It started out as a 3 minute trip to get a sandwich. I was getting hungry and decided to go get a banh mi pa te. And I did so. However, I was just pulling away from the stand when a student of Jon’s approached me. “What are you doing?”

“I’m going to go study Vietnamese,” I told him. He had been studying in the library. I usually see him at the local coffee shop.

“We go you coffee?” he asked. “Sure,” I said.

What followed was a short and informal Vietnamese lesson at the coffee shop, where the music was blaring. A short time later, one of my new students came in and asked to sit down. “Sure,” I said. I’d only taught him once, and that was on Tuesday. Of course I was asked to display a little of the Vietnamese that I know, and I’m glad that they could understand. But I have to keep in mind that these are students of English who know the differences between English and Vietnamese, and they know what mistakes to listen for and hear through. It was fun. We left a little before ten.

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Sometimes we sit in cafes and get into long discussions. A lot of the time, we end up on the subject of love and women. Here are two good quotes that I’ve heard from friends:

-Women are like your shadow, you chase them and they run from you, and you try to run away and they follow you.

-If my girlfriend asks me for a schedule for the future, the next day I will make a schedule for running away.

This morning, I was able to see pictures of my friends on this site. I missed them so much. I went out to breakfast and sat by myself until some friends showed up. I got lost in my thoughts. I was thinking so much that the waitress came up to me and asked if I was done eating. I wasn’t, I was just thinking too much. I really miss home sometimes. Seeing those pictures was what did it to me. It’s so easy to think that people close to me don’t do much when I’m not around them. But seeing those pictures was a visual reminder that I am half a world away; literally on the other side of the world, and I won’t see them for years. I think I’m too young to say something like that, to measure in years.

I am officially a teacher. Wow. It was pretty great. I only taught a little more than one period and then let them go early (do unto others, right?). I was so nervous when I first started talking to them; my hands were shaking. They asked me questions about my family, and what I enjoyed about Vietnam. I was even asked what I wanted to do in the future. I told them I would study English more.

They agreed wholeheartedly with me that when learning a new language, listening and speaking are the most difficult aspects. I told them that I have difficulties with my listening and speaking in Vietnamese. I mostly just used the time to introduce myself and find out why they were studying English. Some told me because they want to be high school teachers, some told me they wanted to communicate more with the world, and some said that learning English would help them if they wanted to pursue further specialized training. Now I don’t know why I was so nervous before the class. I have another class to meet tomorrow, and then another one to meet on Wednesday. I hope all goes well, like it did today.

  then I wake up cold

                              you are nowhere near

              but in my lungs    ripped out    rushing for air

must I stop this voice

                            is this voice the land’s?

-Excerpt from a poem by Mong Lan

I went out with some teachers from the English department last night and we had a good dinner which was followed by a trip to one of the newest coffee shops in town. My language teacher came along and so did a man from Japan who’s doing research for his PhD. The problem is that I still don’t know much Vietnamese. I could understand a few things that were said, and was able to stumble over a phrase or two that made people laugh, but it’s just not there yet. Sometimes I wonder if I’m making much progress–I know how to spell words, but I can’t hear them.

This weekend will be spent working up a rough outline for a lesson plan for my English speaking classes. I start teaching on Monday. I’m very nervous about this, and I hope things will go smoothly.

I’m only beginning to learn the subtleties of this language. A frustration for me is that many words have no direct translation to English. Basically, I learn the word or sentence through it’s English equivalent, not through direct translation. Sometimes I ask my language teachers, “So what does this mean in English?” And there is no meaning in English, only an approximate guess.

One difference that I have studied long enough to know is the difference in the pronoun “we.” In English there is one. However, in Vietnamese, there are two forms of the word “we” that I’ve learned, one of which includes the listener and one that doesn’t. This can be used very effectively. For example, if I were phone one of my friends and ask, “What time are we going to dinner?” I would use the form chung ta. However, if my friend had plans already, s/he wouldn’t have to make up a lame excuse. S/he could simply say, “We are going to dinner at 7,” using the form chung toi, which excludes me, the listener. I find these things so interesting. I love it when I’m studying or being taught and I finally figure something out, or come to a new conclusion (in English, because it’s still the only language I can think in).

I start teaching on Monday and I’m trying to figure out what I’ll teach. The class I’m teaching is speaking, so I basically have to come of with speaking activities for the students. I’m also memorizing my lines for an abbreviated version of Romeo and Juliet that Jon wrote. And time just ticks by here. I hardly realize that I’ve been here for over a month. Sometimes when I have breakfast with my language teacher, we are about to leave (after drinking at least two pots of tea) and then someone we know will show up and that means that we stay at the cafe almost until lunch time. Some of those times I don’t know if I love it or hate it, but I end up thinking, “I spent four hours today at a cafe…” I love sitting and talking and watching people zoom by, but then sometimes I feel like I’m not doing anything. But then again, I’m out in the culture of the land where I will be living for some time, and that cannot be regretted.

One more thing, the other evening I made my longest motorbike drive yet. We went to the restaurant Tre Xanh, or Green Bamboo, which felt like it was on the outskirts of Long Xuyen, but I was told it really wasn’t. My driving through traffic is improving, although I still have much experience to gain. On the way back from Tre Xanh I was very cold, especially after driving for such a distance.