Wednesday, 24 July 2013

A lovely day in Vietnam

Got up nice and early in true Vietnamese style and went for breakfast with Annika to a spot my Xe Om showed me. It’s basically a load of little metal tables stuffed down an alleyway where the locals all come for their morning Pho Bo (beef noodle soup). We were sat with a real mixture of business workers, street sellers, families on their way to school and a posey of female traffic wardens – the only white people of course!

Then I went for a lovely long walk into district 3. On my way I stopped by the side of the road and sat on the pavement to have a ‘quick’ 45min ca phe sua da, to start with it was just me and the coffee seller but after only a few minutes men came to join me. We must have looked pretty funny to passersby – one white girl, and 7 vietnamese men all sat on the pavement in a perfect line drinking coffee in silence.
Exploring district 3 on foot was fun. I found a great traffic watching spot right on the corner of a junction so I had maxium entertainment. When I first sat down it caused a scene as usual and no one was that friendly. But after the first hour the owner and her friend started to chat to me very animatedly, I understood a bit of what they were asking but not much, still it was nice trying out a bit of my very limited Vietnamese. Another hour later and one of the women started playing with my hair. And another hour later she was absent mindedly stroking my arm while we watched the traffic together in silence. I stayed for 4 hours and had a lovely time waving and smiling at the kids on the motorbikes as their parents pointed me out and drinking my coffee and reading my book.

Then I went and called Daddan from the post office which was also lovely to catch up with her and share my weeks news. Then my Xe Om, A Ty`, and his best friend took me in convoy to Tan Binh where I  work with my teenagers (private students). I had the best time there too! Xuka was delighted to see me as usual and Alie & Mary wanted me to go to the shop with them (aka: parade me about a bit in front of their neighbours) which I was very happy to do. Then Alie,13yrs old, decided she wanted to make me a drink… It consisted of 7up (lemonade), mint green tea, and MILK…

Then her mother decided she wanted to make me Sushi. We all sat round their kitchen table and Xuka climbed onto my lap and fed me pink yogurt. I felt so happy and content. Sitting with their family being hand fed sushi by Alie and her mother, while her Aunt tidied up the yogurt Xuka was flicking everywhere, and everyone was babbling away in Vietnamese,I really felt 100% me and 100% happy. A perfect end to a great day.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

The end of month 5

Highlights from week 20:

The best motorbikes just from this week:

-        Saw 6 men and a baby all aboard one bike = this has got to be the record

-        Saw a motorbike with  huge wooden baskets attached to it carrying about 40 ducks with their little heads poking out

-        Saw 4 Buddhist monks on a bike (this really made me laugh for some reason!)

-        Saw a cyclo driver with an entire sofa on his bike – it was so big  it was blocking his view so he could only see where he was going if he bobbed up and down

-        Saw a motorbike carrying 6 huge white bin bags bursting with red chillies
Tien, Morrin and I riding 3 deep in our PJs to fetch dinner <3

This week Teresa has been back in the city, she came to sort out some papers for the orphanage and to help the girls (who left the orphanage last year to start their nurses training in HCMC) with their paperwork and job applications. 
I got to spend a few lovely evenings with her. I had forgotten what a saint she really is! I loved cooking for her and one of her brothers Tam – I cooked them western food (pasta) which they ate with chopsticks, and I don’t think they really liked it that much! But they ate every last bit. It was a great evening, lots of laughter and catching up on news at the orphanage back in Kon Tum.
-        6 of the older girls at the orphanage got their scores back from their final school tests and have done so well they should be able to go to college which is fantastic news

-        The children at the orphanage do not have toothbrushes, so if anyone knows someone who would be willing to sponsor (ideally longterm) 1000 toothbrushes every 4/5months please please get in touch!

-        One of the nuns at the orphanage died after getting a scratch on her leg infected..

