Self Doubt & Teaching

Someone in my life once noticed that I tend to sabotage myself. Sometimes the problem is simple: I don’t have enough time to dedicate to something so I simply opt out of doing it at all, which is what happened when I dropped out of a high-level internship at a law office in Los Angeles after juggling school, work, university sports, and the internship. I felt like I was stretched too think to produce good work and rather than doing my best, which I felt wasn’t enough, I quit. Other times, I simply lack confidence. I’ve missed important interviews because I didn’t think I was qualified enough even though I was. The examples of this are countless and the reasons various. However, the common thread among them is obvious: fear. I was afraid of this, or afraid of that. I was afraid of doing my best and still coming up short; I was afraid others would laugh at me after I had left the room.

During my time at UCLA I completed two graduate courses. In those classes, the intellect was high and, as an undergraduate student, I lacked confidence when sitting in a room full of seasoned graduate students. My first course was a Portuguese literature and translation course taught by author and translator Benjamin Moser. Moser translated most of Clarice Lispector’s writings and ultimately wrote her biography, Why This World.  We talked about the theories of translation work, the processes involved, and were tasked to translate some of Clarice’s work from the original writings in Portuguese, which we later compared with one another while discussing our decisions. Clarice’s prose embodies the post-modern and is challenging to translate. Her syntax, word choice, and overall structure– or lack thereof– is everything but normal. The final for the course was an individual assignment, which went well. A semester later, I enrolled in another graduate-level course, this time in contemporary Russian literature. The intellect was even higher and this time I was the only one who didn’t speak the language. Everybody else was reading the texts in Russian and knew the underpinning historical and cultural contexts involved; I did not. I always felt like I was three steps behind. For our final assignment, we were all asked to consider the readings done throughout the course and teach the class for an hour. I was terrified. Even though I had done well in school and in the previous graduate-level course, I could not convince myself that what I would teach these graduate students would be of any importance to them or interest them in the least. I was afraid, even, that they would disagree with me entirely, or outwit me in my own arguments and thoughts, or think that I was unintelligent simply because they were more intelligent.

Over the course of two weeks, I labored for hours and hours, doing research, designing a lesson plan, selecting readings, practicing. It wasn’t enough to convince myself that I what I was about to do was good enough. When the day of my presentation came, I had the presentation in my hand, on my hard-drive; it was 100% complete, ready to go. What did I do? I lied. I told my professor that I had accidentally left my flash-drive at home and somebody else volunteered to go in my place. Since the class met once a week for three hours, this bought me another week. So, for another week I labored, tweaked, and practiced the new presentation. However, I had already shot myself down. I couldn’t shake the nerves of presenting to these proven academics. So, during the moment in which I was to prove myself, I failed. I approached the professor before class the day I was to present. I told him the truth: I was terrified and had undermined myself to the point of no return. I felt like shit for doing that and it seriously shook my confidence during my last two quarters at UCLA. I admitted defeat… but, again, the enemy was myself. I don’t know if he understood. However, he allowed me to make it up by writing a 15-page paper. Even though I had already spent more time on the presentation than it would take me to write a paper of that length, I was was both relieved and ashamed. I wrote the paper and got an A in the class, but the feeling of defeat stayed with me.

It wasn’t until I decided to travel that I began to confront fear again. During the months before my trip I honestly believed that I would die abroad. It was strange feeling that I couldn’t explain. My mind simply latched onto that idea, that fear. Perhaps I shouldn’t have watched Into the Wild. I went anyways, telling myself I was just being paranoid. Despite this, I didn’t really gain confidence until I came to Hanoi and began teaching. I really didn’t want to teach because I had never really taught before, I didn’t feel like I had the proper skills and experience to get paid for it. I had tutored before but for me tutoring and teaching were worlds apart. I let my fear get in the way of my first demo class, which was a room full of Vietnamese kindergartners and teachers who were watching me as if they were just waiting for me to slip up. I was to teach two demo classes that day and after an uncomfortable first class, I realized something. These are kindergartners. That time, the fear that I had to confront came in the form of children. Go figure! I left the building thinking that I never want to do that again, telling myself that I wasn’t made for teaching, blah blah blah. I was getting into my head again.

