Posted in elementary, dear madeline, livin' in the kingdom

it’s the little things

This morning when Madeline pressed "0" on the elevator panel (it's the kind where a person has to select the floor they want to go to instead of pressing the arrows for up and down), instead of telling us to wait by elevators A, B, C, or D, the output screen showed the much-feared "XX". It meant that the system was down. Again. 

We live on the fifteenth floor, so taking the stairs to the ground floor is a reasonable undertaking and preferable to missing the bus to school, so the three of us headed to the stairwell to begin our descent. Madeline's fast on the stairs, and as I watched her figure round the flights well ahead of me and her little sister, it occurred to me that she was also carrying a backpack full of twenty pounds of stuff with her. 

The schools on the Dharma compound are running out of classroom space (just as the compound has run out of housing for families like mine), so fifth grade has been moved to the middle school and currently housed in an office building that was vacant and available. The students have to carry their backpacks everywhere with them. Madeline's has her lunch, water bottle, a large binder, a crazy amount of school supplies, and anywhere between 4 – 8 notebooks of various sizes. 

A few weeks back, I asked her what she was looking forward to about sixth grade. Her response came fast: "A locker!"

Posted in elementary, dear madeline, Food and Drink

and the big day is over

DSC04131 I'd be remiss if I didn't post a photo of Madeline's finished birthday cake pops! I was happy with them, for the most part. Substituting popsicle sticks for the lollipop sticks (which was the best I could find in Saigon) was not a problem at all. Using melted chocolate, thinned with a bit of shortening, worked fine as well, so I was not wishing that I could have bought Wilton's Candy Melts (like I could have – ha!) instead. One thing that I wish had gone better was that the pops were a bit more spherical. Once I'd dipped them, it was rather apparent that some of them looked kind of lumpy!

The biggest challenge I had was finding some way to hold them upright – I have no clue where I'd find a big block of styrofoam, so I ended up sticking the cake pops into a huge ball of playdough! Madeline's party guests were very amused!


UPDATE, July 8 – I was out shopping at Phuong Ha in D1 today, and cannot adequately express how shocked I was to see a few packages of Wilton's Candy Melts in their freezer, near the chocolate chips. I guess I spoke too soon the other day!




Posted in elementary, dear madeline

baking and homework should remain two separate entities

On Fridays, my daughter brings home her homework assignments for the week, photocopied pages that are pasted into a ruled notebook. Usually the assignments are fairly brief. Sometimes they're annoying, like the "make a PowerPoint presentation" ones, because I sort of think that it's wrong to assume that everyone in her class has access to PowerPoint and also because she needs more homework-related hand-holding than usual to navigate the assignment on computer. 

Today's mathematics homework has given me a new something to inwardly groan about – she needs to measure out certain quantities of ingredients (for cookies, I think) and then bring the bagged and measured ingredients to back to school. Problem? The quantities are measured in grams. I have plenty of cups and spoons for measuring, but none are suited to the degree of accuracy that she's going to need to measure out 35 g of confectioner's sugar. So, today I am slightly put out at having to purchase a food scale over the weekend so that my child can complete her homework! 

I guess the bright side is that it costs less than buying a new copy of PowerPoint! 

Posted in elementary, dear madeline

why, hello june

It's a ridiculous thing to say, but how can it be June already? The calendar flipping from May to June means that we've been living in Vietnam for nearly a year now, and I honestly feel like a newcomer still, only familiar with about about five different places (Madeline's school, Sadie's school, Local Grocery Store, Metro, and the doctor's office). This dusty-humid city remains a mystery.

Also embarrassing is that it's June and I'm certain that I've only scheduled about three playdates for Madeline for this entire school year. I find it hard to approach the parents of her friends here; I don't really hang with any of them socially (though I'd love to, but I am sort of awkward about those things). School doesn't let out until the very end of the month, so I have about four weeks to rectify the situation. 

