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,

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