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!

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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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