Our last meeting took place in the national park Helvetinjärvi in Ruovesi. We walked a short two kilometer trail to Helvetinkolu and back. Helvetinkolu is a place by the lake Helvetinjärvi where there is a gorge in the rock (see the picture) and we actually climbed up through the narrow passage instead of using the stairs.
It was a beautiful spring day and there were already leaves growing in the trees, but we told Nghi that there the nature is more “full” in the summer and that there is more undervegetation in the summer. We taught and showed Nghi the most common trees growing in Finland: pine (mänty), spruce (kuusi) and birch (koivu).
We told Nghi that there only is one poisonous snake, kyy, in Finland and explained how to recognise it. She asked for advice on what to do if one was to encounter a bear in the wild. We told her that luckily it doesn’t happen all too often and that they usually are more afraid of people than people are of them.
Nghi learned that the Finnish bedrock is very old and stable and heard about the most common rock types in Finland as well. It was easy to come up with things to tell because we saw something to talk about all the time when walking or looking at the scenery in Helvetinkolu.
We told Nghi that there are several national parks in Finland and that one of them in the north is named after one of our presidents (Urho Kekkosen kansallispuisto).
This being our last meeting, I would say as a conclusion that this type of interaction and learning/teaching is really fun and refreshing. In my opinion, the only “problem” in this type of teaching is that there is no point in planning the “lessons” too carefully because it is so easy to get a little sidetracked and concentrate on different topics than the original plan was. I think our meetings would have served Nghi even better if we had used and/or taught even more Finnish words during our meetings. All in all, I enjoyed this and learned interesting things about Vietnam from Nghi – and new things about Finland from Elisa as well.
We talked about Vietnamese nature in our second last meeting. I learned that the plants are tropical plants and compared to Finnish forests the vegetation in Vietnam is more dense. There are many fruit growing in Vietnam that I only know from the shelves of supermarkets.
Nghi told that because of the dense population in Vietnam, the forest areas have become smaller and the area covered by them is still shrinking. As it is, especially many larger animals in Vietnam have become endangered. Some of the greater animals that one can see in Vietnsam, if lucky, are tigers and elephants. There are also several dangerous animals, such as snakes and scorpions.
It was really interesting to be able to ask nature-related questions from Nghi and to be able to compare the nature in these two different countries, Vietnam and Finland. We came to the conclusion that the animals and their colors in Vietnam seem exotic from a Finnish point of view and that many Finnish animals and plants are like Finns themselves: humble-looking and trying not be paid too much attention to 🙂 .
We had our eight meeting today. We watched the Finnish film Rare exports at Elisa’s place. It was the very first Finnish film that Nghi has ever seen and I thought it might have been a slight surprise for her…
I thought it was interesting to see the film with English subtitles because it made me pay more attention to the Finnish lines. I realized that our language is pretty rich even when an awful lot is not said! There were quite many swear words used in the movie, and the humor was somehow very Finnish. I feel that Elisa and I were laughing hard many times, but Nghi had a hard time understanding what we were laughing about.
We tried to explain some of the things related to the language or the phenomena in the film. But when I come to think of it, it might have been nice for Nghi if Elisa and I had made some notes about the film (while watching or even beforehand) and gone through these things with her after we had finished watching it. That way Nghi might have been able to learn more words and to better understand certain things that made us Finns laugh.
Maybe we should show Nghi another Finnish film at some point and put more effort into teaching her new words and phrases with the help of the movie. But at least I had a good time watching the film today!
We had our seventh meeting on the 13th. Nghi told Elisa and me about known Vietnamese people and their accomplishments. When we started our EOTO course, I couldn’t name any Vietnamese people (besides my Vietnamese fellow students) so this meeting was interesting.
Probably the most prominent Vietnamese figure has been Ho Chi Minh. The name was actually his political (public name), and his real name was Nguyen Sinh Cung. Ho Chi Minh was the leader of the Vietnamese independence movement and a city has been named after him (Ho Chi Minh City). Ho Chi Minh was born in 1890 and around the age of twenty he went to France and did some physical work there. He was self-educated and able to speak many languages, French and English, to name a few. He goes by the nickname Uncle Ho in Vietnam.
I also learned about the prime minister of Vietnam, about a mathematician, a cosmonaut and a composer. These were all male. When I asked Nghi to name a famous Vietnamese woman, I found it amusing that she went over 2000 years back and named two sisters who were great war leaders (the Trung sisters). It seems that at that time there were quite a few women soldiers in Vietnam.
