I spent a few hours wandering around Hanoi… looking at various things… being happy and excited that I was back in Vietnam but also seriously jealous of all the backpackers in my hostel who were planning where to go next! I had a nice, very hot, walk around Hoan Kiem Lake in the Old Quarter near my manky hostel, which has some legend about a giant turtle diving down to the bottom to retrieve a sword for an emperor or something (??) then had a lunch of Bun Cha which is a typical Hanoian dish of cold Bun noodles, with pork patties in a sweet salty sauce… Delicious!! I’ve had it before and will have it again I’m sure.
After my lovely lunch I was ready for my taxi to the airport – I’d booked it to come early just in case as it was around rush hour and did NOT really want to be missing the flight. I slept almost the whole way (an hour and a half) in the taxi.
I met Harley, a guy who works at the school (son of the principle) , at Hanoi airport before flying to Vinh. The gate had been changed because of “a crack in the airport” (if I heard correctly) and the flight before mine from the same gate wasn’t due to leave until long after mine… hence the switch.
The flight wasn’t even late in the end which was good. I’d had enough of airports and planes by this point in my long journey.
The flight to Vinh took about 35-40 minutes. Only long enough for them to hand out little bottles of water and for me to read a few pages of my book. Most of the journey was over the sea but as we started curving round towards Vinh I had some lovely views of the near by beaches, and rocky shores and cliffs. All very exciting and nothing much like what I’d read what Vinh was supposed to be like, which turned out to be right (more on that later…).
Harley’s Dad met us from the airport, at this point I was still feeling very shy/jetlagged/nervous etc etc – not great to be honest. His Dad took us to his apartment, where his Mum (the Principle of the school where I am now working) was also waiting. They had just moved in there after many many many years of living in a horrible place in the country (apparently) and there were lots of the staff there to greet me. The new flat was beautiful, if not really to my taste, and had been designed by an architect… and only finished that morning!!! They gave me some mangosteen (a delicious tropical fruit) and some water. It was very nice, but I felt pretty awkward as they were all excitedly talking in Vietnamese so obviously I couldn’t really contribute to the conversation!! They said we had to wait for one of the foreign teachers (Steph) as his class finished at 7.30pm… and that we were going out for a meal to welcome me and another new guy (Sydney). Well, how amazing to have such a welcome, but really?? I was hot, dirty, sticky, sweaty, and was wearing denim shorts and walking boots so as to save space in my rucksack. Not exactly my first choice of outfit for going out for a meal and meeting all my new colleagues! Lovely all the same – the meal I mean. It was a typical vietnamese meal of all different dishes that you just served yourself… a bowl of shrimp soup each, then some fried chicken, rice, beef, chips (pretty sure they weren’t invented in Vietnam but hey, who’s counting?), some salady things, and some cold beer. Im not a beer drinker at home at all, but while travelling in hot countries I find it completely different and really like it.
Finally, after the meal, and having tried to be polite and interested in all the conversation that people had tried to include me in, we headed to the school where I am now based. In the dark I couldn’t really tell what it was going to be like. I made it up to the 2nd floor with my big backpack and pretty much crashed straight out on my bed.
My room looks over a field where, I have been told, is growing some type of watercress. Regardless of what it is, they seem to be picking it day in, day out. From earlier than I even wake up, till it is dark around 6.30pm.
The next morning (monday) an intern showed Sydney and I around the school. For some reason, which i will NEVER understand (I noticed this when living in Thailand too) in Asia, they pave outdoor areas with indoor tiles. AND, seeing as there is no such thing as health and safety laws/ policies or whatever here, they mop the floors, making them super slippy and then don’t put a wet floor sign up. Yeah, you guessed right… I landed on my bum in front of a lot of the kids and staff members, within an hour of my first day. Nicely done, Ruth, nicely done. Idiot!
The school seems nice enough, so many kids said hello to me on our walk round the school. I still felt pretty unsure of what was expected of me, what I would be doing, where I would be teaching, what age I would be teaching… well, unsure of everything!!
I had a meeting with the rest of the English department where I was told that I would be observing one primary class, two kindergarten classes, and an evening class. Then on the thursday I was going to be teaching two demo lessons. One to grade 1, and one to the 5 year olds in kindergarten. That was exciting.
So the observation lessons were fine, I just had to take notes, that was fine. Then it came to my demo lessons where I was absolutely terrified. The Principle, her son, the two other foreign teachers (Lizzie and Steph) who’d both been here since at least the start of the year, and a vietnamese english teacher also came and watched. So in my class of 12 Grade 1s, I had 5 extras watching. Not helping the nerves!!
The demo classes went ok, and the next morning I got feedback. They were pleased with the fact I managed to improvise when having technical difficulties during the 5yr old class, and said I had a few things needing worked on but that would come with time and experience. So that was all good, and was excited for getting started. Also at that meeting I was assigned my classes that I would be teaching: age 2, age 3, age 5, Grade 1, Grade 1 maths and science, and Grade 6. Then 2 evening classes a week, and then “boarding co-ordinator” which is a pretty loose term I think that they still haven’t figured out what it means.