Out of necessity, I was forced to attend more demo lesson, interviews, etc– I had traveled to Thailand and Laos, and ran out of money in Vietnam. I thought about crowd-funding my way out of Vietnam, to Australia or New Zealand where I could work as a laborer or work in a bar and not have to go through the discomfort, fear, and self-doubt. I got a little depressed, looking for ways out. Ultimately though, I couldn’t throw in the towel. I owed it to myself. Fear of what? I decided I would keep doing this until somebody finally told me I was a shitty teacher and didn’t belong in a classroom. That never happened. The school I did my first demo class with invited me back, the new schools I taught viewed me as a valuable resource and wanted me there as much as possible, and soon I found myself literally overbooked and turning down jobs simply because I could not be everywhere at once. The kids loved me.

I was relieved, motivated, and felt renewed. Now, almost two months later, I have groups of kids whom I have taught for almost 8 weeks who genuinely miss me on the days I am not there. I have kindergarten students, adults, teenagers, and everything in between. One month ago, I never would have thought this but I am really enjoying teaching. Overcoming this challenge has been good for me. Now, I embrace this particular type of fear; I invite it. I know I can do it, I just have to want it and accept being vulnerable in the moment.

So, if your reading this and unsure if you should go out in the world and travel alone, I invite you to test yourself. Embrace fear. Do something that scares you. Go to a different country where you know nobody and take a chance. You will overcome it and be a better person for it. You will succeed– but first, you must be willing to fail. 

One Month Later, in Vietnam.

Jeez! It has been a month since my last post. I could blame it on trying to find structure again. But, in reality, there is no scapegoat in this situation. Adjusting to real life in Hanoi was a little more difficult than I anticipated. Don’t get me wrong, the first 2 weeks were great. I met many new people and went to many different bars, museums, etc. However, vacation in Hanoi ended and soon after I began actively seeking work.

17622263_1578184102192947_1518307075_oBesides my weekend outdoor gig,  where I take kids to the park and play games in English while incorporating useful vocabulary, I was really not happy. It seemed that all the cover classes I found were in environments that were simply not conducive to learning. Additionally, I was surprised that many of the kids did not want to learn. I take teaching seriously; I am in charge of their learning outcomes. I do not want to be part of something that is not beneficial to either party, even if I recieve money for it.

In a way it was humbling, sure.  Did it give me a new perspective from when I was a student and witnessed some teachers struggling with a particulary mean class?  Yes, absolutely. Personally, however, I quickly found myself feeling more like a clown/ babysitter than a teacher. In Vietnam, they have a name for that: “monkey teachers.” It started to wear me down. It triggered in me a little depressive episode where I contemplated leaving Hanoi with the little money I had and continuing my trip until I ran out of money again. An acquaintance did that very same thing just a week before I experienced these feelings, and while I did not know the true reason he had for leaving, I found that I could relate to what he might have experienced. However, I knew myself and I knew the nature of settling down in a new environment. Moving and resettling is not new to me. I actually think it used to be too easy for me. Perhaps it’s becoming harder now that I am getting older. So, I told myself to ride the waves. I reassured myself that life consists of ups and downs and that feelings come and go. I won’t lie, the idea of “faking it until I make it” was helpful.

17571283_1578184012192956_191711479_oAt the beginning of last week, I decided to spam my application to various centers indiscrimnately. By casting a wide net I felt like I could find an English center that had the resources and students that I felt were suitable to what I wanted to do. I went to various interviews, some of which I was not qualified for and some for which I was not totally prepared for. I went anyways. By doing that, I think I finally found a center that will work for me and I had my first lesson on Wednesday. They said it went really well, which was great to hear. Over the last month I’ve learned that doing well in one’s role as teacher, is extremely uplifting– more so than in many other jobs I’ve had.

For now, it looks as if things are on the up. I have paid most of the major expenses for the next three months (rent, motorbike, laptop repair), so now I can focus on saving up and planning my bycicle trip through Vietnam, Cambodia, and the South of Thailand.

