Well I didn’t use this blog as much as planned but I thought I’ll give a last update before we’re back in Canada!

We come back to Edmonton this weekend on Saturday June 19th! Last week we had our last day at work and said goodbye there. And the last three days we were in the north of Vietnam in Hanoi (the capital) and the amazing Ha Long Bay on a honey moon trip! Yeah – a little strange to have a wedding, a honey moon a few months later and then another wedding a month later again – but we’re just strange people I guess.

It was hard to leave the work at the Maison Chance behind – it felt like there was still a lot unfinished. At the same time I felt like we accomplished a lot too. The biggest thing I was initially worried about was that within 3 months of leaving the computer lab would just go back to the state it was in when I arrived. But we managed to really set things up in a way that it should last longer. And I think the English students that wanted to learn something did learn something. So all in all I think we had a good impact there.

When we get back things will get very stressful for at least a month :-/ House buying, wedding planning, job search for Cindy… Thankfully we can stay with Cindy’s aunt and uncle again while we’re looking for a home. And it also looks like it’s a great time for buying homes in Edmonton as there’s a lot on the market, and few properties selling.

This week we say goodbye to everyone here, pack and do some last shopping. We really can’t shop much more because we’re already over our weight limit for the plane. We’ve decided we’ll just pay the $25 penalty per overweight suit case because it’s cheaper than shipping.

Thanks everyone who read this blog! Soon we’ll be back in Edmonton and nothing will be worth talking about again! We look forward to seeing you all again very soon.

It’s been a long time since I posted last. Things have started feeling normal here and so I’m less motivated to report back home. Of course there was one thing that was quite unusual… Cindy and I had a wedding here in Saigon! That, and my sister’s visit from Austria have kept us busy. So maybe I’ll put up a second post about that some time too. Now, I just wanted to talk about the state of the computer lab.

We made a lot of progress in the past month. It’s mostly due to the hard work of my tireless new helper Mon. He has been helping out with setting up computers for weeks now and really knows his stuff. Though (/because?) I can’t really talk to him without a translator we get along quite well. He’s in a wheelchair so it’s difficult for him to plug in cables under desks and such, but other than that he does everything from replacing parts to configuring software.

When I arrived here there were less than 10 working computers in the lab (with seating for 30 people). We have since added another 15. Mon started using cloning software to set up new machines. It allows you to copy everything on one computer to another computers, saving lots of time for setup. So now, in the Saturday computer classes with over 20 kids each, every student can sit at their own computer! It was a great feeling to see that for the first time last weekend. Seeing almost every kid first launch games rather than educational software took me back to reality again, but I remained with a sense of accomplishment. It’s not the first time here that things don’t happen the way the movie cliches would make one hope.

The next big goal is to set up the computers in a way that they survive more than 3 months after I leave. Seeing the kids monkey around on them confirmed it will be challenging. I should really summarize all my ideas and prioritize them because we’ve only got a little more than a month of work left here!

One of my piles of computers and monitors

This is going to be a very geeky post, so mom, don’t be too surprised if this doesn’t make any sense to you. I haven’t written much at all about my computer lab work here yet, and I have many questions my techie friends might be able to help with.

The challenge: There’s a computer lab at the school here consisting entirely of donated PCs (a few working and many broken). They have classes for computer basics with 30 students and only about 10 working machines. My job is to get more machines running and I’d like to do it in a way that they won’t break a month after I leave…

Most PCs are 1.5 GHz desktops with 382MB RAM, and 20-40GB hard drives. But many have slightly different hardware ranging from ‘wow we need to toss that’, to ‘hey that might even be able to run photoshop’. All of them make me think ‘I hope I don’t get infected touching that.’ They look like they’ve been sitting by the roadside collecting dust for years, but here in Vietnam that means it was probably only a few days. Somehow everything here ages quicker. I’d really like to step into the computer lab with a pressure washer and spray down the entire lab. Yes I’d flip the breaker first and have to dry it for days… I’m just trying to help you get the picture of how dirty things are… I do clean a lot with a wet rag, but I haven’t found compressed air cans yet and I question whether my time might be better used on other things.

About 8 PCs were working when we arrived and there are about 50 that are broken. ‘Broken’ ranges from hardware components damaged or missing to minor software config problems. I’ve been going through them one by one, entering them in a spreadsheet and trying to get them in a running state that is at least usable for the near future. But I fear that as soon as I leave, things will start deteriorating immediately and the lab will be back in its current state within a few months.

