Falling one cloud at a time

One more Hip memory I’d like to share, and then I’ll stop.

My friend Brendan (who hails from Belfast) and I were sat in Geckos pub in Itaewon (Seoul, Korea) with a couple I was friends with. Brooke and Chad were from Ontario, and I had been working with them at a school in Suji. This was back in about 2006.

Geckos wasn’t our usual spot, we usually hung out in the Rocky Mountain Tavern (the Canadian pub), and I don’t at all recall why we were at the one and not the other. We practically lived in the RMT on the weekends.

We were talking about music, and Brendan piped up and asked, “What’s that song y’all sing to and cry every time it comes on in the RMT? I think it might be the Canadian anthem or something.”

As one, Brook, Chad and I replied, “Bobcaygeon?”

We were right, it was the exact song he was thinking about. And we did sing along to it at the top of our lungs and get all weepy and hugged everyone each time it played. It always reminds me of my first time around in Korea and all the amazing people I met there and inevitably sang this song with.

Bobcaygeon

I left your house this morning
About a quarter after nine
Could have been the Willie Nelson
Could have been the wine
When I left your house this morning
It was a little after nine
It was in Bobcaygeon, I saw the constellations
Reveal themselves one star at a time

Drove back to town this morning
With working on my mind
I thought of maybe quitting
I thought of leaving it behind
I went back to bed this morning
And as I’m pulling down the blind
Yeah, the sky was dull, and hypothetical
And falling one cloud at a time

That night in Toronto
With its checkerboard floors
Riding on horseback
And keeping order restored
Till the men they couldn’t hang
Stepped to the mic and sang
And their voices rang
With that Aryan twang

I got to your house this morning
Just a little after nine
In the middle of that riot
Couldn’t get you off my mind
So I’m at your house this morning
Just a little after nine
‘Cause it was in Bobcaygeon, where I saw the constellations
Reveal themselves one star at a time

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No Dress Rehearsal

With the passing of The Tragically Hip front-man and Canadian fucking legend Gord Downie, I wanted to share a memory from uni that I have that is completely wrapped around a Hip song.

A small disclaimer about this story: I graduated from university 17 years ago. There’s been a lot of memories and a lot of recklessly damaged brain cells in that time. But this is how I remember it.

So, when I was in university about a million years ago, I did theatre. Both onstage and behind the curtains, but for this particular show, I had a small part with a large and amazing cast.

Around the time we were rehearsing for this show, my friend Tim and I thought it would be fun to take some swing dancing classes. For reasons unknown, we had a lot of ska bands play our campus pub (Heroes) and learning some sweet swing dancing moves seemed like a good idea. It was not a good idea. What we didn’t think through is that the lessons were on Sunday mornings. Saturday night was Buck-a-Beer night. We missed a lot of lessons. But not that day.

I struggled my hung-over body into my beater and drove over to pick up Tim. We went down to the boat club on the river (which we referred to as the “Yacht Club”, because it was funnier) for our lesson.

We weren’t very good. Even when we were at lessons, which probably averaged out to less than half the time, we were often hung over. And being friends, we acted like kindergarten children about holding hands. Progress was not being made. To this day I still can’t do more than that fucking box step thing you learn in the first lesson.

This particular Sunday, after the lesson Tim asked if I would go with him to pick out his costume for the play. I believe he was the front desk man for the Hot L Baltimore. I was some old lady. We needed some thrift store duds to make up our shabby costumes to go with the setting.

Tim was ecstatic about his costume. He found a fabulous old-man sweater with honest-to-God patches on the bloody elbows. He was so happy he insisted on wearing it for the next part of our adventure, which was to check out the exhibition at the Kamloops Art Gallery.

The exhibition tied together the Hip song “Fifty-Mission Cap” (about the disappearance of Leaf’s player Bill Barilko) and the work of Tom Thomson, a famous Canadian artist who also disappeared. Or at least, that’s how I remember it. There was definitely Canadian art and there was definitely Hip involved.

See, the thing is, Tim (being possibly the world’s biggest Hip fan) had gone to this exhibition about 1000 times before he and I went that Sunday. He was hugely disappointed they weren’t playing the song (something wrong with the CD player… this was the 90’s) so he insisted upon singing the song (on repeat) to me while we checked out the art, stopping only to intersperse information about the meaning of the song and how it tied to the art we were looking at. Also worth noting that time to time, Tim would strike an “art appreciation pose” (one foot back, hand on chin) whilst wearing that damned sweater. Idiot.