-        Teresa is trying to make plans to have a huge dining room built at one of the orphanages so the kids have somewhere clean and dry to eat and play


One day this week Teresa invited me over to the nurses rented house for lunch. Another HUGE experience for me. The girls, 6 of them, live in a tiny room  (about 8 by 4 meters) which they have constructed a platform above for sleeping on. They have basically no furniture, an open drain and tap in the corner of the room screened off with a curtain for washing/toileting/cleaning, a camping stove, one fan, and a TV. But what is really humbling (can’t think of a better word!) is that this is the goal/hope/dream for all the children at the orphanage – this is where we want them to be – living independently, getting a good job, being able to study and marry when it suits them. Just when you compare it to my dream and the way I picture my future it really makes me want to cry.

The girls were really sweet, they really wanted to cook me a special meal but unfortunately there was a powercut in their district (I was running in sweat, I didn’t even know my arms could sweat!) so they were in a right flap about how to cook the rice. In the end one of them went on a mission to another district to buy some rice there. Meanwhile in the stifling heat of the house Teresa (who was wearing black trousers and a long sleeved black jumper) decided now was a great time to give me a 3hour Vietnamese lesson…
The food the girls cooked was delicious. I love their way of cooking veg and omelette – such simple food in England but we obviously don’t cook it right because it tastes so amazing here!

The girls have a really bouncey little puppy called ‘Meelou’ who was leaping about licking everyones water glasses/bowls/chopsticks/plates and all the food… At one point she actually jumped  so high she landed in the omelette which went everywhere. The girls just picked in all back up with chopsticks and put in back on the plate to eat! There was no way I was going to be so rude as to refuse any of their food… but I was really really hoping I wasn’t going to have to make an emergency trip to their drain!
That same evening I went to work at the Language school and my classes were pretty good – the kids were quite calm and nothing eventful happened until my  last lesson… One of the kids (aged 6) stood up and started projectile vomming pink rice mush. As you can imagine all the other kids went mental. Then the TA, the Vietnamese teacher who is meant to be in charge of discipline and supervising my teaching, ran away gagging! I thought she had gone for backup… but o no, she had literally just left me with a vomiting child and class full of crazed children and sick! I whisked the still vomiting child into the closest bathroom and held his little head while he threw up some more. Mopped him down, put him in the bathtub and hosed him off a bit and washed his shoes. We were in there for a good 10mins and no one came to check up. I got him some water and returned to the classroom to find the TA still standing outside holding her nose and refusing to go in to get the rest of the kids bags.. so I did that one to. After the ordeal I actually felt pretty pleased with myself. I wasn’t sure I was good with sick, but turns out I am – I didn’t even gag once. I like to think it’s good training for teaching Primary back in England J

If I was going to get ill that evening I wasn’t sure whether I should blame the dog or the kid though!

Sunday, 30 June 2013

The other 2 jobs!

I realise I haven’t told you all about my other two jobs here! So here goes….

The dentist job:

This is the strangest job I seem to have picked up here, and to be honest even after 2months of doing it I’m not really sure what I am supposed to be doing!
I was approached through craigslist where I had put up an ad for private English tuition by a dentist who had just started at a dental clinic here. He was unhappy with how things were running at the clinic and wanted someone to come in and improve the level of English used and also to try and make the standard of service more ‘western’… he wanted me to come to the clinic at least once a week, and promised to pay me pretty well under the title of ‘business English Consultant’.
So I’ve been turning up to this dental clinic attempting to squeeze conversational English out of the receptionists a couple of times a week for the last month and I’m not really sure how much help I am if I’m honest! I tell myself I am ‘improving English listening skills’, ‘providing the opportunity for pronunciation practise’ and ‘enhancing language confidence’… but that’s all CV speak!
The twist in the story is that the dentist has now been fired, and yet they seem to be keeping me on?!

My private students:

Since the unpleasant incident with my last attempt to earn money privately I have been wary of taking on private students totally independently so when I was approached through an agency I decided to take the job.
I have been tutoring 4 teenagers in someone’s motorbike garage for the last 2months now. The group is pretty funny – they were very suspicious of me to start with and quite the bunch of shy surly teens! But now at least two of them have come out of themselves a bit and sometimes I even think I might be teaching them something!
The very best bit of these classes is one of the teens has a little sister called Xuka who is 3 and who LOVES me. She launches herself at me every time she sees me and falls about laughing, she also does this weird thing where she rubs her chin against mine really hard, she’s really really cute though. And it’s really therapeutic for me to have a proper cuddle with a kiddy twice a week – I do miss those runty little cousins of mine!

