Saturday, 1 November 2014

First impressions of Bien Hoa

01.11.2014 evening

Hello from the Food Village from floor 4 out of like 21 at the Pegasus Plaza-building, highest in Bien Hoa. Just survived my first teaching lesson with seventeen over-excited 6-11-year-olds. They basically didn't understand anything I said, but most of them seemed to have fun and each spoke at least a little English so all is good. Trial and error, trial and error. 

So, busy busy. What has happened since I last wrote. 
First time spending one million at a restaurant (a group of us :P) 
Still best traffic photo
I spent four nights in HCMC before moving here to Bien Hoa. At our teacher training in HCMC on Tuesday (a general induction for all 35 new teachers based in the HCMC areas), got to meet loads of new teachers and we spent lots of time together that evening and the following day, including walks and Banh Mi (basically a subway sandwich-type deliciousness for a quid), a lot of time enjoying the magnificent live band at a bar called the Cheeky Monkey, exploring the night market and having dinner on various exotic top floors of restaurants. Another crucial moment of happiness was when I crossed a road, and a group of American tourists stranded on the other side of the road asked me “How did you do that!?” Well, just a pro, I guess... * modest shrug * (Ok obviously nowhere near a pro, but I do understand the logistics of crossing a road with no traffic rules.)

Then moved to Bien Hoa. Reality hit. I felt homesick. Except not homesick. Saigon-sick.

Not that I have anything against Bien Hoa (yet at least haha!).

Firstly, I had not completely grasped the fact that I would be having a long induction the day I arrived (Thursday the 30th), and therefore didn't think twice of staying up late, braving the induction day on a grand total of two hours sleep. (Well, I don't regret it, was an awesome night!) And, well, most of you know I don't respond very well to tiredness.

I arrived by taxi to my teaching centre at about eleven. Had the most exotic lunch ever, Korean (!), where you cooked your own meat on a thingy in the middle of the table and had at least twenty little plates/bowls/baskets of food to pick at.
Brains on a plate

Then immediately begun the induction. The only two new teachers are me and an American guy, McK – from South Carolina, very nice guy, luckily – and so our inductions were quite 'unofficial' which was cool. We found out we'd have lesson observations that evening, and I was ever so glad I had an hour between the induction and observation when I could go to my hotel and sleep...

Secondly, my hotel. Ha. It has grown on me now, but those first hours there, ridiculously sleep-deprived and already a bit stressed, were such a pathetic tragedy, I felt so sorry for myself that it was nearly hilarious. You know when something is so... unpleasant it becomes funny. Especially when you know that it's not actually such a bad situation, it's mostly just in your head. Can be compared to fear as well – when I did the bungee jump, I was frightened out of my wits until I realised that the worst that can happen is that I die, and then suddenly I had progressed beyond fear, and no longer felt it. You get it?

Anyways, I decided to record my tragic state so here goes. (Written in my notebook coz I'd left my computer at school, considering it a much safer place than the hotel...) (Don't worry, positivity will follow! Skip the italics munchkins if you desire only happiness)

'Night at Bien Hoa. Dodgsville Hotel. I am sat on my bed which does not have a sheet (or at least anything I can identify as a sheet) or pillow cases. The walls are musty and if I were the head of a family of particularly large cockroaches, this hotel would be top on my list of future homes. My bathroom has a bucket underneath the leaky tap, and the hotel is nice enough to provide me with flip flops for navigating the soaked bathroom floor.

I am having supper #2, yoghurt and biscuits. Supper #1 was the last bit of food I owned, a Twirl. Not the circumstances I thought I'd be eating it. Went into a supermarket during my ten free minutes, and for the first time got proper culture... exasperation. I am starving, but WTF can I buy. In Europe, a sandwich. Or a salad. Or even a bag of crisps if I were desperate. Here? No thank you, long aisles of uncooked noodles. No thank you, dodgy meat. No thank you, bag of dried something-or-others. And even the fruit just scared me.'

Obviously over-reaction though. I still haven't seen cockroaches (though the reason I'm here and not at the hotel is that the more I am at the hotel the greater the likelihood of me actually seeing one), and what I said is not a sheet is actually a sheet, and the shower is actually better than the one I had at HCMC... (where, btw, I did have a massive cockroachy visitor... luckily there I had a Brave Male in the room next door to help dispose of it... (=dispose of while I stayed as far away as possible) 
Tbf it was very near death...
AND, eternal fear of cockroaches makes me keep my room very very tidy, everything locked up in my suitcase– I doubt cockroaches have the talent of digging through bags yet...

