Reflections and stories on six months of life, culture, food and friendship in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Friday, August 26, 2005

The Working Week

I haven't posted in a while. I was on a roll with a post per day, but then my first working week hit. So no, I haven't fallen off the edge of the world, I've just been busy with the routines of daily life. I guess these routines don't seem as worthy of note either, even though daily life here is always full of surprises and discoveries.

At the moment I have been helping my colleague teach some units of a English for Librarians program. This program brings together about 40 or 50 librarians (mostly young women) from across Viet Nam for English language training. Most of the program is simply language learning, but Stephen is responsible for teaching three classes a week in which they discuss library issues in English. These are the units I have been helping with. Stephen warned me that they are intensely curious about us (and especially me since I've just arrived) and so I decided to start things off with a presentation on Toronto. I took dozens of pictures of landmarks and street scenes in Toronto before I left. I was to give this on Wednesday, but at the last minute we got booted out of the classroom with the projector so we ended up having to improvise something for an hour. Our solution was to let them indulge and ask us questions - not necessarily library related. Thankfully the fact that I am not married with a family at the ripe old age of 36 (gasp!) had already circulated thoroughly through the grapevine so I wasn't pestered by this perennial Vietnamese question. Still, here are some I got: "Do you think Vietnamese women are beautiful?", "Do you know how to say I love you.?" (I did much to their surprise.) "Do you think you will find a nice Vietnamese girl while you are here?" A friendly bit of advice I got from one of the lecturers at the university, is never let them get hold of your cell number, especially if you are single. You will never hear the end of it.

They seemed to delight at comparing me and Stephen. Stephen is taller. Mark is older. Stephen is a more experienced teacher. They also like comparing our accents. Stephen had prepared me for one thing: the Vietnamese love sing for each other and sing together, and it is not unusual to be asked to perform on the spot. No wonder there are karaoke bars everywhere. Sure enough the question came: can you sing? I pretended to be shocked and unprepared, but then I came out with a short little aria from Mozart's Don Giovanni. They were all quite surprised (and oblivious to the fact that I had forgotten the lyrics and was ad-libbing faux Italian). I then followed it up by a verse of the Irish folk song Down by the Salley Gardens. I think I will live to regret this. I have had several follow up requests already, and they have even suggested an evening out at karaoke. God forbid!

On Monday I still intend to give my presentation on Toronto, and another later in the week on York University Libraries as a case study of an academic library. Later yet I will give more detailed presentations on library services.

Despite all of this, I feel underemployed. After the English for librarians program is over I think they would like me to improve the English of the library staff and somehow introduce library services like reference and information literacy instruction. There are two big (related) problems. There is no collections budget to speak of and they are mostly dependent on donations. Consequently the collection is not particulary relevant to the curriculum and the students don't see the importance of the library to their education. I've got some ideas about some strategies, but at this point I'm still trying to figure the place out. The management style is very hands-off. That's great if you want to be left alone, but I'm not sure what happens when you try to initiate change.

I'm very sorry to say that my initiation into the cuisine of dog meat has been postponed. I went out with Tuan Anh (the one Jon and I befriended 3 years ago) last night and we went to a bia hoi joint, but thit cho was not on the menu. Instead we ate squid, fish fried rice, and drank draught beer. Afterwards we went to a rooftop patio for an iced black coffee (I'm cutting back on the sweetened condensed milk) and eventually to a pool hall. I really like Tuan Anh. He's very generous and always concerned about my experience in Viet Nam. He's also fun and loves the bia hoi scene. At dinner last night he invited me to come to Hai Phong for the day to see his home town and visit his parents on Sept. 2nd which is Independence Day. I'm honoured but wonder whether I should stay in Hanoi that day to see the huge celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Lisa B. said...

Hi Mark

I spent the morning at York looking at films in the archives for a film night I'm trying to organize for Hart House. I was helped by an archivist named Carolyn, who was very nice and very helpful. She said that she is new, so she hasn't yet met you. When I mentioned that you were in Hanoi, she had heard of you - and was jealous! So your reputation proceeds you.

6:30 PM

 
Anonymous Your loving Mother said...

Mark,
I have just been reading the Conde Nast Traveler magazine (April 2005 edition) with articles on France, Vietnam and Toronto!
The article "Good Afternoon, Vietnam" by Susan Hack(American) can be read online, see *cntraveler.com*
It mentions that most of karaoke bars are not just for singing so Singer Beware!

9:59 AM

 

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