Sunday, June 28, 2009

Dragon and Bob

Teaching kids sucks. They're loud and retarded and always want to play games. Any teacher worth his salt has heard this countless times:

" games."

"No! Now sit down and listen to my fascinating lecture on the difference between -ing and -ed adjectives."

I have one kid class right now, one that I had a lot of trouble with in the beginning. We've finally established some kind of a cooperative relationship -- they shut up for about half the class and I don't get on them for not shutting up the rest of the time.

The class has 17 (17!) girls and 2 boys.

Meet the two boys: Dragon and Bob

Dragon and Bob are the perfect sitcom pair. Or the perfect buddy cop movie. I can't decide which.

Dragon is obnoxious, self-confident, intelligent, and extremely fat. He wears his weight like a badge of honor, welcoming any disparaging comments thrown his way and quickly brushing them aside. Without fail, every day, Dragon walks down to the snack stand near the school and buys 3 (3!) bags of chips, all to be consumed on the school premises. I of course don't let him eat in class, but he'll try to sneak-eat when given the chance. That's not the only thing he sneaks. Our teacher-edition books contain all of the answers, and if I leave those books exposed for more than a second, Dragon will snag all of the answers and pass them along. During class, he'll blurt out the stupidest shit and you can't help but laugh along. In one exercise, the students had to "design their own city" and write down some of the rules. Dragon's city name? Monkey-Dragon City. Its rules? Everyone can fly, everyone's hair is yellow, and everyone dies. Just the most random nonsense. The class loves it, and I'll be honest, I do too. The boy pushes the envelope and constantly crosses the line, but he does everything with an undeniable charm that makes it hard to remain angry at him for too long. He sits next to the oldest girl in the class (just turned 17), and although he doesn't realize it now (Dragon is only 13), he is spitting mad game at her and the girl is genuinely interested. I can't help but look at him and feel proud, thinking, "That's my boy!"

Meet Bob. Bob is shy, tall and skinny, and not all there. He has this clueless demeanor and brandishes this perpetual smile that it leaves one questioning if Bob knows he's learning English. He moves around with a child-like innocence and utter lack of awareness of his surroundings. The fact that he chose Bob as his name speaks volumes. Readers, think of a "Bob" right now. Chances are, you are thinking of my Bob. It's like he knew the name Bob was perfect for him. Bob is always good for a reaction or two. I sometimes pair him up with two girls because he explodes with this very audible "nooo!!!" But this being Bob, he's smiling the entire time. His English skills, while developing, are pretty bad. No matter how hard I try to instill in his mind that "play game" is not proper English, that's the answer I'll get every time when I ask, "What did you do yesterday?" Bob also has a certain charm that's difficult to describe, but of an entirely different nature than Dragon's.

Bob and Dragon one day during class.

Like I said, this class has 17 girls and Dragon and Bob. The students sit in a U-shape, with the two boys comprising the ends of the U. This way, they only have to sit next to one girl.

They're both good kids and I enjoy them a lot. If there was a movie detailing the two's adventures, I'd pay money to see it.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Trip to Korea

I'm at a coffee shop right now and pretty bored, so I thought it'd be nice to post an update about my recent trip to Korea.

A little backstory:

Ever since high school when I moved to California, Korea was the country I wanted to go to teach English. I studied Korean on my own from the Internet and did two formal semesters at the University of Florida. During high school, I had many Korean friends and often ate at Korean restaurants with them and spent time with their families.

Before leaving for Asia, I decided to come to Vietnam over Korea for reasons I've yet to really figure out. Perhaps I had spent so much time mentally preparing for Korea that I knew it'd be impossible to meet my expectations, whatever those were. Or maybe part of it was the many Korean golfers I met on the course in Florida who kind of rubbed me the wrong way -- didn't really make an effort to be friendly or make an honest attempt to understand American culture, which I thought was kind of close-minded because I was making an honest attempt to understand their culture. Whatever the reason(s), I'm in Vietnam now. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to spend a great week in Korea with Dman and his father. I had a fantastic time and the country left quite a profound impression on me.

The following is only my impression and I know many people have had different experiences. My roommate here in Vietnam, Mark, loves Korea and can't wait to go back. He's not very fond of Vietnam or Ho Chi Minh City and will be peacing out as soon as possible. He did meet his future wife in Vietnam, so wasn't all for naught.

