Friday, August 12, 2016

Do As I Say

I gave my students an assignment to write a daily diary. After explaining some of the benefits outside of language learning they asked if I wrote one. And I used to, and I loved it and I shouldn't have stopped.

So, write everyday, even if it's only one sentence. That was the assignment.

I'm doing this from mobile and it works well enough, for those days when I'm tired and I just need to write something from bed.

That should do it for day one.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Week 3: How Miguel Got His Groove Back

A few days ago I think I finally turned the corner in my journey here.  My updates since I've been here have been far from positive.  They don't have the joy, and wonder that filled my first updates from China, and they lack the lightheartedness of my e-mail(s) from Peru, though those were incredibly sparse.  Ok, let's be honest, there were only two.  But they were funny.  At least, I thought they were.
But I've made no secret that my first few weeks here have been more difficult than my last two journeys.  I think a part of me knew it was going to be, and that's possibly why I chose here as opposed to Japan, which I had been talking about before I made my decision.  I don't think the decision was a conscious one.  Sometimes our minds guide our decisions more than we can give them credit for.  While the reasons I spouted were practical, I think at the time I was truly uncertain of my decision and that was kind of exciting.  But as I said, a few days ago it finally started working out.
I went to a bar that I've now frequented a few times, it's the one that requires me to pass by "cheeky boom boom" man.  It's one of the few places listed on TripAdvisor here, and it's labelled as an expat bar.  The two times I had been there previously, however, it was as white as brown rice.  I was really craving rum, as I had been getting tired of the same old beer, and I knew that this bar at least had a cuba libre listed on its menu.  When I go inside the bar is nearly empty, but it was only 8 o'clock so I wasn't surprised.  I was only popping in for one drink before I was to meet a coworker for dinner.  I sit down at the bar and notice, finally, another white face next to me.  He's busy looking at a menu, so I know he is definitely not from around town, and I wave the bartender over.
"Cuba libre, please."  The bartender looks at me incredulously.  So I say it again, with how I assume the Vietnamese might pronounce it, "Cooba leebra, please."  Still no response.  Ok, let's go to plan B. "Rum and coke?"  Nothing.  "Coca cola?" still no response.  Seriously, nothing for Coca Cola?  I'm trying to point up to the chalkboard menus they have above the bar, where they have written both Cuba Libre and Rum and Coke.  By now I'm completely flustered when the guy next to me turns his menu around and points to a Cuba Libre on the menu.
"Aaaaaah, cuba libre" the bartender says, exactly the way I had said it the first time.
"Yes, please.  Mot cop (one glass)."
"Rum-uh and-a CocaCola"  He smiles at me.
"Yes. Exactly." As he turns away I look over to the guy next to me.  "Thanks for the help there, mate."
"No worries." He replies.  He's got a London accent. We introduce ourselves and he's just in town for the night.  Him and his buddy had gone to Ha Long Bay and were touring around SE Asia.  His buddy had gone home early and he had decided to check out HaiPhong. "It's the third largest city here so I thought there would be more foreigners." I just chuckle.
"Yeah, you'd think so, but the only foreigners here are mostly Chinese.  I've only seen a handful of white faces and I work with most of them."  We begin chatting, there's a footbal match on TV so we talk a bit about that.  We're both lamenting at the fact that there just really isn't anywhere to meet English speakers in this city, and he, like me, only came to this bar because it was on TripAdvisor.
"I really just want to see some live music."  And there is was.  Suddenly I had found that thing I had been lacking for the last 3 weeks.  Finally I had that feeling that is all to common for me back in the States, but that also took me quite a long time to find in China.  I had found confidence.
"I actually know a place that has live music.  It's just a few blocks away, and the band doesn't completely suck."  Here I was, only in the city a few weeks myself and I was showing someone else around.  It felt....great.
He had rented a bike, so he gave me a lift to the other bar where I knew we could find some music.  And while I normally get looks while on the back of a bike, the two of us got more random "Hello"s shouted at us than I had received in total so far.
When we get to the bar not only is the band playing like I'd hoped, many of my local coworkers are already there having a drink.  The table of coworkers is full, so I just say hi and sit at the bar, and I order us a round of beers in Vietnamese, because even though I knew the bartender spoke English I was feeling incredibly cocky and wanted to show off.  I only had time to share one more beer with him before my date, but we exchanged facebooks and I wished him luck on his journey.
The best part, perhaps, was the next day he sent me a message asking if there were any Western restaurants around, and I actually happened to know a few.  I can't begin to express how good I felt.  I was actually learning my way around town.

