Mar 24, 2013

English: The Big Deal

I admire the Vietnamese because of their dedication to learn English; it can sometimes turn into a passion. Maybe in the Philippines, learning the language is taken for granted because we've had it ever since our moms told our nannies to talk to us in English, no matter how barok they may sound. Or we know it cause we watch Dexter's Lab or Sesame Street before we go to school back in nursery.

English for them is a big deal that you can find English clubs in different parts of the city. For example, in the condominium compound where I am staying, there are two English centers. Earlier, we visited an English club conducted by an Australian. Well, I got bored since most of the discussions revolved around things we've already mastered in elementary so I just waited outside sipping coffee and reading a philosophy book on traveling. (More on that later.)

Magpapahuli ba ang mga Pilipino? A Filipino family organized an English club in the building next to us. But there's a twist. They use the word of God and stories with values to teach people English. I like that they also use songs in their lecture. 

It's great to have kapit bahays who have the same background as yours. That can be very handy in a foreign place since their presence remind me of where I come from. Maybe that's the reason why even though I already know what they'll teach, I look forward to going to their house as often as I can. It makes me more at home.

So aside from interacting with teacher Remil's family, I was able to meet lots of Vietnamese friends. They even got my number and are trying to add me in Facebook, haha! Benta ako sa kanila. Well I'm looking forward to making closer friends soon and helping them appreciate English.

Mar 21, 2013


Back in fourth year high school, I gave all my 40 classmates retreat letters. My teacher thought I was handing out invitations for my debut because each were finished in some artsy yellow envelope sealed with a purple ribbon.

So when a friend asked me to mail him a postcard, I got excited! He recently started collecting postcards from the different parts of the globe. Since I didn't have a teaching schedule today, I decided to go to the post office in the city center and figure out how this is done.

A short handwritten letter feels more special than a long electronic maybe because more time and effort are dedicated in crafting them. I guess it feels more human that's why the message becomes more sincere. 

In the end, I had so much fun writing in a postcard and licking a stamp that I went back to the souvenir shop to buy more! So if you guys want to receive postcards from Saigon (or maybe from Siem Reap or Bangkok), send me an email or a PM so that I can prepare one!

I already have a dozen of requests that my stamp ran out. Will try to go to the post office again during the weekend! Hope my postcard reaches you!

PS: When you receive it, kindly take a photo of the postcard back to back and post it on my wall:D

Anything is Possible

I got my first experience in teaching English just this morning when I went to Tu Xuong to meet my class of 8 students. Together with Danielle from the Netherlands, we taught them some vocabulary and phrases that can be used in conversations related to traveling. Some were advanced, while some students don't understand a thing that you're saying.

You need to have a heart for these kids if you really want them to learn. I think it shows when you just teach for the sake of getting the topics in their mind, as opposed to inspiring them to learn the language. It's teaching with the mind and heart. You need to have what the Jesuits usually refer to as cura personalis (care for the person) and probably loads of patience.

It especially helps when you know the background of these students because you can empathize with them.

I was talking to a local Vietnamese and she told me that some of these kids don't have parents, especially when I went to Anh Linh. Some of the children are so poor that their family can't afford to pay for school that's why they just send them to the orphanage to learn.

Well as you can see from the pictures, their orphanages are well equipped relative to the status of orphanages in the Philippines. But fancy classrooms and sleeping quarters does not numb them from the longing of love from their moms and dads.

I'd like to imagine that someday, these students will grow up to be good parents who will do their best to provide for their children - financially and emotionally. I hope they'll be adopted by a decent family, will have the opportunity to study in a prestigious school and work for a job that they really love. 

Even though they were very naughty earlier (someone even brought a fake knife), I have many aspirations for them, as early as now. I saw this sign "Believe in yourself, anything is possible" hanging in their classroom and I trust that it will be the case when they go out of the safety of their orphanages. 

I hope I can give more than my teaching skills, but right now, maybe the best thing that I can be is a brother to them who can make them believe that it's possible to learn English and it's possible to reach for their dreams!

Mar 20, 2013

Reunification Palace

The pictures you see below is where the seat of power in Vietnam used to be. This was their own version of the Malacanang palace, but now, it's just a museum. Man, my host, took me here during my second day and I was able to see the opulence of Vietnam as displayed during the 1960s or 70s.

In the basement, you can see the former warroom of the president which was used during the Vietnamese-American war. My tour guide told us that the basement will survive no matter how hard the bombing may be above.

More history for you: formerly known as Independence Palace, it was the home and workplace of the President of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. It was the site of the end of the Vietnam War during the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, when a North Vietnamese Army tank crashed through its gates. - Wikipedia

I'm not sure if the president this time had kids. It must have been very stressful to have him as the father because their house, government offices and war rooms are woven together in one palace.

Mar 19, 2013

First Three Days

For the next two months, this blog will mostly contain my travels around Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and probably Laos. I'll try to write something once in a while mostly for my own sake since even though I brought a journal/diary, I find it more natural to record my experiences through a blog. Also, I promised my friends that I'll write about this Eat, Pray, Love adventure as inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert's novel.

I arrived in Vietnam last Sunday at around 12:40am but since my host won't be able to pick me up until 8:00am the next day, I had to sleep in the airport! (I was eventually picked up at 9:00am) It took me a while to find a good spot. I went to the third floor where there are empty sofas from some restaurants and settled myself there, with my luggage tucked under my seat. I was only able to sleep for around a total of 2 hours since the mosquitoes were feasting on me.

I'm staying on the 10th floor of a condominium. I am currently living with a family of three brothers. Their parents went back to their home town the night I arrived so that made me feel more comfortable, haha! The only concern is the language barrier since it's a bit difficult to understand their English with that strong Vietnamese accept. Most people here also don't know how to speak English so it's really a challenge, especially when commuting to where I'm supposed to teach.

Speaking of transportation, most people here have their own motorcycles. Buses and taxis are the common public transportation, while there are few cars since Man (the name of my host) told me that tax on vehicles is around 300% of the original price. I usually ride the motorcycle to get around the city.

For my first afternoon in Vietnam, I was glad that Man took me to see the Notre Dame Cathedral and other landmarks near it. It was Sunday so I was glad that I was able to pray inside the church. As much as I want to attend the mass, I won't be able to understand what they're saying since it's in Vietnamese. Surprisingly, some of the architecture in that square look more Western / European than Asian. It might have come from the strong influence of the French.

The next day, Man took me to the Reunification Palace where the president of Vietnam used to live. I was able to see some of the war rooms used during the Vietnamese-American War. I'll try to post the photos in my next blog.

My real purpose here is to teach English to young kids in an orphanage. The introduction/briefing won't start until this afternoon so I had loads of free time to get around Saigon (or now known as Ho Chi Minh) City. Maybe in the next few blogs, I'll tell you some stories of my teaching experience with kids who have zero idea on the English language. 

Enjoy the pictures!

The next three pictures are from Saigon's post office. Aside from sending postcards / snail mail, you can buy souvenirs here as well. 

The last picture is the view from my room on the 10th floor. And straight ahead, basing from the GPS of my tablet, is where Manila is. Whenever I miss home, I just look at that direction.