Good Morning Vietnam, 3/29/15

We were up early. The Hanoi time zone is one hour behind Beijing, so Hanoi 6:00 am, is what our bodies thinks is 7:00 am. Breakfast is nice.

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We meet our guide and driver at 9:00 and head for the Tomb of Ho Chi Min. The streets of Hanoi are so interesting with all the motorbikes. Our guide told us that the Hanoi population is close to 7 million, and there are more than 4 million motorbikes. I believe it! Many of the intersections (including large ones) don’t have traffic lights. I don’t know how so many vehicles get through with so few scratches.

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The queue to go inside the tomb is LONG. We never planned on going inside. It’s an impressive area, with gardens and the home where Ho Chi Min lived from 1954 till his death in 1969.


The Presidential Palace.  Ho Chi Min never lived in it.  Too opulent

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After the tomb visit, we got back in the car and drove to the Temple of Literature, the first university in Vietnam. It’s an important site for students to visit, and we saw many school groups and individuals getting their pictures taken. There was also a temple honoring Confucius on the property.

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We had a nice lunch with several Vietnamese dishes. One of the things we’ve enjoyed about this travel company (we used them in Malaysia and Bali), are the nice meals they arrange during the tours.


It was a 9-course meal!

After lunch, we visited the Hanoi Hilton (nickname), the prison site where American pilots were held that were shot down over North Vietnam during the war. I didn’t realize the building had a long history as a prison, dating back to the 1800’s. It was a landmark building for 100 years during the colonial French times, with a brutal reputation.


The “Hanoi Hilton” entrance


After the Hanoi Hilton tour, we had a chance to walk through some of the Hanoi Old Quarter. We had coffee and tea in a well-known shop, hidden at the end of long and narrow alley. We were supposed to take a rickshaw ride around the Old Quarter, but decided to move the tour to our return to Hanoi on Tuesday. We were dropped off back at the hotel and enjoyed a chance to relax around the pool and the room.

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At the end of this alley was the coffee shop



They haven’t quite figure out how to “hide the wiring”


Hanoi, we arrive! 3/28/15

It’s BISS Spring Break for the next week, and time for us to go to Vietnam. Our flight doesn’t leave until 3:30 pm, so we have lots of time to sleep late and leisurely pack. We leave around 12:45 pm, arriving at the airport at 1:30. We can’t remember when we flew out of this terminal (#2). We usually fly out of Terminal 3, so the check-in procedure is a different. We have to go through a minor security check, just to get to the check-in desk.  The line isn’t long to get our boarding passes, and the main security line isn’t too bad. It gets slow because the guards are really thorough when they “wand” the people going through.

The Vietnam Airlines flight leaves close to the scheduled departure. There’s a different “vibe” on this plane. We’ve flown lots of different carriers, and these attendants are less friendly than some of the others. They’re efficient, but fewer smiles. The flight is 3 ½ hours long. Arrival in Hanoi is easy and when we get through the short immigration line, our luggage is already out. As we go out to the arrival hall, our guide for Vietnam meets us quickly. He’s friendly and it isn’t long until we’re in our car and headed into Hanoi. The airport is brand new, as is the wide highway going into town.

2 Video links to our drive into Hanoi.  Lots and lots of motorbikes.  Did I say a lot of motorbikes?  You can hear our guide talking in the background.


It’s Saturday night! Really lively!


When we get into the older part of Hanoi where our hotel (Sofitel Metropole) is located, the roads narrow, and motorbikes are swarming everywhere. It’s a fun ride. The hotel is really nice. It was built over 100 years ago, but the renovations they’ve done are great. As we drive up, there are 3-4 heavily armed guards outside, as well as body and luggage scanners as we walk in. There is a big conference in town, and some of the diplomats are staying here.

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It’s kinda fancy for complimentary water, isn’t it?

