Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Beaches, cows and windows

We took this picture at China Beach, the afternoon of Christmas. It was over 80 degrees that day! We did buy a couple Santa hats, but they didn't fit on our heads. An Australian family at the beach was kind enough to take our picture and let us borrow their 'non' (the triangle hat I'm wearing).

At the end of November the Vietnam team (of 19 people) had our fall retreat. We flew south to Ho Chi Minh City and got on a bus and drove the 5-7 hours to our hotel on the beach in Mui Ne. This picture was taken at one of our stops. I saw this cow out the window, so I got off the bus and jumped on.

Then I jumped off and kissed the cow while three of my teammates got on. Because, why not?

This is one of the windows in our bedroom. We don't have a dryer and until about a month ago, we only had about 15 feet of clothesline. So we used the bars on our windows to hang our things to dry.
As of yesterday, Facebook is being blocked in our location. Hopefully some smart computer person can figure out what numbers we need to punch into our computer to get past it. When we first got here, we couldn't get on either until we inputted a bunch of numbers.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Last time it happened it was June

I got my semi-annual haircut today.

For 160,000VND I got:
hair wash: 50,000 (or $2.50)
hair cut: 70,000 (or $3.50)
hair dried and styled: 40,000 (or $2.00)Here's a web cam shot of it. I put it up in a barrett.

I felt like royalty when I had two people blow drying my hair at the same time.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

It's true, it a big deal

by Karissa

Last night Eric and I attended the Christmas eve service of two of our students. More on that later (it was amazing!) Before the service, while we were sitting in the pew my student's mom chose for us (third from the front), two other girls, sisters, moved to the pew behind us to talk with us.

The older sister introduced herself and said she was studying Chinese in university. Then she introduced her younger sister, saying she's in high school and has a sponsor, Mrs (German name) from Germany. She went on to explain that there are four girls in her family (which is large for Vietnam) and just their mother (dad no longer in the picture, don't know why). Her mom was sitting beside them and is somewhat disabled. She can see, but only has one eye.

I about fell off the pew when in her very initial introductions of her sister she told me that her sister had a sponsor. I have been sponsoring children through compassion for the last seven years and at this point have two girls, Angeline and Tidde. While we were growing up we had five Compassion kids: Alice, Thomas, Laxmi, Sini Joy and Dadeline (and if you asked any of my siblings the names of our Compassion kids they would all know as we pr*yed for them all the time). I think Dad and Shirley are still sponsoring a couple that haven't graduated out of the program yet. I've even volunteered for Compassion. And yet, while I would say I'm very familiar with Compassion and the work they do, I never REALLY saw it from the perspective of a sponsored child until last night.

I guess I felt it was somewhat of a private thing for the child, or maybe even an embarrassing thing, to have a sponsor. But last night, when the older sister said it with joy and even pride, those thoughts disappeared. It's a really big deal to have a sponsor.

I'm going to post this and then write a letter to each of my sponsored girls.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Coffee and tea and clothes alterations

by Karissa

This morning I finally made it to a tailor in my city. Nicky, a fellow teacher with ESI, brought me to Mr. Loi's shop. And he's all he's cracked up to be. At about 60 years old, he has 30 years of tailor-ing experience and excellent English.

Before that? He studied engineering and technology in Southern Vietnam and worked with gas and oil on ships in the ocean. He worked with Norwegians, so when the Russians came in with their oil/gas company, sometime in the late 70s, he had to find a new job because the engineering position didn't pay well (I didn't catch all the details). The man he was living with was a tailor and taught him the art.

Mr. Loi moved up to Da Nang (our city) later and is probably the most popular tailor for the foreigners (we Americans, Australians, Koreans, French, Brits, Canadians, Germans, Hungarians, etc). He's also very popular with the locals. The biggest holiday in Vietnam is the lunar new year, called Tet, and this year it's February 3rd. The tradition is to get new clothes made for Tet. He's very busy right now!

We stopped by his shop and before I even showed him the clothes I wanted him to allter, we talked for a while and his wife even ordered coffee for us from a nearby coffee shop. She walked over to the coffee shop, ordered and came back. A few minutes later, someone from the coffee shop walked over with a tray of our coffee drinks (cafe sua for me, bat sui for Nicky) and tea for everyone. We were there for over an hour and the 'tailoring' part of it took less than five minutes. I didn't even put on the clothes I brought. He just measured me and then marked on my clothes.

I plan to get some clothes made here--first up? Sweat pants!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Last night Eric and I went to the food court at the local mall for supper. I think it's the only mall and only food court (American style--sort of) in our city. We enjoyed bacon/mushroom/green pepper Risotto from Mr. Pizza and then visited our friends who live on the 13th floor of the building. Their daughter just turned 8 and they had a lot of cake left over. :)

We got home around 11:30pm or so. We walked into the bedroom and I heard really soft music. Now, hearing music while we're at home is very normal. We have hundreds of neighbors within earshot (I promise I'm not exaggerating, our house shares walls with three houses and just one of those houses has at least 8 people living in it) and we certainly hear their karaoke most mornings and evenings. But the music I heard was classical and really quiet and it sounded like it was coming from in our room.

