...

I've been in a bad mood since yesterday. I'm not sure why but it might have something to do with the fact that I'm working on CELTA stuff about 18 hours out of the day and barely sleeping for the other 6. My new room is huge and I have wifi but it doesn't make up for the fact that my refrigerator makes noise ALL NIGHT LONG, my aircon has started leaking so I can now add dripping water to the list of annoyances and distracting noises, my bathroom is right above a kitchen or something so it smells like fried fish in the morning (gag), and there's a chick nearby that started screaming at 2am and a rooster that starts crowing at 5am. I'm gonna eat him one day. I dunno what the girl screaming is about but she woke me up and I wasn't happy. I also have to teach phonemic script tomorrow ændaɪdəʊntˈrɪə.linəʊwɒtaɪmˈduː.ɪŋ I promise that's in English and it's really quite understandable. Mostly I want to see how many people read this thing and leave a comment because they want to know what I just wrote. :D
Oh I also don't like how I lose internet connection because its raining outside. Especially when I'm doing homework. Grrrr.

On a less serious note, I did figure out how to bypass the you-know-who's firewall and I can now access that super annoying and time consuming social website. Hmmmm...remind me why I did that again?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

For more video's visit my YouTube page...

Click link to visit my YouTube page. -->

A day full of fun...

Cuong, a student in my elementary level class. She picked me up on her motorbike and we rode all over the city today.

 The restaurant where she took me to lunch. We had Vietnamese pancakes, snails, spring rolls, and seafood, mushroom, rice soup.
 Vietnamese pancakes.
 Spring rolls and snails
 Pagoda that we saw as we were driving down the road and she took me to it. I lit incense and offered prayers.
 Kinda like these guys here.

 Lotus flowers which are used for tea at the pagoda.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

List of things I love...

The random barber shops around the neighborhood. They're basically a man with a chair under a tin roof in some random store front cutting some guy's hair.

The gym near where I live is a store with no front. No front wall, no front door and no windows and its just a bunch of short Vietnamese guys pumping iron. Somehow it's still as intimidating as gyms back home. It's so funny.

The random carts on the street selling some of the best grilled meat I've EVER tasted.

That Miss Loi and the girls will take care of me while I study in the lobby downstairs. I need to do most of my work in the lobby because I don't get wifi in my room. However, Miss Loi promised me a bigger room with a balcony and wifi on the 11th. I'm sooooo excited.

That they have shows like The Challenger: Muay Thai here in Asia. It starts Monday September 12th and I cannot wait!

All the Brits I'm running into. ILA is a British company and I think that 1 out of 2 people are British. My friend Lauren's 3 roommates and former CELTA classmates are 2 Brits and one Irishwoman.

My CELTA group. We're a pretty good team so far. I enjoy working with them. There's Alee (from Silver Spring, MD but we didn't meet until arriving here in Viet Nam), Isabella from South Africa who is dating Geoff from Australia, Steven and Jon from England and Robert from Viet Nam but lived in the US for 35 years and earned a medical degree and electrical engineering degree. They're pretty awesome. The rest of the group is Joe from Wisconsin, David from Portland, Kevin from San Diego, Aaron from LA, Julia from Australia, Emma from England, Denis from Slovenia (who is engaged to a Vietnamese girl and living here now), Bridget (American from Tunisia), Silvia from Italy, Thuy from Australia, and Thomas from Canada. I'm so excited to be meeting so many different people.

I've started thinking with a British accent. It happens to me when I'm exposed to an acent for too long. I basically hang out with Jon and Steve every day because they're in my group and Julia and I end up spending a ton of time with each other because we always seem to be paired up together so it's a lot of English/Australian accents being thrown at me.

Riding on motorbikes!

The food. I don't know how I'll be able to move back and leave the food here.

Things I've learned...

I've been doing my CELTA class for three days now and I've taught two out of the three days. I teach again on Friday and this time without a lesson plan so they push us along really quickly. A ream's worth of paper with information was thrown at us and then we were told that we're teaching first thing on Tuesday morning.  I'm teaching an elementary level class. My students run the gamut from age 18 to age 40. They're all at varying levels but their English language skills are very basic which I think is harder for me because I have to alter my language so much more than if I was teaching intermediate.  Yesterday's lesson was 20 minutes and today's was 40 and I went first on both days. Going first is actually my favorite thing to do because I don't like to sit there and wait. I hate waiting. I'm such an American...

