The change from September to October marked the completion of our first month living and working in Hanoi. It’s been a rollercoaster of a month, with many highs and a handful of lows. In a very short space of time, we’ve gone from abject misery whilst sitting in a hotel room surrounded by mess, questioning this grand plan of ours, to relaxing outside a coffee shop, enjoying the warmth of an autumnal evening, sipping on iced coffees without a care in the world. Well, when we say without a care in the world, we did spend most of the time complaining about one of the teaching assistants (mentioned in a previous blog). However, the bigger picture looks much rosier now than it did just a short while ago.
Without blowing our own trumpet too much, looking back, it’s clear how far we’ve come in a matter of weeks. Starting off as teachers without any experience was a terrifying prospect, but this seems like a distant memory as we now stroll into a classroom, armed with a list of games and activities to keep the children entertained as they learn. Yes we still have difficulties in classes (again, please see previous blog post about unruly children) and there is plenty of room for improvement, but the positive feedback we have both been receiving from the schools is a confidence booster. Lesson plans, once the bane of our life, are now completed in one of the many coffee shops that Hanoi has to offer. Contemplating whether grade 2 children will enjoy playing Pictionary (they bloody love it!) is much more agreeable with a coffee in hand
Renting motorbikes has opened up the city to us. The days of using unreliable Uber to get around are in the past. Now if we want to get anywhere, we hop on the bike. Whether it’s a morning commute or a trip to the Old Quarter for dinner, we can now do it without having to hang around for 10 minutes as the plonker on his UberMOTO takes the most indirect route to our pickup point. Now we’re not saying that we know the roads better than people who’ve lived in Hanoi for their whole life, but some of the routes they take are preposterous.
In our short time here, we’ve explored a city, found a home, made friends, strolled around the Old Quarter, had the bliss of escaping the tourists in the Old Quarter to return home, visited museums and temples, eaten a range of dishes at countless places, drunk beer with the locals, tasted a variety of coffees, been caught in a torrential thunderstorm, learnt 10 Vietnamese words, treaded the fine line between saying ‘thank you’ and ‘shut up’ (they’re dangerously similar in Vietnamese), said hello to a thousand children, bartered over the a cost of a watermelon and still got ripped off, found a swimming pool, got sunburn at the swimming pool, experienced a festival and learnt a lot about the wonderful Vietnamese people and their way of life. Who knew that school desks turned into beds? Who knew that you could find a shiny new department store in amongst the maze of streets?
Now before anymore is written, it’s important to make clear that we both think that Hanoi, Vietnam and the Vietnamese people are brilliant. However, we have noticed a few things that in our time here that are slightly annoying:
1) Hanoian’s don’t walk much. A 1-minute bike ride is better than a 5-minute stroll. Perfectly understandable considering the heat. However, on the odd occasion that somebody decides to use their feet, they dawdle as slowly as they possibly can, without giving a care as to whether there is somebody walking behind them. Having moved from London where people walk at a fast pace, the sight of a dawdler in front has ticked us on numerous times. What’s that you say, just walk around them? WE CAN’T BECAUSE OF ALL THE CHAIRS, MOTORBIKES AND FRUIT SELLERS THAT HAVE TAKEN OVER THE PAVEMENTS!!!
2) The Vietnamese love a coffee. We (In Lawrence’s case, only recently) love coffee. However, sitting out and having a beverage isn’t always the most comfortable of experiences because of the ridiculous chair choices. The plastic stools are a logical seat choice because they are cheap, durable and light enough to move around without any hassle. Not the comfiest, but not the main target of our anger. What we both despise are the tiny little chairs, whether they be wicker, metal or plastic that are the only alternative to plastic stools. Unless you enjoy the feeling of a chair digging into your spine, you’re not going to be able to find a satisfactory seating position on one of these. How the locals can endure these is beyond us.
3) Street sellers are a common sight around Hanoi. Often they are elderly ladies on bicycles with baskets full of various products from fruit to sandals. Seems very quaint right? Wrong. It’s not quaint. Each bicycle is equipped with a speaker that plays out a whiny pre-recorded message every 10 seconds, advertising their product. From the crack of dawn to late at night, they do laps of the area trying to wear us down until we buy something.
4) We’re all guilty of spending too much time on our phones. However, phone usage is taken to a whole new level here. Phones are out all of the time. Whether at the dinner tables, coffee shop, on a motorbike or at a bar, people are on their phones. The most popular use of the phone isn’t making a call or sending a text. No no. It’s taking a selfie. We both love a selfie, particularly if there is a statue of Uncle Ho around. However, it’s an obsession over here. We’ve sat and watched as families, friends and couples sit across tables from each other, taking selfies rather than communicating with each other. They then proceed to set their favourite as the wallpaper on their phones.
Despite our few grumbles, we are having a wonderful time out here and (other than the above 4 points) are embracing the Vietnamese way of life as much as possible. Roll on the next 8 months!
For a more comprehensive collection of photos, please see our Flickr page by following the link
P.S. Naomi’s straw hat is yet to make an appearance.