I cannot believe it’s already been three weeks since we finally arrived in Hanoi. Orientation was a bit of a blur to be honest. We arrived at the hotel the Monday evening when we finally got here, dropped our bags off and went straight out to the welcome dinner, followed by a visit to beer street which ended up with us staying out till about 3am that night. Tuesday through Thursday were a combination of weird hotel food, intense practical sessions in the mornings and Vietnamese lessons in the afternoons, interspersed with lots of coffee, trips to the Vinmart (local 7eleven type shop just down the road which sells snacks, basics, water and beer), getting new sim cards organised and buying airtime and data so as not to have to rely on the WiFi at the hotel and various coffee shops.
Friday morning was our final session which was do’s and don’ts, what to expect specifically in Hai Phong as well as a bit of Vietnamese culture. The expectations for the hotel we were to be staying in was played down significantly (although in hindsight, probably still not enough) and warnings of rats, cockroaches and various other creepy crawlies were put out there. We then had a free afternoon for the first time since arriving which I spent re-packing my suitcase, the contents of which had managed to find their way pretty much to every corner of the room, and to have a bit of quiet time. Having been on planes and in each other’s pockets for almost a full week, sharing a room in Hanoi and spending days on top of each other, it was a welcome relief to actually have an afternoon of nothing. I had the TV on, playing old movies in the background (something with Owen Wilson and a bunch of kids, the title of which was the name of Wilson’s character but for the life of me I can’t remember what it was called) and grabbed a tin of Pringles and a Coke from the Vinmart for a taste of familiarity.
Friday night was our farewell to orientation week which saw us across the road from the hotel with Karaoke Microphones, Bia Hoi (a kind of home brew that is way cheaper than anything else, and also a bit lighter) and 130 odd people singing, dancing and going a little crazy. The knowledge that we had to check out on the be on the bus to Hai Phong before 8am on Saturday did little (nothing) to dampen our spirits. When the Karaoke place essentially closed around 11.30 plans were made to purchase excess and take it back to the hotel to carry on with the party. Which we did. I think I made it another 3am-ish night and was up and finalising packing at about 6.30am to head down to check out and get breakfast before leaving. Which only happened after 9 in the end (something which we could have predicted had we really thought much about it). The bus that arrived to fetch us wasn’t big enough for everyone let along everyone and their luggage and so another had to be organised before we could leave.
The drive to Hai Phong wasn’t long and after the first half hour or so I think most people drifted off to sleep. I have to say the noise cancelling headphones Rhys sent over from the UK have really been a life saver. From the plane, to a noisy hotel and sharing rooms, it really makes sleep easier when you can’t actually hear anyone else, including on the bus when I had a little nap. We got to the hotel and got our room allocations (more sharing for the weekend) and then lunch was delivered. Banh Mi. I couldn’t eat mine. I’m not sure if it was a combination of a week’s worth of drinking or if there was something in it that didn’t agree with me but I had about two bites. Apparently it was from the best Banh Mi place in Vietnam. I’ll have to try something different there and actually check it out.
We went for a wonder around the hotel coz we had a couple of hour before we needed to be at the language centre for our first Hai Phong orientation session. We got a coffee and had a quick look around. Walked a bit and discovered the dusty, dirty streets. Even though I’ve been to Vietnam before, I’d never been to Hai Phong. It’s not exactly your ultimate tourist destination…
We spent the weekend at the language centre, breaking for meals and a bit of exploration. For dinner on Saturday night we went to Texas BBQ which is about the most western restaurant there is around. I got a burger and chips which was really good after a week of unusual food, a lot of tofu, pork and fish sauce in everything. It was also good to pick something up with my hands on purpose instead of because I’d dropped it out of my chopsticks! Sunday morning saw us teaching practice lessons to our peers which was about the most nerve wracking thing I’ve had to do in a really long time. We then had a culture workshop, schedule allocation and handout of materials (chalk, dusters, magnets, flashcards and so on), ready for the first classes on Monday. I got allocated Monday off so I guess it was an easy start. Also, I woke up sick on Sunday morning with a cough and a sore throat and a nose that needed blowing every few minutes so it was a bit of a relief that I didn’t have to go an teach first thing on Monday.
And so it began. With a grand total of about 3 days of practical sessions and a 120 hour online theory course, off we went to class to go and teach English as a Second Language to a bunch of people. The girls were mostly allocated to primary schools, meaning we would be teaching children between the ages of 6 and 12, or secondary which is 12 – 15 years, while the guys were allocated to high schools, teaching the older kids more advanced English. Not sure why it was done this way. It just seems to be the way it goes here. The little kids are super cute, except for when then they tell me “Teacher, you so fat”. The Vietnamese people are generally a pretty small nation, height and weight wise so that’s a fun part of my day, mainly with the grade ones.