Summary of Sibyl (my future wife)’s Travelblog.
I arrived safely in Ho Chi Minh city (Saigon) – after a horrible 14 hour journey wondering why I had chosen to come to Vietnam in the first place! Then I spent the first 48 hours just wanting to go home and periodically bursting into tears. Not having a phone or computer did not help and missing a night’s sleep made me slightly irrational.
Home sickness feels like a big pit in your stomach. It’s actually quite painful. God helped me through it though and gave me strength to get out of bed the next day and to restrain from getting on the first flight home. This whole experience IS amazing because it is continually making me dependent on God’s strength alone.
All the Aussies arrived today, and I met Emily – my room mate for the next 5 months. She is lovely and everyone has been paired really well. She was feeling homesick too which made me feel more normal. We went on a tour of the city. Saigon is huge and most of it is very dirty but there is some very beautiful architecture left over from the French colonial rule.
Monday – Friday
The TEFL course ran from Monday to Friday, from 11 am – 8pm. It was extremely tiring and quite scary at times. We were thrown into the deep end with teaching – the four of us teaching kids had to teach three two hour classes. We were all very unprepared but it was good practice for teaching to come.
We also played lots of drama games, any of you who know about my phobia of games will know that I broke out in a sweat just thinking about playing! I did play though and they weren’t as bad as I thought they would be. We had some late nights out and very early mornings to catch breakfast. One night me and four girls were taken out shopping by our Veitnamese representative, a small and lovely lady called Hanh. It was very fun. I also had my first xe om ride (motorbike taxi), accompanied by Craig (another gapper). We did not have helmets (!) but the roads were quiet and we only went down the street. It was very fun. By the end of the week I was exhausted.
Our flight to Hanoi was scheduled to leave at 10 but was delayed until 2; which was great as it gave us a chance to sleep! We left all the gappers staying in the south behind at the hotel, everyone had got very close so it was strange saying goodbye. It felt like it had been longer than a week! The flight was only 2 hours and I slept for almost all of it. Once in Hanoi we checked into a hotel and went straight out for dinner – to a restaurant that served porcupine and cat (only if you wanted it!) I felt homesick again that night but I put it down to another change. By this point I really wanted to unpack and settle.
Very early the next morning we were taken on orientation of Hanoi. We visited a lot of temples which was hard because I wanted to be in church having missed it the week before as well. All the people in the temples were praying to the statues of Buddah and offering incense. The Vietnamese also burn fake money, model objects and model servants as they believe their ancestors need them in the next life. You see it being done loads just at the side of the road. All the temples are very touristy though, it’s a strange mix – having a supposed sacred alter with an ATM planted next to it.
After orientation we were all picked up by our ‘host institutions’ – the teachers we will be working with. It was strange – as if we were being adopted. We all got beautiful bunches of flowers – they look very nice in our room.
Me and Emily got picked up by Hoa, a very straight faced Vietnamese woman who is our contact teacher for the next 5 months. After speaking to all the other gappers me and Emily felt quite rejected! It seemed everyone else was taken out for dinner that night. We were taken grocery shopping and left at the hotel. We were told we did not start until the following Monday and that we should prepare. She was very vague about what we would be doing once we started teaching. She also said she was busy until Monday so we would not see her. We were alone!
When we got to our room I think we both panicked a bit. It is in a hostel type thing opposite ‘The Children’s Palace’ (the school we work at). None of the people at reception speak English, so communicating anything we need is a bit impossible. Our room is up about 7 flights of stairs (at the very top) so I will be very fit by the end. The room had not been cleaned since the last people had stayed. Their rubbish was still there (overflowing with ants), the plug in the bathroom was full of hair and the wardrobe smelt of old meat. It looked like it had never been cleaned really. We ended up laughing and crying!
The first thing we did was buy disinfectant. Once we had cleaned the bathroom and wardrobe I felt a lot better. Once we had unpacked and stuck photos on the wall it felt a bit more homely! Since then we have brought a dvd player and some dvds – for chill out time as we are here for ages.
