Yesterday I received, via Tyler, my first Christmas card this season. It was from one of my third-year students. The envelope was decorated with beautiful calligraphy and it read: “Mr. Quan, A lovely small gift for you.” Some of you may know that Mr. Quan is a nickname that some teachers gave me about a year and a half ago, and now it’s written on the door to my room as well. Quan means curly.

Two years ago it seemed like I got tons of Christmas cards. However, last Christmas that turned into nothing. So I surely didn’t expect to get a card from anyone this year, let alone my students.

I was handed 81 essay exams this morning and I’ve been grading since 1:30 this afternoon, when I was finished with other grading that I had started yesterday. I’m still not finished with the essay exams and I’ve developed a headache from staring at them all day…

It feels like the cool air of Da Lat has followed me back to the Mekong Delta. Tyler and I arrived back in Long Xuyen about noon yesterday, and I unpacked and visited a friend before I collapsed into a late nap. Tyler was holding a Christmas party that evening, and I went there and snacked and joked with students before we wrapped up. We watched a movie to end the night while the wind was beginning to increase in the trees outside. I tumbled into bed, sighing with satisfaction, “I’m home.”

I woke to a cool morning, and it was rather chilly on the ride to the office this morning. Breakfast was something that I haven’t had for quite some time: it’s minced pork mixed with spices and served after being cooked in its own sauce. Usually people eat it with a fried egg, and I did too. I ate it with fresh, warm bread and ice cold coffee in the cool air.

Over the past few days I’ve been in the town of Da Lat up in the mountains, about a 7 hour bus ride from Ho Chi Minh City. I’m staying at the cheapest hotel ever, but I can’t complain about the four-dollar a night price. I’ve been getting in some really good nights of sleep, and I’m saying that this cooler air is responsible. I’ve just kinda been hanging out, which I haven’t done for such a long time. I’m on a cowboy-boot-wearing streak too, and at this point it’s more than 4 days of only wearing cowboy boots. Driving in this night air here really reminds me of fall at home, and then my thoughts turn towards real, true cold, which I haven’t known anything about for two years.

I’ve decided that tomorrow morning I’m going to start my slow progression back to Long Xuyen and head down the mountain and down south to Ho Chi Minh City and the heat and the madness of the traffic there. But I will miss driving in these hills with the cool wind on my face and the smell of pine trees around me.

This morning, at 7:30 a.m., I had my speaking exam with my second-year students. This was after a semester of studying the IC3 teaching materials. I was amazed with some of the students. Some of them were talking about their ideas about how to alleviate poverty in Vietnam, others were talking about how to protect water in the Mekong Delta area… it was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in two years here. Also, the confidence level seemed to be way up. Less than six months ago, one student was talking with a partner, and she got nervous and asked me a question in Vietnamese. Today however, this same student was talking to me one-on-one about her difficulties studying English.

This week has also been marked by the tragic passing of Dr. Xuan’s wife. I didn’t know her well, but I heard stories that she was an amazing woman. The funeral procession stopped by An Giang University today and some of the other foreigners and myself went to burn incense and pay our respects. Dr. Xuan and other family members were clad in white. There was a large procession of cars that were headed out to the border town of Ba Chuc, where she will be buried.

Some things that happened recently:

Sunday was my two-year anniversary in Vietnam. In 2004, I left Columbus, Ohio on December 1st and arrived here on December 3rd. Now, minus perhaps 10 days for retreats in Thailand and Cambodia, I’ve lived in Vietnam. It was interesting to reflect a little on the things that I haven’t done in two years. And even on the things that I consider to be normal after two years. For example, things that I haven’t done in two years: driven a car, drank tap water, used a shower curtain, had coffee at midnight, etc. Things that are normal after two years: chopsticks, crazy traffic, text messages, sweet coffee, etc. I’m afraid that I’ll be going through some huge culture shock going home.

Another thing that happened over the past few days: On Monday, after carefully arranging my schedule so that I would teach a lot on Tuesday to finish up some classes, I heard the news that all classes would be canceled. This was the first that I’d heard about this, ever, at AGU. The reason: the typhoon that had blasted the Philippines was headed for the southern Vietnamese coast, and it was predicted to come through An Giang. I was upset about the cancellation of classes, but I thought: “Hey, it’s a day off.” I woke up in the morning, expecting violent rain and wind, but I saw the sun shining in my window. I went out a little later to a repair show to have some adjustments made on the motorbike, and it was a little cool and windy, but nothing really to worry about. I met Tyler and we had lunch while the bike was getting finished up. We talked about the storm, and agreed that it really didn’t seem like it was worth canceling classes for. Then we heard it was about 60 km from us, and would be here in an hour. That hour rolled around, and then we heard it would hit between 6 and 8 p.m. And then it was bedtime. The only thing that I’d noticed the whole day was the cool air, the sprinkling rain and the wind. I would’ve loved to teach in that weather!

However, this typhoon, named “Durian,” did kill people up on the coast of Vietnam, and it destroyed lots of houses at places closer to the coast. So, I guess it was right to take it seriously, but maybe not so far inland.