Saturday, July 31, 2010
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
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: 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
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.
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!
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.
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
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 http://www.dinky.com.vn/ 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.
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.