Sunday, November 28, 2010

Welcome Back!

Hello all! Its great to be back online. Between traveling around SE asia and getting married, I've been a very busy bee these last 2 months. We did not have an official ceremony or celebration, we are saving the good party times to share with all our family and friends back home when we return to the North West. I will try to fill you all in the best I can since so much has happened!

In the start of October Steve (my husband) and I took off for Vietnam. It was the most difficult traveling experience I've ever had but also one of the most educational. The food was incredible, the people were beautiful, and the landscapes were astonishing. I say it was the most difficult place I've ever traveled, because the people were not especially warm towards us foreigners. I could feel the struggle and anguish in the country, from years of war, invasion and persecution. There is such a vast disparity within the generations of the people. Many have accepted western ideals and are working to integrate them into modern society while many continue to push against them, are quite hostile and wish to reclaim Vietnam without outside influence. Its strange to be in a country that has so many modern ideals and social structures at work, yet is perceived as having characteristics of an underdog nation. I've always been taught through public health studies that often with oppressed nations comes poverty, disease, unemployment, war and economic decline. This was not the case in Vietnam, although they're extremely poor, the people have created a stable economic flow, have eradicated many fatal illnesses that plague underdeveloped nations, and have created a large overhead of jobs. With this playing a strong role in the country, patriotism was heavily at heart with a large sense of pride for their heritage everywhere we traveled from the North to the South.

We started in busy Hanoi where we ate some of the best meals we've had in all of Asia so far. We happened to embark on the cities 1000 year celebration, which was quite an exciting time to visit! I discovered a little hideaway local vietnamese spa and enjoyed a refreshing 3 hours of a steam room, sauna, oak barrel herb tub, jacuzzi, scrub, and massage topped off with complimentary food all for 12.00 USD. One thing I can assure you is that the prices are unbelievably cheap deals. It was guaranteed that if something was suddenly expensive we were most likely getting scammed. It wasn't long before we left Hanoi to travel off to the many places possible to visit from this central northern hub. We began by heading to Ha Long Bay, a beautiful tourist attraction of caves, scenic waters and limestone rock on a pirate-like junk boat. We enjoyed the site seeing but it was a bit too overly-packed in touristy for our personal taste. We then headed further north to Sapa which was my favorite place I visited in Vietnam. Sapa was absolutely beautiful and even majestic in a way. The little town hidden within the expansive rice paddies and hillsides was almost french victorian with little coffee shops and boulangeries. We rented a motorbike and spent a day traveling the back roads though small villages and tribes meeting H'mong, Dao and Tay people. These people have their own language, customs and religion disassociated with Vietnam that has received more influence from China since thats where most have migrated from.

As we continued southward through the country we stopped in Hoi Ann a small french colonial town charming in countryside, culture and spectacular food. We saw My Son, Old Town and ate at the best asian cuisine restaurant I've ever landed upon, Cafe 43. We stayed in Hoi Ann for 3 days and ate at this place everyday it was so phenomenal. Hoi Ann was a lovely recoup after the hustle and bustle of Hanoi, but little did we know Saigon would be a similar whirlwind.

Our trip to Saigon wasn't the most relaxing to say the least. We were so excited by the 13.00USD over night bus that would arrive mid-day next day (supposedly) that we didn't even stop to think about how peculiar it was that we were the ONLY foreigners on this very "local" bus and perhaps maybe the deal was too good to be true? Our 16 hour bus ride easily turned into a 29 hour hell ride, of stopping, starting, cramped in the back upper seat without AC in the middle of the night, a bathroom that smelled like cigarettes, a bus driver who would take 4 hour opium party breaks and the vietnamese dubbed Jet-Li movie "The defender" re-playing 4 times in a row in the speaker above my head. Not to mention, that the Vietnamese still hadn't warmed up to us and and enjoyed making it clear that they were making fun of us in Vietnamese. The cheap deal was definitely too good to be true!