The thing is, I have learned quite a bit about my area.  I've eaten at a ton of different restaurants, know the names of most of the streets in my area, and can find my way around without needing to consult my phone anymore.  I really have made a lot of progress.  But I would have never realized the progress I had made without Tim to demonstrate it to.  I see the same thing often with my students, where it seems to them that they have plateued, and that they really aren't learning anything.  It takes seeing things with a fresh set of eyes before they realize that they are making progress, and they shouldn't be feeling discouraged at all.  Many times we don't realize exactly how special we are until someone tells us, and even then we many times don't believe them.  It isn't until someone shows us, with absolute awe, how incredible we can be that we can actually appreciate.  Perhaps this is part of the joy of having children, and it certainly is part of the joy of teaching.  When we do something that, to us is second nature, or we don't thinka bout it often, but to the eyes of the less experienced we may as well have committed a miracle.

So I'm happy to report that, this week, I've really started to find my groove.  I really have come a long way in a very short time.  I've learned more Vietnamese than I had learned Chinese at this point in time.  I've had less prepared for me and had to work a little harder to be on the same footing that I was in there, and while I'm not even close to the comfort level I had in Peru, it seems much more achievable now.  I'm recognized by many of the locals and I'm getting screwed out of money less and less, or at least, not getting overcharged as much.  In short, I'm really feeling confident.

I love and miss you all,

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Week 2: House Hunting: or, Why I Suddenly Appreciate Why People Become So Bitchy When Buying A House

I'm having a hard time trying to figure out exactly how to begin this update, so I think I just have to "Train of Thought" this one and see how it ends up.  No funny stories to begin this one, just matter of fact.  Maybe we will discover something amusing in the middlle...

The search for an apartment/house continues.  So far I have seen 3 different places, each with their own benefits and drawbacks, but so far nowhere that I can see myself being comfortable for a year.  Normally I would just rent for a month or two and leave when I found someplace better, but most places require not just a secutiry deposit but also 3 months rent, and I'm just not ready to make that kind of commitment to a place I don't really love.  There is one apartment that is fairly close to work, but it is only a single bedroom, a bathroom, and a shared kitchen with the other apartment on my floor.  Now I wouldn't normally think this is a bad thing, but what they are charging me is absolutely outrageous.  9 million dong (1. I still giggle every time I say the name of the currency and 2. That is about 400 dollars, which is a ridiculous price for just a bedroom even in the states) is just too expensive.  Especially considering option #2.  #2 is a house with three bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, and 1.5 bathrooms for the low low price of 6.5 millions dong (still funny).  The downside of that place is it is far from work, my only form of transportation right now is walking or a cab (which are fairly pricey), and it was incredibly dirty.  Ridiculously dirty.  I almost passed out when I opened up the fridge (which still had an old 7UP bottle and some melted butter inside.  Seriously, if you are about to show a house clean it up).  I normally would jump at a deal that good, but the drawbacks are just to large.  House number 3 had the price of 7 million dong (giggle), but was fairly small, lacked a bed, and didn't have a stove in the kitchen, only a hot plate.  The benefit, however, was that it was only 2 blocks from work.  Another major downside was that the staircases were incredibly narrow, and I can just see myself coming home from a late night, missing a step, breaking my neck, and not being discovered until I missed a shift at work.  There is a fourth option that I have not seen yet, but a decision needs to be made soon, as I'm going a bit crazy at the hotel.

Housing issues aside, everything else has been getting better.  I've had some quality time with my coworkers, and am getting along with them much better.  As it turns out, much like me, they have a work persona and an everywhere else persona.  The difference is their work persona is much more held back than my own.  One of my coworkers has invited me to dinner at his house this week, which I am really looking forward to.  His girlfriend is Venezuelan and lived most of her life in Spain, and she said she would could me a Tortilla Espanola and would look into making some other tapas from Spain that I had mentioned I love.  I bonded quite well with his girlfriend a few days ago, and we spent some time chatting in Spanish, which oddly enough made me feel much more at home (I miss you my Peruvian friends!).  My other coworker has been very supportive at work, and while he might be incredibly dry I blame that mostly on the fact that he is South African more than he is a dick.  Seriously, Adrian and those who know him, he is 15 times dryer than you.  Perhaps you have picked up a bit more ability to display your sarcasm since you've been in the states for so long, but I seriously have no idea when he is joking and when he is serious.  As for my boss, he has been nothing but supportive and is a joy to work for.

