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Published: March 27th 2009
ABC kindergarten class 4A
working hard on their colouring.
More about work Kate
We have been working here for 3 months now; it has really flown by. Work is good. We are enjoying the teaching and by and large our students are lovely. We recently had our schedules moved about so that we could have our weekends together. This has been great, because it means we can go away at the weekends - to Hanoi or other places in the surrounding area. We like living in Haiphong but it's nice to get away sometimes and go somewhere we were are not the most amazing thing that people have seen that day, and where there isn't a risk of people screaming when we walk past (this has really happened).
We now teach from Thursday to Monday, and have Tuesday and Wednesday as our 'weekend'. On weekdays we have General English and Corporate classes. All the classes are 2 hours long.
General English students basically pay for their own course, and are split into various levels: Beginner A and B, Elementary A and B, Pre-Intermediate A and B and Intermediate A, B and C. We don't have any higher level students at
present. They range in age from 15 years old up to 60 odd. The majority of the classes are school and University students though, so they tend to be quite young and fun. The General English classes are either from 5.30-7.30pm or from 7.45-9.45pm, so they come after school/University/work. They therefore need to be pretty lively and fun to keep the students from falling asleep! We have set books (Cutting Edge, for those of you in the know) and a curriculum for each level so preparing lessons is pretty straight forward. Every GE course lasts for 30 lessons, and they have classes either twice or three times a week. So our classes change quite regularly, which makes it interesting.
Corporate classes are paid for by companies and thus the students are all work colleagues and on average older than the GE classes. They do the same 30 lesson courses, but have classes at various times, from twice a week to every day, depending on the contract. Kris has just finished teaching one for the Department for Fisheries, whilst I teach the Haiphong People's Committee every Monday (the local Government Department Heads). Kris taught Corporate classes before in Madrid, but
it's new to me. What is good about it here in Haiphong is that the classes are still taught in the academy, so there is no travelling around the city to classes like in Madrid.
I am also teaching a special Corporate class at the moment, known as Project 100. 20 local civil servants have been chosen to study for Masters and PhD degrees in the UK, Oz and the USA. In order to get a place, they have to get a specific score in the IELTS exam (International English Language Testing System), which will test their ability in English as well as how well they can use it academically. So they are currently doing an intensive General English course, of 5 hours a day, 5 days a week. In about 5 weeks they will do 2 weeks of specific exam preparation, and then in May they will take the exam. I teach them for 10 hours a week, and another teacher here, Robin, teaches them for the other 15. It's been interesting teaching an intensive course because I have got the opportunity to get to know the students very well. It's also really interesting to be preparing students
for academic study. After all those years at University, it's great to be using it again in my job things I learned. See, it wasn't all in vain.
Since we moved our timetables around, Kris has stopped doing to the Kindergarten classes. I still go on a Thursday to do four 1/2 hour classes at the ABC Kindergarten; two with 3 year olds, one with 4 year olds and the last one with four 5 year old girls. It's an intriguing contrast to teaching academic English - I do get slightly concerned that one day I'll get them confused and turn up to a Corporate class with the Benny and Sue teddy bear puppets on my hands and do a rendition of Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes. I don't know how that will go down. I might try it just to see.
So, that's Thursday, Friday and Monday. Saturday and Sunday are another thing entirely, and an exhausting other thing at that. That's when the kids come. On Saturdays we teach Juniors. They are 6-11 years old and split into Starters and Movers classes. I have two classes on a Saturday whilst Kris
has three. The kids are lovely, pretty well-behaved and great fun, but really, really tiring. Since we started teaching kids we have a great respect for primary teachers in the UK. I have spent a lot of time with my Mum and sister at school, but I don't think I fully understood before quite how tiring small people are. Also, the first class starts at 7.45 am and the last one finishes at 7.30pm, so it's a long day.
On Sunday we are back in at 7.45am to teach the teenagers. When I was in Madrid there was no love lost between me and teenage classes. I found them incredibly hard work - what with all the hormones and attitudes. It didn't really mix with trying to teach an after school class. However, I'm really rather fond of my teenage classes in Vietnam. Vietnamese teenagers seem to mature slower than those in Europe and they don't seem to have the same severe mood swings. Perhaps it's something in the diet, so much rice perhaps? Anyway, they are, by and large, fun and want to learn. I've had 15 year olds draw and colour their own superheroes and not think
Twins Bee and Bob
together they are Bebob, get it??
it was a completely lame thing to do. The difference between Vietnamese teens and European teens becomes really evident when you try to get them to do an activity where boys and girls have to talk to each other. They just won't. The class is full of tomato red blushing faces, split down the middle like a bad school disco; boys giggling at one end and girls giggling at the other. The nearest they get to mixing is when one boy summons all of his confidence to go over to the girls, egged on by his friends. He'll ask whatever question it is he has to ask, then run away before the girl even has the opportunity to reply. During scenes like this I can't help but love them!
International Women's Day
The other Sunday, I do believe it was the 8th March, we celebrated International Women's Day. Heard of it? No, neither had we really. A quick google search reveals that it is a "global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future". First celebrated in 1911 there are events Worldwide to recognise it. So OK, perhaps we haven't been moving
Women's Day flowers
presented to me by my class
in Women's Rights type circles. We had our first introduction to it in Vietnam. And I think their way of celebrating might be a bit unique. It was basically like a combination of Valentine's Day and Mother's Day. The streets were full of stalls selling flowers, chocolate and cards. Men gave flowers and gifts to their mothers, sisters, female friends and female teachers. Any female really. During our weekend classes we were given materials for the kids to make cards for women in their lives. Rather randomly, this activity was sponsored by Nestle, and all the kids got a free box of Nestle Coco Crunch breakfast cereal to take home. If you can see the link between chocolatey cereal and the global achievements of women, please let us know.
