Saturday, July 30, 2011

Try and picture this...

SATURDAY 30th July

Try and picture this... me on the back of Mr Cuong's little bike tucked under his rain poncho (while he was wearing it!) scooting home in a rain squall... yep, gotta admit it was pretty funny. It was only sprinkling when we left school for the ride home, but it had been raining on and off all morning. We were half way home when we could see that it was pouring further down the street, so Mr Cuong, God bless him, pulled over and got me to hunker down under his rain cape so I wouldn't get drenched! So that is how I rode home - tucked in behind him holding the cape to stop it flapping seeing nothing but his singletted back and the road beneath us. Hysterical. I can only imagine what we looked like.
There is a severe storm warning out for this evening, so classes have been cancelled. I taught kiddies for 4 hours this morning, and now I have the luxury of the rest of the day off!

I've had a busy but great week. I visited my friend Mai's new language school on Sunday night and it is beautifully set up, but like all the language schools she is desperate for foreign teachers... seems we're as rare as hen's teeth these days.

Then on Tuesday morning I went to the Star Hotel to Ian and Lesley's where I was picked up by a taxi and taken to a kindergarten 20 minutes away. Lesley has been teaching there two mornings a week, but since she's doing so many classes at VATC (now VAIE) she is finding that teaching voluntary classes at the local church  three mornings a week (which she has been doing ever since they first came to Hai Phong three visits ago) as well as two Kindy classes is too much. So I went in her place. There were about twenty 3-4 year olds who were just gorgeous. We sang songs and did flashcards for an hour, then the taxi brought me home. It was very hot, because it wasn't air conditioned and I was saturated by the time I finished, but I really enjoyed myself and the pay is good, so I'll do that class each week. I'll take my camera next time.

On Friday morning I went with Lesley to her voluntary church class. Turns out that they are temporarily meeting at Mai's new school. Two of the students gave Lesley and me rides on their motor bikes. I was on behind Xuan, and we chatted the whole way. There were about thirty young adults at the class, which was a discussion about money / currencies. Two hours went very quickly. Afterwards, we walked down the road to a cafe called Sunflower and sat with some of the students over sữa chua nếp cẩm (yoghurt and sticky rice with coconut milk).
Me standing with Thao and Net, and Xuan, Khanh, Lesley and Nhan sitting.

Xuan was keen to try out my camera.

As you can see, we had a delightful time, since all of them can speak English well enough to enjoy a conversation. I hesitated to include this photo of me laughing like a trout, but here it is:

There were some wealthy looking young men smoking waterpipes at the cafe next door. Apparently the one driving the flash red car is a local drug lord and the police are frightened of him... no, I didn't take photos of them!

Khanh gave me a ride home. Both he and Xuan have offered to give me a ride where or whenever I want to go, which is wonderful. They'll be able to practice their Engish, and I'll get to see much more of Hai Phong and surrounding places. Lesley enjoys outings with them all the time, so I'm looking forward to the opportunity to go too.

Well I've had a relaxing afternoon and evening, and there has been no sign of the storms that were forecast... but I got to talk to Greg and Gemma on skype for the first time in weeks... I reckon God orchestrated it - He's always looking out for me! 

Monday, July 25, 2011

nước cốt dừa tươi

SATURDAY 23rd July

Katie asked me to blog more often, so this will be seemingly insignificant things that happen... Like the other day when I walked down to the corner of the lane to wait for Helle to pick me up to go out to lunch... it was a really hot day and as soon as I appeared several people offered to get me a taxi, or a xe-om. The lady who sells tea on the corner where Mr Cuong hangs out came over trying to tell me he was busy , but would be back soon. All the while, I'm shaking my head and trying to mime that my friend was coming in a car to pick me up (in retrospect I think my driving a car looked a bit more like driving a truck, but they got the picture).  So then the security guard who watches the motorbikes parked outside the restaurant offered me a seat in the shade with him. He's very friendly and always gives a cheery wave when I go past. So I sat down with him in the shade just as Mr Cuong rode up. Again I had to explain that I was waiting for a friend... Then a man I haven't seen before came over from the restaurant with a big glass of warm sweet mint tea for me. So that's how Helle found me when she came.. sitting on a plastic stool on the pavement surrounded by motorbikes, enjoying the company of the security guard (who speaks no English). Like Helle commented:  Don't you just love Vietnam?  That simply wouldn't happen in my country.

