Category Archives: Teaching

Good Morning, Vietnam!


As a history teacher, I was motivated to explore  life in Vietnam before, during and after the war. The following photos reveal my daily treks to search for some meaning in the causes and effects of this twisted, unpopular, and politically driven Vietnam War. 

Living history was right before my eyes everyday!

So many historical concepts were revealed while reading and touring Vietnam:  WWII, Communism, Diplomacy, Cold War, Domino Theory, Colonization, Civil War, Guerilla warfare, US foreign policy, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon era…

We landed in Ho Chi Minh City (former Saigon) where we spent 5 nights in the beautiful Grand Hotel.


French colonial rule can be seen in food and architecture


The Opera House : we attended the performance- The Soul of Vietnam

IMG_3032Steamed Prawns in Coconut Juice


The Hotel Continental is the meeting place for the characters in Graham Greene’s well written book, The Quiet American, about the French IndoChina War. (1946-1958).

Reunification Palace (name given after the War)- built by the French


Once Vietnam was independent from French colonial rule, President Diem moved into the palace and ruled South Vietnam with the support of US. He opposed unification of the two Vietnams, hence, the name after the war: Reunification Palace.  Maybe he was corrupt and not a democratic ruler but our policy was: as long as you are anti-Communist, you are on our side.

IMG_3094Strategic planning room during the war (basement of palace)

Cu Chi Tunnels

Built by the Viet Cong (Communist troops in South Vietnam)

These tunnels were constructed by the locals as protection from the US soldiers and ARVN (South Vietnam army). They twisted for 124 miles through the jungle. Hospitals, sleeping quarters and schools could be found in this underground shelter. American soldiers continuously dropped bombs over the tunnels, killing civilians and the enemy. Tunnel rats (US soldiers) were deployed to find the tunnel activity. The openings were much smaller than pics depict (widened for tourist) and about 8-10 meters deep.




Actual opening 

The area was surrounded by booby traps, mines…



The enemy used our bombs to make their own weapons

After a eating a bowl of Pho (traditional Vietnam bowl of noodles, broth, and spices) and reading the history of the war,  I caught a taxi to the War Remnants Museum. Upon arriving, I regretted eating Pho (see below)


War Remnants Museum

Pictures for all you military buffs:





Ho Chi Minh: Leader of the Communist in Vietnam

The Mekong Delta

Site of some of the heaviest fighting in the War

The Mekong River begins in Tibet and empties in the Delta, southern Vietnam.

Great Rice Bowl of Vietnam; produces 1/2 of the countries rice


IMG_3265 IMG_3295Yes, they have pythons in the jungle. Afterwards, I found out this snake squeezes its victim to death and since he was just fed, I was safe- very encouraging!

IMG_3287Mekong Coconut Candy Factory

Mary and I were invited to return next summer to the Mekong Valley and work in the village.

I just want to make sure all the pythons are well fed!



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“Have You Consumed Rice Yet?”



Taking notes in a friend’s kitchen:

Her cook is preparing Pad Thai: fried rice noodles with shrimp, fish sauce, Thai chilies, tofu, bean sprouts, egg, ..


 It’s not uncommon for Thais to greet you with:

“Gin kow rey yang?” (Have you consumed rice yet?)

“To eat is to eat rice.”

Does this hint to the fact that Thai cooking is centered around rice? Can you imagine asking a Westerner if they have consumed a hamburger yet?

Flavor is important since rice is so bland.



The dishes are spicy, hot, pungent, sweet, sour, salty, exotic: Loaded with herbs and spices.

And if the meal is lacking in spices- four little condiment jars can be found on the table to add more flavor: sugar, vinegar with green chillies, red chili powder, and fish sauce. I never saw salt and pepper- too neutral.

Understanding the culinary specialties of a culture is one way I appreciate the lifestyle of the people. It’s more than just what they eat: Where , When, and How, are all factors I observe.

The Thais are notorious for eating out, not restaurant- style but in street stalls. (sometimes a little risky for foreigners).

Bag Food


For those on the go, food is served in these little bags– thin wooden sticks are included to stab the food while walking and sauces (of course, hot chilies) are packed for the customer.


My husband is a great wok chef, but I met his match in Chinatown!


Seafood from Amwapha (Floating Market)


Where are the chopsticks?

Thais eat with a fork and spoon: the fork scoots the food into the spoon and the spoon is used for actually eating.

I asked my students to share some of their favorite dishes:

Red Curries: (hot, hot with Thai red chilies!)

