Well, my computer has been busted for a good long while and now I have to go to the library to use the internet. I come here and I can’t force myself to write on command. Too much pressure or something with people all around and whatnot. So I find myself unable to tell stories and post pictures like I did with the computer in my room. I hope to solve this problem soon, but for the time being it will just be rare posts.

Last week was an MCC retreat in Cambodia and it was nice to meet up with Ben and Alisa and meet some other MCCers from the region. The topic for the whole thing was postmodern worship, or something to that effect, and it was rendered null the first day when the presenters mentioned that it’s not really applicable in our positions in Southeast Asia. But there were interesting points. I didn’t really do much there except eat a lot of bacon which wreaked havoc on my digestive system. By the end of the five days I was tired of never speaking Vietnamese and on the boat ride back I was grateful to have some interesting conversations with guys on the boat.

But now I’m back, and glad to be, and things are mostly slow. Sharla has finally come to the (in)decision that she’s not coming back next year, which is kind of a downer, but people come like the dust and are gone with the wind as some people say. Next month things are really gonna pick up for me and I’ll be back to my usual hectic self.

This past Saturday and Sunday was the most motorbike riding I’ve ever done here. It all began with Tyler and Sharla’s boss, Justin coming for a visit. He wanted to visit the coastal towns of Rach Gia and Ha Tien, both on the Gulf of Thailand. I was free and offered my motorbike and driving services, and it was set. Justin went ahead of us all to Rach Gia on Friday afternoon and Tyler, Sharla and I were going to follow on Saturday morning and meet him there.

Saturday morning we were all up and out by 7:30 to get some coffee to help wake up for the trip. Then we hit the road for the 70-80 km to Rach Gia. It was nice driving in the morning before it got too dreadfully hot. Once again I was wearing a long sleeved shirt for sun protection. The trip was nice and not very exciting (i.e. there were no close calls on the highway). We arrived at Justin’s hotel around 10:00 and sat around waiting for him to return, all the while chatting with the hotel manager.

When Justin came back we decided to drive around the city for awhile before heading out to Ha Tien up near the border. So our strange caravan headed out. But Justin and I looked back and Tyler wasn’t there. So I turned around and found Tyler examining a broken clutch cable. Actually, it seemed like the best place in the world to have something like that happen. We pushed the bike around the corner and there was a shop that had it repaired in about 10 minutes.

Our little drive around Rach Gia wasn’t that exciting, but we found a place to eat some lunch and turned the bikes around and headed to Ha Tien.

From Rach Gia to Ha Tien is about 90 km, and this started to wear us all down. We stopped once to lie in hammocks and sip on lemon juice for a good 20 minutes to let our butts have some recovery time.

Finally we got to Ha Tien and found a clean and cheap hotel and rested and then went exploring for some dinner and ice cream before heading back to bed.

The next morning we checked out and headed out to the Cambodian border, just to see it. Most people can’t legally cross it, but we went and had a look before headed to a beach area to get some lunch. We sat in our chairs on the beach and relaxed and chatted before eventually ordering some food. And then about 12:30 or 1:00, possibly the hottest part of the day, we decided to get back to Long Xuyen. It was, after all, a Sunday and Tyler and Sharla and I had English Speaking Club at 6:30.

And thus the trip back began. We knew that the trip by bus took 2.5-3 hours, and we also knew that it would be longer and more uncomfortable on the motorbikes. So, we figured, the earlier the better. We had our first rest about 35 km outside of Ha Tien, near the border with An Giang province. However, while we were lying in hammocks, the sky turned darker and darker and we heard thunder in the distance. We decided to get out of there quickly and try to outrun the storm. The turn was made and we were back in An Giang and headed away from the rain. The road here was straight, smooth, and there wasn’t a lot of traffic, so this was the fastest I drove during the whole trip (of course, when compared to America standards isn’t very fast at all).

We past the mountains of Tri Ton, quickly filled up with gas, and kept moving. The sky was still dark and threatening. Eventually we found yet another hammock resting area, talked about where we would have dinner at home, and then drove again.

There was a spot of slightly heavier rain which soaked the front of my shirt and got me cold, and then a toll booth, and then the junction meaning only about 15 km back to home… And then the rain hit hard. We had to stop and take shelter. I put on my dirty, long-sleeved shirt from the day before to keep warm. We started again, trying to make it back, and then the rain hit heavy again. And this whole process was repeated one more time.

Finally the drizzle was light enough for us to make it home in our soaked clothes. I headed right for a warm shower and shoes to keep my feet dry, and we were off the English Speaking Club. Recently we’ve been trying a new idea with the club, that is, let the students take charge and have minimal interference. This lets the students choose topics that interest them most, and hence leads to a more energized evening.