After looking at loads of Group of Seven art and listening to Tim sing and lecture about Barilko for a goodish amount of time while I pretended I was sick of his shit but was secretly trying to not pee myself laughing, we went for lunch.

Over lunch, Tim says to me, “Hey. You can tell all your friends you went dancing at the yacht club and then to an art gallery before lunching with a guy in a sweater with patches on the elbows.”

To which I replied, “A guy with patches who can’t dance, hasn’t showered, and made me buy lunch. Everyone will fucking know it’s just you, Tim.”

It was a wonderful day, and whenever I hear “Fifty-Missions Cap”, I remember my uni days, my theatre days, and my friend Tim.

For that memory, and many others that are all tied up in the music of the Hip, thank you, Gord. Fully, completely. Thank you. You were a good ‘un.

Fifty-Missions Cap

Bill Barilko disappeared that summer,
He was on a fishing trip.
The last goal he ever scored
Won the Leafs the cup
They didn’t win another until 1962,
The year he was discovered.
I stole this from a hockey card,
I keep tucked up under
My fifty mission cap, I worked it in
To look like that
Bill Barilko disappeared that summer, (in 1950)
He was on a fishing trip.(in a plane)
The last goal he ever scored (in overtime)
Won the Leafs the cup
They didn’t win another until 1962,
The year he was discovered.
I stole this from a hockey card,
I keep tucked up under
My fifty mission cap, I worked it in
To look like that

Finding My Place (part 2)

Back to back blog posts? Someone finally has a day off!

So after ending my saga with the “real” job, I decided that perhaps I should focus more on Business English. I was already teaching one group, so I thought I would expand on that. I was also teaching one middle school writing class, so I also let the director of that school know that I could take more hours if she had more classes, as long as they weren’t too young.

I taught kindergarten and elementary kids for most of my five years in Korea. I enjoyed the little guys, but I was definitely enjoying my adult class more. It was awesome to use all my experience in business to go along with my teaching experience, so that’s why I decided to focus more on that group.

As mentioned in my last post, things don’t always work out the way you think they will.

I am fairly confident that I could have built up work with nothing but adult business classes if I really wanted, or that I still could. But it turns out that I got really lucky with that middle school writing class.

First, how I found those first two classes.

The business group contacted me when I posted my details on a site called Vietnam Works. They had reached out to me before I had even left Korea, and they were the first class I ever taught here. They have been absolutely lovely, but sadly the class is coming to an end. The core group is going to be working on a huge project for the next couple of months, so they have to suspend their studies. They are hoping we can work together again, but as I really can’t afford to keep their time slot (which is a prime time slot) held for them, I don’t know if it will work out. Time will tell.

The writing class I found on Facebook, where most of the jobs are. There are loads of groups for finding teaching jobs in Vietnam. An overwhelming number. But it was definitely the most useful place to find work.

Someone had posted a “I’m a teacher, do you have work” post (as many do, myself included) on one of the groups and this director had replied to him saying she had a writing class. I sent an email to her and the rest fell into place.

Happily, she was (and is!) super happy with my teaching. Right from the beginning she was asking if I had more availability, but I warned her that the “real” job could start at any time and besides… if I was teaching full time in the public school I may have to even bail on the writing class I was already teaching. She was over the moon when I told her that I wasn’t going to be taking that job anymore.

Long story short, I now work more than 20 hours a week for her. I mostly teach writing to students in elementary through to high school. I also teach one gentleman English – a lot of general speaking and writing but occasionally it is business focused. He’s fairly low level, so it is a good mix for his class. I do teach a phonics class, but not for much longer. I’ll primarily be a writing teacher.

A writing teacher. How the hell did that happen? I’m a little concerned that I’m in over my head. I can put words to paper (or, more accurately, words to blog about once every few months) but how much ability do I really have to teach someone to write a kick-ass SAT or IB test essay?

I’m going to do my best to skill up for this. Teaching is as much a learning process as anything else. Having never sat a SAT (heh) or IB test, my first goal is simply to find out more about what it entails. From there, how to teach it.

