It’s been two years since we sat in a departure lounge at Heathrow, clutching our one-way tickets to New Zealand. With our goodbyes behind us and a whole new future ahead, we boarded that plane with no idea where we would ultimately end up. To say I’m surprised by what we’ve experienced and where we are now is an understatement.
Being up in the mountains empties my mind and soothes my soul in a way that nothing else does. As soon as I catch that first scent of pine needles on the wind, fill my lungs with clean, cold air and look out at the endless peaks on the horizon I feel calm wash over me. My love of the mountains is a discovery I’ve made only recently in life, a gift from my travels. Now, I dream about the mountain towns I’ve loved and left behind and I long to discover new ones.
There’s one thing I definitely won’t miss when we leave Vietnam: the traffic. There’s no way I’m brave enough to drive through these hectic streets myself but Andrew tackles them daily and he has plenty of terrifying stories to show for it. Just the other day we were driving innocently over a crossroad when we almost collided with a crazy Vietnamese man who was speeding through a red light – did he even slow down when he saw us? No, Andrew had to give way to him! It often feels like the Wild West on the roads out here.
I fell for Hanoi when we first visited over a year ago, but has living and working in the city changed the way I feel? It’s true that since we moved here to teach English, Hanoi and I have had our ups and downs, but here are five reasons why I continue to love this crazy Vietnamese Capital.
We’re half way through our time in Hanoi and there are just 18 weeks of the semester left before we leave Vietnam – how did that happen? I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions but this has led me to a startling realisation. In short, our experience here, which seemed to stretch onwards forever when we first arrived, now feels like it’s running out fast. This is it - we have just a few months left of our life in Vietnam and we need to make the most of it.
A new year, a new destination - well, for a few days at least. After an unimpressive and exhausting Christmas week filled with teaching in Hanoi, we were looking forward to the New Year and the rare four-day weekend it gifted us. To celebrate the start of 2015 we took advantage of our time off work by escaping to Cat Ba Island in Halong Bay for some adventure and relaxation.
We’re almost half way through our teaching contracts in Hanoi, Vietnam. In one way it feels like the time here has whizzed by in a blur of lesson planning and noisy classes but in another way it also seems like we've been here for much longer than four months. Isn't that always the case when you stand still in one place for a while?
Being away from home at Christmas time is hard. I’m surprised by how tough it feels because when we lived in England, Christmas wasn’t a big thing for me. In fact, I hated the present-buying culture and although I’d usually have about a week off from work, the stress of driving around the country squeezing in visits to our scattered family usually left me tired and deflated come January. However, after battling through our second Christmas overseas I’m determined to make sure we’re back home to celebrate next year.
Hanoi is a concentrated city, it’s centre in the Old Quarter is a tightly wound sprawl of snaking lanes and shop-lined streets, pavements over-flowing with parked motorbikes, goods spilling out from open-fronted stores and people sat in clusters on tiny stalls drinking coffee and eating from steaming bowls. Zoom out from that area and you’ll find the streets get wider but they’re no less congested; there are bigger, glass-fronted shops, shiny malls and a few lakes and small green spaces to dilute all the steel, glass, stone and smog but you can’t see any mountains or fields off in the distance, the view gives the impression of a never-ending city.
Tuesday morning is the hardest part of my week, I teach four grade one classes in a row and I always finish them half-deafened, exhausted and defeated. For me, the five-year-old kids in these classes are great one-on-one and when I meet them out in the playground, but when they’re packed into a tiny classroom and asked to sit still and be quiet for more than a minute they can be an absolute nightmare. Admittedly, the rest of my week is full of lovely classes so I can’t complain too much, but still, when Tuesdays roll around once more I find myself dreaming of an escape.