Aug 29, 2006
Really I just want to get back to blogging my thoughts on Saigon.
My most recent thought is this. I think I have discovered the ultimate paradox of life in Vietnam. The traffic VS the pace of life. People here pretty much risk their lives just to save a couple of seconds on the road, and I'm sure that's one of the causes of so many accidents, people being in such a rush. "Gonna make that gap between bus and Chally, gonna make it.....oh ****". You are constantly harrassed by drivers behind you to hurry yourself up. It's like everybody is late for something or they're superstitious that if the bike stops moving for more than 5 seconds it will blow up...(you've seen the movie Speed right?). It's especially annoying when someone cuts you up and nearly sends you onto a road side bo luc lac grill, then you have to think "What's the bloody rush, chump!". Here's the paradox, step off the bike and nobody seems to be in a rush to do anything. It's a game of 'find the nearest hammock'. The streets are full of people slumped in their chairs or over their bikes, lathargically chewing a cocktail stick, eyeing this parallel universe as it streams by on the road. Any explanations out there?
If you got to the end of yet another text only post, well done. I'll soon be back to the more entertaining photo posts of yestermonths gone by.
Aug 25, 2006
I've gotten distracted here - what I really wanted to talk about was the interview. As we're leaving the office Chi says we have an interview scheduled for next week. We both laugh. An interview? To get married! WHAT! OK, whatever, lets play along...then I came across this article today: Vietnam Tightens Regulations On International Marriges
Under the decree, within 20 days of the date of the receipt of marriage registration dossiers and fees, the Judicial Department of a city or province must conduct a person-to-person interview with both applicants.
The interview is designed to check whether the two applicants agree to the marriage of their own accord and how much they can communicate
So, hopefully, like the mental health check, we can get through this one as well (ow! that was my tounge in my cheek).
Aug 20, 2006
Whether the man is guilty of the murder of JonBenet is irrelevant, this case is now highlighting the issues at large in the ESL (English as a Second Language) industry. Unqualified teachers, in other words, people who aren't teachers at all, can gain employment in all manner of schools around Asia.
In Japan and Korea it is probably more difficult - I had to provide my original diploma to get an E2 visa which allowed me to stay in Korea for one year - there was however no criminal record check or background check. People ask me "How did you get a job in Korea?" and I answer "On the Internet". I used a website such as this one. Here you can see the global demand for teachers of English. My recruiter who was based in London found me a job and arranged a phone interview which took about 5 minutes and was basically to establish that I was breathing. Within 8 weeks I had gone from surfing for a job to having my visa and flight tickets in hand and boarding the plane. All I needed was my University degree. It really is that easy. Of course everybody leaves for different reasons; mine were the same as many at my age - a real desire to see the world and a total frustration with my lack of options at home; however you can imagine that with the process being so easy, many other kinds of characters successfully apply and gain employment in Korea. What kind of characters I hear you asking......well, I've met them all. People who wouldn't fit in back home, social rejects, people with a bad smell, a drinking problem, bad social skills, people with undiagnosed mental problems like ADD or OCD. Indeed, inside the expat teaching community these kind of teachers are notorious. I suggest you read this 'thread' (note: waygook means foreigner in Korean) on the popular expat teachers disscussion forum: a brief example:
A 40 something year old guy. INSISTED he was 28. Really short and scrawny. We kind of felt sorry for him. 10 days in he was short of money and said he needed food. Lent him 100, 000 won. Later found out he borrowed 100,000 from another foriegn teacher and 100, 000 from a Korean teacher. We went out that night and he kept trying to pick up girls by staring at them and disgustingly and leacherously licking potato chips. It was so gross! I left. Next day he pulled the old midnight run.
