Every cloud has a silver lining

Hello!! I know it's been ages since we updated the blog. The past two weeks have been so crazy it's taken us some time to get settled again. The reason things have been so crazy is that we were forced to move from our old place into the apartment I'm writing from right now in District 2. 

Here's the updates:

The Apartment Situation

So we had finally started to get our feet under us and feel at home here in Vietnam. We had a reasonably nice place to live, knew a bunch of restaurants we liked, had our school schedules down, and had just gotten our first paychecks! ($$) But during the first week of November, ward police had shown up outside our apartment and the maid at our apartment told us we couldn't take our bike out to get lunch. We spoke to our landlord and he explained that he had purchased the building directly in front of our apartment and thus inherited the money owed to the ward police. He thought he could get by with building new things in the property without paying the ward police their debt. So the ward police showed up and barricaded the front door of the compound our apartment was in! This all started on Tuesday of that week. 

They never bothered Brian and I but we were forced to call out of work because we were unable to get our bike out to leave!  A day later our landlord came to our apartment and told us we had to find somewhere else to stay "for a week or maybe a month" (ugh) so we were stressed (i cried a lot) and rushed to find a new place to live. We had to rent a hotel room for two days because our landlord said we couldn't be seen coming and going from the apartment.

We had two days to find somewhere else to live, luckily Brian got in touch with an amazing rental agent and we found a cute apartment 5 minutes from our old neighborhood over the river in District 2! It's maybe not ideal but it's quiet and we escaped our crooked old landlord and now are happy in a new bigger place! This was an extremely weird and stressful situation and we've been told by other expats that it's not commonplace for these sorts of things to happen to foreigners (Although no one was surprised by the police officers' behavior). So we've concluded that our landlord was basically not on the up and up and are happy to be rid of him. 

Sidenote: There are different types of police here in Vietnam. Ward police are sort of local enforcers they only have power in the ward they're stationed in, Traffic police are like the real police in America they're usually on the highways and roads around here wearing beige uniforms, Military police wear green uniforms and are the most serious of police officers. They're usually seen around the government buildings or guarding the consulates. 

 

School Stuff

Since we arrived in September, we came at just the right time to experience VUS's teachers day celebrations! Teacher's Day is the 20th of November and it's when the people of Vietnam recognize the contributions and importance of local teachers. Teachers usually get this day off and most schools give gifts or have a party for their teachers. VUS is apparently known in the Expat English Teachers' world as giving a really great party for their teachers. I have to say it was pretty impressive. They rented out the ballrooms in the Intercontinental Asiana (very fancy hotel) and decked it out! It was so beautiful and I felt a bit underdressed having come straight from a class at school.

There were lots of speeches, awards given, and then the wine was flowing freely and the buffet lines were open! We got to eat a ton of delicious food, talk to some of the other teachers, and enjoy skits put on by each campus. It was fun! We were invited out for drinks later by some of our campus's teachers but got lost on the way and had to head home.  

Other than the party, teaching has been great! One of my teen classes just ended and I'm so proud of them. They could barely speak or understand in the beginning and they've all made so much progress! Otherwise, I'm excited to start at my new campus this week and hopefully it all goes well! 

Day to Day

As it gets extremely close to Thanksgiving and ever closer to Christmas, I've been feeling a bit homesick. I know I'm going to miss being with my family and being able to see my friends during the holidays. It's going to be interesting trying to mail everyone presents! (still haven't figured out the mail system ugh). Brian and I have been talking about what we're going to do to mark the occasion. The vietnamese are really into Christmas surprisingly! There are tons of street shops selling christmas decorations and cafes and shops have started decking out their exteriors in lights and tinsel. It should be interesting seeing what everything looks like in December!

Since we live in District 2 now we are a lot closer to a cool district called Thao Dien. It's known for having a large expat community and nice housing (there are villas!). It's beautiful over there and we spent a day exploring the area, we went to a craft beer bar called Biacraft and went to one of the most talked about restaurants in the area The Deck, which is right on the river! 

We also visited another noted food spot, The Lunch Lady in district 1 this past week. She was featured on No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain ( i know i know) and her pho was fantastic! Sweet and savory. Her pho is unique while we've had a lot of the other things she serves ( deep fried spring rolls etc.) at other street food stands that are just as good. 

