Sunday, 30 March 2014

Happy Mothers Day

A few words about my mother, on Mothers day.

My mum is a mother is every sense of the word. She embodies motherliness and nurturing.

As a young girl she cared for a small boy named Daniel, and was on her way to becoming a nurse when she fell pregnant with my brother.

Nine years later she brought me mouth first into the world; and I haven't shut up since (she would say)!

She has always cared for me and protected me to the best of her ability, and through the rough and the smooth, we are now dear friends with a relationship I can only wish to have with my children, in the future, a long time from now!

Since becoming a Grandmother, her motherliness has been re-ignited as if caring for someone her natural instinct, simply what she is meant to do, aspects of which I can see reflected in the devotion she showed to her father during the last years of his life, and her work in the maternity department of Poole Hospital.

When I recently moved home before leaving for South East Asia it didn't take her long to slip back into mother mode for both myself and Mark. We moved on a Saturday and the following Monday when we both headed out to work, she'd laid out lunch options for us in the kitchen; a buffet of fruit, snacks and treats. We almost decided not to leave!!

When it was time to part at the airport she was strong and left me only with messages of love and strength to support my nerves and fears. Even from the other side of the world she is giving me advice and support to help me see I am making the right decisions and any disappointments and simply chances to learn and grow.

So, on this mother's day, I'd just like to say thank you to my mummy, who's still singing me to sleep from 9,000 miles away. Have a wonderful mothers day!

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Mui Ne

23 - 27 March 2014

We arrive in Mui Ne a little after lunch and are warmly greeted at our hotel 'Mui Ne Hills 2' and shown to our rooms. Its not long before we are dozing beside the pool in the shade of the frangipani tree.

The pool has a panoramic view of the sea and we can watch the kitesurfers whilst enjoying the cool breeze and very chilled out playlist.

The beach is a little disappointing, with a strong current and high winds, not great if you aren't there to kite surf, but we do come from very spoiled Bournemouth in terms of nice beaches. The whole area here is tailored to kitesurfers though so if that's your kind of thing, this is the place for you!

Mui Ne reminds me in parts of Greece and Turkey in the hills and rustic lifestyle, and Tulum (Mexico) for the relaxed traveller vibe and shabby chic coolness.

We find a groovy sand covered place for cheap drinks in the evening, and indulge in a delicious burger. Here, flip flops are left at the entrance to get the sand between your toes and the sound system is playing chill out. As usual there is a friendly dog and some clicking lizards in the distance.

For whatever reason Mui Ne is full of Russians, so much so the menu, signs and shops all cater to them. Its so interesting to be the minority somewhere, but it makes finding somewhere to eat a bit harder. One night I eat the greenest green curry ever (I literally mean bright green) and on our last night we treat ourselves to a slap up Indian that really hits the spot!

Overall, Mui Ne is everything we needed. Sun, swimming and not a lot else.

In the morning we will be off to Dalat!

Starting again in Saigon

Firstly I'd like to say a big thank you to everyone who has sent us messages of love and support over the past week or so. You've certainly helped us see we are doing the right thing and that we should at the very least be happy whilst we are out here.
Without going into too many of the details, since the last post on this blog we've arranged finishing our contracts and are about to head back to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).

Friday 21 March

Today is the day we get our documents back and Mark strides into the cafe (where I am waiting with our bags and a cold coke) with a fistful of paper in his hands and a big smile on his face!

We hot foot it to the bus station and are soon en route to HCMC. We both plug into our iPods and feel the excitement grow. This is the real start of our adventure, hot on the backseat of a bus with little to tie us down. It's the first time we've felt really excited, like we are really travelling. Even when we left the UK we were on our way to work - we had appointments in a city we didn't even have a map for - but not anymore.

Arriving, we check into our hotel in the heart of the backpacker district and quickly make our way to 'The View' sky bar for dinner and a beer. Its actually good to be back!

