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Weekend 3

This past weekend we went to Mui Ne, which is known as “The Hawaii of Vietnam.” We stayed in a resort right on the water. It was really, really nice to fall asleep to the sound of the ocean waves instead of the beeping and commotion of the city!

When we first arrived, we went to a fishing village right on the water. Our bus got stuck in a ditch, but through community effort it quickly got dug out. Once we got on the beach there were starfish EVERYWHERE.

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We were only at the fishing village for about 15 before we departed for the sand dunes! We saw white and yellow sand dunes and they were beautiful. At the white sand dunes, we rented ATVs and rode up to the top of a view hills to enjoy the view. We got some exercise on the yellow ones because we walked to the top.

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People were sliding down them!

After that we had free time that we spent in the hotel’s pool and on the beach. It was definitely a relaxing weekend. I’ve never been to Hawaii, so I can’t compare, but Mui Ne is definitely a beautiful place to go for a vacation!

20130724-214353.jpgUs girls put our initials in the sand!

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Oh… it should also be noted that Geeta and I tried durian this week. Durian is a fruit that Vietnamese people LOVE. However, it smells awful and certain places ban it from being eaten there. It was my mission to try it while I was here. Here’s my summary: it smells like farts, it tastes like onions, and the texture was like nothing I’ve ever eaten and I couldn’t even describe it if I tried. I’m glad I tried it, but it’s safe to say I’ll never eat it again.

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Here’s a before picture:

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And an after picture:

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Week 3

Wow! Another week of teaching done. It’s really hard to believe that this Monday starts our last week here in Ho Chi Minh City.

This week I started a new story with each level. Level 1 read Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Eric Carle. We went over vocabulary and colored our own cut outs of each animal so we could act it out. The rhyme scheme helped the kids to remember the story easily and they had a lot of fun doing it.

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Level 2 read one of my personal favorites, Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. I let them listen to some songs and clips from the movie and they wanted to watch the whole thing! We made our own wild thing masks because, as you know, everyone has a little wild thing in them! When we acted it out the students had so much fun playing and dancing around. I hope they love the story as much as I do!

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Level 3 read Corduroy. Since they are a little older, I decided to let them create their own story books. I made them booklets with ten blank pages and they can write a story about whatever they choose. Some of the genres are comic books, mystery stories, and fairy tales. They are going to finish them this week before the final performance.

Friday was a school field trip to Kizciti, which is essentially a place where students can explore and learn about various occupations. They get “money” for each job they complete and at the end they put it in a bank to earn interest on it. Some of the occupations included firefighter, ice cream maker, doctor, banker, model, soldier, soccer player, farmer, lawyer, painter, and baker. The kids LOVED it. The firefighters were definitely my favorite because they traveled around in a truck and put a pretend fire out with actual hoses. I wish we had something like that in the US (even for adults who aren’t sure of what they want to do!). The kids learned a lot. Of course they’ll change their minds 100 times before they decide what they ACTUALLY want to do (I wanted to be a deep sea diver… then a dancer… then an artist….), but it was good exposure for them anyway!

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Also, on Wednesday Diana, Geeta, and I saw Despicable Me with our tour guide Thai. It was hysterical; I thought t was better than the first one.

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I know people say time flies when you’re having fun, but I didn’t expect it to go THIS fast. I feel like I just got here and there’s so much more I want to do. Nine more days. Better make it count!

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Weekend 2

Sorry for the lack of updates! This last week was so crazy that I couldn’t find the time to write about our WONDERFUL trip to the Mekong Delta. I’m actually currently writing this on the bus ride home from weekend trip 3, which I’ll update you on later.

Last weekend, from the 13th to the 14th, we went to the Mekong Delta and it was such a memorable experience. The entire environment was so peaceful and serene. It was definitely my favorite place I’ve seen so far.

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The Mekong Delta is so long that about 250 kilometers of it flows in Vietnam and the rest flows through Cambodia. It was so nice to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life and go into a rural atmosphere. There were no brand names and no high fashion; I prefer that! First we boarded a boat and went to a small hut to listen to a Vietnamese music performance. They served us tea with fresh honey made right there and cumquat juice. It tasted amazing. Allegedly the honey they make there is called “Royal Jelly” and has a ton of health benefits. They served us fruit while we drank the tea. I felt so refreshed afterwards!

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Next we visited a family that makes coconut candy and rice paper for a living. They made everything right there in front of us and we got to try a freshly made piece. It was so delicious that I bought some!

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In order to reach our next destination, we took a motor scooter with a cart on the back that fit all seven of us. It was so fun! We were all screaming and laughing. Then my FAVORITE part of the trip happened: we rode in a rowboat down the Mekong Delta. The entire ride was covered by a canopy of trees and it was breathtakingly beautiful. I’ve never experienced anything like that. It was so peaceful and quiet (a sharp contrast to HCMC). I couldn’t stop smiling the entire ride. We rowed to a restaurant where we ate lunch and departed for our hotel.