I feel that every meeting of ours highlights the fact how little we know about countries and cultures that we haven’t been in contact with earlier.
Our sixth meeting that we had yesterday was about Finnish history. Elisa and I started the history “lesson” by telling that Finland was covered by a thick layer of ice during the last ice age over 10000 years ago and that hunter-gatherers started coming to these parts of the world sometime after the ice had retreated.
We told Nghi that Finland was a part of Sweden for hundreds of years until it became a part of Russia in 1809. We explained how Finland became independent while the Second World War was going on and how the revolutions in Russia in 1917 had an effect on Finland’s journey towards independence.
We told that the country was divided after independence was gained and that there was a civil war between “the red” and “the white” in Finland that made even brothers turn against each other if they were on different ideological sides.
When we were discussing the Second World War, I found out that in addition to my grandmother also Elisa’s grandmother had to abandon her home that is on the Russian side of the border even today due to the terms in the peace treaty that made Finland give up areas in Karelia. We mentioned that reconstruction of the Finnish economy started after the war and that Finland was quite proud for being able to pay all war reparations to the Soviet Union as agreed.
When talking about the history and politics in our countries, we realized that what the countries have in common is that they were under the rule of another country or countries for a long time. However, when talking about the political systems, there is a remarkable difference between the countries: we have a multi-party system where the individual politicians can be fairly heavily criticized, whereas in Vietnam there is only one ruling party and it is probably safer not to openly criticize the people in power.
We had both our fifth and sixth meeting yesterday because we couldn’t meet last week as planned due to illness. Our fifth meeting was about Vietnamese history.
Nghi told that the history of Vietnam dates back about 4000 years. The early inhabitants established villages close to waterways. There are two main rivers in Vietnam, one in the north and the other in the south part of the country. The rivers are called Hong or The Red River and Cuu long or The Nine Dragons River. As we assumed, The Red River has got its name from the rich soil that colors its water.
Nghi told us that there have been several dynasties in Vietnam and that the country was under Chinese rule for about a thousand years. The country has been in war quite a lot in the past and Nghi believes that it is one reason for the country still being a developing country.
Vietnam was a colony of France for about a hundred years and it gained independence from France in 1945. The country was divided into two parts at that time: the north was under the rule of the Communist party, whereas the capitalist south was controlled by the USA. After decades of war, the country finally became independent in 1975. Reconstruction of the country started after the war ended in the 1970s, and everything belonged to the communist government.
I was surprised to learn that written Vietnamese was actually created by a French missionary, which is why the alphabet is Latin-based instead of resembling the Chinese writing system.
All in all, it seems that regardless of the colorful history of the country with many conquerors, wars, and influence from the outside, I would say that it seems that the Vietnamese people still have been able to maintain their own cultural characteristics as well.
Yesterday we had our fourth meeting at Elisa’s place. The plan was to make traditional Finnish pastys, Karelian pies, with egg-butter as well as some pancake. As it is, we made the rye dough needed for the rye crust. Elisa had prepared some rice porridge beforehand to save time. The pies turned out to be delicious. We all had our unique touch and the maker of each Karelian pie was recognizable! 🙂
We told Nghi something about the Finnish cuisine and eating habits. We think that many (traditional) Finnish dishes are made of ingredients that can usually be found at almost every household. We also mentioned that the Finnish people have even used some part of the pine tree to get more flour to make bread (pettuleipä) decades ago when times have been especially hard and there has been a lack of food.
We told that a basic Finnish meal usually consists of potato/rice/pasta, meat/fish and vegetables/salad. When she wanted to know what we have for special occasions, we told her that there usually is some sort of sweet cake at least, but that there often are both salty pasties or snacks and sweet pastries. When Nghi asked, if we have any vegetables, we told her that when it comes to celebration or parties, the health aspect is not that important. Even though I would say that we Finns use vegetables and light ingredients in cooking as well, I have a feeling that Vietnamese people in general may eat healthier than we do.
We had our third meeting at Nghi’s place. She was preparing us some Vietnamese food. We had fried rice with shrimp, mushroom and vegetables, spring rolls with vegetables and rice noodle inside, and a fish sauce based dipping sauce for the rolls. It was nice to try making the rolls myself. Water was used to make the rice papers soft so that they could be flipped and rolled. In addition to being healthy, the food was really tasty! Nghi was thinking that people in Vietnam eat fairly light meals because of the warm (or hot) climate of the country.
