Thursday, October 28, 2010

Dirty Little Secret

I haven't sleeping much lately. My usual routine of 7-10 hours has diminished into between 4-6 a night. Or at least on work nights. Every morning when my alarm pierces through my skull at 6:15 am, I SWEAR to myself that tonight will be different, that I'll be responsible. I always fail.

You're probably wondering what I'm doing until the wee hours of the morning. What activity could be incredible enough for me to sacrifice my prized slumber for? If I told you that I was going out and partying like crazy and having a great time but that would be a lie. I'd like to tell you that Rodrigo Santoro FINALLY found me and relocated to Hanoi that we've spent the nights ...well anyway, that would be a lie too. The truth is much less exciting, in fact, it's completely pathetic.

I've been watching shows online.

My roommate told me about and and I have become completely obsessed. I find a show that I saw once or twice in the US and I then proceed to watch the entire series. I am practically glued to my computer screen and impossible to get in touch with when this is happening. I have found myself making excuses for social gatherings or avoiding phone calls from PEOPLE AT HOME so that I can stay in and get through Season One of Vampire Diaries or White Collar. When my roommates make conversation in the kitchen I am mentally thinking of how to extract myself without seeming like a weirdo so I can get back to my show. I am late for tutoring jobs because I can't miss the last seven minutes. I spend my days off basically barricaded in my room emerging only to eat and at breaks. Megavideo (the site I watch most of the shows on) has a rule where you can only watch 72 minutes at a time and then you need a 54 minute "break." It is during these breaks that I am a semi normal and functioning human being. These breaks are when I allow myself to: eat, clean my room, shower, and check my phone. After those 54 minutes I am back in my trance.If a "break" comes in the middle of an episode I REFUSE to go on with my life until I've seen the rest of the episode, even if it's midnight on a work night. I'll wait up those 54 minutes and watch the show...guaranteeing that I am comatose the next day.

Once I've chosen a tv show, I realize I have about 30 episodes to get through and this is rather daunting but I still tackle it with gumption. I watch the episodes at an abnromal rate, with little self control, I HAVE to know what happens. i don't HAVe to wait until next week like most people. The sad thing is, that when I get to the final episode (or the most up to date) I panic a little. I don't know what to do anymore. Where are the hours going to go? The possibilities are endless.

The craziest thing about this is that I've never been much of a tv watcher. I was the girl who was given a special reading list every year because I'd already read everything on the required reading list. To this day, I am still a voracious reader... when I'm in the middle of a good book don't even try to hold a conversation with me or expect to hear from me until I'm finished.

My parents always supported my love of books (whose wouldn't...apart from Matilda's)and I can honestly say that TV never really interested me. Books are just so much better. I had my occasional shows but most of the time it was because someone I was around or living with was watching the show. In high school, college and New York I would maybe switch on the tv once a week, if at all. I still haven't turned on the tv at my house in Hanoi except to watch a dvd yet I spend many mindless hours glued to my computer like a schizoid.

I'm not sure what the solution to this problem is, or why it's even a problem to begin with. This isn't me. I don't like tv. I'm not antisocial. I don't avoid communication. I thought about it and realized that there are many "quiet nights" in Hanoi and there some nights that i don't want to go out and party, or even when I do go out I still get home early and when late night skype doesn't work I look for other alternatives. A movie is too much of a commitment at 1am but a tv show is not. Then I get sucked in.

My latest series infatuation is almost up to date (I actually got so fed up with the "breaks" that I just read episode recaps) and after that I am going to do my best to walk away from the endless hours of channel surfing. I am going to put myself on a strict regime. I'm going to get 8-10 hours of sleep. I'm going to answer if you call.

Unless I'm reading a book. :)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

When I Was Down I Was Kicked

From a very young age, it was apparent that I was not a girly girl. I am simply not blessed with the graceful gene. I was always the most awkward in my ballet classes and when I took part in cotillion ballroom classes, I am pretty sure my partners had to withstand the agony of patent leather Mary Jane's crushing their toes.

My lack of fine motor skills have always been a constant source of entertainment. My friends always laughed at my clumsiness, even counting the amount of times I tripped over a flat sidewalk while walking.

Flash forward to present day and not much has changed. I am still extremely clumsy, crashing into things, falling, dropping things, tripping, slipping in the shower etc. To this day, I have been unable to keep my body devoid of at least one bruise or scratch. The only injury I have managed to avoid is one that was inflicted by another person.

That was until I became a teacher.

I have always refrained from discussing work on my blog. It's not that I don't have plenty to say, and a plethora of stories to share, however, I feel that it is unprofessional to do so. However, today I am breaking my silence.

