Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Settling in to Hai Phong

HAI PHONG  - 28th  February
I flew into Hai Phong at 9.30 am, after a very early start. As I boarded the plane in HCMC I realised I was the only Westerner in sight... I am glad to be out of the hype and bustle of the tourist rip-off. It wears pretty thin after a few days.
Hai Phong is mostly dead flat... not a hill or mountain in sight. Today is overcast (not uncommon apparently) and pleasant – about 22C. At first impression it is like a laid back version of Saigon... all of the character without the constant nagging to buy something you don’t want!
I was met at the airport by Dave and 2 girls from VATC, Sun and Kate. Dave (57) is English and has been here for a few years and for the last couple of months has been the only teacher at the school... but now there are four new teachers, all Aussies – Eathen (28), 2 younger girls, Amie (23) and Sarah (21), and me. We 4 are all novices, so Dave is guiding us through the early stages. We are all going to be house sharing, but tonight is the last night in this house... we are moving to a new place tomorrow within walking distance of the school.
This place is like something out of a movie! Check out the huge gates and the alleyway! (That’s Eathen standing in front of our gates)
It’s a bit sad, really. Once this must have been an opulent home, graciously furnished and inviting, but now it’s quite dilapidated. As the last to arrive, I scored the bedroom without the en-suite, so I get to use the bathroom downstairs and it’s filthy! I had to scrub the toilet before I could use it. So I’m rather pleased we’re moving tomorrow, then I can have some input without fear of stepping on anyone’s toes. So I won’t even bother to unpack tonight... just my pj’s.
This extraordinary armoire is in my bedroom... isn’t it gorgeous!
I went for a walk around the neighbourhood with Eathen this morning, He’s great company. He is a town planner from Brisbane who has been travelling around SE Asia for several months. He is a keen hiker and loves to read. He tells me that there is nowhere in Hai Phong to buy books in English. Already it seems strange to have nothing to read. Good thing I packed my Bible! I understand now why Rhonda kept downloading books on-line.
I had a nanna nap for half an hour, then set up my laptop to work on this journal. At 4pm I caught a taxi with Dave and Eathen to the school – VATC. All the staff are extremely friendly. I had my first interview with Ann, the manager. I am to observe a few classes, then do a 1 hour teaching demonstration on Thursday morning  (to the staff). They’ll give it a week to see how I fit in, then if all goes well, offer me a contract. Tonight I sat in on one of Dave’s elementary classes. It was surprising how quickly 2 hours goes by. Then I joined Sarah for dinner at a local cafe (Megan’s) that is a favourite haunt. Lovely simple rice, greens and sweet ‘n sour pork for $2.
Ten o’clock and it’s been a long day. I borrowed a towel from Sarah, now I have to face the downstairs bathroom to have a shower so I can crash.
Day Two in Hai Phong was moving day. Everything had to be packed up and moved to our new house which is closer to the school. It’s smaller, but newer, in a neighbourhood of charming houses quite different from the dark alleyway of the first house... our building is the white one on the far end...

There will be 5 of us sharing this house (4 storey terrace). They are all great company and so far things are very harmonious. My room is the window directly under the blue sign. Dave is in the bedroom with the first floor balcony, Eathen is in the room above mine, and Amie and Sarah share the top balcony room. There is a small drying courtyard on the roof... we have our own washing machine.
Our 'house' is on a windy narrow street not much more than a laneway... mostly terraces 3-4 storeys tall with big iron gates leading onto a small courtyard for parking bikes, pot plants etc, then concertina gates, and huge glass doors leading into the living room... three levels of security. Ours is 4m wide and is a 25 minute walk from the school, which will save money on taxis. This seems to be a more up-market neighbourhood. Many of the houses near us are really pretty and wealthy looking. I can hear birds singing, one in particular. Perhaps it is a nightingale in a cage? After the bustle and tourist hype of Ho Chi Minh City, Hai Phong is a pleasant change. It seems to have all the same characteristics but the people aren't trying to jam it down your throat.
I'm all settled and just this minute got my Wi-Fi connection going... yeaaa. This is my room. It’s about 3.5m x 4m, with a window that looks out at a wall about 2m away. I am on the first floor, so I have less stairs to climb that the others J
I have my photos on the wardrobe right next to my desk
Still looks pretty bare though, eh! The TV doesn’t work yet and the aircon is still to be installed. It’s very cool here at the moment though, about 18 degrees C.

