Saturday, January 29, 2011

Love the Pho

I have had a lot of time to try and test all kinds of Vietnamese foods. Generally, the food is awesome and very cheap. I have had many favourites that have been and gone over our stay here but the traditional Pho would have to be the winner. It has been a comforting meal as the temperature has dropped over the capital. It was the first meal we had after arriving in Hanoi about a year and a half ago and we have had hundreds since, searching the city for the best one. A Pho place on the street Xuan Dieu is definitely high on the list which has the added benefit of being very close to our house.

We stopped for a Pho recently, rugged up with multiple jackets, scarfs and gloves before taking the chilly ride to work. This delicious chicken Pho helped with my decision of giving the Pho ultimate honours in Vietnamese cuisine.

Teaching English in Hanoi

I have been teaching English in Hanoi for about a year and a half. My background is in finance. I came to Hanoi with no teaching experience. I took a TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) course in Sydney before coming to Hanoi. There are many options for teaching English here, such as language schools, universities, public schools and kindergartens as well as tutoring.

Most people I know work in language schools which are popping up everywhere around town. They usually have some tutoring on the side. Learning English is very popular here and with money continuing to flow into the country and the population having more disposable income; parents are opting to send their kids to English lessons. With higher incomes and a high young population (I heard somewhere that 65% of the population are under 30) it makes for an attractive teaching environment.

The majority of classes are with kids or teenagers however there are adult classes as well. The levels range from beginners to advanced students planning to study abroad.

I have worked for a number of language schools in Hanoi. The choice you need to make is whether to go with a bigger, more reputable school or a smaller Mum and Dad type of set up. The bigger schools such as Language Link and Apollo will give you a contract, paying for things like insurance and holidays. They have a good selection of resources and are much better for social interactions. At Language Link there is a teachers room where teachers can prepare their lessons and chat with each other. They will pay you around the $18 per hour mark. They are generally the lower end of the pay scale in Hanoi. You have the option of a full time or part time contract. A full time contract is a minimum of 70 hours per week.

The Mum and Dad type schools, which usually operate out of a big house, are generally more relaxed and flexible. They also, generally, don't have contracts. The first school I worked for didn't have a contract and in the end I got screwed some of my wages. They were a small company; terribly run with little to no organisation, inefficient and of poor quality. I knew from the outset they were a rubbish company so I take the blame for sticking with them and not getting some of my money. The company was called Ninemoon English centre. They paid $20 per hour but I would avoid at all costs. The majority of the work I have done in Hanoi has been without a contract. This comes with added risk but I have had no other issues with employers and commonsense, along with a little word-of-mouth, usually prevails. I have earned between $24-33 per hour - cash in hand. They don't have the benefits of the bigger schools but in my experience the extra money they offer makes up the difference and more.

Once working for a school you will generally get offers for tutoring. I have done this throughout the whole time I have been here. You can ask from around the $25 per hour mark.

Hanoi is a great city to find work. There are many jobs and if you are a good teacher you will find work easily; regardless of experience. The Vietnamese students are generally great and look for a fun, interactive teacher. Creating a happy, enjoyable learning environment, for both kids and adults, will give you many teaching opportunities in Hanoi.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Rang Hanoi

I went for a dental check up a few days ago. There are a few western dental clinics in Hanoi but I opted for a Vietnamese one that was recommended by a friend. The teeth were ok but I needed a clean. A young technician worked away for about 30 minutes doing a great job. My dentist was professional and had good enough English; explaining everything I needed to know. The facilities were very good.

The shortfall was the price. For a check-up by a dentist and a thorough dental clean the price came to a grand $4. Yes.... $4. Even after a year and a half here I am still sometimes left amazed at how cheap some things are. I don't know the price back home but I would guess at least 10 times more expensive. Fillings are very cheap as well - about $5 according to my friend.

Check out their website at Rang Hanoi if you are after some cheap, quality dental care in Hanoi.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ding's vietnamese conversations

No, I'm sorry, I shouldn't make fun, but that's what happens when one is too lazy to keep up with his Vietnamese lessons although he still lives in Vietnam and therefore is bound to have to speak Vietnamese from time to time.

