Friday, August 6, 2010

Swimming in the South China Sea

Mui Ne was the last weekend trip we took. The info that I read said that it would take 3 hours with stops. Great! Perfect! Sounds wonderful!! I can't wait to go to the beach!!!!

Apparently something was lost in translation because they meant it would be another 3 hours after the first stop.... which by the way, the first stop wasn't for 3 hours. So with awful traffic, distance, rest stops and lunch it took over 7-8 hours each way in a two day period. Not my most shining moments in Vietnam. I don't do well on really long car rides. I tried not to let the rest of the group know but they may have noticed I was a little irritated.

Now let's add to the fun. When we arrived, the weather was gloomy and rainy. Ok, I was really looking forward to this trip. Perhaps I played it up too much in my head. So I fixed my problem by getting a 45 minute foot/hand massage and a 45 minute fresh aloe facial in the spa at the hotel. They took U.S. dollars so I started spending. I think I spent $9 on my feet and $18 on my face. Big spender, I know. I almost went back for something else due to boredom and my inability to stop taking advantage of the great spa prices.

Had a relaxing dinner in the rain with Hillary, Paige, Judy and Ali. The power went out in the restaurant for 30 seconds. Got a weird bug bite that started to swell. At that point I think I was done. Went up to the room to play on the computer and that is probably why there were so many blog posts that night or soon after.

The next day redeemed itself. The sun was sort of out with less cloud cover and I was swimming in the South China Sea by 9:00 am. I stayed in for a long time. It was exactly like my dad said, bathwater. I didn't even flinch as I got in, it was like taking a cool bath. I stayed in for quite a while and let the waves hit me or just drift me back and forth. The hotel had an infinity pool looking out to the ocean but I only ended up going in it for a minute. Spent some time reading on the beach. Got a little sun burn but it was gone by the next day.

We left by noon to start the trek back to Thuan An. We made a stop or two along the way and had lunch. Overall, it took 8 hours to get home. We spent the last few hours singing summer camp songs in the car trying to come up with something good to sing for the teachers on our last day since it was a given they would sing something for us.

Overall, it was a quiet weekend and several parts of it were relaxing. I guess I shouldn't complain: great travel companions, yummy food, and killer spa services... and I did get to swim in the South China Sea.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Mekong Delta - Warning this is a long one!

Warning that this is a long post so that I can remember some important points to add to my scrapbook later.

Weekend in the Mekong Delta included an exceptional guide named Quang. He knows so many little tidbits about so many things. He told us about history, people, botany, geography, pottery, religion, linguistics and so many more things I can't even remember. He has been a guide for many, many years (probably over 20 but I can't remember exactly). I realize it's his job... but still! He went above and beyond. Quang's stories about the people he has met along the way are hilarious one minute and poignant the next. He was really an important part of the trip and I made sure to get his card for next time.

We traveled everywhere by boat on this trip. First we saw a floating market. People congregate their boats in an area and you ride up on your boat to make a purchase. This was a wholesale market so we didn't buy anything. Next we headed to cross the Mekong River. The river starts in the Tibetan plateau flowing through China, Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and then into Vietnam toward the South China Sea. Mekong is actually the Chinese name. The Vietnamese call it Song Cuu Long (River of the Nine Dragons) because it splits into nine branches in Vinh Long (the town we visited) before it heads toward the sea. There are so many little branches of water to follow.

Quang took us to a candy making shop. They showed us how they make the Vietnamese version of a rice crispy treat, taffy, rice paper, etc. There was an artist there with oil paintings for sale. I purchased one of his paintings. It was a bright and colorful abstract representation of a typical marketplace in Vietnam. This took a lot of stress off my trip because I really wanted to bring back a piece of art for myself. It didn't matter what kind of art. It could have even been pottery or whatever. But that was all I wanted. When I saw this painting I knew it was perfect. So thankfully I have not had to do any more significant shopping since then. The picture of me with the artist and the painting is on Judy's camera so sorry I can't share until I get it from her. I guess you will have to come over to my place to see it when I get it framed.

We made several other stops including lunch and a bonsai garden where some of the plants were over 80 years old. One place that was particularly interesting for blog posting (because I was able to get a little video) was the tea at an old French colonial home. Performers there used traditional Vietnamese instruments to give us a flavor of the traditional music. However, my internet keeps crashing every time I try to upload. So never mind. You don't get to see the video.

