After 38 years of teaching around the world it's almost time to retire and say goodbye to living overseas. This will be my last full time year of teaching and my husband's last year as head of school. It's pretty special to finish it in a country that saw a lot of 'firsts' for both of us. We came to Vietnam back in 1994 when we started the first international school in the country since the war had ended. My husband was the founding principal and this was his first headship. Four other adventurous souls came with us and, because the original school building on Nam Ky Khoi Ngha street hadn't been finished, we began the school year in our living rooms - something we had never done before! We had 25 students and our daughter, who was three years old at the time, was the first student enrolled. We had already taught in PNG and Kathmandu (which is where we had adopted our beautiful daughter) but none of the other four had worked overseas. It truly was the chance and the adventure of a lifetime and, although we are not in constant touch with those that took that journey with us, we get together every now and then to reminisce and reflect on how fortunate we were to be in the right place at the right time for an unforgettable experience that set all of us on great career and life paths. That school is still going strong 28 years later and the school song that Pete and I wrote together all those years ago, is still sung at assemblies!
We returned four years ago to a run and work in a different international school. It is has been a rollercoaster ride with Covid-19 happening but it has still been a fantastic place to be and we feel so grateful to not only be given the opportunity to explore this beautiful country once more, but to also be in a country where the pandemic has been managed so well and where we feel safe.
So, one last trip to Nin Vanh Bay and Six Senses resort this week, and then in July, a trip on the Vietage Train. A fantastic and memorable way to retire! I hope that when travel starts up again you will come visit Vietnam and find it as enchanting and amazing as we have.
I've just voted in this year's Crystal Kites Awards as part of the International Central group. The shortlist offered a wide variety of really interesting, funny and beautiful stories and it was hard to choose just one! All of the stories would be great additions to a school library collection and wonderful for diversity and inclusion for readers. If you haven't voted yet, here's the link and a look at the choices below.
Another teaching moment that made me smile happened with my Year 5 class this week. We we're looking at Endangered Animals and brushing up on research techniques, keyword searching, copyright and citations. There were some great discussions happening about why the animals they'd chosen were endangered, how we could find out more, where we could find out more and what we could possibly do to help.
One of the students was researching the Northern White Rhino and shared the information that there are only two left in the world and that both are female. 'So why can't they get them to have more babies?' one of my ten year olds asked. 'Because there are no more males left. The last one died in 2018' I explained. 'But can't they make them pregnant?' he persisted. 'Well you need a male and a female to make the babies' I ventured. 'But why do you need the male?' he continued. 'Because you need the male's sperm to help the female get pregnant.' 'Oh,' he says. 'What's sperm?' 'It's like DNA,' one of the others piped up in a knowledgeable tone.
And with that sorted, we thankfully moved on to other things! Sometimes research can get a bit tricky. . . .
It's been a tough 2020/2021 for everyone but one of the things that keeps me going is teaching the little ones at my school. This week turned out to be a week of smiles with some of my favourite teacher librarian moments.
My kindergartners are doing a unit on Fairy Tales in their regular class, so I thought I'd mix it up and give them a new way of looking at princesses and Cinderella tales by reading them Babette Cole's Prince Cinders and Princess Smartypants. They are definitely not new but I love Babette, and think she was ahead of her time when it came to gender equality, identity and empowerment of women.
When I showed the class the cover of Princess Smartypants, mister four and a half piped up and said, 'I don't like stories about princesses because there's so much girl stuff in them.' 'What's 'girl stuff'?' I asked to which he replied, 'You know - lots of things that are pink, lots of ponies, the boys having to save the girl ALL the time - and lots of kissing!' 'Hmmm. . ' says I. 'Well, there's not much pink in this one, but there is a pony. Oh and there's a dragon, a motorbike and a racing car in there too. Let's see what you think when we've finished reading.'
After the first few pages he was giggling at all the crazy situations her prince suitors had gotten themselves into and laughed out loud after Princess Smartypants kissed the prince and turned him into a big, fat, ugly toad!
'So what did you think about the story?' I asked him. 'It was soo funny. I really liked when she kissed the prince and turned him into a toad. And none of the boys had to rescue her 'cause she was really smart!' Thanks Babette. It all starts somewhere. . . .
Oh - and her books on reproduction and puberty are told in a funny and informative way without being clinical and confronting. If you don't have these two in your collection for sex education you need to get them - Hairy In Funny Places and Mummy Laid An Egg. They are brilliant.