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Ready for Spring Break, 3/27/15

Today is the BISS Elementary Talent Show. It’s a huge hit, and the student performers did a nice job. Judy is really glad it’s over. This is probably the last “Talent Show” she’ll have to organize, and it’s not necessarily a sad moment.

My classes are good. I spend some time working with Josie on visas and the deposit for my upcoming trip to Tibet at the end of April. Tibet was on my “list” when we came to China and I had reconciled myself to the realization that it might not happen. Josie and Steve had been checking into it, and decided to go. I was lucky they included me. It takes a special travel permit to enter Tibet, so there’s paperwork to be submitted, and it needs to go in now. Judy isn’t really interested in Tibet, so she’s opted out on this trip.

Back at UHN after school, we met Dom and left to meet Shannon (she had meetings after school) at Homeplate BBQ. We couldn’t get a taxi and ended up walking. It’s not that far (slightly over a mile), but I wasn’t wearing my walking shoes. I was glad when we finally got to the restaurant. We had fun talking about the talent show and all the cute acts. It was a nice way to wind down the day, and kick of BISS Spring Break!

Thursday, 3/26/15

I get to school around 7:15 and start getting the room set-up and my materials plugged in and turned on.  Classes go well. It’s interesting to me how two classes can be so different, when I’m giving them the same material.  One group is attentive and quick to volunteer, ask questions, and respond.  The other group sits quietly, and don’t seem too inclined to take an active participatory role.

After the classes leave, I organize materials for tomorrow’s class.  The school wants us to develop questioning skills in the students.  My attempt is to have them write three questions about the class lesson, and turn them in to me as they go out the door at the end of class.  Their questions give good feedback on what I need to reinforce in our next class, before I move on to a new subject.  There is a wide discrepancy in their ability to put together good sentences and questions.  It’s also interesting the vocabulary I assume they have as I’m breezing through our discussions.  I find myself going back and explaining some of what I considered very basic items.  Several of the students seem to have solid understanding of our subjects, but I too often assume that everyone is “caught up”.

My afternoon plan is to write a piano part for our new orchestra club arrangement.  I have a program, “Photoscore” that can take a pdf copy of a piano part, and convert it into a file “Finale” can read.  I open the program, import the pdf., and make some adjustments (there are always a few things that don’t read correctly).  Next step is to export it as an xml file that Finale can import.  After it opens in Finale, I make more adjustments to clean up the part.  There are always a few problems that take me forever to solve (I don’t do this often enough, and forget how to do it).  Today’s problem is transposition.  I should be able to “select all”, and transpose the part to the key I need.  I could move it down a M3, but I couldn’t get the key signature to change accordingly.  It took me two hours to eventually find the “quick” way to do it (3 clicks).  I print a copy, then take all the parts to the copy machine and get parts and extras for everyone.  I’m ready for orchestra.

Unfortunately, Orchestra Club didn’t meet.  The students had a surprise meeting after school.  Oh well, I’ll have the music ready to go for next week.


As I came home, I noticed that “Spring had sprung”.

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Judy had a dress rehearsal after school with her elementary students participating in the talent show.  Naturally there were the last minute “Mommy” changes, (music swapped out).  Judy had carefully timed out all the music to be used and put it in a playlist.  Now it has to be edited to usable lengths (no 6 minute dance pieces, etc.), and placed in the proper spot in the iTunes playlist for the show.  Fun, Fun, Fun!

Out and around, 3/ 24-25 /15

TUESDAY, 3/24/15

The first half of the day is nothing out of the ordinary for either of us.  Judy heads to work.  There’s lots of preparation for the BISS Elementary Talent Show on Friday.  After school, there’s a “girls night out” at Taco Bar.  We ate there a few weeks back after the musical, and enjoyed it.  Tonight’s group is a combination of current and former BISS teachers who still leave and teach in Beijing.

