I’m finally getting creative with my classes! Monday and Tuesday afternoons I teach British Literature to the third-year students. However, I decided that there was too much of me lecturing and asking questions. So, I took part of the first scene from King Lear and re-wrote it so that the language was far more understandable, and made groups of students get up and act. The theatre or Shakespeare classes that I took as a student usually involved watching live performances or videos of plays, but we don’t really have access to all of that here, so I just made the students get up and act. I had the “older daughters” flattering “Lear” with sweet, falsetto voices; I had “Lear” shouting in rage at his youngest daughter. We can read all we want about Shakespeare, and I can lecture till I’m blue in the face, but nothing compares to trying the words out themselves and trying to make them come alive.
Then today was American Studies class. I had prepared some handouts for The Great Gatsby and On the Road to try and give them a feel for some famous novels from the 20th century. But I’ve been reading things on the internet about the World Series and wishing that I could teach my fourth-years a little about baseball. I decided to whip up a handout with some basic rules and some pictures of the action (video must be heavily copyright protected, because I can’t find any for downloading anywhere). Then, I recruited Tyler to come to class for a few minutes to play catch. My parents had brought over two baseball gloves and some baseballs last Christmas time, and now I used them as part of a demonstration. The students were so interested! They all wanted to try, and since most people are right handed my glove was passed around while Tyler used the left-handed one. It was amazing to see slender girls with a big mitt on catching floating throws while the rest of the class watched and cheered at the catches. So many other students stopped walking to watch and even more peered around the corners of buildings to see what the commotion was. Some of my students said that the gloves had “a terrible smell” and Tyler and I disagreed and said that they smelled wonderful. I took them back to class to try to explain more of the rules to them, and the questions came flying: “How do you score?” “What about the time?” “Is there a score limit” etc. I teach another section of the fourth-years tomorrow morning and we’ll be doing the same thing. And next week I’m trying to get both of the sections together to watch The Natural. I think it’s illegal to have this much fun teaching.
I heard this recently:
“This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.” -FDR, 1933
There certainly is a different attitude in the leadership of America 76 years later.
Last Thursday, after finishing all my work early, I headed to Ho Chi Minh City with Hendrik and Tri. We left early in the morning and somehow I slept through the extremely bumpy road which seems to be a least half of the road to the city. I’m surprised that I didn’t get sleep-whiplash or something.
We made it through the bus ride and Hendrik and I collapsed at the hotel. The main purpose of this particular trip, in my opinion, was to eat; more specifically, to eat things that I can’t eat in Long Xuyen. So, after we were all checked in and whatnot and Tri had arrived with his motorbike, we headed for pizza. Tri has always said that he likes it, but he confessed to not having eaten it for three or four years. Our eyes were bigger than our stomachs and we had to take leftovers back to the hotel. We ate so much that the two of us just slept until later in the evening before going out for a very light dinner.
The remainder of the time was spent eating and buying foodstuffs that we can’t buy or only dream about in Long Xuyen. These included: three different kinds of Tabasco sauce, feta cheese, spaghetti sauce, etc. But I thought it would be appropriate to write down a kind of food diary me (sometimes Hendrik and I ate the same thing):
-Thursday Lunch: Stuffed-crust pizza (lots of it).
-Thursday Dinner: French Fries Canadian Style (with gravy and bits of feta cheese).
-Friday Lunch: Double cheeseburgers (the closest thing that Vietnam has to McDonalds).
-Friday Dinner: Weiner Schnitzel, home fries, cabbage, and traditional German noodles (It was German night and I was traveling with an expert).
-Saturday Breakfast: French Toast (with good coffee and bad tomato juice).
-Saturday Lunch: Big, juicy bacon cheeseburgers.
-Saturday Late Dinner: Burritos that we carried on the bus ride home (with jalapenos).
We definitely had our fill of good stuff. And then on Sunday morning Hendrik, Steven and I met Sharla to eat lots of greasy beef and eggs for breakfast, and the good food continued.
Once again the sun is shining and it’s hot. My oddly colored shirt smells like woodsmoke, and I’m not sure where the smell came from exactly. Construction on campus A of AGU is full swing: they’re building an internal road for the university, which means that now there is gravel and curb construction underway.
Also, construction is progressing on a new classroom block. This means that the foundation is being laid at this point. However, the Mekong Delta has a very high water level, so foundations are quite different from the States. Building foundations here involve driving lots of eucalyptus trees into the sandy and wet soil. These trees don’t rot after long periods in water, so they are a cheaper method of getting a solid foundation in this particular area of the world. The process of driving them into the ground is by mounting some kind of a ram/scaffolding thing (I guess you can call it that) with a gasoline-powered engine on it. When the engine is given some throttle, it works its way down this frame while pushing the tree into the ground. The engines used for this never seem to have much in the way of an exhaust, which makes them very loud when they do the actual pushing work. Luckily my classrooms are on the other side of campus, or I’d be yelling most of the time in class just to be heard over the noise.
