Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Portrait of a Teacher

If there's one thing that can be said about my students, it's that they love drawing pictures.  The girls typically draw pictures of themselves, their friends, Mickey Mouse, Asian cartoon characters, medieval scenes with princesses, castles, and princesses, and rainbows, while the boys like to stick to the more violent pictures: guns, transformers, thai fighters, soldiers, battle scenes, etc.  My initial reaction is to be disturbed by the photos that the boys draw, but then I think back on my childhood and I recall memories of myself perched high in a tree with a pair of binoculars, a Rambo bandana, a plastic knife, and a fake wooden musket, pretending to snipe football players practicing on the baseball field behind the house I grew up in (where was my mom?).  I suppose I ended up alright, so I'll throw the dice and hope that these fantastical violent tendencies are universal in 9 year olds around the globe.

Anyway, every once in a while I'll get a student who draws a portrait of me, and I'd love to share the pictures I have accumulated over my first two months of teaching.  The pictures are always from girls.  I'm pretty sure this is because any time I end up in one of the boys' pictures I'm usually the skinny guy getting crushed by the tank.  Hey whatever, at least I make it in...

Photo #1:  The first portrait I ever received was not a gift, it was a punishment.  It was my first day of teaching, and I caught a 9 year old girl (Lucy) drawing instead of paying attention.  I walked up to Lucy, grabbed her picture, and acted like I was really mad.  I told her the only way I would let her off without punishment was if she drew a picture of me, and it had to be good, or else the punishment would be severe.  She could tell I was kidding, and excitedly drew this picture for me.  I like to think of this as the Asian version of me...

Mr. Athuny (teacher)

Photo #2: I don't really have a backstory for this next photo.  I was substituting a class of 9 and 10 year olds, gave the class a 15 minute break, and when I came back in this was at the top of my box of activities that I bring into every class.  I asked who drew it and told them I really liked it, but no one would confess to it.  Picture #2...

The Mystery Continues...

Photo #3: My next photo was one that I received today.  It came from an 8 year old student of mine who goes by Sammy.  This one was actually kind of cool because I didn't think she liked me that much.  She never really pays attention, and often is drawing or talking to the girl who sits next to her when I'm trying to teach something new.  When I came back from our 15 minute break, I looked in my teachers box and saw a folded piece of paper that said "For You" on the outside.  When I opened it, I was greeted by this pleasant surprise...

Thanks Sammy!

I'm saving my favorite photo for last.  This was given to me by a 10 year old girl who calls herself Sunny.  I covered this class for 3 lessons while their teacher was taking a vacation, and really enjoyed all of the students.  They were all extremely interested in hearing about America, and it was fun sharing stories of my home with them.  I really liked Sunny because she uncannily reminded me of one of my younger cousins who I think is probably the coolest person I know.  During our breaks I would introduce her to my favorite music from my iPod, while she would play her favorite Korean songs she downloaded onto her mp3 player.  On my last day teaching this class, she gave me this drawing...

The reason I like this is because of the message that accompanies the photo: "Sunny to Mr. Anthony- Wish you luck, heath, and have a girlfriend, (bla bla, much thing nvm)  I'll alway remember u! (maybe)."

I'm not sure what the "(bla bla, much thing nvm)" part means, but whatever.  I assume it means "and  more stuff, but I'm too cool to keep feeding your ego and wishing praises on you."  The best is at the bottom:

"It, this picture, is not beauty, but no copy! Sunny ©"

Yes, Sunny copyrighted her picture.  Genius.  These kids never cease to crack me up.  I hope you enjoy the humor in these pictures as much as I do!  Hopefully I'll have a new batch of pictures to share in a few months time from now.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Vietnam: Welcome to Saigon

Considering that this blog is supposed to be about my experiences in Vietnam, I suppose I should start writing about the country I have lived in for the last 3 months!

There is so much that can be said about this country, and I'm not even going to attempt to tackle a small portion of it in this single post.  One thing I can say for certain is that every day here is an adventure.  Even the boring days tend to pack a crazy event or two into them.

After my first two weeks in Southeast Asia, we boarded a bus for the eight hour bus ride from Phnom Penh, Cambodia to the place I was to call home for next ??? (months, years, ???): Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, also referred to as Saigon.  I had been to Saigon 9 months earlier, and that initial visit had made me want to return to live and work for an extended period of time.  As is evident from my first 5 blog posts, I loved Cambodia, and I found myself wondering if I should have stayed in Cambodia or maybe gone on to teach in a different country altogether like Thailand.  However, when we pulled into Saigon and I first stepped off the bus, I was immediately reminded of why I was so intrigued by the city 9 months earlier.

Approaching the Cambodia-Vietnam Border

Almost in Vietnam Country

Saigon officially became Ho Cho Minh City in 1975 when the North Vietnamese took over the city, effectively ending what we refer to as the Vietnam War.  While Ho Chi Minh City might be its official name, many people still refer to it as Saigon.  I have to admit, I haven't taken a single photo of Saigon in the three months that I've lived here.  I've been so caught up in trying to infuse myself into the culture that I've been doing my best to not look like a tourist with a camera strapped around my neck oogling everything I walk past that is slightly different.  Now that I'm moved into an apartment, working a steady job, and as settled in as I'm going to be I guess it's time to get out there and start taking some pictures.

As I said before, Saigon is a fascinating city, and there's no way I could begin to sum it all up in this blog post.  Life moves fast, traffic is chaotic, food is delicious, exhaust fumes are nauseating, people are friendly, language is confusing, heat is sweltering, rats and cockroaches are plentiful, rooftop views are spectacular, fruit is fresh, cost of living is cheap, cultures are clashing, and construction is never-ending.  I think it is safe to say that it is unlike any place in the world.  The city is changing daily, and I often wonder what this place is going to look like in 10 years.  If I left today and came back in 2022, I probably wouldn't recognize it.

I suppose I should attempt to focus on something, so I'll close this post by mentioning the first thing any visitor to Saigon notices: the traffic.  There really isn't an appropriate adjective to describe the chaos of Saigon's traffic.  I've been driving a motorbike for a little over two months, and while it can be extremely fun, I do have to be very cautious.  I try to be as careful and alert as possible, and I'd like to think that I'm a decent driver considering the conditions.  I've had a few passengers who would disagree with the previous statement, but every passenger is the best driver, right?  (And with that sentence I just lost about 3 friends)

One of my friends took this photo of me out of a cab window

Crossing the Saigon River on the massive Phu My Bridge

A few nights ago, my housemate and good college friend Mike and I were heading out and he grabbed his camera to catch a video of the traffic from the back of my bike at around 6:30 PM, roughly as rush hour is starting to wind down.  Mike runs an extremely popular blog detailing his travels in Asia that gets readers from literally all over the world.  He posted the video to his blog, and I invite you to click on the following link to check out the video to get an idea of what we experience on a nightly basis!

Finally, someone recently created a time lapse video of the traffic in Saigon that has been circulating among all of us out here.  While one can never truly understand and appreciate the intensity of the traffic without actually witnessing it, this video does capture it about as well as anything I have seen:

I hope that these videos have begun to explain one reason as to why I find Saigon so alluring.