Because I lack the experience to focus specifically on these requirements until I learn me some more, I’m going to do my best to help these guys a) skill up on basics so they don’t make so many “silly” mistakes in their writing and b) get interested in writing. I hope that I can find a way to inspire these sacks of potential into enjoying writing at least a little.

So it looks like, at least for now, I’ve found my place in Hanoi. From Jodi Teacher, kinder kid wrangler and elementary monster tamer to Ms. Jodi, writing teacher for older and more advanced students. Wish them luck!

Finding My Place (part 1)

I realise that it has been a very long time since I’ve last blogged. Tonnes has happened since then, mostly good. We still love Vietnam and are happy we made the jump to come here from Korea. Honestly, I wish we had come sooner. Much as I love Korea, I’ve been enjoying Vietnam a lot more.

Since my last epic rant about finding work, work has mostly been found. It didn’t work out quite as expected… but then again, when does it?

Both Dan and I bailed on the “real” job that we had been waiting on to start. Dan was smarter than I – he bailed much sooner when he realised that my minimal hours and his occasional cover class was not going to pay the bills, so to speak. So he told the “real” job that he wasn’t going to work with them and moved over to an academy, where he is (for the most part) happy with what he is doing.

::SIDE NOTE::

By “real” job I mean a company with an office, a contract, an offer to get your visa and stuff sorted. A salaried job. In our case, it was a company that placed teachers into the public school system. There are a few that do that. I’m not naming the company as I’m sure others have no problem with them. If you are super curious, get in touch and I’m happy enough to name and shame. Just not publicly.

::END SIDE NOTE::

I bailed on them at the 11th hour – their fault, not mine. By that time I had reviewed six versions of the contract (signing the sixth) and on the Friday afternoon before we were meant to start, they handed me a seventh.

I couldn’t believe it, and said as much. Keep in mind a couple of things:

  1. The previous contract revisions had been mostly to help them, not just to help me. They weren’t negotiations as I never asked for more than what they had originally offered. It was to clarify wording and to protect myself in a couple of the clauses. All the revisions had been mutually reviewed and approved by both sides.
  2. They were really cagey about the start date. They weren’t sure if it was going to be the beginning of September, making the start date for training two weeks prior… or the beginning of August, meaning we would have to be ready to come in for mid-July.
  3. “Two weeks training”, as verbally confirmed and as stated TWICE in the contract, became ONE AFTERNOON to get the books. I didn’t even know where the school was except on a Google Map, or where the photocopier was, or who the TAs were, or the lady who was supposed to be our support, or even what the effing office hours were so I’d know when to prep. Literally “two weeks” became “two hours”, and when I asked about what had happened to the two weeks, the main HR contact said, “You must have been mistaken.” Um, no. It is in the contract, you fucking moron. Twice.

First – why the start date was a problem. Because they wouldn’t give us a straight answer, it meant we couldn’t give others a straight answer about our availability. It made it hard to take on any summer camp classes or anything because we didn’t know when we would have to run off for this elusive training period. This is when Dan finally bailed and just took on a full time job at an English academy.

Where I finally gave up was the contract. When we were told that we would be given new contracts to sign, I thought they had to be kidding. But Junior HR assured me it was for good reason… we were getting more money. They were doing away with a higher overtime rate and just making the base rate the overtime rate. Which meant a slightly higher salary. Well, right on. That’s the kind of change that I can handle. So, even though I was already extremely dubious about the lack of organisation and training, I figured I’d been through worse in Korea and I’d try my luck.

I waited until the Sunday to review the contract. I. Was. FURIOUS.

First, the idiots didn’t change the salary. So I would have had to ask for another contract anyway. The very reason that they gave us new contracts (or so they said) and they didn’t even check that they had changed it.

More importantly, those sneaky little douchebags had gone through the rest of the contract and made other changes without mentioning it. I’m fairly certain they were hoping no one would notice.

::SIDE NOTE::

Most people probably didn’t. I have a feeling I was one of the first foreign teachers they’ve ever dealt with in the five years they’ve been operating that has even read the damned contract. READ YOUR CONTRACT, PEOPLE.

::END SIDE NOTE::

It wasn’t even that they had pulled up an old file accidentally, either. A lot of the changes that we had gone through were definitely there. Nooooo, they had gone through and made some changes that impacted the teachers, and not in a nice way.

