Yesterday was a long day trip to a neighboring province. We were supposed to leave at 6 a.m., so Jon and I were up a little after 5 and found rice and coffee for breakfast shortly before 6. Then we loaded what must’ve been a hundred students onto two huge buses and headed northwest.

We weren’t really out of Long Xuyen before we were on a ferry. I was a little nervous because we crammed the two large buses on there and the boat went down in the water considerably when the buses drove on. But it was a lovely cool morning on the Mekong and the sun was just coming up over the water. We climbed on the roof of the ferry and saw the fog being burned off the water by the rising sun. The next part of the journey was through cool countryside air which felt wonderful, better than air conditioning (there wasn’t any on the bus anyway). At this point I tried to doze off but the bumps in the road and the pretty consistent blasts from the bus’ air horn kept that from happening.

Then there was another ferry, which was even smaller than the first and I was even more nervous when the two buses were on with only inches to spare between them. However, right after the ferry was Dong Thap University, our destination for the day.

Our first activity was some sort of a get-together type thing where there were a few speeches, and then everything dissolved into songs and dancing. Jon and I sang our two standards from the Spring Festival, “Lost Highway” and “Freight Train Blues,” but then there was more time to kill and they asked us to sing some more. We ran outside and started talking. “What songs do we know all the chords to?” And, “What are all the words?” Eventually (we under a time constraint all this while) we picked “Amazing Grace” and “I’ll fly away.” While we were up there singing in our twangy voices and most of the people were laughing and smiling, a student ran onstage and shoved tissue-paper roses into our shirt pockets. After all the songs had been sung we took a brief tour of campus and then it was off to lunch.

At lunch I began to realize that this was shaping up to be a really hot afternoon. However, after lunch we went to the memorial of Ho Chi Minh’s father, who was from Dong Thap province. It was very interesting, but the heat was creeping up on us. It seemed as though a lot of the time spent around there was simply sitting and resting in the shade.

However, the day wasn’t over yet. It was a very warm day indeed at this point, and it was apparently time to play volleyball and football. I politely said that I was no good at either of those sports and sent a text message to Julie, who had just arrived to teach for a few days. Julie came and found the volleyball game and I went over to her air-conditioned room where a friend was resting. We laid there and watched boxing at Caesar’s Palace dubbed in Vietnamese. I nearly dozed off at this point. Eventually Danielle came up to rest as well, and she and I started talking and reminiscing about baseball and the foods that went along with it. Then it was all about foods that we missed from America. We decided that a Ruben would really hit the spot right now.

I decided that I should go and see what was up with the sporting events at this point. They were playing soccer under the 3:30 sun. I stayed for most of the game, which was a tie.

Finally, it was time to climb on the buses and head back to Long Xuyen. First there was the ferry and I witnessed a beautiful sunset over the Mekong river. I noticed the red sun actually getting lower on the horizon as the ferry putted its way across the brown water.

The drivers took a different route on the way back. We were zooming through the countryside with all the windows of the bus open and the farmers were out harvesting rice. Some people say that the sense of smell is the strongest sense in humans. It was the smell of freshly cut crops that was getting to me. If I shut my eyes and blocked out the sound of the air horn, I could almost imagine that I was riding in the back of our truck at home, bouncing over dusty Ohio country roads, with the smell of freshly cut hay in the fields and the cool evening air flowing over my skin.

But still the day wasn’t over. We had movie night to come back to. Jack had already started the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and we saw mostly the latter half with a decent showing of students there too.

Finally, after what seemed like ages and a gallon of sweat, we went back to the guesthouse. We laughed about the day and watched clips of Conan O’Brian on the internet, but I think I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.

I’m back in the teaching saddle again. I find it to be quite a lot of fun most of the time. Most of the kids are enthusiastic and I try to entertain them and keep their attention. However, today I was teaching most of the time between 1 and 5 in the afternoon. I’m no teaching veteran by any means, and it really took my energy away. I just came back to my room and plopped down and halfway spaced out for twenty minutes or so.

Maybe it’s just me, but it feels like the weather is getting warmer here. Or maybe it’s just the warm classrooms which I’m in during the afternoon. I was asking a friend when it would rain, and he said not until April. From what people tell me here, it will get warmer when it rains, but right now it seems like the plans and the ground could use a little refreshment. It’s about that time to go and find some food now.

We’re all getting back in the swing of things here. Saigon was a lot of fun and both nights that I was there with Jack and Jon we ended up at a bowling alley and were overly-enthusiastic about it.

Now we’re all back and starting to get back to work. I’m back into my teaching schedule of Monday through Wednesday in the afternoons. It seems like my classrooms are really hot in the afternoons, but I have never seen a drop of sweat on the students. I tell myself that’s because they aren’t ranting and being over-animated in an attempt to be entertaining. Several new projects will be starting up soon and it looks like there will be a lot to do, which may mean more stress. I think that this weekend movie night is coming back to campus, and I hope it draws a nice crowd.

