The Aftermath

I’ve been home for almost six months now, time has flown by!

I had an amazing two weeks in Thailand and Cambodia with Jenn, before spending a hectic two weeks travelling Vietnam with Jenn and Mark. Adventures, temples, elephants, rivers, forests, mountains, food poisoning, blisters, sunburn, trains, planes, tuktuks, buses, ferries and various other modes of transport, and many tears saw a tired but happy trio returning home to Melbourne.

My arrival home was a shock to the system! I went from living for 12 months in a tropical province to a chilly, 10 degree, winter morning. Thankfully I was well equipped with a jacket, scarf and beanie… Tim and Jacs picked us up at the airport, which was lovely. It made the transition a lot easier. We dropped everything off at home, recharged our various electronic devices (god forbid our phones went flat), and then went down to A Minor Place (http://www.aminorplace.com.au/) for breakfast. I’d been craving their beans for the entire time I was away…

Anyway… It took me a few months to find work, I was going a little stir-crazy, but now I’m working as the afternoon receptionist for a car dealership in Collingwood. It’s quite different to the places I’ve worked before, but I’m enjoying it thus far. It’s quite funny to have guys from the sales team try to sell me cars occasionally, and watching them get worked up over small things. I’ve taken to feeding them lollies on Saturdays to keep their tempers in check… I will admit to really liking the Qashqai. I’ve driven two of them now for work, and it’s such a nice car! It’s a little hard to justify the pricetag on a car that I will hardly use though. Maybe one day…

I also followed through on my decision to study teaching in Australia. I am enrolled at Swinburne Online, studying for my Bachelor of Education (Primary). Teaching at GIS really helped me to understand my dreams a lot better! It’s going to take me quite a while to finish (maybe 5 years), but that’s fine by me. This allows me to study and support myself, and the company I work for is very supportive of students. The morning receptionist is also studying teaching!

The course hasn’t been too challenging so far, but since my first education unit is about language and literacy, it’s not too surprising. I have already got a lot of experience in this area, after all! In a few months I’ll be getting into a math unit, and one about teaching and learning theories. These promise to be much more difficult for me. Math has never been my strong point…

My main challenge recently has been the breakdown of my relationship. After five and a half years, one of which was spent long-distance, Mark and I have gone our separate ways. It’s all been very amicable, no broken hearts. We are just moving in very different directions. I don’t know how I would have got through some of the major problems in my life without him, including my year away, he’s been a wonderful support! Unfortunately, a breakup meant that I needed to find a new home. Jenn has taken me in, and we’re looking for a place with her partner and another friend of ours. Onwards and upwards! I’m very grateful to such wonderful friends.

I miss my wife, Violet, and my students. Some of them have stayed in touch, which is really nice for me. It was very sweet to receive Christmas messages from them. I hope to visit Long Xuyen in the next few years!

I’ll try to keep updating here periodically, as the new chapter of my teaching adventure unfolds.

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Riding Rom Sai at the elephant sanctuary in Thailand

New friends

I developed a small group of fantastic friends in Long Xuyen. I miss them all very much! All of these people have played a big part in keeping me sane during the last few months, and I am a better person for having met them.

First up are Simon and Tien. They met in Queensland, and are both ESL teachers in LX, so we have a lot in common. Simon is usually up for a beer or two and a chat, and Tien is beautiful, kind and funny. They’re expecting their first child in the next few months, which is really exciting. I’ve had many great dinners with these two, and hope to see them again sometime in Australia.

Next, and maybe most importantly, is my Vietnamese wife, Violet. We started to hang out in February, and became very close friends. I am the husband, because I am tall, strong, can open water bottles and can drink many beers… Violet is a tiny little thing, a dancer, musician, and a lot of fun. She became my personal taxi driver, and nurse, and we talked a lot about school and the future together. I managed to teach her a few things about life, and she tried to teach me how to dance and play the guitar. My student may have been more successful than hers… I miss her very much, and hope that she can come to visit Melbourne one day.

