Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Nominally a God

I've had teachers tell me during teacher training (both my first two years of undergrad studies, when I was an education major, and during my more recent TEFL training) that your rules are inviolable in the classroom. In the words of one educator, you are God's direct envoy of teaching to this classroom, and what you say goes. But what if you can't make your wishes understood?

Today I experienced an unsettling situation that I feel compelled to write about, primarily because I'm a little surprised that this hasn't happened to me already, but also because it brought home to be just how much of a guest I am in classrooms.

It underlined my relative newness to teaching, my lack of cultural knowledge, and my entire understanding of discipline in HCMC's public schools, and in this school in particular (disciplinary measures vary widely between schools in the city).

Monday, October 21, 2013

Ho Chi Mix City: October 2013

Note: I promise - this mix is not heavy on classics!

As Fall sets in - or what passes for Fall here - I've been getting a little moody regarding the lack of seasons. Not having the changing weather is a strange thing - I've only ever lived where you can track the passage of time through the cycle of the seasons. Fortunately, I've been able to keep my mind busy by spending a LOT of time getting to know my roommates.

Friends in other houses keep telling us how lucky we are, and that we have the best roommates... and I have to agree! Everyone we've had so far has been great - we actually enjoy spending time together, whether it's a meal or a beer or just a break on the terrace between projects. Perhaps it's the fact that our actual house is rather shitty and so we're forced into small common areas more frequently, or maybe we just did honestly get lucky with each other - no matter the reason, these songs are the ones that fit the bill this month. Pop, dance, indie rock, and just a touch of disco make a mix I can listen to over and over again.

Hit the jump for 77 minutes of realtalk about new friends...

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Freedom of Religion in Vietnam

The Buddha statue in Nha Trang
Growing up as a pastor's son, I've always found religion and its effects to be interesting and worthy of attention, and its role in SE Asia, and Vietnam in particular, is much different compared to how Americans generally regard the practicing of religious principles. In Vietnam it plays a huge role in shaping public attitudes and culture - officially invisible but publicly obvious - and I found myself becoming more interested in the complex dance between the laws of the State and their support, or lack thereof, for various religious groups. This post is an attempt to explore and dissect these relationships and religions in a very perfunctory manner. I do not profess to be an expert, but as an interested observer, this is what I've discovered.

Religion in Vietnam has a long and complicated past that is directly tied to its culture and history. While the country, following in the footsteps of other states established with Marxist-Leninist ideologies, remains officially and almost militantly atheistic, signs of believers are littered everywhere, and there are at least three major religions with a significant amount of adherents, as well as several smaller groupings.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

School Lunch

So, if I'm as busy as I say I am, then where do I find the time to grab food? The only sane answer is street food. Total time to walk up, indicate quantity, and leave with food is usually less than a minute. Best of all, each of these is 15,000 VND - less than $0.75.

Some of these are typical, and one is harder to find - all are tasty and fresh. I've showed you a couple before, but since I've been eating these for breakfast and brunch regularly for the last month, I thought I'd share a portion of my daily diet with you!

Monday, October 7, 2013

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

I've been here in Ho Chi Minh City now for 4 months, and, while that's not a very long time, it's long enough for me to develop some favorite things and some not so favorite things. Usually, it takes me a couple times before I decide, definitively, NO THANK YOU. And, ranked, here they are.

Have you been to Saigon? What are some of your favorites/not at all favorites? I'm curious if these are typical culture shock things or if I'm just developing personal tastes. Leave me notes in the comments!

Read on for a listicle (ugh, hate that word... but it's applicable):

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Dà Lạt: Central Highlands Playground of the French & Fabulous

Two months ago (!) I joined a number of people from my housing association and took a memorable trip (so memorable, in fact, that I'm about to recount it all to you, right now, two months late!) to Vietnam's central highlands, the most prominent city of which is Dà Lạt.
It is situated anywhere from 6-9 hours north of HCMC, and we were told to wear pants and long sleeves because it gets cold there. HA! It was shorts weather if I've ever seen any - a perfect 76F and mostly sunny all weekend. It's known for pine trees, strawberries, milk, and its abundant lakes and tree covered foothills. It provides temperate vegetables, flowers, and fruits to the rest of Vietnam and is particularly famous for a jam made from rose, strawberries, sweet potato, and mulberry.

It is the capital of Lâm Đồng Province, home to the Dà Lạt people, and is a popular tourist destination due to its mild climate and colonial past. During our stay we rented motorbikes, I learned how to drive, we toured the city, visited a temple, took a roller coaster around waterfalls, ate amazing food, and saw some incredible sights.

Hit the jump for a long post, and so, so many pictures!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

App Review: CultureGPS (Lite Edition)

I've never done an app review before, but I figured this one was probably the best place to start! What better place than immediately following my foray into non-verbal communication and linguistic rituals?

CultureGPS, Lite Edition, is a nifty little free app that does one thing, but does it very well. As far as I can tell, it's alone in that regard, as well - if there are other apps out there that evaluate cross-cultural differences, I'm unaware of them (and if you know, don't hesitate to shout out in the comments! I'm curious).

This (lite version of a paid) app takes a cross-cultural psychological theory and allows you to compare any two countries in terms of their relative position on 5 social dimensions.  It's a little complex, but it starts with  Hofstede's cultural dimensions theory. Let me explain...

Hofstede's cultural dimensions theory provides a framework for cross-cultural communication, and was originally conducted between 1967 and 1973 using IBM's worldwide employees as subjects. It attempts to explain observed differences between cultures and allows these differences to be quantified (which was the most important part). It has been the basis of a great number of cross-cultural psychological studies. Recently, he has added a sixth axis - indulgence vs. restraint - but that is not included in this app.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Observations on Interpersonal Communications

In Vietnam, every single one of
these emotions can be a smile.
[Note: On June 30th of this year I solicited questions and topics from readers. This is one of those topics. If you have a question or topic you're curious about, use the form at right to email me, or leave it in the comments!]

QUESTION: Interpersonal communication. This might be a difficult topic to tackle before you get a good hold on the language, but what factors beyond the words themselves convey meaning? Are there certain linguistic rituals which are expected which aren't synchronous with behavioral expectations? For example, we ask, "How's it going?" with the expectation that people will say, "good," and not honestly tell us how things are going.

ANSWER: Great question, and since you've asked, let's pick it apart. After four months I've racked up enough interaction points to make some subjective observations about Vietnamese non-verbal communication.

Initially, I didn't recognize much of what I was seeing. In Vietnam, your actions can reflect on not only yourself, but your conversational partner and even the people surrounding you (if you're in public). It's a kind of social norm reinforcement, in many ways. Vietnam is a culturally conservative country and this reinforcement keeps it so on many levels.