I put my ear to my computer but the music had stopped... then it started again. It was coming from my computer. I had a few windows open: yahoo mail, Facebook, and skype. I could affect the volume by my volume controls. One by one I closed each window and the music kept playing. Finally all the windows were closed and the music kept playing. I opened iTunes, it didn't show anything playing, closed iTunes and the music kept playing.

Finally, I restarted my computer. When it came back on, the music had stopped.


Any ideas as to what happened?

Monday, December 13, 2010

by Karissa

Thanksgiving isn't celebrated as a holiday in Vietnam, or in most countries for that matter. But holidays, traditions and culture don't leave the American living abroad and so we joined with several Americans (and other foreigners) and celebrated Thanksgiving...

by playing touch football on the beach.

I designated myself as photographer.

Eric would like you to know that no one was injured...

And that his team won.

After quick showers at home to remove much acquired sand, we gathered at a Kentucky family's home for Thanksgiving dinner.

Here we are clapping for the many hours (days!) of work that went into planning, setting up, cooking, preparing, etc.


Here are some of the dedicated chefs and helpers.

Pre-dinner hungriness.

There were 33 people in attendance and 3 cooked turkeys. Oven size and numbers are very limited and the local Costco type store was asked to cook the turkeys for the second year. They said yes, again. It was wonderful to have turkey on Thanksgiving day!

Here is the buffet of Thanksgiving yummers. It was fantastic and had a bit of southern flavour, including a broccoli/egg dish. My favourite food item was the corn casserole. I'm going out on a limb and saying Eric's favourite part was the turkey. :)

Thursday, December 9, 2010


by Karissa

We skyped with my California brother's family a few days ago. We met their baby when he was four days old. Now he's almost 5 months old!

Their two and a half year old son told us some of the animals they saw at the San Diego zoo.

Here he is acting out an elephant.

Here is he telling us how many animals he saw.

Derrick swears they saw more than five.

Derrick asked him to show us his muscles.

And then pulled his shirt sleeve up and said, really they're tickle muscles.

Here I'm (Karissa) dancing.

And this his reaction to my moves.
You didn't really think I'd put pictures of me dancing online a second time, did you?

I've been giving out the link to our wedding dance to the staff at AVIEC, the English center where we teach. They love it! My boss said to me yesterday while she was at her desk and I was photocopying: "Karissa, I smile when I think of your wedding dance."

Have you seen our wedding dance yet?

In other noteworthy news:
A conversation Eric & I had last night:

Eric: Karissa, who are you calling on skype?
Karissa: What? Are you serious?
Eric: Yeah, who are you calling on skype? I heard the sound skype makes when you're video calling someone.
Karissa: That was my stomach!

I guess I'm not completely used to the food, yet.

This is one of our favourite, regular dishes. French fries? Not this time (though we eat those on occasion when we bring our own salt). This is fried squid, eaten with mayo and hot sauce. The tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce? A very typical edible garnish.

Here we're eating at a restaurant/bar near the hotel we lived in the first month. We're rolling pieces of meat (spicy beef) into the lettuce leaves and then dipping in a celery and salt mix. It's one of our favourite things to eat!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

From my kitchen windows

It's just after 4pm on Tuesday afternoon. I'm sitting at our kitchen table, eating a crepe to tide me over from my 10am breakfast to my 9:30pm supper.

From my seat in the kitchen I hear birds chirping; I don't know if they're pets or free. Birds are the most common pet around here.

I can see the houses of over 24 families.

I see over a dozen electrical wires in front of my windows.

I see clothes hanging to dry out the neighbors' windows.

I see several awnings out for peoples' foodstands and stores out of the front of their homes in the alley.

I see a guy working at his motorbike shop, fixing someone's motorbike, and the owner watching.

I see two girls walking by, with blue jeans, sandals and long, black hair.

About two feet from me are two palm trees, right outside my window. On a higher floor in the house, when I open the window, the palm branches come inside, which, is kind of annoying. And funny. Who would ever think that I would have the issue of not being able to close the window because palm branches are in the way.

I see a young woman, pausing with her bike to text and do up her jacket. It's 77 degrees out.

I hear horns honking.

I hear safety gates in front of (everyone's) homes squeaking. I see most gates closed in front of people's row house homes.

I see bars in front of my windows, and solid cactus/thorned plants in the flower boxes outside my windows, which I believe for safety.

I see the roof of a neighbors house two houses over. It's made of corroggated tin and has several large rocks on it.

I see the three houses of my neighbors directly across the street from me. I would estimate that our front doors are less than 10 paces from each other.

I see the different color houses of my neighbors, and where the color changes, I can only guess, is where the house ownership changes from one family to the next. Yellow, white, green, light green, gree, white, pink, white, yellow, white, corral, green, light green, blue.

I see small cement builtin ramps from the paved alley into people's living room/garages, (also cement) so people can park their motorbikes inside.

I see a child riding on a motorbike with his mom. She's wearing a helmet. He's not. That's how we always see it.

I see a pet bird, in it's cage, hanging on the outside wall of a house. Perhaps that's one of the birds I'm hearing.

