Girl Meets World
By Ginny Tonkin staff blogger
Girl Meets World is a multimedia look at the sights, sounds, and insights of experiencing a different culture through teaching English as a foreign language.   Read more about this blog.
Posted: June 1st, 2011

Don’t look down.

Look up. 68 stories up. The Bixteco Financial Tower is the tallest building in Ho Chi Minh City, and at 861 ft, it ranks 24th in the world.

The impressive view from below the Bixteco Tower

The impressive view from below the Bixteco Tower

Recently opened to the public, one can visit the city icon’s Skydeck for $10. For any Western tourist, this seems reasonable, but this actually keeps out the majority of locals or domestic tourists. This is a huge sum for locals; just as an indicator, local Vietnamese public school teachers are paid in between $60-$100 a month.

Nevertheless, its seen as an icon of modernization, and I needed to see it for myself. During my last day in Vietnam, I chose to visit the tower, and take in the city that had been my home for the past eight months.

Check out my 360˚ tour of Saigon! Or find the video in the player to the right.

Controversial due to its profitability and rumors about its less-than-perfect building safety standards, it nonetheless strikes an impressive figure on the Saigon profile and provides a spectacular view of the city. The owners have plans to open a restaurant directly above the observation deck, as well as a food court on the 6th floor.

The helipad on the side invites CEOs and other VIPs to meetings via helicopter, though I do believe I am correct in saying it hasn’t been used yet. The tower’s unique shape resembles the lotus, a predominant symbol of Vietnam–though I have friends that have described the tower as a cucumber with a chunk lopped off the side :-)


Check out my GirlMeetWorld YouTube page for a video of the Water Festival in Siem Reap.

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Posted: May 28th, 2011
Le Ngoc Han third graders excited to have their picture taken

Le Ngoc Han third graders excited to have their picture taken


Pulled back stateside to be part of my friends’ wedding, I have left HCMC, returning to a lovely summer at GoErie. We will see where my wandering feet take me next.

Check out this link to my GirlMeetsWorld YouTube channel to see new video.

At the local primary schools, the students are more rambunctious because their parents aren’t paying for them to go take English class. So, at the start of class everyday, we sing a song to burn up some of the kids’ energy. If found that modified camp songs transfer really well to ESL.

On the last day, I filmed my third graders singing “The Penguin Song,” an old camp favorite. The song worked so well because it not only made the silly squirmers stand at attention in between each verse, learn new animal body parts, but also tuckered them out from jumping up and down at the end of the song. “The Banana Song” and the “Hokey Pokey” are also class favorites.


Check out the photo galleries to the right for new photos from the end of my time in Vietnam.


Posted in: Uncategorized
Posted: May 28th, 2011
Rowdy but adorable third graders at Le Ngoc Han

Rowdy but adorable third graders at Le Ngoc Han

“‘Zombies eats brains?’ No, it’s ‘Zombies eat brains.’”

I don’t fully register what I’ve said to one of my third graders until I continue circulating the classroom at Le Ngoc Han, one of the local primary schools my center partners with throughout the week. I briefly blink, suddenly realizing what I’ve just said, but swiftly resume monitoring.

“Dream job” books were the project of the day. Practicing vocabulary and conjugation, they picked a series of jobs, correctly identifying the verb for the position.

Asian education, Vietnamese in particular, stresses rote memorization, often ignoring creativity. This can often appear in classroom activities. Time after time in my class, students want to copy exactly what I’ve done for an example, even down to the exact coloring on a worksheet. Since language is a fun subject, encouraging interaction, students definitely like to play around. Creativity is one quality I want to cultivate in my students, and so I try to find ways to bring that out in class.

In games, I give out extra points for creativity, like when a student correctly adds extra phrasing in a speaking activity.

On project day, when my third graders are more interested in zombies and warriors than police and fishermen, I can entertain the idea that today they aspire to be a brain-eating zombie.

It’s what you do to get students engaged in the lesson. Language is something to be lived. Plus, it’s just more fun.

Posted in: Uncategorized
Posted: May 27th, 2011
Pancakes with the Little Sisters! No syrup in HCMC, so honey and blackberry jam do the trick.