There has been a lot of coming and going at the house next door, with meetings and meals and laughter. I think it's being rented as a pyramid selling training base. Anyway, when I came home from lunch it was stinking hot, yet these two girls were out in the blazing sun washing up the lunch dishes...

Twice this week we've had violent thunder-storms during the night. Both times I've slept through it, oblivious.  Yesterday morning when I went downstairs into the kitchen there was water on the floor halfway along the big room. The rain must have been so heavy the water built up in the laneway nextdoor and came through the wall!  And on both occasions our staffroom flooded, so we arrived at work to the stench of dirty, saturated carpet. After it happened the second time, they pulled up the carpet... and once the floor tiles that were underneath are cleaned off and we'll be right.

Today after the morning classes I decided to buy a fresh coconut milk nước cốt dừa tươi (that's kulau in pidgin!) from the vendor outside the school. Mr Cuong rode up just as the man was chopping the top off and he saw me pay 30,000 dong for it. As we drove home he shook his head and said 'ba mươi đã qua' (30,000 too much), 'hai mươi OK!' (20,000 OK).  So next time I will have to bargain for a better price! Either way, it was delicious..

SUNDAY, 24th July

I haven't had to walk home very often lately because two of the younger security guards at work usually drive me home. I think they earn more in that 5 minutes than they do in an hour at work, so we're all happy. But sometimes neither of them are rostered on, and I have to walk home. Last night was one of those nights. I was later getting away because I was helping two of our young TA's prepare for a demo class at uni tomorrow. It was a very hot night and I was really plodding by the time I got here at about 10:30pm ...
all hot and sweaty...

Friday, July 15, 2011

Like a thief in the night

FRIDAY 15th July

Tonight James didn't show up at work in time to teach his class. He didn't answer his phone, so Ann called Mr Cuong, (who was due to pick James up at 7 o'clock) only to be told that James had been seen getting into a cab with his bags.

Today was payday. He collected his two weeks pay and snuck off like a thief owing money for tax, power and water etc. He paid no accommodation expenses (they are deducted from the pay at the end of the month), just free-loaded for three weeks. And the bastard borrowed my raincape last week, left it on a bus and didn't bother to replace it. He also left dishes in the sink that have been growing mouldy for 5 days.
Ian had him pegged as dodgy from when he first arrived... no money, "lost" passport ... Maybe he came to Hia Phong to hide out for a couple of weeks?

Ann was understandably devastated. He had been spinning a yarn about being sick with a gastric bug and sucking up the sympathy and advice from everyone and was cadging to have Monday and Tuesday off to go to Hanoi to seek medical treatment. I guess he always intended to slink off, and once he got some cash he didn't care about deserting the classes he was scheduled to teach over the weekend.  Tonight I took his Level 7 class and combined it with my Level 5 class so the students weren't left in the lurch... but I have no idea how Ann will handle the classes tomorrow and Sunday.  And to top it off, her mother was taken to hospital today for emergency surgery for kidney stones, so she has her 6 year old daughter here at school ... I took this photo of them before we knew about James.

I just wonder how people who just up and steal away manage to live with themselves. Don't they have a conscience? How do they justify their total lack of integrity? Is it that they are so wrapped up in themselves that they are oblivious to the consequences of their actions? Fair enough  if you decide that you want to leave... but why not come out in the open and say so and give notice... why creep away leaving others to cover your debts and responsibilities?
James' absence won't affect my work load. I'm already working every shift... and I certainly wont miss his mess on the floor and in the sink, or his constantly crying poor. He was very slovenly. When the washer overflowed, he threw some clothes on the floor and left it for someone else (me) to mop up... who does that? If there's an accidental mess in your house you just hop in and deal with it! He certainly didn't enhance my Hai Phong experience much... so he won't be missed.

But I do feel so sorry for Ann. She was already carrying a heavy burden of responsibility to stretch the available teachers over the classes waiting.  I can but pray.

