Monday, September 28, 2009


It's becoming harder to write blogs the longer I'm here. Life is slowly molding itself into routine. On the weekends I'm waking up at 5am and in school from 7 to 7. Saturday night? With the exception of last week when I went to a boat party for my friend Natasha's birthday, I usually don't go out on Saturday because I've got to lesson plan for Sunday morning. Work on Tuesdays and Thursdays is a bit easier with just two evening classes, but I'm not out until almost 10. Friday is more like a half-day off, I need to spend a chunk of it planning the weekend lessons. But after wearing my legs and back out from standing all day, its good to know that relief is only a $7 massage away in Crackerland.
As for leisurely pursuits. Got a 3-month pass for the rock wall[an overpriced pass], and I hook up with friends or fellow teachers whenever our schedules line up[the planets do that more often] for a game of poker, a drink or an 'expensive' meal out. But I usually don't stay out too late, as I find myself watching the time for when I can meet Daphne on Skype.
Speaking of which...
I'll be back with another entry soon on my other favourite leisurely pursuit. Food.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Banh Xeo

[First part in a series on Vietnamese food]
Now that life here has settled down a bit I thought it would be good to focus a bit more on the setting. And how better to understand a place than through its food. Saigon has a lot to offer in culinary delights and great prices to match. You can even find really great western options[spanish, french, italian...]
Today I'm featuring the banh xeo. A word of caution to those learning Vietnamese or trying to make sense of a menu with no English, just because you recognize one of the words in a menu item, doesn't mean you know what it is. In this case, 'banh' could mean either sandwich, cake, meat dumpling, pancake, croissant, shrimp crackers, pudding or pastry depending on what other words follow it.
Banh xeo is basically a rice pancake, of sorts, that may or may not have egg in it.
Here are some pictures of it being made:

My roommate informed me that his mom makes it without egg. The yellow comes from the oil that's used. On top there we have some sprouts, mixed with some shrimp, meat and green onion.

Adding more oil.

A satisfied customer. It's served with some greens and a fish sauce with chili. When I was served I was given nothing but chopsticks. I wasn't sure how to eat it and seeing the confused look on my face the woman grabbed the plate from me along with a bowl and some scissors. After chopping everything up and mixing it into the bowl, she poured the sauce over the whole thing and handed it back. I don't know if that's how your supposed to eat it, but I had no complaints. I think the way it was meant to be eaten was with the lettuce around the pancake and dipped into the sauce. The 'pancake' was actually very crispy on the outside. The whole thing makes for a good breakfast or light lunch and costs around 20,000VND[1.1USD].

And just what you need before taking your siesta.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Corporate Teacher

Woke up this morning wanting to get on Skype and chat with Daphne, only to find that the power was out in the building. A quick change later and I was in the street on my motorbike, looking for a wifi hotspot. Settled for a chain French bakery, Tous Les Jours, that has some pretty yummy, properly French and cheap baked goods. Daphne was also at a wifi hotspot in Dharamshala so we had breakfast together while we talked. What I'd do without technology, I don't know.
Last night, I had plans to meet some friends at Vasco's for a live band from Canada, Handsome Furs. So I got off of work, picked up some street food on the way for a quick dinner, and brought it home. But just as I got home and was out of my work clothes Aimee, one of the many academic managers at my school, calls and politely ask where I am. Turns out, I had a new class to teach and no one had told me. So Aimee goes to the class to keep them busy, as I take a few frantic bites of the chicken I had bought to fill my stomach before getting dressed and driving back over. I get there in time to watch Aimee finish teaching the first half of the class. During break she passes me what she calls an 'emergency lesson plan'. After an awkward session with a particularly quiet and unmotivated class, I got onto my bike and headed over to Vasco's.
I was an hour late. But the band? Indefinitely late. So after an hour of dancing and being sociable, my stomach made a ruling and insisted we leave. So I make my goodbyes and head to a ramen place around the corner before heading home.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Home Body

