Saturday, March 26, 2011

Reconciliation (illustrating Marjorie's post below)

Herewith a few pictures from the clan reunion we attended on the 17th.

The clan house:

The main altar:

A clan member, me, Marjorie, and Rick Burnson:

Our genial host, who proclaimed: "We're all reconciled now."

A few toasts; "Mot, hai, ba, cho!"

Friday, March 25, 2011

Reconciliation: One Vietnamese Clan's Example

On March 17, as Rick, Margaret, and I were walking home from an errand, I asked Rick if he would be interested in visiting a clan "temple" that we passed every day. I'd visited it a year or two earlier. He said yes, so I asked a woman in the yard if we could go in. She readily led us to a side door. Shedding shoes, we went inside. There we found another woman and young girl making a flower arrangement. She said go ahead and look around. A large altar occupies the center of the wall opposite the main entrance.
Here is a picture of the founder of this particular clan who was a mandarin in the court of the king in Hue at the time of arrival of the French. He (Truong Dang Que) is the 7th generation of descendants from a Truong who came to Tinh Khe area in the 1600s after serving three successive kings, the latter two as prime minister. As we prepared to leave, the woman arranging flowers told us she had come up from Ho Chi Minh City for a clan reunion which was to take place tomorrow. She invited us to attend and we said we'd try.
Next morning we went to the market with Tinh and purchased flowers and fruit as suitable gifts to bring to the celebration. We walked through the main gate, now open, and processed with our gifts under the scrutiny of numerous people standing outside on the steps. One woman came over and asked us in halting English where we were from.
"United States," I said and explained in Vietnamese that we'd been invited by a woman yesterday.
A couple of inquiries by Tinh located that woman who confirmed she'd invited us. We were invited in cordially and, after presenting our gifts at the alter, seated at one of the tables laden with food. A silver-haired gentleman introduced himself as the ranking member of this clan. He proceeded to tell us about the people gathered here.
"During the American war, our clan was divided. Some of us fought on the side of the Saigon government and some fought with the Revolutionaries. Now we have peace and that no longer matters. We are all one clan."
He himself had been an officer in the ARVN. At least one other man there had also been an officer in ARVN. There were at least two couples present who had come back from the U.S. for this reunion. One man seated at our table had been in the NLF (National Liberation Front - commonly called VC by Americans) right here in Quang Ngai in 1969. He knew of our rehabilitation center in the hospital and said he had visited our Quaker house several times. Spoke very favorably of us and our work.
I commented to our 'host', the former ARVN officer, that this clan seemed to accomplished 'hoa-giai' (reconciliation).
"Yes!," he said, "we have reconciled." Clearly, family is more important than politics.
Local members of the clan recognized us as 'the American teachers' due to our appearance on local TV. Tinh said that they felt honored that teachers had come to honor their ancestor.
I thought, "What a wonderful occasion for Quakers to join and observe this accomplishment of reconciliation."

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Teaching and Television

It's been a very busy ten days since the rest of the Madison Quakers Inc. "team" arrived on March 9. I will try to recount some of our teaching and 'wrap-up' activities since then.
Weds. morning we got up early and each had our own make-shift breakfast in our rooms (the restaurant doesn't open until 7AM) then left by 6:45 as we needed to be at Vo Bam Middle School to meet with Teacher Chi before her 7:30 class. It's a pleasant 20 minute walk: across the bridge over the estuary, past the market and along a side street rather than the main highway road. We arrived about 7:15. By 7:30 - no Teacher Chi. Tinh called Teacher Kim Thach, who phoned Chi. Chi commutes by motorcycle some 15 km. from Quang Ngai city. Traffic on that road is hair-raising during rush hour. Chi had been delayed but fortunately, no accident.
When she arrived we started for her classroom. The students who had been playing in the schoolyard streamed up the stairway ahead of us. When we entered the room, they all stood and shouted in unison, "Good morning, Teachers."
"Good morning, Class". Then Chi began her lesson calling on Margaret and I to read the vocabulary, dialogue and questions following the dialogue in the book. Students then answered us in English. Mr. Loc, the Asst. Principal whose responsibilities include curriculum, had rearranged the classroom schedules to allow us an "extended session" of 90 minutes instead of the usual 45 minutes. So, lesson finished, Teacher Chi invited the children to ask us questions.
"Do you like My Khe Beach?"
"Yes," I replied, "I like the beach but I do not like the trash people throw on the beach. So if you go to My Khe Beach, please collect your trash and put it in the trash bins."
"Do you like to swim?"
"No," said Margaret, "I like to walk."
"Could you sing a song?"
So we taught them 'Row,row,row your Boat', which they seemed to like.
"Do you dance?"
"No, I don't dance but Tinh dances very well." I replied.
Tinh asked them to sing a Vietnamese tune which they knew and she did a few graceful turns to their accompaniment.
We left that session feeling very good about the interactions with that class.

