Hidden Saigon: Wandering the Alleyways.

Saigon is a capricious city, seducing visitors with a freewheeling spirit, then maddening them with traffic, noise and heat. Transformation is all around and the sound of construction reverberates through the city as forests of shiny sky-scrapers continue to shoot up. The choked streets roar with an evergrowing sea of traffic, while the footpaths are crowded with food vendors, pedestrians and hawkers with makeshift stalls, selling everything from brooms to motorcycle helmets.

This is a city that knows how to have a good time. The bar scene is flourishing with the young and the beautiful rubbing shoulders in venues as hip and unique as anything you’d find in New York or London. If you are searching for something grittier, the wild-lands of Bui Vien St serve up the kind of full-throttle mix of music, booze and special balloons that’ll leave you feeling pretty sure you had a good time only you can’t remember how exactly.

The heat and the crowds and the noise can at times overwhelm and it can all leave some visitors feeling like Saigon isn’t really for them. Too crowded, too busy, too loud, increasingly too commercialised and too bloody hot.

Hiding behind the city’s brash and bold exterior though, lies an eclectic maze of alleyways, weaving their way behind and between the traffic-choked main roads. Here, just footsteps away from modern high-rises and flashy malls, is a whole other side to Saigon where the hustle of city life slows to a saunter and it is in this tangled web of narrow lanes that the real soul of this city can be found.

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If you want to experience Saigon as the locals see it, these alleyways or ‘hems’, are a wonderful place to get lost for a little while. Life is lived out in the open here – children play, while old men spend hours sipping coffee on plastic chairs. The doors of homes are wide open and you’ll see families sitting together on the floor, sharing meals and each others company. Around every corner is another food vendor and there are countless small cafes, quirky bars and other delights that won’t be found in any guidebook.

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Just outside my front door. My favourite place for breakfast.

It is down one of these hems that I have found a place to call home. Even though we are living in one of the most densely populated cities on earth, with a population estimated to be approaching 10 million, life in Saigon’s hems offers a local, small-town vibe, that you don’t often get in a big city.

Recently, my Vietnamese housemate, Tram, asked me –

‘Hey Carly, were you buying a coffee today down near the canal?’

‘Yeah, how’d you know?’

‘I was talking to one of the neighbors, he said he saw you’.

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Our rooftop. The perfect place to chill.

Apart from the people I live with, it’s not often I see another foreigner in the hems near my place. Most westerners tend to gravitate towards District Two, “The Bubble”, or District Seven, so when do I see another foreigner walking around near my house, my first thought is to wonder if they are lost.

I love where I live for it’s sense of community. My neighbors are friendly and warm, quick with a smile and even though we can’t say much to each other, there is a sense that we are all looking out for one another.

One evening, I arrived home and realised I had lost my house keys. I couldn’t understand how. I’d only been to a market and then to dinner so it wasn’t like I’d been drunk, wildly swinging my bag around a dance floor somewhere, but where ever they were and however they had been lost, they were certainly gone.

A couple of days later, after I’d already had new keys cut, Tram said to me,

“Carly, I have your keys.”

“What? Oh my gosh, where were they?”

“Someone found them in the street”.

“Where?”

“I don’t know where, but he brought them over for you.”.

I couldn’t believe it.

“But how did the person that found them know they were mine? How did they know to bring them to our house?”

“He thought they looked like a foreigner’s keys so he asked some neighbors if anyone knew any foreigners. Someone told him that this house has foreigners living in it, so he came around”.

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My very “foreign-looking”, keys.

There is a neighbourly kindness here that I think is becoming increasingly lost in our modern world. One morning, my bike conked out right near home. I turned the key and pressed the start button multiple times, but she was going no-where. An old lady neighbour saw my troubles, grabbed my arm and indicated to me to follow her. We wound our way through the narrow alleys, me pushing my bike until we stopped at a house. The old lady rapped on the door and a young-ish man came out. They chatted in Vietnamese, then he mucked around with my bike for a bit, got it going again. I thanked them both in my smattering of Vietnamese and took off to work.

