Tag Archives: change

Grab a Bike, Rent a Bike

The easiest way to get around Hanoi is by far on a motorcycle. Note I didn’t say “safest”, just “easiest”. I haven’t taken any pictures or videos of the traffic here, because there are a million pictures and videos online (seriously, just Google “Hanoi traffic”), but you can take my word on it: The traffic here is mental. Regardless, being on a bike is usually the easiest and quickest way to get from A to B.

For my first couple of weeks, if I was going somewhere, I was on the back of a Grab Bike. Grab, like Uber, is a taxi service made up of a lot of drivers. Anyone can apply to be a driver, and I’m not too sure what the hire criteria is. But there are a lot of drivers. I started using Grab instead of Uber (or Lyft) mostly on a whim, and whilst I was using a service like this, I was using Grab.

At the beginning, I was highly impressed and loved the service. I would use the app to say where I was and where I was going. The app would tell me the fare (no surprises, no haggling) and how long it would be until my driver was with me. Once I was dropped at the other end, I could pay in cash and rate the driver. Happy days! It seemed like a great service.

Until it wasn’t.

Too many times over the past week I have given myself an hour to get to a location just thirty minutes away and been nearly late. Not because of traffic, because of idiotic drivers. On more than one occasion I have had drivers (sometimes twice in a row) cancel on me after I had already waiting more than five to ten minutes for a driver supposedly only two minutes away. Worse, some of them refuse to cancel (there must be a penalty on them if they cancel too often), forcing me to cancel which bumps me down the priority list. GAH. One day this week their shenanigans meant I waited 40 minutes for a taxi to take me home… less than 15 minutes away. I was getting super frustrated and often sent rant-texts to Dan. Keep in mind that I was waiting either in the blistering heat (41c on day) or the pouring rain. Either way, not happy.

So, see you later (until I’m out drinking) Grab! I decided to speed up my plans to rent my own bike. Now this was an easy process.

Rent-A-Bike had come highly recommended to me, so I decided to check them out. I sent an inquiry telling them about me (especially my lack of experience on a bike!) and asking for recommendations. Thu got back to me in under an hour and had two bikes that she thought would work for me (a Honda Cub or a Yamaha Mio) and said I could pop by to try them out.

Two days later, I was in their shop. And just to underline that I was doing the right thing, the Grab driver that took me there 1) drove right past where I was standing to be picked up, and pissed around the block behind me for a good five minutes while I waited in the rain, 2) said he knew where he was going but stopped to ask directions five times – ignoring the map on his phone and mine, 3) stopped by the side of a random road and told me to get off the bike… to get his raincoat, 4) didn’t bother checking the address once we were close but rather just kept pointing at buildings until I finally had him stop in front of the right building, and 5) didn’t have any change, at all, and made me ask Thu for change. YARG.

Thu, Danny, and (I believe Chris?) were all in the shop when I arrived. At first, Danny said I should probably talk to one of the others, but when I said how much of a noob I was, he got up to help me. And help me he did!

We talked about which bikes would be best for me, dependent on my skill, usage, and budget. I was well-pleased that he kept my finances in mind because money is tight tight tight at the moment.

He thought it would be best if I started with the Yamaha Mio, an automatic bike that was in my budget. It isn’t really built to carry two people, but as I doubt Dan will be comfortable riding with me for awhile, I wasn’t too worried.

moto.JPG

My Mio!

Knowing that I was new, Danny (from the shop, not my husband – this might be confusing!) took me down to a quieter road. He talked me through all the controls. We went for a short drive while he explained how to drive. And then it was my turn.

I sat in front and him behind me. He had me start the bike but then he reached around me and took the handles. He got us moving and told me to take over. This was awesome, as I was most nervous about starting out. His way meant I could get a feel for the acceleration without spinning out from a dead stop. He was very calm and talked me through turning and how to deal with cars driving straight at me in my part of the street (that actually happened). I was feeling confident and comfortable after our lesson so we went back to the shop.

