Sunday, January 27, 2019

Vietnam (2): Settling In

So much has happened in such a short space of time!!! 
As we reach the end of our second full week in Vietnam (17 days here already, but who's counting!), I find myself living in that all-too-familiar contradiction of "Where has the time gone?!", and also "Wow, we've only been here TWO weeks?!". 

In fairness, I couldn't be more grateful. That awful limbo-space of beginning a brand new chapter in a brand new place is no longer feeling awful - although still decidedly limbo! The initial General State of Confusion is being exited. We're starting to know our way around, starting to fall into a routine of sorts, starting to get a feel for the place...

The major development for me, personally, has been on the work front. As my friend Candice told me right in the beginning: you have to be your own entrepreneur here. You sell yourself, you sell your hours, you hustle and manoeuvre. You build your own schedule by simultaneously working for a number of language schools at a time, and try to work it out so that you end up with a schedule that is most beneficial and best-suited to YOUR personal needs, in terms of the hours you wish to invest, and the returns which you wish to enjoy.

Now: this is all rather daunting for someone who is used to working a set weekly schedule, as most of us are. We're used to a Monday to Friday workweek, working X amount of hours within the usual 8 - 4 or 9 - 5 parameters. It's overwhelming to go for interviews and be asked how many hours you want, and on what days, or to be given a schedule and asked if it suits you, while waiting on schedules from numerous other companies, and all of them are waiting for your answer because there are other people who need those hours too... ARGH!!! It's been an EDUCATION, if you'll pardon the cheesy metaphor!

Anyway. I'm set, it seems. I'll be working 4.5 hours at the University a week (which is 2 classes), and after April another 4 classes will be added, which will bring me to 13 hours in total. 
Then I signed on as the Grade 3 English teacher at the biggest public school on the island, which I'm REALLY excited about. 6 classes with 35 kids in each, 8 years old. I think it's going to be an incredibly challenging and wonderfully enriching experience for me as an educator. It'll be vastly different from anything I've ever done before. But I've worked there for all of this week and a few lessons last week too, and I really do enjoy the environment. It feels like ACTUAL teaching. I connect with both the staff and students in a way in which I never did in all of the private institutions I've ever worked at.
Finally, I'll be working at one of the biggest language centres here on the weekends - one class of littleys on Saturday and Sunday morning, and a class of teenagers on Saturday and Sunday evenings. 
If the University accepts my proposed class-schedule, I should have a 26 hour workweek in total, with Mondays and Fridays off. And make enough money to enjoy my life here, as well as put some aside for travel and life. Fingers crossed!!!
(Shaun has his first batch of interviews and demos lined up for the week ahead. He's going to ROCK them, charmer that he is. ;) )

We've had some really awesome experiences in this past week that have brought me a great deal of joy, and continue to endear me to this place more and more each day. I'm often reminded of Taiwan in many of the interactions here, and I imagine it has a fair amount to do with the overriding Taoist/Buddhist ethos of most of the Vietnamese people, as well as the historic Chinese influence.

Most prevalent at the moment, of course, is the upcoming Lunar New Year, known here as "Tet". For the first two weeks of February, Vietnam will be on holiday (along with the rest of most of East Asia). The streets and alleys are being covered in fairy lights and lanterns, trees are being adorned with red envelopes, pomelos (a huge, delicious citrus fruit that is traditionally eaten around this time) are EVERYWHERE, big red festive signs seem to be going up everywhere around the town wishing everyone a "Chuc Mung Nam Moi!" ("Happy New Year!"), and there's a general sense of jubilation and excitement all around.

We were very fortunate to be invited to dinner at our landlords last week, who live on the 4th floor, just above us, as something of a pre-New-Year get-together... Candice and Connor, Shaun and I, and another couple who also rent from them: he's French Belgian, she's Vietnamese. 

