Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Postcard Exchange

One of the lessons that I have coming up with my group at Blue Dragon has writing a postcard as an exercise. And I figure I might as well have them write real postcards to real people that can send real postcards back. So I'm looking for volunteers. If you have time to answer a postcard from Vietnam, let me know. You could have a beauty like this all the way from Southeast Asia decorating your cubicle wall.
Send me an email if you're up for it. fishercommaseth("atcom" -that's what they call it here)gmail.com

Friday, October 24, 2008


I've started collecting pictures of shirts with weird things written on them in English. It started when I saw a guy walking along the lake in my neighborhood wearing an orange t-shirt with big block letters that said "PINK GAL". That's when I knew I had to start documenting this phenomenon.

English is often used as a design element without regard to what it actually says. Kind of like the random "Chinese" you might see on a sports bike or a poorly thought out tattoo, where the owner isn't necessarily sure what it actually means, or if it means anything at all.

This shirt was in one of my classes today.
"Popular Chemical Element Loneliness" So there are how many elements now? It seems like they're always discovering new ones. I can't keep track.

This one is a little hard to read, but it says, "SPORT- UPPER BOY LIKE". Not quite sure what to make of that.

I've seen a few shirts that have pretty clear suggestions."We suggest the premium sporting". But of course. I would have no other kind.

The front of this one is pretty straight forward. "Kid's Nature" could be a brand I guess. Though, it also mysteriously says "KLW" in the corner.On the back it says, "Let's walk in a hurry like me!"This poor kid is going to grow up paranoid that people are chasing him.

I like PowerPoint as much as the next guy, so I was excited to see that they're releasing a new version called "Super Storm". I guess they've finally figured out how to incorporate police dogs into the software, which will be a big improvement. This one goes into the generally confusing category. It says, "Never tasted, Pop Up, Cutie Friends, Bow! Wow!" I'm not sure exactly what it's all supposed to mean, but it makes me want toaster pastries.This one makes perfect sense.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


I quit volunteering at Hanoi Children's Palace this week. Can't say I'm going to miss it. I just couldn't take the lack of organization and the unaddressed behavior problems any more. And when I found out that they hadn't been paying for the food and housing that they were supposed to be covering for me, I decided that I could better spend my volunteer hours somewhere else. Though I will miss some of the kids.
I won't miss trying to teach with this outside the door.
Seriously. I took that standing in front of the classroom door. Yeeesh.

I picked up a class at a language center that's M-F at 8:00 AM. I'm not really enjoying the early alarm clock, but it's a good place and it'll help cover expenses until I can find a few more hours. Once I do I'll be able to spend more time volunteering at Blue Dragon Children's Foundation.

So it was kind of a weird week and I was glad to get to the weekend. And, today I got to ride all over Hanoi with my new friend Ambassador Iroquois Dandelion (not her real name) on our Honda Super Cubs and check out some art galleries.
One place had a photo...
...that reminded me of one I took in Florida a while back.
Though, I went a little crazy with the negative space in mine.

Some of the best stuff was at a gallery where they didn't want people taking pics, but I didn't have that problem at Hanoi Future Art, where I saw this neon sign...
...and made friends with Pip. Whose facebook page was one of the pieces in the exhibit.
We ended our tour by hanging out at a neighborhood bar and trying to solve the world's problems. Her parents are both die hard Communists and their lives were profoundly affected by the American War. We both admitted to feeling some impact from the war on our own lives, even a generation later. Over the past couple of months I keep thinking about the fact that good and noble, self sacrificing people, with pure hearts and the best of intentions, can do horrible things. And I, as a person of faith, can fit that into my worldview. It's a big, hard, ugly truth to wrestle with, and I'm not quite sure how to do it.

But just the fact that the two of us could spend a day together, checking out art galleries and hanging out tells me that even when the wounds of war are deep enough to affect the next generation, there is hope for healing.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Museum of Ethnology

Today, I was treated to a trip to the Museum of Ethnology by a student of my house mate Paul. Ha, and her friend, (also named Ha), showed up at 10:00. Ha, Ha, Paul, and I hopped on a couple of motorbikes, and we fought our way through the crazy Hanoi traffic to the museum that chronicles the history of the 54 distinct indigenous peoples of Vietnam.

