Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Holiday. Again.

Two weeks into my first teaching job and I'm already on my first holiday. Just a short one though, we'll be back this weekend when I have to teach six hours of classes on Saturday.
Daphne's visa was coming up for expiration so we took the opportunity to head to Siem Reap, Cambodia. She wanted to visit the school where she used to do volunteer work with an NGO, and we're also planning on seeing some very old temples.
Short post. Be back in a week with details of the trip and pictures.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Birthdays, Pho and Learning New Games

I'm taking the opportunity of this small window of internet access, even though its nearly midnight and I'm still pretty ill. I had my first day of teaching Tuesday evening, was running around like I was trying to find my head as I prepared a lesson plan for a group of Intermediate level students ages 11-14. But the warm-up game I had lined up to start got booed down by the students. So I put it in their hands and let them pick the game, which of course they had to teach me, since I barely know any. But the second class, which I only spent a half-hour planning went by pretty smoothly. Even though I left my lesson plan at home.
Wednesday was Daphne's birthday. Her not being very fond of birthdays, I really wanted her to have a great time. In fact, she couldn't remember her last few birthdays. So for starters I made her the poshest breakfast-in-bed conceivable: crepes with banana-dragon fruit jam filling and turkish coffee. We had plans for dinner, but first I wanted to get my bike tuned up, so it wouldn't give us any hassle later on. The bike breaking down on Daphne's birthday would've been an embarrassment. Then for dinner, we had a six course meal at a nice restaurant, Ngi Xuan, which served really good Hue cuisine. We then made our way to an expat Irish pub, O'Brien's, to meet up with our CELTA friends and celebrate with some drinks. I wish I could've planned for more, but Daphne seemed to be pretty happy, so I am too.

Then yesterday, another birthday girl arrived off a plane from Singapore. Daphne's friend Jeanne, along with their friend Andria, have come to spend Jeanne's birthday eating and shopping the town to the ground. I've never met a girl so skinny with a bigger appetite than me.
After a pretty late night out yesterday, Daphne and I made it home to find that the power was out in the entire building. We had to make the walk up eleven floors to my place, but on the way we came accross a bamboo screen that I had to take with me, despite the extra weight, exhaustion, illness and nine floors left to go. But its worth it, for the feng shui value it adds to our living room.
After waking-up this morning, covered in so much sweat I thought I had just come out of the shower[no power, no AC], we met up with Jeanne and Andria for some more food. Cheap pho, baked goods and iced coffee. Jeanne got to try the really yummy baguette with pate and fried egg. Best sandwich ever and only 12,000 VND[.66USD]. For dinner, it was Quan An Ngon and we had to call the night there for the sake of getting an early start tomorrow. Plus, it was just beginning to rain and we couldn't be bothered. We'll meet up again tomorrow for a trip to the War Museum[I still haven't been to a single museum in Saigon] and the ladies will be on a plane again Monday morning, by when I hope to be free of this week-long illness.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Hoi An: Conclusion

Delay delay delay. For some reason my internet's been giving me grief, blocking only my blog site and nothing else. But without any further further delay I bring the conclusion of the Hoi An trip, thanks to the wifi in the Highlands Coffee downstairs in my building[no, nothing like the one in Cincy, this place is like the Starbucks of Vietnam].
Instead of boring you with minute details I'm going to shorten this last entry by focusing on the most entertaining chapter, our trip to the Marble Mountains.
The Marble Mountains are five small mountains in an otherwise flat landscape that have seen centuries of Buddhist temples, shrines and statues as well as marble excavation. Five mountains for five elements. Our plan was to visit all of them, having lunch after the first one. It was an uneventful 22 km drive north, just outside of Danang, and the mountains weren't hard to spot. But the entrance was. We passed a thin concrete bridge facing one end of one of the mountains. It certainly didn't look like much of an entrance, but we figured it was worth a shot. We parked the bike on the side of the road under a tree and went to have a look. There was a Buddha sculpture in a shabby state that made for a pitiful entrance and it didn't match the description in Lonely Planet for any of the five mountains. We didn't even know which one we were on. The strangest thing we noted was the lack of tourists, in an otherwise touristy location. But as we walked towards the base we found even more sculptures, covered in some family's drying laundry.

Under one structure there was the family, keeping shade and having a meal. Daphne and I debated over what mountain we were on, how to get up and whether we would have to turn back and find another route. We approached the family and pointed to the guide book.

