On the Arrival of New Teachers — by Levi

Mmm, spring-time! The climate’s warming here and the rain has all but stopped, leaving steamy humidity which begins ramping up around 8 a.m. It’s time again for folks to begin arriving from abroad. After having been here for one round of arrivals and now again for a second, I felt compelled to comment.

We tend to show up here, in the middle-south of Thailand, and we can’t know until later how visible we are as our expectations wick away. We expected ‘hot’, but not exactly like this. We expected ‘primitive’, but nothing’s as primitive as we’d read…but a sense reigns that all the new things here are very new and as seeded through the old contrast in a confusing way…we’ve arrived during a period of industrialization and weren’t prepared to witness its scale.

We expected Thai food, only to have our understanding of the term augmented. We had eaten American-style Thai food before, and we know that now.

We expected to have a “real Thai” experience but have found ourselves in the midst of a fluctuating expatriate community, wherein the members are all experiencing the same rendering of expectation we are. We’d expected Thai to be difficult to learn, but we’d also expected that we’d try harder to learn it.

The pleasant surprises, though, have been forthcoming. We hadn’t expected to laugh every day, nor had we expected to evolve personally as we have. We’ve been pleased to learn more about our social and professional selves, and we’ve been pleased at our rate of adaptation to the unexpectedly wild traffic norms here. It’s been a real gift to witness cultural development at a stage long passed in the industrialized world.

When I see new teachers arriving, I’m excited for them to enter in to the process which has brought me to a state of peace with a place I couldn’t have understood otherwise. As in role-playing games, there is a grand leveling-up ahead for many of them, those who haven’t lived abroad yet. Adventures, surprises, new understanding; all of these words whose definitions want updating will be satisfied in the minds of each new wave.

I didn’t expect to empathize with a grandparent’s perspective so young.

Eating Snake in Hanoi (Oh Boy!) — by Catherine

Y’all will probably never believe it, but I ate a live beating snake heart in Vietnam.  It all started when my friends from Portland and I were walking to the bus station in Hanoi.  We were stopped on the way by a drunken Vietnamese man whose birthday was that day.  He wanted us to drink Bia Hoi (brewed daily Vietnamese beer) with him and when we said we were on our way to the bus station, he literally walked over, picked us up one at a time and sat us down an the table with him and his friends. In Vietnam, it seems to be the thing that a lot of the outdoor tables and chairs are about kindergarten size and you’re constantly sitting
with your knees raised and trying not to fall off the tiny little plastic stools on which your bum is perched.

We end up drinking with the birthday boy and his friends for a few hours, getting completely hammered.  One of his friends works for the American Embassy and kept telling us that everything was okay and not to feel unsafe, which was nice  The birthday boy was a cab driver and when we were talking about going to eat snake, he offered to give us a ride.  By the time we decided to go, we were all plastered, including the birthday boy.  So we got into the cab with the guy who worked at the embassy, as he seemed to be the only sober one.

We had to drive a little bit outside of the main part of Hanoi to get to it.  When we got there, my friend didn’t think we were really there until we saw the restaurant’s sign that had a snake on it.  Going into the restaurant, you enter into the basement
where they keep the snakes.  On the left was a large cage housing a bunch of long green snakes, and on the right were a lot of little cages with individual cobras in them.  They took one of the cobras out and were making it dance.  We ended up choosing one of the green snakes because it was cheaper.

After choosing your snake, they kill it right in front of you, take out the heart and put it on a plate where you can watch it continue beating.  Then, they pour blood into a cup and bile into 2 separate cups.  Next, we headed upstairs to the actual restaurant area.  Here, they brought up the plate with the still beating heart, and the blood and bile.  They mixed the blood and bile with rice wine, so we were taking shots of that.  Then, they put the heart in a shot glass with rice wine and I took that one!  I tried to feel it still beating in my throat, but I couldn’t.

The restaurant then cooked us about 8-10 different kinds of snake
dishes, continuously bringing them out throughout the night, every one of them were absolutely delicious!  We were also drinking snake whiskey, which is whiskey infused with a whole snake.  I think we drank 1 1/2 bottles between 5 of us. It was a pretty epic night!