Saigon’s hems are a people-watchers dream and a constant source of new discovery and delights. If you are visiting this city you’ll find more to nourish your soul along here than at any of the better-known tourist sites. The brilliant website, Vietnam Coracle has an excellent guide to the best hem’s to wander and get a little lost in. Check is out and let me know how you go.

Riding the Road to Dalat.

 

 

Vietnam is beautifully diverse country full of stunning natural wonders and adventures just waiting to happen and there is no better way to see this county than on a motorbike – or so I’ve heard. Since touching down in Saigon a little over 12 months ago, I have hardly left the city, and as much as I love her chaotic energy, recently I’ve been craving nature and fresh air and a little peace from the never-ending noise.  I decided to get away from the hustle on bustle for a week and hit the road on my first solo, motorbike trip, riding from Saigon to Dalat via Cat Tien National Park.

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Time to put my new bike to the test

Before this trip, my motorbike experience has been limited to puttering around Saigon on an ancient scooter with a cheap, plastic helmet on my head. Seeing as I was going such a long way, a friend lent me a proper helmet.

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The morning I left I stood next to my bike, packed and ready to go, fiddling with the strap of the helmet unable to figure it out, before giving up and Googling –

“How to do up a motorcyle helmet”

Once I got that sorted, away I went. As I rode further from Saigon, the country-side opened up and I wound my way through bright green rice paddies, rolling hills and small towns. I found myself falling into a relaxed and easy rhythym of riding and taking it all in when suddenly, “SNAP”, “BANG”.

 

 

 

Shit! One of the straps holding my all stuff broke and both my bags went flying 50 metres down the road. I pulled over and ran back to get them, my helmet still on and my head wobbling around, making me look like one of those bobble-head dolls.

I packed things back on as best I could and drove carefully until I got to a garage. I tried to indicate to the man working there that I needed to buy another strap by pointing at the one I already had and rubbing my fingers together in way to indicate, ‘money’. The poor fella just looked really confused at the foreign lady pointing at her bags and making weird hand signals.

I tried my smattering of Vietnamese –

“I want”, “I need”… but we got nowhere. Then I tried-

“Mua”, the Vietnamese word for, “buy”.

“Mua!” he said.

“Yes, yes, mua, mua”, I said and I think we were both a little bit chuffed about finally having a communication breakthrough.

The petrol station man pointed to a small shop, then he walked to the edge of the road and started to shout towards it. I didn’t understand any of what he was saying, but I am guessing it was the Vietnamese version of –

“Sheryl. Sher-yl. I have a lady here that needs an occy-strap. I’m sending her over”.

I bought two, just in case another broke, re-strapped my bags, tried not to think about what state my laptop might now be in and continued on. I was headed for Cat Tien National Park and according to Googlemaps it’s a drive that should less than four hours. I seemed to fall into some motorbike time-space vortex though, where Googlemaps would say I was 95km away, I’d drive for an hour and then I’d still be 82km away.

I was starting to get a little tired and over it when I heard a, “thud”, and thought my bags had fallen down again. I quickly stopped and looked at the road around me but my bags weren’t there. I had no idea what the noise had been, but not only were my bags not on the ground, they weren’t on my bike either. I looked back at the long empty road stretching out behind me and, heart pounding, I turned the bike around.

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      No bags to be seen!

I felt sick as I wondered just how far back had my bags fallen off the bike? Laptop, cash, all my clothes, my passport – everything was in those bags and now they were gone.

Fuckity, fuck, fuck, fucksticks fuck, I was in a bit of a panic.

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As I started to drive I heard some scraping noise and thought,

“Oh my God, what now?! Is something wrong with the bike?”

A Vietnamese fella drove past and started pointing, and it was then I realised my bags had fallen off my bike but they were still held on by the strap and I was dragging them along the road.

