April 10 is the new moon and they say that with the new moon comes renewed motivation and is the best time to start up a routine. Well, it has been since February that I last wrote and I’ve been anxious for the past couple of weeks to crank out at least the littlest of posts so that you all know I’m still alive. It’s been a busy time since the end of Tết holidays: more guests, Vietnamese lessons, teaching, and one health check that is well worth recounting.
Bagheera arrived back from Laos on February 17 and had enough time to unload all of her adventurous stories before our friend Sandie arrived that night. She’s been on the road since October so our flat became Little Canada for her. She stayed with us for two weeks and enjoyed some downtime as well as a place to call home instead of living the backpackers’ existence of moving from hostel to guesthouse every couple of days.
Work kept up while Sandie was with us and so did our Vietnamese lessons. In one of our more memorable hours with Kwon, we found out that with the wrong inflection on a commonly-used word, đi, it can change the meaning from “Go!” to “bitch” or “prostitute”. Bagheera and I had a good laugh about that and đi (with the “wrong” inflection) became a much more common word around our place for about a week after that lesson.
One of my longest-running classes finished at the end of February and I was so sad to see them go. I made a farewell video for them with a bunch of pictures of them and some tunes that they absolutely love. Yes, “Gangnam Style” was one of those songs. A week or so later, my Vietnamese friend and co-worker, Pham, (who also happened to share about 4 of the same classes with me at this particular time) told me that this class (one of the ones we shared) did remarkably well on their final exams. Of course, this made me feel great as their teacher half the time.
But the best news of the day was when Pham told me that my amazingly cherubic student from that class, Tâm, got the highest mark on his oral exam. There’s obviously a story behind this kid… you geniuses all saw that coming, didn’t you? By the very old-fashioned Vietnamese standards, Tâm is considered “retarded”. In fact, he’s anything but. “Retarded” is now more commonly and correctly referred to as “mildly intellectually delayed” or M.I.D. in teacher lingo.
Intellectually delayed, Tâm most certainly is not. If anything, he’s a total genius. He appeared not to be paying attention during class (although was never disruptive) and yet when I asked him to regurgitate a vocab word, he didn’t hesitate for a moment. His memory was impeccable. During this class, I would never actually go on break and instead would stay in the classroom with the students (always Tâm) and play games with them on the board or just speak English with them. Week after week, after week, (oh yes) after week, Tâm would render a perfect replication of a car company’s brand on the board, point to it and ask:
Tâm: “What this?”
Tâm: *eyes wide* “Yes!” *draws something else* “What this?”
Me: “Toyota” (said like Tie-ota)
Tâm: *laughter* Toyota, Teacha! (Just a slightly different emphasis on the final syllable than we’re used to saying in North America. I actually think we’ve probably butchered the pronunciation given that it’s a Japanese company.) *draws something else* “What this?”
You get the idea. This went on for months and it never got old. I got pretty good at replicating my own car symbols and having him guess. Really changing it up, you know? He would hold my hand when I would see him in the halls on days that I didn’t teach him and point to things and ask: “What this?” Most of the time he knew what they were but Lord knows that if he didn’t, that new vocab word was then locked away in his safe of a memory for all eternity.
Tâm was the nicest kid to everyone. He stayed out of everyone’s way and kept to himself for the most part. And it broke my heart to have people think he was “retarded”. You can’t be as bright as Tâm is and be considered “M.I.D.” Studies have actually proven that it’s not possible. (Ask my mum. She’ll actually produce those studies off the top of her head for you.) So when I heard the news that he had just proven all the haters wrong with a near-perfect score of 9.5, I just about did cartwheels around the staff lounge.
Upon settling down after days of bragging about the little munchkin to anyone who would listen, I figured I should probably go and get my heart rate checked. I’m actually only half-kidding. I got the e-mail (in all block lettering) that I was running out of time to get my health check completed for the final step in my work permit process. And of course, I was treading on thin ice. I had gotten my police check done in Canada on September 7 and according to Vietnamese rules, a police check is only good for 6 months after its issuance date. You also need a health check to round out the application process and March 7 was quickly approaching so Bagheera and I saddled up bright and early one morning having starved ourselves from the night before to go to the French hospital in District 7 for our physicals.
Overall, it was quite a pleasant experience as Vietnamese institutions go. Each patient took a number so there was no issue of figuring out the “queuing etiquette” (which, HA, doesn’t exist). First, we had an EKG. Yup, I had a guy all up in ma tittays and nope, there was no offering to have a female present. Not that I cared one iota but it was an interesting difference from being at home.
Then we moved on to have blood taken and a urine sample. And thank goodness for that! Bagheera and I were so nervous that we weren’t going to be able to produce enough urine that we’d been chugging water all morning and were pretty ready to give them a sample by that point.
After a thorough hand washing, we grabbed our paperwork and moved on down the hall to radiology. Bagheera had the pleasure of being called in first. As I came around the corner a couple of minutes later, I set eyes on the funniest thing I’d seen in a long time. Imagine this: my nearly-6-foot tall roommate, standing in a waiting room full of mostly Vietnamese men in nothing but a “medium” sized white robe that barely covered her lady bits looking completely forlorn. Her only concern, however, was not how incredibly short her gown was but it was actually that she didn’t have a hair elastic and the X-ray tech told her she needed one. I burst out laughing as she was trying to ask me to borrow my elastic and did not ease the situation in the least. I stumbled into my change room in hysterics, donned my own robe and came out just in time to see Bagheera come out of X-rays with a posse of Vietnamese techs and one VERY handsome French doctor following her with big grins plastered on all of their faces.
But wait, the plot thickens. I was still laughing uncontrollably (and pretty much inconsolably), hands on knees, doubled over and audibly giggling when Bagheera noticed my gown. Well, to be fair, she probably noticed the fact that I could actually bend over in my gown without everyone seeing my butt which made her take notice of the actual garment. Mine comfortably covered all of my lady parts and, in fact, came past my knees.
It turns out I happened to get the change room that actually had larges (which, after seeing Bagheera, the X-ray tech was quick to accompany me to the change room and point out that I would be wearing one from the pile of larges and not one of the mediums). Bagheera stills stands by the excuse that her change room had no larges but I still think she “overlooked” them in order to keep me laughing for the remainder of the morning.
We capped off the morning with a physical by a very lovely female doctor, paid our $85 (this health check thing is a total cash grab) and found our way to our bike to head home. All-in-all, it was an incredibly painless affair made all the more enjoyable by having each other’s company.
*Happy birthday shout out to my middle school friend and avid follower of this blog since the beginning, Mr. Jigger! Enjoy being a quarter-century old, ya geezer! Sending you lots of love from this corner of the world xo
**More to come this week… PROMISE! Thanks for your patience 🙂