This is the kitchen, and the dining area...
And that door you can see is my bathroom...
We’re hoping they’ll get us a couch for the living space. So far the young n’s are using it to park their bikes, and everyone holes up in their rooms 90% of the time. That’s my bedroom window as you go up the stairs.
I photograhed this cute little boy outside our front gate.
During the week our classes are all at night .... 5:30 to 7:30 and 7:30 to 9:30. I have been going in and observing Dave and Eathen’s classes. We tend to meet up at Megan’s restaurant (she’s a good friend of Dave’s) for dinner after that and eventually walk home – late. Classes run all day on the weekends. The earliest is at 7:30am!!! The latest at 9:30pm. I think we will be rostered on for two or three classes on Saturdays and Sundays. The work load is not very heavy at present, with a full complement of teachers now on board, but it gets a lot busier in summer – June to August. Dave leaves in May so we should be very busy, but by then lesson preparation wont take as long.
Class preparation time is during the day, and everyone’s roster is different so we’ll all be in and out. For the first few nights we have all walked together, which has been great, but now the three youngn’s have bought pushbikes.
That’s Sarah in the black buying cigarettes on the way home.

On Wednesday, Eathen and I had lunch at the little ‘cafe’ just down our lane. I will take photos as I get to know them better. No-one speaks a word of English and our meal cost about 75c each. In the mornings, when I walk past I get cheery waves, especially from a tiny little old lady who is all wizened, has no teeth, but calls out to me with the biggest smile. I can’t wait to get to know them.
On Thursday, I went for a walk with Dave to get lunch and go to the local supermarket... this is lunch. Pickled vegies, Beef n greens, and a BBQ’d squid dish that is to die for. I’ll have to write down the name so I can get it again!
This  is me loving this Vietnamese food...

My teaching demonstration was at 9:30 am on Thursday morning, with the Vietnamese teachers as my students. So I headed out wondering if I would find a motorbike driver, or have to walk there. Just on the corner at the end of our street there is another little cafe where a group of motorbike drivers hang out. So I got a ride, no trouble with a very friendly driver who already knew where I wanted to go! (Like I said , there are not many westerners here...)The ride only took 5 minutes and cost me 15000D (75c).
I love how they drive here. Our school is on a busy, wide, main road, and when we turn onto it the school os on the other side of the road. No problem! We just drift across by riding straight into the oncoming traffic, and they take no notice, just flow around us! I must see if I can video it... you just have to see it to believe it!
My demo class was a lot of fun. I'll sign a 6 month contract on Monday, so I should finish up at the end of September. I'll get Katie to come over for that last week and then we'll travel about for a bit and I'll get home mid October to meet my new grandchild (due mid-August) and be home for Christmas... Yea!!

FRIDAY, 5th March
I just had to tell you about what God did today... Yesterday when they offered me the teaching contract I was rather dismayed to find that they expected me to buy a whole new wardrobe to match level of professionalism they want to portray. I went to bed last night wondering how I was going to afford it, to wake up this morning to the news that there's $300 in my account from an unexpected source, which should more than cover it!
And to top it off, just to make sure I didn't miss the point, my devotion this morning was based on LUKE 12:22-34 .......if then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith............
So instead of stressing, today I'm off shopping for new clothes tailored to order, courtesy of my very generous and loving Father!
I only had time for a little tub of yoghurt for breakfast, then headed out in the drizzle to go and meet Sun, one of the Vietnamese teachers who is going to take me to the market to buy cloth, then to the tailors. My motorbike man was on the corner in his spot (I'll get a photo next time) and he waved and was keen to take me again. This time he only charged me 10.000D (50c). His name is Mitu Cuong. He was very concerned that I am only wearing a light summer top, since it is cold and drizzly. (How do you explain in sign language that you don't have anything warmer to wear??) Anyhow, I got to the school and sat around chatting for a while, waiting for Sun to arrive. Eventually someone phoned her to find out she'd called me and cancelled.... silly me, I didn't think to check my phone...
So I strolled home having a good look around. I bought a rain cape, but I only wore it for a bit. It has a little brim on the hood, and fits around your face so it covers the chin, so it's a bit much for just light drizzle!  When I got to our corner Mitu got up from his chair quite excited that I had walked home. He gave me his phone number so next time I can call him to come and get me... his English is not much better than my Vietnamese, but we manage!
Then I wandered down to the little canteen just down our street and had lunch... fish, chokoes and carrots, rice and soup. I couldn't eat it all. The little old lady wasn't there, but they were very friendly. One lady in particular came over and sat down and tried to teach me the words for chopsticks, rice, fish, soup, and chokos (or vegies?).  I took a photo of my lunch 15,000D (75c):

