Published on November 26th, 2011


Newbie Expat Comes Up For Air…

Sorry for the silence here (but I wasn’t kidding when I earlier said there might well be a blackout here as I settle in and – more to the point – begin my month-long CELTA teaching course (a.k.a. “The-Course-from-H-E-double-L”!)

But I’ve now got 2 weeks (did-I-mention-of-H?) under my belt, and verily TWO FULL DAYS OF LEISURE here for the weekend (yep, I likewise had a weekend last week, but suffice I then had a major lesson plan on top of the first Written Assignment due on Monday so… I barely left my room/ILA’s computers but to eat and  sleep).

ANYWAY, this weekend offers much more leisure.  I’ve now got 5 “TPs” (repeat: FIVE Teaching Practices) behind me and 2 Written Assignments in (though the first requires a smidge of a “resubmit”, and we’ve not yet received feedback – which I fully expect will likewise require a resubmit – on the 2nd WA), but Monday I’m not scheduled to teach, and only have but an easy tweak of my 1st WA to turn in.

In short (finally) a happy semblance of some “free time” here, so I thought I’d at least poke my weary head in here to jot a few tidbits of what’s been going on, and first impressions of a newbie expat.

Towit (in no particular order of significance – for the left half of my CELTA-addled brain has been deliberately turned off leastwise for my blessed weekend):


Not my pic, but typical scene just steps outside my door.