Danny then offered to have me try the Cub and any other bike I was considering, but I was honest and said I thought the Mio, being an automatic, was probably the best one for me. The Cub is a semi-automatic, but until I really get used to the traffic and riding in Hanoi, I think it is better if I have less to think about! Even though I declined trying the other bikes, I was told I was welcome to come back any time and give them a try, or to switch up the bike if I was so inclined.

We wrote up the paperwork, and although it made a mighty dint in my rapidly dwindling funds, I can’t say it wasn’t fair. To rent the bike is $55us a month, with one month’s deposit, if you rent for two or more months. So, two months plus a deposit. Additionally, Rent-a-Bike offers something that is nonexistent in Vietnam – insurance on the bike. For the cost of a month’s rent, I get a year’s coverage for loss, theft, and write-off. Instead of paying the cost to replace the entire bike (yikes), I only have to pay 30%. Hopefully I’ll never need it, but isn’t that what one always says about insurance?

Fees paid, I also purchased a phone holder (so I can get directions) which they installed. Thu went over the controls again and showed me how to lock the bike as well as where to fill the tank. I was given a printout about parking, police, and other exciting (read: scary) things about riding a bike in Vietnam as well as a rain poncho (having just bought one, I’m using their poncho as a spare/bike cover).

Overall, it was a great experience and I felt like they were really attentive. I also feel assured that should anything happen, they will be there for me whether I need information or assistance. If you are looking to rent in Vietnam, definitely check out Rent-a-Bike!

Raincoat on, borrowed helmet on, I walked the bike into position, hopped on, and rode home. Tonight I will be really riding out in it (my work tonight takes me into the very busy Old Quarter part of Hanoi) and I can’t say I’m not both nervous and excited. Adventure!

motocape.JPG

Next Stop: Vietnam

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a post in an airport. I think the first time was also the last time, when I was collecting my thoughts in the Vancouver International Airport when I first flew to Korea in 2005.

My situation back then was a lot different than it is now, but a lot of the feelings where the same. Then, I had never flown outside of North America and had never lived anywhere except in BC. I was also just freshly on my own from a long-term relationship and had thoughts that I would be back when my one-year contract was finished with new insight into what I really wanted to be doing and such with my life.

This time, I’ve traveled to nearly 30 different countries, have lived in 3 different countries on 3 different continents, and I’m a married woman moving ahead without my husband and cats, who will follow as soon as they can. And I definitely have no delusions about figuring out what I am doing with my life. I doubt I will ever figure that one out.

But there is a lot the same. I suppose it doesn’t matter which cliff you are standing on the edge of, the tightness in your chest and the butterflies in your stomach are still the same. I had some safety in place then (a job and housing on arrival, pre-arranged) and I have some safety now (mostly in the form of experience and my husband’s support). I had fears then and I have fears now. Everything changes, yet everything stays the same.

Overall, I’m excited and terrified. I don’t think I have all that much to be truly worried (pretty sure I’m going to survive) but at the same time, this is another huge risk. I’m just very hopeful that because the last jump worked so well, this one has a lot of potential for greatness, too.

Finding more questions than answers

What I’m learning most in trying to prepare myself for this move from Korea to Vietnam is that everyone on the internet is an idiot. Including me, adding this drivel to an already information-laden cauldron of steaming mixed messages.

Side note: Took an embarrassingly large number of attempts to spell “cauldron” correctly. With Google’s help.

There is so many places to look for advice, but there are some really key pieces missing. For example, I have NO IDEA what an actual day teaching in Vietnam looks like. I hear stories (like 50 kids in an un-airconditioned room all screaming for your attention for an hour), but that can’t be the same experience for everyone or NO ONE would ever stay there. Or at least, any sane person. You can do “cover classes” (rock into a school last minute to fill in for a teacher that has the day off), but I don’t know what that experience is like either.

And does everyone work every day? Is finding a job (or jobs, as it seems to go in Vietnam) with two consecutive days off just a myth? Then what about the people I hear about that only work three days out of the seven? HOW DID THEY DO THAT?

