Episode IV: A New Home

(Ooh, you see what I did there?)

Must stop with these silly jokes.

Things have been getting busy around here, so I’ll admit I’ve written this in a bit of a rush. But hopefully it’s a nice update anyway. 

So after a week in the hotel it was time for us to move into houses just a few kilometres out from the city centre. I’ve been placed in a house of thirteen girls and I sit happily on the 8th floor of our new abode. I’m just thankful that there is a lift to the seventh floor! We were warned in advance that our accommodation would be basic so I was expecting a tiny hole with a dirty bathroom if I’m going to be frank. Actually, I’m pretty happy with what we’ve been given. There have been a few issues such as wifi connection being a bit dodgy (heavens above – how did we cope before wireless!), a leaking washing machine as well as the odd cockroach, but on the whole it’s quite comfortable. Well, the beds maybe not so much. In Vietnam they sleep on wooden beds with a bamboo base and no mattress on top, so that was quite a shock on the first night, but I’ve worked around it with a duvet. To be honest I’ve always preferred firmer mattresses anyway. It also turns out that they don’t really do sheets over here either, which makes sense given the heat. Yet I’ve always found no matter how hot it gets I always need to feel a cover on me so I bought myself a nice little silk sleeping bag. How nice. It’s not quite protected me from the blooming mosquitoes but it’s cosy.

A Room With A View
A Room With A View

Don't look down!
Don’t look down!
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Burberry sheets. Just what I always wanted.
Burberry sheets. Just what I always wanted.

The little ‘village’ we are in has quite a communal feel about it. Our streets have lots of little stalls along them which sell most of the things you might need. There’s plenty of cooking and fresh produce outside, in fact, I even saw a pig being unloaded from a motorbike one morning. We’re also only five minutes away from a supermarket and the main office of the company we work for, and getting back into the city centre is fairly straight forward. One thing I have begun to notice, particularly when taking a stroll by myself, is the staring. And it’s not like at home where they would look away once you notice their beady eyes. In fact they don’t even care to stop picking their noses whilst gawping – one man was having a right good dig whilst we were walking past him. I suppose we are a novelty, but I think I assumed no one would care so much. After all, Western cinema and music is everywhere. I suppose there just aren’t so many round this residential are.

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I’m not quite sure how the locals feel about us – mixed opinions I imagine. On one hand we must be good for business, especially at ‘the local’ where I’m pretty sure we drank the bar dry during their bank holiday, or the bread stall handing out dough for 5000 dong a piece (about 14p – you couldn’t make it for that price). On the other hand I think some are understandably a little suspicious of us. I guess 80 or so foreigners all hanging round in a residential area must seem a bit strange. At any rate, I suppose they will have to accept our presence, and being kept awake by Ben Jammin’s booming laugh late into the night. (No that’s not his real name, just a rather amusing mistake made on his work ID badge).

The 'local'
The ‘local’

On moving in I think the reality of our undertaking became much more daunting than we’d previously thought. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been too complacent in thinking well, we’re only here for five months! Yet after training and properly unpacking we started to panic because ahh! We’re here for five long months! To counter our existential crisis we had a cosy night in watching GBBO and eating chocolate whilst the rain hammered outside. It was a much needed touch of home comfort.

Despite the ongoing training we have had some more free time. I happened to be off on one of my house mate’s birthday so three of us embarked on a little adventure around the city, during which I found a book shop! Oh joy, oh rapture! Now before you tut I did bring an e-reader with me, but I didn’t get round to sorting it before I left and don’t have a laptop here, so I indulged and bought myself a copy of Crime and Punishment. Random I know, but it just took my fancy. Who knows, maybe Vietnam is the place for me to discover I have a love of Russian literature. That day we also took a trip to the Vietnam National Museum of History which had some very fancy artefacts including a 500 year old Buddha in great condition. We thought it would be a good way to start getting to grips with the country’s history and culture, but alas, the heat defeated us, and halfway round we gave up, left, and collapsed in a Highlands Coffee (Vietnam’s equivalent of Starbucks).

We have also been very lucky to be here for Vietnam’s 70th Independence Day. Now, the parade actually began Wednesday 2nd September at 7 am, but I am sad to say that I myself did not make it into town until 10 o’clock. Pathetic. But the thing is reader, the Vietnamese don’t do lie-ins. Ever. Or certainly not from what I can see. (My proof is the pneumatic drill that goes off next door at 6 am every damn morning!) I’m sure they think we’re incredibly lazy. In our defence, many of us have been pretty exhausted from the early morning calls we have every day, so whilst I would liked to have watched the morning parade lots of us took advantage of this free day to take a lie in. Definitely needed.

