(Please forgive the preamble leading up to the teaching bit… )
For one reason and another I was physically and mentally exhausted by the end of April. As luck would have it, 35 years ago on April 30th the American War ended in Saigon. Couple this with May Day and, weyhey…that’s enough time off for a motorbike trip! The motorbike was serviced, map book dusted off and a suitable ipod playlist sorted.
This area of Vietnam is populated mostly by White Thai tribes, and Vietnamese is not their first language. Now that I’m a pretty competent biker, I feel free to explore off the main roads a bit. I was stunned by some of the scenery which almost made me want to cry with joy. I also drove through hamlets of folk who obviously didn’t come across many solo western women on motorbikes…and about 40 ‘haylooo’s later I nearly met my end (in what would’ve been a suitably fitting ‘Plank’-like moment) when a chap carrying a c10m long bamboo pole swung around to do a double-take!
I ended up in the village of Pom Coong, near Mai Chau – not far from the Lao border. Having stayed here on a previous trip, I knew there would be a warm welcome in one of the stilt house ‘homestays’. I must simply have a face that shows exactly how I feel and what I want… because a saintly young man, who I now know as Lap, took one look at me and asked, “You want beer?” Needless to say, after having driven for 8 hours in the heat I declined and asked for a green tea instead. (!?) There was no electricity that night but Lap and his mother and father made me an incredible feast which I ate by candlelight. When the candle died…I slept, preparing for a hike with Lap the next day.
While we were walking along I learnt about Lap and his family (his mother is White Thai and her family are originally from Lao, where Lap’s sister now lives, and his father was born in Pom Coong village in 1962). Lap sees himself as Vietnamese through and through. He’s in his mid-20s and is an IT teacher in village 40km away. It takes at least 2 hours to commute this 40km and so during the week he lives in the village where he works. His students are H’mong people between 10 and 15 years old. They are incredibly poor even by Vietnamese standards. So… as we walked along or sat to share a freshly-picked mango or banana we chatted about his job. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, it’s a big thing to be a teacher in Vietnam. You are held in high esteem. His folks are incredibly proud of him- and rightly so. He developed his love and passion for computers and IT entirely theoretically. That is – he has never owned a computer. A telephone is the extent of the family’s technological gadgetry. So what about the IT in the school? What does he teach, with what facilities? He teaches Word and Excel. There is no internet connection in the school or village. He isn’t familiar with email. This is when my mind begins to swim with all the talk of IWBs and Second Life in ELT. Lest we forget and all that jazz…
We then move on…to talking about his students. Do they like IT and computers? Yes, they do and they enjoy what they can understand of the lessons. Most of them learnt Vietnamese at school but some have been absent for a while and forgotten their Vietnamese as they speak a Thai dialect at home. He says, it is also very difficult…with all the children in class. I ask if he means the age range (10-15). No he means the students’ children. Most H’mong young women get married in one of the ‘Love markets’ at 12 years old. He has several babies in class with their mothers and they ‘get in the way’ between the mother and the keyboard. He just shrugs it off as one of those minor inconveniences a teacher has to put up with. It is at this point I think about the wealthy little boys and girls I will be teaching two days later. It really, really feels like another country and time here. I’m not entirely sure how this is going to effect me in the coming months and years. I just know it is. I feel incredibly privileged and humbled by it all. I’m also acutely aware of the fact that, even as one who smiles A LOT… maybe I should do it even more.
If you would like to comment, please click on the ‘comments’ at the top of this post. (Underneath ‘H’mong Nature in Northwest Vietnam’)
Please do check out my guest blog on Ken Wilson’s blog: Cheers.
Who on earth am I?
Briefly, I’m from the UK and teaching in Vietnam. My teaching history began in July 2007 with a CELTA with Marisa Constantinidis at CELT Athens
This was followed by 18 months in a good frontesterio in Kalamata, a month Winter Camp in Korea and now over a year in Hanoi.