Impressions of driving (soon to be forgotten).

My students told me it was cold, and yeah, the air was slightly cooler than usual, but then again it was 8:30 in the evening and my shirt was made out of thin fabric. There were the occasional horn beeps as usual, and I made a left turn through an intersection without too much hesitation, and that bumped up my spirits just a tiny bit. Crossing the bridge I noticed that the water level was high and I looked left and saw the moon through wispy clouds. And then there was a person cooking something on the sidewalk and the smoke was billowing through another intersection, and it smelled like they were cooking pork, but I wasn’t sure. I went down a narrow street and there was a teenager running against traffic; I always wonder why people here run in the streets… most likely because there aren’t many other places to run I guess. I got through the big square without hitting the brakes, which is always a nice feeling, and saw the people on the sidewalk eating various types of snacks and then turned right. I looked into my friend’s family’s shop, but didn’t see him and then stopped at a light and then when it was green gunned my way through the intersection, while making over-exaggerated moves to indicate which side of opposing motorbikes I was going to drive by. I glanced to my left and fiddled with the clutch, gears, brakes, and throttle as I went through the big roundabout, and then looked to my right and dodged traffic coming from that direction before I was through it. Then I turned and was on a smaller road and the people riding and walking around were younger. I went straight past a cart selling boiled corn that I can’t eat because I’ve been spoiled by sweet corn my whole life. And then I was on a dirt and gravel bumpy road before going through the gate and winding around the campus and parking in the garage. Finally, inside my room, there weren’t other people around, and my cat wanted to see me.

It’s a breezy and sunny day here in Long Xuyen. Whenever it’s windy in town it seems to completely change the place. In some respects it’s quite refreshing, and in other areas the wind kicks up dust that gets into your eyes or blows the scent of some garbage towards you. But it’s nice to see the tree branches waving outside the office window.

In 29 days I’ll be on the plane home, and already the Foreign Language Department has organized a farewell party for me, and I’ve organized one of my own involving more people from the community. Three years ago I was finishing up my second round of farewells at home (due to a delayed visa) and preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family. Now I’m trying to imagine life away from Long Xuyen. Last night I went out to dinner with an older Australian man who’s been working in Long Xuyen for the past five years. When he learned that I was going home, he said, “I thought you were here for life.”

However, yesterday I learned that Will and Michelle, the two VIA volunteers that arrived here in late August, will be leaving Vietnam due to health problems. They’ve been in Ho Chi Minh City for the past several weeks visiting doctors, but I guess eventually it was just too much for them, and I don’t blame them. AGU is going to be quite pressed next semester to find enough teachers, because I will be gone (an interim replacement might be in the works, but I think it’d be too late for me to overlap with them), Lillian is leaving in February, and now Will and Michelle are also no longer here. However, AGU is partially culpable in their departure because when they first arrived there was a changeover in leadership in our department, and because of this it led to scheduling and other problems that created stress for first-time teachers. When I arrived here I was lucky to be in the company of other volunteers for about six months; volunteers who were just finishing extended stays in Long Xuyen. I think that after this next summer, it will be a completely clean slate in terms of foreign volunteers here; there will be no one overlapping which will make it more difficult for future volunteers to learn about the university, the city, the country and the culture.

It’s 11:14 a.m. on Teacher’s Day and I’ve received perhaps 20 text messages, mostly from students, but also from some other teachers at AGU. All of these messages contain wishes of good luck, happiness, success, etc. (As a matter of fact, I just received a message as I was typing that last sentence: “I wish you a happy teacher’s day and more success in your life”). It’s nice to hear that coming from students, some of which I haven’t seen for six months or more.

And last night was my final performance at AGU. Lillian, Jenna, Minh and I performed “The Weight” by the band. Our first performance was on Sunday evening, and we “passed” that round and were told that we would perform it again on Monday evening. Although I’m sure that very few people understood the lyrics, and much less the symbolism of them, I hope we made an impact with our costumes and harmonies.


The last performance.

This could very well be life in a microcosm: nothing is permanent. I look around this room, this house, this university, this town that has been my home for nearly three years and realize that it’s going to vanish soon and I’ll be back in middle America trying to survive the freezing weather and the society and culture that I decided I needed a break from such a long time ago. But things are going fine in my time of nearly no teaching. I’m getting little bits of work done that I should’ve finished ages ago but didn’t and treating time with friends as ever more valuable.

However, in health-related news things aren’t going so well. Michelle, one of the volunteers that arrived in late August, has been sick in Ho Chi Minh City for the past week and has been diagnosed with pneumonia and an inflamed appendix. She has to stay in the city for another week in order to make sure she’s completely recovered before returning to Long Xuyen. And over the past week there were reports of a Cholera outbreak in the northern provinces of Vietnam. I didn’t think twice about it, but now I’ve heard that’s been reported in Ho Chi Minh City, and just this morning I heard that five people here in Long Xuyen had been hospitalized with stomach/digestive track illnesses. So, not very good news in those areas.

When I first came to Vietnam, in 2003, SARS was the threat. From 2004 through this year, avian influenza was the threat. Cholera seems mild compared to the previous diseases, but all the same, I’m going to take precautions about what I eat for the next week or so.

It’s been cool for the past few days. Tyler tells me that it’s raining and flooding and cold in Hue, so I’ll say that Long Xuyen is being affected by that same weather system. The sounds of students preparing their performances for Teachers Day are constantly around campus, even though the day itself is still nearly three weeks away. I’ve decided since I’m not teaching any classes, I need to work on scheduling for my remaining classes once they resume at the end of this month. Also, I’ll need to spend a significant amount of time working with IC3 materials, such as working with test results, administering tests, and organizing some feedback from the students themselves. It’s going to be a month with less work, but I’ll still manage to stay busy with various things, one of which will be visiting friends.

“He not busy being born is busy dying…”

And that’s what my remaining time in Vietnam is continually doing now: dying. Seven weeks from today I’ll be flying out of this country into some unknown future. I had a quick breakfast with a couple colleagues and they were asking when I’d go home, and when one of them learned that it’d be before Christmas, he told me that the People’s Committee wanted to present gifts to the foreigners for Christmas. And then he said to let him know if I got married in America, but he didn’t think he could attend my wedding. It was touching to hear.

This past weekend I went to one of the most beautiful places in An Giang. It’s an ecological park not to far from the border with Cambodia. I went with two of the people that I first met on Christmas day, 2004, and therefore some of my oldest friends here in Vietnam.

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On the left and right are Mr. Pha and Mr. Trang, respectively, the guys that I met on Christmas day several years ago. In the middle is Mr. Tam, a former student of mine. Mr. Pha is the vice-director of the provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr. Tam works at the Irrigation Management Center in Long Xuyen, and Mr. Trang is the Chief Economic Officer for the province.

We traveled through most of the preserve in small boats and in some places where the water was still, it was covered with these green floating plants, which I’ve since learned are “duckweed” in English. Sometimes the stuff we were looking at really didn’t seem real because it was so beautiful and also strange and different (at least to me) at the same time.

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However, some of the best scenery at the preserve was from the observation tower in the center of the preserve. We had a 360-degree view of the mangrove forests below and of the mountains in the distance. By far some of the most beautiful scenery that I’ve encountered in Vietnam, or perhaps the world.