Saturday 22 March

We have a few errands to do today before leaving in the morning. Number one is a trip to the post office. We'd packed lots of extra clothes when we came, expecting to be teaching, living and being generally 'unpacked' for a while. As our circumstances changed we decided it was time to shed some bulk, but there are some things we just couldn't part with. So, sack of clothes in hand we arrived at the post office to send a little over 2.5kg home. Being extra money conscious, we chose the cheaper over land option, costing somewhere around £20 and taking up to 3 months! Good thing we aren't in a rush!

Job number two is finding mark more credit for his phone, and three is getting some delicious lunch from the Baguette Viet Nam place next to the hotel. I get a massive sub with chicken, salad and that cant-quite-put-my-finger-on-it Vietnamese flavour with a coke for 20,000vnd. That's 61p!

In the afternoon, job number four is treating myself to a £1.80 pedicure to make sure my toes are pool ready!
I start to forget why I didn't like this place to begin with! It goes to show that location really is everything!

By the end of the day we are excited about getting to the seaside in the morning and have enjoyed our time in Ho Chi Minh, being fed, pampered and having left a lot of baggage behind us.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

My Tho, Tan An and a big decision!

Sorry this one is a bit long, but there is just so much I want to communicate!

Thursday 13th March

It's an early start (5am) as we make our way to Tan An to meet the school and see where we will be living. We arrive hot and tired, but are immediately handed a worksheet and given 15 minutes to prepare a lesson to deliver to the staff. My lesson is on the family and with a few ideas up my sleeve I think I did a good job considering I had little more than the student handout to work from. I'm sure we will have the teacher notes and opportunities to prepare when we are doing the job for real.

By the time I come out 30 minutes later, Mark has been told that we are not staying here long, but are going to My Tho 40 minutes drive away for our training. Its not a great start but we suck it up, another town visited and more of the region explored right?

We arrive to our basic house and are given our schedule for the weekend; a list of classes and references to textbooks. Eventually we find the textbooks which are designed for the students to fill in, no lesson plans and no resources. We ask if we need to design the lessons and we are just told to get them talking.

Our anxiety levels begin to rise again. We've been looking forward to delivering exciting and engaging lessons. The goal posts keep moving and its becoming more difficult to keep up.

Friday 14th March

Today we enjoy a lazy morning and review the class content for our first lessons this evening.

By the time our first lessons come around we are a bag of nerves. Will the children like us, what will our purpose be alongside the Vietnamese teacher? Are there any other native speakers around? The staff at the schools speak very little English so we are finding communication very hard.

We soon realise our role in this class is just to correct pronunciation, but at least the teacher has what looks like a plan, yippee!

Saturday 15 the March

Its our first full day of classes, another early start and a day of mixed emotions.

By the end of the morning classes I am emotional again, and this time I can't keep it in. Its pretty clear now that no one is expecting us to teach any grammar, just drill pronunciation and lead classes with only seconds to see the lessons teaching objectives. This leaves us having to think on our feet and I find myself making mistakes.

I don't feel like this place is quite right for us and I desperately wish there were some other native speakers we could talk to. We feel alone in this new place and job and need support.

The afternoon is a little better and I optimistically think we might be OK, but its not long before we are talking about whether a different location might be better for us.

We really are taking each day as it comes, but the rollercoaster of emotions is beginning to take its toll.

Sunday 16th March

Today is another long and emotional day. (I know you are most likely getting bored of me saying this, trust me I am too!). We have another full day of classes.

The morning goes well as thinking on my feet gets a little easier, but in my heart I wish I had more time to create a great lesson instead of a good lesson. Anyone can drill pronunciation!

We have a long break in the afternoon and use this to research places we could reach on our time off. The closest beach is Mui Ne, a short 8 hour drive away. A quick look in the guide book reminds us the best sites in Vietnam are nowhere near us.

Back in school I have my worst class yet; have they remembered anything from their last lesson? The teacher in the class says most of the classes get to meet a native speaker once a month, and in her year at the school she has known more than five different native speakers.

I confide in my mum about how hard its been and how I'm not sure this is the right place or school for us. Its good to finally admit this to someone other than Mark who is feeling the same. As always she is supportive and understanding.