Worse than the missing information is the conflicting messages. Hooooo-boy, howdy. From visas to expectations, there is a lot of differing opinions out there. From whether or not you should even go (from “job market is saturated – don’t bother”, through to “it’s a job-seekers paradise”), to where to go in Vietnam (not just Saigon vs. Hanoi, but toss in all the wee places in between), and anything else you can imagine.

Everyone’s experience is different, even when it is the same. I’m trying to keep that in mind as I sort through all the websites, posts, and whatever else I get my mitts on to try and figure out what I’m doing here.

I’m going to try my best to keep the blog all diary-style for the first bit that I’m in Vietnam. It may be useful as a) my memory isn’t what it used to be, and looking back could be awesome, b) my husband won’t be with me so I’ll have a full account of what I’m going through so he’s forewarned before he arrives, and c) maybe there are others out there that are curious what it feels like to take this journey from the plane landing to the point at which you sort of relax into it and think “okay, this is my life now”.

 

Korean Immigration Update

I only just realised that I didn’t update on the extension of my ARC card with the complication of the new passport.

Turns out the only complications where due to the information I got from immigration.

Now, I’m not saying the hotline lady was wrong, but I didn’t need all the stuff that she thought I needed, and I needed stuff that she didn’t tell me that I needed. Apparently, if a Korean calls, the requirements are different. I dunno why.

In the end, Mr. Money and I went to immigration together. I had to bring my passports (old and new), my ARC card (Side Note: I know technically that “ARC card” is “Alien Registration Card Card”, along the lines of an “ATM Machine” being an “Automated Teller Machine Machine”, but I don’t care. Everyone says “ARC card”, because just saying “ARC” as in “Bring your ARC” sounds hella weird.), and proof that I had my flights out of Korea booked.

That’s right. I needed to bring proof that I was leaving the country, something that the hotline lady failed to tell me.

However, those three things where all I needed to bring. There was a form filled out (Mr. Money did that for me) and then he like… invented? some sort of certificate (as in ‘hand-written’) that I signed (it was in Korean and he doesn’t speak English, so I signed that blind).

That was it. Didn’t cost me any money and the entire time in the immigration office was about 12 minutes. And now my ARC card is sorted until the end of May. Awesome.

One other thing to note: The officer at the immigration office didn’t seem to care one iota that my passport had been updated or whatever. So being beyond the “14 days” that you have to let immigration know that you’ve gotten a new passport isn’t nearly as bad a situation as hotline lady made it sound.

Decisions Made

Last week we had a quick meeting with the bosses. There was no “offer”.  We aren’t even sure why we had to meet with Mr. Money, he had nothing to add to the meeting. But we have come to a decision.

I will be leaving in May to move to Hanoi, Vietnam. Dan will follow when his visa is finished in September, as long as there is no monkey-business that prompts him to leave earlier.

I’m going to try and chronicle what we are going through a little with this transition. I was very curious what others in a similar situation (moving from Korea to Vietnam, moving as a couple, moving with pets) have gone through and there isn’t a lot out there. Or, rather, there is a lot, but trying to get through all the (often conflicting) information is a nightmare. So this will be our simple story about what we had to do.

Movin’ On

We (my husband and I) have been chatting for months now about what we are going to do when our current contracts run out. We’ve been thinking about trying somewhere other than Korea, you see. We enjoy teaching ESL in Asia, but Korea is no longer the best place to be doing it in my opinion. I may write a post on why I feel that way another day, but for now: recent events.

We’ve mostly decided that we would like to give Hanoi, Vietnam a try. From everything we’ve read, it sounds equally exciting, trying, and interesting. There are definitely good points (like making your own schedule and not being tied to one school) and bad (like not getting a bank account or being able to send money overseas unless you are with one school). But it sounds like it could be a great experience.

Before making a move, we wanted to be financially ready. All our debts will be paid off this year (Korea has been great for that – eliminating my debt is something that would have been very difficult had I stayed in London) so we were going to take some time to save to be really steady before we made a move… which would have been at my contract end in May 2018 or even Dan’s in September 2018.

Looks like that wanted delay has been taken from us.