I also met Thanh and her son, Jack, through Simon and Tien. Thanh is extremely intelligent. She has studied nanotechnology for waste management, and teaches physics at a high school in our area! Thanh is also really nice, bringing me green mangoes from her garden and inviting me to her house to make tofu. Our tofu adventure was very interesting, and sticky, which I didn’t expect. It seems that soybeans have a high sugar content. I learned that I love fresh soy milk (although the boxed stuff we get in Australia is terrible), silken tofu makes a great dessert, and that I still don’t like the firm stuff… It was a fun day. In the afternoon, we drove around Tiger Island (where they live), and Jack played the tour guide for me, dragging me around and telling me what things were. “It’s a boat”, “it’s a car”, “let’s go this way”.

And I can’t forget a last few people. Mr Hoa from AGU (http://www.agu.edu.vn/), who is very friendly and funny, always made me feel at ease. Ms Hoa from Pacific Links (please check them out, they do some amazing work, http://www.pacificlinks.org/), who is tiny and full of life, and basically a fantastic human being. Sarah, one of the Vietnamese TA’s at school, who always has a big, beautiful smile. And of course, Mr Ben, without whom I could have ended up somewhere completely different and never met all of these wonderful people!

I could ultimately end up listing basically every person I know in LX, including my students/brothers and sisters, so maybe I will stop there. I know that I feel like my family has expanded a great deal in the last year. In some ways I wish that I had extended my time at GIS, but I was missing my Australian family so much.

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The last few months of school…

I have been quite remiss in my updating duties, I’m sorry to say! Picking up where we left off:

Directly following Mark’s return home, my Mum became very ill and was in hospital. I was extremely worried about her, and this did have a negative impact on my teaching abilities. Thankfully, everyone was very understanding and caring. This also held true when I caught bronchitis from one of my students in April. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to take time off school to recover, due to teacher shortages, but everyone took very good care of me and my grade twos gave me a standing ovation when my voice returned! Continuing the illness theme, I had one final bad one just before I was due to leave school: the dreaded bout of food poisoning/gastro. I was very disappointed in the powers that be, as I managed to get through almost the full year without anything too serious in that direction. I won’t give you any details, you know what it can be like!

The end of the school year was a very busy time for all of the teachers. We were frantically writing final exams, reviewing the year’s work (hoping that they had retained something), practicing for the Cambridge Young Learners English tests, and rehearsing for the English Speaking Contest.

It was quite stressful to write, direct and stage manage (or assist, in the case of 7A) all of my classes, but the Speaking Contest was very good. All of my students worked really hard to perfect their conversations and pronunciation. I had one major advantage in the primary school contest, namely that I taught all of the classes except for 1A and 1B. My only disappointment on the day was the absence of one of my grade 2 speakers. Little Vicky bravely stepped in for Tim at the last minute, but mistakes were unavoidable. Regardless, I was extremely proud of everyone! In saying this all this, I will admit to being frustrated with a few of my students. Instead of talking to me about wanting to participate in the Contest, they got very angry. There were tears over it, but when I offered them their own role-play, they decided that they didn’t want to do it, after all…

This year, GIS participated in the Cambridge English: Young Learners program. They have three levels: Starters, Movers, and Flyers. It is good practice for the students, as they are required to use all four language skills to pass the tests. As usual, however, I was focused on the speaking test. We practiced a lot of vocabulary and prepositions for primary school, while Movers had more descriptive and storytelling aspects. For most of the students who participated, I think the tests were a little too easy.

Following this, I needed to prepare the final English exams for my classes. It was very difficult to contrive tests suited to each class, as the levels of ability in each group varies so much. It is one of the drawbacks to teaching at a school, as opposed to a language centre, where students are grouped according to their abilities. Perhaps 80% of my students easily passed their exams, with the other children being marked after taking an additional test to assess them individually. Certainly there are some who have strengths in either speaking/listening or reading/writing, so I think it is important to take their personal strengths into account. In an ideal situation the struggling students would be together in a smaller class, so that we, as teachers, can give them the attention they need and deserve.