CELTA is one of the most intense things I've ever experienced in my life. I spent 11 hours at school today and then by the time I got home at 8 all I wanted to do was crawl into bed. I knew that I should at least attempt to write my lesson plan so we'll see how that goes.We're judged based several different areas, which I won't get into now, and for each category we can get a S+, S or S-. It's above standard, standard or below standard. They also do S with an up arrow or S with a down arrow which means you're a bit better than standard but not nearly above and vice versa.

Yesterday I had two S (up arrows), nine S's and one S (down arrow.) Today I got two S+'s, three S's (up arrows), one S (down arrow), and six S's.

My strongest areas so far are "establishing good rapport and ensuring learners are fully invovled in learning" and "providing learners with appropriate feedback on tasks and activities." Even my fellow group members say that I've managed to make a connection with the students, make them feel comfortable and as a result they are more likely to volunteer answers instead of sitting there quietly, and that I manage my classroom really well. I'm also doing pretty well in "using appropriate means to make instruction for tasks and activities clear" (good use of ICQ's = Instruction Checking Questions.) For example, today's lesson was to check the MFP (meaning, form and pronunciation) ofthe lexis of nationalities. I had them play a game so I could test their knowledge of different countries. I instructed them to line up in two lines, Team A and Team B. Each person had to write the name of a country they knew on the whiteboard and the team with the most names won. We then worked with the countries and came up with the nationality of each country. The next activity was a sheet of paper with a list of countries in one column and nationalities in another column. I had them play a matching game and then had them check it with their partners and then I checked it with them. With each of these activites (writing the countries on the board, telling me the nationalities of each country, and the matching game) my trainer said that I did a really good job of checking that they understood what I said. So my instructions were the clearest but my instruction checking questions were above par. Basically it's stuff like, where will you stand in a line?, where are you going to write the names of countries?, etc. I'm also good at "maintaining an appropriate learning pac in relation to materials, tasks and activities" AND "monitoring learners appropriately in relation to the task of activity."

Before it starts to sound like I'm bragging, my weakest area so far is "adjusting the use of my language according to the learner group and context."  I know that my biggest problem, even before I started CETLA, was giving instructions in a manner and using language that my learners would understand. I mean I tried to explain a family tree to Megha one time and I kept talking to her like I was talking to an adult. So the way I can fix that is to write out my instructions verbatim and practice, practice, practice before I teach. I really need to improve on that if I want to get a pass B or a pass A I'll let you all know how it goes. :-)

I haven't had as much time to write, think, breathe, or sleep as I'd like but I'm generally used to it thanks to years of working, interning and going to school at the same time. When I'm done writing this I will attempt to write a lesson plan for TP3 (teaching practice) for Friday but I don't have to turn in an official lesson plan until Monday, when we start getting graded. I should probably take the time to sleep because I'm exhausted and slightly feverish.

My general routine is to get up at 6:30, take my pill and fall back asleep until 7:15. I then take a shower, throw on some clothes and head downstairs for breakfast. I have bread, cheese, jam, pineappe, watermelon, banana and green tea every morning. Somehow I don't get tired of it. I then head back upstairs to get dressed and then I head out. I walk to school every morning but sometimes I wish I could take a motorbike. It's literally 7 minutes walking and it's such a pleasant experience but riding a motorbike is SO exhilarating. Plus I still need to break in my new helmet. I love riding the motorbike so much that I invested in one because I can't bear to think about who else has worn the extra helmet on the bike. If I'm going to walk I leave my guesthouse at 8:00 and arrive at 8:10. I take the rest of the morning to do any last minute prep work I have before teaching starts at nine. Tomorrow I'll probably head over at 8:30 because I don't have to teach. Woot!

If anyone is worried about my healthy I can assure you that I'm getting enough time eat. I'm not skimping on meals because I'm afraid that I don't have enough money. I'm skimping on other areas because of that. :) There's a Pho place literally right outside the school doors so I think that's going to be my lunch place while I'm taking classes. It'sososososososo good. However, they charge me the tourist price, which irritates me. For example, the Pho was 40,000 VND on Monday and today it was 45,000. I'll try it one more time and if it goes up anymore I'll stop going there. I can't believe that I'm quibbling for $2 for a bowl of Pho but I hate being taken advantage of. There's also a vegetarian restaurant that's a block away that is SO good and pretty affordable. At the alley way that I live off of there is a noodle restaurant that makes an amazing wonton and noodle broth soup that I can't stop craving. The small bowl is 22,000VND and the large bowl is 27,200VND. I can't believe that I basically spend about $4USD a day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Rachael Ray has nothing on me! :)

                         The view from the ILA Cafe on the 10th Floor. Such a good place to relax.