I work on class planning around the apartment and then do a swim session. I leave around 2:00 to travel to BHSFIC.  I’m judging the Karaoke Contest this afternoon.  I arrived around 3:30, thinking it wasn’t starting at 4:15 to 4:30, but I’m told it won’t start until 5:30, so I “chill”.  The first round consisted of 12 groups, split into 6 competition groups.  Our job was to select one winner from each of the 6 groups.  Then, those that “failed”, competed again in a consolation round.  The winner of the consolation rounds also competes in the finals, which are held next week.  The students did okay with a few bright spots.  I’m sure they’ll be more polished by next week’s “Finals”.  I got home about 8:00 pm.  Judy makes it in around 8:30.

WEDNESDAY, 3/25/15

My day starts early since our Ayi comes in at 7:45 am on Wednesdays.  I decided to head out around 8:30 am to the wet market for fresh fruits and vegetables.  It’s a 5-minute walk, and the weather is really nice.  I’ve become a familiar face to them and they start guiding me quickly to the things they’re sure I need.  I usually get apples, eggs, green beans, onions, tomatoes, green peppers, and lately the strawberries have been really nice.

These pictures are of my walk from the apartment to the wet market.

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Here are some pictures of the wet market.  It’s in a basement type area, underneath a massage parlor/internet cafe.

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The walk home!


This is the neighborhood UPS center. Vans bring the packages here, where they’re sorted among the drivers of the motorized carts and then delivered.


It’s a shoe store?

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I drop the stuff at the apartment when I finish, grab the rolling cart, and take off for Metro.  After my Metro stop, it’s time to swim.  When I get back to the apartment after the swim, the Ayi is gone.  I eat some lunch, and begin finishing an arrangement for the orchestra club.  They’ve requested some new material

Josie, from BHSFIC, and Dr. Prettyman had invited me to eat dinner at a new Indian restaurant tonight.  I meet them at a train station near the restaurant, and we walk 6 or 7 blocks till we stumble on it.  It’s actually close to Tim’s Texas BBQ.  The food is good and we have a great time trading teaching stories from our past.  Josie lived in El Paso, and taught at Santa Teresa HS in New Mexico, so we have some commonality.  I get home around 8:30, and finish getting everything together for my early morning departure tomorrow.

Hot water issue resolved! Whew! 3/23/15

The first thing we checked this morning was our hot water status. It’s not good news. Judy adjusts her morning routine to reduce the amount of time she has to spend in a cold shower. Ugh! The one “positive” out of this is that she’s away early, and doesn’t have any taxi issues.

I plan my morning around the UHN management office opening so I can get our hot water account paid up. As I’m leaving the building, heading to the office, I decided to check the bulletin board in the downstairs lobby for any notice that might indicate a hot water issue. I found a notice with times and dates corresponding with our lack of hot water, and deduce our problem is “building-wide”, and not just our apartment and our account. If I’ve figured out the note, the hot water should be back on tonight around 8:00 pm. I go back in and recheck our meters. I think I’ve figured out we still have quite a bit of money on them. The pool is also out of hot water, and since I can’t shower at home today, I opted out of swimming (it doesn’t take much to discourage me from exercise).


The “hot water notification” bulletin

Our ayi shows up around 12:30, and I take off for the table tennis park around 1:00. It’s a beautiful day, with little wind. Someone posed me for a picture last week at the park. I didn’t know what was happening, but played along. When I arrive today, the park superintendent hurried away and came back with a printed copy of the photo that was taken, giving me a copy. It gave me a chance to take my picture with him.

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My “posed” picture. I guess the poster in the background was to help prove where I was?


This is the guy who helps me out at the table tennis park. He’s constantly finding someone to play with me. He’s been a huge help!

The remainder of my time at the park was spent getting pounded by 5 different people. I hadn’t played any of these players before. No matter how much I think I’m improving, I still haven’t played anyone I felt sure I could beat. There are so many styles and spins coming at me, at least my speed of adjustment and spin recognition is faster.