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Being a teacher at a Language School - one month in.

Mum has told me I should be writing down some of my experiences of teaching out here in Vietnam, and also I have been contacted by a writer to help her out with a book on teaching abroad.. So it’s time for some reflection!

I am still working at the language school, doing about 15hours a week. The main problem with language schools is, because they are ‘extra-curricular’, work hours always fall on evenings and weekends. The positives of working in a language school rather than an international or public school is that it is much easier to get employed there, the turnover of staff is much faster, you have less responsibility and the expectations on your teaching capabilities are less. The negatives being the pay is slightly less (though I am still on about £10 an hour) and the admin and organisation is pretty shambolic. They are also a lot less strict about you having the $300 working visa…

I’ve been at this particular school for over a month and I feel like I’m really getting the hang of the teaching style required of me now. You have 0 preparation time as I mentioned before, you literally turn up and are given a printed schedule of room numbers and book pages to teach and review and away you go.

I’ll describe a few of my recent lessons and classroom experiences:
First timers:

On Tuesday evening I had a class of first timers at the school, this was their very very first lesson at SY and they were terrified. 20 five year olds, most of whom had clearly never had contact with a real life white person before. Bless them, 2 of them had a melt down upon seeing me, and a further child had a hysterical crying fit as soon as I spoke.The TA removed the kids from the lesson and kept attempting to bring them back in, but everytime they saw me they just cried and cried! I don’t think I have ever scared children this much before just with my face!

My task for the hour was simply to teach them ‘Hello’ ‘Hi’ and give them all an English name. Can’t remember if I’ve said this before but as part of ‘English immersion’ the language schools give all students English names, usually the kids pick their own names which can be pretty amusing… I have taught a Batman, Tennis, Cherry, Pebble, Barbie and Pinky..! Most of the kids seem to end up with slightly ‘out of date’ names though, lots of kids called Tony, Linda, Tina, Bill, Kevin, Dolly, etc. So when asked  to name the kids I was pretty excited! Managed to modernise it a fair bit while not going tooooo over the top – got  a Daisy, Lily, Grace, Poppy, Alex, Oliver and Sam before the TA got involved and named the rest of them Tina and Kevin. For this lesson I just had the kids all come up to the board and draw a picture of themselves and practise writing their name next to it. Most of the kids understood the task but one little boy really was quite confused – he kept turning the drawing of himself into a rabbit.. I have no idea why, he was very very serious about it too.

How to teach a song you don’t know the tune of:

For this lesson I opened the book and read through the page numbers I was supposed to teach and it appeared to be some sort of song… I had no idea what the tune was meant to be and neither did the TA. Trying to think of a song tune on the spot felt a bit too much for me on this day… I wasn’t feeling in jolly big purple dinosaur mode. Thankfully I had a light bulb moment and decided to turn the song into a clapping game! Turns out this is not something the Vietnamese kids are used to, so  the whole concept was quite novel and exciting for them. And it worked a treat, they learnt the song and we all had fun too. WIN, one successful lesson.

Failed lessons:

I don’t want to give the impression that all my lessons are fantastic though, far from it! In fact the failed lessons are possibly teaching me even more than the successes – it is certainly a case of you win some you lose some! A recent disastrous lesson went like this…

I was trying to teach the difference between ‘much’ and ‘many’, I was making a lovely diagram on the board and getting kids to come up and add pictures and words to the board, when suddenly the mood changed. I think maybe they only just realised there was no TA in the lesson or something. Anyway they all started getting up out of their seats and just wiping off the work from the board?! Then they started to go out into the corridor and make loads of noise. I was pretty confused and I can tell you I tried EVERYTHING to get those kids back on board… I tried games, distractions, being cross and loud, being cross and silent, ignoring the behaviour, writing names on the board, dropping my book so it slammed on the floor, waiting silently with my arms folded, bursting into song (shock tactic)…literally nothing. In the midst  of me pointing to my face and saying ‘teacher is not happy, you must sit down class, now it is time to learn’ one of the kids just comes up to me and starts stroking and tugging at my arm hair (Asians just don’t have an arm or leg hair which is so unfair, but means the kids find my arm hair very amusing). Lesson fail anyway.