After other stops we finally ended up at our home stay. I would say this would pretty much equate to summer camp. Four of us stayed in one big room on cots with pink mosquito nets! (Btw, our new favorite activity in the tour van taking us everywhere is to think of as many camp songs as we can.) We went for a walk in the rain so we wouldn't waste one single minute in Vietnam. Maybe it would have been a better idea to hang out in one of the hammocks. Covered in mud and some bug bites (deep woods OFF didn't even keep these things away), we made it back for a home cooked meal and stories with Quang. Turns out he knows a Speech-Language Pathologist, Charlotte, from New Orleans that works with Operation Smile. Our group has been conversing with her over the past few months to tap into her knowledge and experience in Vietnam. It really is a small world after all!!!

Everything is going great! It's 9:30 pm, dinner is done, we are having a great time, I'm thinking I would love to get my book out and read to relax.... but they basically put us to bed. They started turning the lights out and locked us in our "room" which really wasn't a room because the walls didn't go to the ceiling and the windows didn't have any glass (see pic). I'm wondering why they even bother to lock the door. So now, I'm sitting on my cot (bottom left in pic) with the mosquito net pulled down perfectly around me, it's pitch black and I'm not tired. It's like I'm in jail b/c I don't want to mess with the net (even though it doesn't really matter if I do). 10:30, 11:30, 12:30 1:30. Now I can't sleep b/c I'm stressed, uncomfortable, and irritated and I don't want to venture into the night to use the bathroom. Who knows what time I finally fell asleep, all I know is that a bunch of roosters woke me up when the sun rose.

We spent the next day on a canoe trip and then headed back across the river to go to a market where we ate a banana wrapped in sticky rice and a banana leaf. It was grilled, then the leaf was taken off and a coconut sauce was added on top. OMG I wonder if I can google the recipe?? Made a few interesting purchases and received a lesson in unknown vegetables from Quang. Did you know that bird's nest soup is a delicacy? I'm not really sure about this and I didn't ask too many questions. I really don't want to know. We also found out that this market is like the breakfast club for the ladies in the area. This is where they find out all of the gossip in the morning.

On our way home we stopped at a famous Buddhist temple with an enormous Buddha and a really yummy lunch at a very westernized rest stop that we were thankful for.. and I bought Pringles (I was so happy it was pathetic)... but I didn't buy the seaweed flavor.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Maisy - Mary Grace - MG

Let me tell you a little bit about Maisy and me. Maisy was born in China and adopted by her family in Indianapolis before she turned three years old. After getting to the U.S. it was confirmed that she had a mixed conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. As a result she wore a bone conduction hearing aid. Around the same time, St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf was about to open a satellite preschool in Indianapolis. I was the first speech-language pathologist, Janet was the first teacher, and Maisy was there the first day we opened. She was one of two or three students we had that day.

I remember asking her mom if she had any words. She told me she could say "good girl". So I thought, oh good she is talking a bit, she has some words. Maisy didn't say anything the first day except "good girl". I didn't think anything of it since it was only first day and she was just getting to know us. The second day she went into the little kids bathroom in the dark. I said, "turn on the light". She didn't do anything. Hmmmm. "Maisy, turn on the light." She looked up at me and said, "good girl". OHHHH... her mom failed to specify that was ALL she could do/say. She wasn't able to follow that simple command.

I spent at least two years working with Maisy on a daily basis either in her classroom in tandem with her teacher (Janet) or in pull out therapy sessions. She did so well and made expedient progress. So much so that we mainstreamed her into a regular classroom pretty quickly. I visited her classroom once a week to help with the transition. We really missed her when she left, she had become like a daughter to us and her family became our extended family.

Life changed for the family several years ago. Her mom was offered a position with her company in Singapore. The whole family moved and I had heard somehow that Maisy made a comment that finally they were going to live somewhere everyone looked like her and not the rest of the family! LOL!

Flash forward to last night. I have to say thank you to Facebook. The family has since moved to the Philippines with another promotion for her mom (congrats!) and they were going to be taking a short vacation in Saigon for a few days on their way to Cambodia! I was able to work it out to meet them for dinner in the city!!!