In thinking when we got to Saigon all of our troubles would be over we were swamped with hostile, scamming con artist and fear that our things would be stolen the moment we turned our backs. It was exhausting constantly standing up for the fact that "no we don't have money to give you" or "please charge us a fair price". And if we wouldn't buy what someone wanted to sell us, the person treated us an though we should be ashamed, sending us nasty looks as though we should feel guilty and buy some strange souvenir we didn't need. The war museum obviously didn't make us feel much better about being American. We floated through there with lumps in the pit of our stomaches reading statistics and horror stories that you could only imagine in a fictional war film. I think by the end of that day I had turned to Steve and remarked something like, "I feel like we shouldn't be here". Its the feeling of being an uninvited guest into somebody's home, but it's their country, and while you try to slip under the radar and be as polite as possible, everyones stares at you like they know you weren't invited inside.

I'd like to visit Vietnam again someday, maybe in 10-15 years after the people have been left alone for awhile and have been given the space to rebuild on their own which is quite obviously what they want. When they're less tired of fighting, and when they feel like the rest of the world sees them as a strong race and respects them for who they are rather then tries to overtake it or change it. The beautiful landscapes, the rich history and the amazing food are three reasons enough to desire going back again. I feel like I only got a mere glimpse into the mind of a very wise old soul.

After Vietnam, Steve and I journey onward to Cambodia. We began out trip by visiting Siem Reap the home of Angkor Wat one of the most well preserved religious temples in the world. First hindu and dedicated to Vishnu the temple is now buddhist and home to the pagoda orphans and monks looking after them. Angkor Wat, the temple itself was amazing to see. We got up at 5:00 am to catch sunrise and took some beautiful reflective photos from the lighting and pond out in front of the temple. There are other temples to see within the historic city but Angkor Wat is the most well preserved in the area. Siem Reap which lays about 5.5 km outside the city of Angkor is where we stayed and enjoyed a wonderful night life, Khmer food and Cambodian culture. The Khmer people were much more friendly than the Vietnamese but very pushy about selling things unlike the Thais. Everything in Cambodia was also in American dollars which forced us to double take on several occasions. At first glance when you see silk scarves only 3.50 it seems so cheap in USD form, but when put it into context when you live in Thailand and can barter a silk scarf at 50 baht (1.50) you realize you are often paying double. This was very confusing to go back to the dollar especially since we hadn't used it in months. We continued to Phnom Phen where we saw the Killing Fields and Tuel Sleng museum- the historical sites from the Khmer Rouge. This was very devastating and sad to see but also educational. We learned interesting facts such as, the man who resumed full control and power over the torture and horribleness at Tuel Sleng, is still on trial and hasn't yet received a sentence. Also we were surprised to learn that Vietnam bailed Cambodia out of the war and because of this they own most of the tourist business within the country and resume much political influence over their government. I'm glad we went to see these historical sights as gruesome as they were, I think it's important to know the truth and see the pain and oppression that the country has struggled with, its quite eye opening.

After the intensive traveling and many days of bus rides and trains, we decided it was time to recoup on a beach or else I would be returning to work needing a vacation still. We found an Oasis (literally that was the name of the resort) in the middle of Koh Kong just 30 minutes from the Thai boarder on the Southern tip of Cambodia. Its nestled within a valley of the Cardamom mountains submerged in a rich ecological paradise close to many white Island beaches of Cambodia. The Oasis Resort was literally alone within a jungle surrounding with a spectacular pool. I would go back to this place and highly recommend it to anyone wanting to travel Southern Cambodia. The town of Koh Kong, is not very interesting, but the surrounding areas are very beautiful. We swam in the well-known Tatsi Waterfalls, rhode a motorbike into the mangrove forest, ate at a crab shack on a white sand deserted beach for sunset and spent a day on the lovely Krong Koh Kong Island just 2 hours south of the mainland. Cambodia was relaxing, fun and a great place to rejuvenate before heading back to work.

