Miscellaneous Things

 

 

I have not posted anything lately. There has not been much happening as for adventures. I realize that the idea of an American living in China and saying that adventurous happenings are far and few between seems odd. Actually, to many of my family and friends, my postings may seem like a daily adventure. For me, normalcy has set in after over four years. I tend to take things for granted now days. That is not to say that I do not recognize how blessed I am and that there is adventure in every day that I go outside my door. I recognize the adventure as soon as I am confronted with having to try to translate something to a Chinese person. Adventure remains as I witness the non-western cultural differences that make me proclaim TIC (This is China). I am often awe inspired by the beauty of the China and the people who live here. Despite all of that, I have gained a sense of normalcy to every day life. My normalcy is the daily adventures that face me when I leave my apartment.

Confused? Me too. Think of it like this. You get your dream job, perhaps at Disney World, and your first couple of months is awesome. Everything is new and you are working in a great location. You enjoy everything about your job. Excitement abounds. You write to your family and friends how great the experience is. Six months to a year later, you find a normalcy to your life. You still love your job, you love the environment, and you couldn’t see yourself doing anything different. The only thing different is that the newness has worn off. The honeymoon ends and real life takes over. That is where I am today. The honeymoon is over and I am living a normal life with no regrets or second thoughts. The normalcy for me is know which side of the bed is mine. The normalcy is doing the daily routine of housework. The normalcy is going to work and achieving the goals I set for myself. The normalcy is even going to a Chinese restaurant where no one speaks English and I am still able to have a fine meal. Understand?

I decided to go out this morning and get some breakfast. I decided to stop at Starbucks for a Frap and read a book. This is part of my downtown region. I took a quick video to showcase a wonderful mural that lines the canal and the park-like setting along the canal.

 

Yes, I know the water looks like the chocolate river from Willy Wonka’s factory, but it is not chocolate. At least the water does not smell the way it looks. The city does have cleaning boat crews that go up and down the canal filtering the trash and other things from the water.

There are statues throughout the city. Unique and fun. But, these are my favorites. I can imagine, before the significant pollution of the waterways, this was a favorite pastime of children in this town. Skinny dipping in a cool, once clean, waters of the canal had to be so much fun for the kids.

It is quite remarkable to think that Zhangjiagang, just 15-20 years ago, was mostly a rural farming community of a few thousand. Like many places in developed China, the richness of the culture and traditions of a simpler time have made way for the technological advancement of the 21st century. My high school students can remember when this town was just beginning to grow and become developed. That is such a unique and special thing. Often asked why I choose to stay in China, my response is that I like to see history in the making here. I want to see what happens. This city, as well as the country, is in a constant flux of change and growth. I can almost imagine what it must have been like for my ancestors to see such cities in America go through rapid transformation in their lifetime.

Every once in a while, I do get a glimpse into their past. Daily, people come to the canal next to my school to do laundry. They pound the clothes and rinse them in the dirty water, which makes little sense to me. Throughout the day, these people come to the canal and conduct their business as usual.

I am often brought back into the present when I come across any number of commercial marketing to get people to spend their money in this growing capitalistic country. Here are some pictures of a local mall hiring a company to put on a show to drive people into the mall. I can only imagine the cost of such productions, but I see such things all the time during my travels in China. Of course I find these to be entertaining, as to the locals. I just wonder how much bang for their buck that they get for such promotions.

 

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Then there is this monstrosity of a marketing ploy. China Jeep set this up to draw attention to their products in a local parking lot. You see the white vehicle on the right. That is lined up to take potential customers up the ramp to the top where the top is on a swivel. Once the jeep is up there, the swivel deploys through gravity to the other side of the ramp, allowing the vehicle to drive down the other ramp.

I see two problems with this concept. First is that there is no way you would get me into a car and let someone do that to me in the vehicle. Knowing most Chinese, I doubt they would do it either. Secondly, where we live in China is about as flat as Kansas. There are not many opportunities to go off-roading and to climb steep hillsides near us. In the hour I was there, I did not see anyone use the demonstration.

I recognize how blessed I am to be doing what I love to do and to live where I am. If I am bored, it is only because I choose to be bored. I am often saddened by the things I witness on international and American news. I honestly do not have any experiences in my life that others do around the world. Yes, I have the typical Communist power hungry bureaucrats and the red tape to deal with. Aside from that, life is good. Life is normal. Life is every day… at least until summer when vacation comes. Be on the look out for my adventures as usual during my summer holiday.