I’m also entering this world of MCC reports and it doesn’t help that the internet here on campus is acting strangely.

Tet is mostly over and the bustling has come back to the streets here. There were some very good times over the lunar new year just sitting around and talking. Many times though it was in Vietnamese and I did my best to pick out certain words and smile at the jokes that were explained to me.

On Valentines Day some students found me at the coffee shop where I was having breakfast and we went to a teachers house (it was the woman who played Juliet with me in the spring festival). I thought this would be just an informal and brief visit for a few hours in the morning. However, it turned out not to be. It seemed like we had been there only a little while and then they said it was time to go to the local market to get stuff for lunch. And then there was the ceremony of all the women disappearing into the kitchen while the guys played cards and chess. But the visit didn’t even end with lunch, I was taught some card games and I taught them Egyptian Rat Screw which they all seemed to like. I made one student take off his ring because he was getting into the violent slapping aspect of the game. Finally the visit came to a close around 2:30 and I was taken back to the guesthouse where some of the students wanted to see my room (luckily I had recently cleaned it).

The second week of the holiday is now drawing to a close and we all have to get ready to head back to work. However, before that happens, Jon and Jack and I are making a triumphant trip to Saigon. I’ve successfully avoided the city where it’s possible to experience things Western for two months. But, it’s time for a little pizza in the big city.

Bob Dylan

Inside the museums infinity goes up on trial,
Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while,
But Mona Lisa musta had the highway blues
You can tell by the way she smiles.

See the primitive wallflower freeze,
When the jelly-faced women all sneeze,
Hear the one with the mustache say, “Jeeze I can’t find my knees,”
Oh, jewels and binoculars hang from the head of the mule,

But these visions of Johanna, they make it all seem so cruel.

Jon and I went to campus A yesterday to see a dragon dance for the new year. There were only a few people watching, but they performed for us. When they started dancing, Jon told me that it was to scare away evil spirits. The drumming was starting and they began dancing. At first there were four dragons, each with two people under them and controlling them. They had bright colors and had big eyes and moustaches. While they were dancing, a guy dressed up in a mask and large fake belly came over to the few of us that were watching and shook our hands and fanned us; Jon told me he was fanning to evil spirits away. All this time the drumming happening with a very fast rhythm along with small crashes of cymbals. Jon was holding a long pole out above the dancers with an envelope attached to the end containing tip money. Eventually the drumming became dramatic as one of the dancers hopped on another’s shoulders, still holding the dragon head on his own head, and reached through the mouth of the dragon to grab the tip.

But it wasn’t over yet. Then they had about ten guys carrying a very long, snakelike dragon. They all held onto a pole about three feet long and basically did what the guy in front of them did. They had them doing really intricate patterns, swirling everywhere and making cool shapes. But that wasn’t all. Then they brought out another so they had two of the long dragons dancing at the same time. It was incredible. All the while the drumming maintained its intensity. Several little kids who sell lottery tickets on Vo Thi Sau street had followed the dancers into campus and stood there watching everything with us.

They had the two long dragons going, but then they got the four smaller dragons up and going with the two people controlling them. The drumming kept increasing its tempo and they were building a crescendo… And then it was over. Really amazing. If I was an evil spirit lurking around the university, I would have been scared off by the bright colors and complex movements of the dragon dance, and really scared by the drumming.

It’s Tet. Last night we saw fireworks exploding over the city of Long Xuyen. They made me think of baseball games and summertime in the midwest. But it was in the Mekong Delta. The streets were packed last night with everyone dressed up in their best and the traffic was simply horrible. Now there just isn’t much to do. I slept in today and Jon and I have been invited to a few places during the first few days of Tet. Last evening we were invited over to a teacher’s house here in Long Xuyen for dinner. She had studied her masters at Bluffton when I was a student, and so she and Jon and I could talk about the town and some people that we knew. The past two lunar new years she had been in America and she said to us: “I know how it feels to be far away from home during the holidays.” When we were at her house I had my first taste of the traditional sticky rice and bean cake. It was really good and very filling. After I ate some of it I wasn’t all that hungry anymore. But we ended dinner and then Jon and I went off to a few other appointments for the evening. The last one was at the administration building on campus A. Dr. Xuan was there and some other very important people. Eventually some people started singing karaoke in Vietnamese (Jon did very well) but that stopped when the fireworks show started halfway across the city. We watched it from campus A and then it was time to head back to the guest house and go to bed.

Today there are few people out on the streets as most people spend time with their family. So, to everyone out there, happy lunar new year.