We've also been spending a good amount of time at the Van Thanh Pool. It's a very nice pool located inside an impressive and beautiful resort and it's only 120,000 vnd ($5) for two people to get in! It's been nice on our days off to have a place to relax and enjoy some of the perks of living abroad.

-Hope

A month (roughly) in

Hello again! Sorry about such a late update. Things have been pretty busy here and for the most part Brian and I have just been working and spending time at the apartment to save money.

Some Noteworthy Events

  • Last week Brian and I went to get our banking info set up so we can receive our first paycheck and we accidentally tipped the bike while parking and I got burned pretty badly on my leg. It's been healing since then and I've been keeping it clean and going easy on it.
  • Brian and I filed for and received a transfer to a VUS campus closer to our apartment. The commute to our school in district 12 has been a major headache for us so we're very happy to be placed in new schools starting on the 23rd that are basically right up the street from us. It kind of stinks because we like our classes and the staff at the District 12 school but so it goes.

A photo of district 1 to where we work in district 12

 

  • We went to the saigon zoo a few weeks ago which was cool! They have a lot of animals surprisingly and it was a nice adventure for the day. There are a bunch of photos on my facebook and a few on my instagram. 
  • This upcoming weekend is teacher's day! VUS is doing a party for all the VUS teachers on Sunday so we get to dress up and go to a party which will be fun!

We are still planning for some more interesting adventures! Since I was sick for a long time and then we were trying to save the last of our money before our paychecks, we weren't able to do much but life here has been good. Our classes are good and we have a lot of time to relax together, catch up on reading, drink the super strong/delicious coffee here, and eat delicious/new foods. We have settled into a nice routine ~

-Hope 

Finally An Update!

Hello hello! I am currently sitting in the teacher's lounge in our language center far far away from district 1 (okay it's about 30min but that's far here!) 

Our language school is located in district 12 and every Saturday and Sunday Brian and I load up our books and hop on our newly rented motorbike (it's a moped haha it's a yamaha Nuovo) and Brian drives us over several bridges and through many terrifying to behold intersections and round-abouts to school for the day. I finally understand why people say you don't really get a feel for HCMC until you've gone around town on a motorbike. The city really does make more sense  after riding through traffic on one and although it is fearsome to see: once you're in it traffic is easy to understand. 

So about teaching, so far it's been great! It's very new and kind of hard but it's rewarding in little ways. Vietnamese kids at our school come from rich families who can afford to send their kids to language school outside of regular school on the weekends, Sometimes I think that's why our bad kids are so bad, they're spoiled! The kids on the whole are good listeners, they're very high energy and we have to play lots of games with them to keep them engaged sometimes. The children are so cute when they're working quietly or are really excited to answer your questions correctly. I have one class of second graders who love me and it feels nice to be greeted with "HELLO MS. HOPE!" "HELLO TEACHER!" even if it is at volume designed to cause migraines.

They're also very naughty! For example: Much to all the foreign teachers' dismay the little ones have a habit of constantly messing with the elevators, I've been late to class several times because of these kids!

Sundays and Saturdays are for kids from pre-k to elementary while Weekdays are when Brian and I teach our middleschoolers, highschoolers, and adults. The classes are extremely long. Children's classes are 2 hours with a 10 min break and teen/adult classes are 3 hours with a 15 min break. It always feels like i'll never have enough material but the classes are over before I even realize it!  The key is to go slowly and have lots of games to fall back on. We trade off the classes we teach with Vietnamese teachers so I may have a teen class on Tuesday and on Thursday they'll be with their Vietnamese teacher and so on. 

Children's classes also have Vietnamese TAs to keep the kids in line! (and also help with translation). Most of the kids are very basic and need some help with instructions especially my pre kindergarteners. Brian and I have both noticed that we sometimes get kids who are miles ahead of their classmates and we wonder why they're stuck in our low level classes. My TAs are all awesome and some of them want to ask me a ton of things about myself and my life in america and how I like hcmc etc. They think it's very romantic that Brian and I came here together haha. 

Overall, the two weeks we've been teaching have been a very great experience and I already feel more comfortable in front of a class.

Everything else!

Most of our time has been spent working unfortunately. Next weekend is my birthday and I'll be working but Brian and I are trying to plan something fun soon. We spend a lot of time relaxing in our apartment or wandering around the neighborhood. Now that we have a motorbike I'm going to start getting Brian to stop being such a homebody and take me around to some cool sites.