My major expenses so far: ($1 US is equal to 22,000 VD)

Rent = 3.125 million VD/month paid in three months at a time + 3 million VD/month. (Total: 12.5 million VD + 1 million VD/month utilities)

Motorbike = 300,000 VD/week or 1.2 million VD/month.

After paying rent, I didn’t have enough money to purchase a motorbike (average for a manual bike is 4.5-6 million VD). So, I am renting until the 14th.

 

(Failure to) Quicken the Pace

I must have been there at least an hour drinking tea and trying thuoc lao as we laughed. They had a fire going to ward off the cold and ash rained on us the whole time as if it were snowing. Were it not for the Vietnamese faces around me, I could’ve sworn I was in Kieslowski film, in Poland or Russia. Meanwhile, the two shackled dogs barked and fought each other amidst the ash, smoke, and smog.

via Daily Prompt: Quicken

Today was supposed to be the day that I made magic happen: apply for (more) jobs, run some errands for the house to pick up things like a blanket so I don’t freeze again tonight, write, and begin learning the Vietnamese alphabet. However, my efforts to quicken the pace were halted. The motorbike I rented and have been riding around town had other plans for the day, which consisted entirely in fucking with me. It was like bad joke. Apparently, she thinks this is a game. This ain’t a game…

At first I thought it was just my inexperience with carburetors– “should the choke be up or should it be down? I don’t know but it’s freezing. Let’s try both.” Neither my Yamaha R6 nor the Honda CRF 250 had carbs. After fiddling with the choke in different settings, I at least got the bike to turn on, stay on, and not die when in idle. “Eureka!” Or so I thought. “Nope!” I leave the cafe in Tây Hồ and head towards my apartment in Ba Đình. Out of nowhere the bike simply turns off despite being in fourth-gear, cruising. Confused, I try giving it gas to no avail. Still coasting, I try to start the thing while in motion using the electric starter. I pull over, thinking I simply ran out of gas. The bike felt as if it wasn’t getting enough of something. Eight hours later I still don’t know what that something was because it wasn’t gas; I digress. I pulled over to the side, checked the gas levels since I have no fuel gauge. “It’s got gas,” I thought to myself as I jiggled the bike and had gasoline splash around the floor, lightly, leaving a urine-colored blotch on the pavement. For the next twenty minutes I fiddled around with the choke again just to try and get the damn thing to start. However, the things I did before did nothing.

After trying unsuccessfully a little longer I felt silly. I was stopped right in front of  a car-wash and the people kept looking over, exchanging glances with one another, and speaking in Vietnamese, laughing. I don’t speak Vietnamese. I bet they were commenting on how I had probably never ridden a motorbike before; “silly tourist”. I played with the petcock again, looking busy and telling myself their bikes probably break down as well. One of the workers comes over and I presume he asked if I needed help. However: language barrier. Also: masculinity. So, I politely decline and hop on the bike. I hobbled over to a friend’s house about 2-km away from where I pulled over, arriving sweaty and gross, simultaneously freezing and over-heating from the exertion. He isn’t home but his roommate lets me in. Waiting, I fall asleep on another friend’s bed. When I wake up an hour and half later he still does’t seem to be home. Nobody is. Feeling like I should give it another go, I fiddle again with the stupid nobs: what I believe was the fuel ratio knob, the choke, and engine idle RPM speed. At that point, I don’t even know what I did but it worked. I left the house, eager to get home and begin my day.

The plot thickens. I pass the round-about, wait at the same light, and take the same turn to the main road to my house as the bike stutters again, stalling and slowing.  I finish coasting and realize I am in front of the same place– again! At this point I could do nothing but laugh as I make eye contact with the same individuals from a few hours earlier. This time I don’t even pretend to know what I was doing. They invite me into their little outside waiting area; it was made of bamboo and covered with tarps, featuring a bong for thuoc lao, a table and a tea-set. They invite me to sit, where they give me seemingly endless cups of tea. One guy in particular seemed to understand English quite well although he either couldn’t or wouldn’t speak English. However, he understood that I needed to call my rental guy.  I show him my phone, which is at 2% as it always seems to be when I need to make calls. He lets me use his. After I hang up with the rental people he texts them the address. We wait.

