09 September 2009

When I Was In Fourth Grade

My son started fourth grade this week. New home room, new teachers, new requirements of school supplies, etc. It got me thinking about my own fourth grade experience... and I came up with nothing. Not just fourth grade, but fifth and third as well. Actually, anything older than sixth grade. Mind you, it's not like I don't remember anything at all, just that I couldn't place the few memories I have at an exact grade.

I am actually a fifth grade dropout. It was some time in April or maybe March 1979. My family and I were a few months away from our scheduled departure from Viet Nam as boat people. The arrangement were made with the Vietnamese government that on some day in May 1979 we would leave Viet Nam forever with a bunch of other people. By boat, of course, thus the moniker "boat people." So some time early May 1979 I simply decided I shouldn't bother going to school any more. Perhaps someone with better memory can correct me, I think in Viet Nam, at least back then, summer vacation had 90 days, from June through August, inclusively. There is a line from a popular song that mentioned "chín mươi ngày hè", or "90 days of summer". Of course, I cannot recall the name of the song either. Whatever the case, I know I didn't finish fifth grade. Nobody from the school got in touch with my parents. Maybe many Chinese were leaving Viet Nam and the school already many similar cases like mine so the school didn't care less. That's all I remember of my fifth grade experience.

One other thing I remember about my school experience in Viet Nam was that, along with my second elder sister, I spent time after school to collect paper for recycling. I can confidently place the activity as after 1975, the year the country became unified under the Communists. I was a "red neckerchief" scout, sort of a Boy Scout thing but it was a government program to get kids involved in government activities. I guess we didn't have much homework to do, if any, because after school we, just me and my second sister, be allowed to visit the classrooms and go through all the drawers and trash bins looking for paper left behind by the students. Kids back then in Viet Nam, and now in the U.S., are equally wasteful. We always collect stacks of paper for recycling. I have zero recollection of where we turned in the paper or whether we got any recognition for doing it. I just know that we did it.

It was some time in those early school days post-1975 that I learned of the idea of a public library. A male teacher told a class I was in that the school was going to build a library from donations by the students' families. Each family would bring in a book for the school to collect then in turn the students could borrow from the library. All for free, what a wonderful idea! Back then, my only exposure to books, outside of the classroom, was to rent them by the days or even for the minutes. My sister would rent books from some place, we read them at home then bring them back a few days later. Kinda like Blockbusters or NetFlix except we were dealing with physical books. The practice is still in effect at certain stores in Manhattan's Chinatown. I myself, when I somehow had money, would rent graphic novels and read them right there and then. When I was done, I would return them, mere minutes later, or however long it took me to read them. The idea of a free, public library was very appealing to me. I don't recall the school's library ever took off, but ever since then I love the whole concept very much. I am a regular library patron these days, all thanks to the idea I learned of from about 30 years ago.

07 September 2009

Parlez Vous Francais?

About 500 miles and many hours from Moncton, New Brunswick, we found ourselves in Quebec City in Quebec Province. I remember how French the area is but still found it somewhat amusing as the road signs started to show only French words and abbreviations. No more RD for "road" but instead we have CH for "chemin."

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that my three years of high school French, from 24+ years ago, somewhat useful. Even though my spoken French is limited to "bon jour" and "merci", know the days of the week helped greatly with parking. Like any big cities, Quebec City has traffic regulation to keep the flow going. I sure wish I made more use of conversational French, but it's not like every year that I would visit Quebec.

From the few photos I've shared you would think there are not that many of them. On the contrary, among our group 4 minivans, 16 people, 6 or so cameras, we amassed over 20 GB of photos and movies. The group leader probably accounted for half of the number, since he snapped almost everything in sight everywhere he went. Always the techie, I already shared the photos as simple pictures and as a Flash slideshow. For this post, I'm sharing some photos taken in Old Quebec section of Quebec City. The photos are arranged in a neat collage using the program Posterino. The particular template I used only shows photos in landscape mode so for some pictures in portrait orientation I used the photos twice.

Being tourists, we were limited to Rue De Buade, Rue St-Louis, the promenade that leads to the Quebec Citadel, and of course the Citadel itself. Do click on the picture to zoom in a bit.

04 September 2009

Hopewell Rocks

For me, Hopewell Rocks was probably the best leg of the multi-destination vacation. Formed by eons of tide water slowly eroding the shoreline, the Hopewell Rocks are beautiful to see. I cannot remember the special names associated to the many rocks other than the many flower pots. Supposedly there were some resembling Homer Simpson and E.T. Of course, the Lover's Arch is easy to recognize. It was a bit of a stretch to advertise the experience as "walking the ocean floor" as it's basically walking the shoreline at low tide. A twitterer pointed out to me that in other parts of Bay of Fundy one can walk miles out into the ocean, but definitely not at Hopewell Rocks. It is still a good experience to have.

01 September 2009

Maine Event

Wikipedia, FiOS, and free MP3 tour guide. All the convenience of the modern life, yet the one rare commodity called TIME is what I don't have. I went on vacation to Maine, mostly for Acadia National Park, and much as I wanted to research about it prior to the trip, by the time we got there, all I knew about the place was that it had some great places for rock-climbing. An ex-colleague told me that some years ago.

I do know now that Acardia National Park is on Mount Desert Island, usually referred to as MDI by signs around the island and nearby area. The park does not take up the entire island, but rather is made up of donated land, so there are parts of the island where people have their normal lives. We visited Mount Cadillac, the highest point on the East Coast of the U.S. Along the way there were many scenic outlooks but our caravan of 4 mini-vans had to find one that was big enough to accommodate us. The picture above of my son enjoying a nice breeze is at one such place. The mountaintops may look barren from far above but up close there is plenty of vegetation.

We next visited Jordan Pond then Sand Beach. On the way out, we passed through Bar Harbor but I didn't realize it. At first glance, Bar Harbor is just another touristy town, with artsy shops and sidewalk cafes. However, not greatly highlighted is the fact that it has a natural bridge to nearby Bar Island. At low tide, you can walk from MDI to Bar Island over a sandbar. The sandbar is so wide the photo doesn't do it justice - only one side shows water. Another view of the sandbar from shore shows it as if it did not extend all the way to the island.

The reason the sandbar at Bar Harbor is important to me is that it reminds me of the Berhala Island in Indonesia. I spent a month or two there as a refugee, after a trip as a boat person from Viet Nam. Near the northern part of the island there was a sandbar that connects the island to its neighbor, larger island of Laytung (?). As a tall kid at the age of 12, I was able to use the sandbar, with water at the highest point reaching up to my chest. I still remember the story of someone, possibly my youngest uncle on my father's side, leaving a pack of cigarette in his shirt's pocket while using the sandbar and ruining the pack in the process.