December 28, 2011

A few days ago I made a decision that I wasn't real sure about: I bought a plane ticket back to the N. American continent. Not to visit, but to stay. Some of your may be wondering why.

I've written a lot about Vietnam, certainly more than I ever expected. In fact, in the beginning when o two people suggested it, I turned down the idea of having a website where I wrote about my daily adventures. I never imagined that Vietnam could be another Mexico City. Well, it isn't, but there sure was a lot to write about! And the fact that I really do like this country (Hanoi excepted), might make you wonder why ever I would leave here. And it does me, which is why, as I made my plane reservations, a plan began formulating itself in my head. Did I really want to leave forever? When would I come back? How could I live here with my current problems solved? How could I do what I really want - teach adults who really need it - and make enough money to save?

So as of now, I'm not leaving permanently, but rather, for a year. Because that plan which grew on its own, is telling me that after a year, I'll be better prepared to live here, and under my own terms. But to answer your question of why I am leaving, the reasons are numerous. No reliable transport, no furnished apartment in Bien Hoa, possibly no apartments in Bien Hoa, employment at a school which isn't a school, but a monkey club with zero management (and this is considered to be one of the best schools here)... yup, I think that's enough to send anyone away. Temporarily anyway.

I know I'll grow weary of MC within a year, so it'll be nice to return to a place I feel very comfortable in, like and want to return to. And when I return (because I know you're asking "but how will it be different?"), I hope to do so with a much better understanding of the language, a motorcycle license (which I'll then be able to transfer over to a Vietnamese motorcycle license) and contacts. Which will resolve the major issues I've had.

I think that it's not a coincidence that I've decided to do this at the same time that I've run out of things to write about. Well, there's a few more things, but without pictures, it would make the story boring.

So, I'll close out my writings for now, and leave you with things that I'll miss about Vietnam...

motorbikes galore
the Vietnamese hat
overburdened electrical lines
the train passing through my neighborhood
the variety of veggies, tropical fruits and food in the shops
the kids biking home on the Vietnamese bikes
how people use their homes as businesses
the friendly hellos of children on the street
the lack of xenophobia.

December 27, 2011

Exploitation at its Best

In addition to the students going to school 6 or 7 days a week, the adults go to work just as much. The average work week here is 6 days a week, even if you work in an office. (If you work for the gov't, you get some benefits. For example, employees of the HCM Palace get a 2 hour lunch break every day even though they only work about 6 hours. That means you, the tourist, better not show up at the gate at 12:31pm.) Many, including the office staff in my school, work 7 days a week. This doesn't make any sense to me that the employees accept this exploitation of their labor, but I'm not Vietnamese. And they haven't experienced the rest of the world.

Last night I met a university professor who teaches law. She works 6 days a week too. Not only does she work 6 days a week, but when she works, it's 3 different shifts - mornings, afternoons, evenings. She has 2 small children. I don't think she sees much of them.

Yen, my neighbor downstairs, makes the average salary in Vietnam even though she works in an office - $150 a month. When you calculate the hours she works every month, it comes up to nothing per hour. Good thing she has free housing from her aunt.

And so this is how the world we live in functions - yet another overworked, underpaid society, where there are only 5 national holidays a year (one of the fewest in the world) and nobody's complaining or taking to the streets.

To view the truth about the poor and what they are often forced into doing, please watch the video on this page link by the British band The Muse...

December 25, 2011

Sign Languages

One of the interesting aspects to traveling around the world (now I can say that!) is learning that each country doesn't have just one language, but sometimes two. There's the spoken language, but sometimes there's also a sign language. The Chilangos have the finger yes (move your first finger up and down like a finger puppet), the Turks have the chin no (toss your chin in the air and close your eyes if you wish), and the Vietnamese have the hand twist no (put one or both hands in the air and shake them side to side like a tamborine). I've thought about it and I don't think that the U.S. has a sign language. Unless you count the middle finger. ;)

December 24, 2011

Kids Don't Get to Be Kids in Vietnam

For me, teaching kids doesn't have many rewards. As most of your know, I'm not a kid person and I don't have patience for them. So teaching at these schools hasn't exactly been the highlight of my life. But that being said, there are a few things I've learned from them being their student of culture.

Back when I was in HCMC, I had a class of university students. One night, I asked them, "Why are you learning English?" But instead of waiting for their responses, I continued. "Because English isn't the language of the future." I waited a moment and then asked, "Do you know what the language of the future is?" and as usual, only one student spoke those magical words. Chinese, she answered and we began a short discussion about China, its power and how I think they should all be learning Chinese. Half of the class agreed with me (not about learning Chinese, but that China is the next global power) and half didn't. At one point, a male student responded, "Vietnam is the next big country." The class laughed. I didn't however, because he may very well be right.

The Vietnamese might be poor, and they might be ignorant on some topics, but they aren't stupid. They enjoy learning, want to learn and spend a whole lot of time doing it.

Most kids who are between 12 and 18 get up around 5:30 every morning. They start school between 6:30 and 7am. Then they stay in school for about 9 hours, until 5 o'clock. They leave school, go immediately to English class (1-2 hours, 3 days a week), then home. They study and do their homework, and they're in bed by 10pm. Somewhere in between, they eat dinner. When they tell me their schedules, I never hear words like, play, video games, or see my friends. Those are words reserved for the weekend - usually Sunday. They also go to school on Saturday! Not for a whole day, but it's school nonetheless. And some of them even have a class or two on Sunday morning.

With all these hours at the school and studying, there is no time for them really to be kids. But you rarely hear them complain or object to it. Most likely because, except for Hollywood movies, they don't realize that it isn't like this in many parts of the world.

And so, this is why I wouldn't be surprised if Vietnam did become some kind of big player in the world within the next 25 years. Because after hearing child after child repeat the same daily schedule, and seeing how enthusiastic they are to learn English, but how silent they are about all the studying they have to do, I can't believe that all this brain power is going to waste. I definitely believe that the young generation has the ability to move the country forward and up. Whether they believe it, is another matter.