So on Women's Day, I got flowers from many of my students, plus a card and a heart shaped box with some toiletries in. A couple of days before, my Project 100 Corporate class, took me out for dinner to celebrate. We went to a restaurant and had a big banquet of sushi and Vietnamese hotpot. Hotpot is a very popular dish here. It's basically a hot pot of stock
which is served to the table on a gas burner. You get various types of raw meat, fish, noodles and green leafy vegetables served on dishes to the table, which you cook in the stock and then transfer to a smaller bowl to eat. Everyone was given small glasses of red wine. Every 5-10 minutes, someone gave a speech and/or a toast, and everyone stood up, clinked glasses and took a drink. Again, this is another typical Vietnamese mealtime event. The speeches and toasts were in both Vietnamese and English, with cries of "Bottom's Up!" and "Down in one!" (I'm teaching them some very useful English phrases). I was told that the clinking of glasses is important because of the noise it makes. So you use all of your senses when you eat. You see the food, smell the food, touch the food, taste the food and hear the drink.
Singing your heart out
After the meal we all piled out to another typical Vietnamese activity. Karaoke. Oh, were you of the impression that karaoke was a Japanese thing? Or perhaps also Korean? Well, please stand corrected. The Vietnamese love
to sing. They just love
The karaoke bar across the lake
by night. All neon flashing lights.
it. So Karaoke is an incredibly popular pastime. There are loads of karaoke places all over the city. Some are big nightclub style places with flashing neon lights, where you hire a room with a big TV and a bloke to run the karaoke machine for you and all your friends. You get given a list of songs, choose what you want to sing and everyone sits around singing to each other. The rooms usually come with extra packages, like crates of beer (although alcohol is not completely necessary in the singing process), plates of fruit, sweet and chewing gum. We've got one of these style of karaoke places on the island in the lake near to our flat. You can hear loud crooning coming out of it at night. We're very glad of the midnight curfew around here, cos it could keep you awake. The other style is slightly more basic, it's really just somebody's front room, with a TV and microphone - again where groups of mates sit around and sing to each other.
What do they sing? I hear you asking. Well, here's another bizarre fact about the Vietnamese. They love
romantic love ballads. Most
Maxim's cafe by night
In the centre of the city, the place you see the most white people (it's in the Lonely Planet you see).
of the Vietnamese songs at the karaoke seemed to have a very similar plot. Boy meets girl, girl leaves him (she either meets someone else, or quite regularly, dies), boy sings a very sad song about how much he loved her. My students tried to translate a lot of the songs they were singing to me, and they were pretty much all based around this theme. So when it comes to English songs, that's what they like. Number 1 in popularity appears to be the Carpenters. I've lost count of the number of students I've interviewed who have told me that "We've only just begun" by the Carpenters is their favourite song. Some of these students were 15 years old. They also love Brian Adams, Bonny M and a high number of 80s love ballads that I had forgotten about - remember 'Nothings Gonna Change my Love for You' by Glen Madeiros? Go on, you do, think back ..... Let's not even talk about Abba. Happy New Year is still playing in the shops. It's March.
Of course, I had to sing at karaoke. I wasn't going to get out of it. I flicked through the English songs book.
Vietnamese style van
Want to transport stuff? Not got a van? Live in a city with few four wheeled motor vehicles?
No problem! Get yourself a wheelbarrow propelled by bicycle. Just as good a job.
There was 'Mary had a little lamb', 'Baa baa black sheep', 'We wish you a Merry Christmas'.....all the hits. None of which I can quite imagine doing at karaoke. So I chose 'Zombie' by the Cranberries. One of the songs that was neither nursery rhyme nor soppy love song. My students listened and rocked along and told me that I was a very good singer. I'm not sure that they were basing that on any skill on my part. I'm almost certain they were just being polite They want to pass the course after all.
All in all I'm a convert to Women's Day. I got presents and flowers and taken for dinner. I got to try my first sushi and sing my little heart out. I propose we introduce it to the UK.
Kate the Voiceover
Our life in Haiphong spends most of it's time teetering around the line between normal and surreal. The majority of the time we live on the surreal side. There are times when our dreams seem more like reality.
The other day I was rung at lunchtime by our boss. He asked me to come in early because I was
A Haiphong 'taxi'
Similar to the 'van', it's very much like a bicycle fuelled wheelbarrow.
needed at the Haiphong TV studios. Of course. So I went in and was picked up in a very posh car by a man from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and driven to the TV studio. Once there I was put in a newsroom, sat at a desk with a camera and microphone in front of me and the news backdrop behind. I was asked to read out the voice over for a presentation about Haiphong. Delegates from the Government are going to various countries like Singapore, New Zealand and the States to try and attract investment for the city. They were taking a Powerpoint presentation in English, but this needed a voice-over by a native English speaker. And it had to be female apparently. So I was chosen. So if you find yourself visited by a delegation from Vietnam and watch a presentation with a voice you find strangely familiar, that might be because it's me.
If you're reading this because you are thinking of teaching English in Haiphong, check out our other blog with lots of advice and information on teaching English abroad: What Kate and Kris Did
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