I must have been there at least an hour drinking tea and trying thuoc lao as we laughed. They had a fire going to ward off the cold and ash rained on us the whole time as if it were snowing. Were it not for the Vietnamese faces around me, I could’ve sworn I was in Kieslowski film, in Poland or Russia. Meanwhile, the two shackled dogs barked and fought each other amidst the ash, smoke, and smog. The guy sent over by the rental company finally arrives, smiling. He fiddles with the same damn knobs I fiddled with it. However, maybe he actually knew what he was doing. It’s possible. Although the bike still didn’t feel 100% as it had a few days before, it got me home. I hadn’t eaten so I parked my bike at home and left the maze of alleys to treat myself a little; today was a little stressful.

So far, this is the only productive thing I have done all day. Today I failed to quicken the pace but perhaps tomorrow I will have more luck.

An Exercise in Patience & Calm Pt. II

When getting to Hue, they yelled at me to wake up, shouting”Hue! Hue!” while poking my shoulder. The other passengers laughed and in a sing-song manner, semi mocking the Vietnamese music they played throughout the entire ride, I reiterated “Hue! “Hue!” as I got out of my seat and grabbed my bag. They dropped me off at a gas station, opened the compartment and put my bag on my ground as I struggled to put my boots on. Before I even accomplished this, the guy ran back to the bus, which had already started moving and hopped inside. I looked around and realized I had no idea where I was in Hue and had no battery on my phone…

This is a continuation of the following post: An Exercise in Patience & Calm Pt. I

At around six we all began to rise with the sun. I brushed my teeth and got back to the bus, laughing to myself about what I had just experienced. It was at that point that the driver told me to leave my bags on the bus and walk over to the border to get stamped in. In an inquiring tone I motioned him to him with my hands, using my index and middle fingers as make-believe legs and reaffirmed whether or not I was supposed to “walk to the border.” He said yes, mimicking my motions and adding that he would be meeting me on the other side. Cautious but reassured by the driver who went through lengths to treat me well and attempt to explain what was happening at different times, I took a small bag with me (laptop, camera, expensive shit) and left the big bag. I began to walk the kilometer or so to the official border-crossing. As I looked back at the bus, I was relieved to see the ladies doing the same as myself, walking a few hundred feet behind me. I waited for them and we exchanged words, which neither of us understood. They laughed, I laughed, and we continued walking. You’d think that a language barrier would result in struggle and conflicts but more often it results in laughter.

The border was easy, taking me ten minutes. In line, I was entertained by four UK travelers who were drunk as hell and trying to get across without the proper paperwork. It was barely 7:30 in the morning. Oh, and they were on motorbikes.

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Guy on left was struggling the most

Seeing that this was an ordeal, the guy in charge let me go ahead of them, I got stamped out of Laos, stamped into Vietnam, and was on my way. The driver was waiting where he said he would be, standing outside with my bag. He communicated that I would now change buses and get on the sleeper bus. We said our goodbyes. I made it a point to shake his hand and wave to the ladies. Overall, I left that bus feeling quite alright, tired physically but invigorated mentally.

I laughed when the crew of the sleeper bus put my bag in their compartment and told me to walk straight for an undefined distance to an undefined space– somewhere over there, further past the border-crossing; like the previous driver, they motioned that they’d pick me up there.  Since previously putting all my faith in a bus that was much less maintained and reliable-looking, I began walking without hesitation, giving them a thumbs up in the process. When the bus came it drove past me. They pointed further ahead to a gas-station that was obfuscated from view by a bigger truck.  They  honked and waved for me to continue. I laughed again– and walked.