I see a woman sweeping the alley in front of her house, with a straw broom, through a puddle.

I see the top few floors of two hotels.

I hear a baby screaming.

I hear motorbikes driving through our alley.

I hear people speaking in Vietnamese.

I am looking out into the alley, from my two kitchen windows.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Little Seoul

At around 8pm tonight Eric and I tried a new restaurant for supper. It's a Korean/Japanese place that also sells pizza, called Little Seoul.

The menu was my favourite kind: it existed, it was in English as well as Vietnamese and Korean, it had pictures and it had prices! Most places do not offer this luxury. This was going to be so easy. And it was. Only two things that we tried ordering weren't 'in stock' (tomato juice and octopus sushi).

We ended up ordering 333 Beer, 7Up, a normal type of sushi, fried pork dumplings and salad potato. It was all really good, although next time our goal is to figure out how to order wasabi (well, that's Eric's goal, I do better without the hot food).

And the best part? They are open when we are awake, hungry and not working! Yes, friends, this is much too much to ask at most places. THIS place is open over the entire lunch time (9am-2pm) and open even AFTER we're done teaching (it closes at 10pm). As our students say to us at the end of every class, we said to the owner-waitress as we left: "See you again!"

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Home Sweet Home!

by Eric

As Karissa has written, we moved to our home for the year a few weeks ago. It is SO NICE to have our own place again! The hotel was okay for the transition, but after a month there, we were ready to have a little more space to live in!

A week before we moved in, we were taken on a tour of the place. It's a 5 story house, with one room on each floor. Not exactly a common design in the states! The first floor was a big empty tile room. The 2nd floor looked like this:

I would post 'before' pics of the 3rd and 4th floors, but they would look exactly the same. The layout of the house was tile room, bedroom, bedroom, bedroom, laundry/balcony. It looked nice, but it was missing some key a kitchen!

Our contract outlines that our housing must include a kitchen. So we chatted with them about what floor we'd like make into a kitchen. We thought the third floor would be best because it has a built in wall desk that we thought could double as a kitchen counter. When we requested this, they landlord talked back and forth with our school rep in Vietnamese for a few minutes before we were told “The 2nd floor has the water pipes to become a kitchen, so they would like to build it here. It will take maybe 10 days.” We left the tour happy to know that we'd soon be moving out of the hotel and wondering exactly what type of kitchen you can build in 10 days.

Five days later, we got a call. “The kitchen is finished, so you will move in tomorrow.” Again, exciting but a little unsettling. What kind of kitchen can you put together in FIVE days??? At training, they stressed the importance of having low expectations. So as we took a taxi to our new home, I tried to picture as basic a kitchen as possible. Hot plate and mini-fridge basic... If we were going to be surprised by the kitchen, we wanted it to be a positive surprise.

So what did we see when we walked in to our new kitchen? A very positive surprise!


Some of the things in these pictures actually came a little later. The fridge and the table/chairs came later that day. And the cabinets were added two weeks later. Needless to say, our low expectations were exceeded by miles! Or maybe kilometers since we're in Asia...

The bed had been taken out of the third floor and some of the furniture that had been on the first floor had been moved up there. We're currently using the third floor as our 'hang out room' and Karissa uses the desk for lesson planning.

Our bedroom is on the fourth floor. This room also has a built in desk, so I use that for lesson planning. We're not the only 5 story building on the street, but we're taller than the buildings across from
us so we have a view of the river from the fourth and fifth floors.

The fifth floor is half indoors and half outdoors. Our new washing machine is up there. We still have to hang our clothes to dry, but we can choose if we want to have them indoors or out. Now that the weather is cooling off, we've talked about using the balcony a bit more for hanging out. We don't have any chairs up there yet, but we may be getting some after another pay check or two. It's a pretty cool view of the city up there!

So there it is! Our new home! We're very happy with the accommodations our school found for us. Our landlords are great. We have a great location. And we have air conditioning!

Typical Tuesday

by Karissa

Ever wonder what a typical day looks like? Well, there is variation in our days, just like there is in yours, but here's today for me.

Wake up around 8am, and putter around reading, on Facebook, talking and eating Oreos.
9-10am today I prepared for a B study later today. Extracting the Precious, by Donna Partow.
10-12am - I e-mailed my MIL about some contact lense issues I'm having and ideas for a care package. Read e-mails from people in leadership over me regarding an upcoming visit. Typed up six songs from .pdf to put into EasyW*rship (like powerpoint) later today.
12-12:30 - Boiled some eggs for a tuna salad and ate lunch. Cut open a new type of fruit, one I've never seen in America/Canada and was disappointed by the inside.
12:20-2pm - B Study here, led by V, a friend from France.
2pm-3 - writing this blog and lesson planning
3-4pm - Meeting with KB to enter songs into EasyW*rship and get a mini-tutorial on how the program works
4-5pm - More lesson planning and getting ready for school/work.
5pm-9:20pm - Traveling to and from school, and teaching two classes: Pre-Intermediate and Intermediate
9:30-10:30pm - Eat supper. Either pick up a sandwich (grilled beef and cucumber) at a foodstall or go to Oxygen, an open air restaurant within walking distance of our house
10:30--Reading, Facebook and falling asleep.