Back to health. And to work. My school greeted me back with a new schedule, complete with eight hours of classes on both Saturday and Sunday. But in reality, it keeps me at the school from 7am to 7pm, with time for a short lunch before I have to plan the lessons for the second half of the day. I was wiped out after Saturday but by the next day I was a bit more comfortable with the craziness of the schedule.
The timing could've been better though. Daphne left for her trip to India on Monday where she will be doing a yoga trainer's course and will be gone for six to seven weeks. Which means we really didn't have much of a last weekend together. Also, my roommate is visiting family in Seattle for the next couple weeks, which means I'm living alone for the first time since I've been in Vietnam. It is a bit lonely, but at least I'm catching up on my reading.
Tomorrow I have a follow up blood test to make sure my body's going back to normal. My tonsillitis was caused virally, and doctor's keeping me off sports and heavy drinking for a month to let my spleen and liver settle. I'm more bothered about the sports, because I've gotten pretty out of shape and am ready to do some climbing. On the other hand, the climbing wall here is awful. It's poorly run and seems as though they don't know anything about making routes. I'm thinking I may need to open up my own wall if I end up staying here for more than a year.
Anyhow, I think I might make myself some yoghurt and Coco Puffs and head for bed. Cheers.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Going on vacation, we'd like to think that we're leaving the rest of the world behind. But one thing you can't drop at the bus station is that chest cold you've been nursing for two weeks.
I was sure that I'd be better by the time of the trip but I was still feeling quite sick the morning we had to get on the bus. Hopefully, I thought, the rest of a long bus ride will help me feel better. But 12-hours with air conditioning that could not be turned off only made things much worse. By the time we got to Siem Reap I was a mess, and my health would only get worse as the week went on. Tuesday morning, after our complimentary breakfast of tea and toast, we took a tuk tuk[its a carriage hooked to a motorbike, what passes for a taxi around here] out to the Amelio School where Daphne used to do NGO work with Caring for Cambodia. Looking at the people and state of the country, Cambodia really made Vietnam look like a first world country. Their saving grace would be that those that owned motorbikes kept them very shiny and pristine, unlike in Saigon. But the roads were a terror, people get spine injuries from driving on less.

We helped Kaye, the director of teacher training, with some odd jobs around the school. I taught her how use a new program she had just gotten for making picture books.

At siesta time, we went to the pool that the hotel owned to have ourselves a very long nothing. There were a lot of very long nothings on this trip in fact, because I was too ill and too low on energy to do anything. Plus, my appetite for most foods had gone which made it hard to be talked into meals. I failed horribly that night when I tried to have a burger.
The next day we went back to the school and did a small photography project for Kaye. She gave me a driver and we went out to find examples of littering so that she could make a picture book about it for the kids. All I have to say is that the river is very, very dirty and people burn their trash. But I don't know what else they can really do when there is so much more that they need in their lives than a better public trash utility. We spent another siesta in sloth and then met up that night with Kaye and Fionna, the owner of our hotel, at a tapas bar. I managed to find a couple things I could swallow. When we parted, Daphne and I stopped by The Blue Pumpkin, which makes really good ice cream and desserts and got some green tea ice cream. Not as healthy as a pot of green tea, but still very yum.
We had planned to do the temples on the third day, standard tourist protocol, but Daphne was feeling apprehensive about my health and kept asking if I was sure I wanted to go. Had I looked at my health with some clarity I would've said no, but instead I shone with the arrogance of a drunk who's convinced he can still get behind the wheel. My memory of the temple trip is hazy, but here are some picture that prove I must've been there:

After we had done most of Angkor Thom I threw in the towel. I could barely breath with every step back to the tuk tuk. It was absolutely miserable. When we got back to the hotel we talked about going to the doctor and decided we should. I was already planning on going when we returned to Saigon and had called off of work for the weekend. But then Daphne asked if I would mind being quarantined if it came to that. The issue wasn't one of minding, but of my visa status. My Vietnam visa expired the following Wednesday and I had to get my passport to HR stat. What if I was quarantined passed the visa date? Would I be stuck in Cambodia for two weeks, trying to get a new visa?
We finally decided that the hospital would need to wait until Saigon and we didn't leave the hotel room that night[Daphne left for a bit to get a small, but crucial, road item, a blanket, and some soy milk since I was passed eating solid food] or until our pick-up for the bus the next morning.
At the bus station a little beggar boy was biting at our heels and Daphne gave him our leftover breakfast, which he sits down on the spot to eat. On the bus I manage to circulate a thought through the haze of my fever and ask her, 'Did you just give that boy my half eaten banana chocolate pancake?' She looks back at me with an 'oh shit' look. Luckily, I would find out later that what I have isn't contagious, but it was a worrying thought. Well, not so much for me, I was emotionally cold going on frigid by this time in my illness. The only thing I saw was a stretch of road with the hospital on the finish line and reaper racing me there[bound to feel that way when you spent the morning coughing blood into the toilet seat].
So, twelve hour trip, dropped stuff at the house, and taxi to the hospital. Walking through the doors I was relieved to see that there weren't alot of people to wait for, but was less than thrilled that they made me fill out paperwork. Worst hospital ritual ever. What I can say about the hospital, well, I don't have much experience with hospitals but I definitely think the nursing staff's english and service definitely has some ways to go. But the doctors were generally helpful and their english and knowledge was very good. I spent the next two nights there at the hospital on an IV being pumped with antibiotics and fever reducer. With me I brought a stack of tests that I had to grade and have at the school the next day, but thankfully Daphne took on that grueling task for me.
So... Today. I'm at home, I'm on antibodies, and I'm barely moving a muscle. But I'm eating, I'm breathing and I can even smell things now too. So the reaper will have to wait for a rematch.
Expect to see me out and about very little the next couple weeks, I just spent the better part of the month being sick and acting like I'm not and I'm exhausted. I'll write again after that. Wish me health.