  1. Instead of paying the exchange on the bank rate on the day of pay, they were going to pay a flat $1 = 22,000 dong rate. Seeing as how that day it was 22,900 (and projected to rise), that was a potential loss of over $1000 a year for teachers.
  2. In the original contract, they said that you needed a note if you took more than the one sick day a term that you were allowed. In this new one, they made it much clearer that you weren’t getting paid for that day. Another potential loss of money for teachers.
  3. I specifically asked that they add “in Hanoi” to the clause that said the company could send you to a different center if they needed you to. I wasn’t going to agree to that and end up out of the city. It had been scrubbed again in the new contract.

I could go on, but you get the picture. I was pissed right off because it was so sly of them. No mention of any change but to the salary, which they forgot to update.

I went in to discuss it on the Monday (meant to start Tuesday). They were willing to change a lot of it back, but just for me. Not for all the teachers. Like it was just a negotiation. I still turned them down because they couldn’t assure the following:

  1. That I wouldn’t have to argue with the accountant every month that my pay was meant to be calculated differently.
  2. That the director or whichever idiot changed this contract wouldn’t just up and change the contract again in three months.
  3. That I was really really enrolled in the national health insurance program, and not just being charged a random amount and being told that’s what it was for.

With all these issues already happening, I couldn’t trust them to be supportive and not dicks throughout the school year, so I bailed. Junior HR was very understanding; she knew that what the company was doing was not right.

Once again, I should have trusted my instincts much earlier on, but I was so interested in teaching gifted students (I was being given top classes) at a high school level that I let it cloud my judgement.

Next time, if a contract states (even from a “real” job company) that a. I’m being paid in cash at an arbitrary exchange rate, b. I’m being charged $50 tax instead of a percentage of my earnings, and/or c. I’m being charged $10 a month for health insurance instead of a percentage of my earnings, I’m going to run away, right away.

Finding work. Good work.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve already been in Hanoi for over a month now, whilst at the same time unbelievable that it has only been a month. It feels like it has been much longer than that, both in good ways and bad. It seems like it has been longer because it feels good here, man. Feels like this could be home. On the other hand, I think it feels like more time has gone by because we’ve been so busy trying to get settled and find decent work.

I’ve been asked a few times what finding work here is like. And I always answer the same way: Easy, bro. SO EASY. And it is. But I should really be telling people that whilst finding work might be easy, finding good work has been a little tougher.

First, a bit about me if you don’t already know, because my experience and shiz has a lot to do with the work-search situation, if you know what I mean. I am Canadian. Female. I am Caucasian. I have a BA in English Literature and Theatre. I have 5 years experience teaching in Korea. I have a cheesy 150 hour online TEFL course.

That’s me. And yes, all those details ~especially the colour of my skin~ matters. It matters here just like it did when I was in Korea. I’m not just a teacher here, I’m a walking advert for the school. And they all want a particular look, namely white skin preferred. I’d only be better off if I was slimmer, younger, blonder, prettier, and more blue-eyeder. Seriously.

Because of what I look like, my education, and my experience, I’m a highly sought-after commodity. However, it also means that I reserve the right to be a bit more picky about the places I choose to work.

If you don’t have the superficial “qualifications” that I do going on, you can still be alright as long as you have the BA, TEFL (preferably a CELTA), and are a native English speaker. Bonus points for experience. These are the goods you need in order to get a proper work permit and resident card from the government. And the major centers here that are doing thing above the board (Schools/Language Link, E-Connect, APAX, Apollo, ILA, others) will want you to have those papers so you can be legit.

There is a lot of work if you aren’t legit though. There are loads of people running “schools” out of their apartments that are much less picky about your paperwork and more than happy to pay you cash in hand after each lesson. Some of these places end up being pretty good. Some of them are nasty. I’ve experienced both.

While I wait for my REALLY REAL job to kick off in August, I’ve been picking up side work to keep the coffers full. I’ve had two good experiences, and one bad.

The first was good. I teach a group of adults for 2 hours three days a week. The pay is average for Hanoi, but the work is light and easy, and the class is fun. They are eager to learn and have a good level already, so we are mostly building confidence and working on making their written and spoken English more natural sounding and ready for international business. I really enjoy this class a lot.