That's my Tuesday this week.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Sweat Bunny

by Eric

Some people can make shadow puppets. Some people can do origami. Since moving to Vietnam, I've discovered that I have a skill not shared by many others...

Vietnam is hot. The first month was incredibly hot. We were sweating in places we'd never sweat before! It's gotten cooler over the past week or two, which means that the highs are now in the 80s instead of the 90s. That may not sound like a huge change, but we can certainly feel the difference! It's still quite humid most days, but now we can take our bikes out for a ride any time of the day without starting to sweat instantly. When we go out, I often bring my backpack with my camera, laptop, or whatever else we need for the trip.

What do you get when you combine heat, humidity, a large Dutch frame, and a backpack? You get Frank, the sweat bunny.

Instead of making shadow puppets, I make sweat animals. I'm not sure how marketable this skill is, but it's good for a laugh.

Thankfully, Frank hasn't been appearing as often since the rainy season started. I'm hoping he goes away for a long time when we get a motorbike!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Rainy Season

I am loving rainy season. While the UV index from is still saying "high" at 6 or 7, I can't FEEL my skin burning or sweat running down everywhere. It is usually cloudy and there's always a breeze. I'm not gonna die.

Monday, October 4, 2010


I'm very pleased with the kitchen they put into our house in five days: counter, stove top, double sink, beautiful wooden table with six chairs, refrigerator. Well, today, we're getting wall mounted cupboards put in, a drying rack and hood/vent for our electric stove.

Our landlords are great.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Wireless and a House

We moved into a house about 10 days ago and yesterday we got wireless. We'll be blogging again!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

First Few Weeks - Part 2, Housing & Laundry

By Eric

Since arriving in Da Nang, we've been living in a hotel a not too far from the airport. For people without a bike or motorcycle, the location is great! Within a five minute walk in each direction, we can get to our school, a bakery, over a dozen restaurants, and at least five coffee shops.

Here's a little tour of the room we've been living in for the past 25 days.

And here's some more info on our daily life in Vietnam.
(We're hoping this changes when we get our new housing!)

Speaking of our new housing, we took a tour of our new place this afternoon! Some construction needs to happen before we move in. Hopefully we'll be giving you a video tour of our new home in about 10 days!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Meal Time

by Karissa

Eric met me after class one day, with my poncho, since it was pouring rain. It was supper time for us, so we decided to run to the nearest restaurant. It was a bit sketch, so we ran to the next one: Red. You've already heard a story about this place (the serenade).

Well, since that evening, we've been back to Red several times, have recommended it to friends and have met other friends there for dinner. This past Friday, Liz and Suz were up from Tam Ky so we asked them to eat supper with us at Red (we couldn't host since we're in a hotel without a kitchen). Eric and I ordered grilled beef (nuong bo) and a vegetable something (rau something). Liz ordered fried shrimp (chien tom). Essentially hers was popcorn/deep fried shrimp and it came with mayo. She generously shared with us. It was amazing! I could have eaten her entire order, but stopped myself at two.

We went back to Red last night. We ordered the fried shrimp because after having only two of the delicious treats, I wanted more. We also ordered a plate of rau something (a different something than last time). Anticipation ran high as we looked forward to the crispy shrimp.

This is not what Liz got when she ordered. Yes, these are a greeny-blue, rice crispies covered shrimp. The picture doesn't show the blue rice crispies. Food, besides jelly beans and gummy bears, should not be this color.

Oh, but look at the second picture, where I've taken a bit of the "chien tom", I don't see any shrimp inside, do you? It was gooey.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Getting Around

By Eric

As I said last time, we're seriously considering getting motorbike. When they talked about bikes and motorbikes at training, I didn't think I'd be too interested in getting one. Last time I was overseas, I walked or took a city bus just about everywhere I needed to go. Occasionally if I was in a hurry or if I didn't know the bus number I needed, I'd take a cab.

We found out pretty quickly that the same plan isn't going to work in Da Nang. First off, there are hardly any city buses. We've seen very few city buses and even fewer bus stops. I'm not sure if that's because the city is 'small' or if it's just a cultural difference. Whatever the reason, using buses to get around isn't going to work.

The option of walking isn't going to work well for us either. Why? It's ridiculously hot. Every day from about 9 am to 6 pm, it's a 90-90 day. 90 degrees or warmer with 90% humidity. We still tough it out and walk most places. But if it's more than 30 minutes away, it's better to call a cab. You can walk it, but then the next several hours are lost as you spend time recovering from the long, HOT walk. The Vietnamese people look at us like we're crazy when we're out walking around during the day. Some days, I wonder if they're right...

So yeah, we're starting to ask around and see what we can find out about the bicycle or used motorbike market.

There are a few things that concern me about putting some wheels underneath me. First off: traffic! It's kinda crazy. How crazy? Well, during the day, I hum the theme song of Frogger while crossing the street. And if I need to cross at night, I often find myself singing a little song from this Jerry Sienfeld routine.

