A Saigon Christmas

24 12 2009
Where to go now?

Where to go now?

Christmas Eve in Saigon:

As I leave ILA after cover teaching a morning adults class I’m approached by a group of students in Santa hats. From a cursory glance, they want me to take their picture. “No teacher, a picture with you.” These aren’t my students and I’ve never even seen them before. Before I can even protest, a Santa hat is thrown on my head and the cameras start flashing.

I hit the sweaty, ever bustling streets. It’s 11 a.m. and about 88 degrees, but with a mere 60 percent humidity. I purchase two kebabs at VND18,000. The Vietnamese have recently devalued the Dong and 18,500 Dong now equals $1, compared with under 17,000 when I arrived under a year ago. So I get paid more Dong, but when I transfer money home, I lose it back again. The kebab girl offers me a “Merry Christmas,” before sheepishly shying away.

A one-legged man on crutches selling lottery tickets is urinating in my alley. I let myself into our gate, eat my kebabs and kill a cockroach in my bathroom before taking a late-morning nap.

It’s Christmas in Saigon, baby, but everything else is the same.

Yoda and me at ILA's Christmas party.

I’m no Grinch but it has been difficult to get jazzed up about Christmas this year. I’m currently listening to “Always Christmas” radio broadcast and even downloaded Bing Crosby’s Christmas hits. Oh, and Elvis’s “Blue Christmas” too. I can’t go a holiday season without hearing that. I’m trying to catch the spirit, but it just isn’t happening.

On Dec. 13, after a long weekend of teaching, we had our much-hyped and anticipated ILA Christmas party at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Saigon. I had a suit jacket, pants, shirt and tie tailor made for the event, as seen above and below.

The soiree didn’t disappoint. Administrative staff, teachers and teaching assistants from ILA’s five centers around the city were all in attendance for the event; there must have been 500 people in all. The open bar was taken advantage of by all, as was the massive buffet. Dancing and debauchery ensued.

"Marv, why the hell did you take your shoes off?" "Harry, why you dressed like a chicken?"

Last week featured Christmas-themed lessons galore. I showed my students a scene from “Home Alone” (though many had already seen it) in which the two burglars “Marv” (Daniel Stern) and “Harry” (Joe Pesci) try to sneak in Macauluy Culkin’s house. It provided not only numerous laughs for the teacher, but is actually quality practice of the simple past tense, such as “Harry’s head _______ (catch) on fire from the blowtorch” and “Kevin _______ (shoot) the burglars with a BB gun.” The following day, this led to a few of my students asking for BB guns for Christmas when I had them write letters to Santa, which were very cute.

Here’s a couple of the more humorous, unedited:

“Dear Santa,

All I want for Christmas is to go to America, a toy, a computer, to go to Korea, to go to Japan, a books, to go to Thailand”

“Dear Santa,

I like Money.

I like a PSP.

I like to go to New York.

I like Legos

I like a game

I like a Nitendo DS


Those two are written by seven-year-olds. The next two are about 10.

“Dear Santa,

All I want for Chistmas is a DS. How are you. Can you keep this secret. The secret is I am from Vietnam. That is all I want. If I have a DS. I will a good student.”

Clearly, he needs some work on being a better student. And one more:

“Dear Santa,

FROM: Steven. Dear Santa! My nam’s Steven. I’m live in Ho Chi Minh City. Can I have a skateboard? I’m very like a skateboard. If I have a skateboard, I promise I’ll good this year!”


Christmas plans: Tonight I’m off to a beacon of western fare in Saigon’s tourist sector, Bread and Butter. Mom, it’s the closest I can get to your cooking here in Vietnam.

Tomorrow and Saturday I have dinners planned with friends as well, including a meal with an entire turkey (YES, REAL TURKEY. A WHOLE ONE.) with co-workers at The Word. Saturday morning at 7 a.m. I’m back at work.

I’m thinking of everyone this Christmas season, wishing everyone safe travels and a Merry Christmas!

Political glad-handing with future Senator Ortmann for the cameras.




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