Tuesday (the day before) we had gone to Tinh Khe Primary School in the afternoon to help with four classes with Teacher Luu. She has been rather ill with something that looks suspiciously like influenza to me. That day she had us teach all four of her 35 minute classes while she sat in the back of the room to supervise. The three of us managed to cover in 35 minutes what Luu could do by herself! We left tired but happy to have been able to give her at least a slight rest and cover all the material.

So on Thursday, March 10, with Rick Burnson of U. of Wisconsin English Dept accompanying us, we set out for Primary School again. A call from Mr. Do had alerted us that due, to some complications in paperwork somewhere up the line, Rick would be allowed to observe only from outside the classroom. He could meet with teachers in the teachers lounge however. So we arrived there a few minutes early so he could meet Teacher Luu and chat a bit. Some other members of the MQI 'team' were also there to observe. As we went up to the classroom, Luu introduced our 'visiting professor' while he stood at the doorway then he and Mike Boehm settled outside to observe through the doorway.
Teacher Luu taught the first class with us assisting by reading the English dialogue. Then she retired to back of the room for the next three lessons. "Now I am the student, you are the teachers." she said. Early in the second of the three lessons, a television crew arrived. Rick was still sitting outside the doorway but the TV crew came right in and began filming us and the class as we worked. They were circumspect in their business but I reflected how ironic it was to have them working there while Rick had to sit outside to merely observe.
As we left to go to the last class of the day, two women journalists with the group approached us and asked for an interview.
"After class." I replied.
"Just five minutes?" she queried plaintively.
"After class." I said firmly and kept moving. We weren't going to deprive the children of five minutes out of a 35 minute class. Publicity is fine but has to come second to our primary task which is helping teach English. I saw Asst. Principal Toan sitting on a bench in the school yard where he could keep an eye on all of us.
When we finished that last class, the TV crew came inside, placed a chair in front of the class and asked the children to all remain in their seats! They interviewed me first - wanting to know what motivated us to come volunteer here.
I replied in Vietnamese, "Two reasons. First, I wanted to see the work of Madison Quakers Inc. as I had given money for their work. When I first came 3 years ago, I met Teacher Luu. Later I volunteered to return and help her teach English for 2-3 weeks the next year. Second reason: I worked in Quang Ngai Province Hospital 40-some years ago treating civilians injured in the war. I know the suffering of the Quang Ngai people and they have a special place in my heart. I am so happy to see these students able to study in peace. They can become doctors, nurses, teachers - anything they want."
I turned to the students, "I know you want to go home. I'm sorry you can't go yet. Thank you."
They then interviewed Margaret in English and then a couple of the students who had been very quiet and patient through this all. Finally, they could leave - about 25 minutes late.
My goodness! This interview along with shots of us teaching has been shown repeatedly on local Quang Ngai TV station over the ensuing days. Everywhere we go in town, people say, "I saw you on TV!" It has had an incredible and very positive impact on our work here - opening a lot of doors. We hope to get a CD of it from the TV station to bring back to the U.S. Then maybe as we give talks, we can bring you right in to the classroom with us!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Dinner with the Women's Union

On Sunday evening we were invited to go to Mr. Do's house in Quang Ngai City, where some members of the Quang Ngai Province Women's Union had invited us for dinner. "We" included Marjorie, Tinh and me, plus Rick Burnson, Mike Boehm, Mike Mossman, Cristina Bain and Dick Grum, all of Madison (WI) Quakers, and Cristina's translator and friend, Diep. The women cooked up a storm for us--southern style spring rolls, banh xeo (a sort of savory rice flour pancake with small shrimp), salad, squid, rice crackers--and plenty of beer and whiskey for plenty of toasts.