I pulled over and this time I strapped those babies on like my life depended on it. Vietnamese people are absolute legends when it comes to transporting things by motorbike, so I guess I still have a lot to learn.

554bb4d96da811d154adfd51-750-562See, this guy knows how its done.

Exhausted, I finally arrived at Green Bamboo Lodge in Cat Tien National Park, where I made myself at home in my bamboo hut by the river.

 

 

After an evening here spent drinking rice wine with some Vietnamese guys, I was up early to head off again, hoping it wouldn’t take me quite as long to get to Dalat as it had taken me to get to Cat Tien. The scenery from Saigon to Cat Tien  had ranged from the dull to the pretty and pleasant, but once I was out of Cat Tien and on the road to Dalat, the landscape became increasingly jaw-dropping.

 

 

The smooth road wound and weaved through jungle covered mountains, vast coffee plantations and remote villages. Every turn seemed to offer another sweeping view of lush green valleys dotted with distant homes and farms and it was such a joyous feeling of freedom to be out alone on the road with barely any other cars or bikes around.

 

 

 

Stopped for a coffee on an isolated farm and met this happy boy. He showed me his picture book and we had a running race (he won!)

I wasn’t too far out of Dalat when I checked the fuel gauge. I still had a bit under half a tank and seeing as getting fuel is a bit of a pain in the arse – I have to unload my bags to open the seat to get to the tank, I decided to wait until I got to town so I could leave my bags at the hotel and it would be a bit easier.

I was only about 15km out of town on a windy narrow road, looking forward to giving my bum a break when I looked at my petrol gauge and saw it was now very much in the red zone. How could this be? It hadn’t been that long ago that I’d had over a quarter of a tank, had it?

“Oh God. Please, please, please can a petrol station appear!”

I was in big trouble if I ran out of fuel. The road was narrow and winding and if I had to pull over there really wasn’t a lot of space to avoid a truck or bus that might come flying around the corner. I had all my bags, so trying to hitch-hike into town to get petrol, and get back again, especially when I don’t speak Vietnamese, was going to be almost impossible. Pushing my bike 15km through a mountainous road wasn’t really going to happen either. I realised that if the bike wasn’t going to make it, I was up shit creek.

“It’s okay. It’s in the red zone but it’s not on empty”, I tried to reassure myself. “I’m not that far away. 12km, 10km, okay now 9km, I’m going to make it”.

I looked at the fuel gauge again and my heart rate went up as I saw it was now it was right on empty and I was still around 7km out of town. I incredibly anxious the entire time and I don’t think I have ever felt such joy and relief at the site of a petrol station when I finally came upon one. I could have kissed the bowser.

Travelling by motorbike is both exhausting and exhilarating and this trip already has me hooked. Day-dreaming of big adventures, I’ve checked if I can ride from Vietnam to India, (I can’t. Border crossings at some countries make it almost impossible), but this is definitely going to be the first of many.

To Market, to Market.

I am not a shopper. 90% of my wardrobe is hand-me-downs from my friends and if it wasn’t for that I’d probably get around in a rotation of three outfits. It is only my intense love for food that gets me grocery shopping each week and going on a, “shopping holiday”, is probably what they’ll make me do on holidays in hell.

I don’t mind shopping at my local market though. We have outdoor markets in Australia, but it’s totally different to the markets in Saigon. Australian outdoor markets tend to have handcrafts and fancy cheeses made from organic milk from the highlands of Lithuania and expensive  dips from the Blue Mountains- most markets are not really a place for the weekly grocery shop. Living here though, I barely have to go to the supermarket at all. I’d much rather shop at the outdoor market than walk around Woolworths listening to an elevator version of Taylor Swift and getting hit in the leg with someone’s trolley. Here I’ll just get hit in the leg by someone’s motorbike.