I am still deciding if I like living here at all, if I like the school that Madeline goes to, and other things like that. I am not sure if it's totally true, but I feel like my life was a little fuller in the other places that we've lived. I don't necessarily think that I was busier, but I surely had more friends to be busy with, and I think that made a huge difference!


Posted in elementary, dear madeline, ex-pat confidential, madeline vs BKK, preschooler attacks!

madeline’s schools in bangkok

I've almost entirely abandoned my other blog, but today I managed to finish up a draft that I started many months ago. I thought that I'd cross-post it over here as it's a good fit and I figure that if someone is going to stumble across this blog looking for info on moving to Bangkok with young kids, this post about schools may be useful! Here it is:

Things I Liked about Living in Thailand, Part 2

The schools that Madeline went to!

We arrived in Thailand a few weeks after Madeline turned three years old, and she started preschool about a month later. She was a year too young to start Pre-K at the International School Bangkok, which was the school in our community, but when Chris and I were on our house-hunting trip in May 2007, we toured one nearby preschool, the Early Learning Centre (Country School location out in Nonthaburi). It was the only preschool that we'd looked at, but we have no regrets about not checking out other schools because ELC was pretty darn perfect. 

I can't say enough good things about ELC and the experiences that Madeline had there. The classrooms are bright and cozy, with the walls usually decorated with photographs of the little students hard at work at something. The playground has a shaded place for playing and a green space for running around, and the softest and whitest sand that I've ever seen. Madeline probably brought home a kilogram of it over two years, hitch-hiking in her shoes and, inexplicably, in her hair. The little library in K. Pum's office has a better variety of books than one would probably except for such a small space. Madeline had classes with specialist teachers for art, movement, and music. I hadn't heard of the Reggio Emilia philosophy before Madeline started attending ELC, but after a couple of months of watching her class's study of bears unfold, it looked like a wonderful and inquisitive way for small children to approach learning. 

The school puts on a few events throughout the year, but the one that is the biggest deal is the annual charity art auction. The four classrooms and the art studio would be invaded by the parents of eighty-odd students, all bidding on the large group paintings/collages/sculptures that each class had worked on throughout the year. I was usually outbid on my favourite pieces by the parents of Madeline's classmates – the art auction is very competitive – but each year I managed to come home with a piece that her class made, and they are still hanging up in our home. I'm not talking about finger-paintings, either – under the direction of the art teacher, the small children create some really cool pieces. We have a piece that Madeline's class made when she was three, and it looks like they painting textured paper, tore it up into strips, and then put it back together to look like an underwater scene. From her K2 class when she was four, I have a large picture of flowers that are made from a collage of seeds. 

This school is a great community unto itself. It's where Madeline made her friends, and it's where I met my friends for our time in BKK as well. Her teachers (who were dear and compassionate people) were always out on the playground before class and at dismissal, so it was never hard to ask about what her class had been doing. I helped out with reading and cooking in the classroom, and other parents were welcomed into the class to help out similarly. This place meant a lot to me for my first two years overseas, and I think that I was sadder than Madeline was on her last day of school at ELC. 

Then, Madeline started kindergarten at International School Bangkok (about ten times bigger). Gosh, it was different. It was big, it felt impersonal, and navigating the parking lot was hectic. We were a bit overwhelmed on the first day, but now that kindergarten is over, we miss ISB a lot.

I wouldn't be being honest if I didn't say that we chose this school for Madeline because it was a ten minute walk (on clean, dog-free sidewalks) from our apartment in Nichada Thani. As the school year wore on, it became obvious that it had other things going for it, as well. Their playground equipment was fabulous and first-world-quality (not always the case in Nichada or in BKK in general), the elementary library was well-stocked and the librarian was an awesome individual, the school had a great level of communication with parents and had so many opportunities for parents to volunteer in the classroom (Actually, a lot of these things became more apparent after Madeline started school here in Saigon, where she doesn't have equipment in the school yard, the library only welcomes parents on Tuesdays for two hours, and parents generally aren't encouraged to help out). Madeline only spent one year at ISB, but she has so many good memories of her time there. 