Not sure I can explain the feeling of when I saw them. Tears were coming out of my eyes (and I don't cry that often). It was overwhelming because I haven't seen them in so long and then to see them on the other side of the world from Indianapolis while I'm here working on this project for children with hearing loss. I spent countless hours working with Maisy, she really was a huge part of my life plus not to mention becoming friends with her whole family. Plus I have been away from home for three weeks now and it was so nice to see a face from home.

I'm happy to report the whole family is doing really well and they are enjoying their time in Asia! Her dad has started his own company that is growing quickly and he is traveling now all over Asia for his work. They have traveled all around now as a family and the girls had so many hilarious stories to share! Maisy is 11 years old. She is a beautiful young lady. She loves school and reading. Her spoken language, listening, and speech skills are tremendous (we did good Miss Janet). She would prefer now to be called by her full name, Mary Grace; however, it doesn't seem like she can shake her nickname (and now the fam started calling her MG). She has friends at school from all over the world and she is learning Mandarin.

A long time ago, right before I moved back to Chicago from Indianapolis, our summer school did an oceans thematic unit. We planned a field trip to the aquarium in Cincinnati. Maisy was in my group. After I moved I made her a little scrapbook of pictures from that day and sent it to her in the mail. I found out last night that not only does she still have the scrapbook, she actually has it with her in the Philippines! How do I even respond to that? When sorting out what she gets to bring with her from home, she chose that scrapbook. To say that I was touched would be an understatement.

I could go on and on, but I will stop now. Seeing Maisy and her success and happiness and that of the whole family gave me so much joy.

Finally Pho

Pho = Fuh? (rising inflection like you are asking a question)

We have been so busy we have been eating all of our meals at Thuan An. It took a couple weeks but we finally had an official bowl of pho in Vietnam! Hillary, Judy and I set out on a journey to specifically get pho.... which makes no sense because everywhere you look you can find a food stall that sells pho.

Unfortunately for us, there are too many pho places and deciding where to eat turned into a somewhat stressful event. I don't know how many we passed by and kept walking in hopes of finding one better. [Insert clever metaphor here about always thinking there is something better out there, but I can't think of one right now because I'm too tired.] Anyway, this method of thinking on the search for pho is futile because we had no basis of comparison and there is a choice every time you turn around.

Finally, Judy asked a local guy which one he thought was best. Thankfully it was close. It looked clean and it was large with lots of tables and sturdy chairs that were clean and nice; however, there was no one else in there eating (not always a good sign). I figured they must have all these tables and chairs for some reason, otherwise why waste the money on purchasing them (either that or they had "if you build it they will come" written in Vietnamese on the wall). Plus I was pretty much done with wandering around trying to decide so we were eating there no matter what.

You can eat pho for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It is usually beef. It has rice noodles and they bring you all kinds of fresh herbs, lime, peppers, sprouts, and other green looking things to put in it after it is served. I really like the mixture of cooked food with raw food thrown in at the end. Oh yeah, I have to say the local guy was right. Great pho at a place that I'll be lucky if I find again!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Finishing up lectures!

As of yesterday I finished all the lectures with all three groups of teachers. We even had a group that several parents joined. The parents took the full three week course along with the teachers and they are also taking the exam.

The teachers and parents have been so appreciative and they make sure to let us know. It really makes me want to come back again next year. How could I say no when I get greeted by a song everyday and a heartfelt thank you from every group?

This video (that I hope works for you because it doesn't really work that well for me b/c my computer is about to bite the dust) is the second group that I worked with over a four day period.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Saigon Cooking Class & Weasel Coffee

Posts are slowing down and this is over a week behind now! So it will be short and sweet since I won't be able to bore you with all the little details I don't remember! We spent a morning/afternoon in Saigon at a cooking class! This was a blast and I highly recommend it!

Our group started out at the market with the chef. He took us around and showed us all the things he had purchased for our meal. Banana blossoms, herbs, etc. We got a short lesson in several vegetables and things you don't see in our supermarkets. They eat all the parts of the vegetables. For example, they had the flowering part of the zucchini as a veggie you could purchase.

This is the day we found out about Weasel coffee at the market. The chef told us that this is THE BEST coffee you can buy. As the story goes, weasels are very picky coffee berry eaters. They eat the berry and digest the flesh. The coffee bean comes out the other end (obviously because it can't be digested). The beans are "harvested", cleaned, roasted... and well you know the rest. We all had to buy some, we couldn't help it. I did a little bit of internet research after I got home and found out that it is something about the digestive enzymes of the weasel that make this coffee good. They can now induce the process with enzymes (no weasel butts needed) or in some places they keep all the weasels and feed them the berries and then "harvest" them. I don't which process was used to make my coffee grounds, but I'm going with the no butts needed version. Anyone coming over for coffee??