I'll end this post on a more positive note though! With something I'm proud of that is working out well at the moment. 

My best warmer:

I have also recently come up with a really good lesson starter which works well for all abilities and the kids seem to really get into. It’s basically a speech race. I write a sentence on the board like ‘my name is_____, my favourite colour is_____’ and then I time the class as a whole as everyone says the sentence and we go round and round until everyone is saying it as fast as they can – usually a class of 15 will take 70 seconds initially and after 3 goes, we have got it down to about 30 seconds. I am pretty pleased with the little game and have been using it in almost every lesson now, plus it helps get the kids speaking faster and being less nervous  of mispronouncing – so there is an education element to it too ;)

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

My first week as a Language Teacher in the classroom

Let me start by saying it's been an absolutely mental week here. Moving and settling into the apartment, starting 3 new jobs, a couple of hairy moments, a few dates with Daniel, a visit from Teresa (kon tum orphanage), the return of our legendary 'bad wolf' Maxim, and a serious karaoke session lasting until 8am, has left me pretty knackered and ABSOLUTELY back in love with Saigon.
Out with Teresa and her brothers- she managed to find somewhere that does her own minority 'montangard' food in HCMC

Wild night in backpack with Hao, Maxim, Cass and Morrin

Getting myself some home comforts for when I need a bit of the west.

So let me attempt to describe the language school I'm working at... It's a very different set up to most of the teaching I have experienced in England. The school itself is massive, one of the biggest in the city with 6 different campus's. I seem to be working at campus 6 on my Tuesday evenings (classes from 5pm-7:30) and my Saturday and Sunday classes (7AM till 6pm... that's means a 5am start to make it on time, a right shock to my system after months of getting up at 8am!), and then I work at campus 2 on a Thursday evening (classes 5pm-7:30 again).
Arriving at the school on my first day was very nerve racking - here's my First Day at School photo....

On arrival I was presented with an A4 schedule of my classes for that day. Each class has a code which corresponds to the book I need to teach them from, then I am given the page numbers to review, and the page numbers to teach, and the room number. You are not given time to prepare for the lesson beyond quickly flicking through the pages as you walk up the stairs, and there are no gaps between lessons. You are also not told the age of the kids, their language ability, or how many you will have in your class. Thankfully I had been out to buy my own white board pens.
My first lesson went surprisingly well. My second lesson was a total disaster. Then the next one was pretty good again. And the last one was terrible.
So first day over and 2/4 went well which I decided not to be too harsh on myself for as I'm hoping 'ad libing' interesting lessons will get easier with practise!
I've now taught about 15 lessons so they have sort of blended together but I'll give you an example of some of them...

ABC class: this class was on a Tuesday evening and the kids clearly did not want to be there, they'd all had a full day at 'normal' school and now their parents had sent them in to language school when they would all much rather be outside in the cool evening. My instructions were 'teach the alphabet' which I had to string out for an hour. The kids were all about 5/6yrs and I had 15 in my class. I decided there was very little point in trying to perfect their letter sounds this evening so instead came up with loads of games. I loved it. But most importantly so did the kids! I got them to all sit in a circle (which they clearly hadn't done before in school because they found it hilarious) and we sang the alphabet:
- as loudly as we could
- as quietly as we could
- like a mouse
- like a bear
- just one letter each and everytime you said a letter you jump up and do a 'gangnam style' k-pop dance move (this was very popular with the boys)
... and so on ....

