The title of this post alone has taught me a lesson; you can’t plan life, you can’t always stick to a plan you put together at one time in your life where it suited, we can only merely form guidelines. A pencil sketched idea of what your future is going to contain and what you hope to achieve with in this time. Scarily it doesn’t seem all that long ago I was sat writing my previous posts ‘A whole new world’ and ‘The next chapter’ if someone told me I’d be writing this post a year later from when I flew into India, who knows if I would of believed them… some parts of me yes, other parts, no. A year later and here I am and what a journey this one has turned out to be, the greatest adventure yet!
I want to talk a little about what this experience has done for me as a young woman living, working and exploring overseas in a section of the world which covers all areas of bizarre, beauty, authenticity and madness!
I have been living in Vietnam just short of a full year now and I have absolutely fallen in love with this amazing, AMAZING country! The history and diversity that’s is held in this unsuspecting corner of the world, can easily go unnoticed to many people, though I recommend it doesn’t. However as the expat community grows; and tour operating companies look into setting up business here, I am thankful for being here at a time when the country does not feel completely alien but at the same time has not lost its traditional expectations and charm.
Through what I have been exposed to via popular western culture, Vietnam has been portrayed to me by a terrible skepticism, which built a false opinion of this country and its people.
On my arrival into Vietnam I really had no idea what to expect! I already had friends living here; telling me about the opportunities to live and work in Vietnam, all of which sounded better than a flight back to the UK. So I thought “why not… the worst thing that can happen, is that I go home anyway”.
Like the vast majority of expats here we set ourselves up in the world of teaching and call ourselves ‘English teachers’, regardless of experience or qualifications the demand for work seems endless and it doesn’t take long to establish a work schedule that suits you. Over the duration of the past year I have taught a variety of age groups from young toddlers to adults. Vietnam is one of the least competent countries in South East Asia in terms of their English language ability and therefore the education system presses the importance of the next generation developing English as a second language. Children from the age of 18 months take part in additional English classes after school and during weekends, this can leave them little time to just be kids with so much additional study and homework, this can encourage tired and exasperated behavior in some classes, which is expected. As a teacher it is your job to make learning fun which is usually aided with the use of educational games and creative activities, providing you do this you can create a great relationship with your students and this brings a great level of energy to your classes.
Being a western person here is the closest I’ve ever felt to fame! People including adults and children will shout ‘hello’ at you at any moment in any location and you might be asked for a quick selfie snap! Locals love to grasp an opportunity to sit and talk to you; they can practice their English and in return you may learn a few new Vietnamese words or phrases, which is a skill I poorly lack as it is certainly not the easiest second language to start pick up, but a few good mannerisms go a long way! The Vietnamese people are very genuine; they will go out of their way to help and assist you and generally, besides being able to bump up prices for souvenirs or market merchandise, they are very honest when it comes to money and what they will take form you, unlike some other Asian countries I have visited. I have made some very close and dear Vietnamese friends who look out for me like family members and have been so kind to me throughout my duration in Hanoi.
Hanoi is a not an easy city to break into, the rat race that lies within the density of this city is enough to scare anyone away or paint a bad picture, but with an open mind and time this city is one to fall in love with. This giant maze of a city is built from tiny alleyways too small for cars, streets with flyovers and highways channeling through the chaos, the lack of organisation throughout this city really becomes a big part of its beauty. The streets are rustic and worn, yet the city feels far from tired and through out these alleys you can usually find most things you need from meat and veg markets to pharmacy’s and street barbers, all very cheap!
Something that continues to fascinate me with the community here is the way everything has a use and nothing is wasted. The locals know how to take things to the extreme end of resourceful, the smallest most insignificant thing that would usually be discarded can be re-purposed. Its easy to assume someone is being careless when you witness them drop their rubbish on to the floor without a worry as to who saw them do it; but then you will begin to notice finding a public bin in Hanoi is close to impossible, the gutters collect the daytime trash and throughout the night this all seems to magically disappear, the once busy streets crowded with grid locked traffic and no rules in replaced with a swarm of woman and men hauling carts and carrying bags collecting waste and then taking them to different stations to be separated all by hand.
