This evening, a group of foreigners from the guesthouse and a few English teachers went to a rabbit place on the outskirts of Long Xuyen, and I was one of the company. I had been there one time before and knew that it was pretty good, and so I was glad to be going back. The meat is pretty good there, and there was lots of my favorite sauce at the table, made from fermented tofu. We had some standard dishes: grilled rabbit, fried rabbit and then a soup with, among other things, rabbit meat. But it was at the end of the meal, when the broth of the soup was low in the pot, that the most interesting part of the meal happened. I had always heard stories about the partially grown duck fetus, but had never knowingly come into close contact with it. But tonight one of the new volunteers was up for trying it. I decided that I’d been long enough without it, and the time might as well be now. So we threw the egg into the broth and waited. After awhile we were told that they were done. We took the egg out and cracked the shell, and there was something that had the general appearance of a baby duck, wrapped tightly around the yellow yolk. “Use the salt, use the salt!” we were told, and didn’t argue either. Then tried it. It was a bit rubbery, but otherwise okay. The thoughts associated with eating something that is quite strange make it taste and digest all the more strangely. But overall it was decent, and now another experience to be remembered.

Tomorrow I’m headed up to Ho Chi Minh City for a night and day in the town before catching a flight to Hanoi. I’ll be there for a few days and it will be nice to explore the city a little more with a little more knowledge of Vietnamese culture. However, as with the language, I’ve learned everything in the south. I’m looking forward to this trip though.

Advertisements

Back to teaching. Friday was a particularly hot day, in my opinion, and I had to teach seven of the ten periods that day. By 4:30 in the afternoon I was dripping with sweat. I’m not sure if I’ve ever sweated that much in my life. There was a sheer exhaustion that came with teaching on that day, something with trying to get students who know English as a second language to understand Ginsburg, or have them fully understand the context of Beowulf. I think I’ll really enjoy these classes later on, especially when the weather cools down. I know I’ve written about this before, about the moment when something complex all of a sudden clicks with the students, and you can see something in their faces and feel like you’ve accomplished something. That makes a day.

This past weekend has flown by in a whirlwind of invitations to coffees and meals. Now it’s Sunday night and I’m thinking that I have to get up early and go to work tomorrow. Right now my teaching schedule is very light, and things will pick up when I have to start teaching TOEFL reading classes in about a month. Right now I have a lot of time for preparing, and a lot of time for thinking too. I can think carefully about what I want to teach and when I want to teach it, etc. This is especially true with the British literature class that I’m teaching. It feels really wonderful to be able to teach something that I studied for some time.

I’m sorta mentally preparing for a trip to Hanoi to see Ruth and Lowell, my country representatives for MCC, and several new volunteers as well. Meeting people, however, is not what I’m mentally preparing for. I’m trying to think what it will be like to try to speak and understand simple Vietnamese (what I can do here) and not being understood and/or understanding. The accent is different, some words are different, and there is a tone that sounds different up in Hanoi. I’m only going to be there for a few days, but regardless it will be rather interesting to see what I can and cannot understand. But like the rambler that I am, I always enjoy a trip for a few days.

I’m not really sure why I haven’t been updating lately, things are just hectic at the moment I suppose. I’m getting ready to begin teaching in a few days, so I’m throwing together syllabi and tracking down books that I want to teach. I’m also co-teaching a class with another teacher here, and we’ve been having sporadic meetings every few days and brainstorming. Besides the last minute class planning, I’ve also started working at the International relations office, doing some editing of English translations and otherwise planning lessons. And the other new thing: I now have a cat. He’s just a little orange tabby who is still rather frightened when I’m not around, but he’s adjusting to the room quite well and has learned about the litter box too. After having him for two days, I finally decided on a name for him. After discussing his personality with a friend, I decided that “Buong” was a good name for him. It means stubborn.