We met up with the daughter of a friend of my grandmother's earlier this week and had lunch. Her name is Natalie and she was a breath of fresh air here meeting another nice expat was great. She lives much closer to the tourist center (Ben Thanh) than us so it's a bit of a drive to meet up with her. She just started teaching for the same company as us but at a different center so when our schedules line up we're going to try to spend more time getting to know her. 

Hopefully we'll get a chance to do more touristy things soon and get used to the routine so we aren't so tired after teaching all weekend! 

I'll make another post soon so you guys won't be waiting on me for very long! 

-Hope

 

Our First Week in Vietnam

So we've made it through our first week in this amazing new country! There's so much to talk about so I'll go by dates haha .

Sept 27th Sunday- Our Second Day

Brian and I woke up and walked down to a coffee place near our house. Brian had already been out and about more than I had and suggested we go see some sights! We went to the Notre Dame Cathedral here in HCMC. The french colonists built a smaller to scale version of the famous cathedral when they were occupying the country. Today it's a tourist spot and a spot for everyone to take their wedding photos apparently! We saw a lot of soon to be wed brides and grooms in their tuxes and gowns posing on the building. 

I was still feeling a bit out of it and overwhelmed so we went and got lunch near the cathedral at a fancier place called Propaganda. We had a liter of their Saigon Saison (made in HCMC) and some amazing food! It was fun overhearing other expats conversations and the waitress practiced her conversational skills with me. After this lunch I was feeling much better. We went back to the apartment and relaxed for most of the evening. 

Sept 28th Monday- Day Three

On Monday morning I had an interview with Compasss education to discuss when I would begin working with them. I went to their office by car around 10am and was seated and talked with them about requirements etc. They gave me a schedule of 12 classes a week 1st graders-3rd graders with 50 students per class!! I decided to decline their offer, i felt I wasn't going to be able to meet the needs of 50 first graders in the 30 minute class time I had been given. 

On the way back home, I watched the traffic pass by and caught a great photo of something that happens often when women are heading to work in their work clothes: sitting "side saddle" as passengers on the motorbikes! I was amazed they're able to keep their balance so well in the traffic around here.

At home, I spent most of the day relaxing with Brian we wandered out in the afternoon to get lunch and ordered dinner in. A relatively quiet night. 

Sept 30th Tuesday- Fourth Day

On Tuesday I started teaching my online classes pretty much all day with a 2 hour break for lunch. Before we arrived in Vietnam I was worried about making money when we got here and I had already been working for the online tutoring company based in Hanoi, sooo I gave myself a full schedule! I kind of regretted this throughout the week because it kept me from being able to explore the city more with Brian but I also was happy to be pulling in an income by chatting with students all day.

On my lunch break, we wandered around the neighborhood and ended up walking into a restaurant that was packed with business people on their breaks! The downstairs was empty but we were motioned upstairs to discover tables and tables of businesspeople drinking and eating to their hearts content. The servers seemed a little bewildered to have two foreigners there and quickly had to find where they'd stashed their english language menu. I ordered for us and accidentally ended up with french fries! They were delicious but i was hoping for something a bit more adventurous. Anyway we loved listening to the raucous heavy drinking lunch breakers and interacting with the friendly staff. It's become new lunch spot. 

Heading back home, we stopped into a cafe that's just a few thousand feet from our apartment. It's modern and super super adorable! They have two fluffy cafe cats, affordable coffee, and are always playing old timey american country music. I haven't had much time to spend there but it'll be a perfect place to enjoy a cafe da (very strong drip coffee over ice that everyone drinks here) and read a book when I want to get out of the house.

I taught the rest of the day and also managed to secure an interview the next day with VUS a very well known and popular language center here!

Finally when I was finished we walked down to a beer garden that's also extremely close to our apartment! Beer gardens are insanely popular in Vietnam, the fancier ones will have waiters and waitresses dressed to some theme (with skimpy outfits for the girls) while quieter ones like the one in our neighborhood are just a good place to go drinking and have some small dishes to share with your friends. We accidentally ordered a beer tower (very popular here) and had to drink it all by ourselves. We also had some delicious noodles and some not so delicious to our foreign palettes pork belly soaked in their extremely strong fish sauce. 

