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?

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.

halong bay

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.

 

dinner with friends

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.