According to Nghi, an everyday Vietnamese meal consists of rice, vegetables and some meat (pork is the most common). I was surprised to hear that people don’t really eat bread in Vietnam and that they don’t drink milk with food, which feels funny considering the milk consumption in my family. Nghi told that people usually have water with food. However, it’s apparently even more common not to have a glass of water, but a small bowl of canh instead. Canh is salty water with vegetable flavor (the vegetables for the meal have been cooked in the water).
Nghi told us that rice is important in Vietnamese cuisine and that there are basically two types of rice used in Vietnam. One is the regular rice, and the other is the sticky rice. In Vietnam, children learn to use chopsticks at an early age, but I was allowed to use a spoon (and fingers) to enjoy my Vietnamese dinner because I’m not that good with chopsticks – at least not yet.
When I asked Phuong what she eats when she wants to give herself a treat, she told me she enjoys fresh or dried fruit, which comes naturally because there is a wide variety of fruits growing in Vietnam. I wish I could adopt that habit and forget that ice cream and candy ever existed!
We had our second meeting in a restaurant. Elisa and I were teaching Nghi mainly some basic phrases in Finnish as well as some common verbs and their different forms with different pronouns.
We chose the verbs that we thought would be common and that Nghi wanted to learn. We tried to point out the logics behind and connections between some of the verb forms. Since Nghi wants to learn some Finnish phrases and expressions that she could actually use in everyday situations, we also taught her the passive verb forms that are often used in the spoken language with the pronoun we, such as me ollaan instead of the formal me olemme (we are).
We covered some basic phrases, such as hyvää viikonloppua (have a nice weekend) and sori/anteeksi (I’m sorry), but I think the most important word that we taught was the simple word apua (help) that Nghi might need to know one day (hopefully not, though).
Nghi mentioned that she finds it difficult to hear the difference between the sounds ä and a. As it is, Elisa and I tried to come up with all kinds of words with either an ä or an a and produce the sounds as clearly as possible and to show Phuong the way the mouth moves when pronouncing the sounds. We also checked how the Finnish vowels are grouped according to the location of the highest part of the tongue when producing the vowels. After this we tried to explain which vowels can go together in a Finnish word (if it is not a compound word) to make it easier to know if there is an ä or an a in a word. Having to think about the use of vowels made me realize how obvious it is to us native speakers when to use which sounds, but it must be hard for someone trying to learn a new language.
We all think it’s important to say all the new words and phrases aloud in order to remember them better so we said the words first and Nghi always repeated them after us. I assume it must be hard to learn a new language like Finnish and it might be even more challenging because we are using our only common language, English, as a tool instead of Nghi’s own mother tongue, Vietnamese.
Today Elisa (from Finland), Nghi (from Vietnam) and I started our Each One Teach One meetings according to our schedule. The first meeting was about Nghi sharing with us Finns some basic info about Vietnam and the Vietnamese culture. I had little prior knowledge about Vietnam so I was eager to learn anything about the country.
I had heard about the war in Vietnam, but hadn’t really realized that after the country got independent in 1945 it was in a war for decades before the peace treaty was signed in 1975. There are roughly 90 million people in Vietnam and in the largest city, Ho Chi Minh City, alone there are more people than in Finland. The country has basically one political party, the Communist party.
Nghi told us that Vietnam is a developing country and that it is developing at a quite quick pace. Nghi was born in the countryside in 1992 and it was interesting to learn that her family didn’t have electricity available at the time and that they only got access to electricity in the late 1990s. This shows how different backgrounds we come from and makes sharing information really useful in broadening our view of the world.
Nghi is proud of the beauty of her country’s nature and told that there are many natural and historical attractions. However, she feels that Vietnam is not taking full advantage of its potential when it comes to attracting international tourists.
I found it interesting that Vietnam has as many as 54 ethnic groups and that the northern parts of the country have four seasons whereas the southern parts have only two seasons, the rain season and the dry season.
Here I have mentioned only few of the interesting things about Vietnam that I learned today. This type of learning is nice because I had the chance to make a lot of questions about the things I wanted to know more about and also the chance to get more personal answers that I could get from any official source of information.