The family pointed straight to the mountain and then nominated their three year old daughter to lead the way. The little girl, who was absolutely adorable, led us to the sketchiest little climb.

[Daphne didn't even see this sign]

When we reached the top we found...a lot. First there was a serene little Buddhist temple tended by a wide grinning midget monk and a couple other care takers. Guanyin, the goddess of mercy, looked over the remaining Marble Mountains and the town below.

As we climbed on, tourists started to appear as we found more temples, statues, caves and even someone dressed as Monkey God trying to charge for photo ops. We later realized that the reason nothing in the guide book seemed to make sense was because we were doing the mountain backwards[and not paying the admission fee, apparently]. It's hard to give the mountain the justice it deserves, there is just too much stuff on it. Hopefully some of these pictures hint at its beauty.

[Caretaker napping in the temple shade]

[Daphne tries to find out which mountain we're on]

[Entrance to a really cool cave with a giant Buddha carved into it]

[Guanyin carved into the rock face]

[We crawled through a tiny cave system to come out the top of the mountain and got a private view of the ocean and the surrounding countryside]

After four hours of hiking up and down the mountain, which we finally realized was named Thuy Son for the Water element, we knew we wouldn't have time to even set foot on any of the other Mountains.
And having done the whole mountain on only breakfast and in immense heat, we dragged ourselves back down the mountain to the bike and went on the hunt for a very late lunch. Choosing the beach road back we finally found the dingiest little hole in the wall, where they dipped the glasses in a tub to wash them clean. The food was cheap and pretty good, I left a tip bigger than the price because it seemed like no one had been to this place in ages.
That night, after a bowl of wonton noodle soup, Daphne and I sat at a river side bar in Hoi An, reflecting on the last week and writing notes to help me remember what to write in this blog. Drinking our 4000 VND[.2US] beers, we laughed when we remembered the Salsa Club, not noticing that the American who worked there was right behind us. As was the French couple we had met at the cockroach restaurant. 'Ici il n'y a pas des cancrelats, ne c'est pas?'
This was also the first night I noticed I was feeling sick. The next day I drugged up and went to the beach where I felt fine doing nothing but laying out and swimming. But that night, which was our last, we went to a wine bar and that's when I really started to feel it. It was an otherwise pleasant evening, the music was good, we had the place mostly to ourselves, a bottle of champagne and the power in the city kept going out adding to the charm and romance of the evening. But after a couple glasses I felt pitiful and spent the rest of the bottle with my head in Daphne's lap. The climax of my illness was the next morning when I woke up with the biggest fever I've ever had. Daphne ran downstairs and got some Ameflu from the front desk and brought it back with a cup of tea. Luckily, two of these did the trick and my temperature was back down with the quickness.
Ok. That was a not-so-brief entry I suppose, but there it is, that was Hoi An. Unfortunately, I'm sick again just two weeks later and after having completed my induction for school I'm starting my first class on Tuesday. I hope to be in better health by then.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Month Can Happen in a Week

I'm back in Saigon. And I suppose explanations are in order. But those of you that know me well know that I'm not very open when it comes to personal matters, keeping an up to date blog is hard enough as it is. So I'll let you, the reader, draw the conclusions. The last month worth of blog entries have included a very special character. Daphne, who I met during the CELTA program, was supposed to leave for Saigon on Monday and head onward on her travels. First, a month in Europe, then India, Cambodia, etc. And she did. First in Singapore for a few days to catch up with family and from there she had a ticket to Amsterdam. But, we both agreed that we weren't done with each other. That's why I had to go to Singapore. That's why she's here with me now.
For the moment, that's all I really can write on the subject, as it already scratches at my comfort level for public exposure. But here are a few pictures from my stay. I didn't do much tourist stuff, other than go to the zoo, which is known as the best in the world for good reason. Singapore is...an interesting city. It's development is so well organized and clean. Urban, but with plenty of green and the buildings aren't all cluttered together. It is expensive though, especially drinking, but what can you expect from a metropolitan country that has to import practically everything.

[There's a lot of this kind of openness at the zoo]

[Daphne's niece Zenna. Makes me miss my cousin Yana a lot]

As for the remainder of the Hoi An blog, I'll finish it up with one more post tomorrow. In other news, I got hired by ILA Vietnam as a teacher, I'll have my induction sometime later this week. Cheers.