We went back to the class and spent the rest of the day cooking and eating! We made spring rolls, peanut sauce, fish sauce, a banana blossom salad and fried rice. For the fried rice we each had our own wok and propane burner. I was impressed with the entire process and we really had a fun time. After we couldn't eat another bite, the chef brought out a passion fruit dessert he had made for us. Subsequently we found out that our chef has been invited to be on a Food Network show but he has had difficulty getting a visa so he hasn't been able to do it yet.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

God forbid we don't have internet

The dates on the blog are really screwed up now! I was trying to catch up but now I don't think it will ever happen. I've been writing by hand (OMG what a concept) and typing it in when I can. It is scary how much we rely on the computer/internet.

There was a huge storm and the internet went out at the hotel. After several stories and translations it seems that lightning was the problem. Internet has been spotty at the school on top of the fact that it is a govt run school and the govt doesn't seem to allow the use of Facebook on their Wi-Fi.

The internet here is driving everyone a little crazy. Imagine ten ladies all sitting around with their laptops in front of them during a break trying over and over to get a wi-fi signal so they can check emails from work while they are here on a volunteer trip working all day and evening. Imagine the same ten people, maybe 10 years ago, just sitting around chatting and having some coffee during the break and relaxing without any of this distracting stuff since it couldn't be dealt with anyway. Today I was feeling at bit at odds for finally getting the internet back. I probably should be taking more time to explore during my free time rather than sitting around on the computer.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


We went to Saigon over the weekend. There was a group of five of us. We learned from the tour guide that the city is separated into many districts. The city is officially called Ho Chi Minh City and District 1 is officially called Saigon; however, many of the local people still call the city Saigon. We saw several sites with Buffalo Tours. Around the city we saw the palace where the former president of south Vietnam lived before 1975, the War Remnants Museum, the Post Office, Notre Dame Cathedral, a laquerware company, and had lunch at a local Vietnamese outdoor restaurant/food stall. Lunch was really good and not in a touristy area, so we got to see lots of locals. After the tour guide dropped us off at the hotel, we walked around the city on our own and saw the Opera House, a water puppet show and several other things we didn't necessarily intend to see. We were looking for a restaurant from the Lonely Planet guidebook. We were at the correct place on the map but it didn't seem to be there. So we ended up on a long hike to look for a restaurant where everyone felt comfortable eating. We found a tourist area and ate at a restaurant that had food from central Vietnam. The food was delicious of course. There has hardly been anything here that we don't like.

Sooo... what I really wanted to update was crossing the street. Due to the above mentioned hike (and it was a hike... we might as well have been in the Himalayas as far as I was concerned... I swear there are no even surfaces in Vietnam), we had to cross the street many times, including large streets and roundabouts. Since I am still here to tell about it, we were successful. The chef from our cooking class (more about that later) gave some advice. He said not to hesitate, stop, or take a step back. Once you are out there you have to keep moving. The motorbikes predict where you are going and they go around you. If you make an unexpected step you can cause an accident. One time I had to push one of our group members out into the street because she hesitated as we started out to cross. Had to be done otherwise we would have fallen over her if we had all kept moving.

I'm feeling much more confident about crossing the street now. I think I could do it by myself out here in Thuan An if I had to, not sure about Saigon though. I think I still would want someone with me to have another opinion to fall back on as to when to actually step out into the street.

Have lots of pics of Saigon but haven't had time to upload. We are having problems with internet connections. There was a big storm and I guess the room where they keep all that stuff leaked and everything got wet. So who knows when we will have internet again. I can only get it at the school but I'm mostly working when I'm here. This is a government school and we aren't allowed to get FB on their wi-fi. So, will be on the internet when I can.

Genuinely nice teachers

During the second week I did my first presentations to the teachers. They started out my morning by singing me a “Good Morning” song in English as well as a hymn. They have such a great respect for teachers here and I really feel appreciated. Yesterday they brought us flowers they had picked and put in a vase for us!