We had someone from the corporate office in Hanoi come to our school last weekend.  They observed classes and gave feedback, which was a bit nervewracking since I've only been teaching here for a week.  However when it came time to get my feedback I felt much better.  I got some great compliments from him and my boss, and they were really pleased with how I was handling my classes.  They were both very impressed with my repoire with my students, and both mentioned how impressive it was given my limited time with the students.  Most of you know I have no issues with me ego, but it's nice to have my confidence in my ability validated by an outside party, especially since I haven't been my confident self in the last week.

Honestly, I had a bit of a breakdown last Saturday.  I never got culture shock in China, and Peru was fantastic, but it has been a bit of a struggle here and I was beginning to doubt myself.  But after spending some quality time with coworkers and after getting my reviews, I'm more confident in my decision.  It's not always easy, but I knew I needed a bit of extra help this time, I asked for it, and I got it from the people here.

That is about the most that has happened lately.  Thanks to everyone who has been keeping touch either through facebook or e-mail.  A lot of your updates came when I was feeling really crappy on Saturday, so well timed there.  I hope you all are enjoying the snow, and I'm glad to see a lot of you got days off from it.  The weather here has been nothing short of perfect so I'm glad you are at least being treated to the joys of snow while it is cold.  Just know that when the snow melts but the freeze continues, I will be laughing in a T-Shirt.

Lots of Love,

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Week 1 in Vietnam: or, Why I'm Tired Of My First Encounters In Countries Being With Prostitutes

Maybe it's because I'm clearly a tourist.  Maybe it's because I'm so devilishly handsome.  Either way, while I don't have a story as amusing as my first night in Lima, I have been offered "Cheeky Boom Boom" nearly every other day that I've been here.  Normally I would be able to brush this off, but I'm getting particularly irritated this time because it's been from the SAME GUY! I've since altered my walking route to avoid the corner that he hangs out in, but I have to hand it to him.  He's gets more clever in his propositions every time.  (I have now suddenly realized that I'm giving the impression that the guy is propositioning sex with himself.  I'm assuming he's just the pimp for the ladies and not a gay prostitute....not that there's anything wrong with that.  The gay part, not the prostitute part.)  The first encounter followed a simple enough interaction, "HALO!" He said and waved.
"Hello!" I politely responded with a smile, as I always do.  This, too, is a common occurence and one that doesn't bother me in the least.
"Where are you going?"
"I'm going to work."
"Very good.  Want Cheeky Boom Boom?"
"Erm, no thanks" and I walked off.  He began to follow me.
"Are you sure?  Very nice?"
"Again, no thanks" and continued walking.  Skip to the next day...
"HALO!" He greets me again.  I'm assuming he didn't recognize me because all foreigners look the same.
"Where are you going?" I'm beginning to think the man only knows three sentences in English.
"I'm going to eat."
"Very good.  Want Cheeky Boom Boom?"
"Again, no thank you.  Have a good night."
"Are you sure?  Very nice.  Very CHEAP!"  Oh, how wonderful, he's now trying to appeal to my more frugal nature.  Because if there's one thing that's important when paying for sex, it's that it's cheap.
"No thanks.  Good night."  And I walked off again.  But two days later I'm walking down the same street and see him with a friend at the same corner.  He sees me again, though this time I see the flash of recognition on his face.  He doesn't bother with the greeting or asking where I'm going this time, instead placing his thumb sticking out from his crotch and grabbing it with the other hand, making a jerking off motion.  "No thank you" I said "No cheeky boom boom." And we both laughed.

The first few weeks in a new country are always difficult.  I stick out like a sore thumb (that's thankfully not being jerked off) and I don't speak a lick of vietnamese.  For the most part people are friendly and if they say anything it's simply a "hello" and a smile.  But many times the friendliness is a mask, a way for them to deceive you, so that you don't realize exactly how much they are ripping you off.  This is a bigger problem here than in China, both because haggling is much more common and prices are very rarely posted.  Most people have an easy tell, and that's when you ask them the price and they hesitate.  Now, if I'm ordering several different things hesitation is perfectly normal, after all, you need to add up the prices in your head.  But if I'm going in for a haircut, which I did on my second day, and the person needs two seconds to think of what the price is, and more importantly states the price as a question, I know that it is not the actual price.  The shame is, however, that until I learn my numbers I really have no way to effectively haggle, and must simply smile and accept it.  "Well," you might say "You need to talk about the price beforehand."  This is, of course, a great recommendation.  However I still don't know my numbers.  So whatever price they tell me at the beginning I still simply smile and nod.  Perhaps smile and nod is not always the best strategy, (I once had someone chastise me for that), but at least it keeps me from burning bridges or upsetting people.