Poster Project and Game Night

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I like to have my kids do projects from time to time. I like to see their creativeness come through and I think it assists in their education. For this project, I had the students make posters about the unit in the textbook we were studying. The unit is about overcoming adversity. The kids were to develop posters with this theme. Some of them did really well and were very creative. Some students missed the mark and produced more of an inspirational poster. Other students seemed to allow Chinglish take over their grammar once again. Overall, I mark this project a success. The posters are now hung on the walls for all to enjoy.

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We like to have fun and games in class. Since this week was mid-term exams for the students, I decided that one class was prepared enough to have a game night. Here are some of the results from that adventure.

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Suzhou and Tongli Weekend

 

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Let me first give you a little history lesson about China’s Grand Canal, thanks to Wikipedia.

The Grand Canal (also known as the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the longest canal or artificial river in the world. Starting at Beijing,  and ending in the city of Hangzhou, linking the Yellow River and Yangtze River. The oldest parts of the canal date back to the 5th century BC, although the various sections were finally combined during the Sui dynasty (581–618 AD).

The total length of the Grand Canal is 1,776 km (1,104 mi). Its greatest height is reached in the mountains of Shandong, at a summit of 42 m (138 ft). Ships in Chinese canals did not have trouble reaching higher elevations after the pound lock was invented in the 10th century, during the Song dynasty (960–1279), by the government official and engineer Qiao Weiyue.

Historically, periodic flooding of the adjacent Yellow River threatened the safety and functioning of the canal. During wartime the high dikes of the Yellow River were sometimes deliberately broken in order to flood advancing enemy troops. This caused disaster and prolonged economic hardships. Despite temporary periods of desolation and disuse, the Grand Canal furthered an indigenous and growing economic market in China’s urban centers since the Sui period. It has allowed faster trading and has improved China’s economy. The southern portion remains in constant heavy use to the present day.

With that said, many current cities developed as the canal was being built. Some are large like Suzhou and Hangzhou, while others are much smaller towns like Tongli. All along the Grand Canal are smaller canals and man-made rivers. In the eastern-central region of China, near Shanghai, canal towns flourished and still are. This blog will be more about the photos I took of my weekend trip to Suzhou and Tongli. A picture is worth a 1000 words, and I will let the pictures do the talking for me in this blog.

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There are a few pictures that I want to give some commentary on, so let move on to more pictures.

There are all kinds of food available in the towns. I am not sure what the man has in the pan over the fire. It looked like fried pastry of some sort. There was a line of people waiting to buy them. I hate lines, so I did not get to try any.

Of course, no market would be complete without fresh killed and cooked chickens. Let’s just let them hang out in the open air without anything to keep them fresh. Yum! Actually, they do taste very good.

This guys looked like he is pulling taffy. At least this is what I thought. It is actually ginger candy. It is not chewy like taffy, nor sweet. It has a ginger spice flavor and it is actually crunchy. The texture looks like a light colored wood. It was very good. Since it was homemade, I bought five bags.

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When you go to Tongli Town, you can enter various authentic buildings, people’s former homes. This is one example of a traditional Chinese home. Most had these open courtyards in the middle of the home. I would love to have a house like this, but it would have to be updated with some modern conveniences like A/C and heating, WiFi/cable TV, and a western style toilet.

I have seen these birds several times throughout my travels in China. They are fishing birds. The fisherman will tie a string around the birds foot as a fishing line. There is also a string around the birds neck. The birds dives into the water to catch a fish. The fisherman pulls the bird up out of the water and get the fish from the bird. The string around the neck is to prevent the bird from swallowing the fish. I have seen them used several times in rivers and it is very interesting to see it done.

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This last picture is a hidden treasure right in plain sight. Few tourists, and perhaps the locals, don’t even know that it exists. It is about 12 feet up the side of a building wall. You are looking at a 300 year old wall decoration. I have enhanced the picture some. It is in pretty bad shape. But, what a great find. I was just amazed that I got to see it out in it’s natural environment, instead of in a museum.

On a side note to finish off this blog…the Chinese sex museum in Tongli is no more. This was the main reason why I wanted to go to Tongli. From what I saw online, it looked like it would have been great fun. Everything on the internet still says that it is there. I spoke with a tourist administration representative at the site and she said that they had closed and moved to Hainan. Bummer.