I found Korea to be quite an unhappy place. The poverty was much more significant than I imagined, and the lifeless, endless apartment blocks were rather depressing. People crammed into the subway cars after a long, hard day at work, and immediately fell asleep. Occasionally, I'd see a Korean man or woman using the complete stranger next to them as a pillow. Smiles were rare and eye contact was ever rarer. It was a big contrast from Vietnam, where the people pride themselves on being exceptionally friendly. The women in Korea were stunningly beautiful, but I never got the vibe that any were even remotely interested in me. Again, another big contrast from Vietnam. Probably didn't help that I looked like an American soldier with my short hair and Florida Gators sweatshirt. The Korean peninsula, both north and south, doesn't really like the American presence too much.

I found Korea to be much more "foreign" than Vietnam. The food was stranger (but delicious), less people spoke English, the culture was much more rigid, and generally, I felt like an outsider moreso than in Vietnam.

Despite that, I had a great time and would love the opportunity to go back. I loved the "foreign" aspect of it because it was truly a different experience. At times, I felt like I was in a different world.

Obviously, it's difficult to obtain a thorough impression of a country after only one week. Mark swears that the place is incredible once you give it some time and make some friends.


One of the first meals we had in Korea. We just walked up to a store and ordered. Had no idea what we would get.

View from "Building 63." Taken on the 63rd floor.

Crowded market/shopping area.


Some snow on my last day there.

Dman killing a $2 bottle of soju by himself. Beast.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Types of Drivers in Ho Chi Minh

The Hot Chick:
The hot chick drives with one goal in mind -- to get noticed. Motobike, helmet, and attire are often color-coordinated. Skin is milky white and is displayed for all to see. Posture is of the utmost importance, with the back perpetually held at an impressive 90 degree angle. Speed and aggression are nowhere to be found, as that would detract from the main goal. Doesn't wear the mask and sun-protection gear so popular with other Vietnamese girls because she likes to show her face. Favors very feminine motobikes. Despite the attention grabbing get-up, she never makes eye contact with the boys gawking at her. Be assured however, she damn sure knows you're looking at her.

The Racing Boy:

Undoubtedly the most dangerous of all the drivers, the racing boy throws caution to the wind and drives like a complete and utter moron. Favors reckless abandonment, speed, and "looking cool." Similar to the hot chick, attention is a high priority. Often wears eye-catching attire, such as purple, pink, and other ridiculous button-down shirts. Motobikes screech loudly and sound like a dying baboon. Prefers not to wear a helmet as that would be a sign of weakness and intelligence. Motobike of choice falls into two categories: old, "juiced" up beaters and new racing bikes. Doesn't realize that people can die. Also fails to realize what the rest of the world does -- his "racing" bike is a moped that tops out at 65 mph.

The Foreigner:

The foreigner has no idea what the hell is going on half the time and is surprised when he or she arrives at work unscathed. Accidents of all varieties are commonplace. Quick to exhibit road rage. Likes to use the horn more as an aggressive "fuck you" than an accident-avoidance mechanism. Usually far too large for a motobike. Often looks ridiculous when traveling on the streets. Prefers older motobikes that are prone to stalling and a myriad of other mechanical problems. Finds solace in beers after work with other foreigners with the conversation revolving around the "retarded driving" in Vietnam.

The Sun-Fearing Woman:
At the top of the sun-fearing woman's greatest fears' list is not the prospect of never getting married, as is commonly believed, but sunshine. Holds an irrational fear of our nearest star and would choose to blow the damn thing up if given the chance. Completely covered from head to toe in cotton of some sort, this woman looks like she is about to rob a bank or partake in guerrilla warfare. Spends roughly 12% of her day putting on and taking off arm-length gloves, masks, sunglasses, sweaters, socks, and the trusty zip-up hoodie -- despite the 100 degree weather.

The Older Man:
This man simply doesn't give a fuck anymore. In his mind, there is only one motobike on the streets and he's on it. He's too old and has put up with his nagging wife who refuses to sleep with him and his annoying kids for too long to have consideration for other drivers. Drives in a zombie-like trance with only his destination in mind. Subconsciously contemplates suicide. Regularly fails to notice red lights, street signs, and the big truck honking loudly behind him. Actions such as left turns and lane changing are performed instantaneously, with nary a glance at the sideview mirrors. Drives the motobike equivalent of a minivan. Wonders why he ever got married.

The Safe, Normal Driver:
This driver doesn't exist.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Teaching has its benefits

I can't see myself teaching English forever or even an extended time period for that matter, but the job certainly has its merits.