 

 

In the markets here you’ll find almost everything you could ever need. Looking for a raw frog? We got it. Fruit and veg you have never seen and don’t know what do do with? Also here. Undies? I no longer buy my undies anywhere else.

The other morning I headed to the market, list in hand, wanting to buy some fresh fish for a curry, but the only fish I have ever bought looks like this-

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and when I went to the market and saw this-

 

 

I had no idea what to do. So, I did what any independent woman in her late-30s, living abroad would do. I called my Mum.

“Mum, I want to buy a fish for a curry but I am at the market and there are just whole fish. What should I do? Do you think I can cut it up myself?”

“Just pick a fish and cut it up with the bones, it’ll give flavour. Don’t try and fillet it yourself it’s not something you can learn on Youtube. And watch out for small bones”.

“How do I know which fish to get?”

“Just get a fat looking fish. But watch the bones, don’t choke on a  small fish bone!’

I am 37 years old and my mumma is telling me to watch out for bones when I eat a piece of fish. No matter how old you are, your Mum is always your Mum!

I picked out a fish that looked nice enough, not that I really know how they are supposed to look. Then when I got home I decided NOT to take my mothers advice and that I would try to learn how to fillet a fish from Youtube.

So this happened.

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“Just cut around the spine”, said Youtube fella,  “and look, look how easy this lovely fillet just comes away”.

No sir, as you can see, a lovely fillet did not just, “come away”.

Anyway, this poor bastard ended up as a fish curry that I padded out with prawns and tofu due to a lack of actual fish, and it was bloody delicious.

Do you live somewhere with outdoor food markets? Have you ever tried to teach yourself something with Youtube only to have it turn to shit?

Vietnam. Lost in Translation.

Yestersday in my Vietnamese class I learned that the way I have been pronouncing ’em ơi’, a polite way of getting someone’s attention, sounds more like I am saying, ‘vomit’. Also, the word for a ‘serving or portion of food’, and the word for ‘poo’, in Vietnamese are very similar. So if you are trying your very hardest to use the Vietnamese you have learned when you are out to dinner, it is very probable you’ll end up saying something like this-

‘Hey vomit, a poo of chicken wings, thanks’.

The huge differenes between English and Vietnamese means Google Translate isn’t always much help.

Recently, I was trying to get my motorbike fixed using Google translate on my phone. I typed into my phone that I thought oil was leaking and showed the mechanic. He typed something back and it translated to,

‘Another time there was oil so I ran away’.

The word for ‘repair’, and the word for ‘milk’, are very similar in Vietnamese as well so when the mechanic handed me my phone with a nonsecal message that involved something about ‘milking a bike’, it was time to call a Vietnamese friend for help. Lucky, I have some wonderful Vietnamese friends in my life who are always happy to help when the going gets tough.

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Things regularly get lost in translation both ways here. The other day I received this  very resassuring message from my Grab driver.

 

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I am trying to learn Vietnamese but progess feels like it is moving at a glacial pace. I’m realistic that I probably won’t ever be fluent, but it’d be nice to be able to able to have a chit-chat with my neighbors. I was talking about this to a Vietnamese lady I met out at a recent dinner.

“I really want to improve my Vietnamese, it’d be nice to just chat to the neighbors y’know. ‘How are you?’, ‘it’s hot today, isn’t it?’, that sort of thing”.

The Vietnamese lady laughed, “Foreigners always talk about the weather! We don’t do that. You say to a Vietnamese person, ‘it’s hot today’, and they’ll look at you and say, ‘Yes. It is. Obviously’.

Apparently stating the bleeding obvious, ‘phew, hot one isn’t it’, ‘geeze that was a lot of rain’, is considered an odd thing to say if you are trying to start a conversation with someone.

‘My boyfriend is American and he does this. But in Vietnam we never try to start a conversation talking about the weather,  that would be so strange. We ask people how they are’.

In reality, Vietnamese people will ask more than how you are. If you are attempting to strike up a coversation, why faff about with the weather when you can ask, “Are you married? Why not?”, instead? 

