The New Hanoians

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October 20th 2009
Published: November 24th 2009
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Apollo EnglishApollo EnglishApollo English

Miss Trang and Miss Hang pose under the Apollo sign at our new place of employment. Everyone there is lovely and very talented!
As I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, Joe and I have been pretty busy with our new lives as EFL teachers in Hanoi. Good teachers make it look easy, but we’ve found EFL to be full of hard work, endless hours of lesson preparation, screaming children running amok in the classroom, and teenagers who alternate between bored and bitter. We desperately want to be polished, effective, and loved teachers but right now we have to settle for making lots of mistakes and being mediocre language educators - at best.

To catch you up on our unfolding adventure, you may recall that we accepted jobs at Apollo English where we completed our CELTA course. The center is just minutes away from our flat. We usually have seven or eight classes per week, one on Wednesday and Friday night, three on Saturday and three on Sundays. Weekends are our toughest days -we work from 7:15 a.m. to either 8:30 p.m. (Saturday) or 6:30 p.m. (Sunday). We’re amazed that the Vietnamese want to attend school on Friday and Saturday nights…but they do!. We have several classes of children (between the ages of six and 10) and the rest are teenagers.
Minh and DuyMinh and DuyMinh and Duy

My private, English-language students are sweet, funny, and generous young men. They own a successful business in natural stone products (e.g., granite, sandstone, etc) for construction projects.

After a month of working, we can safely take off the entire day on Monday and Tuesday. The rest of the time we work on lesson planning. In addition, I have two amazing (smart, funny, generous, and handsome 30 year old Vietnamese businessmen) private students who I tutor on Tuesday and Thursday nights from 7:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Joe and I also started volunteering on Monday nights at the Hanoi Children’s Palace, an English school for low-income children. And whenever we have a little extra time, we help the children of our Vietnamese friends improve their English skills.

We used to feel super stressed about teaching but we are just now beginning to feel a little more relaxed. We’ve had a lot of amazing blessings, including the senior teachers at our school who have gone out of their way to help us improve our teaching skills. We love all of the teachers we’ve met at Apollo - they’ve helped us tremendously and have done so happily. We have a great ritual with them on Sunday nights… when everyone is finished teaching for the night, we all go over to the dog meat restaurant across the
The happy couple!The happy couple!The happy couple!

Our first Vietnamese wedding. Hien and Trung tied the knot on a Wednesday morning in their countryside village. We were welcomed like honored guests and we had a delightful experience!
street (or “over the road” as the Brits say) and drink cheap beer and relax together. Joe and I are fascinated at how the age differences that might keep people apart in the states melt away when you’re in another country. Most of our fellow teachers are in their early 20’s (although there are a few who are older than us), but we hang out with them (almost) like there’s no age difference. We will have a big, potluck Thanksgiving with them this week.

In addition to our new teacher friends, we still get together with several of the adult students from our CELTA class. We see our friend Diep every week because we teach her children English. We’ve gotten to be good friends with her and her family. We love having dinner with them and playing with their children. We also see our friend My fairly regularly. She’s been such a help to us - answering all of our questions and helping us find everything we need.

We also recently had the pleasure of attending our first Vietnamese wedding - the union of our friends Hien and Trung who we met when we first came

It was really hot, but Hien and Trung looked cool and collected for the gazillion photos they had taken!
to Hanoi back in July (they’ve been featured in several of our previous blogs). We were welcomed like guests of honor to their beautiful celebration, which was held in the countryside several hours outside of Hanoi at the bride’s family home. Much to our surprise, the wedding festivities screeched to a halt when we arrived at the party and WE somehow became the focal point of attention. Before we knew it, the family and invited guests were taking pictures of US with the bride and groom and their respective families. We had seats of honor at the luncheon feast where the rice wine flowed abundantly. The women and men sat at separate tables during the meal. Joe drank shots of rice wine with the uncles and other male family members (who we think were already drunk when we arrived at 11:00 a.m.) while I smiled and nodded a lot with the mothers, aunts, and grandmothers who continually dropped bits of food in my rice bowl and giggled about my ineptitude eating with chopsticks!

