Saturday, September 6, 2008

Ist Day of School

The first day of school is kind of a big thing in the US, but in Vietnam, the first day of school is a HUGE FREAKIN' DEAL! The school that's situated right behind the building I live in has been practicing their first day of school performances for weeks. I wake up every morning to either a drum squad or some kind of singing and/or marching. They do this at schools all over the city and country, along with hanging banners and building stages and setting up sound systems.

I was invited to be one of the guests for an opening ceremony at a brand new school in a district just west of me. It was at 7:00 AM, and I almost begged off, but I was glad I didn't. There was singing and dancing and drumming and marching and speeches... I was actually told that they wanted me to give a speech just after I arrived. They had written something for me. Then I was told that they had forgotten to bring it and I should make something up. The teacher who invited me had to leave a little early, so I was handed over to another teacher who would be my interpreter. Here's a little clip of the show...
Ok. So the kinds look a little bored in this clip. But for the most part they were pretty excited. I was sitting and watching and making a couple of comments to my new interpreter/friend and writing my speech in my head while I waited. But, it turns out we went a little long. And I got bumped by the local supermarket chain that donated a bunch of supplies and scholarships for kids that needed it. The poor kids were paraded onto the stage and each given a sack of supplies. More speeches, a final musical number, and there was nothing left but to wait for the reviews.

I was actually a little disappointed that I didn't get to give my little speech. Even though I'd only been told about it a couple of hours earlier. But then we visited one of the classrooms and the kids practiced saying hello, and asking me how old I was, and then they all wanted to have their pictures taken with me.

Yesterday was the opening ceremony at the kindergarten where I teach a couple of days a week. It was a much smaller production, but just as much fun. Here are the ten little Indians about to go on in their meticulously true-to-period traditional construction paper skirts...
I had been helping work on the big ABC number for a couple of weeks. Here's a shot of that...

Unfortunately, the timing was all off and let's face it, some of these kids don't take direction well. I didn't want to say anything in front of the parents, but little heads will roll when I get back on Tuesday. Oh yes they will...

And last night I was invited to dinner by the schools director along with all of the other teachers. Now, as a general rule, I don't eat meat of any kind. But, I hadn't told them I was a vegetarian because I wouldn't want them to make any special arrangements for me and there is almost always something I can eat even if it's just a bowl of rice. But it turns out that there was no rice and the only non-meat items were french fries and some sort of vegetable that I don't know. So I never would have gotten away with just eating the garnish. Also, you don't really just order or take what you want. The stuff sort of gets portioned out. On top of it all, I'm like a toddler in this situation and I had to have someone show me how to eat this stuff. For example, when you get a great big prawn, you eat it's head but not it's legs. Oh heaven's no. That would be gross.

So I had 2 kinds of muscles (I think), something that was deep fried (which was the easiest thing to eat because even deep fried hair would probably taste ok), a few big shrimp faces...

The final course was eel. It was served dead and sliced from head to tail like a loaf of bread. You put it in the boiling water, and 5 minutes later, out comes bowls full of eely goodness.
They also served what looks to me like some kind of packing material, and it all gets washed down with red bull. This was the first time I actually enjoyed the taste of red bull. So today I feel like I've got a sack of wet cement in my gut.

Now, all that said, I'm still not going to turn down any dinner invitations. It's not like this stuff is going to kill me (I hope) and these people went out of their way to make sure that I was included in what was for them a special, delicious dinner. It's so easy to feel like an outsider when you're new in town and you don't speak the language and don't know what's going on half the time. And a lot of time I feel like I'm just there to fulfill some requirement, like a contractor or something - not really part of the operation. But this meal was for staff. It was for the people who are really part of the school, and even though I've been there less than a month they decided that that included me. They served me a 5 or 6 course meal and probably would have chewed it for me if I needed it. So my stomach is feeling a little taxed, but it did my heart good.

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