Today, we met Phuong and Ly, our two grown up friends whom we know through Marine, my best friend. In the 45 minutes we spent with them (eating bun oc, YES, I had promised Ly I would try and she didn't forget, she made me eat it today... aaargh... bun oc means 'snails noodles', just so you know) Dan came up with a few classics...

I will translate what he said in English, of course. First, what he meant to say then what he actually said.

Dan trying to say: "I'm very busy".
Said: "I'm very pen".

Dan trying to say: "Snails noodles? Yes, I've eaten it before".
Said: "Snails noodles? Yes, I understand it already".

Dan trying to say : "I like the noodle soup from Hue"
Said: "I like Hue street" (actually a street in Hanoi)

To the question: "why are you going to Thailand?"
Dan answered: "Yes."

Lol. What a cutie pie.

Tết is back!!

Here we are again, it's Tết in a few days. The Vietnamese new year (same as the Chinese new year) is on February 3rd this year, and man do we feel it approaching over here.

The streets are packed with people doing their Tết shopping before Hanoi shuts down for two weeks and with motorbikes and trucks transporting Tết trees, the kumquat tree. There's another Tết tree, but I have no idea how it's called. You know, the one with the little pink flowers? The traditional Chinese New Year tree, I believe. People hang some Tết red and gold decorations on them.

It's nice around Tết in Vietnam, there's a feeling of excitement as everyone is preparing to go home to their home town and enjoy a couple of weeks off from work. We ourselves are taking forced holidays, we'd rather not as we need the money before our big move to Thailand, but there's little choice. Our schools close for over two weeks. So, ok, it'll be packing and boxing time!

Museum of ethnology second round

Since a lot of people have come to visit us in the last few months, we've had a chance to go back to some of the places we'd been to ages ago, like Hoi An, Halong Bay, Mai Chau and within Hanoi, to some museums.
With Julia and Vince a couple of weeks back, we went to the museum of Ethnology again. It really is a nice museum, although it was absolutely freezing that day, inside the museum also.
This time the exhibition was about AIDS in Vietnam and really, it was amazing, very moving.

Here I'm following around the guide, who happened to speak spanish, but a clear and slow spanish which I understood. Free guide for Leggy!

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Question for the Vietnamese: Part 4

In Vietnam families live together. Kids live with their parents as well as their grandparents. The young Vietnamese generally live with their parents until they get married. From what I can see they are very respectful of their parents and will always respect their decisions. A friend of mine, who is 24 and lives at home, wanted to go on a holiday with her friends for the approaching TET New Year celebrations. Her parents refused, saying it was family time, and she, despite being disappointed accepted without debate.

What I don't know is how the young Vietnamese get some alone time once they are in a relationship. Many are in relationships; all living with their parents. Of course they can go outside together; to cafes, restaurants or to the cinema but what if they want a bit of alone time? This obviously happens before they get married and move in together but I assume their busy house filled with family members is not the ideal place.

Is this where the Nha Nghi (guesthouse in English) make their money? You will see a sign for guesthouse accommodation a lot in Vietnam, especially when you get out of the city centres. Driving around Vietnam I saw them everywhere and wondered how the hell they ever made any money; sitting on a back street in an outer suburb of town. On my street in Hanoi they are at least 5 or 6 guesthouses over a few kilometres.

So, if the Nha Nghi the solution for a bit of one on one time?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Dinner with the neighbours

We live down a small alley, turning off the service road (a smaller road running parallel to the main road) down a steep ramp and weaving around a few tall houses before reaching ours. Our house is at the end of the alley. The alley is no more than a metre and a half wide. The entrance to our neighbours from door is only a metre from ours. They are great.

Anh, the mother, is a kindergarten teacher. She speaks good English and is a godsend to have around because no one else in the area speaks English. Hai is a chef and works late most nights. They have two kids who Celine and I know well. I was Santa at their house recently for 30 odd screaming kids.

