Two things I was thinking about today: The way my university students stand up whenever I or any other teacher enters the classroom and say: “Good morning/afternoon, teacher!” And this process is repeated at the end of class too. I’ll say the final, “Any questions?” and then tell them they can go, but they’ll sit around a talk to each other or something while I pack up my things, and then when I turn to go out of the room, they’ll all jump to their feet and say, “Goodbye, teacher!” Julie once said that the students here spoil you, and it’s so true. Where in America is that kind of respect shown to teachers, even if the students despise them?

Another thing, perhaps superficial of me to think this, but the light switches here are different; something that I’ve never seen at home. Not the usual protruding plastic bit that I grew up with. Here they look like this:

light switch

This morning was the final speaking exam for my first-year students. Most were pretty nervous, which is understandable and I can identify with them because of it. However, this whole concept of a speaking exam to me is rather foreign, even though I’ve been doing them for a year now. How should I grade speaking skills? Pronunciation? Vocabulary? Grammar? Ideas? I tell myself that it’s a combination of about 5 different skills, but listening for all of them within 3 or 5 minutes is nearly impossible. Perfect objectivity in grading is impossible, no matter what the subject or exam format, but I feel that it’s particularly more difficult with these speaking exams.

Speaking of exams, the whole concept of testing in Vietnam is very unusual for me. Usually my students ask me to give them the possible topics for the speaking exams; however, I never do this because they’ll just memorize all the possibilities and then just speak by rote during the exam. This concept of memorization here… it’s very strange to me, and I’m sure to all foreigners brought up with differing educational systems. So during this time of the year, this is a common sight near the guesthouse:

Student in the shade

Students just sitting around in the shade with a notebook memorizing their lecture notes from a particular class. If you walk by you can usually hear them muttering softly; going over the notes line by line to get them all implanted in their brain for the exam, where they will be expected to write them again, exactly as they learned during the lecture.

About two days ago I finally got a certain other person to let me borrow an old picture. Just seeing it brought back some memories…

Me and Huyen

This particular morning I went out with Tri, a good friend who works in the International Relations Office, to eat some of the best eggs in town. I initially starting going to this small cafe because it was one of the few places in Long Xuyen that served eggs during the bird flu scare. We were playing around with this little camera and I got this shot:

Tri

We left the cafe rather abruptly because the sky was showing rain, and by the time I go back to the guesthouse there were small drops of water hitting me in the face. I parked in the garage and stepped back and thought: “This is the way it should be.”

The Garage

Last fall when I parked in the same place, I had to squeeze in amongst 3 other motorbikes and 4 bicycles. But now, with everyone gone, I have executive parking privileges.

Well, through contact with several people who travel to the city of Can Tho regularly, Steven and I have been able to keep a steady flow of processed cheese coming into the guesthouse. As much as I love grilled cheese, when I ate it I felt that there was always something missing. Then I knew what it was:

Dill Pickles

Dill Pickles. I found some last weekend when I was in Ho Chi Minh City and blew four bucks on a jar and wrapped them in dirty jeans in my backpack to reduce the risk of breakage. And last night Steven and I had pickles with our grilled cheese.

I just read a statistic that made me feel a little nauseous.

“Americans spend $40 billion a year—more that the gross domestic product of Vietnam—caring for their lawns.”

Sometimes I wonder about the priorities of the people who are my countrymen.