Let’s just get this one fun fact out of the way… there is no air conditioning in the rooms (get ready Janet) where we are doing our lectures. So basically we are sweating our way through the presentations from 7:30 am - 4:30 pm. The teachers have been so fun loving with us as we joke about sweating and needing coffee to stay awake! The teachers take a siesta after lunch but we haven’t been able to get into that routine yet.

I have to say that the teachers are hungry for the knowledge that we are bringing to them. They are writing furiously as the interpreter explains our concepts and ideas. I really have to think about how to simplify what I am saying. I’m trying to be conscious of not using colloquialisms, idioms and other abstract or extraneous information that either won’t translate correctly (if at all) or bog them down with unimportant words. For example, I wanted to say something about being “in tune” with the young child to capitalize on teachable moments. As it was about to come out of my mouth I realized that the literal translation would not have made any sense. So sometimes I find myself stumbling over words or having to take time to think before I move on to the next thought because I’m trying to make sure that I say it in a better way than I had originally written it for the presentation.

We have asked the teachers in our group to step out of their comfort zone and participate in several activities. They have come up in front of the class to demonstrate pretend play, reading a book to a young child, etc. using the strategies we have taught them. They are learning so much and it shows in their presentation. The above picture is the teachers pretending my umbrella is a toy and they are coming up with different ideas of how to play and teach different ideas with the umbrella.

One more fun fact, our interpreter is a young Vietnamese lady who is attending graduate school in California in speech-language pathology starting in August.

The Global Foundation for Children with Hearing Loss Team

Our group with the Global Foundation for Children with Hearing Loss is a mixture of deaf educators/AVTs, speech-language pathologists/AVTs, and audiologists from across the U.S. The states represented here include the following: Illinois (me), Maryland, Washington, Utah, California, and Missouri. The professionals are staying here anywhere from one to four weeks. I found out about this trip from my friend and former student, Hillary. She is an SLP/AVT now. We have been travelling together for most of the trip. I’m so thankful to have a travel buddy and hopefully I’m not driving her crazy yet. My friend Janet (a teacher of the hearing impaired) will also be coming in another week and a half. We will get to spend the last week together and do some sightseeing in Saigon our last day before the three of us all get on the same plane. I also know another teacher/principal, Mary, who will be here in a few days from St. Joseph’s in St. Louis. It has been fun meeting new people and watching different people do presentations. It always gives me new ideas for mine. I totally steal ideas! (Sorry ladies!) Everyone is so great I’m sure they won’t mind. Terra, one of the other SLPs here, is a lot like me. We have been presenting together to the teachers this week and she says what I would say before I even get a chance to say it. Judy, the other SLP on our team, speaks Vietnamese. I think we all owe her a day at the spa when she is done with this trip. I can’t imagine how many times she has heard in the past week and a half, “Judy, could you tell them…., Judy, how do you say…., Judy can you ask….”. She has been such a good sport and great help to us. We have some really great experts here!!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Kids are kids

I spent the majority of the first week working with parents and children. We have parent classes that we are holding in the evening as well as individual consultations where the kids are coming in with their parents to meet with us. I was nervous because I had no idea what to expect. I was quickly reminded that kids are kids! They are sociable, they are shy, they are reluctant to participate...OR... they want to tear the room apart and play with every single toy in the room!

I also quickly learned that parents universally have the same concerns. They are worried about their children and their future due to the hearing loss. They just want to communicate with their child. I answered all the same questions and discussed many of the same things that I talk about with my families in the U.S.

Obviously there was a part of me that cognitively knew that we are all universally the same, but I guess I had to experience it on the other side of the world and interact with the people on a real personal level to truly internalize that feeling. The parents have been so forthcoming with their hopes, dreams and concerns. They have opened up more than I ever imagined they would and have initiated it themselves.

For my therapy and teacher friends out there, it is also really nice to see that the majority of the strategies we use to teach young children are also appropriate here. I was working with a little girl and her mom through the use of an interpreter. I would model a word or speech play. The interpreter said it for the mom and the mom would also say it for the child. The child got sick of this and just started imitating me in English!! I think that this is evidence that the strategies we are teaching here to the teachers really DO work. I wish I had caught it on tape so that I could share with teachers and students in the U.S.

