Dong Thap

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I have been in the Mekong Delta for the past two weeks working at Dong Thap Community College. Dong Thap is the province. Cao Lanh is a small town three hours from Saigon…I mean…Ho Chi Minh City. (…Let’s talk about changing the name a city of 7.5 million people from a name it’s had since the 1860s!!)

Cao Lanh has been both quiet and busy. There are 2500 students at the College and a few pretty nice networking labs. We installed Moodle (twice, actually…an English Server and a Vietnamese server), talked about switches, routers, lifelong learning, cloud computing, and the Internet of Things. I even got to teach Cisco’s Packet Tracer program to forty-five IT students. I was surprised at how easy it was to teach IT even though none of the students spoke English. An IP address is an IP address and a ping is a ping…no English required!

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I arrived one day before the full moon…and that’s important because the pagodas were ready for the Moon Festival…I joined two young volunteers from Italy and Spain to visit the Hoa Long Pagoda.

On the weekend I travelled to Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon and joined a few friends from Hanoi and about a hundred new friends for the 1200th Saigon Hash. My camera decided that the serious rain on Saturday was something I should have protected it from and now it refuses to work.

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Luckily, I had a backup camera, because today we went to the Gao Giong Eco-tourism area. We paddled through beautiful marshes and enjoyed a very traditional lunch…Along with Lotus seeds and morning glories, sour soup with eel, field rat, snake head fish, and snails were all on the menu…(If this sounds a bit fear factor, remember…in Nova Scotia we eat lobster and they aren’t very pretty.)

This evening is a cultural exchange evening for the English class. Spanish dance, Italian games, and Vietnamese songs…I’m looking forward to it!

Some more photos…

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Finding Buddha

DSCF5068I’ve been in Vietnam for just over two months now…I’m still enjoying the food, the people, and the heat (which has pretty much held to the mid 30s since I’ve been here). I am really  tired of the traffic but, since it’s not going anywhere any time soon,  I’ll just continue to cross my fingers and cross the street.

You can’t imagine how wonderful it is to get out of the city and hike in the mountains every Saturday. On our last two hikes we happened upon Buddhist temples…Or is it pagodas? There is a distinction…I’ll have to do some research. “Happen upon” may not be the correct term for the Maitreya Buddha  we visited yesterday as it sits on top Phat Tich Mountain,  is 27m tall, and weighs 3,000 tons. It is one of the largest stone statues in Southeast Asia. Seen at a distance, it’s pretty impressive…Up close, after a 5K hike up the mountain, it’s spectacular. 

Wikipedia has a page that lists 50 Buddhist temples in the city of Hanoi. Many of these are ancient treasures that the city has built up around and obscured. Looking at the locations, I see that over a dozen of them are within walking distance of my apartment. Probably worth braving the traffic to visit a few of them…Buddha help me!

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A walk in the woods…

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I attended my first Hash yesterday… The Hash House Harriers is an established running/social club found in most countries in the world. The objectives of the club, as recorded on the club registration card dated 1950, are:

  • To promote physical fitness among our members
  • To get rid of weekend hangovers
  • To acquire a good thirst and to satisfy it in beer
  • To persuade the older members that they are not as old as they feel

Wow…true to their objectives for over half a century!

Yesterday we traveled an hour and a half outside the city for a 10K run / 6K walk in the countryside. I was in the walking group, but I have my sights set on joining those runners before the year’s out. It was about 35 degrees and sauna-like conditions.  I really enjoyed the day. But the rituals…code names…symbols?…I’ve never belonged to an exclusive society before…Unless you count being a Caper…(Come to think of it, we have weird nicknames and rituals and beer is involved..So, yeah, I guess that counts…)

I checked out the Nova Scotia based Halifax Harbour Hash House Harriers on Facebook…They describe their club as “A drinking club with a running problem.”

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Tra Vinh University in the Mekong Delta

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Vietnam is 1,650 kilometers long and at the narrowest point about 50 kilometers wide. The Mekong Delta is the southernmost tip. So, it took a two hour plane ride and another two hours by car to arrive at Tra Vinh University. Tra Vinh hasn’t been a University for long. It started out as a Community College in 2001 under the Vietnam and Canada Community College Project. Today it has ~20,000 students and has 26 degree and diploma programs. Tra Vihn is a success story. Actually, that’s the reason I was there…to document best practices. This is the type of success the VACC wants to duplicate at other colleges in the country. It was really cool to spend time with the instructors from the Cisco Networking Academy. I’ve been an editor with the Cisco for several years now and it’s pretty neat to see the curriculum you worked on in English being taught in Vietnamese in the Mekong.