I found out last week that my contract isn’t being renewed. Like many hogwans (private academies) all over Korea, our school’s enrolment numbers are down and so our director has decided to make some staffing cuts. Namely a bus driver, a Korean teacher (who was hired not even two months ago), and a foreign teacher. My contract is due up, so that foreigner is me.

We think that they (the director and her husband, the ‘money man’) are being reactionary and not really thinking through beyond freeing up some cash asap. But hey. It is their business.

I feel more for Dan (my husband and I worked at the same hogwan) – they may combine classes and drop the ‘speaking’ portion of a few so he is still not teaching more than 30 hours a week – but there is still going to be double the amount of kids. Double the amount of books. And he’s going to be the only foreigner at the school. Not fun.

We have had a stressful week thinking about what to do next. We thought through every possible scenario. We’ve tried to think how we could make our original plan of being in Korea another 18 months work. And we’ve come to the conclusion that it isn’t worth trying to stay here.

So it looks like sometime in May this year, I’ll be moving to Hanoi. Yikes. I have so much to figure out (and do, like that TEFL course!) before then. And I’m not too excited about going on alone to do something Dan and I were going to do together. In short: I’m terrified.

But the positive is this: If I go first, I can see if it is going to be something we actually want to do before we fly the cats over. I can get an apartment ready (with a litter box in it – the cats are a major complication in this scenario). I can see how easy it is to get jobs. I can start the network.

I’m scared about this one. It’s a bigger adventure than I was looking for in 2017. But the last time life shoved me around it worked out for the best. I moved to Korea, met Dan, and got my money in order. I’ve been more happy and relaxed than I have in years. I just got to stay hopeful that life is pushing me in the right direction again.

Something to Blog About

It is unreal to me that it has been more than a year since I’ve last added a post to the ‘Tales. Unreal, and a little sad.

There was a time when I was a regular blogger, and I think the writing was good for me. There are a lot of reasons why I haven’t been blogging, even though there has been loads happening.

  1. After the Immigration Debacle of 2013, I felt like most of the people who were coming to my blog were only interested in reading about that nonsense, and for me that chapter is closed.
  2. I started blogging as a way to keep family and friends updated about what was going on in my life when I first moved to Korea in 2005, but with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and a million other places to keep folks in the loop, blogging started to fall away as seemingly archaic and a bit much when my snippets and stories were so readily available in other, more convenient places.
  3. Blogs these days seem to be more about specialisation, not about personal spaces in which to just write and share thoughts about whatevers. Maybe that’s not true, and I’m out of the “blog loop” (probably not a thing), but it feels true. People are experts in things and they write about those things. I’m an expert in nothing, without anything really to add to what scores of others are already saying.
  4. I’m lazy.

That last reason is the biggest problem. I’m lazy and writing is work, even if I enjoy doing it. Still work. And I’m definitely work-adverse.

But recently, the husband (yah, got married since I blogged last year… this is what I mean. Shit is still happening in life – new job, new city, two new cats, new husband – but I just don’t bother writing it up) and I have started seriously talking about “what next”. What we are going to do after Korea and how to go about doing it.

We think we know the when and the where – a move to Hanoi, Vietnam in late 2017 or spring 2018 – and now we are going through the steps of figuring out here to there. And I think that could be a cool process to blog bits about. Someone might find it useful, but more importantly, I may think it is cool to look back and use the blog as a memory aid.

Part of what triggered the idea to write about all this was looking back through my pictures of my trip through Vietnam in 2007. I was lazy then and didn’t label any of the pictures – not even to differentiate between Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi. I can look some of the places up now and try to piece it all together… but I wish I had been smart enough and motivated enough to just put a blurb on them in the first place. It may have really helped me attach more concrete memories to that trip.

I promise nothing. But I’m seriously thinking it may be time to fire up the old brain again and get writing.

Getting to Korea

I started blogging in the summer of 2005, the first time I was heading to Korea. Around then, blogging seemed like a relatively new concept (as in, I didn’t know anyone else doing it) that would be better for sharing my experiences of teaching in Korea than sending bulk emails every once in awhile. And  even though we now have a billion more ways to share things than we did in 2005 (before smart phones!), I’m thinking the odd blog post will still be a great way of sharing some of my experiences in Korea.