The final school-related thing to occur this year was the closing ceremony. There was singing and dancing, presentations and speeches. The standard stuff. I had to give a speech. It turns out that, no matter how much experience I have with speaking to people, and no matter how used I am to talking all day in class, standing in front of approximately 400 people and giving a speech is not really something I’m really comfortable with. I’m sure that you’re shocked to hear me say it! Nevertheless, I survived my short speech and the interminable photos, and made it down to the banquet lunch. Violet and I were at the young teachers table (where the most beer is consumed) and later joined everyone for karaoke, before meeting up with Simon and Tien. Photos can be seen here: https://www.facebook.com/jessica.bryant.71/posts/10153037332039132?pnref=story

Overall, it was an exacting few months at school. I was quite exhausted and run down! I have to say that I might not have managed without Violet. She nursed me when I was sick, tried to teach me to Cha Cha and play the guitar, and was generally wonderful. I’m going to miss my Vietnamese wife!

Tet

Mark came to visit me during the Tet holiday. It was a very strange experience for us both!

I left school early on the 14th of Feb, bused to HCMC, and then jumped on a xe om to the airport to pick him up. There was some confusion when he arrived, as he snuck out one of the doors that I wasn’t watching. Luckily, a nice man lent Mark his phone, so we got everything sorted out quickly. We then jumped in a taxi, got overcharged (to be expected, since I was so happy to see Mark that I wasn’t paying close enough attention), and then checked into our hotel.

We relaxed for a while, Mark was exhausted from the flight, before heading out so he could see the city. We had fun shopping at the night market, before heading back to our hotel to crash out. The heat was a bit of a shock for poor Mark!

On Sunday, we headed to Ben Xe Mein Tay to catch a bus home. I hadn’t realised quite how busy the buses out of the city would be at this time of year, but we were able to get on the 7.15pm bus that evening. Back to the city for us!!! On the plus side, we found a fantastic Indian restaurant (http://www.babaskitchen.in/) which made me extremely happy! Indian food is definitely close to the top of my list of foods that I miss… We arrived back at Mein Tay at 6.30pm, to discover that half of Vietnam was also travelling. It was chaos. There were buses that had been delayed for three or four hours, and no one really had any idea what was going on. Thankfully, a lovely Phuong Trang employee managed to squeeze us onto an earlier bus that was going to Chau Doc (oh the benefits of being a Westerner in Vietnam), so Mark experienced his first sleeper bus. He was duly impressed, and as we weren’t due to arrive back in LX until about 1am, it was appreciated. I felt sorry for the poor security guard at school who had to wake up and let us in…

The next day, we slept in and relaxed. It had been a pretty stressful and exhausting few days! I showed Mark around town, we stopped in for some supplies at the supermarket, and he got his first glimpse of my life when a guy asked to take my photo…

Tuesday saw us up early for our trip out to Tra Su Forest (http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Attraction_Review-g311303-d814880-Reviews-Tra_Su_Bird_Sanctuary-Chau_Doc_An_Giang_Province.html). This is a lovely spot, with so many birds and plants to see! It was my second visit, but I love it there.

The 18th of February was Lunar New Year’s Eve. We went into town with my friend Violet to watch some singing, dancing, and dragon dancing displays. Mark  bought me a Pikachu balloon :). It was very busy, but quite fun. Then we headed back to school to watch the fireworks. Security stopped us on the way in to share some food and rice wine, another first for Mark!

On Thursday we relaxed again, visited the crocodile farm (http://casaulongxuyen.com.vn/introduceen.aspx) and went for a swim in the school pool. It was feeling very strange not to have any students around on a school day! I managed to stress myself out trying to get bus tickets to Can Tho for Saturday. Last minute bus bookings during Tet are apparently a BAD idea.