Harbour View Hotel

WEDNESDAY  13th July

This morning Helle picked me up and we went to the Harbour View Hotel for lunch with Ann and Ushi, whose husband is the General Manager at the hotel. It is written up in the Lonely Planet as "Haiphong's best hotel ... designed to look like a colonial palace". It is certainly an impressive place with an elegant, gracious atmosphere.  We had lunch in a grand restaurant, with gorgeous paintings on the walls.
Helle, Ushi (from Switzerland) and Ann

I had a set menu lunch
char-grilled prawn entree and delicious lamb rack for mains.

After lunch we took a stroll around the manicured grounds. Every nook and cranny is carefully tended.

The pool looked very inviting, and there is even a tiny temple tucked away out of sight for employees and locals to use:

Ann and Helle wore the beautiful embroidered blouses they bought from the silk village (near Hanoi) last week. I am looking forward to going there one day.

Ann is leaving this week to go back to Belgium for a holiday, then she and her partner Peter will go to Oman for a couple of years. The ex-pat community is very transient, with most people leaving after their contracts finish. They have a regular Cocktail Party at Harbour View as a opportunity for social networking for ex-pats in Hai Phong. Of course, I am always working at night, so it's unlikely I will ever get to join them, but certainly all the westerners I've met since I've been here have been delightful people who have led fascinating lives. And the best thing is that English is their common language. I feel such an ignoramous that I can only speak one language. Most of these people speak at least three!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

More teachers!


Today I have a day off! My second day off in 64 days!! So far, I have slept in, had breakfast, chatted on skype and sorted my photos files. I'm hoping to catch up with Lina and go to the movies later, but we'll see ...

There are now three full-time and one part-time teacher at VATC with one more (Gene) in the US due to return next week!! Woo-oo. So I got A DAY OFF.

Here they are  - Lesley and Ian, and James pulling a silly face (he's always clowning around):

First came Ian from Australia (he's in the typhoon bog). He is back for a third stint at this school. Everyone loves him and he obviously loves it here. Last week his wife Lesley joined us part-time. She's teaching the little ones and children's classes. They are living at the (no) Star Hotel.
And the latest recruit is James (a very loud brash American). He's from Michigan and has been teaching in Asia for several years, mostly in China. He has moved into the house and is settling in to teaching all levels with great enthusiasm. He has rearranged what was the girls' room and it looks spacious and comfortable now. So Mr Cuong has another regular customer.
I picked up my pants from the expensive tailor in the city centre after he had to remake them because the first lot didn't fit. They are still too low in the crutch, but so much better than the other ones I had made when I first got here. And the fabric is gorgeous... fine Italian cashmere wool - light and cool and it breathes - much more comfortable than synthetic fabric. Then Lina dropped in with the four  tops I had made by her dressmaker and they are refreshingly colourful and fit beautifully, so I feel a bit like a butterfly.
(See? I told you my hair is falling out by the handful...)

SUNDAY 10th July
Now it's days later... I ended up going out to Lunch with Helle and Ann to BKK restaurant again, then Helle dropped me off at Parksons - a big department store like Meyers. Everything's so expensive the prices are pretty much what you'd pay in Australia! Nevertheless, I found some Revlon lipstick I'd run out of and a whole shelf full of novels in English (rare as hens teeth in Hai Phong) ... so I bought three.  I took a photo of some of the shoes ... the ladies here wear the most gorgeous shoes with outrageously high heels... since they ride everywhere on motorbikes and park on the footpath wherever they want to go, they never have to walk far. Check them out:

I got one of the shop assistants to model some for me :)

There's a cinema complex on the top floor of the building (above the bowling alley), so I headed upstairs and went to the movies! I saw Transformers 3 for $2.50. The seats were very comfortable and apart from the Vietnamese sub-titles, I could easily have been at home. Next time I'll shout myself some popcorn, too. Since I was right near Big C I ducked into the supermarket and bought some groceries, then caught a taxi home and got stuck into one of the books I bought: Second Glance by Jodi Picoult. I finished it tonight ... an entertaining read.

So there you go. I've had two days off. Just got next week's roster, so that will be 2 days in 74. But time flies when you're having fun. Cheers :)