Please! Let us have a lie in. It's Saturday!
Please! Let us have a lie in. It’s Saturday!

Well. At least we know our employees have a sense of humour.
Well. At least we know our employees have a sense of humour.

Anyways, four of us were in a taxi by 10 but we got to the city centre to find that nothing was going on and that the city was functioning like any other normal day. Fine, but we had 11 hours to kill until the fireworks. After deliberating over coffee we took a very enjoyable stroll through the stalls of Hanoi’s Old Quarter and spent a load of money on random stuff. Bargaining is big here, and thankfully my house mate Tiffany is a master at it, so I let her do all the hard work for me. It was also here that I got mobbed by a banana lady. Without warning myself and Tiffany had a carrying pole and leaf hat shoved on our heads whilst some random bloke took pictures of us with his wife. Of course, after this she demanded that I buy bananas even though she’d put the garb on me in the first place! Yes reader, I know I should have seen this coming, but I haven’t quite reached the necessary level of assertiveness yet. Give me time.

Looking as hot as bananas in pajamas
Looking as hot as bananas in pajamas

It was another good day for cuisine sampling too, except for the salted lemonade I tried. Not quite sure what it was, some sort of fermented lemon maybe, with salt of course. Interesting. Not in a good way. We also took a trip to the Thang Ling Water Puppet Show. Puppeteers sit behind slats and control puppets in the water which is accompanied by traditional Vietnamese music. It was different from anything I’d seen. Very clever. I must admit that we did get the giggles a few times, especially when the two phoenixes (is that a word?) did a little dance that produced a dancing egg! But definitely worth viewing if you’re here.

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By the time 9 o’clock rolled around the monsoon rain was back. We bought some super cool rain ponchos in an attempt to keep dry but they were so hot that we just gave up and decided to get wet as it was more refreshing. Thousands gathered around Hoan Kiem lake to watch a fifteen minute firework display. It was rather impressive, so much so that half the crowd felt it was necessary to record the entire thing. I do wonder if any of them will ever sit down for quarter of an hour to watch an entire firework display on their phone, because let’s face it, it always look crap back on camera. Oh well, each to their own. We then had the task of getting a taxi home which took about half an hour of crawling through the most chaotic human traffic I have ever know and then waving like an idiot at every taxi. An experience it certainly was.

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At the weekend we thought we might as well have a night out and let off some steam. Turned out to be a rather memorable evening. We began at some house club. I quite liked the music but if I’m honest, I don’t think I’d drunk enough bia hoi to enjoy it. There were lots of expats and tourists, many of whom seemed very alternative and quirky, so I did feel a tad out of place. Pretty soon after we decided to move on to the infamous Beer Corner in the centre of Hanoi. It’s great, but the locals don’t call it that (obviously) so finding it can be a bit like searching for Narnia. After driving round in circles for a good half hour shouting ‘beer corner!’ and ‘Tom’s!’ at the poor taxi driver – actually I unhelpfully sat in the back laughing my head off at the whole thing – we managed to find some tourists who pointed us in the right direction. We’d racked up a significant taxi bill and it was almost midnight (‘official’ closing time), but we went to Tom’s bar anyway.

After a little drink we were suddenly told to be quiet as the police were coming to check everywhere had closed. Note: telling drunk adults to be quiet is like telling toddlers to go to sleep. Not possible. We were then shoved out the back of this bar into the tiny pitch-black yard to wait for the coppers to do one. I’m not going to lie, I was scared. Partly because it felt like ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ but mostly because I was convinced rats or spiders would drop off the washing lines and cables onto my head. Anyway, half an hour later (we were told it would take five minutes) they led us down some weird side alley and stairs to get to the back entrance of another bar. Not nice – it looked like the set of some horror film. However, things kicked off pretty soon in the new place. I was feeling a little queasy and therefore stone-cold sober so I didn’t get into the groove of things too quickly. But after we were able to put some good tunes on I began to enjoy myself. We had a chat to some other English teachers, shouted at two German lads who kept putting on rap and Euro-pop rubbish, and made friends with another German, who, imho, had much better taste in music. Good night.

So yes, we’re gradually settling into our life here. Teaching is on the horizon and so things won’t be calm for much longer. I will update you all on the shenanigans in due course…

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