These are some photos I took of the Mekong Delta…IMG_0106 - Copy

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Timing is everything…

I happened to be in Tra Vinh when they were saying goodbye to two Profs from Memorial University who have been teaching there for seven weeks. Tra Vinh University knows how to do hospitality up right. All of the volunteers on campus were invited to a “good-bye” dinner for Aaron and Roy…There were folks from Vietnam, Newfoundland (of course), Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, The Philippines, University of Waterloo (well represented) and Nova Scotia (yours truly). But, let’s just blame this particular evening on the three Newfoundlanders…  DSCF4972

DSCF4941 DSCF4945 DSCF4987 DSCF5002DSCF4992 DSCF4994DSCF4997Believe it or not it was an early night…Some of us had to be on the way to Ho Chi Minh City at 7am…Some of us were doing a Teaching Methodologies workshop at 8:30am..DSCF4925

Ho Chi Minh City

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I’m in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) for the weekend, before I head to the Mekong Delta area and Tra Vinh University for the week. Since I was only going to have two days in HCMC and I was on my own, I opted to book a few tours. I booked a City Tour that included the War Remnants Museum, the Presidential Palace, the Post Office (designed by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame), and a trip to Chinatown. I also booked an evening river cruise with dinner; and a trip to the Cu Chi tunnels just north of the City.

001First up on Saturday afternoon was the War Remnants Museum. I had been warned…This museum opened in 1975, just after the fall of Saigon…Many of the exhibits document the “war crimes” of the Americans.  They are not easy to look at. 010 013 009

One exhibit, entitled “Requiem” is a tribute to the photographers killed during the American War (as is it known here) and includes many of their final photos.

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I also met a few teenagers performing there who can be counted among the victims of this war. Born in the 1990s and still affected by birth defects caused by the lingering effects of Agent Orange.  The piano player was born without eyes…

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Until North Vietnamese troops rolled a tank through the gates of the Presidential Palace it was the center for military operations in Saigon.  Today it is officially known as the Reunification Palace, but no one here calls it that…In this city it is still the Presidential Palace.

032So, I was taking pictures of the ten phones in the “operations room” in the basement of the Palace and our Vietnamese guide asked if I remembered using these types of phones. After I chastised him for suggesting I was old enough to remember using rotary phones, I admitted that “yes”, I knew how to dial them…”So, what are the letters for?”, he asked, “They couldn’t text, could they?” ..Damned if I know …Why were there letters on rotary phones??  (You know…ABC on the 2, DEF on the 3, …) …”Well, I said…you could call a TAXI (8294)” and tried to explain a very lame use for the letters…” They would have done better with your iPhone.” he said, as he walked away.

The Post Office is across from a rarity here…a Catholic Church…This is the Notre Dame Cathedral

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And Chinatown in Saigon dates back 350 years (not so impressive in this part of the world). Here’s an interesting fact : During the Vietnam War, soldiers and deserters from the United States Army maintained a thriving black market at Cholon (Chinatown), trading in various American and especially U.S Army-issue items.

After a fact-filled afternoon, I had 45 minutes to rest before my “River and Dinner” cruise. This was a treat! I was taken aboard La Perle de l’Orient and shown to a table open to the Saigon River…the menu listed six items and, no, I didn’t have to choose…I got them all…

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  • Lotus Salad
  • Fried fillet of fish with fennel
  • Sauté shrimp with garlic
  • Grilled pork
  • Fried rice
  • Dessert

I may have to become one of those people who take pictures of their food …watch for it…

There was entertainment on board as well…And, did I mention that this dinner cruise cost ~$35?…Dinner for one, and three hours to think about the value of things.

Life is short…enjoy your coffee…

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It’s Sunday evening…I’m sitting on my patio in Hanoi listening to Valdy singing Peter and Lou. “..winter’s frozen lake” seems more than a world away.

Besides moving into my apartment and trying to find finishing touches… throw cushions, a cutting board, a wine opener …this week was all about food. In my office I work with about 14 people. They are all under 30 and they are wonderful! They are very good to me and seem to be very good to each other. We all go to lunch together every day and one girl pays…she collects 40,000VND (~$2.00) per day from everyone…I’ve been eating very authentic food. Only four or five of my office mates speak any English, so lunch conversations are usually in Vietnamese.  They are teaching me the name of each food in Vietnamese. There’s a test tomorrow, so I’m going to cheat and practice with Google translate tonight.