This is a picture of the very first little girl that I worked with last week in a parent consultation session. She was highly sociable and made my job so easy!! Within the first five minutes I had her playing with me, vocalizing, and imitating play with speech sounds!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Thuan An Center for Children with Disabilities

Thuan An Center for Children with Disabilities: I want to tell all about the school so I really shouldn’t be blogging about this because I don’t have all the information. But I will do it anyway in case I never get back around to it.

School is out for the summer but there are several children around all the time.
My understanding is they continue to stay here through the summer because they have been abandoned. Several of the children use Vietnamese sign language. I only know this because I have seen them use a few signs with Thuy. They just wave “hi” to me. I think I heard Jill (one of the other members of the team) say that a few of the boys were signing with her today.

This is a government run school, but there are several Catholic nuns here. The Catholic Church is obviously involved in the institution at some level since there are nuns living on the grounds. I’d like to find out more information about that. The nuns have been so wonderful to us of course. One of them is working with us doing translating and the others have some English as well. My understanding is that Thuy is also a devout Catholic. I’m wearing my own cross. They asked me if I was Catholic. I tried to explain that I was Orthodox and it was very similar but it was confusing and there probably wasn't a Vietnamese word for Orthodox. I think we just ended up saying I was Catholic.

I don’t know how much of the school is dedicated to children with hearing loss vs. children with other disabilities (or if it is only hearing loss). I also don’t know how many children reside here vs. how many attend on a daily basis. Vince (a westerner here helping us with videotaping) told me that parents have to pay for their children to go to school here in Vietnam. In the countryside they only go a half day so they can work in the fields and they are so poor they pay with rice. I'm not sure about this school though, I thought I heard someone say that this school was different.

Another tidbit of information I'm suddenly remembering, Thuy lives here with her husband and son. She works so much that sometimes she doesn't even go back to her living space so she doesn't wake them. She keeps a mat in her office so that she can sleep on her desk. More information to find out!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

And the work begins! - 7/12/10

Opening ceremonies began with a song from our teachers greeting us in English. Several important people came to the ceremony including a director of education from Saigon as well as a few people from the U.S. consulate (sorry I can't remember everyone else that came, it was a crazy day!) An official banner was hung and we listened to several speeches from the various important people. One of those was Thuy (shown in picture). She is the director of the Thuan An Center. She and Paige (director of the Global Foundation for Children with Hearing Loss) have spent countless hours putting this program together.

The ceremony was followed by a special luncheon and then the teaching began! To start out, the teachers are all gathered together in one room for two days and then they are separating out into groups for the remaining weeks. I'm actually not scheduled to lecture to teachers this week so I have no first hand experience in that area yet; however, I am working with parents and kids the rest of the week.

Let's just say nothing else happened today to report. Too busy. I did get to spend a bunch of time with Hillary in the afternoon and an interpreter named Minh who is such a nice, caring, and hilarious person. He is an interpreter with the People to People program with the U.S. He's also a personal tour guide and he only works for himself because the tour companies "charge too much! They say this is the way of the U.S. I say this is too much money!" So we hired him to take us (Janet, Hillary and I) around Saigon our last day in Vietnam and then drop us at the airport. We don't leave until almost midnight so hopefully we will get to see some off the beaten path stuff. And he is a vegetarian so maybe he will know some different places to eat.

Market in Thuan An - 7/11/10

We got to the market, and let's just say that I never got used to the smell. There were people and motorbikes everywhere. Does anyone walk? Seemed like we were the strange ones in the way for walking through the narrow streets of the market.

Lots of different fruits I have never seen before: dragonfruit, mangosteen, lychee and some others that I can't remember the name. The only reason I know them now is because I'm days behind on this blog and the ladies from the school that have been cooking for us treated us to a different fruit every day. They show us how to cut it and eat it.

Everything is for sale: fish, meat, fruits, veggies, pets, live animals, clothes, an old can of Raid. (I was all for skipping the area with the meat which thankfully we did.) Nothing fancy, just the items of daily living. We ended up going to a "grocery store". A few of us stayed outside waiting for the others, I thought we were going to cause an accident on the street. Everyone was staring at us, even the toddlers would let go with one hand and point at us while riding on the motorbikes with their parents!

Just trying to get to the market in the Thuan An district - 07/11/10

Our first adventure out into the area proved to be interesting of course! First on the list... get some dong! I had been anticipating the the moment I was going to enter 1,000,000 into an ATM machine! A million dong is about $50.

