HCMC Dining Guide

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Well, the new experiences keep piling up. Last week I drove in a rainstorm for the first time, and tonight I drove through the aftermath of a bad storm - flooded streets. I parked at a cafe to have dinner and do some reading before work, and by the time I left there was standing water in the street, so I had no choice but to mount up and head into the new branch of the Saigon River. I thought it would get better once I turned onto a major street but...no. Motos were dying left and right as people tried to avoid stopping in the middle of the water. I ended up driving with my legs up high, trying to keep my dress pants from getting soaked in nasty street water. Luckily my trusty Honda delivered me safely, if a little drenched, to work. We're heading towards the end of the wet season, so I can only imagine what it will be like once summer rolls around.

Work is going well so far, but before I get to my classes I'd like to share a fascinating conversation I had with one of the older Vietnamese teachers tonight. He served as an interpreter during the Vietnam War, acting as a liason between the South Vietnamese army and the American military. He narrowly escaped death three times - once, he was driving a jeep on a night patrol and hit a land mine. There was an American officer sitting next to him, and the explosion tore off half of the officer's head, while seriously injuring the other occupants. I asked if he left the country after the war, because the victorious NVA hunted down many South Vietnamese that cooperated with the Americans and either killed them or sent them to prison camps, which was as good as a death sentence. He stayed in Vietnam, which probably means he avoided a manhunt at some point. I wanted to talk to him some more but I had to go start my class. He assured me that the country has changed a lot since the end of the war, as I've already noticed. I love hearing historical accounts like that.

Anyway, onto the teaching. I teach seven different classes, and they range in age groups from 8-10 year olds up to classes of young adults around my age. There are even a few students over 30 in the more advanced classes. This diversity keeps me on my toes, since I have to basically act like a giant goofball for the kids, while I can have serious conversations with the older classes. I'm enjoying everything so far, although teaching is certainly hard work - don't let anyone tell you it's easy. I'm not going to do a rundown of every class I have, but I'd like to share a few common themes that I've noticed when it comes to Vietnamese students.

1) Walk into any class of students and ask a general question of the class. For example, "Why do you want to score well on the TOEIC test?" The entire class will stare at you like you just insulted their mother. It is almost impossible to get a response out of a class when you just ask the entire group a question. You have to either call on someone or get them working in small groups. This trait actually really annoys me. It's frustrating when you spend 5 minutes going over something and then ask "OK, did everyone understand that?", and you are greeted with the kind of silence you would normally only hear in space. I still haven't quite adjusted to this, although I guess I will soon enough. It makes breaking the ice at the start of class a little difficult, to say the least.

2) If you give students a set of instructions, they will follow them to the T. For example, an activity I like to use in class is a survey, where a student asks a number of other kids a few questions related to the topic of the day. In order to do this I have them draw a chart with the labels "name" and then whatever the question is, with the rows below that in which they fill in the answers. I drew a box on the board and divided it into cells in order to illustrate what I wanted them to do, and it basically looked like a drunk blind person had been handed a marker and told "go!" When I told my students to draw a chart like mine, they took out rulers en masse and began drawing their charts with accuracy that would make a computer proud. As soon as I saw this I explained that they didn't need to draw a perfect geometric square, just a rough outline of one. It was hopeless, though, once they started they couldn't be stopped, and more time was spent drawing the things than actually filling them in.

Also, if you are going through a practice test and decide to skip a few questions so you can move on to the next section, you will be informed that you are making a mistake. I teach a class that prepares students for the TOEIC, a major international English test, and one day I decided to skip some questions that were getting repetetive so we could work on the next, more difficult, section. As soon as I read the new question several students said "Teacher!! You skipped some!!" It took considerable effort to explain that we were skipping them for a reason.

3) Names can also be an interesting topic, in two ways. First, I'm finding out that I am horrible at pronouncing Vietnamese names. I often say a name and proudly look up, thinking that I nailed it, only to be met with amused stares and realize that I wasn't even close. In some cases I simply write the name on the board and then they're like "Ohhh that's what you meant...she's right there." Or, if I have a Vietnamese TA (as I do in the classes with children, they are there to discipline the kids and interpret, in case I say something that doesn't make sense), I will often attempt to say a name - blank stares - and then the TA will say it and the student responds immediately. Oftentimes I can barely even tell the difference between our pronunciation, which frustrates me, since I pride myself on trying to be culturally informed and break the stereotype of the ignorant American. It will just take repitition to get these names right, I suppose.

The other aspect of names that interests me is the American ones that the younger students pick to make life easier for us stoopid Westerners. One boy in my youngest class picked Leroy, which amused me to no end for some reason. There's the girl who goes by Milk because she likes to drink...milk. Another goes by Mice; I have no idea why, but I sure hope she doesn't enjoy eating them. Some of the names the girls pick are beautiful - Isabella, Vanessa, things like that, while the boys usually go for simple ones like Steven, Eric and John. Sometimes I wonder who the inspiration is for their names; whether they know of some famous person who has that name or if it's just a random one someone picked for them at some point.

4) Finally, little kids LOVE, I mean really LOVE singing songs. One of my lessons this past weekend had a song in it, so I explained that they would be singing and showed them the lyrics, thinking they would need to hear it at least once before they could sing it themselves. Umm, not quite. As soon as I hit play the entire class began to belt out the song at maximum volume. I couldn't help but laugh and be amazed at their enthusiasm for such a simple song - I can't remember the lyrics, but it was basically someone introducing himself in the form of a song. I now understand why horrifically bad pop music and karaoke are so popular here.

So, those are some of my thoughts on classes so far. None have been disastrous, and none have been incredible, so I'll take the middle ground. I also interviewed at another school yesterday, and I may have the opportunity to teach History and Geography there, which excites me greatly. We'll see how that goes. Oh and I have another leg wound to add to the tally from a couple posts ago, this time from a motorbike exhaust pipe that was approximately the same temperature as the surface of the sun. My left calf now has a serious burn the size of two quarters on it, and whenever it is exposed people look at me like I have a contagious disease. Today at work I pulled my pants leg up to check on it. A co-worker spotted it and asked "What is wrong with you?", as if I had arterial blood squirting out of my leg. To be fair, it does look pretty nasty, and I just hope it heals soon. I suppose it's just part of life here - I learned today that some people call such a burn the "Saigon Kiss," since it's so common given the tens of thousands (perhaps millions?) of motorbikes that roar down the streets here every day. It's definitely the most painful kiss I've ever gotten.

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