The view from the ILA Cafe on the 10th Floor. Such a good place to relax.

Rice noodles with tofu spring rolls from the vegetarian restaurant near me.

Rice noodles with wontons from the shop at the end of the alley where I live.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Last evening of freedom

CELTA starts tomorrow and I'm sure by this time next week I'll be regretting my wish that it started. However, the sooner it starts, the sooner it'll be done with and I can move on. I probably won't be writing anything for another month or so but you never know.

I'm in Miss Loi's lobby area/living room right now and she, her husband and the girls that work for them are all sitting around the dinner having dinner. They all make breakfast, lunch and dinner together (amongst all the other chores they have, like cleaning 2 guesthouses) and eat at the main dining table. It's such a nice sight. There's one girl who sings while she cleans and it's so pleasant during breakfast time.

Today I ventured out to Quan 4. A guy from my CELTA class, Denis from Slovenia, and his Vietnamese fiance Sandy, live out there. Another guy from my class, Thomas from Saskatchewan, needed some work type clothes because he'd been backpacking through SE Asia for the past couple of weeks and a mobile phone. So we went to Sandy's cousin's cell phone shop. Quan 4 was pretty interesting. Other than us there were no other foreigners in sight. It's pretty removed from the backpacker district because it's over a bridge. Thomas got his mobile. I'm all set with my old Nokia until the course ends. While they were talking tech I decided to visit the clothing store next door. In Quan 4 I think its safe to assume that most people don't speak English. They're not there to cater to tourists because most never make it out that way. I walked into the store and said "xin chao" (hello) and the shopkeeper gave me a bright smile. I don't think she expected that I'd speak or attempt to speak any Vietnamese. I then noticed that she had her shoes off so I asked/mimed if I should take mine off too and she said yes. (Note: The streets of Saigon are dirty. I can't even begin to explain it. NYC has nothing on dirty streets. Plus it's just a part of the culture. For example I walk around barefoot at Miss Loi's. I do have bedroom slippers but I nixed that after one too many spills on the tile.) I started browsing the store and noticed a sturdy leather purse that had zippers and locks all over. I asked her how much it was (in Vietnamese) and she replied in Vietnamese which is when I realized that I don't know numbers in Vietnamese. (Durr, right?) A common practice is to pull out the bills that they require so foreigners will know how much to pay so I indicated she should do that. 380,000VND ($19USD), which I wasn't willing to pay at the moment but might eventually. I might even attempt to get there by myself, buy it and then get back home.

We then decided to walk to the nearby grocery store which is really a grocery store on the lower level and a clothing store on the upper level. I'm not sure how it happened but Tom found clothes (he's like 6'3" or something) and had some stuff tailored on the spot. Another reason I love Viet Nam. I bought a jug to store my drinking water in after I boil it and a really awesome bowl set for my ramen.

Things probably sound pretty mundane but other than Friday night when I went to see fireworks from the Sheraton rooftop bar it's been life as usual. Except I'm in a foreign country. I've been to the pharmacy, 3 different grocery stores, which is a typical thing for me because i'll always forget to buy something. Apparently I haven't heard of lists. Today I went to a bakery, Tous Le Jours, because the French influence is still pretty strong in the baking world, which I truly appreciate. I bought a small custard pastry to go with my afternoon cup of tea and it was ah.mah.zing. I don't really mind eating one of those once in a while because already I've cut down my sweet/junk intake exponentially. I basically only eat the meals I need and its a lot of rice, grilled meats, and fresh fruits. Plus I walk EVERYWHERE. I rolled out of bed this afternoon and had to walk so very slowly because everything hurts. I think I need another massage stat!

So far two girls, one in my CELTA class and one from the course before, have had their purses stolen. Bridget had her purse stolen this afternoon right after I left her. She, however, was carrying a wristlet and I guess she thought it would have been safer that way. I'm really lucky (knock on wood) with the purse I decided to bring. It may be unattractive but it's strong and it loops across my shoulder and I keep it tucked under my arm towards the front of my body. If they really want to steal my purse they have a lot to contend with. Not to mention that I can go Krav Maga crazy on them if they try. (Note: Dear God, I'm not bragging or tempting fate. I'm purely stating facts to ease the minds of those that are worried about me. Sincerely, Nadine.)