Spring is Here (China Style)

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Spring is finally here…yea!!!

It has been a busy couple of weeks for me. This is good in that I am coming out of my winter hibernation. The bad thing is that the weight gain was not very kind to me this past winter.

We had visitors from America this past week. Two of our sister schools in Wisconsin sent reps to interview some of our juniors who were interested in going to their schools next year. There are two things that our students worry about most: TOEFL English exams and school interviews. The students need at least a 60 out of 120 on their TOEFL scores for the good high schools to accept them. Once that is completed, they can then apply for and interview with schools. Prior to the school reps arrival, I was busy prepping the students for their interviews. I held an interview seminar with the kids one night. It was a great seminar, with lots of typical interview information. The following four evenings, Keith, Ken and I prepped them with mock interviews. With a few minor glitches, the vast majority of them passed their interviews.

Carl, from Craig High School in Wisconsin is a friend I made from last year. It was so good to visit with him during his return trip. After a very long flight, he arrived to a BBQ steak and potato dinner I prepared for him. We sat around for a few hours catching up and discussing some business. He was busy with interviews most of the time he was here. His final evening with us, three of the foreign teachers were able to sit with him and discuss who he should choose for his school. It was an interesting process reflecting on the quality of the students. We discussed their English skill levels and how well we thought they would settle into their new culture and environment. Some students we all agreed were superstars and Carl would be a fool not to accept them. Others, it was a mixed bag debate of why or why not they would be a good fit. The other reps did not seek our advice. I think this was a bad choice since they had flown half way around the world to interview them and they had access to the teachers who had taught them for the past year and half. I firmly believe that Carl benefited from our discussions and left China with a much better understanding of what students he was accepting at his school. Carl also allowed the parents of the students to sit in on the interviews and ask questions. This was a huge benefit to all involved. To be fair, this was Carl’s second time here, and the it was the first time for the other reps.

Later in the week, the students got to plant five trees. One tree was designated for each class. It was a great concept. A golden plaque with the students names and the date was placed at the foot of each tree. Years later, these kids will return to the school and remember their time here and a tree will be waiting as a constant reminder of the efforts they put forth here.

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We do have a pretty campus to work at.

It is Qing Ming holiday. It is a time for families to visit their ancestors graves and clean them, climb a mountain for health, and to fly kites to allow the winds to carry bad luck and poor health away. I like the holiday because it marks a time that the trees are in bloom and spring is in the air. One thing that China does very well is landscape their cities and parks. I am not just speaking of one or two streets, but nearly every major street is planted with flowers and trees.

I have made a decision on my next contract here in China. I was debating whether I should try a new part of China, basically rolling the dice of luck and chance, or staying here where I am comfortable and trust the system. The school made the decision pretty easy for me. In addition to a nice signing bonus, they increased my salary by $1000 USD per month. I am assured that I will get to teach the classes that I want. Therefore, I will teach the new sophomores next year reading and writing. I enjoy these subjects and the lesson plans are pretty well completed from the previous two years. I am planning on conducting a play next year. Last year, I did a theatrical reading of “A Christmas Carol”, and it was a huge success. In fact, my lead actor told his interviewer of the high school he wants to attend that he wants to continue doing acting in America. WOW!!!! I am also going to be used in various capacities in helping develop the program more. We will see how effective that will be considering I know how difficult the school admin can be with change. Although I am not overly fond of the city here as it is too Western and sterile for what I am seeking in China and socially it is very neutral due to the lack of English speakers, I do love my work enough to stay for one more year. So, I am here in Zhangjiagang until June 2018.

I am now beginning to think about my summer plans. I will be free from the end of June until September 1. I usually take a trip for a couple of weeks and then work at a summer camp. As such, my plans are similar to previous years. This year, I want to try taking a 14 day motorcycle trip through Mongolia. There are several tour companies that run these trips. The trip I am interested in would take me over 1000 miles where I get to see the mountains of the west, the Steppes grasslands, the Gobi desert, and so much more. The tour groups will have a supply truck to repair bikes if they break down, along with other support staff and vehicles. I need to investigate costs and itineraries, but it sounds like another adventure of a lifetime. I will also need to contact my old summer camp contact and see if they would like to have me return for a third season. I do not anticipate this to be a problem. I will have to find some time to either go to Hong Kong and get a new passport, as my passport is nearly full now, or find a company I can send it to and have them do it for me. It will be a very busy summer for me. That is the way I like it.

