The past few days have been overcast and drizzly, which cuts down considerably on the heat. It’s humid, yes, but also cool. Last night Steven and I met an older Australian man, Doug, at a good seafood restaurant. One of my favorite things to eat is raw, uncooked shrimp dunked in a mixture of wasabi, lime juice and salt and pepper. To some it sounds revolting, but it really is wonderful. We ate two plates of it last night. Previous volunteers used to talk about “the wasabi high,” which is actually a good description of what it’s like. A huge rush of heat and spice going straight up your nose before dissolving into a wonderful flavor surrounding tender shrimp flesh.
Last night was a small camping night on the main campus of AGU, and after dinner Steven and I put in brief appearances and hung out with our students for an hour or more. The foreign-language students had cooked chao (rice porridge) and insisted that I eat some, even though I told them that I just finished dinner. There were games in various places and lots of loud music as well. However, it was a small and puny shadow compared to what it was slightly two years ago.
Yesterday evening the rain started to fall. Not particularly hard, but steady for some time. Yesterday evening was also the second goodbye party for Steven in as many days. It was nice and relaxing and just a few doors down from where we’re living now in the old guest house. If you haven’t read this blog for a year or are not a former volunteer who has worked at AGU, then you don’t know what I’m talking about, so let me explain. Every year the foreign volunteers are asked to move out for a period of time while they overtake our house with photocopy machines and seal the place with paper so no one can see through the windows or anything. They do this to copy and prepare the AGU entrance exam. These entrance exams are taken very seriously (last year there was one available slot for every 15-20 students that took the exam), and hence the exams are protected with the most secrecy that this culture can muster up. Because of all the secrecy, all the foreigners have to move out to a place called the old guest house. The rooms are a little smaller and not quite as nice, but they are still rather quiet and pleasant. However my cat is taking some time to get used to the new location. And they are currently remodeling the room next to mine, which usually means an early wake-up with some kind of loud construction noise.
This whole entrance exam business leads to a discussion of academic ethics in Vietnam. Students here are taught to respect their teachers and not to question their judgment. Students stand up to attention when I walk into a classroom. They nod deeply to show respect to teachers. However, there is a horrible epidemic of cheating on exams here. These two things are incompatible in my mind: respecting teachers yet cheating on exams. Having just finished grading nearly 100 literature exams less than a week ago, I know that many students were cheating (they all had the same answers!!), but I’m not allowed to give/monitor my own exams, for fear that a student may bribe me for a better grade. So the task is given to other “impartial” teachers, who turn a blind eye to cheating, and then I am handed exams to grade that are very suspiciously similar. I don’t know how or why this culture of cheating on exams is permitted within a culture that ostensibly says it honors teachers near the same level as parents. I’ve read on the news that cheating on university entrance exams is also endemic in China, so perhaps it is an East-Asian culture thing. But these two things–respect for teachers and accepted cheating on exams–are two things that do not logically fit together in one culture in my mind.
I’ve thought about where I went to college, Bluffton, and how we had an honor code there, so exams weren’t even monitored. I’ve thought about what would happen if I tried that here. Students would just cheat; they have no honor or true respect for their teachers.
Eck… I’ve been sick over the past few days and it really isn’t too pleasant. I was down with a host of symptoms: a fever, a cough, runny nose, etc. However, after what feels like about 2 days in bed I’m feeling much better now. And the sky just opened up and currently rain is being dumped onto the dusty ground.
I called home yesterday as the occasion was Father’s Day, and talked to the folks at home which was very nice. They were headed up to a ball game in Cleveland, and I really would’ve liked to be there. I guess the next time that I’ll actually see a baseball game in person will be next spring. As a matter of fact, the last distinct baseball game that I remember watching on T.V. was with Kari during the playoffs between Boston and the Yankees in 2004… What a great series…
Steven will be leaving Vietnam on Friday, the 29th of this month. He’s already planning several goodbye parties, which is something that must be done because you can’t have everyone you know come to one party; just too expensive and too many people at once. Once he’s gone only I will remain here for the summer.
And just because it’s raining, here’s the Beatles: Rain
On Thursday Steven and I decided to make a whirlwind trip to Ho Chi Minh City to see a friend’s art exhibition.
So we were there on Thursday, saw the art exhibition, ate some great food and then hung out late at night with some VIA volunteers who also work in the Delta area.
Then the next early afternoon we were on a bus back to Long Xuyen.
And just for fun, a good Bob Dylan song, New Pony.
This past weekend the small delegation from AGU returned from their short trip to the States to attend one session of the Summer Peacebuilding Institute (SPI) at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU). This small delegation consisted of two English teachers and two of my second-year students from class 6d1 (technically they’re now third-year students I guess). I’d been in contact with the students a little via Yahoo Messenger, and was aware of some of their difficulties acclimating and studying in Virginia, and I’d told them that I’d like to take them out to coffee when they got back. So yesterday I got a phone call and was invited out to breakfast on Monday morning. So we went out and I had a million questions for them about what they did and what they saw and what they ate, etc. And of course they too had great stories about weird things that they encountered and flying, etc. It was a good conversation and a good time. I finally had to leave to get some other work done, but I’d still like to hear more of their impressions from their short trip. However, I’ve heard a rumor that these two students might be my “IC3 assistants” in the coming semester.
Here is Thong (pronounced quite similarly to the English name “Tom”) and Hue (pronounced something like the English word “weigh”). Also included in the picture is a nice close-up of my finger.
The sun is hot as raw electricity and I hide in my room with curtains drawn and A/C on. It’s Sunday, the day of rest, and I’m taking that very seriously, especially today. Even the cat has retreated into a desk cupboard, though it really can’t be cooler in there. I’m hunched over the computer typing and listening to obscure music with a exhaust burn on my right leg from an embarrassing event yesterday–a lottery ticket a friend bought me didn’t win, which is usually the norm in this country. The summer lies ahead, a mostly black area of unknown. I’d like to visit another country near here while I still have the chance, but I don’t even know the fate of my visa at this point. If I leave now, I can’t get back in the country and I’d be stuck somewhere living in a hotel until I could get another visa somehow. One thing that I know for sure is that I’ll have to do the yearly move-out at the beginning of next month so that they can use the International Guest House for the university entrance exam. I’ll be in a room with no fridge and I’ve heard they’ve been recently remodeled, with good and bad reviews. Books wait to be read and a few tests wait to be graded too, and the sun recharges and waits to heat the landscape every evening.
Hendrik has left AGU and tomorrow he’ll be on a plane back to Germany. The little group of four single guys is now half gone.
Times are changing here in the foreign population at AGU. I don’t mean for this blog to turn into something all emo, but I just can’t help thinking how life is going to be different here; a shadow of what it once was.
A good song for the the times.