On Friday, Violet invited us to her friend Nhung’s house to join a New Year party. Of course we accepted, and it was a fantastic day! Nhung is an amazing cook, and I think she fell in love with Mark, much to her husband’s regret… There was obviously a huge language barrier, but beer is an excellent equaliser. We had a wonderful time, and she invited us back for lunch on Monday.

On Saturday morning we ended up taking the motorbike to Can Tho. The road was quite bumpy and dusty, but we survived. Because our butts had not taken enough punishment, we joined our EcoTours (http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g303942-d6780643-Reviews-EcoTours_Private_Day_Tours-Can_Tho_Mekong_Delta.html) guide for a four-hour ride around a nearby island. Not for beginner riders, with bumpy tracks… It was very interesting! We tried eggfruit, which tastes a little like sweet potato and has the texture of overcooked boiled egg yolk. I wasn’t a fan… I found out that the reason some houses have a type of cactus as a hedge is to keep out demons, and that the small shrines you see around are basically houses for ghosts (if they have their own house, they won’t visit yours!). We stopped at the Goddess Tree, which is an enormous ficus. During the war, the whole village would shelter there, out of sight of any planes flying overhead. Then we stopped for a rest at a homestay. I got pooed on by a water snake, and we watched a visiting family learning how to find snails on the lotus leaves and stems… After that, we went back to town for some well deserved rest and a shower. We went for a wonderful (and much appreciated) massage, had some dinner, and then passed out. It was a long day!

On Sunday we looked around the market for a while, Mark had his first banh mi op la, and then we headed back to school. We stopped off to check out some pink ducks that I noticed the day before, and to take some pictures of a lotus field. When we got back to LX, I saw that my favourite banh xeo restaurant was open, so I dragged Mark in there. He ate two. The waiter said it’s the second time, ever, that someone has been able to eat two!

Monday saw us back at Nhung’s house for more food and beer. Good times 🙂 I think we both put on a couple of kilos during his visit. On Monday afternoon, students began to return to school, which signalled the winding down of our time together. We ate lunch in the canteen on Tuesday, but my students were all a bit too scared to talk to him. It was funny, because they’re usually hard to shut up. Mark packed up, we had some dinner, and then boosted off to the bus station for another long, late night journey.

After a few hours of sleep, we had a final wander around HCMC, bought a few gifts at Ben Thanh Market, and then headed to a poster shop on Bui Vien Street before one final Indian feast at Baba’s. Then it was back to the hotel, and on our separate ways. It was very difficult for me, thank goodness for sunglasses and riding masks!

I was back at school on Wednesday night, and in class on Thursday. I had a wonderful time, and it was so good to see Mark after so long, but it actually made me feel a lot more homesick than I have felt before. I guess I’d supressed how much I love living with Mark, and having him here, and then gone, really showed me how much I miss him.

If I had been a little more on the ball, I would have planned things a little better: made bus reservations much earlier, and been more prepared for the town to shut down for four days. I recommend visiting here during Tet, especially if you can make some local friends, it’s so interesting, but be prepared for closures and chaos!

Burnout & The Little Things

Well, after teaching more or less solidly for almost six months, I am definitely feeling burnt out. I never expected this to be so exhausting, but planning at least seven lessons for each day, over an age range of nine years, is a lot of work!

I have been annoyed, frustrated, stressed, happy, excited and loved. The work is hard, keeping myself and my students motivated is tough. Teaching pre- and primary school children takes a lot of physical energy, as well as being mentally draining. On the other hand, my students are all lovely, (mostly) eager to learn, and a lot of fun.

