For me, the best and the worst part of travel is moving on. On the one hand, the promise of a fresh adventure and the possibility that I might fall in love with a new corner of the world is what keeps me travelling. On the other, saying goodbye to the places I do love, the people in them and the experiences I’ve had there can be really tough. As we boarded a plane back to Asia after our summer visit to the UK I was wracked with homesickness and nostalgia but I also felt a glimmer of excitement and possibility at the thought of our new lives in Vietnam.
Saying Goodbye and Starting Again
Our visit to the UK surpassed all my expectations. The weather was (almost) continuously beautiful and after so many months of travel, we revelled in small comforts such as home-cooked meals, familiar TV programmes and having pet dogs to cuddle. We saw family and friends and quickly became besotted with my new nephew Alfie. We house sat for the first time in London, went on walks and had picnics in the park; we sat in pub gardens and explored Scotland for the first time. Our visit was productive too because while I completed a TEFL course, Andrew earned some money working for his Dad.
Those two and a half months back home disappeared fast and before I knew it we were packing our bags again, except this time we were filling them with smart work clothes, text books and University certificates. We had jobs lined up teaching English in Hanoi, a prospect that I found more than a little bit terrifying. The task of assembling our new lives was overwhelming; from finding an apartment and our way around the city to renting a scooter and opening Vietnamese bank accounts – I knew the next few weeks were going to be tough.
Teething Troubles and Teaching Nightmares
To ease my fears about beginning our new lives in Hanoi I did what I always do – planned and researched like crazy. One thing I didn’t anticipate though was the fact that I’d get sick almost immediately upon arriving. Perhaps I picked up a bug on the airplane or maybe I just lost all the immunity I’d previously built-up in Asia, but on our second morning in Hanoi I woke up feeling like there was glass in my throat.
It took us far longer to get over our jet lag than we expected and every time we ventured out into the busy streets of the Old Quarter we were overwhelmed by the swarms of motorbikes and exhaust fumes, we got lost in the disorientating maze of identical streets and quickly became infuriated that we couldn’t walk on the pavements because they were crowded with parked bikes and people perched on stalls or selling their wares. This had all seemed so charming and exciting when we’d first visited Hanoi as travellers last year, but it didn’t feel that way now that we had an apartment to find and a million other tasks to complete.
After just a few days we were scheduled to teach our first lessons at the Language Centre. Now, no matter how many courses you take or how well you prepare your lesson, there’s no getting around it: standing up in front of a class for the first time is terrifying. Lessons at the Language Centre take place outside of regular school hours and are ninety-minutes long; my first class was on a hot Sunday afternoon during the summer break the day before a national holiday, so most of the kids really didn’t want to be there. Due to a scheduling error I’d also been given a revision class for a topic the children had just done a whole module and test on so it was old material they knew inside-out and were thoroughly sick of. Unsurprisingly, the class quickly lost interest and with my sore throat I struggled to make my voice heard over the din of classroom chatter and fought to control one group of naughty boys.
I’m sure an experienced teacher like Andrew could have dealt with these circumstances but I fell to pieces; this was my worst nightmare come true. After 15 minutes I looked at the clock, saw that there was still over an hour of class left and silently started panicking. What on earth was I doing here; what made me think I’d ever be able to teach a class of Vietnamese kids? By the time the lesson was over I was about ready to cry, especially when one of those naught boys bid me farewell by saying, with an evil grin on his face: “Bye Teacher, see you…NEVER!”
To top it off, I had to teach another class straight afterwards and the next day I woke up to find my voice had completely disappeared.
Finding our Feet in Vietnam
Yes, these first few weeks in Hanoi have been challenging but on the bright side, we’re slowly finding our feet. After trailing around the city with an estate agent for several days and losing out on an apartment we loved, we finally found a bright, airy flat in a quiet area of the city that’s within walking distance of the Old Quarter. The apartment is fully furnished and has lots of windows and a balcony; the rent is just £270 a month including water, cable TV, internet, scooter parking and twice-weekly cleaning. We have a hob and microwave to cook basic meals with and although we’ve yet to find a toaster that costs less than £20, we have managed to locate some decent cheese.
We’re starting to feel at home.
Now that we’ve established a comfy base the city seems friendlier too. We’re finding our way around and have discovered some awesome cafes, bakeries and restaurants – access to good food always makes us feel better! We’ve also rediscovered the joys of cheap massages and £3 cinema tickets and have begun adjusting to the chaotic energy that is the life-blood of Hanoi. With some degree of terror we’ve also rented a scooter from a guy who told us: “If you ever get stopped by the police just call me; I know people in high places so I will make sure you don’t get a fine!” The perks of living in Asia!
While I still haven’t fully recovered from my illness, I can actually talk again now and my second lesson, which Andrew sat in on, was a big improvement on the first. We have now starting teaching in the public schools which is a whole new kettle of fish. Lessons may only be 35-minutes long but they’re crammed with up to 50 children in classrooms with no air conditioning or fans; even though it’s supposed to get pretty cold here during autumn and winter, at the moment the air is still thick with summer heat and humidity. This is a steep learning curve for both of us and I have much to write about our teaching experiences in Hanoi.
Our lives here are just getting started and although there are times when I pine for England and wonder whether we may have been happier in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I’m determined to make the most of this experience. I’m also keeping in mind that the money we earn here over the next nine months will go towards funding the next stage of our travels. This is something we’ve been thinking a lot about lately and we’ve come to some surprising decisions about where we want to go, more to come about this soon.