Monday, September 27, 2010

In Love with Central Vietnam

One of the best things about this central trip was the chance to finally see my Vietnamese family. My grandparents in Vietnam have already passed away and I was never able to meet them, so going to their home and seeing the place where my dad grew up and all his sisters and brothers was really a touching moment for me. My parent's came back to Vietnam for the 49th day of my grandmother's passing which is a big deal, so they were only here for a funeral basically and my uncle and cousin came back for the same thing too. It was fortunate that I was going to the central at the same time. My dad's hometown is in Quy Nhon, but he lives in the country side where it takes 2 hours to get and 2 hours to get out of the city. I thought I wasn't going to get the chance to see my family or my dad's home because it was such a long way for me to get there and they don't own a car or anything. So my dad said that they would just come into the city and stay for a couple of hours and then leave, but my aunts really wanted to meet me so they told my dad to bring me back. They rented a car taxi to drive them into the city to pick me up and then we all went back to my dad's hometown. I come from a family of rice farmers. The whole area is belongs to the "Pham" family and everyone there has our last name. How we are related, I have no clue, but we somehow in someway. My aunt lives in a small house with just one room for sleeping where like 6 of them share it. They have a kitchen attached and then another room for the alter. They just built a bathroom and a place to shower about 2 days before I came there and it's outside, so it's not attached to the house. The land that surrounds the area is all rice fields and so it's green and lushes, and a beautiful scenery for me. Overall, it's really hot and the house is pretty small for everyone to live there. But it didn't matter to me really because it was just nice getting the chance to see my family. To see what they look like and to talk with them. It was just really nice and to be able to be there with my parents too. However, i know that live there is a lot harder and more painful, so it makes me sad that there's not much more for them that I can do. We've always sent money over from America, and I thought that it was to help them out, but it seems that even the money that we send isn't enough to live on so even though we send money and try to help, it's not enough. That makes me sad. Knowing that I get to live such a great life and come to Vietnam and enjoy all the landmarks and places that not even my family can go to or people here in Vietnam that I have met can visit just makes me realize how privileged I am here. Later, my cousin's husband drove me on this motorbike back to the city which is another 2 hours and he had to drive back with makes it a 4 hour ride on the motorbike and trust me, 2 hours is enough to make my ass hurt. Going back into Quy Nhon, I met up with my cousin who's from America and visiting also, and we just went to drink sinh to and chat and with her was a monk and his friend. So it was the 4 of us and a monk sitting on the sidewalk talking about life and giving me words of wisdom.

On that note, I definitly love the central a lot more. Quy Nhon, Da Nang, Hoi An, Kon tum, Hue, they're all places that I could see myself living in Vietnam. Coming into EAP Vietnam, I thought that the place where we were staying and going to school would be like those places. It was how i dream of Vietnam being. Hanoi is fun too, but it's the people that make it so. All the UCHANU kids and people we meet make the place lively, but the city itself... all the dust, people pushing, motorbikes, crowds, smell, streets, it's something that I can do without. In the central, it's just a lot more freer and calmer and a nice place I think. Especially Quy Nhon, which is probably my favorite place. Da Nang was ok, but Hoi An was even better because I got a suit tailor made for me there. I definitely want to go back and get more stuff tailored. Da Nang, was great in that I could see the giant Bodhisattva which was incredible and the temple there. Kon Tom, it was a lonnnng hike, but the village was nice and sleeping and staying in the stillhouse was an experience. Probably my second favorite place would be Hue. Renting a bike and riding it around Hue, into the countryside made me fall in love with Hue. Then, going on that full day tour to all the cultural parts and the temple was just a great experience. I definitely want to go back to the central.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Service Learning: Week 3 - Ethics

When I think of the word ethics, I think of certain behaviors that society deems acceptable, and not necessarily an individual. The word morals on the other hand, are the principles and values that an individual holds. In Sao Mai, the behavior of the teachers seem to be ethically acceptable, however it seems different from my own morals. In Sao Mai, teachers are a lot mor strict and physically aggressive to the children. Teachers would hit the children who around 2-4 years old with not just their hands, but flag poles and chopsticks. When I say hit, I don’t really mean that the teachers beat the shit out of the children, but it does seem really painful, to me at least. When the teachers hit the kids, it is often because the kids aren’t doing something like sitting down right, paying attention, or just crying. However, these behavior of the kids seem standard to me, and not just because they are disabled or mentally ill that they act like this. My kids seem just like normal kids to me, if I hadn’t known that Sao Mai was a school for special children with disabilities, I wouldn’t have known that the kids were any different than the ones I see on the street. Therefore, I wonder the punishment of hitting these kids is because they are special children and need to be handled more forcefully, or if it is just how Vietnamese in general handle any kids. Ethnically, is it wrong for these teachers to punish the children in Vietnamese culture or is it because in America, physical punishment is frowned upon that I think it is ethnically wrong? Once I saw the teacher coming after the kids with a chopstick, I was like “oh damn, that’s an Asian parent for ya.” Also, when I handle the children, I tend to handle them more gently than the teachers do. I do not drag a kid across the room in order for him to sit down, but rather instead just coax him into the chair. It’s hard for me to be forceful with the children, but if I’m not, it seems to make the teachers upset when I coddle them. But it’s against my morals to hit children. I wonder if what I am doing is something that the teachers do not like because in a way it is coddling the children, yet at the same time, they are children who just want to run around, talk crazy, and be held. What really makes them different from other children that the teachers need to handle them more forcefully? I use to think that we have to handle children with special needs more lightly and others, yet here in Sao Mai, they handle them stricter. What is the better method? What is more ethically correct?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

UCHANU: Rich and the Poor??