Pancakes with the Little Sisters! No syrup in HCMC, so honey and blackberry jam do the trick.

It’s pancake time!

My center, Apollo Education, teaming with Saigon Children’s Charity established the Little Sister’s/Little Brother’s scheme, partners teachers with HCMC teens for about an hour every week. I partner with two friends from the center, Hannah and Lizzy, with four fun gals. In addition to helping them practice their English, we play games, make bracelets, watch movies, and most recently, make PANCAKES.


Fluffy pancakes are one thing that this born and bred American misses from being over seas, and I wanted to share some fun cuisine from home. My place in HCMC isn’t too far from the center, so one evening we all walked over and made a feast out of banana pancakes.

After a quick spin of the blender to make the batter, we showed them how to flip the flapjacks. I thought they might be shy working the frying pans, but this crew proved me wrong, pushing me away and manning both burners over my stove.

Feel free to browse pictures to the right in my Picasa gallery.


Sorry if this is a repeat, but somehow the first one got deleted.

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Posted: March 23rd, 2011

I have never been so afraid of middle-aged men in my life.

Squinting through the net, secured in place between a pole and a tree, I awaited the next serve.

Well, not quite of them, but for my ego, I thought as I looked at my opponents.

It was 6:34 a.m. I had been awake for 9 minutes. I still had my glasses on.

And, I was getting my hiney handed to me on a make-shift badminton court by a group of grandpas.

Early morning is the time for exercise in Vietnam in order to beat the heat. The sport of choice? Badminton. Oh, in most parks, you can see quite a variety of activities: kung fu, jogging, ballroom dance, group aerobics, but the real competitive fire comes out for this fast-paced frenzy of soul-crushing defeat.

That’s if only you’re me, don’t stretch, and wait for the time you’re supposed to head out the door to get out of bed.

At the urging of my French roommate, I agreed to join her for this early-morning ritual the night before–at my suggestion. Badminton is everywhere in the city, and I wanted to try it. She warned me though, despite enjoying the game and the community atmosphere, we would face tough competition.

On the court, our opponents called out, “Bay, Hai!” 7 to 2. It had hardly been three minutes. Our tough competition was beginning to look bored.

We had been invited to into a game by this group of older Vietnamese. Inclusive, community spirit is big in this neighborhood, and its a novelty to play with a westerner. But I was thinking they were beginning to doubt including us as a strategic addition as they rearranged to “even” the teams.

I loved playing with these men. A group of sweaty, t-shirt clad, middle-aged Vietnamese sweet enough to let us into their badminton game.

They appreciatively laughed as I dropped expletives when I’d miss a return.

They even showed me a little bit how to play, although I think it was because their patience was wearing thin on my faltering early-morning coordination.

The first crew switched out, and a grey-haired woman sauntered onto the court. “Oh, watch out, she’s good,” warned my roomie.

Her playful girlish giggles followed my attempts to return the birdy. Though a bad back kept her from bending to reach the shuttlecock, an expectant, impish grin encouraged me to scoop it into her palm, in order to slam it back over the net into my face.

A new, more youthful character also arrived on the scene, probably hoping to salvage the situation. My new Vietnamese friend, a computer teacher in his 30′s, offered me a turn to serve. Still facing the white-haired wonder-woman, I knew it’d be a quick game.

With a smirk, our elderly opponent leaned over the net to ask our ages. “Hai muoi hai, hai muoi ba,” 22, 23. She then thumbed at her chest, inviting us to guess hers. “Bon muoi lam,” 45, I guessed politely.

Over 60. Incredible.

But that didn’t defeat my new teammate’s spirit.

“You come tomorrow, and we can play again?” he asked.

“We’ll see,” I ambiguously reply, thinking of my head on my pillow.

By 7:30, the sun was starting to unleash its heat, traffic was coursing through the streets, and people were returning home to wash up before work. The police also came round by 7:45, to make sure all nets were down, so that others could use the park normally during the day, signaling the end of the morning’s exercise.

I trotted back to our alley like a wounded solider, ready to fall back into bed. Chatting with my roommate, we exchanged ideas about how to improve our game, like getting up early enough to stretch and practice to warm up before facing competition.

Come tomorrow, play again?

I’ll sleep on it.

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