The midnight run is where the teacher packs up and leaves the country, in the process not telling anyone, breaking contract and adding to the bad rep of foreign teachers. It's a vicious circle and it ends up impacting all the people here who are sane and don't smell like cabbage. Teacher comes to Korea. Teacher is imbalanced. Teacher hates job and crappy apartment. Teacher hates disgusting old man Korean boss. Teacher leaves Korea in the middle of the night. Old disgusting boss has foreignerless classes at his school. Boss hates lousy foreigner. Boss will never again trust forgieners. Boss will now treat all foreign staff like badly behaved children no matter what. As usual, its the majority that suffer thanks to the actions of the few; I for one however don't hold anything against some people who do runner to escape their miserable contracts and jobs which they walked into blindly expecting much better than what they actually got. It works both ways; the profession has a rep for odd characters, but school bosses are well known for lying, providing the absolute bare minimum by way of accomodation, overworking staff, penny pinching to the extreme etc etc. So that's teaching in Korea for you.
Teaching English in South East Asia has the same problems. Thailand and Cambodia, and to a lesser extent Vietnam, are well known for their 'sex tourists'. As the BBC article says :
But there is little doubt that Thailand, and South East Asia as a whole, has an unenviable reputation for attracting paedophiles - a problem brought into the spotlight in recent months by the conviction of British pop star Gary Glitter in Vietnam.
The dodgy teachers in this part of the world fall into a different catagory than those in East Asia (China, Japan and Korea). I think those in SE Aisa were wondering through the region already doing their thing. They meet people of a similiar persuasion in bars of an evening, and they think 'Here's my ticket to live this lifestyle on a permanent basis'. It's easy to get a job because of the nature of the industry....so many language schools, so many people desperate to learn English, so many people desperate to cash in on all those desperate people desperate to learn English.......means that teachers will be hired almost immediatly without any consideration to background or experience.....sometimes its a case of 'a warm body in the classroom is good enough'. Read the expat teachers in Thailand discussing the effects of the JonBenet case here. The industry needs more regulation to vet potential teachers.
The Vietnamese government recently tried to make all foreigners get a work permit. I went through all the steps, including getting a criminal record check from Britan. However, I think it depends on how 'friendly' the language school is with the Ministry of Education as to how stringent they are on the staff. There were stories of one school being 'raided' and unqualified/work permitless teachers being deported, buts thats the only one I've heard. Maybe the 6 month tourist visas shouldn't be so easy to get. How can I be in Vietnam on a tourist visa yet work and pay 10% income tax to the Vietnamese government. Whilst the authorities are having their cake and eating it, there is no answer.
There are a million different people in this industry and they all have a million different reasons but the profession is seriously stigmatised. When I go back to the UK next year and tell people 'I've been teaching English in Asia for the last 3 years' I wonder what kind of reaction I'll get. I still have friends who say things like 'When are you coming back?' and 'I can't believe your still out there' - as if I am still wondering around with my backpack on 5 years after I started, so I know they think of me as a 'traveller' and not a 'teacher'; they may be surprised to find that I actually am a teacher and I try to do my job professionally, and I am interested in professional development and linguistics and child pyscology, just the same as many young teachers in the field. As for all this other bad stuff I read, the stuff I've talked about here, and it's stuff that I know is shaping people's minds and opinions towards English teachers, I have to curl my mouth down, open my palms skyward, and in my best New Jersey accent say this:
"Waddya gonna do?".
Aug 14, 2006
Saigon is easy. I get on my motorbike, and I go. Saigon is cool, with my doors open and my fan on. Saigon is tasty - I can sip a nice fruit juice or a cafe sua da, eat a kebab, a burger, a salad, some pasta, a pizza, some lovely seafood, some cheescake, a muffin; whatever I bloody well want. Or I can order it to my house. Saigon is comfortable; I can choose from any number of my favourtie sofalishious venues around town, and they are all within 10 mins of each other on my bike. Saigon is cheap; I remembered when I was taken to TGI Fridays here in Seoul. They were charging $26 a main course, and it tasted awful. Three mains for $89, and the steaks weren't even steaks. It's criminal. Give me a pleasant evening at Le Jardin or La Nicoise - proper beef steaks in pepper sauce and white wine for two - no more than $15. Saigon is friendly; its not hard to get a smile around town. Saigon is interesting. Saigon has cable TV with more than 3 English channels. Saigon has ESPN and STAR. Nuff said. Lastly of course, Saigon has Mrs Hoff (well, not quite yet, and she won't take the surname I'm sure, but you know what I mean!).