I asked my buddy about what it means to be rich and poor in Vietnam. He says that he can just tell by looking at a person if he or she is rich just by the way they look. Most of the time, rich people dress cleaner and have paler skin, ride a more expensive motorbike and not as skinny. With the development, asking if the gap between rich and poor will decrease, he says that once the development is over that the gap will be smaller. However, with the development now, farmers who use to have land, got taken over, so now they go to the city in order to find work. But since they had no other background beside farming, it's difficult for them to find any work so they are a lot poorer in the cities than on the farms to begin with.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Service Learning: Week 2 - Relationships

The second week at Sao Mai, things got a lot better. Firstly, one of the teachers who use to work in the classroom left to another class and she wasn't really welcoming to volunteers, so it made the environment a bit lighter now. Secondly, the new teachers were a lot more helpful and seemed excited to have a Vietnamese-American helper. Also, there was a new teaacher, who is my age and just started working there 4 days ago. Even though she was a new comer, I could hardly tell that she had just started working there. The other teachers treated her as an equal and not like some newbie. So it was nice having both of us there together. This shows that the relationship at sao mai is a close one I believe. There has to be a close knit relationship between the teachers at Sao Mai because there are 3 or 4 teachers to one classroom. The teachers have to cooperate with each other and understand each other in order to handle the kids. Sitting there, getting to know the teachers and them getting to know me, we talk about where we're from, growing up, the differences between America and Vietnam, and if we have boyfriends or not. Talking with them, was just like having girl talk haha. They were asking me if i would rather have a Vietnamese husband or an American one, and i said whichever one had more money. And then, that I would teach them English so they can go get a rich American husband while they help me with my Vietnamese. Being with the teachers, I feel the relationship with each other is pretty solid.

With the children, all the teachers know their names in the classroom and the names of the childrens who are not. Often, teachers would come in and out of the classroom just to say hi to the kids. The kids seem to grow with the teachers and the teachers all know the preferences and how the kids interact with each other.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Project Kiem An: Interviews 1 and 2 - Xe Om and Shoe Shine boy (man)

we did our first set of interviews on Saturday. Our initial plan was to go to the back alley of Thanh Xuan and interview the nice xe om driver we had for survior hanoi. However he was not there. so we decided to eat lunch and hoped to invite other xe om drivers to eat with us and interview them, but they all wanted to come and said it wasn't right for just one of them to go, but we don't have enough money to pay for all of them so we had to go to pho co for our interviews thinking that the shoe shine boy and xe om will be easier to interview there. We went to pho co and saw a xe om driver there who was pretty friendly and open. He use to be a truck driver but something happened to him that changed his life and his license got tooken away from him for 3 years. After getting his liscense back, he tried to work for the truck driver company again, but it didn't work out so he became a xe om driver. basically, you can be a xe om driver if you wanted as long as you have motorbike. He makes really little to support his family but it's a way to get money. he will probably do the job until he feels like not doing it anymore.

The shoe shine boy was harder to find because they are constantly moving. instead of a shoe shine boy, we interviewed a shoe shine man. it was a pretty sad interview because he was really shy and was so concentrated on the shoes that he didn't want to talk much. he wouldn't even drink the tra da that we bought for him. He basically did the job since he was a small boy and never had any aspirations or future dreams, nor does have any now. It seemed so sad to interview someone like that and felt even more impersonal trying to make someone talk about their job and life like that.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Service Learning: Week 1 - Language and Communication

Language and Communication:
Working at Sao Mai where there are often many “one-day” helpers, the communication around there seems to be lacking. When I was showed to my classroom, one of the teachers was talking in Vietnamese saying how she didn’t want a non-speaking Vietnamese person in the classroom and that they should go to another classroom. However, Chi Phuong said that I could understand and speak Vietnamese so I could work there. Going into the classroom, there were 3 teachers, each with their own set of children, but the classroom overall encompasses all the children and the teachers. They get into groups and teach them things such as how to brush their teeth, wash their hands, play with toys. The communication to the children is in Vietnamese of course and the children can understand. Sitting in the separate groups, sometimes the teachers will be talking to the children, directing them, while talking to the other teachers as well. They would often sing songs with the children while they look at each other and talking about the children’s progress. The teachers communicate effectively with each other and to the children.  In cases of outsiders in the classroom, such as me, they have minimal conversations with them. They are usually told to help out by showing what they want to do instead of telling which seems to be normal since the school has a lot of non-Vietnamese speakers’ volunteers every now and then. However, during breaks and group changes, the teachers would gradually ask me questions about myself like where I’m from, my parents, school, etc.  But most of the attention was on the kids.
The language that was used in the classroom besides Vietnamese was body language. Trying to get the children to do things, the teacher would perform them first with the students mimicking them afterwards. Often, the teachers would be talking to each other about something that would sound serious, but in a happy and care-free tone as they would talk to children. They would talk to each other in the same manner they would talk to the children as a way of letting the children have a happy and understanding environment. The body language they use is always in a positive way with winks, smiles, and hugs. There are is a lot of body contact and holding of the children than I expected because I thought they wouldn’t want to coddle the children, but it doesn’t really matter I think because they are still children who need to be coddle. Hopefully in the next few weeks, I can communicate with the teachers in the same manner that they communicate with each other and integrate myself into the classroom and not just some one-time volunteer.