But that was my complaints, now let's go through the positives at Bien Hoa...

:) Increasing chopstickiccal ability! Every single noodle-meal I have eaten with chopsticks. Hurrah!
For example this 
and this
and this! (Whilst writing this) 
:) Pho. The staple lunch. We all had a little crying session yesterday due to the chili. You add it yourself, but some people enjoy sweating their insides out from the hotness... Mine was a mistake. But still, I chose to put that tiny fatal spoonful of chili in my pho, which is an achievement in itself... After my year here I could see myself being more accepting of spicy foods haha!
:) Fellow teachers. Such fun and very helpful and friendly.

:) Y, the Vietnamese girl in charge of taking care of, um, essentials – has taken me to look at a few apartments (but still, should I accept an epic flat for myself for 6m dongs, or try and find a cheaper room in a shared house?) and sorted our bank accounts (a massive plus of being situated at Bien Hoa, took us 15minutes to get a bank account, and most of that was just waiting. The teachers in HCMC itself had a 'nightmare' of 1½hours trying to fill in many, many, many forms...). And that takes us to the next one...

:) First motorbike rides with Y! She lives near my hotel so now three times she's taken me to or fro from the hotel. Great fun, and it's all less scary when you're actually on the bike...
:) The view from our centre. 9th floor. The hill is this amazing, er, hill with a very funky temple on the top – must visit some day! And, you can even see HCMC's highest building in the distance...
Vietnam is well-known for its wonky horizons
:) COFFEE! How you make coffee here: coffee + sugar + powdered milk + hot water. Surprisingly nice!
Powdered milk is in first Nescafe thing
Anyhoos, I think I'll stop now. Next entry will hopefully be about Vietnamese people. :) 

Next week back to HCMC, to notarise my certificates (not too excited about that) and see friends, including one of my old friends from when I lived in Lille 2009-2010, who is coincidentally coming to HCMC... The world is small. :D

Lots of love

PS. Edit: Returned to the hotel. Literally love it more and more every day. They changed my sheets. The sheets I once dared claim were not sheets. LOOK HOW PRETTY THEY ARE.


  1. Sounds fun: I guess the average Vietnamese 6-year-old doesn’t speak much English, while you currently don’t speak much Vietnamese, so you need to say ”Stand up!” “Sit down!” “Greet your neighbour!” etc often enough until they get the message (literally).

    Most Brits would not be used to a wet bathroom floor, since you may have a fitted carpet in your bathroom (Mumsie and I did in our first flat in England). But Finns are totally used to wet bathroom floors, as we have at home here. Perhaps we ought to keep a pair of flip-flops in the doorway 

    I assume the uncooked noodles are the “instant meal” variety, where you just add water and leave to soak for a couple of minutes…

    I’ve never mastered chopsticks. You’ll have to give me some lessons sometime…

    I see both you and Y are wearing helmets on the motorbike. Very good! I notice too that Y has a face mask. Is that quite common? (By the way, speaking of abbreviated names, you were tagged in Tran Thao Nguyen’s pictures so I know what L & T’s names are  )

    Looking forward to hearing about Vietnamese people! Lots of love, Zz

    1. Lol yeah flipflops came in handy! And yes the uncooked noodles were instant meal-variety, which would be fine except I don't have a kettle in my hotel room... :( Yes, everyone wears helmets here! Facemasks are quite common yes, I'm still not quite sure what the main reason for them is (not having stuff fly in your face?)... Yes I'm not trying to hide people's names from you, I just don't want to spread all their personal lives on my public blog. :P

    2. Re the facemasks, I read a piece once that suggested that depending on your outlook on life you wear it either to avoid picking up other people's germs or so stop other people from picking up your germs... While on a motorbike I guess it's quite useful for not getting lungfuls of other people's exhaust...

  2. Hmph! My smiley faces have come out as squares!

  3. What kind of music did the band play? Vietnamese or multicultural? It's good to hear that Vietnamese kids are lively - one tends to think that everybody in the East is very calmly behaved.

    Love the new sheets! All the best with your trip to HCMC! Haleja.