I had a very emo night last night. Things are not very easy, living and teaching in a strange city, and I’m having some minor personal issues with someone here, just to top things off. There are also some complicated family things going on back in Australia. So, I spent the better part of an hour alternately bitching and crying to Mark over Skype. I don’t know how he stays patient with me, sometimes, although the terrible/silly photos I send him every day might be a part of it. He’s never happier than when he’s laughing at someone else! This morning I woke up feeling like I’d been guzzling scotch all night. Which was a little unfair, since I only drank tea last night… My morning didn’t start well, some of the students in my first lesson are late to the classroom every day, and I didn’t have the fortitude to deal with it… My next lesson was not very good either. With the school’s Tet holiday starting next week, they’re all a little unfocused…

Sometimes it feels like my days are spent pushing shit uphill. But then something will happen to remind me of why I love teaching here. Usually it’s one of my younger students giving me a hug and telling me that they love me, or my grade 2’s feeding me their snacks during the morning break.

Today’s moment came from my 7A class. We’ve been having a little trouble with motivation and participation in lessons for a while, and I’ve been trying a few strategies to see what works for them. Last week and this week, I split them into five teams, and they compete for points by doing reading, answering questions, and working hard. Points are lost for being too noisy, not working, and speaking tieng Viet. It’s going well so far, they’re really competitive, and willing to do extra reading etc for more points.

Today’s lesson was using the second conditional (If I had $1,000,000, then I would…). They had to finish some sentences, and then work together to make a story about what they would do if they were on a deserted island with no phones. Some of the things they came up with were so funny (especially the boys)! Several of them said that if they were teachers, they would kill their students, others wanted to buy bombs with their $1,000,000, and one person said that they would hit a kangaroo if they came to Australia. My favourite solution to the deserted island problem boiled down to “We’d go crazy, become superheroes, destroy all the islands and then swim back to Vietnam, before destroying the school.” Another favourite involved a rocket that spat out balloons and flowers. I’ll have to get them to do more creative thinking when we get back from the holiday!

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It’s hard to stay positive sometimes, but it really is the little things that can make a big difference.

On Friday, most of the school is not having lessons. Instead, they’re setting up tents for each class on one of the football fields. I am looking forward to visiting everyone! They have all been working hard to prepare decorations for the day.

In other news, Mark is coming to visit me for ten days. I am just a tiny bit excited about this, but you wouldn’t be able to tell that from FB :P. We’ll meet in HCMC next Saturday, stay the night and then come back to LX on Sunday. We’re going to do a bike tour in Can Tho a few days before he comes home, and I plan to take him to a few places around town. I also plan to do a LOT of relaxing. I need this break from work so much (see first paragraph).

I could continue grumbling, but I’d rather have a glass of wine…

Jess x

End of Year Round-Up!

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been here for five months now. I’m halfway through the school year, and completely ready to fall down. I never realised how exhausting this job would be! Don’t get me wrong, I do really enjoy it, but some days I wish I was at home with all of my creature comforts. I now have a motorbike licence, and a bank account here. The traffic is a little hard to get used to, but I am really enjoying having a little more freedom of movement!

Overall it’s been a really great experience, and I’m learning a lot about myself. I’m definitely considering going to study teaching at uni when I get home. Maybe I’ll finally decide what I want to be when I grow up… I’ve definitely learned what I can cope with, and I feel a bit more myself. I feel like I’m getting my independent self back, and enjoying my own company. I might not be super exciting all the time, but I think that that is OK. I certainly need my downtime after teaching preschool and primary school all day!

The Christmas and New Year season has been one of the hardest times for me. I’ve missed my preparation rituals: planning parties, food, and presents, decorating the house, visiting everyone, watching the carols by candlelight, and making fudge. At home, I’m always busy getting ready. Here, it’s not a huge thing. Everyone works through until New Years Day, including Christmas Day and Boxing Day. It felt very strange to teach classes when everyone I love was spending time together and relaxing! Needless to say, I got a bit teary during Christmas week. Marie and I hung out in town on Christmas Eve. A lot of the people in our town go to Church for midnight mass, so there were thousands of people wandering around. There were a lot of places set up where you could get some kitsch Christmas photos taken, so of course that happened. I’m getting quite a collection of photos to bring home… After we got back to school, we had a few glasses of wine by candlelight and swapped gifts just after midnight. On Christmas Day we skipped the canteen lunch and went for banh xeo at my favourite restaurant, followed by a ride around the prettier parts of town. I think that we both enjoyed the respite from the noisy lunchtimes!