Disciplining students is always a challenging task, one wants to be tough but fair, kind but strong and I've found that doing so in my current environment is a near impossible task. You see, at my school, we are not allowed to enact the normal methods of discipline. We aren't allowed to "deal" with unruly students by the conventional methods (detention, sending them to the principal's office, throwing them out of class etc) We are, instead, supposed to reason with the student, talk softly to them and ask them why they are behaving the way they are. I am not saying that opening the lines of communication is a bad thing. I actually think it can be an effective method, however in some cases it's simply not enough.

At my school, we have a stamp system. At the end of each lesson, we present the students with stamps that they have earned for a job well done. I have started not taking the blanket approach to this ("Everyone gets three stamps!") but instead allotting stamps to students in a merit based fashion. If they pay attention and are well behaved they get the highest amount possible, if they talk or are disruptive or uncooperative they receive less than their peers. I feel like this approach is fair and serves as an incentive for the students to try harder next time.

Today in my first class, I had a student (who will be referred to as Student X)who was sullen, uncooperative and unresponsive. I tried to coax Student X into participating and when that didn't work, informed Student X that this behavior would result in a loss of stamps to which the student simply glared at me. "Ok,"I thought,Student X doesn't care so neither do I.

When it came time to distribute stamps, I went around telling the students what they had earned, and only gave one stamp to Student X, thinking that this was actually quite generous. When I next looked at Student X, I noticed that they were crying. I decided to approach the student to let them know why I had decided this and that it wasn't personal, just reflective of this one classes performance.

Student X began to shout at me in a very hostile manner, to which I responded in a calm, soothing voice. Student X then began to kick me several times. I buffered the kicks, held on to X's leg so they they couldn't kick me again and kept trying to explain. Student X didn't like this. X responded by jumping up and shoving the desk which knocked me over. I got up, shaken and a bit frightened yet trying to retain my composure. Student X then picked up the desk and threw it at me, while screaming hysterically. The class looked on horrified. Student X picked up their pencil case and began hurling the contents at me, including the pencil case itself. At one point, the student grabbed my wrist and twisted it.

It was at this point, that I decided the safest and most logical thing to do would be to walk away. To explain the situation to the classroom teacher in the hopes that it could be smoothed over. I did my best to keep my cool but walked out feeling a combination of fear, anger, frustration and shock.

I wish I could say that this was an isolated incident. That a student has never attacked me or behaved violently before. But that would be a lie. I also wish that I could say I felt like I had support from my employers in this situation, that the students would be properly reprimanded and that I felt like it would never happen again but that also wouldn't be true.

The only take away I am getting from this is an additional set of bruises from a source they've never come from before.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Street Fighter: The Cat Edition

I grew up with cats, am a responsible person, and had a mouse problem. These three items made it evident that a cat is what I needed in my life.

We adopted Maya about a month ago and let's just say it isn't exactly what I expected.

The cat has brought a whole level of crazy to the house. First of all it's like having a baby. She wakes me up early every morning by meowing loudly at my door. She also enjoys to do this around bedtime. The rest of the day she is happily silent.

Secondly, she has brought all of these unwanted visitors. I thought the whole point of the cat was to keep things out not let them in. But no, the crazy street cat from outside has discovered Maya's presence and comes into the house around 2am every night to get food or mate or fight, i don't know...but without fail for a solid two weeks, this cat would come through a tiny upstairs window and I'd wake up to a screeching match going on outside my bedroom door. Lovely. Have you ever heard a cat fight? it's scary. It'd groggily open my door and clap my hands until I saw the other cat run away and Maya would run into my room. I tried to deter the street cat by putting vinegar and pepper on the windowsill. It didn't work. Finally I called my landlord and he fixed the problem.

Another morning, I woke up to the kitchen in complete food knocked over and all over the floor, the dry cat food box chewed through and with bits everywhere...but more disturbingly the wet food (in aluminum) was shredded to pieces...which is clearly evidence of a rat. In her defense, I guess maya discovered him because their were paw prints all over the table but these kinds of things, along with yesterdays incident is making it hard for me to say I am still 100% happy with this cat thing.

I'm sure as time goes on she'll settle, and the street fights will end and maybe I'll never see a critter again.

This is all part of my becoming an adult thing, I guess.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Big Girls Don't Cry

When I decided to move to Southeast Asia, I knew that my life would be different. Let's be serious, any time one decides to move ANYWHERE, life is different. When moving, we give up the security of what we know. We give up our routines, our friends, and our comfort zones. These are, of course, replaced by new routines, new friends and building a new life that we will, in time, feel comfortable with. No matter where we are in the world, we ultimately want and need the same things, and usually do what we can to get them.