The second is also very good. Even though it is in an apartment building, this owner has completely transformed the area into a great learning space. Proper desks and classrooms, whiteboards, photocopier, CCTV, the works. She has books ready and the space is clean and bright. I’m teaching one writing class for her, with another starting next week. I haven’t been paid yet, but as long as there is no problem with my pay (which I agreed to once a month), then I will continue to work with this place too. I also really enjoy the class of middle-school Korean kids I’m teaching for her.

Now. The third place. *shudder*

Looking back, there were warning signs. But I had been lucky so far, so I had ignored them. Woe to me, I ignored them. May you learn from my idiocy.

It was meant to be just a cover situation while her teacher was on holidays, but even over our initial text messages she kept repeating how she would love a teacher to work long term with. The two stories didn’t quite match, and it should have been a red flag. The current teacher was on holidays and leaving in the spring, so I chalked it up to that. Now I’m not so sure.

She sent me the address of where I would be teaching. It was just over the arbitrary boundary I had set that I was willing to commute to, but as it was just off a major roadway, Google Maps was telling me that it would take 30 minutes. This is my cut-off for how long I will commute, and coupled with it being for 3 hours of class at a time, I thought it would be okay. When I told the owner that I would be okay with 30 minutes, but that was my limit, she said she understood. Keep this in mind – she said she understood that 30 minutes was the furthest I was willing to travel.

The day before we were going to meet, she asked if we could meet at a coffee shop in the Old Quarter instead of at the school. Now, I thought she was either a) going to be in that area anyway and it would be easier for both of us or b) she just wanted to make it a quicker journey for me. Now, it should have also been a red flag… but I was thinking positively, not that she might be trying to hide something. So I agreed to meet her at the coffee shop.

::SIDE NOTE::

Here is a red flag for y’all that Dan has experienced: Unless it is literally covering one class, that day, pay on completion, do NOT agree to teach without meeting the people you are going to be teaching for. If they don’t care to meet you (aka “interview ya”) before you work for them, they aren’t serious enough about what they are doing.

::END SIDE NOTE::

So I met her. And she was very nice and spoke English well. Both good signs. She’d been in business about a year and had a good number of students. Also good signs. Which probably distracted me from the bad signs.

She couldn’t tell me what they had been doing up until the day we met. As in, we met on Monday and she has Sunday classes, yet couldn’t explain to me what they had just covered. And she said she was the TA. What? That doesn’t even make sense. They also had no textbooks, they did songs and stories from YouTube and played games. This should have also been a red flag, but I don’t know how Vietnam works yet so it may have been alright. It wasn’t.

In addition to her not being able to tell me where the students were at in terms of their overall studies, she couldn’t describe their level. Sure, she could rank against each other (sort of), but she couldn’t actually tell me what their levels were in terms of what they had learned or what they knew. She also had no lesson plans for what I was going to cover, nor did she have any from the past few months as her current teacher didn’t use them. Even though the teacher “prepared everything”, lesson plans were apparently not part of that preparation.

Now, again: Learn from my mistakes. Unless you are hella desperate, do NOT accept a cover position that doesn’t have lesson plans in place and materials prepared. It simply is not worth your time to do a load of planning and prepping for a couple of classes. I know this now. Never again.

At the end of our “interview”, she said that she would send me more information. She also kept pushing that she would like a long-term teacher, and I kept responding that I couldn’t promise anything past July 15. She was really keen to talk more about putting more of a program in place for her school, as she thought I could help her. Later, I found out why.

The information she sent me told me nothing. A lesson plan from eight months ago for one of the four classes. A list of “expressions”. A list of “vocabulary”… except it wasn’t. That list said things like “fruit” and “occupations”… but not which ones they had actually learned. I had no idea which they had done and which they needed to do. I didn’t know if they were learning to read these words or just speak them. Did they know how to answer in sentences?

I called the owner to clarify, and it basically told me that they had been doing whatever. The expressions and vocabulary didn’t match up. There was no plan. So I suggested I just review for the two weeks I would be there and I’d send her my plan. She was thrilled. I sent her my plan. She was overjoyed and said it would be perfect. Remember that – she loved the plan.