Cooking up a storm in the kitchen

The feast is spread

As the evening went on everyone became more and more mellow, and pretty soon chairs were pushed back and singing began. The women began with folk songs, and asked us to sing some American songs. So it went on, trading songs back and forth.

Mike Mossman got out his guitar and accompanied some of the singers. Below you can see him playing, with Mr. Do, our gracious host and invaluable arranger, standing in the background.

It's in this kind of person-to-person contact that friendships are made and solidified, and it's where real peace and reconciliation have their beginnings. It was an evening of much jokes, laughter and happiness, and one we'll treasure for a very long time.

Friday, March 11, 2011

We're All Fine Here

Just a quick note here to let you know there were no consequences in our area from the earthquake and tidal wave that hit Japan yesterday. The sea has been rough, but no more so than usual. We join with people around the world in praying for the safety and comfort of those affected.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

More Biology and a Reunion

If you look at the two pictures: Sorting the Catch and Squid's Revenge, you will see some larger flat fish. Last night we had some of them for dinner. One of the guards who eats with us regularly informed us that the name of that fish is "rudder fish". That certainly makes sense: it is thickest along the top and the long thin bottom is reinforced with a row of sturdy bones so if the top is the rudder post and the bottom is the rudder itself, one can see where it gets its name. [It is a very tasty fish.] We have had several kinds of fish over the past two weeks at either lunch or dinner which we are eating with the staff here at our hotel. One we had this week reminded me both in size and in taste of the perch we used to catch as kids in Saginaw Bay. Yummy and brought back fond memories from child hood.

Yesterday we had some other fond memories brought up by a visit by Quy and Tien, two men whom we had trained while working with the American Friends Service Committee in Quang Ngai City 40 years ago. After completing their training as prosthetists and orthotists (limb and brace makers) they went on to work in the Regional Rehabilitation Center in Qui Nhon under the new government. Two of them subsequently have been working, after retirement there, at a satellite center right here in Son Tinh district city. So yesterday, Quy and Tien came to see us here at the hotel. Both are now in their mid-60s. We sat on the porch of our hotel and caught up on each other's lives. Tien has had a mild stroke since we saw him last year but has recovered almost completely; although he acknowledges his father, who is in his mid-80s still gardens while Tien can no longer hoe. We were happy to learn that Quy's mother is still living in Nghia Hanh which is where I met her back in the '60s. Quy's son is still working in the national malaria prevention program and his daughter is now teaching in the university in Qui Nhon. All four of us are looking forward to the arrival of Roger Marshall, a retired prosthetist, who was one of the two who trained them. We expect him to arrive here in Quang Ngai around March 18-20. Quy has promised to let a number of the prosthetists we trained plus some of our former patients know we are here and we look forward to a wonderful reunion.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

On the Beach: Biology Lesson, Illustrated

Sorry for making you look sideways. I can't find a way to rotate this picture, but I wanted to show the dexterity of the fishermen, standing up in their little round baskets to row through the rough surf.

Walking along the beach on our way to breakfast, we watched this fisherman in his basket boat coming ashore. When he got into shallow water he started trying to pull his boat up with each wave, so we decided to help him. After a couple of his relatives also came to help, we all carried it up the beach to dry land.

The fishermen and women leaning into the net, pulling in the catch.

Sorting the catch

The squid that took their revenge on Marjorie's pants. Since I'm the one who had their cousin in my breakfast soup the day before, they should have been trying for me.