Good morning from…

Incidental Occurrences in and out of the classroom in Vietnam

Good morning from…

H’mong Nature in Northwest Vietnam

May 26, 2009 · 12 Comments · Uncategorized

I Should Smile More ♫

(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.

On the way to Pom Coong Village - Northwest Vietnam

On the way to Pom Coong Village - Northwest Vietnam

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!

It's green. Really green.

It's green. Really green.

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.

Thay Lap

Strolling through forests, up mountains and across rice fields. It was quite warm.

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…

to the left in Ho Chi the right, Buddha

The family phone in pride of place...above is Ho Chi the right, Buddha

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’)

Stilt houses in Lac Village

Stilt houses in Lac Village


Please do check out my guest blog on Ken Wilson’s blog:   Cheers.

Guest blog 12 – Laura Ponting’s Vietnam adventure

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.

study spot #2
One of my favourite study spots in Hoi An. (That’ll be the bench not the rickshaw.)



  • Vicky Loras

    Hi Laura and welcome to the blogosphere (I’m a newbie too!)!
    I wish you all the best in your career and on your blog. IT is very beneficial for you that you are reading so much, it will help you a great deal and not only for the DELTA. I look forward to reading some very interesting things on your blog!
    Have a great holiday!

  • Marisa Constantinides

    Welcome from another newbie here!

    It’s a great start and a great reason to blog and I know you love it already.

    And I know you’ll write some great stuff and you will do fabulously well on your DELTA!

    So off you go and I stopped holding your hand last week in case you hadn’t noticed!!!


  • Ken Wilson

    Hi Laura,

    you are someone who can make me laugh or think (usually both) from within the straitjacket of a 140-character tweet. You will therefore have NO problem engaging, informing and entertaining people through the less controlled medium of a blog.

    Putting you on my blogroll toot sweet.


  • Laura Ponting

    Thanks Ken. But I’m sure to get found out once I’m out of the straitjacket ;-)

  • Laura Ponting

    What, Marisa? When did you stop holding my hand? Paper bag! Paper bag!


    3rd attempt at this, happy xmas. So you’re a great teacher already but aside from that YIPPEE! I’ll read ya. And comment, if i may..

  • Laura Ponting

    Comments from you, uber teacher Ms Pi, would always be greatly appreciated – as I hope you know. All the way.

  • Carl Boobyer

    Good things happen with hard work, a yearning to learn and an a willingness (with imagination) to share that learning. Go girl, go! Following your blog….

  • Sara Hannam

    Thank you for your wonderful post about your recent travels. I found it quite humbling reading about someone teaching IT without access to any hardware, and with a group of students who as you pointed out bring with them the reality of their lives directly into the classroom. I am sure that your classroom represents a much more realistic picture than the microcosm most of us are working in. It is this classroom that perhaps we should have in mind when thinking about some of the issues that preoccupy us on blogs and in discussions. However, what also struck me was the will to keep up to date and bring that knowledge to the students despite numerous hurdles. Awe-inspiring and remarkable. This is the kind of teacher I wish we could ‘hear’ more about in publications, at conferences and beyond. Thanks for telling us about Lap.

    I hope that I submitted this in the correct place. I am still a bit confused by your comments section!

  • Laura Ponting

    Thanks for this Sara,

    Yes, Lap was a cool guy for me to meet.

    I tend to moan about not having the facilities to do all the things I want at school…i.e. no fast/ reliable internet access, no IWB etc etc. I almost torture myself my keeping up-to-date with things I can’t do! But..Lap and his story (and that of many others who I’ve now made it my mission to meet) keep my feet firmly where they should be.

  • Nick Jaworski

    Everytime I read your posts about Nam I get really nostalgic. I really miss that place. Like you said, it’s so green.

    I especially enjoyed my time in the Hmong villages, although that was mostly in Laos. There are a lot of Hmong in my town back home as they came over after the war.

    The dichotomy between the kids you teach/I taught and the ones in the village is really striking. I was always shocked at how rich some were and how poor others were.

    Still wish I could go back. The freedom of the motorbike and a million other things calls me.

  • Laura Ponting

    Nick Jaworski, C’mon down!
    Seriously, I’m pleased you commented. I’m chuffed that someone else can vouch for the green-ness! A friend and I were recently talking about another bike trip we’d done when a young Korean tourist asked us what we thought was the most amazing thing about our trip. We both answered, without pausing for thought, “It was so green!” To which he replied, “I love you hippie types, you’re so easily pleased by small things.”
    I recently finished teaching (voluntarily- if my company’s reading :-/ ) a completely different bunch of city kids to those which I teach for my job and, again, the rich/ poor divide within a matter of a district in a city was astonishing. I shall post more about this sometime soon.

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