We have had fun exploring Hanoi and have had a couple of nights meeting up with gappers to go out for dinner.
We cooked our own food at a roadside restaurant which was great – we were just given a massive pile of raw meat and a BBQ. Tuesday was ‘Vietnam Day’ so the streets turned into a festival, it was so cool and I got bought a ‘Hello Kitty’ balloon, which topped everything! The atmosphere and the streets that night are pretty indescribable and the streets are crazy anyway – to cross the road you just have to step out and walk while cars and bikes swerve to avoid you!
We met a very strange Australian man called Steven who has been coming to Vietnam to travel for 8 years. He showed us loads of cool places to eat – all those little secret places that you would never find otherwise. He took us for coffee and lunch. We had an amazing kebab off the street and went to a coffee shop tucked down a dingy alley that turns into an amazing courtyard full of birds in cages and beautiful plants. You proceed to go up three flights of rickety stairs onto a balcony that over looks the lake. The coffee is made with egg milk, its thick and creamy and really sweet (like everything here). You stir in the really strong – almost pure coco coffee until you have it as strong as you like. I loved everything about it.
Steven also offered to take us to another city that had a beach to make the most of not teaching but seeing as we had only known him for an hour we turned the offer down. It seemed slightly dodgy and scary; no matter how nice he was. He did take us to a tailor he knew out of the city though. He took me on his own motorbike and Emily got on a xe om. As soon as we had left I realised I did not have a helmet – which made me panic; but there was nothing I could really do. I also did not realise the journey was so long – about 40 minutes out of the city. I prayed the whole journey.
It was lovely meeting the tailor and getting to see a real Vietnamese home. They often look really dirty on the outside but inside they are immaculate. Unfortunately she said she would not be able to make anything as complicated as a wedding dress.
I think the experience was one of those that you do not really realise was amazing until afterwards and you are safe. I am now a pro at holding on to a motorbike! I went on one again that evening in rush hour – extremely scary and my legs got bumped a few times but at least I had a helmet on. I promise I will never go on one without a helmet again. I may even buy my own.
We had a massive thunder storm Wednesday night. It sounded like our windows were going to smash, but Emily slept through the whole thing. I am never normally scared by them, but I did not sleep well that night.
We met up with Georgie and Honor, other gappers who live really near to us. We went and ate western food for the first time in two weeks at the ‘Kangaroo Cafe’ – as you probably guessed an Aussie restaurant. We had amazing burgers and also found out that they do really good weekend trips to places around Hanoi which will be lovely for some of our free weekends.
That night we also had our first encounter with the rat who also lives in our room. We need to think of a name… We have a mystery door in our room that is bolted and taped up. When we finally managed to communicate ‘rat… upstairs…help…’ to the non English speaking man down stairs we found out the reason the door is taped up. I do not want to know what is behind it though. The rat had been behind the door and chewed through the tape to get in. Me and Emily were quite hysterical, jumping on the beds shouting and pointing whenever it ran across the floor. The bewildered, slightly traumatised (by us) Vietnamese man managed to get it out of our room after 20 minutes of moving furniture and dashing after it. He seemed like he knew what he was doing – we figured he had done it many times before. We have since been told that the hotel does NOT have a rat problem and it must be to do with us. Hmmm.
It rained all morning so we were lazy and just watched DVDs and ate junk food which was a nice break! In the evening we ended up at Laura’s place and then stayed at Craig’s. I did not manage to make it to church on Sunday evening but I did find the church! Hooray! I am all set for next week (there are no midweek meetings unfortunately) hopefully Craig and Emily will come too which will be great. I keep praying that I will make Christian friends and settle into the church.
It’s my first day of teaching tomorrow also – I have no idea what to expect so I am praying that will go smoothly. I am falling in love with the Vietnamese kids already! They just run up and jump into your arms. Kids are the same everywhere – they have hardly any inhibitions and they like stickers.
I am hoping that time will go quickly but that I will also enjoy it all.