Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Special Dinner and TDT's Got Talent
A night shot in District 7 taken from near our room.
     A few evenings ago we had dinner at a great restaurant in District 1, downtown, Ho Chi Minh City with several friends from the college including the Vice President, the Director of the Office of Science-Technology, Cooperation and Graduate Studies, an assistant from that Department and the two of us. Driving to the restaurant in the TDT  we discussed our impressions of Vietnam with one of our hosts, a scientist and administrator for the University. We let him know very directly that we would work hard to try to attract other scholars to come to Vietnam and the University to teach and learn. 
The dinner was a classic affair in an exquisite private dining room with four or five courses as well as bottles of delicious "good for your health" red wine.  With such great food and wine we worked hard to protect and improve our health of course. The dinner facilitated a great discussion about our time in the land of the Lotus and the Dragon: how do we like Vietnam? “We love Vietnam.”Do we like the food? “Yes, we love the food, too, just as our friends in the US said we would.” Is our room at the dorm okay? “Our room is just fine, and it is close to the canteen when we want to get food.” Have we tried snake soup yet? "No, not yet but we will have an opportunity soon, when we visit the MeKong Delta next week." and "In Hanoi we ate the famous West Lake escargot, prepared in the Ha Noi fashion, very good and the sea food in Nha Trang at an outdoor restaurant was just fine."  How do you like teaching at our University and was it hard to get going? “Well, it is turning out very well we believe. It was some difficult learning what our curriculum should cover. We prepared before we came but that always has to change once you know the situation and are living and teaching in it.” And so on for quite a while.  We were paid a giant compliment when our hosts allowed that we had adjusted to living in Vietnam very quickly.  
Meanwhile the first course of dinner was a delicious serving of small pieces of pork with a green vegetable and a plate of another leafy green vegetable that seemed to glow like it was luminescent, but it wasn’t, and that you dipped in a sauce to eat. My gosh how good they both were. Then they brought out about 40 large shrimp for 5 people. The shrimp had been cooked in coconut juice and were arranged around the top of a cut off coconut like hooks hanging on a pole. You would just pluck a big old shrimp off the top of the coconut with your sticks, shell it and dip it in another sauce to eat and enjoy. I thought this was probably the main course so I ate a lot of shrimp or prawns and had some of that red wine to go with it. 
 Meanwhile the conversation was continuing with discussions about the different areas of the nation that we had traveled to and our impressions of the areas: Nha Trang, Dalat, Ha Noi, the Saigon Resort and all around Ho Chi Minh City and so forth (soon we go to the Mekong Delta and then Cu Chi and who knows where else). Watch for blog posts on those travels (FYI -- This just made me remember, when we were in Ha Noi we drove twice across the fabled Red River and through a swampy area flooded by the Red River.).
Then a flat rectangular hot pot was served with a big ol' wonderful tasting white fish that was cooked right there on the table over a candle burner while we waited for it to be ready. Meanwhile we ate more shrimp or prawns and celebrated a couple more toasts with red wine. When the fish was ready our table hostess served us nice servings of the fish in our bowls and we ate it up with our sticks dipping each piece in some sauce or just eating it straight, it was supreme either way.
After we had eaten our tender white fish there was ANOTHER COURSE: A POT OF A THICK RICE SOUP, LIKE A PORRIDGE I THINK, with fish in it and a taste like there might even have been some corn for flavor. By now we had consumed a fair amount of healthy red wine and so even this last course goes down really well with a host of toasts to the University, Vietnam, Friendship, and whatever else as well as the wonderful dinner. Mot hi ba Zoe or Yo! One two three, down the hatch.
At about this point the general conversation focused for a long bit of time on the American War and its effect on the way that American people either do or don’t even think about Vietnam now. We ventured the thought that sometimes we wonder if Americans don’t feel comfortable about Vietnam because of the destruction that we wrought on the country. Our host, the vice president of the University, a man of sixty, stated that he was a veteran but that he like others in Vietnam have put the war behind him and Americans are welcome and safe here. 
 He said that you can’t live in the past but must build the future for the younger generations that are now Vietnam. We allowed as to how that is true though Leanna made the point that Americans must not be allowed to shove things like Agent Orange under the table to be forgotten when the damage goes on from generation to generation and the US government isn’t doing much to help. A striking statement our friend made was that during the years as a soldier it had been very difficult because it did not seem that they could win their war of liberation, but they did. Leanna and I spoke then to the fact that their victory broke the back of colonialism and for the entire world – that the people of Vietnam are true internationalists, heroes who changed the history of the whole world when a super-power discovered it couldn't occupy another country that was determined to fight back.
A very humbling moment occurred when the Vice President stated that we were the first Americans to be invited to spend an entire semester teaching at the University.  We feel so honored and privileged to be the first but it is also a bit scary -- we can only hope that our performance leads to many more Americans coming here and contributing to this growing university.  

The evening finished with a ride back to the dorm room, warm good nights and off to bed to be ready for work on Wednesday at 7:30am.

The Phamtom of the Opera
Sing it out!
TDT has Talent!  A student talent show at the University displays the wealth of talent of these young Viet students.  In the past 8 days Leanna and I watched and listened to about 7 hours of a talent show held on campus with magicians, dancers, guitar/singer duets, solo singers, break
First Image
dancers, traditional songs and dances and current music, acoustic guitars and box drum and bamboo flute and group dancers.  It is hard for each of us to decide which was the best performance since the arts displayed were so varied.  However, we did get some pictures of an artist whose performance was painting a three layered picture in five minutes or less using a variety of spray paints, some tools for spreading and moving the paint on the surface.  The piece was made in three sections.  The first two were on a regular opaque surface and the third was on glass. 
Artist working on Second Image

Image on Glass--3rd image.

3on one, the Work completed
Each section was a work of art in itself but then the two on opaque surfaces were inserted in the frame behind the glass image and low and behold the three combined for an even more finished painting. The images are a blit blurry, indoors, no flash and enlarged for this posting.  I will try to upload more to facebook.
Artist holding picture and friends around him!

Pictures of the art will illustrate this better.  Several singers and dancers were stirring in their performance and now we must wait till next Saturday night to find out who are the winners in the competition.  One of the more unusual was a woman who performed the phantom of the opera with a mask and cape and we got a picture of her, too.  But who proceeds to final competition? We'll find out next week!  

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