 

Project-Based Learning

 

I like to do project-based learning assignments. If I had time to do this for every lesson, I would. Project-based learning allows more kids to learn from numerous resources and methods. Many children have no problem learning from a textbook. Others seem more adept to learning from projects. They are the hands-on learners of our society. Some respond well to visual stimuli, while some others rely on audio stimuli. It is interesting that our education system throughout the world relies so much on textbook learning. I do understand the thinking behind this process of learning. It is easy and a teacher can move more quickly through lessons and objectives. Projects require time, resources, and patience. In today’s educational systems, project-based learning is used to enhance a lesson plan. It is used as an assignment or homework. Seldom does it become the main focus of a particular lesson. Often, the results of the finished projects are stellar. And, when examined, the students seem to understand the material better than just learning it from a text book.

ESL teachers often use a variety of resources to enhance their lessons. We use videos, music, games, and worksheets. All of these resources have valuable, if used properly in the education of the children. I try to do one or two large projects to keep things interesting in the classroom per term. This term, I used the storybook idea and later I will have them develop posters expressing the idea of overcoming adversity. Last term I had the students produce the theatrical reading “A Christmas Carol”.

This children’s book project was used to enhance the lesson about narrative essay writing, but it accomplished much more. It allowed the students to connect the dots from normal essay writing to how a story is developed. It also emphasized a new form of outlining through the use of storyboarding. Use of quotations and writing to a certain age level was also important lessons learned. Creativity and other talents may be secondary objectives of this projects as well.

I have found that regardless of how large or small the project-based learning assignment is, the students walk away with so much knowledge and experience than if they had only read a textbook or written an essay assignment. I remember my “shop” classes in high school. There is no way to learn such skills from only a textbook and exams. It must me a hand-on experience. Decades later, I still find myself using those skills in my every day life, whether it is fixing a leaking faucet, mending a hold in drywall, or changing out an electrical socket. I also remember more from classes that allowed us to do hand-on projects. This is especially true with my science classes when we were able to do experiments in class. From these experiences, I try to use short projects in class whenever possible. It could be a simple game or group assignment, or perhaps an entertaining video to emphasize the topic of the new unit we will be studying. The internet has been a huge help too. Making crossword puzzles and word finds is a snap to do so the students can practice their vocabulary. YouTube videos are wonderful ways to introduce topics and add to individual lesson plans. My favorites are the Schoolhouse Rock videos from when I was a kids. They are just as effective with my Chinese students as they were when I was a kid.

Stay tuned for future project-based lessons that I will showcase on my blog. Thank you for your support and encouragement.

Can you believe it???

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It is that time of year again. Contract renewal and negotiations. Every year, for the past four years, it is always the same question for me…do I stay or do I go? I am never one to grow roots any place. That has been my story all my life. I just can not feel comfortable in one place, tied to people, places and things. I am feeling that way now. I have been teaching in Zhangjiagang for two years now. Is three years growing roots? Am I missing out on seeing new things and experiencing a new part of China? If I leave, what am I giving up and what will I miss leaving Liangfeng Senior Middle School? Most importantly, is God asking me to move on or stay? All the questions are merely a matter of the heart.

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Four years ago I landed in Beijing to begin this adventure. I seriously doubted that I would have stayed in China this long. I thought I would get my feet wet in the field of ESL teaching and then move on to see the world and experience other cultures. China has had a grip on my life. I have fallen in love with most things here in China. Still not a fan of the government. I know that one day I will have to move on and find a new host country to call home considering that I am not getting any younger and 55 is the cut off point for China. I will be 50 this June.

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I began this journey in a small Chinese town that became my home away from home. Everything was new and exciting. It was my honeymoon period. I was working in a great school that taught me much about who I am and what I could do. I was teaching kindergarten to grade 8 and found that middle school was great for me. I was also teaching Speaking and listening skills to the kids. It is the standard skill sets that is requested by most teachers. I developed a speaking program that went far beyond the rote learning the kids were doing and the monkey games that most teachers were doing in the classroom. I quickly discovered that I wanted to become and soon became a real English teacher. That is not to say that others are not teachers, but I found my passion in teaching. As the other teachers were eager to finish their classes and leave the school property, I wanted to give more and more to the kids. Through the company I worked for, I was able to expand my learning of this field and contribute my thought and opinions. I was honored to work two great summer camp programs and a winter camp. Many of those students are still close friends and extended family of mine. Some are now in college in Australia. I am so very proud of my kids and all that they achieve. They know that I love them and cherish them.