One of the most unexpected is that I never feel tired on the job. A class can be boring, torturous even, but I never feel the urge to lay my head down and sneak in a little shut-eye.

My last job at a naval hospital was good in that it afforded me plenty of free time to study for the LSAT and browse the Internet, but I hit up the office vending machine for caffeine more times each day than the fat co-workers...and that's saying something.

In Florida, I was working as a pizza delivery driver for Domino's. That job was good because....wait, scratch that. That job sucked. There was nothing good about that job. If any of my readers are aspiring pizza delivery drivers, abandon ship! But that's a story for a different day. At times, I was so tired, it was a miracle I didn't kill anyone while driving. D-man used to be so tired that he developed a hilarious habit of leaving entire pizzas on the roof of his car as he drove away, only to have them come cascading down the side of his Integra and get run over by his back wheel. He then had to embarrassingly stop and exit the car to pick up the "advanced signature" Domino's heatbag while traffic zoomed past. I put that in quotations because the heatbag was nothing more than standard non-conductive material with some velcro.

Teaching is an extremely versatile profession. You get exactly what you put into it. If I want to challenge myself and become the best teacher possible, that option is available to me. If I want to coast through my classes like a native-English speaking zombie, that option is also there. You put in a lot of hard work and you start to see great results from your students -- classes become more fun, they learn more, and you feel good when leaving the building. Compare that to pizza delivery driving. Sure, you could work hard and get that pizza there two minutes faster and maybe get that extra $0.50 tip (yeah!) but, at the end of the day, you're still delivering one of the main culprits of the obesity epidemic to lazy Americans. And you're destroying your car while you do it. There's no satisfaction in that.

There's another great perk to teaching as well.

You can blog while you do it! The students are taking a test right now.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Vietnam likes to keep its money in-house

English teachers are very privileged in Vietnam and it's incumbent upon those employed here to always acknowledge this. We make the equivalent of English teachers in Korea and sometimes even Japan, with a much lower cost of living. However, as the last week has taught me, Vietnam likes its money to remain in the country's banks and not shipped overseas.

Of course that's common sense, at least now. Vietnam is a developing country and truly needs every cent to remain within its borders. When I first arrived in Vietnam, I found it incredibly easy to get a bank account -- almost too easy. I remember feeling very surprised, especially after recalling the hour-long process of getting a bank account in the States. Now I understand why. Giving a foreigner a bank account makes it that much more likely that he'll keep his money local and in the Vietnamese currency (dong).

I made the mistake of buying a couple of plane tickets to Singapore on the Internet with my American credit card. So I need to send money to my bank account in San Diego to pay off the bill. First thing I tried was walking into my bank and simply requesting a transfer. The bank staff looked at me like I was an alien -- "you want to what?"

"I want to send money to America?"


"What's it matter?"

"Hold please." *ring* *ring*...."Please go upstairs."

I walked up upstairs and met even more resistance from one of the suits.

"I want to send money to America."

*looking very annoyed*..."Why?"

I gave him a blank stare.

"Sending money is very expensive and very difficult. I need to see your passport, labor contract, and visa."

I had none of that so I just left. I had seen Western Union signs EVERYWHERE in Ho Chi Minh City, so I assumed it would be a cinch sending that way. However, most of these locations only receive money, not send. In fact, there are only three locations in the entire city to send...a population of six million people and three locations.

Sending money via Western Union from Vietnam Chi Minh is akin to those incredibly annoying, time-consuming video game quests that has you running all around the map assembling some bullshit contraption, like the "magic sword" to defeat the "big boss" or the "special bomb" to blow up the enemy's headquarters. Of course video game developers insert these quests to add "length" and "bulk" to their games so that they can advertise it's a 15-hour playing experience and worth every penny of its $60 price-tag.

Let's stick with the "special bomb" and me as a video game character metaphor.

First thing I needed was obviously the most important -- the bomb casing (my passport). I walked into the bank with my bomb casing and explosives (money) and hoped everything was in order for me to assemble my kickass piece of destruction.

"I'm sorry sir, but these aren't the right kind of explosives. You need American explosives (dollars)"

*Changed my explosives at a different bank...came back*

"I'm sorry sir, but you need a timer (my visa) for this bomb."

*Got a copy of my visa*

"I'm sorry sir, but you need some specialty wiring (labor contract) for this bomb."

*Had my company MAKE me a contract so I could satisfy this requirement*

"I'm sorry sir, but you need a trigger mechanism (payslips)."

.................*blank stare*

And that's where we stand today...still no bomb.

Ahh, the video game of life.