Since the new term has begun, I have taken on another part-time work load of teaching 8 English Classes. I'm very much enjoying teaching, since it's a natural strength and something I got to practice at as a T.A. through college. I'm teaching 1st grade, 2nd grade, 3rd grade, 4th grade and 6th grade and at two different schools: most in Kalim, which was the original school the Foundation began their program at so the children are much further along, and then a few classes in Kamala where our other teachers teach and I run Coconut Club. I enjoy the change of pace and getting to teach at our original school. Its much smaller and more family feeling than the huge 600+ public school in Kamala. I'm excited for the skills teaching abroad will given me, I have already encountered a rather interesting incident just last week:

I start my class by doing a lesson with the children as they come into the room, with my p1 class I often will show them a letter in the alphabet on an index card and they have to tell me the letter and sound in makes. As I was doing this class opener at the doorway last tuesday, a boy came running through the hallway and rammed into two of the students I was quizzing at the front of the line and knocked me and them backwards. I became disgruntle with the boy and told him that was impolite and to go away in Thai. He kind of ignored me and drifted to the other-side of the hallway slowly. I wasn't sure what to make of this so I continued to focus on my class. Once I got the children in the room I then began the daily lesson when suddenly this boy came running through the room like superman yelling and laughing with his arms spread out like a bird. I told him to get out of my classroom considering he looked about twice the age of my students and acted disruptive, but one of the students said, "he's in this class teacher." I then became puzzled. I became angry and scolded him for misbehaving and disrupting class I told him to sit quietly and listen. Later I turned my back in class and he had pulled a bunch of toys from the play kitchen onto his desk and began making loud noise and talking to himself, all the children around him became distracted and consumed with this boy's agenda. When I took the toys away from him, he stood up and began knocking around the papers on the other-side of the room angrily. At this point I was extremely confused as to what this boy's deal was. I brought him to a fellow Thai teacher and explained to her the situation of him misbehaving and me not understanding why he's so rude, can't sit still, or listen. She laughs at me sweetly and hugs the boy (now I'm really confused) she looks at me kindly and says "He's Autistic". Wow did I feel like an ass after yelling at him for about 40 minutes. She told him to run along and play and then began telling me his situation.

I learned that he loved English, loved my class and so she wanted him to be in it. I explained to her I had no idea how to support an Autistic child. She confessed that he would never be quiet and understand the lesson but pleaded with me to allow him to participate. I find this to be a very troubling scenario. There is no structural support in the educational systems where I am, for conditions such as Autism that require special needs. I do not have the resources to teach an autistic child in a class of 26 loud and wild 8 year olds, but also don't want to opt him out from getting an English education. It made me really sad to learn that there really was no resolution to this issue. I simply have to send him into the hall or give him a book to read outside class if he can't participate in the lesson. While I'm happy to do this, I find it sad that he doesn't get the same lesson that the other students get to learn. While I often think how ahead Thailand is, how westernized Thailand is, and how progressive it is, I encounter these moments that I'm reminded I'm in a developing nation. I'm reminded that these children get far less than the children I grew-up with, that they don't have special programs, or on campus tutors to work one-on-one with students who need extra attention. I remember my public elementary school had a program like this in it. I wondered at the time why certain classmates would get pulled out of lessons to go work in the library with tutors and have now learned as an adult that they had a learning disability and couldn't focus in the classroom environment. This is surprising to realize when I've also come to learn that public schools get the least funding in America. Its important to be thankful for all these little things we take for granted in America that give a larger population of people a chance to succeed and create programs where people who are not mainstream America are given a chance to be supported. Even if it still needs work and funding, I'm glad the concept of disabilities is even recognized and acknowledged in our society.

Alright thats all for now because my hands are beginning to cramp... I will write sooner than later as to not leave anymore partial novels on my blog. I hope everyone is great back home, miss you all! Lots of love....


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...


Congratulations on your marriage to Steve. How wonderful! He is a very lucky man! All the best to the both of you.

Perhaps down the road you will send your kids to EC!


Fr. Heric