Perhaps things will be better when we arrive in Tan An tomorrow.

Monday 17th March

Surprise surprise we are picked up later than planned, 7 hours later! At half three we are on the road again and praying the new location will be better.

Arriving, the new house is larger, but there are less facilities in the kitchen; just a sink, fridge and kettle so it will be impossible to cook at home. Hopefully there are some nice places to eat near by.

There isn't and we are disheartened as we take our seats in a rather dirty establishment for dinner.

When our schedule arrives we find out that we will in fact be teaching another 40 mins up the road for the week. After a little back and fourth via email we confirm that we will be teaching in a different location each week. We knew we would be visiting different schools, but we expected them to be closer by. Our main frustration with this is that we never get a chance to build a good relationship and rapport with the students as we will see them so infrequently.

The disadvantages of this school and location are beginning to mount up to the point where we aren't enjoying ourselves at all.

I did meet this lovely pooch though!

Tuesday 18th March

We wake up and decide to explore the city more, perhaps we've missed an important area which could change everything. We make for district 1 with true hope in our hearts but find nothing; no park, no scenery and no sights of interest.

Today is also our first day of real paid for lessons. It doesn't start well as the man meant to drive us to Ben Luc is 45 minutes late. When we arrive we are handed a folder with the register and shown to the rooms. The staff member who shows me the way then goes to close the door and leave before I get to ask her about the computer and if there is any supporting material for the class. It takes about 15 minutes for them to find the password and a working mouse for the PC. After all this I'm told there isn't actually any supporting material for this class. With the last 35 mins of my class I rush through the workload and leave the rest for homework (not that I will be able to mark it!)

On the way home, Mark and I finally admit to ourselves that this is not working. There aren't enough positive aspects to keep us here. As I write this now, I can't think of any. Even the teaching experience will be minimal as we won't be assessing or monitoring our students progress.

We draft our resignation letter outlining the issues we have been having and explaining that we would like to leave.

It isn't a decision we make lightly; we wanted to make a new life here in Vietnam and were completely invested in it. We trained for months, sold everything and left all the comforts of home and its just not been what we wanted. We are exhausted, depressed and craving to see more of the country.

I am so worried about what you might all think, and I hope you will be understanding. A close friend said "there's no point in doing all this if it isn't making you happy. You have the world at your finger tips". This was echoed by our family which has helped us feel so much more comfortable with the decision. We might never get an opportunity to travel the world again, so we have to make this time count.

What's next?

It's now Wednesday 19th March. 2 weeks into our trip. We've made our arrangements and will be heading back to Ho Chi Minh in a few days and then on to Mui Ne for a relaxing few days on the beach.

Our plan now is to make our way up the country to Hanoi, taking in the sights. Afterwards we will consider our next steps, and whether we feel we want to find work in Vietnam, or continue our travels.

We already feel much better, planning our itinerary and digging out the guide books from our bags. This is where our adventure resumes, with the open road and a few tickets!

So there you have it! I'll leave you with the song I've heard most in my first two weeks in Vietnam, enjoy!

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Can Tho

Monday 10th March

We are up bright and early for our meeting at the British Consulate. We arrive a little nervous as we don't know exactly what's going to happen for our documents to be legalised and neither of us have ever visited an embassy before. Our nerves are put to rest though as we speak comfortable English with the lady behind the counter and indulge in some BBC world news, which isn't on the normal TV.

After the necessary stamps and signatures we are off to Can Tho, some three hours down the road on the bumpy back seat of a bus. There are so many bridges over the river and the bus bounces hard over each one waking me from my dozing!

We arrive in a not so comfortable hotel (not even a shower curtain) and start to wonder exactly what we have let ourselves in for. We are both riding a wave of emotions at a time we wanted to be exciting.

Tuesday 11th March

We wake up feeling a little more optimistic and head to the water front with the intention of hiring a boat to take us out on the river. We are starting to feel a bit claustrophobic in the cities and think some time on the water will lift our spirits. Oh boy does it! Immediately we are happier being splashed and swayed by the waves and start to feel more like tourists on holiday than stressed employees.