When I get home at 4:30, I put together the soup for the evening. Judy gets home at 5:30, well before dinner is ready. I was not expecting her quite so early. Sure enough, around 8:00 pm, we checked, and had hot water (or at least warm). Tomorrow morning should be much better.

More kites, and where’s the hot water? 3/22/15

More schoolwork for Judy today! She eventually gets to the point where she can go to Dragonfly Spa and unwind with a “Top & Toe” (foot & head/shoulder massage). She hasn’t figured out yet how to tell the masseuse “not so hard”. She’s going to have bruises on her neck and shoulder again. Back at home later, she’s moaning and groaning, but finally puts a finish to the schoolwork.


This is how the motorbikes/scooters knock off the wind. The “skirt” and handles are heavily insulated.


I get in another swim session. It’s getting easier, so it’s time to lengthen my distance and maybe speed up a little. As I walked in, the clerk tried to tell me something about the showers and no hot water, but I could shower at home, so I went in anyway. After the swim, the showers were working. I chalked it up to my lack of language.

Back home, later in the afternoon, we realized we didn’t have any hot water. Whoops! I start worrying that I hadn’t paid up our “hot water” account. It’s been a long time since I paid anything on the account. I try reading the meters, but I’ve never really figured this out. There is a meter in each bathroom. I’m pretty sure they’re for hot water. There’s a utility closet in the outside hallway with plumbing for every apartment. Two of the meters are marked for 2503, our apartment. Lilly and I decided a while back that one was for cold water, and the other for “flush” water. Guess I’ll go to the UHN management office tomorrow and get paid up.

I rode to the park for more kite flying. It was even more crowded today than yesterday. I went to a different section of the park, looking for some open space. As I was searching, I found the “kite park regulars”. These guys are serious. They’ve got really fancy reels, and bags, and bring their own stools. They come prepared.


This guy has a serious kite flying rig. His kite was barely in view, it was so high.


Some of the “kite park regulars”

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Let’s go fly a kite, 3/21/15

The plan for the weekend involves Judy spending most of her time grading student work and posting the grades. That involves evaluating the work using four different criteria, emailing the results to the student, and posting the grades. This is especially tough when our internet is barely running. What would normally take 10 seconds or less to load, takes 5 to 10 minutes to load or send. Very frustrating.

I did some computer work, followed by a swim session. After swimming, we ate lunch, and I “kicked back” while Judy worked. Around 3:00, I decided to try flying my kite. I’ve been waiting for a day too windy for table tennis, and today is it. I rode the bike over to Taiyanggong Park, a large park not far from our apartment. Outside the park, a vendor is selling kites and other gear. He’s got quite a crowd today. There are lots of families enjoying the park today.

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I can’t remember the last time I tried to fly a kite. The crowd is big enough that I have to search out a spot where I won’t be crashing into someone else’s kite, and the trees are short enough that mine won’t get hung up. My first day’s attempt isn’t too bad. I got it into the air easy enough, but keeping it aloft proved a challenge. There were a few times when it began to dive and I noticed it was heading for a family walking along. My level of concern went way up! I never hit anyone and had a fun couple of hours of flying and people watching.

Thursday/Friday, 3/ 19-20 /15

THURSDAY, 3/19/15


The Pre-K kids meet Judy at the door when she arrives at their classroom. That’s a lot of energy to rein in!


I’m out early, with a new plan for traveling to school. If I’m going by train, the worst part of the trip (knee pain) is the long walk from the apartment to the station, and the long walk during the two train changes that get me to Yonghegong Station and Line 2. There’s never a chance to sit down on either of the first two trains. Line 2 from Yonghegong is a long ride, but I always find a seat. The taxi ride from the apartment, all the way to school, usually costs between 50 & 60 yuan, and takes 30 to 40 minutes.

I’ve decided to taxi to Yonghegong and catch the train, taking out all the long walking and a half-hour of train riding. The 15 minute taxi trip to Yonghegong costs 20 yuan. Hooray!!! I’m saving a little money, a little time, and a little knee irritation. Success!!!