As a first post written in Korea, I thought I would go into a bit of detail of what getting here was like. Not loads, because for most people it isn’t very interesting, but for anyone thinking about coming to the ROK to teach, they might find it fascinating.

Step One: Find a Recruiter that Doesn’t Suck

I sort of failed on this one. I found my recruiter through the forums on Dave’s ESL Cafe (and if you ARE thinking about going to Korea to teach, you should check out that site). The recruitment company came recommended, and maybe some of them are good. Unfortunately, the guy that I worked with was, at best, meh. It felt like he did the absolute minimum he could and getting information out of him was like pulling teeth. He would send me copypasta emails with erroneous and, at times, incorrect information. Scares me that if this had been my first time to Korea, I wouldn’t have been able to call him out on it. He basically went incommunicado the minute my visa was obtained and the flights were booked. I think my chances of having his support if something goes wrong here are slim to none (and slim just went home). But c’est la vie. I’m here now so it worked out despite his weinerness.

Step Two: Rock a Skype Interview

The interview process for Korea is very simple. Speak clearly and try to not look like you hurt small children.  Add a winning smile and enthusiasm for teaching (even if you’re faking it) and your job offer is 98% in the bag.

Step Three: Obtain your E2 Visa

This isn’t hard, but it does take some time. Not as much time as it takes to NOT GET YOUR BRITISH VISA (haha) but still count on it taking about a month. It works like this:

a. Get a job
b. Send all your paperwork to Korea
c. Get a “visa reference number”
d. Put the aforementioned number on another application and send it to your local consulate
e. Win.

It’s a bit more complicated that than (if you want details, let me know in comments and I’ll help out if I can), but that’s the essence of it. Part C and D take at least 10 days a piece, which is where the delays come in.

::SIDE NOTE::

I ended up with further delays because by the time my visa came back, it was pretty close to the Christmas vacation. The school asked me to delay coming until January, and although it wasn’t ideal for me, I agreed.

What y’all should know about this is that it meant I was home for nearly three months. THREE MONTHS. And you know who put up with me hermiting in her house,  whinging about governmental paperwork and eating all her food? My blessed saint of a mother, that’s who. I’m still trying to figure out just how many flipping Anytime candies from Korea I’m going to have to send her to thank her fully.

::END SIDE NOTE::

Step Four: Get Your Booty on a Plane

My flights weren’t too bad this time around. They flew me (the school pays for the flights) the same as they did last time – Vancouver to Seattle, Seattle to Seoul. Which basically sucks balls because it is an extra 6 hours of travelling than a direct flight is. But whatevs. Free flight, amirite?

Last time I took this trip I ended up with a delayed Van > Seattle flight which meant SPRINTING across Seatac to catch the next flight. And then I had the centre seat in the centre set of five seats in a packed flight. I got up twice the entire flight and didn’t sleep a wink. It probably didn’t help that my back was a mess of agony (it turned out that I had herniated all the discs in my lower back, something I wouldn’t learn until I saw a doctor in Korea).

This time around I had a pleasurable stroll through Seatac and then an aisle seat with no one beside me for the long (12 hours!) portion of the flight. Heck. I even slept.

Once in country, a dude with a sign put me on a bus. This is pretty fucked up. I’m still not happy that I had to take a BUS after 20+ hours of travelling, but hey ho! I survived. The school director met me at the bus stop and took me to my flat. Which then lead to us going to the shop to buy cleaning supplies.

Which is a post for another day. I’m going to leave this here and start catching up with myself over the course of this week. I’ll post about the state of the flat I was given (here’s a spoiler: It was freaking filthy) and my first night in Korea. And tomorrow is the first day teaching, so I’ll have a thing or two to say about that.

That is, if I survive the first day. Cross your fingers for me. It’s been a while since I’ve done this.

Living Situation Update

One of the effects of not knowing how long you’ll be in the country is not knowing how long you should keep your flat.

So last month I gave my notice on my flat on Brick Lane. I was here just over a year and although the flat had some issues (not the best landlords) I really loved living here. Brick Lane might have been noisy, but it was vibrant and central and interesting.