Something that can not go unmentioned is the driving experience in Vietnam. The roads in Asia generally are a talking point, normally due to disorganization and varying levels of danger but Vietnam must be the epitome of all of this. It seems that nothing is impossible when it comes to moving various objects around the city, Motorbikes will transport ridiculous items around that we would more than likely consider using a van or truck to move. Containing the worlds highest rank for traffic accidents Vietnam’s roads are a little daunting to say the least, however with out a motorbike here life is less accessible there for it is nearly vital to embrace the chaos.
I have found driving here has become a big part of my experience in Vietnam, it has allowed me to venture some of the most beautiful driving routes through outstanding landscapes and breath taking scenery. Once you get involved riding a motorbike through these crazy streets it becomes one of the joys of living here and no two journeys will ever feel the same. However these roads have a notorious reputation for a reason and should always be respected, witnessing daily collisions, bumps and scraps becomes routine. I myself have seen friends have terrible accidents resulting in life changing injury’s this is always a reminder that you are not untouchable here as an expat/tourist, you are a part of the mania. Coming home late from the Old Quarter with my house mate one night; we were inclined to pull over and call an the emergency services, as we stood looking over the lifeless body of a young Vietnamese man scattered across the road, this image will forever be scarred in my mind.
Traditional Vietnamese cuisine is pleasing to a majority of people; full of flavors, these authentic, unique dishes often take hours of preparation all made by hand, some woman start working from early hours of the morning in order to be ready for the traffic of people commuting to work and wanting breakfast to start their day. One of the most common traditional dishes is ‘Pho’ this is a Vietnamese noodle soup consisting of broth, rice noodles, a few herbs, and meat, primarily made with either beef (phở bò) or chicken (phở gà). Pho is a popular street food in Vietnam and the specialty of a number of restaurant chains around the world. Pho originated in the early 20th century in northern Vietnam, and was popularized throughout the rest of the world by refugees after the Vietnam War. On average a Pho will cost between 20,000 – 30,000 VND which might sound like a lot but this is around 60p – not bad for a whole meal! Sitting in a small shabby hole in the wall with shin high plastic stools and tables might be something people turn their noses up to, but I guarantee most of these places will produce nicer food than sitting in a shiny, modern restaurant. I love the food and it will be a big part or what I miss about living here, nothing compares to the taste of delicious street food for the price of pennies!
Living in Hanoi is most certainly not the most beautiful part of Vietnam, though living here allows me to be in the heart of the action and surrounded with opportunities. In the north of Vietnam there is so much more to be discovered; flourished with countryside, mountains, lime stone karsts, rice paddies, waterfalls and valleys, this diverse country has some of the world’s most picturesque landscapes. Transportation to these destinations is either taken via motorbike, train or night buses, none of which are ever very expensive and usually only consist of a nights travel before arriving at your destination. I have been lucky enough to explore numerous places in the North which are easily achievable over the duration of a long weekend and can cost less than a weekend in the city. These trips are vital to me as living in Hanoi can become hectic for anyone and the idea of a break from the city starts to become very appealing, some fresh air and a slower pace of life can go a long way, I always arrive home feeling refreshed and recharged.
Not forgetting that living in South East Asia, paradise holidays are only a cheap flight away and so to see more of Asia whilst your here is not so difficult. Before Vietnam I had spent a few months in Thailand and India; since living in Vietnam I have been lucky enough to visit Hong Kong, Borneo and in just over a weeks time I will be off to the Philippines, I also have intentions of taking a trip to Cambodia before leaving Asia – all very exciting! Remembering when you are here long term unless you have a years visa you need to cross the border in order to extend your granted stay, for me these have been prime opportunities for travel and take holidays in new destinations.
The expat community here continues to expand and I have gained life long friends during my time living here. There is a massive music scene and many opportunities to be creative with in this city with working hours at a minimum people find themselves with the time to explore new hobbies. I have discovered a new love for Salsa dancing at a local venue with other expats and Vietnamese locals which has given me something to feel passionate about. Surrounded by talented and interesting people from all walks of life, you feel encouraged to get involved. There is a hot night life and many events running daily to keep you entertained, I have rarely found myself bored in Hanoi. Myself and some friends have even been in a position to raise money for a family in SaPa (North Vietnam) to build a secure and safe home for the single mother who is deaf and mute and a victim of rape raising two young daughters. – read more on my ‘Reaching out’ post!
I still have a few more months in Vietnam before I move on to the next adventure and I can honestly say nothing about that daunts me, my time here will forever be one of the most valued experiences of my life and one I would recommend it for anyone to try.
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