Tuesday night I was in bed with the light off and I heard this noise. I realised it was my phone… my little crappy brick phone that I only use when abroad, and it was ringing. It was Steph saying that a bunch of folk were going out to hang out, not sure where since most places were closed but that’s what was happening. So I got up and redressed and headed downstairs. 6 of us headed out of town on 3 motorbikes to a mountain on the edge of the city. One of the motorbikes dies half way up, so needed pushing, but we made it up there eventually. There was a pagoda up there which we climbed to the top of and watched lightening in the distance. It was pretty cool. A fun night and something different. It turned out that the motorbike that dies on the way up was just out fuel so one bike when and got a bottle and filled it up and we headed back to school.
On saturday a bunch of us from the school went to mini golf somewhere in Vinh. I haven’t yet figured out anywhere in Vinh as I haven’t had a tour, and I haven’t been anywhere much yet!! However, somewhere in Vinh, we went to mini golf. there were 10 of us. Team Europe (Lizzie, Steph and I), Asia 1 (Harley, Sydney and a teacher from school), then Asia 2 (Long – the intern, and 3 of his friends). Well obviously Team Europe won 🙂 🙂
The rest were heading on to a meal and then karaoke (I think that’s pretty much all there IS to do in Vinh), but Steph, Lizzie and I headed off with a friend of theirs – another expat from Scotland – to see one of his friends for their birthday. We turned up at this apartment, I thought we were arriving at some party but it was a family home (not his friend’s, but his friend’s boss – I think) and they had amazing banana bread and cheese and crackers and made us coffee and juice and all sorts. Really nice! His friend then left and we headed off to a place that I’s been to earlier in the week with Lizzie – a meat restaurant called Vuvuzela. We sat and had a few drinks in there then Lizzie and I headed home and the boys stayed out.
Sunday was mostly spent lesson planning – not the most exciting day ever, but I wanted to be fully organised and ready to go come monday morning and my first day of classes!! I still didn’t know anything whatsoever about this role I had supposedly agreed to to be the boarding co-ordinator when the kids start sleeping at the school. Noone knew anything, and not even when it was starting.
And so… after months of preparations and nervousness and excitedness…monday morning came and I started teaching. I was nervous, but not as nervous as my demo lessons. My first class was a short one. 20 minutes with the 2 years olds. Oh man, they are the cutest things ever. They can’t even speak Vietnamese yet, never mind English. its one of the easier classes I have. All I have to do is sing songs with them pretty much. I’m gonna need a bigger rucksack to take them all home with me!!!
I had five classes on my first day, one of 2 year olds, then grade 6 who are about 11/12 kind of age, then 3 year olds, then five year olds, then grade 1 who aren’t used to school yet and are pretty much out of control until their Vietnamese form tutor comes in and threatens them with the ruler. I can’t watch that bit. One of them – Sharon (they have all got an English name ), has neater handwriting at 6 years old than I will ever have in my life!!!
The kids sleep for 2 hours during the day, from 1130 – 130. They all have little camp beds which are lain out in the school hall for all of primary, and then the kindergarten kids sleep in their classrooms on similar beds.
So the first day went ok. Lots of planning to do in the evening for the today, but I had got quite a bit done during the kids and teachers (vietnamese – not foreign) nap time so not too much. The meal at school wasn’t bad either last night. To start off, when I first got here about 10 days ago it was the same every day, and I just wasn’t enjoying the food so hardly ate anything. Now the cook is experimenting I think to see what we like. We had squid and spaghetti last night which was interesting!!!
The “Boarding Coordinator” part of my job is pretty misunderstood I think. Both by me and the heads of school. They basically said to me that I would be a tutor to help the children who board learn english. They then gave me a timetable which says I have to get up at 5.45am and go jogging with them, then do exercise and fitness until 7.00 and then get ready for school. Then from the end of school (4.30pm) I was to be responsible for them until they go to bed at 10pm. Somehow, I am meant to fit in lesson planning around all of this. I think not.
I have had serious words with school saying that it was not explained to me properly and that I am not happy with this. I said that I wouldn’t be able to focus on lesson planning and teaching properly if I was so busy outside school hours. They offered to take teaching time off me, to help, but I refused. I came here to teach at the end of the day, and I am not letting something like this get in the way of what may end up being a career for me. I got upset as I was so annoyed. Anyway, the be all and end all was that it was part of my job so either like it or lump it. I didn’t say I didn’t want to do it, I just said it needed to be more reasonable than it was stated in the timetable. Anyway, the timetable has been adjusted I have been informed (haven’t seen it yet!) so I will have time to teach all my lessons, and plan them, and have 2 evening classes a week. So, I just have to keep my fingers crossed that the school stick to their end of the deal.
So, I’ve been here for 10 days now and already it’s flying by. Im feeling more settled, and have met some lovely people. I’m sure it will take a good bit longer getting used to the teaching etc. but I’m happy and I’m enjoying it. The heat today was disgusting: never felt heat like it. It was about 35 degrees C, with an even hotter wind – like standing under a hand dryer. Gross!