The sleeper bus was nice. However, I still can’t stop wondering why I hadn’t been on this bus from the beginning. Was I scammed after all, despite my attempts to thwart any such plan? I will never know. I fell asleep on this nice bus, which had a bed-like seat that reclined nearly all the way and had enough leg-room to not feel cramped. However, the distance from the border to Hue was only three hours. When getting to Hue, they yelled at me to wake up, shouting”Hue! Hue!” while poking my shoulder. The other passengers laughed and in a sing-song manner, semi mocking the Vietnamese music they played throughout the entire ride, I reiterated “Hue! “Hue!” as I got out of my seat and grabbed my bag. They dropped me off at a gas station, opened the compartment and put my bag on my ground as I struggled to put my boots on. Before I even accomplished this, the guy ran back to the bus, which had already started moving and hopped inside. I looked around and realized I had no idea where I was in Hue and had no battery on my phone. I asked the guy at the gas station where the train station was and he motioned behind the shop. Confused and doubtful, I walked to the back and found nothing but a filthy toilet.  “Well,” I thought, “I do have to go.” I took peed, careful not to touch anything, even the door, or slip on the piss all over the floor. It started to feel like Bangkok all over again and alarm bells began going off in my head. I exerted some effort to quiet them all and trotted away with no real direction or purpose, just hoping for a landmark.

While walking, I fended off the constant motorbike taxis trying to give me a ride, telling me the train station was far, etc. I embraced what I was doing and took my chances. Besides, if I wanted a ride at any point, I could throw a stone in any direction and it would hit someone willing to drive me. Within 15 minutes of walking I sighted the train station, bought a ticket to Hanoi (another 13 hours), and proceeded to kill some time– four hours to be exact.

I killed time by going to an abandoned water park, Ho Thuy Tien, at the suggestion of my friend Roxie. The size of the place compounded by the fact that it was abandoned, adding to the surreal feel of it all. The park’s center-piece stood in the center, by the lake–a dragon whose mouth one could walk Photo Feb 22, 11 21 26 AM.pngup to and look outside at the whole of the park. I met some Canadians there and we walked around, chatting. After a while, I got a ride back to the train station and hopped. For the next 14 hours, I shared a room with three young female monks who were absolutely adorable and spoke no English. After waking up from a few hours nap, they offered to share their noodles with me, beckoning me to follow them. I didn’t know where they were going, I just followed behind. Next thing I know, we have gone through eight cars in the train, ending up in the staff area. Speaking Vietnamese, the girls bridged the language gap and within a few minutes we brought the noodle soups back to the car and ate. Our only communication revolved around smiles and laughter as we ate and showed each other pictures of our lives.

Their stop was just before mine. An hour later, at five in the morning, I arrived in Hanoi. It was raining and cloudy– colder than I expected. After searching for an open hostel to no avail, I found a Circle-K, which is the Vietnamese equivalent of 7/11 and had a strong coffee. I remained there  for several hours typing and waiting for hostels to open.

As morning came about, it hit me: I live in Hanoi now.

 

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The dragon’s mouth. 

 

 

 

 

An Exercise in Patience & Calm Pt. I

My legs were cramped. I really needed to stretch! Thanks to the rice bags, my own bag, the women’s bags, and bus driver who was sleeping on the floor along the walkway, stretching was literally impossible. So, I ended up falling asleep with my legs on the top of the headrests of my own seat, upside down. To anybody who saw, specifically the lady to my left, I looked insane…

I have just arrived in Vietnam. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I would make it through or expire on the way. It didn’t start well. Upon asking to purchase a ticket from Pakse in Laos to Hue in Vietnam (after a 3 hour van ride from Don Det), the guy laughed at me and asked if I was sure. “Yea, I am quite sure,” I replied, trying to glean the humor from his sarcasm. I knew the reason for his response: the trip from Pakse to Hue was notorious for being absolute shit in every way possible. Not only were the buses supposed to be crap, old and barely functioning, but the roads were worse. Compound that with drivers, who often drive the whole 13-hours with little rest and you’ve got a recipe for an awful time. After handing him the 220,000LAK, he gave his disclaimer: “This is going to be the worst ride of your life,” which he followed by stating that he would rather not even sell tickets to this route–“but if I don’t, the others will.” I took the ticket and informed him, in my own sarcastic tone, that he really sold it. I did confess that I had already read about the route’s problems and knew what I was in for: an experience.

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From Pakse to Border

The bus didn’t leave until five and it was two-thirty. He offered a shower, which I accepted. The past week of Mekong-water showers had made my skin feel funny despite the liberal use of soap. Hungry, I went across the street to Jasmine, an Indian/Malay place that I frequented in Pakse and which had a sister restaurant on Don Det. I showered, ate, played with the little girl they were taking care of then then hopped on the free tuk-tuk to the bus station.

