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Published: December 25th 2008
So, we have been in Haiphong a week now, so we thought it was about time we told you some more about it. Haiphong is the 3rd biggest city in Vietnam, and is on the North East coast. Just like Sunderland. And just like Sunderland it's a huge port, the main business here is shipping. Despite it's size and importance, there are hardly any white people here. Apart from the 5 people we work with, we have seen less than 10 other white people in a week. This means that we are a big novelty, so we get stared at and shouted at constantly. Usually they just look, but they also say "hello" and erupt into laughter. We appear to be very funny looking. I mean, white skin, bigger than them, hairy (Kris anyway), big noses....We get so much attention! We couldn't commit a crime here because there would be at least 100 witnesses, many of whom had been following us down the street.
The absence of the green cross code
The city is quite small, with lots of lakes, wide boulevards and French colonial architecture. The streets are made up of small narrow shops and restaurants, with stalls
on the streets selling fruit, sandwiches, food, beer and snacks. It looks quite like Hanoi, but the traffic and noise is a lot less. The roads are full of mopeds and bicycles, very few people drive cars. So the roads are basically four lanes of two wheel traffic going in each direction, with cars driving down the middle. Crossing it is an operation requiring concentration, skill and quick reaction times. You wait for a gap in the traffic - well, a space where there are perhaps only 2 rows of bikes in each direction. It's best to go with gaps in bicycles rather than mopeds, as they are slower. You then walk into the road slowly and the oncoming traffic goes around you. Even though traffic is coming at you sideways, you keep looking ahead, but also out of the corner of you eye, because vehicles also come from the other direction. We prefer not to do it too often.
Celebrities in the frozen food section
Also in the city there is a shopping centre - Thai style, with a department store inside and a food court, cinema and bowling alley on the top floor. The cinema shows
films in the original version (i.e. with the English soundtrack) so we shall be visiting there regularly! Next to the shopping centre is a Big C. Those of you who know Thailand will be familiar with Big C, but for those who aren't, it's a hypermarket where they sell everything from electrical appliances and toys, to food. We really do seem to stick out in Big C. People don't just stare, they actually follow us around the store, creeping up when they think we are not looking to see what is in our trolley. They seem fascinated by what we might be buying. When we walk down an aisle, people tap their friends on the shoulder to point us out. It must be like being Posh and Becks in the supermarket. Do Posh and Becks go to Tescos?
We are working for Apollo Education and Training, a Vietnam wide school. They opened a school in Haiphong just over a year ago, so it's still quite small. There are 7 teachers there at the moment, including us. The school is in the grounds of the Maritime University, we have classrooms on the ground floor and the
in the courtyard of the Maritime University
3rd floor. The rest of the building is taken up by training sailors, so there are always loads of people in navy uniforms everywhere and bells go off all the time. The other side of the University there is a high school, so at certain times of the day floods of teenagers fill the area with loud shouts of pleasure from being out of school. Instead of a bell, they seem to have a drum to tell them when to go to class, so along with the bell from the University, we also hear the loud banging of a drum during lessons.
We work for a language school, which means that people of all ages come to classes after school or work or at the weekends. We therefore teach a huge range of ages and levels. During the week we teach general adult classes in the evenings on 3 days (two week days are our weekends). In the mornings we go to a private kindergarten to teach there. We have three classes of 3 year olds, 4 year olds and 5 year olds and we basically perform a class of songs with puppets, and watch them colouring. Can you
imagine Kris singing to some 3 year olds complete with teddy bear puppets?? No? Maybe I'll video it sometime so you can get the full effects! At the weekends we have more young learner classes, but this time from 7 - 15 years. So no puppets for these guys, just a few songs.
The school found us a flat and we already moved in. It's a really great place. It's in a compound called "The Finnish Village" or Lang Phan Lan
. It was built by Finnish shipping workers who used to work here. There are four flats and a few 3 bedroom houses in the compound, as well as tennis courts and a sauna (why you would need a sauna in Asia I'm not sure - but they are Scandinavian). We have a one bed ground floor flat with outside space front and back. It has a big living area with kitchen, and even an oven. Ok, if you are in the UK, having an oven is probably not very exciting, but in Asia it's really rare. We have wifi and cable tv with various English channels. The woman we rented
it off left it fully stocked for us. She left us new towels and bedding, pans, crockery, cutlery....everything! All of this for a mere $250 a month! After Spain, where we lived in one bedroom of a five bedroom flat, this is a luxury!
Freetime and bia hoi (Kris)
When we visited Vietnam last year we first encountered beer hoi or fresh beer. It's all over the place. Basically, as you wander down the street you pass several clusters of small plastic tables and chairs gathered around a woman tending a large plastic barrel. The barrel has beer in it - allegedly the cheapest beer in the world. For 10p a glass you can join the throngs on the street debating such pressing issues as the world economic crisis and how to teach the past perfect progressive. Lucky for us, there are loads of bia hoi hang outs in Haiphong. But there is the problem of the toilet. Bia hoi is served on the street. There is no toilet. And, drinking beer makes you need a wee. Soooo, we thought we'd find out if there was a nearby toilet the other night and I was directed
to one side of the pavement behind the beer barrel. There I found a bit of canvas rigged up like a screen. I stepped behind gingerly and found....a large bucket full of urine. Yeah, literally brimming with urine. This was the toilet. Worse yet, the screen only came to my chest so I could "go" while continuing a conversation with friends. Presumably at the end of the night this bucket is tipped into the street and this explains the pungent aromas in some areas of town.
Now this might sound distasteful, but compare it for a second with the flipside. Picture an expensive London pub with £5 a pint where when you go to the toilet you're overwhelmed by one of those blokes who insists on handing you handtowels and offering you mints or Chupa Chups lollies...all in exchange for a quid tip (incidentally that'd be 28 000 Vietnamese Dong).
Exactly. Sounds like hell.
I guess I'm a mucky glass and a bucket-toilet type of bar man....
But then you probably all knew that already.
If you're reading this because you're thinking of teaching in Haiphong, check out our other blog about teaching
North East connections everywhere
Look! A rival school has connections with the University of Sunderland
English abroad: What Kate and Kris Did
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