Saturday, May 7, 2011

Goodbye Saigon

Beautiful tropical orchids.

You can create the feeling. It's lunch time, a crazy day with no down moment, and it's finally time to eat and sit for just a few moments. I had had that kind of day and was running a little late. I grabbed a tray, and looked up at the placards announcing the day's fare...

sloppy dung,

or skewed beef.

Which would you have chosen? (I am pretty sure they meant sloppy joes and skewered beef.) I appreciate the reminders that am still in a foreign land, but I did opt for a sandwhich instead!

Other reminders I live in Vietnam? The


offered on the local spa sign. Typo or no typo?

The Sunning of the Babies (Every morning the nannies take babies down to the courtyard under our window to let babies be naked in the sun.)

I had a glimpse of the Vietnam to come.... the other day a 1990 Honda Accord passed by with no less than 8 people in it. OK, you may be thinking, how is that any different than the hoards of motobikes with whole families on them? Here are the differences - it is a car. And even more significantly, it is a used car. It is one of the first used cars that I have seen on the streets - it would be fun to learn about where that car came from. Up to this point, cars have been only new, expensive, and available to only the very rich. I can only imagine what roads will look like here a year from now.

It has been an eventful few months since my last post. (OK 4+ months!) I am happiest to report that we now have awesome plans for next year. After a couple of tense months, we found out that we will be living and learning in Hong Kong! I accepted a 5th grade position at Hong Kong International School and couldn't be happier about it. The last two years I had the opportunity to be there for the Literacy Coach Asia Institute, and I am pretty sure it is the fact that I was a known entity that helped me get hired along with my whole wonderful family. With my work visa comes a visa for Charles. There are an incredible number of international schools in Hong Kong so we are hoping that Charles will find a great first teaching job too. (He is finished with course work and has only the Praxis left.) Save your pennies friends. Hong Kong is the place you want to visit us! It is quite an amazing, vibrant, East meets West city. We will probably be downsizing our living space, but will be sure to incorporate places for our friends to sleep. I am dreaming about book stores and museums and so many cultural events you have to choose. It has been so much fun to explore the internet for all there is to do and see...

International Day Beauties! Ready to represent the good ol' USA at school.

Maeve Waugh is 8! How lucky she was that Grandma was here to celebrate it with us. She looks cool with her rad new skate board, and I can't believe how big she is getting. We also hosted a small party at the local play place and at home. Our Wii system was a hit.

Happy Birthday Maeve! Beautiful new duds - thanks Grandma!

Friday afternoon birthday party.

Glimpses of teenager...

Ice cream cake in it's most purest form.

Big 8

Grandma was here to celebrate with us.

Visits from Grandma are magical no matter where you are in the world. When Mom came, we went to an uber fancy place in Danang to relax, swim, and get a few spa treatments. A surprise treat was a morning excursion to Hoi An. It is a Unesco World Heritage site that they have simply gotten right. It's a small, old village that is beautifully maintained. It is the first time I have walked into a house in Vietnam that you can tell is 100s of years old. Beautiful shops and restaurants cater to the steady stream of tourists. It was lovely.

Our ride from the airport in Danang to Fusion Maia, the resort we enjoyed, was quite the adventure. After we got in with our bags (Mom, Maeve, Sophie, and I) the driver very deliberately chose a song to play for us. The windows were rolled all of the way down. (We were sucking in the cool Danang air.) Wind Beneath My Wings was blasting so loud from the stereo that my fillings were vibrating. I looked back to see Maeve and Sophie quite unphased (explained by being used to living here). Mom and shot looks at each other, laughing a nervous "Should we ask him to turn it down?" laugh. I wasn't sure how this guy would respond if I asked him to turn it down. He seemed so proud of his music choice for us but also a little belligerent and volatile too. Thankfully his cell phone ringing made the choice for us. We were quite relieved to arrive at our destination.

I also got to take my 5th graders on an overnight trip to Cat Tien National Park. I love how familiar these trips feel to me (I am not sure I can even count how many I have been on.), even in an international setting. And I love the fact that on this overnight school trip I saw amazing, exotic things - gibbons calling in the wild and a hornbill along the river. We visited Dao Tien animal rescue center, who rescues and rehabilitates golden cheeked gibbons, silver langurs, black shanked douks, and pygmy loris. (Me too! I didn't know about any of these besides the gibbons until I learned about them from the center. They are all primates.)

Wild Ginger on the forest floor.

Looking closely at microecosystems.

Giant trees o f the tropical rainforest.

On a visit to Dao Tien we got to see Da, Lat, and their baby Hang. (Cleverly named because he holds on to his Mom from the knees down most of the time.) Da and Lat are gibbons that were rescued from a tourist attraction where they were kept in small cages and fed only milk. They mated, and had Hang soon after. (Gibbons mate for life. It is the females who have interesting "wandering" habits that keep the men in "check".) It is amazing that they are on their way to being rereleased into the wild. It was interesting to learn about the process Dao Tien goes through to rescue and rerelease primates into the wild. Because they are working to release these animals in the wild, you aren't aloud to get close to them. It is quite a different experience from zoos or other rescue centers I have been to. I was also fortunate enough to see a wild gibbon call in the early morning. Gibbons have an amazing, unique call that is unmistakeable. He was a single male, and his call was a little mournful..