Looking back, the bus wasn’t as bad as I had imagined. Actually, I think it was pretty bad, I just have a tolerance for that kind of shit, often necessitated by my being polite to others. After all, the driver is barely to blame for the shitty route and shitty bus– a job is a job. In Thai we use the phrase mai pen rai to signify that a transgression (whether real or perceived) doesn’t matter; it’s okay! During my month in Laos I learned the corresponding phrase to be bor pen yang. It certainly helped that I was traveling alone. As I arrived to the station I asked which bus was leaving to Hue. The guy pointed to what I kindly describe as piece of crap with decals that read “VIP” on the front and sides. The driver was washing it diligently though, which gave me some hope; if he takes that much effort to wash and clean his bus, despite the fact the he is about to drive it through the dustiest of roads for 12 hours, I felt a little reassurance with he whole endeavor.

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VIP AF

I hopped on and was surprised to see only twelve seats and none of them filled. He motioned to me, implying that I should eat and told me that we didn’t leave until eight– it was five. The lady who sold me the ticket from downtown Pakse said the bus left at 5:30. Knowledgeable of a scam in which you pay for a VIP bus and get put on a lesser bus, I walked around, asking the ticket booths and other bus drivers which bus was going to Hue. They all pointed to the scrap heap. “OK,” I thought to myself. I walked back, drank a beer, had some soup, then had the genius idea of stringing up my hammock in the back of the bus, where there were no seats, just empty space. Hello, travel-hack! I perked up, thanking myself for dragging the hammock around with me everywhere I went. The driver laughed when he boarded the bus and saw me hanging and swinging from a bright-orange hammock strung along the inside of his bus; I doubt he had ever seen such a sight.

Just before eight, the rest of the passengers arrived, all four of them. All were women, one of which always held a large stack of bills for some reason and would pull it out, count it, and return it to her bag. She must have done this a hundred times. After the first few times, I lost curiosity in the matter. While the hammock was great, swinging back and forth with the sway of the bus, it was short-lived. Photo Feb 21, 6 32 26 PM.jpgOur first stop was just forty minutes from the bus stop, whereupon the driver and few guys filled up the entire back of the bus with goods. There were hand-woven baskets, red bags, blue bags, and green bags– oh, and bags of charcoal. Even now, in Vietnam, I still have flour residue from the the bus. Reluctantly, I took the hammock down and sat in a seat that reclined–for the time being. Within the next six hours we made five more stops, each to pick up more goods. I had no idea a bus could be packed so tightly. The bags contained flour, sugar, and rice. Mind you that each time they stopped to load the bus, everybody had to leave and wait outside, meaning that the last two stops I was awakened to the driver yelling “You! You!” That was the signal for me to get up and out of the bus so they could load. Mai Pen Rai, I told myself. By the end of that last stop, there were bags in between every seat, and in every nook of the bus, including the top and bottom compartments. My seat no longer reclined, since I was in the far back. However, the lady in front me only had me behind her, not a hundred bags of rice, so she reclined all the damn way, forcing me to move a seat over, which was so stacked with rice at my feet that I was practically in a squatting position.

At some point, I managed to fall asleep, awoken only by the driver throwing a blanket over me, which was a nice gesture. The only time I woke up after that was somewhere in the early hours, after we had already stopped a few kilometers outside the border to sleep, waiting for it to open. My legs were cramped. I really needed to stretch! Thanks to the rice bags, my own bag, the women’s bags, and bus driver who was sleeping on the floor along the walkway, stretching was literally impossible. So, I ended up falling asleep with my legs on the top of the headrests of my own seat, upside down. To anybody who saw, specifically the lady to my left, I looked insane…

To read the rest of my trip to Hue and then to Hanoi, stay tuned– it will be up tomorrow. After all, I have to give you freeloaders something to look towards to, no? I can’t give you everything all at once! 

Greetings from Circle-K in Hanoi’s Old Quarter!

P.S. Here is the little girl I was playing with in Pakse just before leaving– she really wanted to play with the phone! Reminded me of my own sister, Isabella.

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Cutie!