Pad Thai (fried noodles usually with shrimp)

 Papaya Salad

Hainan style chicken (marinated with rice)

Tubtim Krob (chestnuts in coconut milk)

Tom Yum soup ( see below): hot, spicy and sour soup with lemongrass, galangal (root), kaffir lime, and shrimp/chicken- with or without coconut milk

looks like something is going to crawl out, but DELICIOUS!


 Staying true to my blog,

I found student  food (school lunches), while teaching at the local government school,

I observed these food trays outside the classroom. After inquiring, I learned the government provides a free hot lunch to all students. The meals are delivered to each classroom.

Now, that’s service!



 A glimpse into the exotic world of tropical fruits:

mangosteen, rambutan, mangoes, durian, papaya, dragon fruit



My favorite fruit dessert: (my daughter fell for this too while in Cambodia)



Speaking of fruit,  I have a new health secret:

Coconut Water-hydrates, nourishes, and one friend said, “It’s similar to the plasma in our bodies.”  (I thought of plasma TVs???)


Flying to Vietnam tomorrow 

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How can we stimulate the American economy ????


Thais shop all day, during the night, in malls, on the river….It’s all part of the social culture.

Consumer spending is elevated  in a country where malls are bigger than villages and markets can be found on every corner, offering a wide range of  goods from Buddha images to protective  amulets. Yes, we have 24 hours shops, but how about markets where you can roam the streets with your BBs (best buddies) and bargain the night away??? Obama was in Thailand recently, visiting my favorite Wat, Wat Po. Surely he will mention night markets to his economic advisors!

Even the rivers have floating markets: meals are cooked on long-boats and delivered to the customer via a little basket with an extended handle.

Amwapha Floating Market


Chatauchak or JJ market: the largest flea market in the world with 15,000 retailers and 27 acres of space. This is where bargaining is an art. As a farang (foreigner), I am a clear target, so I have learned to sharpen my negotiating skills: I go for at least half the asking price.



Chinatown markets: herbs galore



Asiatique: Night Market

a newly designed market, resembling ancient Thailand, located on the

Chao Praya River


High end markets: Valentino, Prada, Hermes..Shoppers Paradise!


After all this shopping, I had to buy a second suitcase,

but all my purchases were bargains!

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Escape from the BIG MANGO to……….


the ancient royal capital of Siam (Thailand) from 1350-1767-approximately one hour north of Bangkok.

We could only imagine the days when the 500 or more gold-coated wats ( temples) glistened on the banks of the three rivers surrounding Ayutthaya. The Khmer (Cambodian) style prangs (religious towers) can still be seen towering over the lush countryside. Unfortunately, the Burmese armies attacked and burned the city to the ground in 1767, dashing  away with the gold and leaving the temples in ruins. The brick interior and what remains of the plaster exterior can be seen in the pictures below:



One Buddha is not enough in this religious town


Floating along the ancient markets



Tea time: Thai tea is sweet, milky, spicy, and DELICIOUS!


Our Students Can Be Our Best Teachers:

The Next Day: Ko Kret Island: Home of the Mon People

My students hosted us on an outing to this ancient city (northern part of Bangkok) where the Mon people still survive today making intricately designed pottery and amazingly decorative sweets. The King of Siam settled these Burmese refugees on this island 200 years ago.

IMG_2610 Ko Kret Flower Market


Artistic Sweets


Mon Potters



Boat Ride up the Chao Phraya River (main river running through Bangkok)



After a long day sightseeing,

Thai style relaxation: facials for 1/10 of the US price



Filed under Educating students in developing world, Non-profits for teachers, Teaching

Teaching Thais (teachers) with a Wai…

I entered the room filled with Thai teachers waiting for a workshop on creative teaching strategies. Everyone stood and greeted me with the traditional wai. The national Thai greeting with  hands in a prayer position and a slight bow set the tone for a productive session with enthusiastic and respectful teachers.



Adding drama for an art infused lesson

After teaching students or training teachers, short excursions are planned during the week and longer ones on the weekends.

The National Museum was on the agenda for a short outing. We hailed down a Tuk Tuk driver for the museum visit. He assured us he understood. After numerous stops, we knew we were on a wild goose chase.

Finally, he decided to drop us off at Jim Thompson’s house museum. At least he got the museum part right! We didn’t argue and decided to explore the grounds. What a delightful mistake! Jim Thompson, an American architect who was stationed in Thailand during WWII,  created an international business exporting Thai silk. While wondering through a local market in Bangkok, Jim spotted Thai silk and traced its origin to a Muslim community where the weavers were making silk by hand.