I will say it's amazing what you can get used to within just a few weeks. Here's a video of Karissa showing you how it's done.

And some more footage of the organized chaos.

So yes, if we get a motorbike, we will take lessons and wear helmets!

Monday, September 6, 2010

First few weeks - part 1

by Eric

Just over two weeks ago, we arrived in Vietnam. Jet lag wasn't too bad. We had stayed up most of the night taking care of last minute business, packing, and weighing our suitcases. It was a mixture of taking care of stuff we had to do and making a preemptive strike against jet lag. Our days and nights were going to be messed up soon (there's 12 hours difference between Vietnam and the Midwest), so we figured starting the process half a day early wouldn't hurt.

It was three flights to get to DaNang, with a night in a Ho Chi Minh City hotel between flights two and three. We left the campus in Pasadena at 9 am Tuesday morning and we arrived in our hotel Thursday around 7 pm!

We had a week off before we started teaching. That gave us time to get over jet lag and to start exploring our new city. Each day we either went to a new place we had heard/read about or we just picked a direction and started walking! We've found some cool things: a market with fresh veggies, fish, and live frogs, a daycare, several restaurants and bakeries, three lakes, an amusement park, a mobile pet store, a park that would be the source of dozens of lawsuits in the states, and a mini-zoo.

We also found out another key thing about life here on our exploring walks: It's hot. Really hot. We've been toughing it out and walking most of the places we go, though our walks now usually happen either very early or very late in the day. But we've quickly found out why most people ride motorbikes or bicycles. We're seriously considering joining them and are looking in to our options. More on this hopefully soon...

In the meantime, here are some pictures!

This was the 3 year old room at the daycare. There was a whole lot of cuteness packed in that room!

Karissa looking lovely by lake #1

Big sky above lake #2

We're learning how to get around in the weather conditions here. Maybe someday we can be as awesome as this guy:

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

We're Here!

by Karissa

A few nights ago I was seranaded at supper, by a man on a guitar. Then he kissed my hand. It wasn't my husband, but Eric was there, sitting across the table from me. The guy also toasted Eric about 8 times. Every meal is an experience...

I had just finished my first demo lesson (they want to make sure we're good teachers) and it had started raining. Eric met me at school and we quickly walked to the first restaurant on our way from the school. It was busy, but it was mostly men patrons and there was a lot of cigarette smoke in the air. We went to the next restaurant (these restaurants open up onto the street, much like a store in a mall opens up to the main hallway). This restaurant is called Red. There were chairs that were normal height at tables with tablecloths. Nice! Of course, the fanciness would mean the prices are a bit higher, but eating at a food stand wasn't much of an option when it's raining out.

The friendly man who seranaded me was another guest at the restaurant, there with two of his musical buddies and one of their lady friends. They were singing a bit and playing guitar before he came over. He brought over a Tiger (seen everywhere here!) beer, poured some into Eric's cup and started toasting him. "Uh.... America!" (toast) "Uh, aaah, uh, number one!" (toast) This went on until either he ran out of things he could toast about in English or the bottle was empty. I'm not sure. I got one toast near the end. I think it was to marriage or something. I wasn't quick enough to toast him lower on his cup than he on mine, which is polite. Then he sang a song with several verses, his friend tapping the guitar with the beat. Each verse ended with "Vietnam... America!" (the only English part of the song).

The beer was done. The toasts were complete. The song was over. And the friendly man went back to his table. Eric and I smiled and talked about it for a bit, finished our veggie appetizer (probably the only time we've ever had a plate of steamed veggies as an appetizer!) and entree of grilled steak (yum!) We asked for the bill (we act this out buy either writing something in the air or pretending to write something on our hand--sometimes one works, sometimes the other works). We got our bill... and to our surprise and, yes we giggled, the beer that we had been toasted with had been put on our bill.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Full Month and a Crazy Week

by Eric

Training is done! We have our final commissioning service Sunday morning, but other than that, it's time to pack up and get ready for Vietnam! We fly out Tuesday morning.

It's been a wild month. The first few weeks of training are designed to be intense. Someone referred to it as the 'Toothpaste Time'... What comes out when you get squeezed?
Our schedule was intense:
7:30 Breakfast
8:00 Discussion groups about the day's topic
9:00 TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Training
10:30 Continuation of TEFL stuff, but split into regional groups to learn about teaching in Vietnam
12:00 Lunch and a break
1:30 Large group session on the other aspects of life overseas. Team dynamics, dealing with emotions, conflict, depression, etc.
2:30 Language and culture. Preparing for the specifics of life in Vietnam and learning some language cornerstones and survival phrases for our first few weeks.
4:00 Practicum prep. Four nights a week, we teach a group of Chinese Americans. We find out who is teaching in the afternoon and then those who are teaching have about an hour and a half to get a lesson prepared
5:30 Supper
6:15 Leave for practicum
9:15 Get back debrief with your city/team
10:00 Done for the day. (Unless we have homework)

Things slowed down a bit in the third week, and most people had a less eventful week four. But we're not like most people...