This is becoming a long-ass story. So let me cut it short. This was after the first two classes, taught on a Wednesday:

  1. The “school” was her living room with the furniture moved out of the way.
  2. Her mom was cooking dinner while we had class.
  3. There was a small whiteboard just leaning against the wall.
  4. There was her tv and computer.
  5. There was a handful of flashcards, mostly manky.
  6. There were no posters, no alphabet, nothing on the walls that made you think that was a place to learn.
  7. The students came in as they felt like it, making it difficult to know when to start.
  8. There were no desks or mats or anything – they just sat on the floor.
  9. There were no books. Not just textbooks, storybooks. Or rather, there were two storybooks. One of them had no words. The other had all the pages ripped out and there were some pages missing.
  10. Her toddler ran around the entire time I was trying to teach.
  11. My “TA” (the owner, remember) sat on her phone the entire time and was disconnected from the class entirely.
  12. Partway through the class the owner says, “you should have given them a break, let them have one now”. Maybe it would have been great to bring that up before I started, eh?
  13. The second class was only 2 girls (the others were absent) so she said “do whatever you want”. But she also said that I couldn’t teach them the way I did the first class because they would be bored. Even though she had previously said they were the same level. Wut?

If you don’t wanna click in and look at my captions… those are the pictures of the classroom. Between the two whiteboards was her food-smelly kitchen. This is literally all there was. No colors, no joy, no indication that there was a class about to happen.

That was the first night. I’m sure you are wondering why I went back. Well, we needed the money. And it was just two weeks. So I thought I could just suck it up and get through it. But then Friday happened.

  1. An hour or so before class is to start, she texts me to tell me to not be late. I was early to meet her. I was early to the Wednesday classes. So WTF? I text back to say “I’m actually leaving now.” Which I was… because I hate being late. But it is a 30 minute ride… right? So I was going to be about 30 minutes early. Yah, not so much. It took AN HOUR to get there because of the traffic. And worse – she knew it was an hour. When I mentioned it at the end of class, she just said, “yes, traffic can be bad”. Remember before when she agreed with me about the 30 minute commute limit? Yah. That asshole. It is probably also why she didn’t want me to meet her there for our first meeting. Because she knew that an hour was the actual travel time.
  2. More of her mom cooking, her 2 year old running around, and the smell of food everywhere.
  3. These students were some of the worst behaved students I have ever tried to teach, and I’ve had some real bad apples in my classes. Found out at the end that the very worst of them was the owner’s son.
  4. Partway through the second class, without looking up from her phone she says, “Yah, they’re bored because they know this already. You’ll have to do something else next class.” This was after she had pre-approved my lesson plans for the two weeks I’d been teaching, explaining that I was going to review because I had NO idea what they had learned. The lesson plans she had been sooooo happy with.
  5. As I left the apartment, there was the world’s largest cockroach trying to get on the elevator with me.

By the end of the second night, I had had enough. First, I told her that although her feedback was welcome, telling me that I wasn’t teaching what she wanted me to after approving my lesson plans and DURING THE LESSON was not appropriate. I also said that if she wanted me to teach something different for the next classes that it was fine, but she’d have to get over to me that night or the next morning (the next class was on Sunday) what she wanted so I could plan. She agreed.

Now, in while all this bullshit is happening, I also come down with the plague. Combination of grubby kids and stress. So I’m sick sick sick by Saturday. And guess what? By 5pm on the Saturday I still had no idea what she wanted the next day. So I texted her and quit. To be honest, I probably would have quit anyway. On Friday night I had nightmares – legit nightmares – about teaching in her apartment again.

I’ve never quit anything like that before, but I honestly couldn’t even imagine going back for one more minute. She seemed to be waiting for it though, as she didn’t seem too concerned that I wouldn’t be there the next morning. It may have helped that I said I didn’t even want the money she already owed me. She did ask if there was anything wrong with her school. HA! I promise I was very diplomatic and just responded, “That’s not my place to say.”

I haven’t heard from her since.

So. Finding work in Vietnam is easy. Finding decent work can be a lot trickier. Definitely be on the lookout for certain red flags:

  1. They don’t give a lot of detail (school name, location, etc) in the advert.
  2. They respond to EVERY teacher that posts looking for a job.
  3. They don’t care to meet you before you will teach.
  4. They want to meet you AND have you do a “demo” lesson that is a) longer than 20-30 minutes and b) not paid. (I had one person ask me to do a 3 hour “demo”. HA!)
  5. They don’t want to meet you where you will be teaching.*
  6. There isn’t a set plan in place for what the students have been learning.
  7. You can’t contact the current or previous teacher.
  8. If it is just covering for a few classes, there is no lesson plan or materials.