I'm off to figure out dinner. There's a really great delivery system that Lauren introduced me too. It's a website, and you can order food from hundreds of restaurants anywhere in Ha Noi or HCMC. It's pretty cool. The only downside is that most places have a minimum delivery and as a struggling college student (or at least a person with the mindset of one) I really want to watch my spending habits and I don't need a 100,00VND meal.

Cho Ben Thanh

Ben Thanh Market is a huge indoor/outdoor market here in Quan 1. (Quan means District. There are 10 Districts that make up the city of HCM.) I initially didn't want to visit it until after my CELTA course was done because I thought I'd save it as a treat to myself. My goal was to not spend frivolously until after I got a job. I'm living off the funds that I brought with me and I plan to make do it with it just in case.I mean, it's pretty easy to find a job here and if I don't get a job with ILA there are a ton of international schools that I can apply to. I can also leave if I want. The only place I would potentially move to at this point is Seoul but it's also very expensive, even if my salary is adjusted for the cost of living. So far I'm liking Viet Nam, even if it never gets cold here.

I completely got off topic. Sorry. It'll happen. A lot! So my course mate Alee and I decided to visit Ben Thanh today. She needed some extra clothes for the CELTA course and I'm in the market, pardon the pun, for a bowl and plate. I definitely did not walk with stuff like that because I found it hard enough to keep to my weight limits. So we hit up Ben Thanh in the hopes of finding these things. Plus we were bored and didn't know what to do today. We're both in a state of suspension as we wait for CELTA to begin. Alee now lives at the guesthouse 15 seconds down the street from me so it's pretty nice having her around. We decided to take motorbikes over there. Fantastic as always but I was a bit careless getting off the bike and my calf brushed the exhaust pipe as I was getting off and I burned myself. I'm fine but it stung for a bit. I'm definitely going to invest in my own helmet because I will definitely be using motorbikes as a mode of transportation and I don't want to borrow other helmets. It kinda freaks me out to think about it.

I, of course, bought the first thing I saw when I walked into the market but it was totally worth it. I also did my first bit of haggling and won. I bought a Tintin in Vietnam t-shirt, and I know he never visited Viet Nam but it's funny at the same. So I officially bought one frivolous thing but I won't do anymore until after CELTA is done because I basically don't have the time to do stuff like that.

After we had a bit of lunch there, with some more iced coffee with condensed milk, we decided to walk back home. Partly to orient ourselves with the area and partly because Alee refuses to spend more money. I'm sure she's right but I love riding motorbikes SO MUCH. On our way back I saw one of those lovely parks that are all over the city. The government does a really good job of running and maintening these parks. They're well manicured and free of litter which was such a pleasure considering the rest of the city. We sat there for a while just taking it all in until a young girl walked by. Well, our age maybe. She smiled at me and so I smiled back and she approached us and started to talk. Her name is Han and it turns out she often frequents the park hoping to run into foreigners so she can practice her English. We talked about where she was from, where she learned English, where we were from, etc. I took the opportunity to practice my Vietnamese and she got SO excited that we knew phrases. She did say that Vietnamese is a hard language to learn but encouraged us to try. I also took the opportunity to ask her about grocery stores, etc but she didn't really understand. I decided to leave after I scratched an old mosquito bite that started to bleed all over my leg. I spotted a pharmacy which is the only place you can buy medicines over here. You can't get medicines anywhere else including the grocery store. Plus, most pharmacists speak English so I figured it would be a good place to ask for a grocery store. I got some hydrogen peroxide and then found a grocery store a few blocks down and bought some detergent, papert towels and supplies for class on Monday.

On our way home Alee and I made mulitple stops. I bought postcards (and will attempt to mail them), she bought clothes and when we thought we were going to faint we stopped at a cafe for juice. Fresh fruit juice is abundant here. So far I've tried watermelon and pineapple and ithey were both amazing. They don't mix it with anything else with it so it's all natural sugars and flavors. And it's only $1.50USD. Another thing I really like about Viet Nam is that in all restaurants instead of serving a glass of water they serve iced green tea. The green tea is refreshing and they serve tea because this way foreigners know that the water was boiled. Plus, it's just so much better than water with lemon.