If you can zoom in, you can see Hang and Lat. Hang was venturing further away from Lat than he even had before.

We also got to feed the rescued sun and moon bears at WAR, another animal rescue site. Students were invited into the play enclosure (sans bears) to hide and spread fruit and peanut butter all around the area. Then we all got to watch as the bears came and found the goods. (After we left the area and the electric fence was turned back on.) Very fun.

Moon bear finding the hidden yummies.

The student led campfire was one of those moments I treasure working in an international school. It started with a student singing a beautiful little song in Israeli, then translating it for us (a very touching song that about Moms) and continued with songs, stories, and jokes in Korean, English, and Chinese. My colleague gave a great "Toasting a marshmallow 101" lesson. Later one students walked up to another colleague after carefully roasting a marshmallow and asked "What do I do with this?" It was the first time that more than half of my students had ever roasted a marshmallow. As a matter of fact, it was the first time many of my students had hiked in the woods, been outside at night in the dark, and been away from home by themselves. It was definitely memory making in action.

If I am being realistic, I will admit that this is the last entry to Vietnam Days. Sorting, selling, packing, and the end of school will soon make my days busier than I would like. I am so interested to see what sticks about this place, what our memories will be flooded with when we think about Vietnam.

We are so excited about our move to Hong Kong. Vietnam will forever be a part of our lives, a part of our beings. It has been an interesting country to live in, and I know we are different because of our three years here.

Tam Biet Vietnam.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Chuc Mung Nam Muoi!

He sits on the sidewalk in a chair with his feet thrown over the side. He looks exhausted, and savors every idle moment as he watches people walk by on the sidewalk. I see him every morning on my way to school. He manages the Thai restaurant on the corner on my way to school. But I never se him like this. He is always working, always telling people what to do, always pushing tables and chairs around. But not today. Today he sits and watches, while he wiggles his toes, smiles, and ignores everyone. Quite possibly it is the only day he has off in the year. And such is a picture of the peace of Tet.

Chuc Mung Nam Muoi! Happy New Year! We are enjoying a week of bliss in the chaos. We have a week off and the windows are open and have been all day (a rare treat). A breeze blows cool, and it is more quiet that I thought possible in Vietnam. I am savoring every moment.

Today we went down town to walk Nguyen Way, a street in the middle of the city that is fully decked out with flowers and displays solely for the opportunity for families to stroll and be together. There was a happy, calm feeling in the air. Many people get out of town for Tet because grocery stores, ok everything closes. But it is my very favorite time of year in Vietnam and I am always so glad that we are here!

I have a little catching up to do, I know. We have decided that this is our last year in Vietnam, but don't yet know where our journey will take us next. The international school world job search is a little daunting to say the least. We are trying to ride with the waves - the excitement and disappointments that join our days right now.
Here are some pics to catch you up:

The first ones (a little out of order) are Sophie's. She got a new camera for Christmas and has been having a great time exploring the life of a photographer.

Pretty Maeve.
A mom and baby in our apartment courtyard.
The courtyard at Hung Vuong 2, our apartment complex.
I love this one. A view of the sky in our apartment complex.
Sophie let one of her friends in the courtyard take this one of her.
A Christmas Skype with Grandma, Uncle Steve and Aunt Laura. It's so nice to have Skype, especially at Christmas.
A hornet's nest right in the window made some good watching for our nature girl.

Close up architecture photo of Sophie's Playmobil animal hospital. (Looks like you could really walk in...)
Right before halloween, we had a big night in tooth fairy land. Sophie lost her first, and Maeve lost one of her big front teeth in the same day. We read a book called Throw Your Tooth on the Roof about what kids do in different parts of the world when they lose a tooth. It explains the glasses in the picture that hold teeth in a glass of water. The letters were an added bonus, complete with tooth fairy portraits.
Underdog in the flesh. Halloween was fun.

My great colleague at the Halloween fair at school.
Out trick or treating with the faculty crew.

The sort. Same in every house in the world after trick or treating. Rules haven't changed...

My wonderful assistant gave these sweet dresses to the girls.

At the beginning of Christmas break, we escaped to Phu Quoc, an island off the Southwest coast of Vietnam. We stayed in a beautiful place on the beach - a little village of cottages.

It had a nice pool.

Traditional Vietnamese fishing boat.
Friends from school who stayed down the beach a ways. It was a very nice beach with great swimming. (In the Gulf of Thailand I think.)
Nature girl found a sea star in one of the shells she picked up on the beach and returned it to the surf just in time.
Beautiful sunset. (The boat you see was a permanent hut on the water, used as a home and fishing base for local fishermen.)
Beautiful Sophie.
Dinner on the beach!
The more local dinner down the beach. Crates as tables and great grilled seafood and barbecue. Delicious.