“Why do you look so tired?”

“How old are you?”

“How much do you earn?”

“How much rent do you pay?”

There is no beating around the bush in Vietnam and these questions that would be considered forward or downright rude to ask someone at home, are no big deal here. The cultural difference between Vietnam and Australia run a lot deeper than anything in this post,  but people are people all over the world. Communication style may differ, but we all have the same need to connect with others, which is why I’ll keep pushing on with my Vietnamese lessons. Hopefully I won’t say anything too offensive a long the way.

 

Here a few random photos of daily life here in wonderful Saigon.

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I took this photo the other day, while I was out at the shops. Vietnam is such a wonderfuly interesting country full of contrasts.

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First dinner of our ladies-over-30-social club was a hit! That’s me front left.

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Driving home on a drizzly afternoon.

 

 

 

A mixed bag of photos I have taken recently.

 

 

Teaching English in Saigon- Part two. The difference between boys and girls…

The page in their book told me that today’s topic for their English class was, ‘The differences between boys and girls’.

Oh God no.

I looked at the room full of  40 eleven-year-olds staring back at me and felt a bit panicky. What differences exactly am I suppposed to talk about here? Are we getting down to the anatomy or is it more of a gender stereotype, ‘boys wear blue and girls wear pink’, kind of deal?

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Is this what I am supposed to be teaching today?

I was covering an upper primary class at short notice so I hadn’t known what I was going to be teaching until I walked into the room. The textbooks can be pretty vague, often with just a few key words to teach that we then create a lesson around. Normally, I like the freedom, but not on this day.

I tried to think of a plan. Do I open with -“okay boys and girls, you are coming to an age where soon you’ll be noticing changes in your body”.

No. Fuck no I am not here to explain puberty to a room full of  primary school kids in a 35-minute English class.

And surely vocabulary and pronunciation aren’t supposed to be the focus of today’s lesson, are they?

‘Vagina. Can we all say, va-gi-na’? It’s a ‘vvvvvv’ sound. Then the ‘g’ as in ‘giraffe’. Vagina’. Good job everyone!’

No. No. No. No. I am just going to make this real simple, try and survive the next 30 minutes then get out of here.

I drew an outline of a boy and a girl on the blackboard, still not sure how I was going to play this.

‘So, let’s look at some of the differences between boys and girls”, I said.

‘BOOBS!’ yelled a voice from the back and the entire class including me, cracked up. Very good. When I ask you how old you are you tell me your name, but somehow you know do know the word, ‘boobs’.

‘Yes, okay. What else? Well, ahhh men have moustaches and beards. Some men do.  What kind of toys do boys like? Yes trucks and stuff and girls play with dolls. And ummmm girls have long hair. Well, not all girls and boys can have long hair, but generally. Yes and umm clothes…. well y’know ahhh girls wear dresses…’

This bumbling train-wreck went on for a few more minutes until I decided that was about all we were going to cover there. I looked back at the book, maybe there was some written work I could get them to do?

There was. It was a list of activities and the children had to write whether it was a ‘girls’, activity or a ‘boys’ activity. It went something like this-

Climb trees

Sweep the floor

Play soccer

Help mother with cooking

Play on the computer

Play with dolls

I mean come on, it’s 2019! I know just minutes ago I was teaching the children gender stereotypes about long hair and dolls, but, it’s 2019, am I really supposed to be teaching the children gender stereotypes?

I drew two columns on the board- ‘Boys’, and ‘Girls’.

‘Okay, everyone, who can tell me, is climbing trees something that boys or girls do?

‘Boys’, shouted the kids.

‘But, can girls climb trees?’

‘YES’.

‘So we’ll put climb trees in the boy’s and the girl’s column. Now, who sweeps the floor?’

‘Girls!’

‘Does your Dad sometimes sweep the floor?’