So between last-minute lesson planning, a new job and a new cat, I’ve been rather busy lately. But I’m also loving it too. Two new volunteers will arrive with an NGO named VIA tomorrow (or so I’ve heard) and I’m looking forward to meeting them and hope that they’re able to adjust to Long Xuyen smoothly. But that’s all for now, more lesson planning is calling me…

The other day was another notation in the list of experiences that I’ve had here so far. I went and ate dog meat. A few other teachers in the English department have been saying that they’d take me for quite some time, but it happened very suddenly. I was in my room, around 3 in the afternoon, and then a friend came and knocked on the door and said, “We’re going to eat dog meat.” So I hopped on his motorbike and we drove a short distance from the school to a small and dirty-looking place were two other teachers had already begun eating. I was nervous and didn’t know if I could do it, at first. There was a strange smell coming from the table, and I didn’t like it. But then I saw the purple paste in dishes and realized that they were eating a kind of sauce made from fermented shrimp, which I’ve tried before and can’t stand. And there were the plates of dog meat and everyone was eating like it was any other type of meat that you regularly order at a restaurant. I sat down on a tiny stool. They gave me some boiled dog meat, and I ate it. It was okay, a little strange, but just meaty. After the boiled meat there was grilled dog and then a kind of soup later on. After a while I just stopped thinking about what I was eating so much. It was just meat with a little different flavor. And from what I understand, there are some people here who love it, and some people who will never eat it in their lives. I guess I’m pretty neutral on the issue. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it either. Just something new.

This afternoon I went with a good friend from the International Relations Office to get some maintenance done on my motorbike. The chain was tightened and oiled, the battery was filled, the air/gas mixture adjusted, and the electric starter was fixed. Then we had it washed and the oil changed. I think it looked like a new bike. I was advised to drive it to charge the battery. So I went to get some gas because I thought I was getting low (it doesn’t have a gas gauge). The attendant at the gas station asked what country I was from. I told him to guess. He said France—the second time that’s happened to me. Anyhow, filled with 3 or so liters I went zooming around Long Xuyen, something that’s especially fun when there is little or no traffic. It was lovely driving around a watching the people and dodging traffic and pedestrians.

I had another coffee invitation later in the afternoon where I was told that I might be filmed for national TV, pretending to teach in the library. I’m not going to hold my breath, but this evening and tomorrow morning my nerves may be a little jumpy.

A few days ago the sound of the guesthouse being destroyed woke me up. The sounds of metal on concrete pierced my sleep. The sounds were shuddering through the whole house, and I was worried that my ceiling would fall on me. I went up to the roof immediately and had a look. Workers were chipping away the top layer of concrete on the roof. Satisfied that the place was not being demolished, I went back to my room. The whole day in the house was rather miserable. The noise just wouldn’t stop, and it was right above my room. This is being done because the room next to mine (formerly Julie’s) has a bad leak when it rains. The noise went on for one day, but the next day when I went for breakfast, I drove a roundabout way because the workers were now throwing the chips of concrete and bricks on the ground, and right over the path were I usually drive. This is all being done when I think there is a more pressing and urgent construction concern: The door to my room has no doorknob, and I can only get in using a trick that we all know well in the guesthouse.

Two days ago was my little brother’s birthday, and I had to call him, and it was great to hear his voice. But then the line was cut and I couldn’t get through again. Talking, ever so briefly, to him made me fall into a contemplative mood and sit around while I should have been sleeping. I’m not sure when I’ll see him again and I can only hope it will be sooner and not later.

Then this morning rolled around. I had been talking to a few friends about coming over to the guesthouse and showing me how to cook something Vietnamese. People started congregating in my room around 10:30, and finally a market expedition of me and two friends drove out. I went with a fellow teacher to find some fish for a dish called sour soup. We parked and walked through the stinking section for fish at the market. Finally he bought two fish for about 2 dollars. Then it was time for vegetables. We made our way slowly through the thronging crowd and found some. We figured we had everything and went back. However, another teacher that didn’t go with us said that we needed more vegetables and went back to the market as others started cooking. I just mostly observed this time, watching a sauce being made from oil and sugar, fish being cut, or peeling some vegetables and trying to help. The teacher who went for vegetables came back with to huge bags of greens and some strange textured, but good tasting cake. Then the pork was done, and the sour soup was nearly finished and we found some rice and it was cooking. But there was an apparently urgent need for pepper and chilies and tamarind. They sent me out and somehow I managed to find everything at a small market. The five of us finally sat down to a huge feast and ate until we were stuffed. And there were plenty of leftovers.

And so time and life ticks by…

I spent a lovely final few days in Ho Chi Minh City going to coffee and dinner with friends, and even going to see War of the Worlds which was fun even though the theatre was freezing. Now I feel like I have a little knowledge of the layout of the center of the city at least, and I know how to go between some places without getting too lost. But the time came for me to leave, and so I called the bus company and through some confusion in Vietnamese reserved a ticket.