Our driver takes us to the smaller backwaters people don't usually venture down, and we get a chance to catch a little sun and wave to the locals.

Wednesday 12th March

It's our last day in Can Tho so we decide to test out the water park. It's a bit of a walk but we don't mind. However, when we arrive it's clearly closed (and for longer than lunch). Disappointed we turn to the guide book, which we realise is becoming more out of date every day, and see there is a hotel close by whose pool we might be able to cool off in.

It's a different world inside the resort. Everyone speaks English and the towels are thick and fluffy. We enjoy a relaxing afternoon of reading, swimming and general layaboutness but also realise how far detached resorts are from the real life of a country. I'm glad we have been experiencing the real Vietnam, but wish there was more balance between these two worlds.

We are back to reality just in time to meet our connection for dinner and hear we have a 5am start in the morning, so quickly head back to get packing and glad we let ourselves relax all day. 

Saturday, 8 March 2014

First Port: Ho Chi Minh

Day 1, March 6th

We arrive in Ho Chi Minh at 7am, with very little sleep and a few strange meals in our stomach's from the flight. After getting our visas sorted we find a taxi to take us further into the city; the airport is already pretty central. I immediately realise that everything you hear about the traffic and driving in Ho Chi Minh is true, and Mark and I giggle nervously in the back seat all the way to the hotel. There is no order, just honking and swerving.

After dropping our bags off we head into the city with no idea where the best sights are or what to expect from the city. Our street is crowded with street food vendors and scooters and we spend much of the walk dodging one or the other and hopping over tree roots! Its noisy, smelly and humid.

We bravely cross the road making a beeline for a park and somewhere cool to sit. Nearby an older Vietnamese lady is doing some sort of gentle exercise which consists of wiggling on the spot and shimmying her arms back and fourth. A man is fishing in the lily pond.

Later, after a long nap, we stumble into the backpacker district for happy hour cocktails and n*sync in the rooftop bar. We find out more things are true; the beer is cheaper than water, and the pho really is about £1. Around 11pm the traffic dies down and we finally sleep.

Day 2, March 7th

We wake up rested and eager to see more of the city. We grab a taxi to Notre Dame Cathedral which is beautiful. Around the square 3 separate brides are having their wedding photos taken with their new husbands. After our first delicious iced coffee and a little breakfast we mosey to the lovely Tao Dan Park past the Reunification Palace.

Then more iced coffee and scooter watching before planning out how long we might survive based on the days spending and another bowl of pho. We spend the afternoon in the War Remnants Museum which is sad, shocking and so recent for many of the other visitors.

Cheering ourselves up, we saunter down the pretty boulevards towards the river front, passing the Ho Chi Minh statue, fountains and designer shops. This really could be Paris and we soon realise the restaurant prices are similar. Its a beautiful part of the city though.

Staring out across the water, the eastern bank is empty except for a small church. Its green and quiet. I start to look forward to seeing our new home in Tan An.

We head back to the backpacker scene for dinner, discontented with the idea of paying more than £3 for a meal, and treat ourselves to some of the beautifully decorated cakes from the bakery near the hotel.

Day 3, March 8th

After a disturbed and restless sleep we are awake before 6am. Isn't it strange how couples do that, feel each others feelings, be it not sleeping, wanting something or thinking something together.

This day is more relaxed. We pop for morning coffee and a pastry, I nap for an hour. Then we buy our sim cards and visit the awe inspiring Xa Loi Pagoda, a Buddhist temple. The air here is filled with incense and Mark and I must use separate stairs to reach the entrance. Its a moment of stillness in a city of chaos that I wish I could bottle and carry with me down the busy street. I say a prayer to myself then visit the shrine to the many Buddhist monks who have sacrificed themselves through self-immolation including Thich Quan Duc.

In the afternoon Mark gets to nap,  and is excited about the Southampton game he will be able to watch later that night.