On Friday, Ali and I had our first long-anticipated day of language school. We are our class of two, and our teacher wears lots of glitter and laughs a lot. The laughter is interesting...sometimes it means that I've said something correctly (I think), and sometimes it clearly means that I've screwed something up.
Friday we mostly worked on pronunciation. So, basically, we we re-learned the ABCs. Except that in Vietnamese, the letters do not sound at all the way I think they should. Actually, most of them sound remarkably similar to each other. For example, "gi," "d," and "r" all make the "z" sound. Once we had all the letters down(ish), we started learning the tones. Vietnamese has 6 tones, which are indicated by markings above and below the vowels. The three-hour lesson was, to put it in a nutshell, overwhelming. However, I did have one small victory:
During our break, I went downstairs to get some coffee. The women in the kitchen asked me what I wanted, whether I wanted it hot or cold, and whether I wanted sugar. I shook my head to the sugar, but then I had a brilliant idea! "Sua!" I said (this is the word for milk, minus the marks that go above it that I don't know how to make on my computer. We had just learned this word). They all looked shocked, then burst out laughing--which, I'm beginning to be convinced, can only be a good thing.
It's amazing how exhausted I was after our three-hour session. I thought I would be really gung-ho about studying after that; rather, I felt like I never wanted to hear Vietnamese again in my life. I should recover before Tuesday, I expect, and hopefully even manage to prod myself into studying a bit!..
For now, though, I will go continue making peanut butter cookies (special request of Derek's). And maybe I will dunk them in sua.
So, I was riding my beautiful, afore mentioned bike home from work, following Hannah as closely as possible (as I do not yet know the way home on my own) through the curb-to-curb traffic at rush hour and I noticed that my bike petal seemed more wobbly than usual. I considered the fact that my bike is not exactly up to Lance Armstrong-standard, and that I frequently wonder if it will all come clattering apart around me when I ride over particularly brutal pot holes and decided that it was probably nothing to worry about. However, when a few stoplights later the wobbling had worsened considerably, I yelled at Hannah and pulled over. I said, "my bike petal feels weird," leaned down to examine it, pushed it ever so slightly...and it fell off.
The bike repairman's wife offered me this very helpful stool to sit on as I waited. I'm sure it must have been highly entertaining to observe my attempts to sit on and rise from the stool, although it was actually suprisingly comfortable once I got down there.
End of story: I'm very glad Hannah was with me. We made it home just fine, supper was waiting, and there was pineapple for dessert. That's happily ever after if there ever was such a thing.
Yesterday I was given my own bike. This will most likely be my primary method of transportation around Ha Noi. Here I am before my first bike trip. I was dressed a bit inappropriately, so I had to adjust...but I look pretty much ridiculous no matter how well prepared I am for an excursion.
The primary rule for biking in traffic is as follows: don't pay attention to anything behind you; your only concern is what is going on in front of you.
Other rules I have picked up on in my day of experience:
-it is only sometimes mandatory to stop at red lights
-if you are a smaller vehicle, squeeze into any space possible
-use your horn as often as possible
-if you don't have very far to go, you might as well ride against traffic if that's the side your turn is on
-if you have to stop, try to stop in shade
Anyways. today Ali and I biked--all by ourselves!--to get our second installment of the Japanese something-or-another vaccine. Then, we went downtown to explore, with the intention of returning to the MCC office for lunch.
We left downtown with a whole hour to spare (a journey that I would estimate to take 30 minutes by an experienced Hanoian cyclist). Long story short, we were 15 minutes late for lunch. We got there, we just have no idea how. Doesn't help there is no such thing as straight, parallel, or perpendicular as far as Ha Noi roads are concerned.
However, getting lost really wasn't such a bad thing; we now recognize a few streets we did not know before.
I went out at 6:30 this morning (sidenote: I actually managed to sleep for 8 hours straight last night!) and, as Derek put it, there was "hardly anyone out." This made me laugh as I dodged through traffic--as a country girl whose biggest city of residence has been Grand Rapids, I am continually amazed by the sheer number of people. All the time.
However, I thoroghly enjoyed my run this morning. I actually like crossing the streets here. As a runner, it is very sensible to me--its the way I try to cross streets at home. There, however, I scare the drivers to death; here, they dodge me (or honk), I dodge them, it works very smoothly.
One thing I did notice, however, was the many low-hanging branches. And the low-slung tarps (people stretch these over their food stands by the side of the street, and groups of men sit under them for hours in the middle of the day, smoking and drinking coffee). I nearly got clothes-lined multiple times. I attracted many stares, and a few comments, even a thumbs-up from a little old man.