017On Monday, we had a going away lunch for three professors from the Philippines. Twenty of us, including all my workmates from VACC, the President of Tra Vihn University, the Vice-President of the VACC, and the professors from the Philippines went to a very upscale restaurant and enjoyed two hours of Vietnam! Canada! Philippines!  Yo!  cheers.  Yes, the cheers were indeed accompanied by shots of vodka but this entry is about the food. ..And the food was amazing. It included salted turtle shells (not my cup of tea), skewered prawns (don’t know what they call them here but I recognized them and enjoyed them); grilled tofu (don’t knock ‘til you try it), grilled pork; grilled chicken, and a dish I thought was liver. I’ve eaten this particular dish at dinner in the old quarter….I thought it was a very tender liver…turns out it’s boiled pig’s blood. I’ve included a photo here, so you can see where I may have gone wrong. Anyway, with such a bounty on Monday, I opted to skip the boiled blood.

I cannot believe how good Vietnamese food tastes! My first “OMG” moment was Bun Cha…Bun (noodle) Cha (pork). I’ve been hunting down awesome Bun Cha for weeks now and I got it down pat…only “street-food” restaurants (those on the sidewalk with the short seats at short tables with no menus and no English) serve Bun Cha with the grilled pork in a bowl of hot broth with noodles on the side. The Vietnamese don’t just use herbs for cooking; herbs are a main ingredient. So, cilantro or basil will always be full leaves in a broth and other herbs are just in shared bowls to be added to your meal or broth.

Then there is the coffee…Why have I not, in 50+ years, thought that yogurt with thick, sweet coffee would be a good idea? Add ice cubes and it’s amazing! (I will use amazing often to describe the tastes of Vietnam and I make no apologies.)

Yesterday, all settled into my new digs, Ashley, who lives in the building, took me to the market. Yep, this is a typical Asian market, where everything you could possible think to cook is available. And yep, I didn’t think to take my camera (Pictures later I promise). I bought lettuce, tomatoes, passion fruit (which the lady let me try first), green beans, red onion, and mint. That all of this cost me less than $4.00 is not the best thing…When I used the red onion I couldn’t believe that it had three times the flavor of any red onion I tasted in Canada…Holy Crap! Red onion is a staple of mine….I’ve been eating second-rate veggies all these years?    

On the way home from the market Ashley and I stopped for a Saturday brunch at a bookstore/café in the neighborhood. I ordered porridge with stewed apples, cinnamon, and maple syrup. Nothing has ever tasted better! For the next nine months I will enjoy Vietnamese food…but for cheats…apples…maple syrup…I love my new neighborhood!

Một đêm tại Nhà hát (A Night at the Opera)

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Last night I attended a concert by Canadian pianist and composer Alain Lefèvre at the Vietnam National Opera.  The event was part of the celebrations of the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Canada and Vietnam.It was awesome…I had my own ‘opera box’. It all felt very posh and we all tried to forget that it was still 32 degrees at 9pm.

Also, as you can see from the blog title, I’ve started my Vietnamese lessons. WUSC has provided a private tutor for five two-hour lessons. I must say he is very good and, so far, I’m learning how to pronounce things…as in “th” sounds like “ch”,  “t” sounds like “d”, “c” sounds like “g”,  and “d”, “gi” and “r” all sound like “z”….This could take awhile…

I could have kicked myself for not taking my camera last night, but then I remembered…I have a new iPhone! (Did you know the iPhones account for more pictures on Flickr than any other camera?) This is the Vietnam National Opera…

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Workbreak

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Today is the day that students in Vietnam are taking their “short-form” exams…

All students in Vietnam are required to take the national Leaving Examination at the end of grade 12 to get a diploma. The Leaving Examination is administered by the MoET (Ministry of Education and Training). Students still have to pass their regular end-of-term examinations, along with passing the Leaving Examination.

The Leaving Examination includes six subjects: mathematics, Vietnamese literature, foreign language, and three alternating subjects determined by the Ministry. This year office technology is being tested. Each exam has a maximum value of 10 points and, in order to graduate, a student needs to achieve a minimum total score of 30 points. A score below this will also disqualify a student from taking part in the national University Entrance Examination.

Nearly 1 million students sit for the Leaving Examination in late May or early June every year.[1] Seems the “long-form exams” were written Saturday and today’s the day for the rest. For me, that means that all of my office mates are proctering exams and I am working at home doing research…and that I have a little time to post some pictures from around the neighbourhood.

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1. Pham Xuan Thanh, ‘Vietnam assessment practice and roadmap for effective assessment system’. 

Settling In…

I now have a cubicle, a bank account, a bus pass, and an apartment…I no longer have a Blackberry because I wasn’t smart enough to listen when they told me phones get stolen on buses…lesson learned.

While I have an apartment, I can’t move in until the 21st, so I’ll be in the old quarter until then. I opted for a ‘western’ style building…to me, that means ‘with windows’. I also opted to live by the lake and travel an hour by bus each morning to the VACC offices. It won’t be so bad as some days I’ll be at the WUSC office and that is within walking distance. I’ll also be spending several weeks visiting some of the Colleges in the south of the country.

Some pics of my apartment…

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