Here are a few questions I’ve been asking myself:

– Does dust buildup in desktop cases really cause problems? Or is it a fairly rare thing?

– Is it a lot of extra effort to manage machines with different hardware? I can imagine that it make things like cloning machines harder since different drivers are required… I have no experience with this but suspect it might be a nightmare.

– How can I clean many keyboards and mice at once? I have about 20 keyboards and 20 mice that would still be good for use after a thorough scrub. Can I toss them in a bucket of soapy water, wipe and dry?

– Is there a good place to find cheap PC133 RAM in bulk? I’ve checked EBay, but it seems more expensive than newer RAM – probably because it’s getting rare.

I’ve asked myself other questions that I can’t think of right now, but maybe I’ll post an update with more questions in a month or two!

It’s been over a month now since we arrived! I haven’t felt sick once after arriving, but right now I’m flat on my back on a bench in our classroom. My stomach is aching and we’re about to head back home after Cindy lets someone know that we’ll cancel our last english class for the day.

I was feeling sick at supper yesterday already. Before that we had some snails in coconut milk at Cindy’s aunt’s place. And according to everyone, that’s probably what caused this. I also tried my first burger yesterday at Loteria – it was actually really good but who knows whether it was good for my stomach. Finally I had some papaya for lunch which is supposedly also hard to digest…

So I guess I just got too careless about food now that I’ve been feeling great for the past month. I should be fine by tomorrow and after that I’ll try to take it easy on the snails…

Droool! Ice cream in a bun! Why don’t we have that in Canada???? It seems obvious. Fresh bun – good. Ice cream – good. Ice cream in a bun – DOUBLE good!

So Cindy brought home ice cream in a bun yesterday – I was pumped! Just the sound of it… Then I saw it… a small bun, with ice cream dripping off the sides. So exciting. I took a bite… it was…   good… but hmm… something… something was a little off. Was that durian I was tasting? Yeah… that’s durian… hmm… suddenly my appetite faded. I’m actually starting to get used to durian, but this was like a slap in the face when you’re leaning in for a kiss.

Without durian ice cream I think this is a very marketable idea for North America though. The convenience of being able to use the bun as a consumable container (like “eat the  bowl”) is a huge plus over regular ice cream in a bowl or cone. Well I guess cones are consumable… and they’re crunchy – a nice contrast to the cold smooth texture of the ice cream. Ok – so maybe cones are better, but… try a bun, just for fun. I think you might like it.

We just got back from a 3 day trip to Mui Ne, a tropical beach town. As the pictures show, it was amazing. I haven’t been to many if any places this beautiful before. And as an extra bonus there were dog meat vendors in abundance!

Dog meat is not overly common in the south where we live, but you can stumble on a vendor or two if you know what to look for. Supposedly you can also find cat meat which is sold as ‘little tiger’ meat to make it more appealing! The ingenuity of people here is apparent in many ways.

I have yet to try dog meat… Most people around me here are not anxious to introduce me. Cindy claims her family ‘says no’ to dog meat. Sounds like she’s talking about smoking. So maybe one day I’ll have to venture out on my own and find a ‘cay’ place. I don’t think you’ll have to worry about me eyeing your pets after I return from this trip though…

And paradise! Paradise was just how you’d want paradise to be (unless you prefer not having dog meat sold in your vicinity). We booked a trip with a small local travel agency – it included a 4 hour bus ride to the beach, two nights in a high-class resort, and a jeep tour. Amazingly, all that was less than $140 per person. Highlights included:

  • The sand dunes we got to see in the jeep tour,
  • swimming in the ocean and in the sparkling clean warm pool,
  • fresh sea food at a family run restaurant across the street,
  • driving a hotel staff’s scooter into town,
  • waking up at 6 to catch the sunrise and watching fishers bring in small catch on the beach and sort the random creatures,
  • making up stories about other travelers (we thought one couple was having an affair, another was fighting because they were growing tired of each other)
  • and finally tasty buns and rambutan fruit at bus rest stop.

At least those are the things I remember now. There are so many things happening here every day that I forget what I experienced the past days.