This last week had a lot of surprise twists and turns for Karissa and me. We started the week figuring we'd be teaching in Ho Chi Minh City at an English center and that there would be another team of two in the city with us. Unfortunately our school backed out on the contract and our director had to start checking out other options for us. For the next day or two, it looked like we may be teaching at a high school/middle school in HCMC. But once we started finding out more details about the school and the teaching schedule, that option started to look less and less appealing. After that, there was the potential of working at a school in a sister-city of HCMC. But our director isn't familiar with the school and agreeing to work at a school and live in a place you've never seen isn't a wise thing to do. Currently, our in country director is pursuing a fairly solid lead in a different city where we have teachers serving.

So yeah, it's been a challenging week. It's tricky. I feel okay when things are unknown, but it's been hard to deal with the changes. As things were unfolding, I'd let myself think "We're probably going to be teaching in _____." The first change was a bummer because we really liked the situation we had in HCMC. But you roll with it and you pick out the positives of the new situation and think "This won't be so bad. In fact, I kinda like this." Then the situation changes again. And it's a bummer again because you had just found things you liked about that possibility. So again, you look at the next possibility, find the positives, and think "This won't be so bad..." And then it changes again.

The best thing is that the changing situation has kept us dependent on Him. We've joked saying, 'I thought we were flexible before!' With all the changes, it has been an emotionally draining week. But we still have a peace about the whole situation. We're not sure where we're going to end up, but we know He has a plan for us! We know we'll keep doing our best to follow that plan. And we know we're flying out on Tuesday!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Road Trippin

by Eric

We're wrapping up week three of training. It's been crazy busy. (Hence the lack of blog posts and Facebook activity...) I'll chat more about training in the next post. First, some news about our trip to the West.

It's hard to believe that four weeks ago we were packing up the last things in the house and trying to get everything to fit in the car. Our goal was to get on the road around 8 on Friday morning, but even with an early start on the day, that just wasn't going to happen. We kept moving stuff to the car, the storage pile, or to the garbage can until the house was pretty well cleared out. We didn't get the floor vac
uumed, the cupboards wiped down, or the fridge cleaned out. But thankfully we had forgiving landlords!

It was awesome that we were able to visit some of Karissa's siblings along the way to training! The first few days were spent in Denver with Marilyda, Steve, and Ryker.

We played at a place cleverly
named 'Frog Park'.

There was a spinning pole thing. Karissa may have gone one too many revolutions...

She recovered well and was able to have several in depth conversations with Ryker. I believe in this picture they were discussing total depravity and the perseverance of the saints.

We left Denver on Monday morning and drove to Salt Lake City. Our hotel in SLC had a mini-water park, so we hung out there and even played a game of water basketball.

The next day's drive was from SLC to Reno, Nevada. The GPS gave us about four commands during the whole 8 hour trip. Leave the parking lot, turn on the turn in 504 miles... Doh. Reno was fun. We didn't see any shows or do any gambling, but we did check out the downtown casinos and enjoyed an awesome buffet. That night we saw some fire dancers in the park. Cool. But definitely strange!

The next day we arrived in California. We visited Karissa's college roommate Rosie in San Jose and spent a night in the biggest suite I've ever seen!

From there it was on to Modesto to visit Derrick, Ruth, Noah, and the new arrival Gavin. Ruth was very gracious to let us crash at their place despite GIVING BIRTH just 4 days earlier! We did our best to be helpful, watching one of the kids when needed and helping Derrick pack things up for their upcoming move.

Noah and I bonded over a breakfast of Cheerios and fresh fruit. We also spent time playing with him in the pool, and playing with his cars and train.

Gavin spent most of his time being cuddly and adorable. (while also keeping up the newborn's full time job of sleeping, eating, and pooping).

And finally on Saturday we drove down from Modesto to Pasadena for the start of training. Google told us our trip had about 37 hours of drive time. The trip ended up being a great chance to hang out with some awesome people and to catch our breath before the sprint of training started.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Training Begins

by Karissa

I taught last night... and the night before. First night was an adult beginner class and last night was a kiddie class. The kiddie class was more like babysitting. The beginner class went really well and I enjoyed it, too. We find out each day at 3:45pm if we'll be teaching that night. Supper is at 5:30 and we leave for practicum at 6:15pm. Tonight we're not teaching and we could make a run to Rite-Aid for an ant trap, looseleaf paper and a binder. We're that busy that if we're teaching we don't have time to run to a store. It's good though. Definitely putting pressure on my introvertedness (I'm an outgoing introvert for those who are wondering.)

Training started on Saturday and we lived off-campus for the first three nights until our married housing on campus was available. We now have the internet in our room. Training is really busy with TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) classes in the morning and culture/adaptation classes in the beginning of the afternoon and then if we're teaching that night, lesson planning. If we're not teaching, we still go along to the practicum sights and observe our fellow teachers.