Sept 30th Wednesday- 5th day

On Wednesday, I woke up super early to go to my interview at VUS. I loved the school and the staff so I accepted the offer to do a demo class for them on Friday. I left VUS and did some more people watching from the back of cars, I saw this very impressive cafe (the second picture above) maybe I'll have to come back to the area to check it out. VUS's main office is located in an extremely dense and busy part of the city so it's kind of a pain to get there. 

The rest of the day I spent teaching my online courses and when I was done Brian and I made another adventure into our surrounding neighborhood (we live in the Da Kao area) and found a very cute bbq place called The Street! There were groups of friends and families sharing hotpots and small portions of bbq'd meats. We shared three dishes chicken beef and pork and they were amazing! Halfway through our meal I looked down and realized why the restaurant is called "The Street" as you can see in the 4th photo it's actually built on a portion of an old road! (that's what the curbs, sidewalks,street markings and street lamps look like here) I felt silly for not catching on sooner to this. 

Full and a bit tipsy we  wandered back toward home and made one of our frequent stops to the corner convenience store. The convenience store is constantly full of kids from elementary to high school age. It's built right across the street from one of the schools in our area and if you ever go there during rush hour in the morning it's packed with kids grabbing snacks and canned coffees before running off to school. It seems strange maybe that a convenience store of all things would be a gathering place for younger kids but it's open 24/7 and I see them studying and hanging out there at all hours. A little part of our community.

Sept 31st Thursday- Sixth Day

Nothing much happened! I taught all day long and we had dinner at home. 

Oct 1st Friday- Seventh Day

On Friday I had my demo class at 8am! So I rushed over to VUS's main offices and prepared my classroom. It went extremely well and I was offered a contract that day! I accepted and they helped me open a bank account and the director of the branch of the center I'll be teaching at will be reaching out to me next week! I am ecstatic to work for a company I feel will provide me with adequate support and guidance. As I was leaving my meetings, I ran into Brian downstairs before he headed in to do his own demo class. I told him I'd see him later and wished him luck. 

I made it home and ran a few errands before settling in to do some more Online Teaching. After I was done and Brian made it home, we got ready to go out to the Bitexco Tower to have a drink on their sky deck and then go down to Benh Thanh (the tourist district!) so I could experience the nightlife. Unfortunately I left my ID at home by accident and we didn't get to go to the tower. Instead we wandered the area around the tower and stopped in at a fancy beer garden for a drink. The girls were dressed in skimpy themed outfits and the boys wore popped collar polo shirts (bro style) in colors to match the girls. We quickly realized we had come just before their rush as the girls were making name tags to save the tables for all the patrons who had reserved them for their huge groups of friends. We finished our (overpriced) beers and got out of their way. 

Since our plans were foiled by me, we decided just to walk up into benh thanh and find another bar and a place to eat. We ended up at a bar Brian had been to before called Happy Life. We sat outside with another expat. He was a surly, somewhat dazed seeming British man that Brian had previously been introduced to. Not very good conversation was had as he was very self focused on if he was "too annoyed" to stay in the city for the night and catch a bus up north in the morning or if it would be "more annoying" to ride a sleeper bus through the night there. Needless to say I pretty much ignored him the best I could as he would neither discuss anything nor stop trying to draw us into helping him decide what to do. The bar was interesting... definitely set up for tourists as evidenced by the skimpy girls etched into their tiling in the bathroom. 

We soon said goodbye to the Brit and headed to find some food. Maybe we should have looked longer but we saw a Pho shop that was packed with people and went inside. The food was good and we were enjoying our meal until halfway through I saw a cockroach climbing up the wall next to me. We quickly asked for our checks and left. Unfortunately this is where we think Brian caught food poisoning. 

Oct 2nd Saturday- Eighth Day

On Saturday I finally had a day off! I booked us massages at a very highly rated spa near the river in District 1. We set off around 11am and each enjoyed a traditional style massage. They stretch you, use pressure point techniques, and are on the table with you a lot of the time to get good leverage while working your sore muscles. It was wonderful! The cost was 360,000 VND which equals about $16 for an hour of massage. I can't wait to try more spas and services in HCMC. 

We came home and were about to get ready to go out to have lunch when Brian started feeling ill. We stayed home and he threw up most of the evening. I went out a few times to get him water and things he needed from the convenience store and stayed up with him until he felt well enough to go to sleep. 

Today! Sunday Oct 4th

This morning I went and got a pastry and a cafe da from down the street while Brian's been resting. 

He says he's feeling much better after last night and hopefully he'll recover soon.