The Vietnamese are a fairly slight people in general, especially by my super-sized American standards, but I guess they used to be even smaller. Apparently, they lived in these tiny houses...

And fished from these tiny boats...They were probably around 1 or 2 inches tall. But of course, they use centimeters here, so that's just a rough estimate.

The most formal people of Vietnam are the White Thai people.
The White Thai have a reputation for being a little snobbish, but very, very dapper - especially when donning their traditional top hats and tails.

You may recall from earlier blog entries that they tend to load up motorbikes and bicycles like pack mules here. They really have a talent for it. It's about half art and half sport. This bicycle loaded with baskets was so well stacked that it actually made it into the museum.
(If there are any young children in the room, you may want to cover their eyes for this next part.)

As we walked the grounds we came upon some sort of statue orgy.This one noticed me staring and looked like he wanted to beat me up, or worse. So we moved on pretty quickly. It was a little shocking and uncomfortable.I was also shocked that there were so many things in the museum that you could handle as you walked around. There were full sized stilt houses on the grounds that you could walk through, and displays with artifacts lying out in the open.
Someone's getting an ancient artifact for Christmas...

Friday, October 3, 2008

Motorbike Shopping/Playoffs

I'm looking for a different teaching gig for the evenings, checking out apartments, and meeting people that I want to hang out with. The time has come that I need more than a bicycle, so I started looking at used motorbikes. The first one that I checked out was this...

It's a Minsk. A 125cc, 2-stroke, Soviet made, kick starting, black smoke spewing, little monster. I loved it right away. But I didn't get it. This city is thick with smog already, and this bike gets about the same mileage as my BMW in the States, even though it's about 1/5 the engine size and half the weight. And because it's a 2-stroke, you have to pour oil into the tank each time you get gas, to be burned off as the engine runs. It just seemed like a little more fuel cost, hassle, and environmental damage than necessary.

So I got this...It's a vintage Honda Super Cub. A 50cc "step through". It's taking a little bit of getting used to for me. It's not a regular motorcycle, but it's not an automatic scooter either. It's a 3-speed, and you change gears without a clutch. From neutral, they're all down. You can come to a stop in any gear and leave it running and the engine will just idle. Very weird for me, but it's the way 95% percent of the bikes around here are built.

Even though it's been repainted this nice royal blue, all the locals think it's ugly. To westerners, it looks cool and retro, to Vietnamese people it looks like a pinto. This is the Hyundai motorbikes. (But, if you drove a Hyundai here, you'd be some kind of big shot. Go figure.) There are still a bunch of them on the streets, Honda has actually cranked out over 60 million Cubs since they started making them a half-century ago. But now Vietnamese folks are into newer bikes that have paint jobs taken directly from the spandex pants of 80's hair band lead guitarists, and pseudo-futuristic designs with way too much plastic. Bikes that I would be a little embarrassed to ride. It's funny how culture affects something like this.

In addition to being pretty, it gets great mileage. Unfortunately, like a lot of things here, it makes me look like a giant. It's just fast enough that so I've been able to evade all the pitchfork and torch wielding villagers who fear that I might swallow their pigs and children. And probably the best feature is that it's a nice Cubby blue. Just in time for the playoffs. I found a matching helmet that's made in the USA, with a flag sticker and all. It's nice to see the home country exporting something in this day and age. And it's probably the best commercially available helmet in the country.
I took the cubs sticker from my laptop and turned it into a batting helmet. With the way they're playing, they could call me up at any time.I've been getting up at 4:30 or 6:00 or whatever ridiculous time to watch the Cubs play on ESPN Star, which is carried by VTV here. But the schedule on the website is a mess. Yesterday it said that they were showing 2 American League games live. I don't know how they were planning to do that when there was only one American League game being played. The games start on the hour, but the network has them scheduled for the half-hour. The schedule is for Vietnam, but seems to be on Bejing time...

I know I'm really only complaining because the Cubs aren't winning. I even started watching the White Sox in the hopes of seeing a Chicago win, but that just made it worse. But I'm pretty sure the Cubs will win the next three and go on to win the Series. Yeah. Pretty sure...