Vietnamese weddings are different than Western ones in many ways -some of which we still don’t quite understand. Hien and Trung’s wedding was held on a Wednesday morning from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m (we arrived around 11 a.m). The family consulted a fortune teller to identify the most auspicious day on the lunar calendar. About a month before the wedding, Hien purchased several dresses (one white gown and one very sexy red party dress) and she and Trung spent a day with a professional photographer taking wedding pictures around the city. They left for their family homes about two weeks before the wedding, but we’re not sure what they did there. As far as we can tell, there isn’t much of a ceremony to consecrate the marriage - if there was, we weren’t invited to it. Guests are invited to a party which lasts for a couple of hours. People drink, eat, and take photographs. Some people were dressed in jeans and very casual attire, although the parents and some other older family members were in traditional, formal dress. Hien’s father made some remarks (of course, we don’t what he said) and Hien was presented with a gold bracelet. I don’t think rings were exchanged. Later in the afternoon, the happy couple was heading over to Trung’s village to repeat the rituals and continue the festivities for another couple of days.

My private students, Minh and Duy, very generously offered us the use of their car and driver to make the two hour journey to the countryside wedding. We were particularly happy about that because we would have had to leave for the bus station at 6 a.m. to arrive at the wedding on time. So, we traveled in style in a comfortable, air-conditioned car with our trusty driver Hoang, who couldn’t speak much English but was a wonderful, lovable companion who even showed us some interesting sites on the drive back to Hanoi.

We were offered the car because Minh and Duy were concerned about our security at the bus station. That’s because I was recently ROBBED! That’s right - my first victimization experience ever!!! Now, in general, Hanoi (and Vietnam) is VERY safe - I dare say, much safer than in America. However, there is a lot of thievery in crowds and I was stupid enough to carry my purse around at an extremely crowded moon festival that I was attending with my friend Diep and her children. People were standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the courtyard outside the school
The family loves Joe!The family loves Joe!The family loves Joe!

I was a little worried when I first saw Joe shooting all that rice wine with the patriarchy of Hien's family. But, it was all in good fun and with good company! Hien's family was so warm and it was a joy to celebrate with them.
where the festival was being held. I never heard or felt a thing, but someone cut my purse from behind me and reached in and took my wallet. I was stunned, scared, and speechless! My friend took me to the police station that night, and I went back again the following Monday. The police alternated between being flippant and apathetic about my situation. I was struck by how antagonistic and unhelpful they were. They barely made eye contact with me at all while I was there, and the meaningless paperwork was a joke. Fortunately, I received lots of warmth, support, and offers of help from our Vietnamese friends. I was over the shock, grief, and feelings of helplessness in a few days and just appreciated the kindness of our new friends. I only lost about $20 but they got my credit card, driver’s license, and all the other papers I was needlessly (not to mention stupidly) carrying around with me. Thank goodness they didn’t get my passport!

As for our day to day life, Joe and I have been seeing some good flicks at the local arts theater - the Hanoi Cinematechque. It’s getting cold here in Hanoi and we are finding ourselves in short supply of long pants, socks, sweaters and closed-toe shoes. Our apartment isn’t heated and it sometimes gets cold enough to drink hot tea and wear a sweater and socks to bed! We still do yoga in our apartment most mornings before work and we’re cooking and eating some fabulous food. Our new Vietnamese friend Loc absolutely loves to come over our house with her friends and cook big dinners for us. We meet at the Cho Hom market, buy the food together, and they come back to our place and prepare the most elaborate and delicious meals for us. Its great fun but our waistlines are starting to suffer again. I’m trying to get some culinary tips from these young women, but mostly I feel like they work magic in the kitchen. Whenever I try to recreate a dish, it never tastes or looks as good as what they do!

We recently took a trip to Bangkok, Thailand for a week. For a variety of very complicated reasons, the Vietnamese government wouldn’t renew Joe’s visa so we had to leave the country and re-enter in order to extend our stay
Son Tay with HoangSon Tay with HoangSon Tay with Hoang

Our driver Hoang stopped on the way back from the wedding to show us Tay Son - the site of a historic battle with the Chinese. We fell in love with Hoang - we were great friends by the time the trip was over.
here. It was a bit of a hassle but we turned it into a little holiday and really enjoyed ourselves. We’ll post pictures and a blog in the near future.

Additional photos below
Photos: 24, Displayed: 24


Sunday night beer at the dog meat restaurant!Sunday night beer at the dog meat restaurant!
Sunday night beer at the dog meat restaurant!

It doesnt sound very appetizing but the beer is good and cheap, and the company is great after a long weekend of teaching. Here we are Sunday night with our fellow Apollo teachers blowing off some steam and tipping back a few.
keep em' coming!keep em' coming!
keep em' coming!