‘Yes’

‘Alright, so boys and girls can sweep the floor!’

In the end, I put all the activities in both columns because boys and girls can do anything and there is no way I am teaching a room full of year-five kids that sweeping and cooking are girl’s jobs while the boys are out playing soccer and climbing trees. When I was a kid, I was a little monkey and I could climb higher than most of the boys anyway.

Enlgish Teacheing in Saigon – Part One

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Last year, jaded with life in Sydney and wanting a bit of adventure I enrolled in an English teacher course in Ho Chi Minh City – or Saigon as it’s still known. I bought a one-way-ticket to Vietnam and within weeks I had my TESOL certification and had found work as an English teacher in a private kindergarten. The gorgeous little kids couldn’t always answer correctly when I asked them, ‘how are you?’, but they did know how to clearly shout, ‘what the fuck?’ while we were playing games. (It wasn’t me that taught them that, I swear!).

The demand for English teachers here in Vietnam is huge and the pay compared to the cost of living makes it a pretty sweet gig. Since arriving in Vietnam I have had the opportunity to teach kindy kids, primary school kids and adults and many times, I too have wanted to shout, ‘what the fuck?’.  I have felt completely out of my depth, had my grammar corrected by 11-year-olds and I’ve been asked by an (adult) student to explain the difference between, ‘sex’ and ‘fucking’. I’ve had to quickly learn grammar and I always need to make sure I have my phone close by to check words because I can’t spell for shit.

I have been an avid reader since I was a kid and I topped English at school but I have never been able to spell. I also mix up left and right and have a bit of a hard time working out which knob turns on which burner a stove top. My sister is exactly the same, so we must have inherited some kind of faulty brain wiring somewhere. I am sure people that can spell words like, ‘February’, ‘restaurant’ and ‘necessarily’ without spell-check must be using some kind of black-magic because I don’t know how else you could do that?

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I completed my TESOL in my first few weeks in Saigon. Here I am with fellow students. No matter where I go, or what I do, I am utterly incapable of opening my eyes in photos.

For extra cash, I’ve taken on work covering English classes when the regular teacher is away. The first class I ever covered I walked into a room full of manic pre-schoolers, was handed a microphone and was told to,  ‘go on, teach’. No guidance, no resources, no idea what to do. Teaching in Vietnam can be completely chaotic at times and there have been a few cover classes where the school doesn’t seem to have any curriculum or plan at all and they just tell me to just ‘teach anything’. When this happens, I talk with the kids or I’ll draw some deformed looking animals on the blackboard and we all practice saying their names.

Sometimes the kids have maths or science class taught in English here and one day I was asked to sub for a maths class. It was older primary and they were doing long division. I dead-set have not done long-division without a calculator since 1992. I had no idea. None. I asked for volunteers to come and show the working out on the board while I secretly used my phone to check that the answer was correct. Next in their books, was a grid with numbers that I was supposed to explain. I started at the page, blankly. The lovely Vietnamese teacher who was in the room with me explained it to me. I still didn’t understand. In the end, she explained to the kids in Vietnamese while I stood there and felt like a bit of a dill.

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My feelings when they ask me to teach the children basic maths.

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Once again, incapable of opening my eyes in photos.

ESL teaching can be a lot of fun though, and if you are thinking about teaching English in Vietnam, all I can say is come over and give it a go. Vietnam is booming. It is a land of opportunity right now and Saigon feels like a city where anything can happen. I enjoy teaching English here in Saigon, but what I really like is that I don’t have to work a lot of hours to cover my living costs – leaving me a lot of time to focus on my writing and volunteer with a children’s charity. Dollar for dollar, I earn a lot less than I did in Australia, but time is such a precious resource and Saigon is just so much fun, I’m happy to make the trade right now.

 

Daily life around my neighbourhood in District Three, Saigon.

An early mid-life crisis – From Sydney to Saigon.

How I went from working as baby health nurse in Sydney to an English teacher in Vietnam.

