So long Haiphong

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December 17th 2009
Published: December 18th 2009
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Another chapter ends

I'm currently sitting in Kate's house in Brewood near Wolverhampton writing this. The sun is shining, but the temperatures are low and snow is falling in many parts of England adding a festive sparkle to the holiday season.

All this must mean that we left Haiphong and I'm writing this blog to cover our last few events in Vietnam, plus the journey back to Blighty.

"Goodbye" means have parties!

...the first of which happened at work. With several members of staff leaving Apollo at the end of their contracts in December we had a surprise party one afternoon in our final week. It was such a surprise infact that everyone was late! We'd just had 2 days off and had been in Hanoi shopping for Christmas presents. When we arrived back at our flat we checked our e-mail and found we were invited to a party at work at 3pm. As it was 2.55pm when we got this message we had to call and tell them we'd be late! As it turns out, the message had caught a few people by surprise. Nonetheless the slightly delayed party went ahead with cakes, fruit and photos, bidding a fond farewell to me, Kate, Marc, Christina and Nicole.

The second party was at work again, but this time on Saturday with my longest running kids' class. As they reminded me, I'd been teaching them since the 22nd of December 2008. Which is quite a long time. 2 hours every Saturday with this group of 7-11 year olds. Thankfully, they were sad to see me go. The week before, when I announced that the following lesson would be our last there was a moment of shocked silence...and then one kid at the back suddenly exclaimed - "Aw sh*t!". It was very difficult to seriously tell him off for such language. Needless to say I didn't teach him it. I blame video games...

So for our last lesson together I ordered a cake and we had a party! It was fun, but pretty sad when they had to go. right at the end they got in a line, I wished them good luck and bizarrely, they all stood to attention and saluted me before tearing out of the room. They were fun and I'll miss them...

The third party was in our flat on Sunday night. Our last day at work was Saturday the 5th, but as fellow teachers tend to have early starts on Sundays, we threw the party on Sunday night. Equipt with 2 crates of Hanoi beer and enough vodka to fill a bath we prepared for our arriving guests. It was a fantastic night where, as before, people came in waves. Some former students turned up at 5pm and stayed an hour, others came a little later and the die hard expats stayed until the early hours. All in all it was a fantastic send off...but we still didn't finish the vodka....

The last party came on the Wednesday, the day before we left Haiphong. After a meal at one of our favourites - Big Ken's - with Robin and Bich, we headed to a karaoke bar and sang the night away with fellow departing teachers Christina, Marc and Nicole among others. Initially a shy singer, due to my terrible voice...after several bottles of Heineken I was ready to do a shouted version of "My Way" by Frank Sinatra with Marc (the teacher) and Bernard (the ship-builder). I'm sure it brought the house down. Kate sang a little sweeter I think...maybe.

Farewell to the flat

One of the benefits of living in Haiphong was the accommodation we got. We were lucky enough to arrive just as one teacher had moved out of the flat we stayed in for our whole time. As I've mentioned in previous blogs this meant we had a kitchen, internet, cable TV, 24 hour security, a tended garden, a tennis court and a sauna (???), as well as a handyman who even came round to change light bulbs for us. All for a ridiculously low rent. Sadly, on Thursday the 10th we had to say goodbye to it. After a manic day before packing and clearing everything out, we stacked all the remaining booze from the party on to the dining table (wine, gin, vodka...even mixers) for the use of the cleaning staff (as drink or cleaning fluid I guess, considering the vodka...) and dragged our remaining belongs outside. As we're planning on returning to Vietnam it seemed crazy to take all our stuff home, so we needed to leave 2 suitcases of stuff (the laptop, iPod speakers, ornaments, etc...). Thankfully, our mates Frank and Carol came to our aid. Having just moved into a beautiful spacious new house in town they offered to take the bags in return for some Bisto and Twiglets on our return from England! You can't argue with that! On the morning we were leaving Carol even came to our house by car to collect our stuff for us!!

I should take this opportunity to say a big travelblog THANK YOU to you guys!

Once the bags were gone we dragged our remaining luggage into a taxi bound for Hanoi were we'd spend our last 2 nights. Watching the familiar sights of Haiphong whoosh by the taxi window as we headed for the highway...

Last days

We spent our last few days in Vietnam in Hanoi hunting for Christmas presents and staying in a hotel. Funnily enough we spent our last night in an Irish pub with Alex and Alex - 2 blokes we initially met in Haiphong who happened to be in Hanoi. Then on Saturday, we flew to Kuala Lumpur.

We had one night in Malaysia and basically hung out and did nothing very taxing short of wandering around the city, eating and drinking the odd Tiger beer. Then on
Kate's longest running kids classKate's longest running kids classKate's longest running kids class

their class closed just before we left, so no tearful goodbyes for them.
Sunday we board our 14 hour flight to London, Stansted.

Arriving at 10pm we had already booked a room for the night in the Days Inn a short hop from the airport, with tickets booked for a train to Wolverhampton the following morning. As we walked into the hotel I was amazed to feel the heat from the radiator after the cold outside (I only had 1 jumper with me and no coat for the 1C temperature on the tarmac), to see a kettle and complimentary tea, coffee and even biscuits and to realise that the tap water was drinkable and you could put toilet paper down the toilet. Welcome to England! The downside being the dark coldness outside. But, as a nice touch the colourful print above the bed was one of a tropical beach, palm trees leaning over a shimmering blue sea in the yellow sun...not unlike the sort of scenes we recently left behind....