We then headed home and I showered and passed out for a couple of hours. I then made my afternoon cup of tea and headed down to Miss Loi's lobby to use her computer. I'm now off to a welcome dinner with my CELTA classmates. Hopefully Bridget, another classmate living 15 seconds away, will agree to take motorbikes to dinner. :D

Friday, September 2, 2011

Tales from Saigon

Hello from Saigon! It's my third day of living here and I feel like I've been here for months. It's such an easy place to fit into. So far life here has lived up to everything I expected. I think it's funny that people were so freaked out about me moving here but I don't think they realize that I've lived abroad before and in my opinion if you've seen one third world country you've pretty much seen it all. Saigon reminds me a lot of Trinidad and as a result I'm very comfortable here. Sure I don't speak the language but I'm pretty used to being in places where I don't speak the language and I've developed my own system of communicating. If you want to buy something bring the item or a picture of the item you want to buy and show it to them. It'll save at least 10 minutes of miming what it is you need. For example, I needed to buy an adapter for my laptop plug yesterday so I walked with the end that plugs into the wall and when I pulled it out of my purse they knew immediately what I needed. Quite possibly the easiest thing I've done so far.

Despite having the ability to mime everything I've been trying to use the language. I know how to say thank you, no thank you, how much and excuse me. Using the language is the problem though. I'm forcing myself to speak it more often because I'd like to be fluent when I move back. I don't know if it'll happen because Vietnamese is a hard language but I think once I start working I'll take language classes.

I'm staying at Miss Loi's Guesthouse in the backpacker district, which is what District 1 is unofficially known as. After I landed yesterday my friend Katie picked me up from the airport with her driver Mr. Long. She took me to the money exchange kiosk in her apartment building (which is amazing thanks to her husband's job with Chevron.) We then went for some Vietnamese iced coffee steeped in condensed milk, juuuuust like what Anthony Bourdain drinks in the second episode of No Reservations in Vietnam. It was amazing! We sat outside near running water and with the sound of that, sunlight and iced coffee, it was as close to peace as I've been recently.

My first night here I met up with Lauren, my friend who did the CELTA course, and her housemates for dinner at a Vietnamese bbq place. I was almost talked into trying scorpion until Lauren insisted that it's not even cool to try it because it tastes terrible and that stopped me from trying it. I did however eat eel and ostrich, both of which I've had before, but fry or grill a piece of meat and it's just infinitely better. :)

Last night a CELTA course mate and I went to dinner on Bui Vien which is the main street for travelers in district 1. It was insanity. I prefer the quiet that my neighborhood affords. Especially when all the studying begins. I've heard from a few CELTA people who did the last two courses and their advice has been both encouraging and frightening. We'll see how it goes though.

Ho Chi Minh City or HCMC is an amazing place. I'm pretty comfortable here. Not a place I could live infinitely though. A year is probably good enough but we'll see. There are just so many random things that I love about this place. I love how nice everyone in my area is. I already have an older man who yells "HELLO" every time I walk down the alley near my guesthouse. I love Miss Loi who always asks me what I did during the day when I get back in the evening. I love that for breakfast I have a baguette, cheese, green tea and 3 different types of fruit. I love running into the Australians in my building. I love that I can still get Korean dramas here, even if they do have Vietnamese voiceovers. I love that I have a set of xeom drivers who keep trying to get me to ride on their motorbikes. Which I did today!!!! It's fantastic. It's scary as hell because you're just so...out there. I mean you basically have no protection except for the helmet and that's so basic. I tried really hard not to hug my xeom driver but after a while intuition kicks in. I thought I was going to fall off when we turned corners but somehow I just knew which way to balance when that happened. I did close my eyes a couple of times, like when we went through intersections and there is traffic (TONS OF TRAFFIC) coming at you from like 6 different directions. Plus it was like $7000VND for what would have been a 10 minute walk. I ended up giving her $10,000VND because I didn't fall off. For those that are freaking out reading those numbers the exchange rate is approximately $20,000VND = $1USD. It's ridiculous. For example, I got an hour long massage today and it was $80,000VND and I tipped my girl $20,000VND bringing it to a grand total of $5USD. Lunch was at a really great vegetarian restaurant and I had a starter, meal and a fruity non-alcoholic beer for a grand total of $3USD. I could probably get used to this. :D (Don't worry mom, I'm not permanently moving here. Unless I find a short Vietnamese guy and get married. :P)

Now I'm off to watch fireworks for Vietnam National Day (their Independence Day.)