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Once I had my feet wet, I was re-assigned to Shangrao, Jiangxi Province. I really did not want to leave Ganyu (Lianyungang). It had become my home. Shangrao was not really home to me. I felt out of place and I felt that my worth to the company I was working for was diluted with the management change that took place. I did learn many things from my time in Shangrao. I learned that my speaking program that I developed works well and the students gained much from it. I had my first experience with an English Corner in which I developed using my talents from my past careers in recreation and special event planning. I made a great friendship with a Pakistani family and I was blessed to see their son born. Through this time, I had a feeling that it was finally time to move on from the company that introduced me to China and teaching. I will always be grateful to all those that entered my life from AIEP. I found the good and bad in ESL teaching through them and learned so much about watching out for oneself in this industry.

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Year three and four brought me to my current location, and my current situation. I will say that Navitas and Liangfeng Senior Middle School has opened my eyes to what can be possible. Instead of teaching speaking and listening, I was afforded the privilege of teaching reading and writing skills. We are preparing our high school students to embark on their American debut as seniors in high school located in America. I get to see them for two years and help develop their skills and prepare them for life in America. Through my teaching I soon realized how very important writing will be for them. Chinese students get very little experience with this skill set in most schools. This give me a sincerely sense of purpose and importance to what I am doing here. Most of the students have never developed an English paragraph, let alone any other type of writing. I began developing a program about how to write. It begins from learning the basics of what are the four major kinds of sentences and leads them to develop a five paragraph essay within their first term with me. From there, we begin to learn various other forms of writing skills. On the reading side of things, we focus on topics, paraphrasing, reading between the lines, critical thinking, and comprehension. It is a wonderful challenge for us all.

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Beside the basic classroom studies, I have developed many projects to help the kids learn their lessons. One of the first projects was developing posters to display about our unit on Adversity and Overcoming Challenges. It was a great success. We have done other poster projects that were great learning tools for the kids. I have shown them some great films that requires them to write summaries and to think beyond the stories. Currently, they are developing their own children’s books that we will showcase in the hallways of the school for all to view. But, my proudest moment thus far was having the kids perform a theatrical reading of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. HUGE SUCCESS. The kids learned so much from this process and I have witnessed dramatic change in many of our actors.

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So, you might be asking why I have a dilemma on my hands about staying or going. I do love the work and freedom I have here. The support from the teachers and staff is remarkable. The kids are mostly awesome, even though they are like any other teenager in the world. My apartment is very much a home feel for me. And, the city is adequate for my needs, yet not perfect for what I desire. Despite being close to two if my co-workers, I am lonely here. Social life is not wonderful here. Friendships seem hard to gain in Zhangjiagang. Living on campus has some restrictions that I am not comfortable with. In retrospect, all the complaints pale in comparison to the good things I have in my life.

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Therefore, I have made up my mind (90% of it at least) to remain another year. As China is facing an ESL teacher’s crisis where many teachers are choosing other countries for various reasons, the benefit’s packages are getting better for those of us here now. The most significant change for us is a major increase in salary. A $750 USD a month increase in salary is being offered. While this may seem significant, I am discovering that many schools in China are offering similar a pay due to the difficulties of finding new teachers. It is worth mentioning that I began four years ago making 8000 rmb ($1200 USD) per month and with this contract I am being offered 18,000 rmb ($2800 USD). With the cost of living being what it is, that is remarkable. More important than the pay is that I am doing something meaningful for others. Teaching writing and reading skills is such an important thing for these kids. The support I am getting from the school and the company is very important to me. They make me feel like I have value here (most of the time). I have also begun to think about some great programs I can develop next year. For example, I am thinking about extending my theatrical program to include an actual play. There is a great movie I show the kids called “Pay It Forward”. I want to develop it for an on-stage production. I am also considering providing a remedial English program to try to lift the lower end students skill sets.

