Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Lists

I'm not sure if anyone was wondering, but the reason why I don't name any of our Vietnamese roommates is that I was told at the DukeEngage training session that for their safety, I shouldn't associate them with us? I'm actually not quite sure what to believe anymore, but in any case I will still refrain from identifying them by name.

With contributions from Katie, Kathy, and Allison, but mostly from me...

Things I Don't Miss About Vietnam
  1. Dreading to go the bathroom, not knowing what danger lurks behind the door (if there even is a door)
  2. Flying cockroaches ("Wait what, they FLY???!!!")
  3. Trucks honking behind you as you're biking on the national highway
  4. Perpetually wet clothes
  5. Perpetually smelling like wet laundry
  6. Washing my clothes in the bathroom and having to adjust positions every five minutes because I can't do the Vietnamese squat.
  7. Slipping in mud at the worksite after a rainy day and almost falling off a monkey bridge while carrying a roof tile
  8. Bug bites of all shapes and sizes
  9. Drenching myself in bug spray every morning and night
  10. Not knowing whether to address someone as em, chi, or co without offending someone.
  11. Automatically assuming anybody who wears orange is "one of us."
  12. Seeing miserable animals strapped in cages to the back of motorbikes...
  13. ... then, seeing their cousins on my dinner plate later that day.

Things I Do Miss About Vietnam
  2. Fruit smoothies that cost 50 US cents
  3. Seeing puppies roaming everywhere
  4. Ben Tre Lunch Lady's home-cooked food
  5. Papaya soup!
  6. Homemade yogurt!
  7. Evening hang-outs at the Che (sweet soup) stand in Quang Tri with the local students
  8. Witnessing the magnificence that is Queen Allison's Power - her extraordinary ability to calm raging motorcyclists with just a sliver of a smile
  9. Having no idea what news or celebrity gossip is going on back in the US  ("Uh, J.Lo did what?")
  10. Local villagers/townspeople/city people recognizing me in less than a week
  11. Sneaking off after work to paddle out on a rowboat into one of the streams of the Mekong Delta
  12. Wondering how our female Vietnamese roommates were able to do construction work in the Quang Tri heat while wearing cloth masks, long-sleeved jackets, and dark blue jeans (essentially covering themselves head to toe and resembling robbers decked out in floral patterns) without suffocating.
  13. The little kiddos at our Ben Tre work-site, who would massage our backs anytime we sat down, and the game they played, where we were ducks that they were selling at the market. (According to them, Kathy cost more than Joey because she could lay eggs. Juan Pablo cost the most because he had the most "meat.")
  14. Late night "blooping" with friends.
  15. Going through all of the '90s hits at karaoke ("Bye Bye Bye," anyone?)
  16. Guitar jam sessions with Katie on the balcony.
  17. Having "teachers' meetings" after class in Quang Tri with my co-teachers, which mainly became hilarious discussions about Goodbye My Lover Kid and his crush on Allison's Quang Tri roommate.
  18. The ongoing competition between me and Xuan's Quang Tri roommate regarding who could repeat the other's name for the longest time in a single breath.
  19. Making fun of the Monkey King about his rooftop escapades and construction mishaps
  20. Rapping and talkin' swag with Mushroom
  21. Hanging out with the Quang Tri Fab Four (and Sidekick Four)
  22. My beloved Quang Tri Family - Mama, Grandma, and jie jie
  23. Staying up until 3 am with the Saigon Gossip Team
  24. Cheering for my beloved soccer team, Quang Tri United, at the youth soccer tournament we organized.
  25. Teaching elementary school students how to sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in English in art class with Katie, Xuan's Ben Tre roommate, and Kathy's Ben Tre roommate, until my voice was hoarse from singing over and over again.
  26. Playing tennis with the Ben Tre locals, who were stupefied by my forehand Western grip. ("She has to be a pro! How else can she hit with that kind of grip?!")
  27. Meeting the Kung-Fu Master who also complimented me on my tennis
  28. Laughing at Juan Pablo's tan line from his "luscious locks."
  29. Laughing each time one of the guys got hit on by one of the local girls.
  30. The friendliness and hospitality of the all of the Vietnamese people I have met this summer.
  31. My darling English class of secondary students, whom everyone said I spoiled with the treats I'd buy at the market before class and whom wrote the sweetest letters on the last day of class.
  32. The village schoolchildren in Ben Tre, with their exuberance and inexhaustible energy.
  33. All of the roommates, assistants, and now new friends, both in Quang Tri and in Ben Tre.
  34. My beloved roommates from both Quang Tri and Ben Tre, who taught me so much about the world they live in.
  35. My groupmates - this summer would not have been the same without this group of amazing people.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Eating Animals

Fun Fact: After reading Eating Animals during the spring semester of my freshman year, I entered a brief stint as a vegetarian. My conversion to vegetarianism was mainly spurred by my newfound knowledge of the horrors of the factory farming industry. Embarrassingly, it lasted only until the semester ended -- when I arrived home for summer vacation and was greeted by my mother's home-cooking, I succumbed to temptation. Nevertheless, I remained optimistic that one day, under the right circumstances, I would able to return to vegetarianism again.

Before we came to Vietnam, our group was told that vegetarians would have a difficult time having their dietary restrictions met here. While I don't think that is entirely true (at least, not in my experience so far), meat is definitely in at least one or two dishes at lunch and dinnner, and if you are a vegetarian, you would have to pass on having pho for breakfast.

Now, here's the twist.

I think I have seen more baby animals here in the last two months than I have seen in my entire life in the United States. How often do you see puppies scampering about the roadside in the US? On a side note, yes -- it's true that you can eat dog here in Vietnam. In fact, puppies are apparently the ideal dog meat because their meat is tender.

I have no intention of eating dog meat, but I face quite a different dilemma when I see piglets and ducklings here. During one of our community assessments in Quang Tri, we stopped by an elementary school. At the front of the gate was a man on a motorbike with a basket cage full of little piglets. The cuteness attack that Kathy and I faced was tempered by the fact that chances were, one of these piglets would end up on our dinner table. In fact, at the closing ceremony in Quang Tri, each table was served a dish of roasted piglet.

Baby animals aren't just the problem. On Tuesdays and Thursdays in Quang Tri, we were given a stipend and allowed to explore the town and buy our own dinner. A group of us went to look for a certain kind of noodle soup whose name I have suddenly forgotten. We found the restaurant that served it, and upon entering the "dining area" which was really a person's yard, we saw a couple of chickens clucking around the yard. Immediately, the American students asked their roommates to not order anything with chicken -- the last thing we wanted was to hear the death wail of a chicken before dinnertime.

The thing about eating meat in Quang Tri town and our current village in Ben Tre is that the animals we are eating are not products of factory farming. These animals have at least being able to roam around somewhat freely on a village farm before winding up at the village market. I thought I would feel a little bit better about eating meat as a result. Instead, I'm starting to think I might end up going back to vegetarianism when I fly back to the United States. Something needs to change when you start thinking your food is cute.