The landlords are a young Vietnamese couple in their 30s, who used their wedding money to buy a small piece of land on the side of a mountain in this lovely little coastal town. Him being an architect, they built a house in which they could live comfortably on the top floor, and still rent out the two apartments below. As he explained to me, property in Vietnam is very expensive, so people build UP. (I should have known this house was designed by an architect. My mum is an architect, and the way this house flows into beautiful spaces and areas is something that immediately resonated with me, after years of learning from her and listening to her).

Dinner was casual and plentiful, traditional and unpretentious: a table laden with roast duck and roast chicken, different types of spring rolls, rice, greens, steamed fish, and different and interesting little sauces to go with each dish. The beer flowed freely, conversation was lively and interesting (I'd expected it to be somewhat stilted, as these events generally tend to be, what with the language and cultural differences, and the coyness and humility of local hosts as opposed to the brashness and gregariousness of us Westerners, usually - but we all fell into a rather comfortable repartee rather quickly). 
We left with full bellies, big smiles, a warmth and gratitude for all that is Vietnam... and a cactus-plant each for Candy and I, after we'd admired the landlady's beautiful potted succulents - a very typically Asian gesture of kindness.

The other really cool thing that happened since last I wrote was this party we went to last Sunday night (most teachers here work full weekends, so Sunday night is the big party night here). We all went out to a place called Pineapple Beach Bar, which is literally across the road from the beach, for a birthday shindig. They have craft beers, a pool table, and a balcony overlooking the beach. They were also supposed to have a live music act, but when his equipment wouldn't work, the owners asked our friend Connor to save the day. He went rushing home to get the DJ equipment, and him and Shaun ended up DJing there! It was AWESOME!!! My man was cool as a cucumber, the consummate professional, and the floor was pumping! I couldn't have been prouder.

Also on the same night, Vietnam won their Asian Cup football match against Jordan, and the celebrations were quite something to behold! Suddenly, a parade of scooters and trucks FILLED the beach road, hooting, blasting music, and waving Vietnamese flags! It went on and on, both lanes were completely packed as the procession inched along the beach, everyone going in the same direction - elated in their victory.

We've had some adventures, Shaun and I. We like to go driving around without any real destination in mind - following the roads wherever they lead. Sometimes I go for walks in the narrow lanes and alleys around our house. It's so interesting to me, watching life unfolding all around me. There's a little old man who is clearly homeless, who lives in a hammock strung up between two trees on the pavement along the nearby main road. He always has food, and a drink in his hand. I think the vendors along the road take turns feeding him, as I've seen them chatting to him often...

One day, at the end of a Shaun-Honey Adventure Day, we popped into a Korean restaurant for dinner. We started chatting to a man outside, who introduced himself as Mr Kim, the proprietor of a new coffee shop in town. Later, as we finished our meal and got ready to pay the bill, Mr Kim said goodbye and told us to come to see his shop sometime. Him and his friends were out the door already when they doubled back and came back inside with a Vietnamese man, who promptly sat down at a little piano in the corner and started playing the most beautiful music! Mr Kim requested a song "in D-minor", and was soon singing along, while the rest of us watched and enjoyed! 
After they left, the Vietnamese restaurant owner came to chat to us, and explained that her husband (whom we'd just observed) was a professional musician, and played the piano, violin and saxophone at various hotels and venues around the city. She gave us her card, and invited us to come round to their house for free lessons anytime. She said she used to be a doctor, and was born and raised in Vung Tau, and offered to help us with anything we needed while we were here, because she loves her home town and wants everyone who experiences it to love it, too.

We left feeling high on life, high on Vietnam, high on the kindness of strangers.
THIS is why we're here.
This is the magic of stepping outside of the boundaries of regular life.
And I cherish every moment of it.

First time at the beach!

Dinner with our lovely landlords

Shaun getting ready to DJ at Pineapple Beach Bar 

 Sign at Pineapple Beach Bar

 Buddhist nuns outside a temple

 Lunar New Year decorations in the alley

 Scenes while out walking one day...

 Scenes while out walking one day...

 Scenes while out walking one day...

 Warrior statue in the park

 Buddhist temple

First time at the beach!

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