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,