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.
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.
With less than two weeks to go before I jump on my one way flight to Hanoi to go and teach English in Hai Phong, I still have a lot to do here at home. I’ve been in my (very) little flat for over 5 years now and have managed to accumulate an unbelievable amount of stuff. I would never have said I was a hoarder but after the last few weeks of clearing, chucking and consolidating stuff, I’m on the verge of being appalled.
I’ve got life insurance policy documents for a policy that I cancelled over three years ago. Clothes that haven’t fit me since my glory days of university, over ten years ago, which means I have not only been hoarding them in this flat, but have managed to hang onto them through a trip to the UK, living in Durban, in two different houses and moving back to Joburg back into my parents’ place, and now here. That’s some next level attachment.
One of the problems is that the flat is so small that if you’re not getting stuff out the door it’s only making more of a mess. I need to get to that critical mass point where enough stuff has gone in the bin, been donated or been transported that I can actually see the woods for the trees. Or in this case, the floor for the clothes.
I’m hoping that once the chaos subsides a bit (I also have three loads of washing cycling through various stages of getting clean and dry floating around the place) that it’ll feel more cathartic than disaster.
This morning I received an email from the company in Vietnam who handles all the internship placements at the schools over there and I’ve found out that I’m going to Dangtuan Language Center (DTLC) in Hai Phong.
I was honestly relatively confident that I’d land up in Hanoi as that is where the vast majority of teachers are placed so I haven’t read up that much on Hai Phong. So far the only familiar place in the vicinity is Cat Ba Island which a friend of mine went on a SE Asia trip a couple of years ago and really enjoyed so that’s exciting. It’s also not too far away from Ha Long Bay which I’ve only seen in the hazy mist fog, so would love to see it in the sunshine.
So far I’ve learned that it’s 120km from Hanoi so not too far, although I’d imagine with public transport you probably wouldn’t get there in an hour. That it’s the second largest city in the North of Vietnam . And that it’s a coastal city located at the mouth of the Cấm River. Thanks Wikipedia!
It looks like the weather is pretty reasonable, only dropping to a low of 13 degrees celsius at its coldest and getting over 30 in the summer.
So when I started planning this properly, I obviously made a budget taking into account the key factors:
The cost of the internship program (which covers your orientation week activities, food and accommodation, placing you at a school, as well as all the admin that they do in the run up to start of the program)
Spending money for the first month before you get your first pay check
New goodies for the adventure (camera tech, a laptop, suitable clothing for the weather etc)
There have however been a number of costs that I didn’t originally factor into my budget which have resulted in some of my less vital items on the list above falling by the wayside. These include:
Vaccinations – there are a variety of things they recommend, some of which are obviously a definite requirement and some of which are up to you. Considering that I’m going to Vietnam and that even though I’ve been there before I’m uncertain of the quality of the medical facilities but am fairly certain they’re not first world so my philosophy on the vaccination front was very much better safe than sorry. This means that (because I already had a yellow fever vaccination which is valid till 2023) I had the following vaccinations:
Hepatitis B (even though I had this before I went to Nigeria in 2013, I completely forgot to go back three months later for the booster shot which should have given me lifetime immunity, so we had to start from scratch)
Rabies (because the recommendation I heard from someone else’s doc that you should avoid rabid dogs and if you do get bitten by one you must catch it, kill it and take it with you to the nearest clinic really did not appeal in the slightest)
Meningitis (because who wants a potentially fatal brain inflammation situation when you’re half way across the world)
and Typhoid (because, again, death)
I couldn’t get the Hepatitis A Vaccination because apparently there is a world wide shortage of it and the doc isn’t expecting to get any here in SA before April 2018. His recommendation – be very very careful.
This little lot cost not only severely saw arms for several days but also an unexpected hit to my budget. You can check this awesome website that doctor at the travel clinic gave me to see recommendations and travel health advice for just about anywhere in the world: http://www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk/home.aspx
Legalisation of any and all certificates that were issued in the UK. In my case this included my TEFL certificate itself. This has to go through three different entities before it is finalised and can be quite time consuming to do even if you live in the UK, apparently, but felt overwhelming to try and achieve from South Africa. The placement company recommended the Hague Apostille, who provided a discount to us people who did their courses through specific companies so that it would only cost GBP 120. Plus a GBP 50 cost if you need it couriered internationally. (Luckily my brother lives in the UK and came to the rescue on the courier front.) If you convert that lot though it’s another healthy chunk out of the budget. (I only sent my order form through 2 days ago so will try and update with the user friendliness of this service when I’ve received my actual certificate and it’s ready to go.)
Clothes that are appropriate for teaching. While you’ve definitely thought about the weather, how hot and cold it gets and how flipping humid it’s going to be year round, and considered which clothes you can take that aren’t going to show up how humid YOU are, you may not have thought about the fact that you have to dress modestly in Vietnam and especially as a teacher. Shoulders and knees must be covered which obviously means no strappy tops and no shorts. No jeans or slip slops allowed so smart-ish trousers, long skirts and smart sandals or closed shoes. This also requires a good re-think of what’s going into that suitcase in the very small amount of space there is to cover yourself for 4 – 6 months. It’s a tricksy one.
So far those are the three things that, rightly or wrongly, I hadn’t factored in to my original budget or really thought through properly. Hopefully this helps you in your budget planning!
So, I had to wait till November before I could pay for my internship because I was aware of a serious discount that was coming up. I did start getting a little anxious around mid-October, I won’t lie, because that didn’t leave with all that much time to get everything organised.
Anyway, I booked and paid in the first week of November only to discover that it wasn’t actually a done deal and that I had to provide all sorts of documents to another company before I would be officially accepted onto the program. Which obviously makes perfect sense – they put stipulations, like you have to a Bachelor’s degree, in place for a reason. They aren’t just going to take your word for it. So I had to send them a copy of my degree certificate. And a head shot to prove that I don’t have tattoos all over my face, my TEFL certificate to prove that I had actually completed it, and a copy of my passport. All very reasonable. I didn’t hear back from them for a week so that also stressed me out a tad. But anyway, I got my acceptance letter on Saturday so at least that’s sorted.
Now I find out I have to get my TEFL certificate legalised in the UK which is either going to cost someone I know over there a lot of time and effort, or me over 100 pounds. Plus I then have to get it couriered to me here in South Africa which is another 50 pounds. Which is quite a big additional expense that I hadn’t factored in. So that just means I can’t buy the noise cancelling head phones that were on my wish list. Tough lucks. (Unless I can find someone who’s coming over from there for Christmas and convince them to bring it for me.)
I’m waiting till Friday to book my flight because Black Friday. Am hoping that might save me a couple of grand to make up for the certificate legalisation cost. And maybe those headphones will be on special too.
My police clearance is with SAPS still and should really be done by the end of this week as they say 2 – 3 weeks and it went to them on the 6th of November so we’ll see. I’m not holding my breath.
And I’ve started clearing out my place. Mainly just clothes at this stage but I’ve chucked a whole bunch of clothes from the shelf side of the cupboard into tubs for donating. Now to go through the hanging stuff, shoes, drawers, ottoman and so on. So I guess on that front I’m really not very far at all. Plus I still need to get the toiled fixed, put a fresh coat of paint on the place and do something about the blinds before anyone’s going to want to rent it out! It’s going to be a busy 7 weeks. Yup, 7 weeks. In 7 weeks I’ll be in Hanoi.