Published on February 14th, 2012


Newbie EFL Teacher Comes Up For Air…

Nope, I’ve not fallen face-first into six inches of muddy water in that g-forsaken rice paddy.  Just waaaaay too many things taking every spare moment lately.  Not surprising actually, considering what it takes to get settled into an utterly foreign nation where few speak English and most every blessed thing you try to do is strange, different (alas, often to the point of bizarre), and usually ends up requiring hilarious miming (more often than not, eliciting little more than perplexed looks).  Then there’s…  starting a whole new career teaching EFL – now THAT’s no small challenge.

Honestly don’t know where to begin with all that’s transpired here since I last pecked, but I’m DEEE-termined to at least post SOMETHING here for my loyal chums and followers to read.  But it will have to be just snippits of news and thoughts over these past few weeks of settling in for the long haul here in Ho Chi Minh City.


My new digs: 3rd from the top

Speaking of “settling in” – my greatest joy is that I finally have my own little place with… MY VERY OWN KITCHEN!  Just a bitty place, but it’s in a FABULOUS location here in District 1 (the very HEART of Saigon), super clean and everything nice and “Western”.  A wonderful landlady (who used to work for China Air for 15 years and speaks perfect English), one bedroom, lovely (again, Western) bathroom, a wee balcony and… did I mention – my own KITCHEN???!!!  A small sink, wee fridge (w/ freezer), microwave and nifty infrared ceramic-top hotplate.  Cute little cubicles for a “pantry”, and it even comes with starter dishes and a few pots and pans.  Air-conditioned of course, flat-screen TV (w/ cable), great wifi, and… daily maid service!  All for just $450/mo.


Ahhhhhhh, finally my own place!

SmallStreetVendors350x435And the beautiful thing is, I’ve got all the “Western” comforts at home, yet – the fascinating buzz of Vietnam lies just outside my door.

I mean, what more could a girl want?
Next HUGE event: I started teaching.  Indeed, I just finished my third week.  Sooooo much I could peck about that, but suffice:

I have six classes (each 2 hrs.) that all meet on Saturday and Sunday (3 classes each day).  From 8am – 10 am I have my sweet little “jumpsters” (age 4 – 6 yrs. – there’s 10 in the class).  Then from 10:15 – 12:15 I have a class of 11 “Juniors” (age 6-12 yrs.), and then I have a nearly 5 hour break (good for lesson planning) til I have my “Seniors” (12-16 yrs – 17 of them!)

Such a nice variety, especially for a newbie teach as I’m getting good experience with all the different levels.  The schedule’s also super ‘cuz I only teach 2 days each week for a total of 12 contact hours (which is part-time, what I specifically requested).  Pay is $19/hr. but that translates to more like $30-$35 as the cost of living here in Vietnam is so much cheaper than the States.

My colleagues at ILA are super – the Vietnamese staff terrific, and my fellow expat teachers (most from the U.K. but a few likewise from the States) are ever so helpful and generously offer lots of tips, ideas for games, and a million teaching tricks.


My dear chum Hang w/ her cute-as-a-button son “Ben”

As I said, I could write a tome on the teaching alone, but I really must be quick here, so will just jot a few more stray thoughts, and call it good.

  • My friend Hang is amazing – let me stay at her place gratis til Tet (finally!) ended and I could get my own place.  She’s taken me under her wing, made sure I saw all the Tet festivities, pointed out the cheapest grocery stores, etc., and introduced me to all her friends.  Seriously, I am one LUCKY lady to have a Vietnamese friend like Hang.
  • Which reminds me, Hang took me to the weekly meeting of her “English Club” – a small group of ex pats and Vietnamese that meet regularly at a coffee shop to learn English.  Most all the locals already speak fairly good English, but “pronunciation” is ever the toughest hurdle, so we chat about everthing under the sun (politics, technology, younameit).  It’s also a chance for we ex-pats to learn a bit of Vietnamese, but more importantly – super insight into the many nuances of the Vietnamese culture.  It’s truly all great fun, and I look forward to every Wednesday night.

Woo-hoo! I’m “legal” for another 3 months!

  • Oh, and I just got my visa renewed/extended for another 3 months (multi-entry again, so likely I’ll try to make it at least into Cambodia soon).  Getting it is a story in itself, but suffice – again with Hang’s help, it was actually pretty easy doing it myself.  Had to wait 2 weeks (‘cuz of Tet) for my passport, but it only cost $60 for the 3 month multi-entry.  I theeeeeeenk I can renew it just one more time in-country, but after that, I’ll have to go to Cambodia or some such and come back in to get a new visa.