Since it was cold and drizzly, I stayed in for the rest of the day, talked to Katie on skype (how fabulous ...!) and worked on getting this journal all up to date so Eathen can show me how to turn it into a blog. So many dear friends and family have been in contact, I figured this is the most efficient way to broadcast what I’m doing (facebook is blocked here), so email replies don’t have to be as repetitious!
First early night I’ve had since I got here! In bed by 9pm. What bliss.  O yeah, I didn’t tell you how hard the beds are here!!! Just like in China. It’s like sleeping on the floor on the carpet. As soon as Sarah and I saw them we headed off to the shops to get some padding. We ended up at a department store called Parkson (like Meyers) and bought folding mattresses that are about 5cm thick for $25 (not cheap). It still isn’t enough, so I folded my doona under me as well, and I can get used to that. I have a very thin quilt for a blanket. I’ll be in trouble if the weather gets any colder, though.
SATURDAY 5th March
Look at what I had for lunch... real live Pho!  I dropped into a grubby little cafe just around the corner that advertised pho and voila!  Scrumptious soup and fresh greens and it cost me 20.000 dong ($1).

After that I caught a motorbike to the Big C supermarket and bought some stuff including  2 bagettes hot out of the oven. Heaven right there! I had to fight for my place in the line as the bread came out. While I was watching these 2 guys grabbed about 20 loaves each - they sell them on the side of the road.  People were ‘tsk’ing and pushing me to let them through... no politely queueing and waiting your turn here!  That must be what they call a bun fight ..? The bagettes were 2 for 7,000d (35c).

The fresh food section is quite fascinating. There are heaps of different kinds of pre-packaged fresh meals so all you have to do is come home and chuck them in the Wok. They cost between .60 and $2 each depending on the meat. Just too many things we never see to try and describe them all.
Tonight I’m home alone, so I watched Avatar on my laptop sitting up in bed... very entertaining. The TV in my room doesn’t work yet, but I hope it’ll be fixed soon. It’s a decrepit old thing with no remote and the aerial cable has no plug. Hmmmm...

SUNDAY 6th February
This morning I got to observe Dave’s Level 2 class... only 7 students
That’s Dave at the whiteboard. Lilly (9) is writing, with her sister Mary (7) behind her. Harry is the boy waiting his turn. In this game, they took turns to throw a sticky ball at the tic-tac-toe grid. Wherever the ball landed they had to write in a colour beginning with that letter. Whichever team completed three in a row first, wins the game.
This is our staff room. Sarah is the one in the grey night-club outfit (would you believe shorts!!). Yup, she needs a new wardrobe too... Sun is the one in the aqua jacket. She's due to take me shopping tomorrow "if the weather is nice".
This is Megan's restaurant where we hang out.  I had lunch there with Dave - that's him out the back in the kitchen. My lunch was 35,000D ($1.75) - including a can of coke. Way to go...

This is the street we walk along to get to school. At the other end there is a sort of market on the sidewalk... I'll get pics of that end eventually.

MONDAY 7th March
Tonight I was rostered to teach my first class. I had to be at school at 9.30am to meet Sun, who was to give me my teaching books, and give me a run down, then 10.30 with Ann the manager so she could explain their system and sign my contract. Sun was late, and Ann just gave me a brief run through how she would teach tonight’s lesson, so I spent a couple of hours putting together a lesson plan, including creating worksheets, saved it to the computer I was on, and walked home. I got back at 5pm to discover that anything saved to that C drive is automatically deleted when the computer is turned off.... so I had just on 2 hours to re-do it all. Spewing! I was labouring through when about an hour later, Ann came and told me that class has been cancelled, because they didn’t have sufficient numbers yet.  So since I was due to teach them again on Wednesday, she gave me a different class to teach then. So I started in on the lesson plan for that class instead, with less than an hour to do it in!
At 7.30 I headed home and ended up getting Pho Bo for dinner at this little cafe very close to home.
A very friendly chap sat down and showed me how to use chopsticks properly. We had one of those stilted, friendly conversations you have when neither one speaks the other’s language. He said he’s a Christian and is 45 yrs old. He couldn’t say Annie, but kept repeating Allie, and tells me I am born in the year of the cat,not the rabbit (that's Chinese...)

TUESDAY, 8th March
This morning I went to the markets with Sun and bought fabric for 2 shirts and 2 pants. I’m very glad she was there to negotiate for me. We will track down a tailor tomorrow.  I took this photo this morning. The balcony overlooks the big market in Hai Phong. We could hear the birds in these cages singing. Apparently they are worth hundreds of dollars.

 This is how you shift a load of building material in Hai Phong. I didn’t see how much energy it took him to get the load moving, but he must have very strong legs!
Both Sarah and Amie went to Hanoi for a couple of days. I hope to go soon... when my roster is clear for a couple of days. Tonight, however, I'm home alone having a night in!

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