Monthly Archives: October 2017

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

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.