  • Uncharacteristically (for I am normally nothing, if not ever smitten with snapping pics everywhere I travel) I haven’t taken a SINGLE photo (other than inside my room, of my pathetic fast-food takeout Thanksgiving dinner) of the oodles and OODLES of exotic Asian sights I witness daily the moment I step outside my door.  Visions of all those typical pointy-hatted vendors, bicycles laden with impossible loads of baskets, chickens, and all manner of this ‘n that.  Oh my yes, trust that such visions are all around me – DAILY as I skip the few blocks from my room to my school.  Indeed, such amazing sights (as, for example shaves, haircuts and even EAR CLEANING carried out on the sidewalk mere steps from my path) have already become commonplace and I barely register such exotics in my rush to deliver yet another lesson to my Vietnamese students.
  • Which reminds me… “my students”.  Yes, yes, I’ve been teaching REAL Vietnamese students – verily from the 2nd day of my CELTA course.  All such dears – all around 20 yrs. old (though each and every one looks no more than 14) university students.  Each class at 3 different levels of their English:  “Elementary” – barely can speak/understand but a minimum English vocabulary; “Pre-Intermediate” – quite a bit more English, indeed able to ever so much more easily understand lesson instructions and carry out much more complex spoken/written tasks; and “Intermediate” – I’ve not yet had this group, but presumably they will prove to be whizzes, and will likely be correcting MY English! 😉
  • My digs:  Bar-none the BEST decision I’ve made to date here.  I ADORE my little place!  Sooooo very glad I (deliberately) opted for a place just 4 short blocks to my school.  And my landlady is a dear (with no fewer than *7* sisters – all of whom I’ve been uh, encouraged to meet even though none speak a word of English).  Nope, make that one, one sister is actually married to an American and is presently visiting from North Carolina.  Needless to say, she has been my blessed go-between when I’m desperate to make my needs understood.  And though my landlady and I manage to communicate with but 3 English words in common, her son speaks fairly good English and has helped me in many dilemmas already.  Such as…
  • Shortly after settling in, among my first chores was to get a phone.  With nary a clue as to where best I might go (not to mention communicate once there – I mean, shoot, I barely know the techno-talk to buy a phone in Seattle, much less Saigon!), so…  My landlady’s son (I still haven’t managed to figure out his name – let’s just call him LLS for LandLady’sSon, shall we?) kindly offered to whiz me (through a bumper-car blurred death-wish fest amid the streets of Saigon) to the spiffy phone store, and furthermore, served as my personal translator as I painfully worked my way through the various options (such as “Do you want 1 sim card or 2?  Me:  now WHY would I need an extra sim card?  Dear interpretor: often you can get special deals on adding minutes from another company/sim card, Me: oh, OK, toss in 2 then please, and so on…)  ANYWAY, I managed to depart with a nifty little Nokia with color screen (my treat) and a camera (now why I paid for that I’ll never know, what with having one on both my iPod and my Panasonic Lumix point and shoot, but whatever…) for about $60.  Great.  Now I have my very own Vietnam phone number.
    Ah but… just 3 days later – amid a (seriously) DELUGE (typical here most every other afternoon now), uh my precious new phone (tucked prudently in my rucksack, but still…) must have gotten damp ‘cuz… sadly it presently is D.O.A. It seems to work/turn on, but alas the screen is completely blank, so… Finally today, I have the free time to take it to be serviced/get a new one and my dear LLS has agreed to once again help with translations.
  • Stray Thought #1:  Among my delights with my choice of rooms – I am most happy that I am in a neighborhood totally LACKING IN BACKPACKERS and other tourists.  Seriously – yay!  The “backpacker area” is about 7 blocks away (a few blocks the other side of my school, so I seldom wander there), and it’s woefully laden with “western” restaurants (with prices 5 times higher than the dear little kiosks/street wagons in my neighborhood), tattoo parlors, and all manner of “tourist” amenities.  I mean, I didn’t move lock, stock ‘n barrel halfway ’round the globe only to mingle day ‘n night with “folks like me” and isolate myself from… precisely what I traveled so far to see/experience.  Don’t get me wrong, the backpackers/other expats can surely be a breath of fresh air every now and again, but for me, the whole point is to meet the locals on their own terms and meld into the culture as much as possible.
  • Stray Thought #2:  I amaze even myself – how, after but two weeks in this utterly zany-traffic city, I already so casually stroll down the street (yep, the STREET, seldom the sidewalk, for there are precious few of the latter, and those that exist are reliably covered in parked motorbikes, octopus soup vendors, etc.) dodging a persistent SWARM of whizzing motorbikes, bicycles laden with g-knows-what-all, and other death-wish pedestrians like myself.  Furthermore, though my heart still speeds up alarmingly when I try to cross the street, even that (a death-wish under any other – read: sane, circumstances) is lately looming quite blasé.  Just go with the flow, and (whatever you do) DON’T do anything unpredictable, like… suddenly stop moving forward simply because there’s a speeding bus coming seemingly straight at you.  Just keep moving despite such silly fears for your precious life and limb.  That’s all there is to it. 😉
  • I’ve definitely LOST WEIGHT – Yay!  Though I wasn’t overly so, I’m delighted that I’m slowly losing my insufferable “belly” fat – woo-hoo!  Without even trying – likely via a much more lean/healthy diet of vegetables and Pho, etc. (I ask for but a few noodles for the latter).  IOW, though I ate fairly healthy in Seattle (i.e. rarely fast food, and short on carbs), I’m now eating a far more slimming diet and… it’s beginning to show!
  • (Qualified) !!WARNING – WARNING!!  (to those who might come here for advice on taking the CELTA course) uh, it is most definitely not for the faint-hearted.  Ah BUT… though I moan and groan at the sheer MOUNTAIN of work required, it is oh so very EXCELLENT training.  Indeed, no doubt the very BEST one could hope for to prepare to teach English abroad.  Seriously.  The very highest standards, pushed to the ultimate limit.  The only downside (i.e. my only quibble): that it’s all crammed into just a single month.  Just 27 days.  Nearly an impossible schedule.  Verily a prescription for utter disaster.  Seriously.  It is utterly all-consuming.  And that’s not just my opinion – anyone who’s taken (er… make that “survived”) it says the same thing.  And I knew that going in.  But I must say, it’s hard to imagine anything quite so intense as the pace and high expectations of the CELTA.  It makes my 2 year graduate school program look like a walk-in-the-park (indeed, like the entire 2 years of graduate study – including the gnarly GREs, collapsed into a single month – look like a walk through the tulips.)  Still…  all that aside, I still HIGHLY RECOMMEND the CELTA.  You CAN survive it (errr… well, so I think/hope so at this point, with 2 weeks still to go), and you’ll simply not find better instruction for teaching EFL.