We’re considering going back later – we would have loved to stay another night or two, but the entire area was booked solid until the 20th. A lot of locals take vacations during this time since they have a week off after lunar new year which was on the 14th. I’ll have the pictures up on Facebook soon! For now, here are some of the best shots:

The past weeks have been so busy – I don’t even remember all the stuff we’ve done. Work for the Maison Chance has filled our days and often our evenings. Well, we do get a nap in at work around noon and often after work around 5, but then after supper we’re often preparing lesson plans for the next day or running errands for random things like screwdrivers or CD-Rs.

We’ve been exploring the area around our place a fair bit to – going on walks for snacks (so many tasty treats around here), visiting relatives in the area, etc. I’ve started feeling like things are beginning to cool down a bit now that we’ve met up with most of Cindy’s relatives and bought a few essentials for the house (like power bars… my toys can not live without them).

Today we took the day off because Cindy wasn’t feeling well again. She’s ok, but with the commute it can be quite taxing. On top of that, today is the last day before the new years break! Many students didn’t show up yesterday already and Cindy was expecting even fewer today. We have a nice long break from the 11th to 21st. It’s equivalent to Christmas holidays in Canada. Lunar new year is on the 14th of February this year, so people get off a few days before to prepare. Interestingly, most people actually leave the city during this time to return to their families in the country. So Cindy tells me the city will be very empty for the next week. A welcome change 🙂

I just stumbled upon a much better blog about volunteering in Saigon. More frequent posts, pictures, better writing, and talk about computers! Check it out at http://saigonolpc.wordpress.com/

The funny thing is that many of our experiences have been similar to theirs – I just didn’t get around to writing about it. Hot classrooms, getting exhausted from the daily commute due to noisy crowded streets, language barriers…

So if you drop by here to find again that nothing new was posted, just swing by saigonolpc!

I feel like I’m already deep into the work at the organization we’re volunteering at though it’s just been a few days. We’ve met lots of people, got an overview of what we’ll be doing, and started our work already.

On Monday we weaved our way through the scooters and cars half way across town, following a map Cindy had printed and marked up in Canada already. It took us over an hour the first day to get there. Street signs are not always visible and a GPS on the scooter is not an option, so Cindy drives and I navigate. It worked quite well and now we have the commute memorized and down to 40 minutes.

After arriving, I could tell immediately there was something special about the place. It was very neat and clean, people were smiling and joking around. Not that you don’t see that anywhere else here, but I noticed a warmth that stood out to me. We got a run-down of what the next days would look like, who we’d be talking to, and met some other volunteers. We saw all the students in their class rooms. Every time we would walk into a class room the students would stand up and in unison great us to their class room. Supposedly that’s part of the Vietnamese culture. (I actually though they prepared it just for us, but I guess they do it for everyone… hehe).

We’re not the only volunteers here. They said on average they get about 30 volunteers a year. So for them, us arriving is just a routine. There are about 3 other overseas volunteers here now doing telecommunications, sales, and fire safety consulting. There are about 25 people on staff as teachers, cooks, administrators etc. Most of them are local Vietnamese.

Our work is getting better defined every day though it was a little vague at the beginning. Cindy is teaching French to staff and students ranging from beginner to advanced. I am working with the computer lab and performing general IT tasks as well as teaching three English classes together with Cindy. The English classes are for the adult disabled students and for staff. I was a little unsure about the English teaching since I’ve never taught before, but we just had our first classes today and it was great! We want to make the classes fun, so I was just being goofy and the students seemed to enjoy it. I hope we’ll be able to keep up the fun in the future. It’ll definitely be a fair bit of work for us preparing lessons and all, but if it stays as satisfying as the first classes were, it’ll be a blast!

I could write a lot more, but it’s almost 1am here and we need to get up at 7 to be there in time again tomorrow morning! More later!

Time is just flying by. It’s been over a week now that we’ve been here. I’m starting to forget about the things that I was sure I was going to write about when I first arrived.

For example the low ceilings: People are shorter here. So a fair number of rooms have much lower ceilings than is standard in Canada. In most rooms in our apartment I can not stand without ducking a bit. So I need to be very careful. I bump my head about once a day and it hurts as bad as you can imagine. Luckily I haven’t bruised or suffered any brain damage I am aware of.

Hopefully, I’ll just get used to it and start avoiding the low beams and ceilings naturally. I definitely have developed an empathy for women who hit the glass ceiling.