I was looking forward to my friend Jack visiting from Perth for some New Year celebrations, but unfortunately he had Visa issues, so he’s spending the time in Bangkok instead. This was very disappointing, but I admit that I wasn’t surprised. Especially when he told me that he got his VOA application through a source other than the Vietnamese Consulate. People, be very careful about these websites promising cheap VOA applications! Most of them are dodgy, and then you end up having to pay way more! Anyway, since he didn’t find out about the Visa problem until I was already in Ho Chi Minh City, I decided to stay there on my own. It was fine, but it’s never going to be my favourite place to hang out. I got new foundation (MAC is a little hard to come by in Long Xuyen!), then went and had a few drinks on my own, before chatting to some other people and ended up hanging out with them for the night.  Sunday I just hung around at my hotel. I tried going shopping at Ben Thanh Market, but wasn’t up for the antics, so I just went and kept myself (and the ants) company.

We’re having a little holiday at school this week; New Years Day is a national holiday, and we’ve been given Friday off as well. I’m planning to get lots of sleep, and thinking of going on a long ride, maybe out to Chau Doc.

I suppose I should make some resolutions but, to be honest, I’ll just be really happy to have fun with my students until it’s time to go travelling!

Well, I’m off to sulk with my favourite Dr and some wine. Chuc mung nam moi! xx

Check-in Time!

It’s been a while since I did a general update for you all!

I’m exhausted, sick and stressed at the moment. Last week I couldn’t work on Tuesday, and I spent Sunday and Monday in bed this week. I’ve been taken good care of, Ben sorted some vitamins and non-caffeinated paracetamol for me and, aside from a lingering blocked/snotty nose, cough and headache, I feel much better. All the hard hours teaching 9-10 lessons every day have finally caught up to me. I’m very glad that I won’t be going back to that. The last few weeks (now that Mike and Marie are here), my load has dropped to eight lessons, including two short preschool classes, Monday to Thursday and six on Friday. I am enjoying the easier day, but I do miss my 7B class!

My assembly choreography is improving, but I don’t think their singing is… I can’t judge them though, their enthusiasm makes up for the lack of ability! This year my grade 2 class learned Five Green and Speckled Frogs and Walking in the Jungle, grade 3 learned Roar by Katy Perry, the 4s did Let it Go and are practicing We Wish You a Merry Christmas, 5a sang What Makes You Beautiful and are singing Shake it Off on Monday and 5b sang Radioactive and Demons. It’s a fairly poppy set of songs, but I’m slowly getting used to it… All the gogo classes have been very useful! Check out Anna’s Gogo Academy if you’re ever bored in Melbourne (https://www.facebook.com/gogoacademy?fref=ts).

Tomorrow I’m going to open a bank account. I’ll be much happier not storing my money in a hidey-hole in my room. Having a card will also make traveling around the country a little easier! Since I don’t have a credit card, it can be a little tricky to make hotel reservations… On Sunday I have my driving test to get a Vietnamese motorbike licence. Hopefully I don’t cock the figure 8 up, it’s the only thing I’m worried about! I’ve had a few practice runs, and Ben reckons that I’ll be fine. Still, wish me luck! Between the account and licence, I’ll almost be a local. I definitely have the staring at strange westerners thing down. All I need to do is learn a little more of the language…

We’re starting to get into the Christmas spirit, but I expect that it’s going to be a difficult holiday for me. I’ve never spent Christmas away from my family (related or adopted). I’ll also be working that day, and trying to arrange Skype dates with everyone will be interesting! I’m trying not to think about that aspect of things too much, instead we’re trying to plan an ESL Christmas party for the kids. If I can’t be with my family, it will be nice to spend some fun time with my students.

Anyway, sorry if you find this post a little disjointed. All I can say is that I’m still not 100% well.

I’ll leave you with some photos!

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