Category Archives: changes

First Impressions: Vietnam

Well, Vietnam and I got off on the wrong foot.

Someone robbed me on my very first day here, but I am working really hard not to let that affect my perception of Vietnam the place.

First let me just say… Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) is NOT Phnom Penh! And so it follows that Vietnam and Cambodia are in general quite different. On the surface, many things may appear similar, or even the same– but other aspects are worlds apart.

The overall “personalities” of Vietnam and Cambodia are noticeably different: Cambodians seem to be far more laid back, whereas the Vietnamese, while also very friendly, seem slightly more guarded. However, I’m staying in a placeĀ fullĀ of tourists; in these parts, I wouldn’t be surprised if any and all peoples were guarded. They are also more openly attentive to the expressions on your face– if you look confused or dissatisfied with something, they’ll ask you what’s wrong. I’m so not used to that anymore. In Cambodia, you could be crying on the street and most people will probably not ask you what’s wrong– not because they don’t care, but because they think it’s none of their business, that’s it’s rude to pry, even if you’re laying it all out there.

Holy smokes, there are a LOT of churches in this town! I mean, after being in Cambodia where it’s wat after wat after wat, I just wasn’t expecting it. Christianity has yet to catch on in any form in Cambodia, despite centuries of missions by various brands. There are Catholic churches, Baptists, JW, 7th Day, Mormons, etc. But none of them have much of a following.

There is some fantastic artwork, including wearable art like these really unique graphic tees (yeah I said it), paintings, weavings, jewelry, etc. which I so wish I could afford to buy, but of which I may just take pictures instead…

Speaking of pictures, there will be some forthcoming. I started uploading them last night, had a freak-out about my teaching session (which was today), and decided to quit and go to bed.

Teaching– ah, that’s why I’m here after all, isn’t it? The course is IMMENSELY challenging and EXTREMELY helpful thus far, and it’s only week one. I’ve had two teaching practices, both of which were okay, but lots to improve on. Our teacher-trainers are experienced, supportive, and full of useful, pertinent advice and feedback. And Vietnamese students are fun to teach!

We also have homework. Lots of it. In fact, I’m going to go do some now.

Peace!

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Filed under art, changes, crazy people, culture shock, HCMC (Saigon), learning, travel, Vietnam

I’ll Be Right Back

I broke it to my students today that I will be heading back to the States for a visit soon, so I won’t be able to finish this term with them. They were surprisingly upset! It felt like a compliment. “Nooooo, chur, don’t go!” (“Chur” is their word for “teacher”– as in, they are too lazy to say the “tea” part.) I was also surprised at how sad I was; I get attached easily, I guess. I’ve only been teaching them a month.

Our Take Back the Night art exhibit opens Wednesday evening. Nervous! Excited! I hope I don’t have to give a speech… I’m not planning on it. I’ll foist it on Eileen if it comes to it. ^_^

Getting nervous for Vietnam/the States. If my travels hither and thither go off without a hitch, I will have leveled up. In maturity, that is.

Also, I am still very subconsciously racist: I use a lot of smilies when I chat with people online and I was thinking to myself, “Asia is rubbing off on me– too many emoticons.” Tsk tsk. At least I caught myself that time. (Which, isn’t that a stupid thing to think? Have I ever had tasteful discretion when using emoticons? Doubtful. Very doubtful.)

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Filed under art, changes, travel

Punctuality vs Procrastination

Found out today that the date of our event has been moved pushed ahead a week. We now have an extra week to get things done, but at the same time so much will have to be rearranged.

The date was changed by MTV Exit to accommodate the upcoming commune elections. Well, that’s just great, MTV Exit, but why didn’t you tell us this until we asked? It may be because we are just very low-status yet, or it might be because randomly changing things, making decisions at the last minute is just normal in Cambodia.

I try to imagine certain members of my family or certain friends living here, or even visiting… I think it would bring on unbearable anxiety. “What do you mean, the bus is going to be an hour late?” “I’ve been waiting half an hour, you guys said you would be here at noon.” “What, you’re changing the day of our project on us which we’ve been planning for months and months, just a week before the event? Oh, okay.”

I think if I were a more normal American (i.e. not so lazy, more punctual, etc.), I would be having a freak-out right now. It does irritate me that we will have to disappoint some people who really wanted to attend, and now won’t be able to. But I feel surprisingly able to cope with this sudden change. One can be much happier here if one is flexible.

Procrastination is sort of an acceptable lifestyle in Cambodia, but it’s even annoying for me, at times. I was like the master of procrastination in high school and most of college. But in Cambodia, I do things on time (or even early) without making an effort. An American day late is often a Cambodian day early.

If you show up half an hour early to something here, like a big important meeting, you’re liable to wait an hour for the meeting to get started. I’m so used to lateness now that when I’m teaching, I literally don’t notice my students walking in twenty minutes late as I’m in the middle of a lesson. It gives me pause to consider what a return to American life will be like. People are probably going to find me annoyingly laid back about time.

Not being so concerned about time, though, has its perks. Like a serious reduction in stress. I can recall panicking when I’d leave for work with plenty of time, encounter an unexpected traffic jam or get stuck by a train, and be just barely on time for the shift change. In the Kingdom, though, if something unexpected happens, people just say, “Whatever. Things happen.” I was even at a wedding once where the groom showed up an hour late; it was definitely face-losing, but no one said a word! Teachers at my school regularly go to class five minutes late, and they’re not fired yet. I don’t think anyone even notices. Once in a while a student will give me an excuse for why they were late or absent, but generally no one seems to think it necessary to bother with an excuse.

And as for being early… No one gives kudos to the person who shows up ten minutes early to something. They might even complain that you got there “too early”. Yeah, definitely a lot of Americans I know would need a serious paradigm shift in their perception of time before they could cope with CST (Cambodian Standard Time).

Anyway, guess I better get going. I was going to do some chores before I have to run an errand at 3, but that’s 4 CST (or 4:30? Who knows), so maybe I’ll just take a nap, or do some laundry, or read a book… I’ve got all the time in the world.

This was appropriate when I was a PCV, but be it a gov’t non profit, an NGO, it’s always the same with the “wellness program”… ^_^

 

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Filed under changes, one of those days, take back the night, the States vs the Kingdom, time