Also, I've twice had my arm hair stroked in fascination in the Saigon traffic. Beat that. I have yet to run my fingers along the two long whispy hairs emerging from a gentlemans face mole whilst waiting at traffic lights.....but that's hardly surprising.
Aug 7, 2006
Doesn't really look like HCM does it....of course, this is all brand new development so lets not confuse it with old Saigon. This place has a very different feel about it. The majority of the residents here are Korean. Keep walking and you'll see this view:
So when I drive down here everyday on my way to work, which I do by the way, I make a point of taking a few deep breaths just because the air is so much cleaner out here. It's certinaly a nice change from the previous 20 minutes of my drive where I've been gassed by the District One traffic and then sanded with the all the dust spinning around on the highway out from District 4. You need to be dressed like your going for a spin in a spitfire if you want to avoid everything the city streets can throw at you. If I took a deep breath in the morning rush hour going through D1 I'd probably end up with a nose bleed. When I'm driving back from Anh Phu after training with the Raiders, there are literally bits of grit flying through the air. I digress, as the shot above shows, this road is devoid of grit, dust and maniacs.
After a minute or so, we come to a bridge that spans the river, and a gated community that typifies the new developments in this area, 'The Waterfront'.
The Waterfront doesn't seem to be too lived in at the moment, but I have identified residents. We continue, passing on the right the turn off to the Vietnamese school in D7, a college and also.......you'll never guess.......
Ok, so we go over the River and on both sides of the road are houses that are only just being finished. On the right you can plainly see the river winding into the distance and the fields beyond. You might see a lone boatman paddling upstream the same as he had 100 years ago.
Here's some of those new houses:
Here is a wider shot, just to prove this is the place where the city is expanding into the countryside, and after this I'll shut up about it, honest.
Aug 6, 2006
Second, an interesting wesite at Global Voices Onlineallows you to keep up to date with bloggers from anywhere, and I mean anywhere. The sites mission statement declares :
Global Voices seeks to amplify, curate and aggregate the global conversation online - with a focus on countries and communities outside the U.S. and Western Europe. We are committed to developing tools, institutions and relationships that will help all voices everywhere to be heard.
Next, I was directed to a BBC article by my mother (she loves me calling her that, and if you're reading mum, happy birthday!). The article is all about Brits Abroad. View here. From there I found the Brits Abroad blog. From what I can gather, there is some kind of project underway to count all the overseas Brits . Somewhere I saw stated that there are 4.5 million known Brits living abroad, but they estimate it could be up to 14 million. That's incredible! 14 million?! Then again, have a night out in Sydney and that number becomes more believable. I've no idea of the number of Brits in Vietnam, or other nationalities, but I'll make a point of finding out some info.
Aug 2, 2006
Around here, residential Saigon south, you could go for a walk in the evening and dare I say it hear birds twittering. The apartment blocks seem to be fairly full, whereas the houses that line these roads and many others like it still seem to be empty. As Antidote to Burnout mentions in his post on D7 here, interaction is very different out here, as is expected when your not living in each others pockets!
This row of shops is on what is now a quiet road....
You can see the staples of any Vietnamese high street, Pho 24 and Highland Coffee. Currently, these shops aren't too busy, and the ones in the distance not even open yet. I have the feeling that they'll be doing pretty well quite soon however, as just on the other side of the road are these sites waiting for development:
Yes, the future venue of the HCMC International Exhibition & Convention Centre. Now those lonely deserted little cafes don't seem so stupid.......and then 500 meters down the road.....
Oh look! The future site of the Saigon Paragon......and as the board says, this'll be the home of 'World cass retail shop' and 'Office for lease'. Now those little cafes reveal their true intention! To make a lot of cash once the area around them is thriving.