Once again this morning we had the 6.25am bus out to Vinh Bao for Saturday morning classes. Classes start around 8am but Vinh Bao is a solid hour and a bit drive away so off we trek bright and early. Well, not so bright, but definitely early.
I only teach two classes on a Saturday morning while the other 4 teacher have 4 classes each. This means that I teach my two lessons and then have about an hour and a half to wait before everyone else finishes and we can all go home. Because we’re so far out, the bus only does the one trip each way. While this is not my ideal Saturday morning, it does mean that I get to see some things that not many other people have had a chance to see.
Last time we came out and I had to wait around, the bus driver and my TA took me to a really famous pagoda (I need to find out the proper name and will update).
It’s also the perfect place to get pictures of the iconic scenes of people working in the fields with the conical Vietnamese hats on. Last time we came out I tried to get a pic of two women in a field with their hats on but they insisted on taking them off to pose for the pic!
This morning I spotted a couple of people down the road from the school so I took a wander and got a few more photos.
It is so incredibly green once you get out of town! And I also snapped this lady who was selling treats to the kids as they came out of class.
Our second week in Hai Phong started just like the previous one, with no expectations of anything being any different to what we had already experienced. Little did we know at that point that it was the week of the semi finals and the finals of the Under 23 Asia Cup football and that this would have a huge impact on the mood of the country. Even though it was only the under 23 team, the fact that they had made it to the semi finals had captured the attention of the entire country.
The semi final match was played on Tuesday night and as we were walking to get dinner we noticed that all of the coffee shops that had TVs were packed with people. Everyone was out to support the Vietnam Under23 team. Scooters stopped in the middle of the road to catch a glimpse of the score, or to catch the rest of the match on their way home. The whole of one side of one of the main roads, Lach Try, was blocked off with row upon row of eager scooter drivers outside one coffee shop.
The Vietnam Under 23s rose to victory after 30 minutes of extra time, on a penalty shoot out and won the match 2-1 against Qatar. They were going to be in the final on Saturday. This was a historic moment. No Vietnam football team had ever made it to the finals of a tournament of this size and the whole country was celebrating already. Glowing with pride (literally, as flares were being let off in the streets), the whole city shone red on Tuesday night.
Every game we played at school for the rest of the week consisted of team names of “Vietnam U23” and when that had been chosen by the first team in my grade 5 class, the second team was then called “Vietnam U11”. Some teams chose to be Qatar simply because they’d made it to the semi finals, but nobody wanted to be Uzbekistan (who they were up against in the finals on Saturday). The schools were wild in all the right ways as the children chanted “Vietnam. Vo Dic” or “Vietnam. Champions” at break time, and before each and every round of any game we played with them in class. The streets of Hai Phong, even wilder.
On Saturday for the game, DTLC, the language centre through which we’re employed in Hai Phong, set up a massive speaker and streamed the game on their enormous TV outside the main office in town. We had benches across the street, Bia Hoi, prawn cocktail crisps, assorted nuts, incredible company and everyone who drove past paused to shout, chant, watch, check the score, hoot or wave. The vibe was unbelievable.
Sadly, Vietnam lost in the second last minute of over time as Uzbekistan scored their second goal of the match, and while there were tears, it did little to dampen the spirit of the city. The skies glowed red yet again as the streets filled flare-carrying motorbike riders. Chants filled the air in spite of the loss. Beer flowed, as did rice wine, among chants of Mot, Hai Ba, Zoi and people celebrated the fact that the team had even made it as far as the finals.
It was an incredible experience and something none of us will forget in a hurry.
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.
So it’s 9am on Tuesday, the second day of the new year and I’m lying on my bed looking at the chaos that (still) dominates my flat. I’ve made huge progress but still things lie all over the floor, waiting to trip an unsuspecting person without a moment’s hesitation. Yes I’m speaking from experience and have the bruise to prove it.
There’s not much appealing or edible food in the fridge or cupboards which means that there have been a lot of takeaways lately. And seeing as I sold my car back to the dealer on Friday those takeaways have been via delivery. What we do without Uber Eats and Mr. D! (Probably lose some weight but that’s beside the point.) I just had left over pasta for breakfast. It wasn’t that great the second time around. I found a couple of cappuccino sachets in my lunchbox, from taking them to work last year in an attempt to spend a little less money at Vida (I know someone who’s wallet might benefit from this tip…André) so at least I have an almost decent cup of coffee.
I spent most of yesterday horizontal after an awesome evening with friends, which went on till the early hours for some of us and then the next day started much earlier than I may have liked with a skylight and people up and about in the lounge (not to be ungrateful for somewhere to stay or anything). I got hooked on Frontier on Netflix and couldn’t stop the “Play Next Episode” button from sucking me in. I did, however get a decent amount of sleep last night and in spite of the chaos I’m confident that, if I can just be ruthless and get rid of some more clothes (they’re not all going to fit in my suitcase), I will get there in the next day or two.
It’s not like I have any choice. Someone’s moving in here on Saturday and it kinda needs a good clean before that happens as well. So, maybe just one more episode to kick starts the morning and the it’s on to the task of the day. Or the next few days really. Finish clearing/chucking/packing and making this place spotless before I jump on my one way flight to 2018’s first adventure!