Sadly Babette passed away in 2017 but her warmth and humour live on in her wonderful stories. Check them out on her website Babette Cole.
Tet or Lunar New Year is upon us with the Year of the Ox being heralded in this Friday. It's meant to be a time of celebration here in Vietnam and a time of sharing, of hope, and of family. For those lucky enough to have family close, their celebrations, although subdued, will be together. For those whose families are further away, it means finding friends to celebrate with instead this year. This is because last week saw a resurgence of Covid, which brought with it remote learning and another lockdown - just before celebrations are about to kick off. But I still count us among the fortunate, as Vietnam has done an amazing job of being on top of any outbreaks and keeping cases to a minimum.
We were lucky enough to squeeze in our school Tet celebration before last week, which meant I got to participate in my last one before heading home to Australia next July. It was colourful, noisy and as always, great fun. Happy Year of the Ox!
I count myself and my family among the lucky ones this year. Even though my husband and I couldn't get home to Australia for Christmas, our grown up children were able to be together and spend the time with extended family. Covid is pretty much under control here in Vietnam so we can travel and enjoy getting together with friends. And of course technology meant that we could Skype in and feel part of the celebrations back home. That would not have happened when we were here 26 years ago with our four year old daughter. Back then virtual visits weren't around and a phone call home was USD$6.00 per minute! So we spent the days over Christmas 2020 in Dalat, in the Vietnamese highlands. The weather was cool, the pine forests beautiful and the sightseeing interesting. The area has certainly changed a lot in those 26 years. More 'western' things are readily available now, but tourism has not been as kind to the environment as it could or should be. Let's hope 2021 will be better in so many ways. Here are a few of the highlights - hotel Christmas tree and gardens, Elephant Falls, Crazy House, Cu Lan village and the Cricket Farm. And although the cricket dishes looked yummy, we weren't brave enough to try!
It's been a long time in between blog posts! World Language and Literature Week, Virtual Author visits, a bout of illness and end of year school craziness have gotten in the way. But thankfully now we're on holidays there's more time to write, reflect and relax!
In terms of reflection, I wanted to share my favourite books for 2020. They are all by Australian authors and illustrators and I'm really proud of the fact that each one of them are absolute standouts in their respective literary genres and have already won numerous awards. I've reviewed some here under Book Reviews and now that time permits, will get around to reviewing the rest.
I really think our Aussie authors and illustrators are much undervalued and overlooked in favour of American and/or British writers by a lot of international school libraries and I hope that you will look at these and add them to your #musthaves list for 2021.
I haven't written in my blog for a few weeks because life has been pretty hectic at work, which means I haven't had much time to write either. BUT now we're on holiday for a week and the words have started to flow again! Have been rewriting and trying to fine tune old stories, writing new ones, entering some competitions and loving being back by the ocean again. We're on the main island of Con Son which is part of the Con Dao archipelago of 16 islands off the southern coast of Vietnam. The flight in over this ancient volcanic group was stunning, and you could see the white sandy beaches and lush tropical forests, and imagine yourself on one of the deserted beaches just letting the world go by. . .
The ocean wildlife in the archipelago is amazing with turtles, dugongs, corals and the land creatures are fantastic too with black squirrels, monkeys, birds and colourful lizards who make the most curious (and very loud!) cry that sounds like 'tuk ah'.
Vietnam has some truly beautiful places and this is definitely one of them.
I really do love my job! Last week we had a professional photographer do a photo shoot for our school and I was thrilled with the way he captured both the Early Years and Whole School libraries and our students. The students had so much fun showing off our wonderful spaces and beautiful books. They are such a great bunch of young people at my school and make my job as a teacher librarian so inspirational and so much fun.
Sometimes it's hard to 'just keep swimming' like Dory did. Wandering around the apartment feeling sorry for myself, with my head full of ideas that just won't seem to un-jumble themselves, life feels like it's not moving forward. That it's stuck. That I'm stuck. I'm a writer who's never been published. Some critiques have been amazing and made me feel that contract is sooo close, while others have truly sucked and made me want to crawl under the bed covers and never come out again! Looking out my apartment window here in Vietnam, reminds me just how fortunate I am and that I need to stop and smell the frangipanis! It doesn't matter that I'm not published. It doesn't matter that some like my stories while others don't. The thing that matters is that I write. So that's what I did just now. I wrote. And it helped me to not be stuck anymore.
Do you ever feel like that? Do you ever have 'black cloud days'? What do you do to become 'unstuck'?
You can read today's thoughts, aptly titled 'Stuck', by following this LINK.