I wasn’t sure what I was going to do once I was past my move-out date (which is this Friday) because I didn’t know (and still don’t know) how long I would be here. 

Happily, my lovely friends Rich and Nell offered their spare room for the weekend, which was the first worry covered. It means so much that my first few nights homeless will be in the home of the loveliest couple in London.

I wasn’t too sure what I was going to do past this weekend though. I have a weekend to spend in Brighton with the fabulous Craig and Kevin, and couch offers from Kristi and Eva… but I have been growing increasingly concerned that I’ll be here long enough still that I could become a bother. Not having my passport or knowing when I’ll get it back is such a joy.

So, with great relief, I’ve found a room to sublet in Hackney for just under a month. The timing is perfect; they were looking for someone to take the room starting the day after I’m done at Rich and Nell’s place and until just about mid-October. 

Total strangers. But the place was tidy and there was lots of art on the walls. It had a homey feel and even though there are usually three boys living there, it didn’t smell like boy. And they have a super friend cat that I’m going to squish for a month.

Hopefully it will all work out. I’ve had issues with flatmates in East London before: I haven’t seen the Denizens of Aurghville for years now but I’m still emotionally scarred. If nothing else, I’ll end up with more stories and loads of kitty pictures for Instagram.

Not My Day in Court

In another universe, yesterday would have been the day I’d be in court to fight the decision handed to me by the UKBA back in March. And with how often I get asked “So how are you doing with everything anyway” these days, I thought I’d give a quick update on how I’m feeling about things and stuffs now that the court day has come and gone.

I still feel like I made the right decision to not pursue the hearing. Although logically the “punishment” (deportation and a 12 month re-entry ban) seems to severely outweigh the “crime” (missed a tickmark) in this situation, I still believe that a judge would have been hesitant to set precedence in this case by overturning the decision of the UKBA. So had I been in court yesterday, I honestly believe today I would have been out a hefty lawyer’s fee and just getting the gears in motion to move on.

I do wish I had more information from the UKBA earlier (like back in December, when the first application was returned would have been nice). If they had sent me back everything in March I wouldn’t have ever filed for the hearing and could have gotten moving earlier. That would have meant avoiding spending the last six months as I have done: Waiting in limbo for my life to change.

I’m not happy about having to leave my friends behind. In the past six years living so far from home many in London have become like family to me. I’m grateful that keeping in touch is easier than ever, but a Skype call is not the same as a pint down at pub. I’m going to miss a lot of people an awful lot.

My career in the London tech scene, which was just progressing nicely from operations to project and product management, also gets put on hold. At best gets put on hold. With 12 months out of the country, it could very well be the end of that progression. A year is a long time in technology and if I want to return, I may have to start at the beginning again. And I’m starting to feel a bit too old for that nonsense.

And leaving London stinks. I love this silly old city so much and I feel like although I’ve been so fortunate to have explored so much of it, I’ve definitely not seen enough. I could live a thousand years I think and not see enough of it.

But on to happier thoughts. There are some positives on the other side of all this bureaucratic governmental idiocy.

I am very excited about teaching again. I really enjoyed my time as a teacher before and looking forward to working with the kids again. I’ve actually had a student from when I was there previously get in touch and it’s made me realise how much I missed working with the little monsters.

I’m happy to be heading back to Asia. South Korea is an amazing country and I highly recommend checking it out. Of course, from there it is also easy and affordable to visit other countries in Southeast Asia… something else I’m really looking forward to. With any luck, this Christmas you’ll find me on a Malaysian island beach instead of sitting about in my pants in a cold London flat, eating leftover pizza and playing Civilisation.

So how am I feeling?  

I’m alright. I have a lot to do in the next few weeks – like move out of my flat this week, hassle the UKBA for my passport (oh yah, those dirty birds still have it), find a teaching job in Korea and finish my Korean paperwork for my Korean visa. And do all that without a job or a home.

It’s a scary time. But it is also an exciting time. At least you shouldn’t hear me complain about being bored for the next few weeks.