There are probably more signs, but this will do for a start. As well, note that some of these should be taken with a grain of salt, as there are different circumstances. Such as number 4 – my adult class met me in a coffee shop, as I was going to be teaching them in their offices and we couldn’t go in there during the day. It worked out fine. Just listen to your instincts.

As well, this doesn’t encompass the more legit, permanent places. They have processes in place and you should, at least, do a Skype interview (APAX), just an interview (Apollo), a very thorough and difficult interview (Schools Link), or an interview and demo (E-Connect). Your experience may even differ with these big companies.

Again, mostly listen to your instincts. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And if even the cockroaches are trying to run away, you probably should as well.

Walking in the Rain

On Sunday Danny and I decided we would walk the couple of kilometers to the giant Lotte Center to check it out. It is the second tallest building in Hanoi, but we were mostly interested in the basement, where the Lotte Mart is. Not because we were already craving Korean goodies, mind you, but just to check out a) what cat food they had and b) if they had Command Strips.

They had both, but we are really watching our money, so we walked away without purchasing anything. We also didn’t check out the observation deck, but once we are both working regularly I think we will.

We left Lotte and walked to nearby Pawsome Pet Store. Our little fuzzies will be here soon, and we needed to source out where we could get some decent food and other cat necessities. We found Pawsome, looked around, made some notes, and decided we should probably check out more than one place.

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Our cats (Bug and Fatler), arriving soon.

As we walked out of the shop, it was started to spit a little rain. Now, both Dan and I know how much rain can come and how quickly it can come (you learn this fast in Hanoi), but we thought we’d take a risk as the next pet store wasn’t too far away.

It may not have been far, but we didn’t quite make it before it really started raining hard. So hard that we took shelter in a tiny hole-in-the-wall bánh mì place that invited us to come in. They didn’t expect us to order anything, so we did. Had a sausage-style bánh mì and a Coke each, and sat waiting for the rain to abate. It didn’t quite stop, but once it slowed enough that we thought it might, we headed on. We were only a few hundred meters to the next shop.

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The next pet store was also alright – it had some things that the first didn’t and we noted a few more things down. We actually bought a cat brush there, and as we were trying to transact, all the power in the shop went out. Fortunately, it seemed isolated, for as we walked out of the store, the lights seemed to be on everywhere else.

Because of the continued rain, we figured our chances of getting a Grab taxi were going to be low and the fares high, so we walked on. We were only about 40 minutes walking from home, and the rain had really slowed. Besides, there was one more pet shop we wanted to check out along the way.

We never did go to that other shop. We weren’t even half-way home when the rain began in earnest. We huddled against a wedding dress shop under the woefully inadequate shelter of the awning and tried to wait out the rain.

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20% chance? LIES.

After waiting for about 10 minutes, I pushed Dan to start walking. He didn’t want to because of how heavily it was raining, but I couldn’t see it getting any lighter and we were only about 25 minutes from home at this point. He asked to wait another 10 minutes, which we did. During that time, I filmed a bit of the rain. I didn’t capture the amazing lightning strike and thunder that hit just as I stopped the video, nor did I get pictures of just how flooded the street got. There were motorbikes going by on which riders had their feet submersed in water.

That’s when we decided it wasn’t worth waiting – the rain wasn’t letting up and the street we were standing beside was quickly overflowing onto the sidewalks. As soon as we stepped out from under the awning, it was like stepping fully-clothed into a shower. Within seconds we were drenched through to the skin. Thank goodness I had the plastic bag from the pet shop – we put our phones and wallets in it and slogged on.

We made a left toward the lake, which had all but disappeared in the rain that was curtaining down. We followed the lake home, so wet that it wasn’t possible to get more wet. Thank goodness the rain was warm, and at least the weather meant that there wasn’t a lot of traffic to deal with.

Right before home, we had to go through an extremely flooded portion of Võng Thị Street, unavoidable as it was right where our lane meets Võng Thị. Normally, I wouldn’t mind walking through the rainwater, even though it was about knee-deep. Dan had different issues, as although I was in flip-flops, he was in shoes and socks, and definitely uninterested in walking them through this giant puddle, even though they were already soaked through.