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So…it seems that I have made my mind up to stay for one more year. I just need to complete the negotiations with the school and sign the contract. The next big decision after that is where to go fro my summer vacation and if I will return home for a few weeks to see my parents. Of course I want to work at a summer camp again. Two months without pay is a bit much. First, I need to get over the hurdle of my contract and then I can begin wrestling with my summer plans.

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I can not finish this entry without giving a shout out to the one person that has made all this possible. He is my rock. He is my foundation. He is my everything. Thank you God for never leaving my side. All that I have accomplished here in China and in my life is because of my faith in God and His faith and love for me. When a person sees, experiences, and feels the things I have received, it is impossible not to believe in God. Sure, my beliefs and views differ greatly from many of my Christian brothers and sisters. I am not marching to the same trumpets of heaven that they are hearing. I have no doubt that their walk with God is no less extraordinary than mine. God presents Himself in many way to people. The way He appears to my life is special to me. Thank you God for the gifts and blessings you present to me daily.

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Finally, I give a shout out to my biggest supporters beyond my God…my parents. Their encouragement and love trans-sends a half a world away to me. It has been a long four years since I left their homestead in Illinois. They have supported my decisions and encouraged me to chase my dreams. They have allowed me to utilize these times to explore and see the world that lays before me. Although I would love to see them and be with them, there are some things that just need no explanation. When I feel like I need to do the family thing. be the son that I think I should be and come home for a visit, they weigh all options and find that the technology of the 21st century allows us to share our love and family experience through that technology. I was determined to visit them after four years this past winter break. Instead, they backed me 100% in a decision to visit Cambodia and Vietnam. For the cost of an airplane trip, I was able to have a grand vacation and adventure. Through my adventures and experiences, they get to live through me. I will return home one day. But, the love and understanding my parents have for me grants me freedoms and liberties to continue this grand adventure. Thank you for your love and support mom and dad. You are always in my thoughts and prayers.

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2017 Spring Festival Trip: Part 3

 

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It was time to leave wonderful Cambodia and enter into Vietnam. We decided to leave Cambodia a day earlier, since we felt we had experienced all that needed to be experienced. We made all of our travel arrangements, such as hotel, airfare, and other transportation. We made all the arrangements, except one. In our haste, we forgot about the need for an Invitation Letter for our Vietnam Visa. We realized this the evening before our departure, so we were scrambling around on the internet to find a service that could get this letter into our email boxes before it was time for our plane flight. Luckily we were able to do this, but with a price of $75 USD for the rapid processing fee.

A letter of invitation is sometimes required for a tourist visa to enter a country. Vietnam is one such country. This is required prior to a visa, but it is not the actual visa. Once we had the Letter of Invitation, we were able to fly into Vietnam and get a tourist visa processed at the airport. Ideally, you would want this prior to entering the country because you have to wait for about an hour or more to get the visa processed by the authorities. If there is a large tour group or multiple tour groups, it could be much longer.

Besides the travel problems, we forgot one other major detail. You see, we were traveling to get away from the hectic Spring Festival of China where a billion people go on the move and clog up transportation and vacation sites. Well, Vietnam also has Spring Festival, called Tet. And, it makes for traveling very difficult. Once we realized our faux pas of travel, we soon realized that our trip was going to be limited to Ho Chi Minh City, since trains and busses were already sold out. Resigned to the fact that we were only going to see Ho Chi Minh, we extended our stay. We felt there was plenty of things to see in the city to warrant such a decision. Welllllllllll…there are many things to see, if they were not closed for the national holiday. Ugghhhh. We could not catch a break. Not to be daunted by these issues, we made the best of the time we had and the places available for us to visit.

Our first day in Vietnam, Elly and I walked around the tourist district. It was a lovely walk, but we realized that places like the cathedral and the Grand Opera House were closed. We ended our walk at the War Museum. The two pictures above give you an idea of the propaganda I was going to experience in the museum. It was kind of misleading to me to see all of the USA military equipment staged outside. Once inside, the museum was devoted to the propaganda of the imperial dogs of America and the havoc they caused on the righteous citizens of Vietnam. It was mostly story boards and pictures in the museum, with very little artifacts. The museum had an entire section dedicated to Agent Orange (the weapon that was used containing dioxin). As horrible as this section was for me to see, it was also the most educational. I have heard of Agent Orange and heard that it was a terrible weapon, but I just did not realize how terrible this weapon was. Not only does it kill the vegetation and poison the soil and water, it infects the human DNA for generations. Vietnam is in their fourth and fifth generation since the weapon was used and it is still causing terrible things to those with Agent Orange in their DNA. Thankfully, with each generation, the DNA regains itself to more normalcy. The physical toll dioxin does on fetuses in the womb is horrible. Birth defects are often severe and irreversiable. From hundreds of thousands of early cases, there are now only about 2000 cases in recent years.