The day arrived for me to leave the city. I went to the cafe where I’d had so many lunches, and even some dinners. After I paid I told the middle-aged man, who I think runs the place with his wife, that today I had to return to Long Xuyen. He didn’t say anything except “Thank you” and extended his hand to me. I heard him telling the other people who worked there what I told him as I walked away.

I had packed the night before (as always) and realized that I’d accumulated more books and clothes, mainly from Jack when he was leaving, and my bags were bulging. I got in a taxi and headed to the bus station. Traveling from Ho Chi Minh City to Long Xuyen involves a series of transitions, and the more luggage one has the less pleasant these are. First, I had to get to the bus company where I’d reserved the ticket. That part of the journey I made by taxi. Then I got my ticket and paid, and was sitting there saying a few things to a man with a good portion of metal teeth. I asked him if he thought I should buy another ticket, so I had one for my bags and one for me. He said that I probably should. I told him that before I bought two tickets, but only needed one, as they just shoved my big bag in the rear of the Ford. But he said if would be a good idea, so I bought another ticket. Then the public bus pulled up, which goes to the western bus station of Ho Chi Minh City. The attendant shoved my big suitcase in a compartment located on the outside of the bus. The man with all the metal teeth said something like “give him some money,” so I decided to give him a small tip when we arrived at the western bus station. The public bus crawled through the crowds of motorbikes with the horn blaring and we arrived at the western bus station. I was the last one off the bus, and the attendant unloaded my bag. Apparently he knew only one word in English: “Money.” I gave him 5,000 dong (the city bus fare is 2,000). He wasn’t happy. Then, in Vietnamese “One dollar.” I wasn’t happy, but didn’t want to make an enemy right there either, so I gave him 15,000, which is almost a dollar. Then he said “Two dollars.” I got fed up and walked away. He probably thought I was a damn tourist and I could’ve gone through my tirade about how I’m a volunteer and whatnot, but I was rather upset and the words most likely would have come out wrong.

I finally climbed aboard the Kim Huong bus that would take me to Long Xuyen. It turns out that I didn’t need the second seat after all, again, and after I discovered this I was really fed up with everything and just wanted to get “home.” It started to rain on the trip south and I fell asleep and woke with a sore neck. We stopped at the halfway point for a break and food and drinks and I ate rather ravenously. The girls working there were asking me if I’d married anyone yet with big smiles on their faces and one kept saying I should marry one who worked there. I said I was too young. They complimented me on my Vietnamese, which always makes me feel good, even if it’s not true. A guy at the other end of my table muttered something like, “He speaks Vietnamese?” I ate fast and then waited by the bus. I wanted to get back to Long Xuyen. The driver saw me and we’d exchanged a few words before we ate. He gave me a box of strawberry flavored yogurt to drink (I find it a little strange that the word for yogurt in Vietnamese is literally sour milk, we try to disguise it in English). Then he came over and sat down next to me and started with the questions. Where do you work? Where do you live? Do you have a girlfriend there? etc. I think the whole bus knew a little about me the second leg of the journey back to Long Xuyen.

Because of construction and the rain, the road was terribly muddy and the driver had to dodge huge puddles. One section of the road runs right next to the river, and workers were dredging up mud from the river bottom and pilling it on the narrow space between the road and water, trying to keep the river from claiming it. Finally though, we came to the ferry.

As we drove the last few miles into Long Xuyen it started to rain more. Not heavily, but steadily. I had a rain coat, but figured I was going to get nice and wet anyway. I had been in contact with Julie and friends and they were waiting for me to go to dinner. Because of the rain I didn’t see many motorbike drivers around, but started talking to one. I told him I wanted a xe loi (a kind of wagon pulled behind a bicycle) to go back to AGU. “My bag is too big!” I said. “No problem,” he said. With the help of another man, a driver, me, and all my luggage were on a small Honda motorbike and headed through the wet streets of Long Xuyen.