They had us over for dinner a few nights ago and invited some of their friends. We had seafood hotpot. It was delicious. Often the Vietnamese will sit on the floor when enjoying a meal. As always when celebrating a meal with friends the Vietnamese drink rice wine. It was our friends Vince and Jules last night in Hanoi before flying back to Sydney. Rice wine is traditionally for the men so Vince and I drank with the other guys. Celine left for work and by the time she returned I was trying to get one of their friends to dance. Vince and Hai were well and truly friendly; arms around each other as they had been friends for years. The rice wine is deadly. This particular one was infused with dead geckos and starfish. Yum!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


We've told you before: It's cold at the moment. Like... really cold.

After a day in town, there's nothing like a hot chocolate at home, under the quilt, with House on TV and a bit of knitting... A few weeks ago I bought some wool, and with the help of youtube started a scarf, for Dan. I needed Youtube for the bits my mum always did for me when I was little, which is... I don't even know how to call it in English... er... putting the wool around the needle for the very first rank of knitting, and also when the knitting in over, I never could do the finishing bit. Anyway, my mum is not here so I needed youtube to explain to me how to do those two things. You can learn anything online nowadays, and the Internet is full of little explanatory videos on how to do those knitting things.

So, there, I'm half way through a scarf, which is quite ugly but Dan will probably wear anyway, just to be nice. When we get to Bangkok, he won't ever need it again and will probably throw it away, but still, I'm happy!

Gaby honey are you proud of me??

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

I am cold

A cold snap has descended on Hanoi. The last week has been below average with temperatures around the 9-10 degree mark. That is usually not so bad but as Celine mentions Hanoi is not set up for the cold weather. There is no heating so life consists of moving from one cold place to another. Our house is freezing. We have a few small heaters that we all huddle around but that does little to shake the bite. Our school has no heating and most shops are the same. We are constantly rugged up in multiple layers waiting for this unusually cold weather to pass.

Riding around on motorbikes is usually such an enjoyable experience but at the moment it is a battle. Our schools are about 30 minutes from home and even with four layers, gloves and a scarf the cold burns your skin as you ride. It is especially nice when you get to school and they tell you your class has been cancelled. Cheers.

Today is especially cold which means wherever you go it's cold. Our house is an ice box. Your only solace is a few western cafes which have invested in a heating system. I am really looking forward to it getting a bit warmer which I am told is only a few days away.

Despite the recent cold, on my ride home at night I still manage to see a few Vietnamese huddled around the ice cream stand, hands shaking as they attempt to enjoy their ice cream. Crazy.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Winter in the classroom

Kids come to class and study in their little coats, scarves and beanies. It's freezing in the classrooms, so much so that schools actually close when the temperature goes under 10 degres Celsius. You'd think it's still the kind of temperature where people can function normally, but not here: because there is nowhere to go to in order to escape the freezing humid cold... everywhere is cold: in the house, in the shops, in the bus, at school, at work, everywhere.
In Seoul it's much colder but as soon as it becomes too much, you can just walk in any cafe or shop and a wave a warmth takes you in as soon as your foot is in the door. Here in Hanoi, shops are completely open, I mean they're missing a whole wall, cafes are open onto the street, restaurants too, and houses also. There's no heating, it's cold all the time. We sleep with a little electric heater facing right at us, it's the only way to sleep.
At school, we have to take our shoes off and the windows are broken... not nice when it's so cold. This morning I took pictures on the littles kids all rugged up, doing their lines and their wordsearches, oblivious... aren't they cute?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Thank you Hien

We returned home from Hoi An today to a wet and cold Hanoi. Hien, the lady who helps us around the house had left a nice bunch of roses as a New Year present. She also left a note which was quite funny;

"Happy New Year To Celine + Dan + Lunet + all lady..........I hope Everything good To you: good money + good healthy + prime..........good luck. I present to you flower. bye bye. See you in New Year"

I am not sure what it all meant but it was a very nice gesture.