  • Did I mention?  Early on (I believe it was my 2nd day in Saigon) I opted to get my hair cut.  A sudden decision as I happened to pass by a (rather spiffy) salon (as evidenced by the near-dozen female staff clad in what could only be classified as “evening wear” in the States).  They, plus one sole male – who of course turned out to be the one and only hairdresser (the sexily clad ladies, all “hair washers”.)  I meant to write a full post about it but…  Well you already now know that the CELTA got/gets in the way of every other blessed thing in one’s life.  ANYWAY, it turned out to be the BAR-NONE very BEST haircut I ever got in my life.  A smidge shorter than I’d planned, but cut to cup under ever so perfectly, and the sides ever so slightly longer.  And this, for but 5 bucks plus tip.  Better still, I even (as it was back in the ancient – or so it seems – pre-CELTA days before all H broke loose) managed to actually take some PHOTOS of the event!
  • I had my first laundry done – by my dear landlady – one “kg.” (I reeeeealy need to get a grip on this metric system, already) – fully 16 pieces, for just 17,000 dong (less than 5 bucks).  I mean… with service like that, why would one ever need a washing machine/dryer?  Just another example of our western penchant for each having their own “stuff”.
  • Health ‘n Ailments:  For a woman my errr… of a “certain age”, I seem to be managing all the stress and indeed physical strain of adapting to a whole new climate, culture, food, etc. quite well.  I’ve long known (from my past many travels in Third-world countries) that I’m lucky to be blessed with a fairly sturdy digestive system.  And though I freely eat the delicious street-eats here in Vietnam, I’m otherwise fairly careful with what I drop down my gullet (e.g. I wouldn’t dream of drinking the tap water, I brush my teeth with boiled water from my handy-dandy electric tea kettle, don’t eat seafood from the street carts at night (as it’s likely been sitting unrefrigerated all the live-long day so…)  I have had a bit of mild “tourista” symptoms in the (wow, nearly a full MONTH) that I’ve been in Vietnam, but that’s to be expected when one changes their entire diet and routine 180 degrees.  Nothing serious (thank goodness!), and am rather proud of my ability to do this at my ripe age of sixty-something.

O.k.  LOTS more I could blather on and on about here, but my free time is oh so very precious and I need to get on with my day.  For starters, there’s the phone dilemma, but after that I hope to treat myself to a (I dare say, well-deserved) massage (my first in Vietnam), along with a full manicure/pedicure.  Tomorrow I’m having dinner with a U.K. lass (btw, the CELTA course  – both staff/my peer teachers – is verily CHOCK full of dear blimey Brits, so much so, that I’m now liberally sprinkling my speech/writing with B’tish mots even more so than usual.)  ANYWAY, manana (a bit of Spanish just for kicks) I’m having dinner w/ a lass who recently completed the course and is now teaching (as in actually getting PAID) for ILA.  So it shall be fun to compare notes, and commiserate on the (did I mention?) Hellishness of the darling CELTA. 😉

Ta-ta for now.  But of course, trust that it will likely be another 2 weeks before I again can come up for air….

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About the Author

Off-the-beaten-path travel is my passion,and I’ve always lived life “like-a-kid-in-a-candy-store” – eager to sample as many flavors as I can. Indeed, my life motto has long been: This ain’t a dress rehearsal, folks!

10 Responses to Newbie Expat Comes Up For Air…

  1. TravelnLass says:

    @Anonymous – yes indeed, the CELTA is surely a challenge. But nonetheless very doable, and the best EFL training money can buy. More importantly – a CELTA certificate is pure GOLD for getting a job teaching English anywhere in the world.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I heard that CELTA program is grueling, and your input certainly re-affirms that. I’m glad to hear that you “survived” it and I’m sure that holding that certificate makes it alot more meaningful. My hat is off to you!!

  3. Jeremy says:

    Sounds like you are having a good time getting settled in! I saw your counter on the side and cant believe its been nearly 50 days already. I’m definitely looking forward to more pictures.

    As a side note, 17,000 dong is not only less than $5 US, it is actually only 81 cents.

  4. TravelnLass says:

    @Carolyn – yes, yes – would love to chat. I just sent you a note noodling out the best time (given that I’m 15 hrs. ahead of Seattle.)

  5. Carolyn says:

    You’re amazing! I have turned on Skype a few times since you departed SEA, but we’ve never been on at the same time. I’ll try again during the upcoming weekend.

  6. Paul says:

    My gosh, this looks like so much fun!!! I am so glad things are going well, and that you found such a great place away from the backpackers!

  7. TravelnLass says:

    @Gail (a.k.a. GoodDealMeals) 😉 Woo-HOO! The PERFECT niche for you. I LOVE it! I just subscribed to your new blog via RSS, and posted a comment but… alas it hasn’t (yet?) shown up. Do check that your comments are working, yes?

  8. TravelnLass says:

    @Mary, my most loyal reader 😉 Thanks for checking in. I hope my blather inspires you to “just DO IT!” – take off on your own ultimate adventure in some distant corner of the globe.

  9. Terrific. Good to hear from you, sounds exciting and challenging! BTW I started a foodie blog:
    Gooddealmeals.blogspot.com taking pics of my cooking endeavors and posting recipes. LOL,keeps me busy.

  10. Mary Moss says:

    Thank you for sharing your experiences and modeling the “way” for others of “a certain age”. You are saving me tons of time and research:-) Be well and enjoy your well deserved weekend.

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