All in all, it felt good to go out and make it back all by myself. I think it is these kinds of little confidence-boosters that will make all the difference here.
Alicia and I have been spending our mornings this week being, essentially, tourists. We have gone to points of interest throughout the city, learning as we do so about the various forms of transportation that we will use throughout the coming year (so far, walking is my favorite).
We have two of the best tourguides possible for our situation--Chi Ouah and Hannah. Chi Ouah (prounounced like "wine" with a "g" at the end. Chi is a form of address used for someone older than myself, but younger than my parents...i think.) is the receptionist at the MCC office. She is quite knowledgeable about everything from the Temple of Literature's construction date to which taxis are real and which are fake to which kind of ice cream is the best (!). She speaks English quite well and is also very sweet. Hannah is one of last year's SALTers who is back for another year. She works at The Gioi (where I will work) and at the MCC. She speaks Vietnamese quite well (was actually on a Vietnamese talk show this spring!) and is the perfect person to answer Alicia and my many questions. Hannah also happens to be a Calvin grad.
So, Tuesday we visited the Temple of Literature, built (the first time) in 1070:
Wednesday was Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum, house, and museum. As we walked past his body, I was reprimanded by a soldier for holding my hands behind my back. By doing this, I apparently implied that I held a position of authority over Ho Chi Minh, which I clearly do not. Walking demurely with my hands held at my sides was deemed much more respectful. Something I thought was interesting about this visit was that, although there was a magnificent palace on the grounds, Ho Chi Minh chose to live in a small stilt house because he wanted to put himself on the level of his subjects.
Thursday we went to the Museum of Ethnology, where we learned about the many different ethnic groups of Viet Nam and toured replicas of their traditional dwellings.
Today we are going to explore downtown, around "The Lake" and the old French Quarter. In the afternoon we are going to a water puppet production.
After our sight-seeing excursions, we arrive to the MCC office in time to partake in the communal lunch prepared by the office cook. These communal meals are one of my favorite things so far: we each get a bowl of rice, and then grab with our chopsticks from the various dishes of meat, beansprout salads, fried peanuts, etc. that reside in the center of the table. Passing dishes is rare, as are, apparently, germs. I love this; it coinsides so well with my anti-germaphobic outlook on life (hopefully this attitude won't get me in trouble when I want to buy food from street vendors). After every meal, we sit around and eat fruit of new and exotic varieties: dragonfruit, jackfruit, asian pears, the one-I-can't-remember-the-name-of that I call "eye-ball fruit."
We spend the afternoons in Derek's gloriously air-conditioned office doing orientation--talking about some logistics of our new life and of MCC Viet Nam, about the tensison between attempting to adjust and to be culturally sensitive--to fit in--and the fact that we will always, no matter how well we learn to speak Vietnamese or navigate traffic, stick out. Essentially, even after this week of planned tourist activities is over, I will still be a tourist, something that still rubs me the wrong way, but to which I will just have to concede defeat.
Alicia and I just arrived in Hanoi after 30 hours of travelling, tired and with swollen ankles, but happy. It is kind of surreal to actually be here after having thought about this day for so long.
Our long flight (from LA to TaiPai) was on one of those double decker planes! (I was really excited about this).
Now we are at Derek (the MCC Viet Nam program director and our boss) and his wife, Ana's house in Hanoi. We will be living with them, touring Hanoi and doing another orientation for a couple weeks before we move in with our host families.
-Anticipating my upcoming adventure with other people who are getting ready to do the same thing.
Please keep Alicia and me and our fellow orientees in your prayers over the next few days as we disperse for various locations around the world.
-In Grand Rapids area: Watching the sunset on the Holland, MI beach. 6-, 7-, and 8-mile runs (ok, not really firsts, but firsts for this summer).
Will you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you? Pray that I might have the grace to let you be my servant, too.
Given my absurd ineptitude regarding technology combined with my year-long concern that my laptop will die if I download anything else, I have been putting off downloading skype all summer. But tonight I succeeded in dragging myself through the process and in doing so discovered that...it's really not that difficult. In fact I would recommend that you all do it as well.
Of course, this recommendation is quite selfish on my part considering that this will be my only mode of speaking with any of you for the next year! Those of you who anticipate the luxury of cell phones throughout the coming year, downloading skype is probably not a pressing concern, but just think of it as your good deed for the..year.
So, once you have visited www.skype.com, please add me, calah.schlabach. Or let me know if you already have it. I would love to talk with you.