Eric and I are our own team, which you may already know. There is one other team in the same city. One of the girls is new and one is coming back for her second year. We've met and talked a lot with the first, Jenni. Every morning after breakfast we have Discovery Groups where we go through questions on different topics (conflict resolution, personality, expectations, spiritual growth, etc). We do this with our teams. Jenni's teammate isn't here yet since alums don't have to go to all of training. Jenni is great--she's really fun, laid back, loves to laugh. I like those qualities in a person. :)

The first few days here it was really hot--circa 100 degrees. It has cooled down 80s or so, which is nice since there is no central air in any of the places we spend time on campus.

We're drinking lots of water to stay hydrated and are enjoying the fresh pineapple served at pretty much every meal.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

It's So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday

by Eric

Last week we said goodbye to our lives in Northwest Iowa. It was a CRAZY week, full of tasks and to-do lists and also full of emotion. The tasks and to-dos kept me from getting a good night sleep. I wasn't worried about getting stuff done. Rather, Karissa and I would be up late packing, going through stuff, etc. and we'd go to bed well after midnight. At some point between 5 and 6:30, I'd wake up. Normally when this happens, I roll over and go back to sleep. But when you're moving out within a few days, various things from your to-do list start to pop into mind. 'Don't forget to call this place and change your address'...'Call the health insurance guy back'...'You need to get more boxes'... There's no end. And a new one pops into your mind every few seconds. Of course because you've got sleepy logic, each question comes with a half second of panic. "Did I forget that?" "Is it too late to ___?"
After a few minutes of that, sleepy logic goes away and actual logic lets you know that there's no possible way you're falling back to sleep. Time to get up and start another day of packing!

I'm happy to say that we got everything packed and it all fit into the spaces we had to store things in (our storage space and my childhood room out at my parents' place). Big props to the Sjaardas, the Kocks, and the Heathers for all their help packing and moving!

The big emotional moments of the week came with saying goodbye to my family. I didn't know exactly what to expect. I'd said goodbye before heading overseas several years ago. But at that time I was living in Texas and I only saw my family a few times a year. Also, back then I only had one niece who was a year and a half old. But for the last five years I've lived really close to my immediate and extended family. I lived in my grandparents' basement for my first few years back and I got to see them nearly every day. And now there are three nieces and a nephew, all with amazing, fun, distinct personalities I've been able to get to know. Saying goodbye to each of them was really tough. Lots of tears were shed.

When one chapter of life comes to an end and a new chapter begins, there's a wide range of feelings about each one. You're excited, eager, and maybe a little scared about the possibilities that lay in front of you. However, at the same time, you have mixed feelings about the chapter that is closing. You're ready to move on from some things. But there are other things from the closing chapter that you're going to miss. And as you move forward, you really have to mourn the loss of these things.

All that said, He's given me a good amount of peace about the whole situation. I fully believe that He has led us to Vietnam for the next year. And I know that the best place for us to be is in the center of His will. That doesn't make everything about the transition easy. But having that as a cornerstone makes it a whole lot easier to weather the changes.

The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away.

Friday, July 9, 2010


Today we leave Sioux Center. We're driving to Denver to spend the weekend with Marilyda, Steve and Ryker. Mostly I feel tired. We had a pretty late night last night packing up the rest of our stuff into boxes and packing stuff into suitcases. Fortunately, neither weight nor space seems to be at a premium in our suitcases.

We've had so much help with this move as it came to packing, getting paper work in order, support raising, etc. We are so thankful to be part of this (Sioux Center) community and all of our past communities. We are blessed.

I need to run and get ready for our trip today. We're excited to start this new phase of life!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Getting Real

by Eric

A few weeks ago I was wondering when the reality of our upcoming Vietnam adventure would set in. Now I know!

A few weeks ago the switch flipped. We’re leaving for training on July 9. Once the countdown clock went under one month, something shifted. I think it’s because we’re now hitting A LOT more ‘last times’. They would occur every so often in the last few months. But now there seems to be a ‘last time’ happening every other day! Last YATEC, last book club meeting, last time to play at Harp & Bowl, last time seeing some friends, last time hanging out with all my siblings, etc.

As you can imagine, stronger emotions bubble up as some of these ‘last times’ occur. I’ve shed a few tears as various things from this chapter of life have come to a close. Memories come rushing to mind. There are a few regrets, but mainly it’s a highlight reel of the last five years. Lots of good times with good people!

Our schedules have been crazy busy, so there hasn’t been a lot of time for introspection. I’m looking forward to the travel time between Sioux Center and California to have some time to reflect, ponder, and look forward. That's one of the many good things about major life changes. It's an ideal time for a little self reflection and goal setting.

More on this in a future post. Maybe. It'll depend on what my brain comes up with as the miles roll by!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Oh the Places You Will Go (Part 2)

by Eric

We’ve traveled a lot of places over the last year… And now we know where we’re going next year!

This past week, the home office of TeachOverseas went through all the personality profiles, questionnaires, and preference sheets from the Vietnam teachers. Based off all this info, they had to figure out who should be paired with whom and where they should serve. While we were each sure we knew one of our teammates, there were still a lot of questions. Will we be a two person team, or will we be teamed with 2-4 other teachers? Will we be in Northern, Central, or Southern Vietnam? Will we be in a large city (6+ million) or a ‘small’ city (500,000 – 1 million)? Or …

Wednesday, the email arrived that let us know where we'd be serving, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam! We'll be a two person team and we'll be at a new location for TeachOverseas. They have had one team in HCMC (I've already found that it's MUCH easier to abbreviate!) at an English center for several years. We'll still have a team at that school and Karissa and I will be working at a 'sister' location.