Leaving our comfort zone pushes us in ways we didn't know we could be pushed and shows us that we are, in fact, capable of things we previously claimed we weren't. Take this morning, for instance. I was sitting in the kitchen, having my breakfast and drinking my tea when I looked over to the fish bowl. I noticed some movement that usually isn't there. Upon further inspection I realized that there was a LIVE MOUSE in the fish bowl swimming for its dear life.

My first reaction was to freak out. Not loudly or dramatically, but in my mind. I started walking up the stairs to ask my roommate to fix the problem. I then thought, no, that i had to do it myself. I walked up and down the stairs about three times before I got the fish net, scooped out the mouse, and flung it off of our balcony. I confess that I was shuddering and saying, "Oh my gosh...ew" the whole time but the point is that I did it.

One thing I have learned from being out here is that I am an adult, and I am going to have to do things I don't like. That I can't expect everyone to do the dirty work for me. That I won't die if I have to change the kitty litter or fish out mice. The old Alice, was a master of deflecting insalubrious duties to others. Every time there was something I didn't want to do, I'd pitifully whine and pout and demand that someone else fixes it. They always did, and while I appreciate that (thanks for making my life more pleasant!) I am not sure it taught me the right lessons.

Life is not just about coasting through and only experiencing the nice and fun things. Sometimes we have to deal with the nitty gritty and the gross, it builds character.

As lame as it sounds, I find that I constantly surprise myself over here by tackling tasks that I'd normally run away screaming from. I do it because I have to but it makes me feel like I'm growing up and realize that I'm not helpless and useless but can, in fact, deal with things that I don't like.

Whether or not this mentality will stick when I return stateside (whenever that is)I don't know. However it's nice to know when it really comes down to it, I can do it.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Thang Long Chaotic

Hanoi is always bustling. Making your way down the street, whether by foot or motorbike is a process that requires exceptional navigational skills and alertness. You ever know when you’ll have to dodge someone down the wrong side of the road or simply stopping without rhyme or reason. I often find myself breathing a sigh of relief and mentally patting myself on the back when I’ve reached by destination successfully and in one piece.

I thought I was used to the traffic and craziness here. I had gotten to the point where I felt like nothing I could see here would surprise or shock me anymore. I wouldn’t say I am oblivious to it, but have merely accepted the way of life here and look at wide eyed tourists with amusement as they nervously plan the best way to cross the street.

That was before Thang Long.

For those of you who aren’t engulfed in the Vietnam culture, Thang Long is the 1000th year celebration of Hanoi. When I first found out that I’d be living here during this time, I called my parents and told them how cool it was, how exciting. Being a major history buff and nerd, I was relishing in the fact that I’d be right in the middle of the action, That a phenomenal piece of history was right on my doorstep. While I anticipated celebrations and commemorations to take place, I was (and still am) completely unaware of what the ten day festivities would entail.

It started with the lights. The last two weeks in September the roads became more and more lit up as strings of lanterns in all shapes and colors were hung up. Some people find it cheesy but I think it’s beautiful. It reminded me of New York City at Christmastime. The cold month of December was always miserable and made me grumpy until I walked down 5th Avenue and saw all of the stores lit up with a majestic glow. It is impossible to miss and even more impossible to not feel affected by it. My grumbling slowly turned into excitement and inevitably my Scrooge-ness was replaced by holiday cheer. Hanoi is no different, and each night as I drove home, a new batch had cropped up and I, like so many Vietnamese, ooohed and ahhed at the glow. (I spent a few evenings trying to capture the essence of it all but found that I failed due to my amateur photography skills and my point and go camera.)

The lights should have been a gentle prelude to the madness to come but I guess I am na├»ve. I underestimated Hanoi’s ability to party and turn more chaotic. I started noticing that my twenty-five minute drove from West Lake to Old Quarter (where I live) was getting longer and longer. The streets got more and more crowded by people enjoying the lights, walking around the monuments and coming into the center of town to engage in their own forms of celebrations complete with flags, dragons, music, parades and stopping their motorbikes in the middle of the road and taking pictures.
I found quickly that my life is going to drastically alter during this time:
1. I will not be able to drive anywhere. Nor do I want to
2. It will take me quadruple the time to get anywhere
3. I may not be able to leave the OQ area because so many streets will be blocked off, and when they're not blocked off the traffic is so jammed it's not even worth it.
4. There are more people the I have ever seen gathered in a confined area, and that confined area is in front of my doorstep

Once again, I am awestruck by the pride the wonderful Vietnamese have for their country. Their sense of nationalism is unlike anything I’ve seen anywhere and I love it. I am enjoying the buzz and the energy of being here and drinking in the experience....that being said, I’m looking forward to my commute dwindling back down to twenty five minutes instead of an hour (or longer) and getting the streets around my house getting back to “normal.”