I was a wee bit squeamish about the entire wading ordeal because that street is mostly a market most days – including butchers and other stalls. The flooded corner was usually where all the trash from the neighbourhood and market was piled. Had it been picked up before the rain or not? Was it around in that puddle somewhere? Had it rained long enough to wash away the fecal matter from the ducks, chickens, dogs, cats, geese, and flipping horse that we sometimes saw along that road? How about the blood and other offal from the animals that were slaughtered? Or was all that, along with the garbage, mixing together in this giant flood-puddle to make some sort of disease-riddled soup?

::SIDE NOTE::

No, really. A horse. Tied up beside the butcher’s table. Horse. I don’t even want to know.

::END SIDE NOTE::

With no other choice, we waded in. Taking small cautious steps as the road underneath in that part of the street is, understandably, none too smooth. We made it through with no stubbed toes or ankles twisted in potholes, and then it was two minutes to home.

Once inside, we went directly to the shower to take off our wet clothes. I was able to wring rainwater out of my underpants. We were extra careful when washing our feet and legs to ensure we got all the Võng Thị puddle soup off.

Even though it would have been misery to walk through if we had to be at work or some other place, it was kind of fun walking through rain so heavy that we could hardly see. I laughed a lot, and even Dan admitted later that it had been an interesting experience. Having said that, the next time it starts to rain, I’m calling a cab.

 

To Visa or Not to Visa

There are two ways (that I know of) if you are teaching in Vietnam: With or without the right paperwork.

You can come here with a tourist visa (as I did) to look for work. That visa is good for three months and you *can* work on it, but only for the three months. When your time is up, you are meant to move on. However, there are loads of people here who follow the letter of the law and not the spirit… they leave every three months and return on another tourist visa to continue working in small centers or teaching private lessons. It’s a grey area, and some people have been busted for it. But there are loads working this way.

Why would you choose to work this way?

Well, there are a few reasons.

First of all, I’m sure there are a lot of people here that are teaching without the credentials that Vietnam requires in order for you to sort your paperwork. You need to be from a country where English is the first language, a university degree from one of those countries, a TEFL or CELTA certificate (or equivalent – and with the TEFL you need an in-class component or they may not accept it) and a clean criminal record check.

Also, there is a lot of freedom working this way. You can make your own schedule and take time off from it just by dropping classes or arranging cover. You aren’t bound to one school, program, or location. You also end up making more money because you don’t pay taxes… a reason why the government really doesn’t want you working this way!

It is also VERY easy to find this kind of work. Hell, we were in our local supermarket and a lady came up to offer us work. We only didn’t take the job because she was only offering $17 an hour.

::SIDE NOTE::

Yah, “only”. If you are fully certified up, like we are, getting $20-25+ an hour is the average. The money here for foreign teachers is sincerely excellent. To the point where you may feel guilty, as the salaries for the Vietnamese is not nearly as good. Not even close.

::END SIDE NOTE::

The other option is to go legit. If you have the paperwork you need, there are plenty of established companies that will help you (although rarely financially) with getting your residency and what-not.

Why go legit if it ties you to one company and ends up potentially being less money thanks to taxes? 

Well, for us, not getting deported was key. I’d like to be all honourable and shit and say that it is because we want to be legal and pay taxes and stuff, but that would be a lie. Because we have our cats, and they will be difficult to get out of Vietnam, it would be disastrous if we got turned away at the border trying to re-enter on yet another three month tourist visa. We couldn’t risk it, so we both looked for (and found!) jobs that would help us get the right paperwork.

Even if we didn’t have the cats, we didn’t want the expense of having to fly to Bangkok or whatever every three months.

::SIDE NOTE::

That “expense” is sometimes as low as about $60, with all the airport fees.

::END SIDE NOTE::

More importantly than the expense of the visa run (which is actually more than just the flight – you also need a visa letter and stamp fees, as well as transport to the airport,  and then there is all the shopping I would do in Thailand, etc), there is the stress. You need to sort the visa letter. Depending on your schedule, you may need to arrange cover for your classes. And, of course, there is the increased risk of incident if you are flying so frequently. If you worry about that kind of thing. We just didn’t want the headache every three flipping months. We are looking to be (or at least feel) a little more settled than that.

I’m not condemning the pop-in / pop-out lifestyle of working here. I think for many it is the only option, and for others the most suitable option. For us, we just didn’t want the hassle or stress. In the end, you have to choose what is right for you.