Thank yous

Our time in Haiphong has been a great experience. From the initial arrival on a grey December day, to our wanders around the streets, to our suddenly vibrant social lives as we met more and more people. As someone once said on our cabled "Travel and Living" channel - "It's not the places you go, it's the people you meet that will touch your heart". We never actually saw the show. The presenter who said this was clearly far too annoying. But a very true proclaimation. During our time on the north east coast of Vietnam we have met so many fun and interesting people - some of them passing through, some of them "long-timer" expats, many of them locals. From cosmopolitan range from America to New Zealand and many places in between we've had many a drinking partner who has made this year extra memorable. A big thank you and a large, cold Tiger beer to you all (or yoghurt shake, up to you).

A big thanks obviously goes to our Vietnamese friends who made us feel so welcome in their country. Thanks to Trang and everyone at Apollo past and present. Thanks to Yen and Mr Thanh at the Finnish Village. Thanks to Giang for playing the guitar on Sunday nights and to the staff of all bars and restaurants we frequented who kept the beer chilled...or at least kept a bucket of ice
A chicken riding a motorbike in HanoiA chicken riding a motorbike in HanoiA chicken riding a motorbike in Hanoi

It was very interested in the DVD shop next door, but the owner kept chasing it away...
nearby. Last but not least - thanks to our students who made it all so interesting and treated us to post-course parties, restaurant dinners and karaoke and insisted on paying - "Because this is Vietnam and you are our guest".

Thanks! See you in 2010!!!

The Haiphong travelblog

Unpredictably, our travelblog reached a new status when we started blogging from Haiphong. Haiphong doesn't figure highly on the tourist circuit and as such, little information is available on it on the net. Despite this, expat numbers are rising as the town grows economically. As mentioned in previous blogs, more foreign teachers, ship builders and fashion workers seem to be turning up each week. Consequently we found people were using our blog as a guide and mailing us to say hello before they moved here. Some people we didn't get a chance to hook up with, but others we became great friends - for example Susan, Frank and Carol - now all Haiphong veterans. It made the blog even more fun to write knowing that it was being genuinely useful and filling a gap in the available info. I suppose when (if!) we move to Ho Chi Minh City our blog will be lost with all the other available online info about the city. Aw well. I hope Haiphong remembers us...

So Vietnam...

Just to finish off this chapter here's a random list of things that remind us distinctly of Vietnam. If you've been I hope you relate to it and if you're going I hope it provides a taster...

Paddy fields that go on endlessly in every direction; conical hats and pineapple sellers; motorbikes; impromptu acapello singing in restaurants, classrooms and anywhere; cyclo drivers grinning and saying "one hour!" as they block your way on city streets; motorbikes everywhere, hammer-and-sickles and Vietnam star flags fluttering in the breeze; beaches and sea; banana trees by our porch; school kids smiling and shouting " HELLO! " (and sometimes "f**k you"); tiny taxis with tiny drivers; the cheapest beer in the world served from barrels on the street to people on child-sized plastic stools morning, afternoon and night; motorbikes carrying the amount of cargo you'd hire a transit van for back home; searing sunshine and drenching rain; green pith helmets; bicycles riding in packs; motorbikes carrying animals to eat (live and dead); incredibly hospitipal and welcoming people...and people who laugh at you on the street; motorbikes carrying a family of 6 and their chicken; receiving your salary in millions (of dong); private karaoke booth parties and someone singing Celine Dion; snakes, scorpions and wasps in bottles of rice liquor (to "make you strong"); Sweating more than a local all summer long and then seeming impervious to cold in the mild winter when everyone is dressed like Arctic explorers; clink-clink every drink; chickens everywhere and particularly vocal at dawn; dog meat resaurant opposite pet food shops; thit meo restaurants ("thit " means meat, you can work out what "meo " means...); people doing aerobics in the park at dawn and dusk; bus drivers that prefer honking the horn continuously to slowing down as a safety measure in heavy traffic; swarms of motorbikes that flow around you like a river when you cross the road; cinemas where people really just go to chat with friends; muddy rivers, blue skies and green palm trees; the craziest traffic in the world; pho bo and banh da cua and French (style) baguettes; being invited to a "small party"; Hanoi Beer and Saigon Beer and Hanoi Vodka shots after counting to 3; bars that sell yoghurt drinks, coffee and warm, dusty bottle of Hanoi Beer poured over ice; kids who wear their school uniform 7 days a week; "LIVE MUSIC" bars that feature a violinist, a saxophonist and a pianist as standard; "oi dzoi oi " and "How are you? I'm fine thank you and you?"

thank you, cam on and see you next year - it's not over yet!

Did we mention...Merry Christmas???

We did now.

Additional photos below
Photos: 16, Displayed: 16


Apollo staff at our partyApollo staff at our party
Apollo staff at our party

Trang, Diep, Trang and Hue!
Kris with Brady, Sarah and SusanKris with Brady, Sarah and Susan
Kris with Brady, Sarah and Susan

Kris is clearly telling Brady something very interesting and insightful.....
View from the window in StanstedView from the window in Stansted
View from the window in Stansted

after a year of telling students that it was a myth that Britain was foggy. we wake up to fog on the first morning back.

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