While there is still no shortage of questions to wonder about, now we can start checking out pictures of our new ‘home’ city and read all about in the Lonely Planet! Looks like there’s plenty to do! We’re not exactly sure what our apartment situation is going to be like, but we should have a spare room or a couch for guests to crash on. Or at least some floor space… Or the phone number of a local hotel… So give us a while to settle in and then come and visit us in our new city!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Oh the Places You Will Go (Part 1)

by Eric

May is over! It was a busy month for the Sjaarda’s! We were out of town together for three weekends, and Karissa was out for a fourth weekend visiting her younger sister. Each trip took us to a different state! Omaha, Nebraska for our anniversary; Dallas, Texas for work and a little bit of fun; Minneapolis, Minnesota for family and fund-raising; and Indianapolis, Indiana for family! The traveling schedule calms down a bit in June. So far we only have one confirmed weekend trip, though we may have another small getaway, depending on how the packing and other preparations are going.

We got a new camera just before the trip to MSP. So far, we're VERY happy with it! This is probably my favorite pic of a weekend full of testing out the camera on some adorable models (aka nieces).

We leave for training in 5 weeks. The reality of our departure is sinking in more and more each day. Normally when you visit family and friends, you know that you’ll probably see them again in a few days, or weeks, or at the most months. The dynamic of saying ‘See you later’ changes a bit when you know you’re saying goodbye for a year! So far, the goodbyes haven’t been too teary. I’m not exactly sure why… Is it because the implications of a year apart haven’t sunk in yet? Is it because the people we’ve been saying goodbye to are people we don’t see in our everyday lives? Is it because as you age, you realize years go by pretty quickly and next summer will be here before we know it? Or are the emotions just storing up for a time when the reality fully sinks in? Time will tell I guess.

May was a really good month. We got a lot done! Fund-raising went into full force and we were blessed with prayer and financial support from a lot of wonderful people! There’s still a ways to go, but we feel good about the start we’ve had.

We also took some big steps in the physical preparations. Old boxes are being gone through, non-essential things are being packed up and moved to storage, and our garage sale pile continues to grow! While packing and moving is certainly a large task, it’s really nice to take the time to go through things and figure out what you don’t need. Our trash can is pretty full by pickup time every week!

Of course, there’s still PLENTY to do and I have a feeling June will be just as crazy busy as May was. Stuff to pack, books to read, people to contact, funds to raise, language to learn, …

Better get crackin!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Anniversary Weekend

by Eric

Karissa and I have been married for one year, one week, and one day. To celebrate our first year as husband and wife, we decided to head down to Omaha last weekend to take a break from work, Vietnam stuff, etc. and to just have fun together.

We got to Omaha around 4:00 and decided to check out Boys Town. It's a really cool place! We had two minor bummers: The Hall of History closed at 5:00, so we didn't have as much time as we would have liked to look around. And second, there was road construction, so the 'driving tour' CD we borrowed was kind of worthless.

But other than that, it was a really cool place to visit! There are over 500 kids from rough backgrounds living there. Most live in a house with 7 other kids and two 'house parents'. It's a really amazing setup! We heard a quote that the 12-18 months the average student spends at Boys Town may be the only time they ever get to experience healthy family life. Wow!

After Boys Town, we headed down to the Old Market for a fun filled evening. One of the many highlights was getting to see a violin septet! All siblings from the same family!

We chatted with the oldest kid for a while (he's actually 3rd of 12). He said they usually pull in a few hundred per weekend and that they made $700 on their best night. Hello college fund!

We also checked out a new store called The Imaginarium. Cool place with 'anything you can imagine' for sale. The guy that runs it sub-contracts out the space to 25 artists/vendors so there is no shortage of variety!

This brought back some memories of playing in my grandparent's basement! Toss Across! (or Tic-Tac-Throw if you had the generic one) I seriously thought about buying this but the idea of storing it for year(s) didn't appeal to me. If it's still for sale when we get back from Vietnam, I'll certainly reconsider!

This stroller was uber cool.
And versatile!

We ate an awesome steak dinner and walked around some more before calling it a night. Saturday we headed back downtown for the first Farmer's Market of the year. We bought some breakfast (Greek pastries and wheat bread cinnamon twists) and spent the morning looking at the produce and the people. There were plenty of free samples, so we skipped lunch and headed to the zoo!!!

Neither of us had been to the famous Henry Doorley Zoo before. We didn't try to see everything, but we certainly caught some highlights.

Karissa won the staring contest. The gorilla left a few seconds after I took this picture.

This dude was hilarious! He'd hang his hand through the fence and beg for candy, gum, etc. He was good at catching whatever people threw!

We watched the penguins for quite some time but sadly they never broke out into a tap routine.

And my favorite pic of the weekend!

Happy anniversary, Sweetie! I can't wait for our next adventure together!