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Vietnam, Laos Photos

25 Jul

Here are a few photos from the trip!

Hanoi Street View – sidewalks lined with small shops

Sapa Trek Рthis is the beginning of our 2-day, 18 mile trek in Sapa, Vietnam 
Mountainside Рview of the mountainside at the beginning of our trek
Paddy Fields Рbuilt into steep hillsides, used for rice farming 
Khmu Village – view of the village we stayed in during our trek in Laos
Khmu Village – a home in the Khmu village during our trek
Khmu Homestay – drawing pictures with a little girl from our homestay
Halong Bay – touring a fishing village in a row boat
Halong Bay – floating homes in the fishing village
Village School – schoolhouse for local children in the fishing village

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And we’re back!

24 Jul

Fran and I returned to California last night from our 18-day trip, and we’re recovering this morning from jet lag and doing lots of laundry. It was an incredible trip, and we’re both returning with so many new ideas (and renewed energy) for our classrooms. From village homestays to speaking with Hmong women to seeing dog meat sold in markets, there were so many experiences that challenged our thinking about “otherness.” We’ll be posting photos and stories over the next few days.

Visiting a fishing village in Bai Tu Long Bay, Vietnam
Photo credit: Liz and Tony Burrill

What we’re reading: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

13 Jun

Sitting on a plane two days ago, I had my copy of this book on my lap. Before we had even taken off, a woman sitting diagonally from me and the man sitting next to me both expressed, separately, how important this story is to them.

Growing up in Sacramento, I was aware of the Hmong community but unfamiliar with its beliefs or struggles. When a friend in medical school mentioned this book a year ago, I was interested in learning more about the Hmong but didn’t immediately see the connection to Sixteen. When I finally read it for the first time in April after learning that we’d be traveling to Vietnam and Laos this summer, I couldn’t put it down and I’ve read it two more times since then.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down is the true account of a Hmong family’s experience with western medicine as refugees in California. It describes the intersection of two very different belief systems in a way that evokes empathy for both, and poses unanswerable questions about cultural relativity and anthropology. Thanks to a fully funded DonorsChoose project, all Sixteen students will now have the opportunity to read Lia’s story together in September.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I still don’t know much; Fran knows that I reference this book far too often. But I’m looking to learn more before we leave, and now that I’m paying attention, the stories are everywhere. (Hmong women break with traditional roles, June 10; Home invasion kills Hmong shaman, June 11)

The Sixteen Project travels to Vietnam + Laos!

8 Jun

Ms. Fay and I announced this past spring that we will be traveling to Vietnam and Laos this summer, thanks to a grant we received from the Fund for Teachers for our work with The Sixteen Project. We’ve both become even more interested in anthropology and fieldwork through teaching this class, and we proposed this trip as a way of doing the same type of work ourselves (filmmaking, participant observation, ethnography) that we ask our students to engage with in our classrooms. When we return in September, we expect to bring back a dramatically different perspective on Sixteen (the age and the class), and we look forward to reimagining it again as we do every term.

Why Southeast Asia? We actually began by looking at the possibility of visiting the Maasai in Kenya, and the the Trobrianders of Papua New Guinea, because of their connection to western anthropology. We decided on Vietnam and Laos after scaling back a longer trip so we can learn more about the Hmong culture, which is less “famous” in anthropology texts but which has a more complex relationship with the United States. (Though Hmong people have lived in the US since the late 1970s, many Americans were probably first introduced to the community by Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino.)

So we’ve been getting ready for the past month – immunizations, hiking equipment, tickets – and will be leaving on July 5 for Vietnam. We’ll begin in Hanoi, where we hope to meet students taking the annual university admissions exams. Then, we’ll travel to Sapa, in northern Vietnam, where we’ll visit Hmong villages. We fly to Luang Prabang, in Laos, to stay with another Hmong community, and will return to LA on July 25.

We can’t wait!