Next on the list, check out the marketplace. But first we have to get there without getting run over by a motorbike. There are about a million of those too. And it seems that the first rule of the road is that there are no rules. I met a young Vietnamese woman yesterday (I think she works here at the school) who just took her test to receive her driver's license. She passed the test and was thrilled! I wasn't surprised to find out there are actually rules, but nobody follows them. I hope she didn't think it was rude when I asked if there are actually rules. I was kinda serious.

My perception of the situation: don't hit me and I won't hit you. If I cross the middle line, you will move out of my way just enough so that we can both safely pass.... and I could probably kiss your cheek if I wanted to as well. Obviously it works well and I can see how it is kind of intuitive now that I've been riding in vans and taxis for a few days now. My startle reflex and flinching has decreased significantly.

Anyway, back to getting to the market.... my point is that we had to cross the street several times from the ATM to the market. No stop signs, no lights, nothing. Just start going... slow and steady so the drivers can predict where you are going and go around you. The same rule applies, don't hit me and I won't hit you. The hardest part is getting out into the street, the rest is fine, just keep going I guess. I don't know, we went in a big pack and I just stayed close to the group. Like a school of fish, I stayed in the middle so I wouldn't get eaten by the sharks. Or maybe we scared the sharks away from our big school. Either way, it worked. Just for the record, I haven't crossed a street by myself yet, not sure this is a necessary skill to learn at this point. I've avoided it for five days now. Somehow Hillary got separated from the pack. She claims she was calling our names.

This is a picture as we just walked into the market. They are even on their scooters in the market. Seem to be missing some pics of the street in Thuan An. Will take more soon!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Din Ky Hotel

The hotel is called Din Ky and it is dinky. Our group fills up almost all the rooms! I think that when a couple more people arrive our group will fill the entire hotel! Actually, it is a "resort" and the grounds are not dinky at all. The rooms are very nice and they have all the amenities, including a hair dryer! (Thanks Paige!) We have a huge pool, a large open air restaurant area, restaurant and hotel boats, gift shop, playground, , hammock area, fish market and... what I would call a zoo. There is an alligator pond, fish holding tanks, bird area. I heard a rooster crowing but I haven't seen it yet. Well, we opened the 50 page menu for lunch and found some of our little friends on it (including the alligator). It makes you appreciate more where your food comes from and the animals that give their life so that you can eat.

The weather really is not that bad. Of course it is hot and humid, but nothing like when we walked out of the airport. We played in the refreshing pool for a bit. It seems the Din Ky is a community gathering place. The pool and other things are open to the public for a fee. The restaurant attracted many people during lunch and I think some westerners even came by boat from another hotel. Although everything is new to us, clearly we are the spectacle here. All the children are staring at us and saying "Hello", "What's your name?", "Thank you." This is all the English they know and they were so excited to use it!

This picture is the view of the river from the restaurant where I've eaten many meals. The river rolls by and it gives the sensation that you are moving. Sometimes the restaurant does move a little bit as well! For some more pics check out There are four Din Ky hotels so not all the pics apply because it seems like ours is a little dinkier than the others. But you can get a feel for it.

Arriving In Viet Nam - 07/10/10

After twenty hours on planes and a layover in LA and Seoul, we landed in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Hillary (my friend and fellow SLP) and I got off the plane and I thought it was kind of warm in the airport. I thought they should turn up the air conditioning. We went through customs and found our baggage. We had to meet Paige, the director of the Global Foundation for Children with Hearing Loss, as well as a few members from our team from other parts of the U.S.

We proceeded to the area where people were waiting for their families. The heat and humidity hit like a ton of bricks and I thought we were still inside because of the way the glass walls were angled behind me and the overhang of the ceiling. Again I thought, I can't believe they don't have air conditioning in this area at all! Then we stepped into the street and I realized, crap, we are outside. It's 11 pm, how can it be this hot!

We found our group and 30 seconds later the power went out in the area. The entire airport went dark. Everyone let out a surprised scream! Not really sure what we would have done if we were in the airport going through customs and getting our luggage off the carrier if that happened just a few minutes earlier.

We drove (I'll discuss driving later) for 45 minutes to the Din Ky hotel/resort and settled in for the night. So did a little lizard. I put my things away and closed up all the zippers on my luggage and bags so he didn't try to come home with me.