Other stray thoughts and musings…

  • It’s quite amazing how comfortable I’ve become whilst utterly submerged in a sea of jibberish.  Though my fellow expat teachers and ILA staff speak English, there’s still a vast 99% of folks buzzing around me daily that speak only their native tongue (gee, how very rude of them – NOT!)  And while the Vietnamese written language is happily composed of my familiar Western alphabet (as opposed to say, Sanskrit or Japanese kanji), the signs and shop names are all still jibberish to me.And don’t even get me started on the names of streets whence trying to get around.  There’s “Ly Thuong Kiet” (where my ILA school center is), “Duong Tran Hung Dao”, “Phan Van Tri”, and my own home street of “Nguyen Trai” (indeed, there’s a gazillion “Nguyen…” streets crisscrossing this jumbled city).  No way can I yet wrap my tongue around those slippery Vietnamese syllables, much less remember them when I want to go from point A to point B.  Thus I remain the quintessential “tourist” as I perpetually flag down a “se om” (motorbike taxi) with my crumpled slip of paper w/ the address of where I want to go clutched tightly in my sweaty little hand.And while I continue to pick up a new Vietnamese word or two here and there, suffice it’s become clear that it will be a loooooooong time (if ever) til I don’t feel like I’m a fish in a fish bowl of liquid jabber.
  • Given my previous preoccupation with settling down in dear Dalat (with it’s cool mountain climate, luscious greenery and quiet serenity), surprisingly, the craziness that is Saigon is starting to grow on me.  There’s just something “alive” about Ho Chi Minh City – much akin to the buzz of NYC (albeit with an Asian flavor).
  • I love my little ASUS netbook – so handy for teaching.  Recently I did a lesson on Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and found the  most darling video of the song.  I figured out how to download the .mp4 file to my netbook (via TubeKeep.com – more reliable than relying on the wifi at my school) and my dear little “Jumpsters” (4-6 yr. olds) sat sweetly in awe.  Later we made little “star” finger puppets and practiced singing the song.  Seriously, never in my WILDEST dreams did I ever imagine myself – at 60+ making finger puppets with a gaggle of Asian toddlers (and quite enjoying it!)
  • Happily, the temps here in Saigon aren’t nearly as hot and humid as I expected.  Indeed, not even as sticky as Florida or Chicago summers – more like southern California, simply sunny and pleasantly warm.  And the evenings, most balmy indeed.  Who knew?  Whenever I thought of Asia, I always thought it would be perpetually blisteringly hot and sultry.  Not so here in HCMC.
  • Glancing up at my little “Time since…” digital counter at the upper right of the blog, I suddenly realize I’ve now passed the “100 days” milestone of life here in Southeast Asia.  In some ways it seems a lot longer ‘cuz I’ve experienced so many different things (e.g. Ha Long Bay, Sapa, the CELTA, Dalat, Sumatra, new apartment, teaching…)  But on the other hand, the days/weeks and now months seem to fly by and life gets more “normal” every day.

At least now I won’t look like an
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  • And finally – my most recent foray into “normalcy”:  Suddenly weary of my bland, baggy, wrinkled “backpacker” wardrobe, Hang and I had a “girls day out” and went shopping.  They have some purely wondrous clothes shops here in Saigon, and I must say – the Vietnamese sense of style is truly chic.  Too bad the petite sizes for the slender Vietnamese are way too small for we gargantuan Americans.  Nonetheless, I managed to snag some yummy “teacher” clothes – at verily a third of the price back in the States.

So many more tidbits of daily life here in HCMC to tell, but I’m beginning to blather so I best shut up for now.  But at least I finally got a new post up on TravelnLass.  Hopefully things will settle down here soon, and I can get back to posting weekly.

Oh, and…  I just uploaded 100+ pics of my adventures in Sumatra over the holidays.  Do take a peek at my:  Flickr Sumatra Album.


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!

14 Responses to Newbie EFL Teacher Comes Up For Air…

  1. TravelnLass says:

    @TravelGem – yup, the clothes situation here is pretty pathetic for we gargantuans. Even “XL” blouses don’t fit over my shoulders. And nylon/polyester. I don’t get it. The temps/humidity here in Saigon are now in the stratosphere, yet… Good ol’ (breathable) cotton? You’d think I was seeking the Hope diamond! Verily EVERYTHING is poly here. ;(

  2. TravelnLass says:

    @Raymond: I know – ’tis the KITCHEN that sealed the deal. I’m not even that much of a “cook”. But after 3 solid months of eating “out” for breakfast, lunch and dinner – I was desperate to simply have the tools to whip up an omelet now ‘n then.