After our trip to the museum, we headed back to the hotel. We saw the old post office and the wonderful architecture inside. The Notre Dame Cathedral of Vietnam, and the wild traffic of Vietnam.

The following day, I was off to the Ho Chi Minh tunnels, about an hour outside of the city. Elly had had enough of war museums, so she decided to relax at the hotel. I trekked off on the tour on my own. I have added some videos I took of the tour. They are not very good videos, but I hope they are enjoyable for you.

The pictures above are of one of the hundreds of secret entrances to the tunnels in the Vietnam jungle. You can see how small the entrances are and how well camouflaged they are. There are usually three levels to the tunnel systems and they can run for many miles. With my belly and large frame, there was no way I was going to even attempt this feat.

From the tour, we learned many things. These tunnels were made and used long before the Vietnam War with America. The way they lived and the creativeness was remarkable as well. For instance, you see a termite mound around a tree. These can be found throughout the jungle. The one shown above is actually fake. It is used for ventilation of the tunnels. You can see a hole in the side that allows air to enter and exit the tunnels. Also in the pictures, you can see a small squarish mound with smoke coming from it. This is the kitchen chimney. It sits several yards fromt he actual underground kitchen. It is designed to let the smoke sit on the ground, mixing with the morning fog that would be present. It was seperate from the kitchen so as not to disclose the location of the kitchen underground and it it was bombed or attacked, no damage would occur to the underground facilities.

When digging new tunnels, it was done in the dark of night by teams of three. One person would dig downward. Another would lift the dirt in a basket. The third person, usually a girl, would transport the dirt away from the site. The dirt would be disposed of in one of two way. It was either dumped into a nearby river or used to fill in the many bomb craters littering the jungle.

Since the fighters were peasants and farmers mostly, they did not have many weapons and arms. They would scour battlefields and the jungles for unexploded artillery and take them apart for the explosives. They would then refabricate bombs and boobytraps. Their sandals were made out of tires. They were designed to be worn backwards, if needed. By wearing them backwards, the prints would lead in the opposite direction of where they were actually heading.

Regardless of my opinion of the war and what transpired in this country, I found the ingenuity of these people to be remarkable. Many of the booby traps they were using in the war were adapted by the animal snares and traps they used during peace time. As I mentioned, the tunnels were developed for defensive purposes in previous wars. Against American troops, they changed tactics and made them defensive primarily.

On our last day of our trip, Elly and I went out for another walk. It was Chinese Lunar New Year’s Eve. I am so glad we did. After four years of celebrating Chinese New Year in China, I had yet to experience a Dragon Dance and Drum Display. Vietnam presented me this gift finally. We stumbled across this dispay on the street and I was extremely happy. Sadly, these public celebrations and displays are often not allowed in China due to the crack-down on “wasteful” and “corrupt” spending of money. It is very sad to me to see China take this stand as it seems that every year they take away such things, it helps destroy their traditions and culture. Thankfully, Vietnam carries on the traditions. I have placed some videos below for your enjoyment.

I was also very impressed with how so many people dressed up for the holiday. People were out in the streets in their beautiful costumed garments and truly enjoying the holiday as a family. It really was the most fun I had during a Spring Festival in Asia.

This concludes my blog of my vacation to Cambodia and Vietnam. It was a remarkable experience. I would like to return to Cambodia and see more of Ankor Wat and the rest of the country one day. I will also need to find my way back to Vietnam some time so I can experience the rest of the country. The warm weather and the warm hospitality of these two countries will call me back one day.

Thanks for reading my blogs and following my adventures. Thank you to my parents for understanding that for the price of a round trip airplane ticket to the USA, only to sit home in the living room for a few weeks and freeze to death, I was able to use that money for the experiences that I just shared with you. Now, I must get my mind out of vacation mode and back into work mode. There are lesson plans to be made and the kids will return to campus soon enough to keep me busy.