There were a few things that were mildly irritating, like the reminders that the school's worked closely with the US Embassy for security advisory purposes (why not other embassies as well?), and how the extracurricular events seemed to take over the whole community (like the time that my kids and I were trying to walk to the store and their parent volunteers for a race were hassling us over using the public bike lane for our tricyles). This stuff I could live with, though, and if we had the chance to enroll Madeline at ISB again in the future, I'd leave in a heartbeat. 

NB: If anyone wants to read Things I Liked About Living in Thailand, Part 1, here's the link. It's about the compound where we lived!



Posted in elementary, dear madeline, sadie the sequel, saigon, baby

lucky dip

"Every child admission ticket gets a Lucky Dip" read a line part-way down the brochure for this past Sunday's "Family Fun Fair" at Madeline's school. Since bringing home the saffron yellow leaflet on Friday afternoon,  I had been taking every opportunity to talk about the mysterious "lucky dip", expressing my hope that her ticket got her a little container of hummus or white bean dip. My first grader, of course, was not particularly enthused by this prospect. 

We were all pleasantly surprised on the morning of the Fun Fair when my little ones were invited to stick their hand inside a the stomach cavity of a large hippotamus made of our cardboard. They each clutched at a little plastic capsule from inside the hippo and went over to the adjacent table of prizes, which was divided into colour-coded sections. Some sections had colourful pencils, erasers, and notebooks, others had plastic alarm clocks or backpacks from corporate sponsors. 

Madeline's capsule opened up to reveal a green pom-pom, and she selected her prize from the green section – a new spiral notebook, and she was quite happy.

Sadie's capsule cracked open and a red pom-pom emerged; the helpful parent volunteers at the table directed her to the red section, which happened to be the section with the highest-value lucky dip prizes. Amid a fair amount of chuckles from the adults around her, my two year-old toddled away from the lucky dip prize tables with a 4GB USB flash drive.

The biggest irony is that Sadie's prize will probably be technologically obsolete by the time that she's old enough to use it, followed closely behind with the fact that she probably would have been more excited by a tub of hummus of her very own

Posted in elementary, dear madeline, ex-pat confidential, madeline vs BKK, saigon, baby, school daze

january’s theme: too busy to post

Today, at the first toddler playgroup of the year, I was expecting to exchange "Happy New Year"s with the other parents, so the excited "Oh my gosh, I can't believe how fabulous that Villa Market you had in BKK is!" from one of the moms that I am friendly with caught me off-guard. And it was funny to me – I can remember when I was extremely frustrated with grocery shopping in Bangkok and Villa seemed anything but fabulous, but now, having a Villa Market nearby would seriously make my year. I miss being able to buy edamame and sweet potato fries (and frankly, a whole lot of familiar comfort food) for my kids. Grocery shopping in Saigon means that I am confronted with whole aisles of MSG packages and I've been to three different shops looking for whole wheat flour and haven't found it yet. I am very homesick nostalgic for my former life in Thailand these days … 

Madeline's class wasn't assigned any homework over the break, and she vehemently refused to have anything to do with practicing math, no matter how many times her dad bugged her about it. "I don't have any homework ! I am on a holiday!" she would tell us, sharply. I usually laughed when they were having a row over homework, because she spent so much of the break from school reading – reading signs, websites,  and subtitles (in Toy Story 3, our latest DVD purchase) – and I guess she never thought about the practice that she was getting! (And I can't begin to express how amazed I am that I have a child who can REA !)

I am also amazed, this evening, at what some of my fellow foreigners in Saigon try to get away with. We have a web-community here, "Nguyen's List", if you will, and today there was a post from someone who  would be delighted to sell a second-hand Maclaren Triumph baby stroller for $230 USD, which is plenty more than what they cost brand-new. I am somewhat tempted to post that I am giving away a second-hand Mac Triumph for free, just to stop someone from being taken advantage of. Sigh.

I'd write more but my husband is newly addicted to Angry Birds and playing it right next to me!