Wednesday, June 20
Sunday after the Mekong Delta trip was the quiet day on which I caught up with my blogging. Sundays in general are very peaceful days here at Holy Rosary Convent.
Here is a photo that I took on Sunday of a (usually) quiet spot on the monastery grounds. (It is right next to the soccer court, and therefore not always very quiet.)
It may be disappointing that there are no pictures of the church. The church is undergoing reconstruction. It is not a small project and is unlikely to be finished before my July departure. In the meantime, the friars are saying Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours in the auditorium.
On Monday, it is back to class. Before the morning class, I frequently go to the computer room on the second floor to print materials. Down the hall is a common room, a pleasant place to gather in the morning for coffee or tea.
Today, Dương gave me directions to a city park that is just a short walk from Holy Rosary Convent. It was too hot in the late morning, but after the afternoon rains, conditions were rather pleasant for walking.
Saturday, June 16
Today, I had my first view of Vietnam outside of the big city. Nine of us — the four English teachers (counting me), Jean the French teacher, and four friars from the House of Studies — took a guided tour of the Mekong Delta. We drove to a travel agency here in the city, where we boarded a bus for the Mekong Delta. Ho Chi Minh City is a sprawling place, and it takes time to drive out of town. The 70 km trip to the Mekong Delta took almost two hours.
This is a very standard tour, publicized on the Internet. The uncompromising adventurer may not have the patience for it, but it is an extremely practical choice for those who want to start in the morning, see something, and get back to the city by the late afternoon.
When we got off the bus, we got onto a riverboat to sail down a major branch of the river to visit Unicorn and Phoenix Islands. The tour goes to a few stops on the islands. For instance, there is a tea house with musicians playing folk music. In the photo below, the young woman is playing a one-stringed instrument. (You can’t quite see the string here. It runs the length of the instrument, down the center.) Probably the coolest part of the tour of the islands was navigating the channels amidst the lush growth. (No, it is not untouched wilderness by any stretch, just moist tropics.) Where we stopped for lunch is where you see the goofy picture of me next to a large thing hanging from a skinny tree. It is a jackfruit. Lunch was quite good and featured elephant ear fish. After lunch, why not visit the crocodiles? Kids dangle catfish on fishing poles and watch the crocodiles snatch them. I wasn’t quick enough to catch the demise of a catfish on camera. Nearby you can watch folks with baskets catching the catfish in a breeding ditch. The catfish do their best to slip away in the muddy water — and with good reason, since their next stop will be the jaws of a crocodile.
On the way back from the river, the tour bus stops at a Buddhist temple with well manicured gardens.
After the bus got back to the city, we wandered about a bit downtown, stopping finally to eat, not far from the House of Studies, at an eatery that is known for its phở.
Friday, June 15
From Monday through Friday, we have English classes in the morning and in the afternoon. During this first week, I have had to familiarize myself with the strengths, weaknesses, interests and expectations of the students and then try to adjust my lessons accordingly. I have been helped in this adjustment by Brother Jordan from the Central Province, who has expertise in teaching methods.
After class on Friday morning, I have the opportunity to go with the three friars from the Central Province to visit the house of the Dominican Sisters of the Annunciation here in Ho Chi Minh City. A couple of the brothers from the House of Studies also accompany us.
A most tasty lunch is followed by cordial conversation in the parlor. Though we have come empty-handed, our gracious hosts are very pleased with a short song sung by Brother Isaac, who — though he prefers the ukulele to the guitar — performs admirably.
Later, on Friday evening, I went with the friars from the House of Studies to a Dominican parish not far away to attend the Confirmation of a class of about 30 children about 12 years in age. During the Mass and before the Confirmation, the bishop asked the children questions from their catechism. The congregation gave the children polite, congratulatory applause for answering well. I was among those in the congregation who were most easily impressed by answers the children offered, having no idea at all what anyone was saying.
After the Confirmation and the Mass, the parish served — you guessed it — a multi-course dinner. The prudent among us paced themselves carefully. Then we returned to the convent. On Friday, if I were a little piggy, I’m afraid that I’d be the one who went to market. I slept well that night anyhow.
Sunday, June 10
Pardon the lack of photos for this June 10 blog entry, but be assured that other posts will contain blizzards of snapshots.
As the representative of the Western Province Lay Dominican D.E.E.P. program, I am accompanied this summer by three young friars from the U.S. Central Province, who are also teaching English here at the Dominican House of Studies in Ho Chi Minh City. They are Brothers Loren, Jordan and Isaac. Brother Loren came to the U.S. from Vietnam at the age of twelve and is bilingual. He has taught here before and exercises a leadership role among us teachers.
On Sunday, the four of us were taken to visit the House of Postulancy, also in Ho Chi Minh City, still informally known as Saigon. (This is a sprawling city. The House of Studies is in the Go Vap district. See map below.)
The grounds are beautiful at the House of Postulancy. We were met by the Prior and the Master of Postulants, who — after a refreshing snack of fruits and tea — showed us around and introduced us to a group of young men who were engrossed in study. It took us a while to grasp that they were studying to pass an exam in order to become postulants. Once they are accepted into the postulancy, they will spend two years in this house before taking another exam to demonstrate that they are ready to enter the novitiate.
Saturday, June 9
On Saturday morning, many of us went from the House of Studies (Holy Rosary Convent) to the “Church of the Three Bells” (Church of St. Dominic), also in Ho Chi Minh City. The occasion was the 50th anniversary of the ordination to the priesthood of Father Joseph Nguyễn Văn Hoà, the Provincial. The celebration began with a beautiful Mass, with a Dominican bishop and many concelebrants. There was a fine choir. At the end of the Mass, gifts were presented to several priests who were celebrating anniversaries of ordination. Then there was a party in the parish hall with a superb lunch.
Later in the day, as I was hanging laundry to dry on the flat roof of the monastery, I took a photo of flowers growing on the top of a tall tree right next to the building. These are called “peacock flowers.”
Friday, June 8
My airplane landed in Ho Chi Minh City last night at 10:15. Father Quy met me at the airport, and we came straight to the monastery. Due to all the time zone changes, I barely slept.
Morning prayer and Mass started at 5:15, followed by breakfast, and then came the morning English class, which lasts from 8:00 to 10:00. Today, I was among the students. I will teach next week.
Lay Dominicans who are fond of St. Albert’s Priory in Oakland will be pleased to find similarities here at Holy Rosary. Do all monasteries have central courtyards? Perhaps it dates back to the Benedictines.
I have taken some first photos from the courtyard. There is a prominent statue of St. Dominic. Below are photos of the St. Dominic statue from the left and from the right. The third photo is of a small garden in the corner of the courtyard.