His discovery saved a dying art.

Designers all over the world were attracted to the yellow Thai cocoons that produced the knotty thread that made Thai silk  so desirable.


In 1967 his industry was worth 1.5 million and growing. The same year while hiking in Malaysia he mysteriously disappeared and was never seen again. Man-eating tiger? Jealous rivals??

Even today his shops draw crowds from all over the world to purchase his high quality silk.



Extracting silk from the yellow cocoons


He located his house across a canal where this Muslim community still weaves silk using the tried and true loom!

My dream home: A Jim Thompson Teak House!

He designed his house by transporting six teak homes from all over Thailand to create a structure open to nature (some rooms are actually an extension to the garden).



 We finally found a taxi driver who knew the most visited museum in Bangkok:

The National Museum:

As a history teacher, the museum was a great place to spend a hot afternoon, learning about ancient Thailand. I was fascinated by the powerful images of the Thai/ Burmese soldiers fighting on the backs of elephants. We also saw a visual history depicting life in  the ancient capital, Ayutthaya ( trip planned for next weekend) and the development of the new capital, Bangkok, ruled by the Rama Kings (Rama I-IX). Rama IX is the monarch today, eliciting great respect from the people.


Until next time in Ayutthaya!


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What is a Wat……..

I asked my students?



Their thoughts: ” A Buddhist temple; a place where people pray to Buddha; a place where monks live and practice discipline; when Buddhists have a problem they visit a wat;  where Thai people go for a ceremony or festival; a construction in Buddhist style.”

Tom (Thai nickname) (top left)  elaborated on his two week training as a 11 year old monk : He shaved his head and eyebrows, donned the traditional, simple, orange robe and  walked the streets ( 5:00 AM) with an alms bowl , hoping to receive food from a reverential family. Afterwards, the household  receives the monks’ blessings. My students made it very clear that all males should spend some time in monkhood (could be as short as 7 days or for a lifetime). The monk’s parents also benefit-they are blessed with a healthy and prosperous life. I plan on talking to my son ( Alden)  about this!

Behind the scenes in a monastery at Wat Boan, Bangkok

A Thai friend arranged for a “monk chat” with Chai, soon to be the leading monk of Thailand.


Two Branches of Buddhism

Our new monk friend  follows the Theravada (orthodox) branch of Buddhism as do the majority of Thais ( and Burmese, Cambodians, ..).Mahayana Buddhism can be found in China, Japan and Korea. The two are similar in beliefs but slightly different in practice. According to one student, most Buddhists view Buddha as a human teacher and less view him as a god. Buddhists profess that suffering ceases once we end our desires or cravings : we should not be affected by what we want or don’t want. The present moment offers all we need:

How many times have we heard

“Live in the moment!”

I’m particularly interested in Wat Architecture

Note:  Cho Fah or I call them curlicues extended from the saddle roofs


Chedis or stupas: originally housed the relics or ashes of Buddha


Mystical Creatures adorn the Wats



The royal palace is located in the above complex: Home of the Rama kings from the Chakri Dynasty built in 1782


IMG_1871Interior of a Wat



When not Wat Watching:

Overnight stay at Hua Hin Beach


The View outside our apartment:


Lah Gorn!

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Landing in Bangkok with a Splash!

IMG_1577I paid money for these piranha- like fish to nibble on my dead skin cells???  Once the shock factor passed, I was pleased with the results: baby-soft skin.

Summer 2013 Mission: Teaching in Thailand, the land of Wais and Wats

Mary, my sister, joined me this summer to teach in a Thai school. We will support students who want to learn English, and conduct teacher training classes for the Thai teachers. They are eager to learn effective teaching techniques for student engagement and academic success.

Chiang Mai

With a few free days before buckling down to our teaching schedule, we boarded a plane and flew north to Chiang Mai. This  ancient capital of the Lanna Empire was invaded by Burma; Burmese architecture, clothing and food is still visible today. In 1892, Siam (former name of central Thailand: e.g., The King and I ) annexed Lanna and the two regions became known as Thailand.


Riding elephants up a very steep jungle path; Wats in every corner (Buddhist temples); Tuk tuks ;and finally the shimmering, golden Doi Suthep temple perched on top of a mountain.


 Wat Prah Singh


Tuk Tuks: Thai transportation


The Lion Buddha

Doi Suthep

IMG_1714Lotus flower offering

Back to Bangkok : neighborhood market

Leaving you with a wai (Thai greeting) in front of my apartmentIMG_1838


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