As I finish class, I find out the orchestra club is planning to meet after school. I’ve got a few ideas about what to play today, and then we’ll get a chance to talk about the rest of the semester. There’s not much semester left, only 4 more weeks. The guitar club guys have decided to record the tunes they worked on while they’ve been at the school. They’ve got it all figured out, and don’t need much from me right now.

FRIDAY, 3/20/15

Judy has a big day with puppet shows with the grade 2 students. She’s had to find musical excerpts to fit each of the different scenarios played out by the puppets. It’s the culmination of her “collaboration” with Grade 2. She’s also helping students participating in the elementary talent show next week refine their musical selections. There are several kindergarten students with 5-minute performances, that have to be reduced to two minutes or less. It’s time consuming, and when she gets home, she realizes she never had time to drink her tomato soup. She had students in her room all-day, including lunchtime. She is famished.


Judy & the Grade 2 teachers. The red sweaters weren’t planned. It just happened.


Grade 2 – showing off their puppets

I taught my classes, ate lunch, and visited with several of my compatriots. I think it’s going to work out for me to travel with a couple of them to Tibet at the end of April. I really wanted to get to Lhasa before we left China, but Judy wasn’t interested. I’m pumped about the prospect of actually getting to go.

I stopped at the Vietnamese Embassy on my way home and picked up our passports with the visas we need for our trip next week to Hanoi and Halong Bay. It was an easy process. I always enjoy the taxi ride through the embassy area, looking at embassies from everywhere (Sri Lanka, Mongolia, Egypt, etc.). While I was waiting for the visa office to open, I killed time watching the guard at the Mongolian Embassy march around opening and closing gates. I kept trying to get a picture, but every time I pulled out my camera, he would stomp his foot, and give the “no” sign with his hand.




Some taxi fun for Judy (and me), 3/19/15

Our ayi shows up at 7:45 am. It’s early, but forces me to get moving early. The last several days I’ve been enjoying watching out the window in the morning as Judy leaves. She’s struggled getting a taxi several times lately. There’s no defined place to stand for a taxi. Early morning, there are as many as 10 taxis lined up, so no problems. When they’re gone, it’s “every man for himself.” People walk out and see someone trying to flag down a cab, so they just move up the road a little bit, getting to the oncoming taxis first. Last week, she got “jumped”, several times. The “jumper” got a severe visual glare and pointing, as they pulled away in a taxi that should have been Judy’s. This week, she finally got verbal, shouting “NO” at a guy who started to jump in a taxi that had stopped for her. The drivers don’t care who gets in. They’re just looking for a fare.

Around 9:00, I went over to Metro for the weekly grocery visit, trying to get out of our ayi’s way. When I got home, it was time to swim. My swimming acquaintance told me the problem yesterday was a shower issue. They shut everything down to fix the hot water, but it’s up and running today. After swimming, I went to the wet market for some vegetables for dinner.

Around 1:00, I got on the bike and headed to the table tennis park. It’s a 20-minute ride, and there were very few players when I arrived. Lunch is a slow time. I sat around for 20 minutes. Everyone who came in had a partner. I was about to decide today would be the day I don’t play, when someone walked up, looking for a partner. We hit until 4:00 pm, when I begged off. We took one short break, when my partner had to smoke.

The guy who runs the park has been checking my member book and getting my phone # the last few days, and I found out why today. As we finished, he came by, telling us to go into a little building. Inside, they checked my info again, got my phone # again, and gave me a pin. I’m not sure what it says, but I think it means I’m a member of the club. Everyone is getting them. Not sure if we’re supposed to wear them, or what, but at least they’re not telling me to get lost.


Back at the apartment, I put together the vegetables for dinner, and start finishing up preparations for my classes this week. The early departure on Thursdays dictates everything is ready when I go to bed. It would be a drag to arrive at school without needed materials, knowing they’re sitting on a table at home.