There is a lot that is very different here than from in China.  I'm more quick to compare this experience to China than Peru because at least in Peru I spoke the language, and I could get by very easily right away.  However here I need a bit more support.  China was much easier to begin with.  Not because of the language but because I had a very good group of people who had been there a while to help show me the ropes right away.  Our school here, however, has only two other teachers and our Director, so when it comes to local places they are also almost just as clueless.  The director has been to Vietnam before but lived in Hanoi.  The other two have also been here before but not in this city, so this is kind of a new experience for all of us.  The other downside is that they aren't really a lot of fun.

They are nice, don't get me wrong, and have been happy to help and answer any question I have.  However when it comes to getting a pint after work, they aren't too interested.  They are all in serious relationships and so when the work day is over, they much prefer to go home.  I might also be the same, if I had a home yet.

As of now I'm still in the hotel.  We are working on finding apartments, but again, the school is only 3 months old and the kind of relationships with renters around the area has not been established.  The first teacher was in the hotel for almost a month.  The second for two weeks.  We are hoping to shorten that time for me, but we will see.

But none of this in the slightest upsets me.  As I read back through what I've written it actually sounds quite awful, and I'm going to blame that on writing as a poor medium to convey complex emotion.  I was prepared for everything coming in here, that being I had no expectations whatsoever.  This is also part of the joy of going abroad for me.  Those first few weeks or months of survival, doing things or living in a way that most people would have gotten fed up with by now.  It's by no means perfect, but what in life ever is?  The perfect house that we buy always has problems that need fixing.  That great new job always has an asshole at the workplace who drives us nuts.  We would never expect a new person we meet to be perfect in every way, so why do we build up objects or events in our lives to be the same?  I like to be in situations where I can come out stronger in the end, but I know the only way that I can make it through is to have as few expectations as possible.  I try to make myself a short list, no more than three things.  If I hit one of the three it's a success, two is fantastic, and three is beyond my wildest expectations.  My list for choosing a country had three things, and I hit two of the three, so it was fantastic.  My list of three that I thought of as I was taking the 26 hour journey over was to not overwork or volunteer myself for too much in the first few months, to be out of the hotel after a month, and to learn how to count and order at a restaurant after a month.  One of them has already been met, so for me, this has been a success.

The school, as I've said, is very new.  The company is well founded and has many schools across the country.  There is a wealth of teaching material available and the books they use are tried and tested.  It's actually really nice being in such a new place.  There aren't as many expectations, and there's room for growth and improvement.  After a few months if the school is doing very well I can say "I helped build that."  I'm currently teaching all age groups, and I'm really happy to be teaching 3 year-olds again.  Even better, all of my classes are new, so I don't have to deal with that "The last teacher we had did this" thing that students love to do.  They are mine.  The next teachers are going to have to live up to me.

I've already had several students observing my classes to see if they want to sign and I'm happy to say so far they all have.  I've gotten good feedback from my students and I'm getting along great with the local staff.  One of them already apparently has a crush on me, so we'll see how that goes (though I really do want to try to avoid dating someone from work again.  It really does complicate things).  So my coworkers are a bit of a stick in the mud and we don't really share the same sense of humor (seriously, I've tried all my best jokes, and I've only gotten my boss to really laugh heartily), but that just means I get the challenge of making friends outside of work.  It's something that is difficult even when you are in your own country, but I've done it in America and I can do it here.  I've found a couple of bars in the area where there seems to be a higher concentration of pale faces, and I found the bars without any help from the people who have already been here.  Hell, I've been to more new restaurants than any of them, so I think I'm doing pretty ok :).

So of course, not everything is perfect or wonderful, but the things that are out of my control, like the weather, the culture, the city, and the school, are all wonderful, and the things that I can control, like meeting new people, teaching classes, are going well and looking up.  I still miss you all very much, but many of you have expressed a much greater interesting in visiting than any of my other countries, so I'll be sure in the next few weeks to really get out there so I can hype Vietnam up to you all and get some more visitors.  Your incentives to visit for now: beer is cheaper than water, the weather is not Saint Louis, and water is still really cheap.

With lots of love,