After E.S.C., we had a quick dinner with Justin and a short time of entertainment on the T.V. before nearly literally collapsing into bed.

I’m finishing up the class of American literature that I taught the bulk of in January.  I only taught 2.5 hours this morning, but it was such a rush; a reminder that this is where I’m in my element.  Once again I found myself getting chills as I read passages from the text; once again I found myself practically stumbling over my own words to answer students questions; once again I found myself raising my voice and arms in excitement.  This is what I feel best doing.  Maybe it was simply the fact that it was in the morning and I had more energy before the heat of the afternoon set it.  I was sweating but the love of the material made everything else seem irrelevant.  I only have another hour and a half teaching this subject this semester, and half of that I have to use for review.  I’m hoping to rework the American Studies class next fall into more of a literature course so I can try to imitate these ecstatic feelings again.

Well, it’s official.  An Giang University has now blocked all webpages related to blogspot, so therefore I’ll probably be updating less.   I really could go ranting on a tangent here, but I won’t.  I’ll talk to some people in the technology department and see what they say about it all.   Who knows, maybe something different will become of it.

 

Anyhow, I wanted to write about yet another trip that I went on with some students.  This one was to the coastal town of Ha Tien, where I went before with some other students during the week preceding Tet.  These are second-year students; my class from last spring semester.   Sharla is their teacher now, so Sharla and I were invited to go along and Tyler turned down the invite due to his health (he hasn’t exactly been feeling himself for several days).

 

The one drawback to this trip, as it is with nearly every student trip, is the early departure time.  This trip in particular took the cake in that department.   They wanted to leave at 3 a.m., and Sharla had said that she and I would meet them at 2:50 at the school gate to collectively wake up the security guard to let us out.   Hence, I set my alarm for 2:30 figuring all would be okay.  Except I couldn’t get to sleep until 11.  And then my alarm went off at 2:30 and I snoozed it, thinking I had time for at least 5 more minutes in bed.   When the alarm went off again it was closely followed by the sound of Sharla knocking on my door.  The students had come at 2:30 to get her and I was next in line.   I stumbled out of bed and threw on some clothes before stumbling to the waiting bus.

 

We drove and I nodded off at several points.  Once we stopped for the driver to get some coffee and I did too; it gave me a little more energy, but not much.   We finally arrived to our first destination: some hill that I didn’t remember the name of.  It was still about a quarter to seven, and the guard there wouldn’t let us climb around until seven, so after some waiting we began climbing up the path.   It was quite interesting.  It seemed as though there were dozens of caves on all sides of the mountain/hill.  Some were Buddhist shrines and also the students were saying that during the war soldiers would hide there.  However, it was a rather muggy morning and I’ve never been so completely soaked with sweat by 8 a.m., which was the time we finally finished our little trek.  I left there losing only about a gallon of sweat and a few drops of blood after stepping into a hole while walking inside one of the caves.   Then it was time for the beach.

 

I did what I usually do at beaches: sit.  I actually dozed off because of the exhaustion while most of the students splashed around and played games on the sand.   We had some packed lunches and then we were informed that it was time to go to the market in Ha Tien.

 

The market was rather dull and it was insanely hot and sunny, so Sharla and two students and I split for a café and had a cool drink.   Then people were piling back onto the bus and it was time to go to yet another place.  We arrived at the Cave Pagoda and most of us (including yours truly) had fallen asleep during the ride, so we were all groggy.   It’s actually a rather interesting place: you have to walk through a kind of cave/tunnel and you emerge near a beach.  But we were after a boat that took us around the corner from the beach to a more famous cave.   We docked and walked on a little wooden walkway, which at times was knee-deep in the water, and found we were in a narrow, but very tall cave where at one point, a king of one of Vietnam’s dynasties was hiding.   We had a tour guide, but of course he only spoke Vietnamese, so some of the students were helping Sharla and I understand what was being said.  After we all got out of the cave, it was a brief trip back to the shore and we walked out past the pagoda to the place where all the buses were parked.  Some of the students wanted to buy stuff at the market there, so most people split up and went in their own little groups.   Sharla and I were with two students and we decided to buy some kind of big, shrimp-like thing.  There’s no word in English to properly to describe them, but they are very tasty.   We bought a kilo for the four of us and the seller dumped them into a pot of boiling water and served them to us in a plastic bag.  Not long after we ate them it was finally time to head home.

 

We got back to the guesthouse around 7:15.  We left Long Xuyen when it was dark and came back when it was dark.   Sleep came very quickly for me.