Thursday, November 5, 2009

"Friendly Night" at Can Tho University

It's times like these that I really wish I had my camera with me.

Yesterday in class, one of my Vietnamese students invited me to Friendly Night, which took place this evening at 6:00 p.m. in the auditorium. I obliged, and all were ecstatic.

When I got to the auditorium, I was, as usual, the only white person there. I was escorted by one of my smallest students to the front row where he asked me to "pliss be zeated" so the show could begin. I followed his orders, feeling 200 pairs of eyes on the back of my head as I sipped the complimentary bottle of Aquafina placed before me. Water never tasted so good.

At 6:15, the show had yet to begin. Typical Vietnam. I was still the only teacher in the front row.

Finally, five Vietnamese girls strolled through the side entrance and stood in a line side-by-side, about three feet apart from one another, with their hands on their hips and their heads hanging down. Then, the music began.

They looked...really uncomfortable. They were dancing like cheerleaders would, but instead of big toothy grins, their expressions read HORRIFIED, and their bodies weren't straight, but slumped. Then they did a pyramid...and every single girl looked so still and so scared to be up there that the pyramid dissembled as quickly as it was put together. Then they exited stage right.

Act 1, down. Act 2, even stranger.

First, one girl strolled in, walking very slowly from one side of the stage to the other, stopping at each side to pose (uncomfortably) for the audience. Each girl had a number pinned to her left shoulder. After the third contestant finished strutting her stuff, taking her place next to the previous two, I asked Stephen, the student seated next to me, what the hell was going on.

"Oh, this Vietnamese beauty contest," he said, opening his right hand to expose a crumpled piece of paper. "You see which number you like best, and you vote."

I ended up choosing number 5, a short girl with glasses and a messenger-style backpack hanging across her chest. She may not have been as pretty as taller-than-life number 7, but she was definitely the cutest.

Then, after the runway show went down, the singing started. One of my quietest boys who sits in the back of Pronunciation on Wednesday was the third performer. He was actually pretty good, and quite theatrical. I thought about pullin' a Kanye West and interrupting his number before it was over to inquire why he couldn't participate this much in class. Reluctantly, I held my breath.

But the absolute BEST part of this show was when two of my students were speaking in rapid Vietnamese on stage after the singers were done. Understanding not a word of what they were saying, my eyes drifted to the floor, and were only raised when I clearly heard my name.


I nervously looked up, seeing my student motion for me to come on stage. I'm sure my expression looked just as horrified as the dancing cheerleaders' did. I pointed to myself, as if there would actually be any other Kelly's in the room, and he kept motioning. I walked really slowly to where he stood and turned around to face the crowd. You'd think I would have gotten used to all eyes on me by now, but I haven't.

Two other Vietnamese teachers were called to stage as well. They shook hands with me and introduced themselves. I don't know why they were hiding amongst the crowd of students and left me dry to hang in the front row by myself, but they were too nice not to like.

Then, we were all presented with roses. I got roses simply for just coming to the show. That's how damn appreciative these kids are.

Due to earlier arranged dinner plans, I had to bounce after an hour into the show. But I got this text from Stephen around 9 p.m.:

"I'm sorry, the person you love - number 5 - isn't in top five of the most beautiful ones."

She wins in my book.

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