This week was music week for my American studies class. I made a CD beginning with old fiddle songs and then progressing through modern songs. There were 21 total, and I wrote out the lyrics to all of them and gave them to the students. I know I had fun in class. I hope the students did too. It’s not every day that you see Vietnamese students, usually so quiet and respectful, tapping their feet and desks along to the music of “Gospel Plow,” or singing along with Hank Williams at 8:30 in the morning. This morning I even brought my guitar to class and sang a couple verses of “Don’t think twice, it’s alright.” I decided to teach in this manner because this particular class is supposed to be about America. I thought, “What better way to try to understand a culture than by looking at its art.” I’m going to try to teach some modern literature in a few weeks, and I hope I can get them into it too.
The sun is now shining more than before. It was warm and bright after I finished my class this morning and wandered into the library looking for Hendrik to have a coffee with me. I was tired, despite the fact that I went to bed at 10:30 last night. I went to my evening class last night to find out that my class had finished and I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to my students, but I was glad that I didn’t have to teach anymore at night. Actually, before I got to my classroom at night I stopped by the office to grab a pen. From down the hall I saw that the light was on. When I opened the door my colleague, Lam, was sitting there working, and his little daughter was standing and kind of dancing around on a chair while she watched English kids songs on a computer screen. She’s always shy around me, but gave me a wide-eyed wave goodbye as I was stepping out of the office. Later on, after I found out about my class being over, I stayed up and played computer games with Tyler and Steven and then did some last-minute lesson planning before bed.
Class was good this morning; a lot of listening which probably made the students tired. But I’m excited about using these new materials, and I hope the students enjoy something that’s a little different. As usual, the office was filled with smiles and jokes this morning. I gave an extra handout for my music class to one of my office colleagues and he was gleeful as he listened to Simon and Garfunkel and asked me about meanings of words and phrases while I read the news from America.
This Sunday evening was movie night. I was showing a movie from Iran and on the way there it was starting to rain. Rain here usually takes a heavy toll on attendance for anything, but it really hits on a Sunday evening. For once we started nearly on time. However, I was disappointed as I looked around and only saw seven students from my class of 38. During the movie people kept walking into the room, and I saw more of my students coming in. Then, with about 5-10 minutes left in the movie, the power went out. The power came back on, and in the process of restarting the LCD projector I talked to the monitor of my class and he told me that 30 students where there, which made me feel much better. Then the power came back on and we restarted, and got a little further before the power went off again. We were so close to the end that I just told people that they could go home. I thought the movie was a little artsy, and I was worried that most people watching it wouldn’t care for it, but afterwards a student came up to me and said “Thay oi!” (this phrase literally means “hey teacher,” and I’ve asked this student before why she addresses me in Vietnamese, and she just responded: “I like to.”). I asked her what she wanted and she asked for more information about the movie. Then a man I’d never seen came up and asked about the title in very good English and then wrote it on his hand (I later learned that he works in a company nearby).
Finally, me and three other teachers made it out of the room and decided that we were going to Quy’s Speaking Club. Quy is the name of a man who runs a small sidewalk restaurant which serves good grilled beef rolled up in leaves. One weekend, we decided that it would be a good idea to go there after English Speaking Club (which we abbreviate as E.S.C.), and we gone there a couple times on Sunday evenings after activities with students. Our little pun is to call this get together Quy S.C., because Quy sounds the same as the word “we” in English, so the whole thing sounds like E.S.C.
After eating beef for some time with a light drizzle falling on the awning above where we were sitting, we decided that it was time to head home. As we were leaving the owner/cook of the place grabbed my hand and said: “Thank you, teacher.” On the way home a group of kids yelled “hello!” in a friendly way, a way that made me think that they’d only seen a few foreigners in their lives. And to top everything off, when I was almost home a student said “Hi, Eric” as I drove to campus. These things may seem superficial, to an observer, but they just made me feel so appreciated, not only by the students and teachers at AGU, but by the people in the community as well. When these things happen it makes me never want to leave this place.
It’s still raining here!! I can’t believe this is still happening. The newspapers this morning showed pictures of this typhoon blasting the central coast of Vietnam and then crossing over Laos and Thailand before dying out. I was actually cold in the office this morning after driving through the light rain and then sitting in a very air conditioned office.
Perhaps it’s something with all these clouds and rain. Perhaps it just goes with this time of year. I just feel like there are forces working against me. I’m doing the best that I can here, but sometimes I feel like some people are trying to undermine my efforts. Maybe it’s all just in my head and I’m imagining things. I can’t imagine deserting my students and friends here at AGU/Long Xuyen, no matter how awful things become. If you were to look at me and my teaching and what I’m doing here now, ostensibly everything looks great. Even I can’t find anything wrong. Perhaps it’s just some strange conspiracy theory that has taken shape in my mind and now I can’t get rid of it. I just want a little sun back.