Our personal beer man at the dog meat restaurant. He's a peach. He never lets an empty glass reach the table before he scoops it up and refills. For about $0.60 per glass, that can be dangerous.
Our apartment building in HanoiOur apartment building in Hanoi
Our apartment building in Hanoi

Its come to feel like our home. It'll be funny to leave. Our departure is set for January 22, 2010.
Our alleyway Our alleyway
Our alleyway

Many of our neighbors have softened toward us and now smile and say hello (xin chau). The neighbors don't scare me anymore...but the rats still do.
Fun with the kids!Fun with the kids!
Fun with the kids!

We got a chance to have Sally and Peter over a couple of times before our weekends filled up. They brought me a traditional Vietnamese hat from their mother's village. I'll cherish it!
Ham Long CathedralHam Long Cathedral
Ham Long Cathedral

The church across the street from our house. Its lovely, except at 4:30 am when the bells start ringing...
Ms. Binh and EmmieMs. Binh and Emmie
Ms. Binh and Emmie

Our neighbors! Ms. Binh is Emmie's live-in nanny. They live above us and are part of our landlord's family. Ms. Binh is wonderful! She cleans our flat twice a week. She doesnt speak any English, but we've come to love her. Emmie is a hoot. She screams bloody murder ALL THE TIME, but she's so goddamm cute...
Motorbike AttendantMotorbike Attendant
Motorbike Attendant

We dont know his name, but we pass him by several times a day and he always has a big smile and wave for us. He parks the motorbikes for the cafe on our street.
 Cho Hom: Our neighborhood market  Cho Hom: Our neighborhood market
Cho Hom: Our neighborhood market

We used to feel extremely intimidated to go to this market. Now, we walk around (mostly) undaunted. We found a fair(ish) vendor of fruits, vegetables, and tofu. We haven't gotten the hang of buying meat or fish, but that may come in the next couple of months.
Ladies night in the kitchenLadies night in the kitchen
Ladies night in the kitchen

Loc, Nhuong, and Trang team up to make an extraordinary meal, complete with fried spring rolls and pork spare ribs.

Loc and Velvet show off their culinary delights!

24th November 2009

Makes me want to visit
Nancy and Joe: Thanks for the blog. In the pictures the streets seem cleaner than I expected. Your making so many friends among the people is great! When you come home, Sandy can put you on a diet. Constance
24th November 2009

Just the ticket!
Hi Joe and Nancy! It was just what I needed to read your blog today--thank you! I just finished yoga and for some reason it got me to crying! Marcilina always says it can open up emotions and it did! This also happened the las t time Jon was unemployed around the 8 month mark with nothing on the horizon. I know something will work out and God will be faithful as He always is but for some reason, I'm faltering this day so I was so happy to get your blog posting:) A bit of escape! It's so great to read of all the friends your making and the great food you're eating and the cultural experiences you're having! Do you really think you'll be able to come back in January? I think with all the fun you're having you should extend your stay!:) Love you guys and wish you the best Thanksgiving ever! Susan
24th November 2009

you guys are amazing thank you
24th November 2009

giving thanks
Hi Joe and Nancy, Once again a wonderful adventure to read your blog and see the fabulous pictures..sounds like I have to get the quilt to you soon... just need an address and you can give it to whom ever you want...just take pictures... sounds like someone from the school of needy kids... We will be up at Judy and Bryans for Thanksgiving dinner... we will give Max some turkey from you.. Have a wonderful day and we all miss you... Love Nancy
25th November 2009

what a treat
Nancy and Joe - What a treat it is to get back in touch with your journey. Things of no real importance have distracted me for a while, and I'd set your postings aside. It's entertaining, inspiring, and just plain fun to read about your adventures. You guys are awesome! Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and the long weekend will give me time to sit down with a cup of coffee or glass of wine and leisurely catch up on your blog and give it the time it deserves. btw, in case you don't know, Myrna is spending a few weeks relaxing at her son's in Castle Rock. She says it's like the best spa one can imagine. She's recovering from successful quad bypass surgery. She is her usual happy and inspiring self. Keep up your awesome journey and your fascinating recounting of it. love dave
25th November 2009

Happy Thanksgiving
Hi Happy to see you are enjoying yourselves. Happy Thanksgiving DC, BC, Jesse, Jamie

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