Back in Saigon, we skated! Not on ice, on wax. Way cool. I was a little nervous about how crowded it was on the ice the day we were there but quickly noticed that no one moved round very quickly. (Why would anyone know how to ice skate in Saigon?) Maeve was actually one of the more proficient skaters on the "ice" within a few minutes.
The long Christmas break ended for me at a Job recruitment fair in Bangkok. This was the beautiful river view from my window which I enjoyed with coffee in the morning. I didn't get to see too much of Bangkok, unfortunately. I did make some great connections with schools, and enjoyed talking with people in interviews. No results yet, but we are hopeful.

Charles is immersing in the world of teaching as he has started his student teaching this semester with a great economics teacher at our school. I am enjoying how much he seems to be enjoying it.
And I will update sooner next time. Be well friends.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A New Year Begins

It is always a little daunting to look at the first round of credit card bills after our summer. Rental cars, hotel rooms, and an entire year's worth of shopping! I made myself feel a little better with my first trip back to my regular spa. But (yes, the masseusse's name) made it all go away! Had a mango smoothie on the way home and didn't even think about those bills for the rest of Saturday.
Yes, we are back. After a whirlwind tour of the western United States and some solid time at the place we love most, we came back to our apartment with the air conditioning on for us and the refrigerator stocked. Pleasures of life in Vietnam.
Here are my favorite quotes of the summer:
#1 - Maeve (Out of the blue, listening to the XM movie station in the rental car.)

"Why do all of the movies we watch at home in Vietnam have shadows in front of the movie and the movies here don't?"

#2 Aunt Jen (Maeve aspires to make movies some day and likes listening to the music from movies to try to envision them. That's why we listened to XM radio movie station as much as she would let us. Then she grills you about what the movie is about and tries to connect it all. One night, Aunt Jen rode home with Charles and the girls. )

"You should have warned me! I had to explain Saturday Night Fever and Flashdance."

#3 (Maeve has been voariciously reading about mythology and is hooked. We were around the campfire and Sophie tried to get her hot dog off of the cooking stick, it stuck, and then launched free onto the ground. )
Maeve, " Sophie is hot dog Artemis!!!!!"

Indeed it was a fun summer. And it zoomed by us.

Before we left, we celebrated another important milestone in the Waugh family - Sophie's 5th birthday.

Maeve and Sophie are becoming seasoned travelers! It is still a brutally long trip, but they do such a great job and sleep plenty. Here they are in the Hong Kong Airport before we boarded our flight to LAX.
We got to spend lots of time at Grandma and Grandpa's hip new pad in San Diego. I had forgotten how hard jet lag can be on kids, so it was a bit of a tough week. Mission Beach won out as the best place to go.
Balboa Park was another hit. What an amazing place! Here, Maeve contemplates a reflecting pool.
And here she takes on the stage. So shy that one.

After Charles met us a week later after his class in Bangkok, we packed up a Town and Country and drove north to Oregon. Beautiful, beautiful driving! (And a pleasure to drive after not doing it all year.)
Here is one of our highlights of the trip, Crater Lake in Oregon.
It was the first time that the girls have actually stood in snow! So funny that they had their sandals on.
Their first snowball fight was a highlight of the trip. They had cold hands and feet as we were dressed for summer, but it was worth it.

We had a visit with our dear friends in Portland, Alan and Joanie. A trip to Powell's book store and some yard saleing (can that be a verb?) on a beautiful day made it a perfect visit.
Beautiful Maeve on the Oregon Coast.
We were lucky enough to stay in yurts 3 nights at Oregon State Parks. This was out first.
Here we had a yurt a 1 minute walk from the beach. A hot chocolate sunset.
The tide pools were awesome! Maeve and Sophie explore...
A tide pool wave.
Maeve wasn't too sure about the starfish...
Stars all around.
On the way back to San Diego from Oregon, we went through the Redwoods. Amazing and humbling those trees are. They are huge!
We stayed with my Aunt Wendy in Sebastapol, CA.
Sophie got a new do when we got back to San Diego.
Finally at the cabin. Charles makin' some of his famous biscuits.
Sisters on our favorite dock.
A quick trip to Mackinac Island to get our fudge fix for the year.
Reading with newly met cousin Sam. It's amazing how much we read without screens around at all. The girls, especially, rediscovered books in new ways. : )
Grandma offering a hammock push.
Welcomes to all. We got to see EVERYONE in my family at once as we celebrated my parents 50th wedding anniversary.
Swimming with the cousins. Does it get any better than that?
A spin in the old row boat.
The entire Riley crew. It was so good to see everybody!
Sophie back in San Diego, watching with Grandpa.

A new school year is underway! Sophie is in kindergarten and Maeve is in 2nd grade. They are both off to a great start with wonderful new teachers. I have a lovely new group of 5th graders.
Our favorite babysitter brought us t-shirts from her home country of Equador.

There were so many people I intended to call when I was in the states, but it was unbelievable how fast the days went and how full they were! Warmest greetings to all of our friends out there. You are not forgotten! Hopefully I will be better this year about blog updates. Tam Biet. And don't be a stranger!