I made it back to the guesthouse and Julie, Duc, and another volunteer who works in a neighboring province were waiting for me. I threw my bags in my room (a quick glance told me it was really dirty) and went to try and get Old Abe running. It took a lot of frustrating kicks, a lot of fiddling with the choke, but then he was running. We weren’t going far for dinner, but after long I realized that I needed air in my tires. I asked Julie, riding on another bike, how they looked. She said I should get air right away. However, all the places where I usually get air were didn’t have it at the moment. So me and Church (the other volunteer) walked the motorbike in the rain wearing our ponchos. We got air and went to dinner.

After dinner was Julie’s last karaoke in Long Xuyen. It was fun, and I sang a song in Vietnamese, but I don’t remember the words. I guess that’s the beauty of karaoke. Julie told me that we had been invited to breakfast with a student at 6:45 the next morning, so at 11 we went home and Julie apologized for waking up the security guard. I wasn’t tired, so I bummed around and read and did little useless things in my room.

But then 6 a.m. rolled around. I got up, grudgingly, and did my best to shower in ice cold water (people had told me that there hadn’t been sunshine in Long Xuyen for several days). The student we were supposed to meet didn’t show up, so we had breakfast at the Thu and then went to the second commencement of An Giang University. There were some rather long speeches, and I really didn’t understand much at all, and then the students started walking. All the students hadn’t finished walking, but friends and family were getting out of their seats and taking pictures with the new graduates at one side of the stage. Julie went to take pictures with her old students. I didn’t know many students, so I headed out, back to my room to clean.

I cleaned for hours that day. I moved furniture, I mopped, I swept, I even dusted a few things. The rain came down in torrents about an hour after the outdoor graduation ceremony, and I was glad that the ceremony hadn’t been a disaster.

Then lunch with Julie. And just like that it was 1 o’clock. I was in a daze. I thought this time would never arrive, not for a long time. But there Julie was, standing on the steps to the guesthouse, giving me a hug and saying goodbye. I didn’t really believe it then. It seemed like she was just going for a weekend in Ho Chi Minh City. But just like that, the last third of the famous three was gone. I really can’t believe that Jon, Jack, and Julie are all gone now. I suppose I accepted it as inevitable when I arrived here, but on the two trips I made here with Bluffton, all three were always here. They were all here when I arrived in December, but the stream flows on I suppose.

A teacher arrived at the guesthouse ten minutes after Julie left. He came with chocolates for her as a goodbye gift, but missed her by a few minutes. He sent some messages on his phone to her, and then invited me to his boarding house where he lives with two friends; all three of them are fun to hang out with. “Well,” I said, “I have to finish cleaning my room.”
“You can do it tomorrow,” he said. It didn’t take any convincing at all to get me dressed and on the motorbike.

We sat around there and ate salty fish and other little snacks and talked and talked. It’s nice to spend time with them all. They love to tease me about girls, but I give it back to them as well.

It had been raining off and on while I was there, and I decided to take my chances and drive back. My motorbike was nearly out of gas, but they directed me to the nearest station. The rain came down heavier and heavier as I drove, and before I made the station I was out of gas. I walked the bike through the rain. I was completely soaked, but didn’t really mind too much. I couldn’t see much through my glasses though. There was a place on the side of the road where I bought a liter of gas for 10,000 and just decided to get back to my room, ASAP. I couldn’t drive very fast because the rain was getting in my eyes and therefore I drove along squinty-eyed and slower. I drove through big puddles fast and splashed everywhere, I couldn’t bring myself to care at this point. I was already soaked. But I made it back and changed into a sweatshirt and warm pants (I really didn’t want a cold) and sat on my new comfy couch and read. I was getting hungry, and I figured that it wasn’t raining anymore, but I stepped out and it was drizzling a little. Oh well. I went and bought some sandwiches.

I really haven’t exercised since I stopped playing tennis, and that was in March, I believe. So while I was in Ho Chi Minh City I decided that when I came back to Long Xuyen I should try and do a little running. Its honestly been years since I’ve gone jogging, but I actually dragged myself out of bed this morning at 6:30 and went out to were Jon and Jota used to run. It was almost completely deserted at that hour, which was nice. The weather was cool and there were clouds; perfect weather I thought. I managed to actually run a kilometer, which I didn’t think I could do at this point. I was happy. And because of the weather, I didn’t even break a sweat. I went for an ice-cold shower anyway and then had breakfast at the Thu.

After lunch I took a nice nap (I never really napped much in Ho Chi Minh City) and when I woke up I saw that Long Xuyen was finally being kissed with a little sunshine.