  3. Nice looking digs!! And a kitchen to boot! Good find I dare say… 🙂

  4. TravelGem says:

    I really enjoy reading your posts.
    On clothing, I recall getting some pants made in Hoi An a couple of years ago. I wanted then to sit on my hips but the tailor insisted on having them sit high on the waist. After finally convincing her to measure my hips for the pants, she still made them high waisted! We westerners are a bit of a novelty when it comes to clothing in Vietnam….so big and gaudy and with such strange ideas of fashion!

  5. Dyanne@TravelnLass says:

    @chickybus – yes, it’s quite discouraging when most every blessed top I try on won’t fit over my shoulders. And pants? No way. No way do I even bother trying to get them above my knees (and, I might add – this, for an American lass who’s not considered the least bit overweight.)

    Ah but yep again, the teach pay in Vietnam is sweet – relatively high compared to Thailand, China. So even part time, I can save quite a little bundle each month.

  6. Hi, Dyanne. Looks like you’re settling in well there. How nice that it’s affordable! I hear you re: the clothing in Asia. When I taught in China (just for a summer), there was no clothing I could buy. Most people were stick thin there in Changsha. In Shanghai and Beijing, it was easier/better.

    Anyway, I’m happy for you that you’re there and doing well. Love that apartment, too. And wow to the money. Quite good!

  7. TravelnLass says:

    @Mary: So ’tis Spain come September, is it? Sounds like a great place to start (and yes, certainly the perfect metaphor – simply putting one foot in front of the other to follow your dreams.)

    And true, Europe’s a tad pricey for this retiree (not to mention, tough to get an extended visa with an American passport), but yes, yes – come on over to Asia. The EFL pay is WAY better here than in South/Central America, and there’s so much to see on this side of the globe.

  8. TravelnLass says:

    Well hey there @Dani – thanks for the Saigon “welcome”! You have a most interesting (not to mention alliterative) “Moggy Mekong Madness” blog there (and with an avg. of what? nearly a dozen posts/month! – clearly you’re far more blather productive than I!)

    I also just realized that I hadn’t an email contact anywhere on TravelnLass (well, duh!), so I just now remedied that (see the “Follow Me” page). Do send me a private note and perhaps we can meet for coffee or lunch sometime.

  9. Dani says:

    Hi! Welcome to the “big smoke” of Saigon. I look forward to following your adventures and wish you the best of luck. Have been here a while now and also live in D1 so if you need anything give me a shout.


  10. Mary Moss says:

    I’ve only said “September” out loud twice. It still feels tentative (“can I really do this?”). But, last night I received word that one of my very good friends was just sent home to die. She’s been fighting cancer for some time and has had many rounds of chemo, radiation, stem cell transplants, etc. I’m sorry for her loss, but I’m grateful for the wake up call that we never know what our future holds. Seems to me that the gift is to “grab life and frolic as long as you can”. The tentative non-plan for the person who can’t even announce this to all of her friends is to walk the El Camino del Santiago during Sept and October. I’ve been wanting to do this for some time and I think the idea of simply putting one foot in front of the other is an excellent place to begin. I know that I will not be staying in Europe….too expensive. To me there are only 2 choices – South/Central America or Asia.

  11. TravelnLass says:

    Wow Mary – September? So you’ve actually set a date? GOOD FOR YOU!!! Where? Here to Vietnam? (I can whole-heartedly recommend it – shoot, I’ll even meet you at the airport!) 😉

    No doubt the time will FLY til September (I know the last 6 months did for me). Do keep me posted on your plans. Uh, you might want to… um, set up your own blog about it. Happy to help if you need it.

    CONGRATS on taking the steps to make your dreams come true!

  12. Mary Moss says:

    Great apartment – I especially like the feature of “daily maid service”. Your Sumatra pics are fabulous and I’m sure the ones you’ll be posting of Cambodia will be just as enticing. I’m counting the days until I can take an early social security pension and I’ve enrolled in a digital photography course so I can pretend to master my new camera. So, until I’m ready to depart in Sept, I’m living vicariously through you!

  13. TravelnLass says:

    Yes, it’s quite the paradox: I move halfway ’round the globe to seek excitement and strange and different; then all I yearn for is a slim semblance of routine normalcy.

    Then again, I’ve always been a “nester”, but I just like to nest and re-nest in far-flung, g-forsaken corners of the world! 😉

  14. Very nice, love the apt.; sounds like your settling into a nice routine, and good having a kitchen!

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