An excited class: As I was frantically flicking through the book on my way up the stairs, and trying to figure out if I even knew what the rules are for countable and uncountable nouns (anyone?!), a group of kids hanging over the railings starting wooping with glee! They were so excited to have me as their teacher they were pretty much screaming with delight - I am the only white female teacher at this campus, and possibly the first white girl any of them have actually talked too. So pretty exciting stuff. I was so pleased that they were this happy to see me. Unfortunately it all went downhill when they realised I was actually going to teach them.. They didn't want to play my games, I couldn't get them to listen to me at all, no-one was interested in 'repeat after teacher'... I got myself in a terrible tangle with the bloody countable and uncountable nouns.. A total disaster lesson! But hay, you win some you lose some... :-)

I have had some really great classes and in some rare moments I think I might have actually taught them some English too. I love getting the kids up to draw on the board, creating characters we can talk about and making everyone laugh, I love it when I can get them to understand my games or when their pronunciation improves. I do not like that the TA hits the kids when they misbehave, and that I was asked to please speak with an American accent so the children can understand me better (I said no sorry), I wish I had time to prepare for each lesson so I could have even better games and activities going on. So overall I'm really enjoying using my brain and having to think on my feet is a challenge. I do not like 5am starts on the weekend...!

Saturday, 11 May 2013


Just a quick update this time.

So I have finally moved out of Laura's bed....where I would be without these girls is not worth thinking about! Cass and Morrin (aka Julianne and Laura) have been such a huge support and so generous to let me bunk down with them for the last 3 weeks. We are all feeling very lucky to have each other at the moment that is for sure <3

And now a new chapter begins! I have moved in to a brand new fancy apartment in the heart of the city, right on the river bank, with 2 lovely American girls - Tien and Annika. I am so excited to get to know them both better and to have some wild nights out and some lovely evenings in - I think we will make a great little house trio.

The day of the move was crazy... I had my first teaching day (5am start) - which I will have to explain as a whole separate post - it was also Tiens bday, all the furniture arriving and being assembled, the handing over of a ridiculously large rainbow coloured selection of notes, unpacking, sorting the internet.. crazy crazy. But so exciting (minus Tien being mugged part! o and my first motorbike accident - not too serious though so don't worry!).
So without further ado, I present to you my bedroom. The first time I will sleep in a bed on my own for 3 weeks, and the first night I will sleep in my own room in 3 months... I hope I don't have any monsters under the bed :-P
A rather rubbish late night photo of our living room (you can see Annika franticly lesson planning at the kitchen table there!)
And the BEST bit - the view from my bedroom window!!!!!

I'll leave you with a pic of the Birthday Girl and some delicious veggie food I got for 50p from down our road.


Thursday, 2 May 2013

Vung Tau and the power of a sunset

As most of you probably know, I had a tough week last week. My first real 'low' since February really. Each of us girls had a lots going on and I think we were all feeling the pressure of the city and unintentionally increasing each others anxiety.. Plus the build up of a few unpleasant situations put us all in a bad place.. Chuck in some homesickness and culture shock and you make for dramatic posts/messages - for which I am sorry and I won't do again.
Also Sophie, my wonderful travelling buddy who I know always has my back even when I'm bloody annoying and who will always always have a special 'Soph loaf' shaped place in my heart, has left for new ventures.
And so a new chapter as the Saigon Sisters begins.. But first we all needed to shake off the last week and take some 'maning up' time.
An hour and a half boat ride later and we arrive at Vung Tau - a purely Vietnamese holiday destination, with a sunset to restore any lost faith I was feeling.

Spent a few chilled days drinking take away CafĂ© Sua Da, and Com Sa`un (iced sweet coffee and sticky rice and pork) on the beach with a very excited Vietnamese fan club watching our every move - particularly when we did something weird like swim in a bikini or lie in the sun :) Alot of the Vietnamese who go to Vung Tau come from local rural areas and a sighting of a white person is pretty rare, and also worthy of a photograph...! Julianne was handed a baby at one point so the parents could photograph their kid with her (I should also mention this 8month old baby was wearing a baseball cap with had a fake curly blond ponytail wig sticking out from under it).

Lots of laughter and good talks with the girls. And now I am back in HCMC and back on the job hunt and still waiting to hear the date I can move into my new apartment with my new American buddies :)
I'll leave you with this fantastic sign to ponder....