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The next day, we started off by going to the floating market, which is where a bunch of vendors go on their boats and sell fresh fruits and veggies to other people on boats. It was so crowded! All of us bought a coconut to drink and it was a whopping 15,000 Dong ($0.75 USD). It was so delicious. I love the concept of a floating market!

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Continuing our journey, we went to a fruit garden and saw all different types of fruit, such as dragon fruit, pineapple, durean, banana, coconut, and jackfruit being grown. The dragon fruit trees are so pretty and they look like a flower before the fruit itself blooms. We got to sample some of everything and I think you already know that I’m going to say it tasted fresh and amazing.

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Lastly we checked out a local fruit market. I’ve been eating nothing but fresh fruits and veggies since I got here and my body can definitely feel a difference. I like that all of it is so readily available here. I have to do some research when I get home and check out more farmers markets.

It was nice to have a taste of country life after being in HCMC for two weeks. The one thing that’s consistent in both places is MOTORBIKES! I am grateful for this opportunity in general. I’ve seen so many places and I learn something new everyday. I can’t believe that it’s almost time to come home, but I do miss pizza….and my family and friends…I guess ;)

(Just kidding about that last line mom and dad!)

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Week 2

Wow! I can’t believe our second week of teaching has officially ended. It’s going by so quickly. I hope the students are learning as much from me as I am from them!

This week in my classes, each level focused on a story. Level 1 read The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. We read the story out loud together and made our own butterflies. There are three Level 1 classes total. In the first class we taught, we had students trace and cut out their own hands to glue on Popsicle sticks and it took a LONG time for them to cut out. Giang (my co-teacher) and I smartened up to that and precut our own hands to save time for the two other classes! The butterflies came out awesome. It was so funny to see the students fluttering around with them. Then we acted the story out towards the end of the week. Seeing the little kids perform was SO cute.

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Level 2 read The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister. Before I left for Vietnam, I bought shimmery silver stickers at an art supply store and brought them here. We decorated our own rainbow fishes and each student got a shimmer sticker to place on as a scale. They also had to write a summary of the story on the back. We acted the story out and everyone got so into it.

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Today was a field trip to Lan Anh Village for games in the park and swimming in the pool. It was definitely a hot one today, but we had a blast. I have the youngest students in Level 1 as my group and they really give me a burst of energy. We played Duck, Duck, Goose, Red Light Green Light, and Freeze Tag. Then we cooled off in the pool. The place we were at was beautiful. It was right on the Saigon River and felt like a resort.

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This is super cheesy, but it’s a nice feeling to see that some things are universal. All of the students were playing handclap games, doing cannonballs in the pool, swinging on a rope swing, and playing the same games we do, only in Vietnamese. It’s not that I didn’t expect to see Vietnamese children behaving the same way that American children do, but it is just a cool thing to witness while you’re in another country. Kids are kids no matter where they are. I think seeing things like that makes everyone less homesick.

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Weekend Trip 1

Each weekend, SEAMEO plans trips for us so we can experience as much as we can while we are here. This past weekend we took our first weekend trips outside our comfort zone of District 1 into other districts and outside of Ho Chi Minh City.

On Saturday we had a free day because the planned SEAMEO trip was on Sunday, so we decided to go to the War Remnants Museum. It is a museum comprised of different letters, pictures, artifacts, and documents from the Vietnam War. We had all been warned prior to our trip that the museum would be heartbreaking and graphic and it truly was. Outside of the museum there are tanks, helicopters, planes, boats, and bombs from the war. I didn’t realize how BIG all of that equipment was. We all felt so tiny standing next to them. Also outside was a model of an American prison that held the Vietnamese. It was equipped with tiger traps, which are small coffin-like cages made of barbed wire, small cells, and displayed different measures of torture.

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Inside the museum is divided into various sections: propaganda against the war from countries all over the world, Agent Orange and its effects, American war crimes, historical facts, and Vietnam then and now. The mood of the entire museum was somber. As people moved from display to display, no one was talking. I think it was emotionally draining for all of us, but very important to see. It was fascinating to see the war from another point of view. The entire museum seemed to be dedicated to showing how the war affected real people in real ways. The pictures were not just of soldiers but women, children, and civilians. The display that moved me most in the museum was a display of medals that an American soldier won. He donated them to the museum in a box frame with an engraved message in all caps– TO THE PEOPLE OF A UNITED VIETNAM: I WAS WRONG. I AM SORRY.

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I think the most shocking part for all of us was the exhibit on Agent Orange. The pictures were so sad to see. Agent Orange is still affecting people today. We see many people on the street who have handicaps. Another relevant effect of the war is land mines. We read that about 50,000 people have died from active land mines since the war ended in 1975 and there are still more out there.

Once we left the museum we were uplifted because we saw a park nearby. It was full of beautiful flowers and people walking. Two children came up to us and asked to practice their English with us. The little boy had a notebook FULL of about 200 questions written in English. Next to the question there were names, locations, and answers from other people they’ve interviewed. We talked about Taylor Swift, Toy Story, what we do in our free time, and what we like about New York.