 It began with a sort of early mid-life crisis.

At the beginning of 2018, I was 35 years old, living in Sydney and feeling like something just wasn’t right. Nothing was particularly awful about my life. I had my health, I had a pleasant enough job that paid alright and I am lucky to have wonderful friends and family. Sure, I was single, but I was out there dating, which was fun most of the time. And when it wasn’t fun, at least it was funny. But something wasn’t right.

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I have a cousin in Vietnam and I kept seeing photos of his come up on my Facebook. It looked like he was having a good time, so I sent him a message to find out a bit more. The decision to pick up and move to Saigon followed an exchange over Facebook that went a bit like this-

“Hey cuz, how is Vietnam? I am getting bored with my life in Sydney and feel like a change”.

“It’s great. You should move here”.

“Righto then, see you in a month”.

I handed in my notice at work, booked a one-way ticket to Saigon, then embarked on the special kind of hell known as, “selling your things on Gumtree”.

Do you enjoy receiving messages from strangers who will bargain with you over the cost of an old chair only to disappear into the ether once you agree on a price with them? Do you like getting ridiculous requests from entitled twats who think because they are buying something second hand for $10 from you, you should drive across the city to deliver it to them personally? If this sounds like you, then you too should try selling your goods online.

Anyway.

Moving to Vietnam, I had absolutely no idea what to expect and even less of an idea of what I was going to do next if it didn’t work out. Back in 2012, I went for a two week holiday to Vietnam with some mates. My main memory of Saigon is of partying all night only to come back to the hostel and throw up in a bin.

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Here I am in Halong Bay in 2012, oblivious to the fact that I was going to be calling Vietnam home 6 years later.

From the moment I arrived, it didn’t take long for this city to draw me in with its chaotic energy.  Saigon might not be the prettiest city in the world, but it’s vibrant streets heave with life. Food stalls spill onto the pavements, traffic is bedlam, the nightlife can be wild and the heat is exhausting. This city is at once captivating and maddening but the warmth of the people and the food culture by far and away makes up for any faults.

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Off to work we go.

 

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Dinner and beers with friends.

 

In just decades Saigon has gone from being one of the poorest places in the world to a boomtown where sky-scrapers are going up at a rapid pace. Change is in the air and maybe in 5 or 10 or 15 years, increasing gentrification will take away some of the city’s untamed charms, but right now, it’s a place that feels like anything can happen, and there is no place I’d rather be.

 

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eating outside

Food is basically my main hobby here.

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Never in a million years did I think I’d wind up working as a teacher in Vietnam, but here I am.

Moving to another country isn’t without its challenges and for me the biggest one has been the language. When I first arrived, I was sure I was going to learn to speak Vietnamese no worries. After all, I’d previously learnt to speak Spanish. Sort of.

Learning Vietnamese though is a whole different kettle of pho. The smattering I have learnt is usually met with that Vietnamese hand wiggle gesture or a shake of the head.

Out to dinner one night,, I tried to order a beer. The Vietnamese word for beer is ‘bia’, so surely this one at least wasn’t going to be too difficult.

“Bia”, I said smiling at one of the staff.

He looked at me.

“Bia”. I tried again. “Beeee-a. Biiiiia. Bi-ah.” I tried some variations on pronunciation while making a ‘drink’ hand gesture, only to be met with a look something like this-

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He walked off and came back and handed me a glass of some kind of green juice.

“No, no”, I said. “Bia”.

A Vietnamese person sitting close by me said something which I can only assume was along the lines of, “she’s asking for a bia”.

The man laughed, “Ha ha ha oh, bia!” he said.

Suffice to say I don’t think I will be having deep and meaningful conversations in Vietnamese any time soon, but I am taking classes and trying.

The last 10 months have been a wild ride and while it hasn’t always been perfect, it has been pretty wonderful, so I don’t think I’ll be going anywhere any time soon.