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Sunday was a SEAMEO trip to the Cao Dai Temple and the Cu Chi Tunnels. The Cao Dai Temple is located in a community of monks and followers of the religion. They go to the temple four times a day to pray. The religion itself is a hybrid of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. The followers wear white linen outfits with armbands of yellow, blue, and red. Yellow represents Buddhism, blue represents Confucianism, and red represents Taoism. The religion intends to send a message of peace and unity among all different types of people. The temple itself was ornate and beautiful. There were so many bright colors everywhere! There were no seats, just a big open floor plan. Followers enter to pray, men on one side and women on the other. We got to witness a chant, which consisted of vocals and a few instruments. It was such a memorable experience.

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20130710-230307.jpg — This follower let me take a picture of him!

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After the Cao Dai Temple was the Cu Chi Tunnels and crawled in the intricate tunnels the Viet Cong used during the Vietnam war. They lived in them for 13 years and would only come out at night to get supplies. They made small holes to maintain air circulation. They placed American clothing or body parts by the holes to avoid getting detected by American army dogs. They would only cook with a little bit of smoke at 3 or 4am while Americans were sleeping. In order to keep Americans off their trail, they wore tire sandals that were small at the top and big at the bottom to make it look like they were walking the other way. They would also set elaborate traps made of sharpened bamboo. I couldn’t believe the sheer brilliance of the entire tunnel system and traps, especially because these were the days before technology or GPS. You had to think on your feet in order to survive and really know the land. I don’t know if I would be able to come up with something like that (and I hope I never have to find out).

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The tunnels themselves are so narrow you can’t do anything but crawl. Even the entrances were small. There were secret entrances with doors covered by leaves. They had to widen them for tourists, so I can’t imagine how small they were before. Myself, Patrick, and Sarah couldn’t make it the whole way through the tunnel because it was SO hot and dark, but Geeta and Matt powered through! We also shot AK-47s whole we were there. It was pretty scary to have that much power in my hands. I couldn’t imagine being a drafted soldier, going to a totally unfamiliar territory, and having to use those heavy weapons with minimal training in the blistering heat.

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I had so much fun this weekend and am so grateful I got to see another perspective of the Vietnam War. I am really looking forward to this weekend’s trip to the Mekong Delta!

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Week 1

So week one of teaching flew by and has officially ended! I think everyone’s nerves are much more calm now.

The Sunday before we started Anh, the director of the program here, took us out for dinner and I tried a snail!! If you know me, you know that I am NOT adventurous at all. It actually didn’t taste too bad, but I don’t think I’ll be ordering it again.20130705-201924.jpg 20130705-201932.jpg

My favorite things that I’ve tried so far have been fruits: Rambutan, Longan, and Lichy. I wish I could bring some home.

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All of the students here are so nice! I have about 160 students total. Level 1 is made up of 6-8 year olds, Level 2 is 8-11, and Level 3 goes up to about 15. Some of them are really advanced. No one says my name, they all just say “TEACHA TEACHA TEACHA.” It’s so great. The first lesson we did introductions and played telephone to illustrate how oral stories can change. The second lesson we went over vocabulary for our new stories and played a game to remember them. The class was divided into two teams and two chairs were placed at the front of the classroom. Each team had to help their teammate figure out the word. The trick for Levels 2 and 3 was that they couldn’t speak! They could only act it out. Seeing them jump around everywhere was hysterical.

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Wednesday we went to the Yakult factory for a field trip. Yakult is a thin yogurt drink that is essentially a probiotic. It didn’t taste too bad! I didn’t even realize we sold it in the United States too. The entire tour was in Vietnamese, and it was cool to be out of my element and try to figure out what was going on through body language and other visuals. The kids had a blast and I learned some new things myself!

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I think today was my favorite part of the trip so far. After teaching we got lunch and went to the Bến Thành market and walked around. It’s like a huge bazaar with food souvenirs and clothes. There are so many things there that it’s hard to conquer in one day. We’ll definitely be making a trip back soon. I got myself a traditional Vietnamese hat for $1! I got some other tchotchkes too. Next time I have to buy coffee! To celebrate our successful first week of teaching Geeta, Diana, and I went to get massages. It was 420,000 VND for 90 minutes. That’s only about $22!!! It included a cucumber mask and hot rocks and it was honestly the best massage I’ve ever gotten. We will definitely be going back again (and again, and again!).

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Over all, I love it here. We are all starting to learn directions and very basic Vietnamese words and phrases. I have been trying to say things like hello, please, thank you, excuse me, and goodbye only in Vietnamese and I’m getting the hang of it. I also know that the word for ice cream is “kem,” so I’m pretty much set for the whole trip.

We found an American restaurant and ate there yesterday in honor of the Fourth of July. At home it was a holiday, but here it was just another day. In retrospect it makes you feel small because you realize that you are just a teeny tiny part of the great big world we live in!

Tomorrow we are going to the American War Museum. Sunday is a trip to the Cao Dai temple and Cu Chi tunnels. I’m so excited! I will make sure to take lots of pictures. And finally, here’s a rooster hanging out on a motor bike:

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