Ominous

There was an ominous knock on the apartment door last night around 7.20 pm.

Ominous because at that time, it’s more than likely to be the impish and mischievous apartment manager. He has time to spare, and so thinks nothing of frittering away mine, at just the time I’m in dinner digestion mode, and more hostile than hospitable.

And so it proved. But this time, ‘Mr. Duc’, as I call him, wanted not to smoke and shoot the breeze, but take photos of my passport.

This morning, I discovered why. There’s been a new outbreak of covid-19 in Da Nang, about 500 km north of here.

They’re evacuating the city.

This is all about moi, of course, and isn’t good news. If the outbreak isn’t contained, the Govt. has shown itself to be more than willing to shut things down – cafes, restaurants, plane flights.

As it is, my original plan to return to NZ in August now looks dubious, with flight prices up at NZD3000 and above. Prices settle late September, but that won’t happen in the midst of Alarm and Lockdowns.

It’s a moving feast. On that topic, my stomach is saying I should move breakfast to, er, right now.

Dear D,

The principle of energy conservation – AKA laziness – means I’m copying and pasting the below email containing the latest news.

D,

first, thanks for the email, and apologies for taking so damned long to reply. Flimsy excuses indeed, but first it was busyness at work, until that finished June 29th. More recently I’ve been struggling with putting together a new computer system, working around the bits falling off the old system. This might not mean much to you, but I’m actually running an operating system ( Linux ) from a USB stick now. It’s been good enough to get by, and as a stop-gap measure, but long-term, I have to rip the sticking plaster off, and sort out a solution.

I’ve been doing some work teaching online ( $10 USD / hr ) but it’s been a little touch-and-go with things not working consistently on the new operating system. I hope to get it sorted out with a new hard-drive tomorrow.

Also, the bike accident June 17th has really knocked me back. It turned out to be the worst one since I’ve been in SE Asia, for the fact that my ankle is broken, and a full plaster has been necessary. Making it even worse, I’ve cracked two ribs. Discomfort + pain 24/7. The ribs are now improving slowly, and with the plaster applied Friday 3rd, I can now walk, very gingerly, on the crook leg.

Eight more weeks in plaster to look forward to. At the moment,I’d gladly be on a flight back to NZ tomorrow. But with costs around $3000 – $4000 NZD, it’s out of my price range. At the moment, prices look like returning to sanity late in August. Which is also when my current Visa expires. For work in Vietnam, it seems like it’s a shit-load easier finding a job when you’re already here, so ideally, I’d do that. But if I had my way, I’d probably spend summer in NZ, and come back here, in April. But setting up a new job with that much delay may not be do-able.

I can’t ride a bike right now ( fucked-up leg is too fragile to bear any weight ), so I’ve been getting round with Grab, which is the VN equivalent of Uber. Grab bikes are everywhere, and a 2 – 3 km trip sets me back less than $2 NZD. So good enough, and useable enough to get me to local cafes, street food, and supermarkets. I understand that many expats here don’t bother renting a bike, they just do everything via Grab. Which seems do-able longer-term, and possibly safer, being a novice foreigner, than riding your own bike. My last bike, I think, was rated about 150cc, fairly typical. A damned good engine, too. But the things are heavy, especially when they’re landing on your foot. I’m ok at riding, sorta, but in that critical second or two which is the difference between accident and no accident, I’m doing exactly the wrong thing too often. Which has been braking and attempting a swerve at the same time. I need to think about how I can train myself NOT to do that, but the difficulty is that putting yourself in a little danger to practice isn’t …. practical. As you’re no doubt way above me in terms of bike-riding, maybe you have some advice.

FYI, and before I forget, Grace is moving to Wellington ( Porirua to be exact ) in a day or two. She’s doing a course at the polytech down there. Despite my cautions about Porirua being the Otaika, if not the Otangarei, of Wellington. She’s going down with her boyfriend though, who seems like he has a head on his shoulders.

Right now cooking a pork belly slab in a crockpot , with carrots, broccoli, and a little cabbage. Phwoar. That’s breakfast, after a 7.45 a.m. coffee ( with butter and a duck egg ) and chat with Henry.

At the moment, my apartment is being invaded by the manager ( father of the owner ), and helper. They’re fixing a wall unit which fell off this morning after I made the mistake of leaning on it two days ago. Which is all ok, but I’m sitting here keeping vigil in case he takes it upon himself to try to organise my life for me. Which he’ll do at any opportunity. Or unplugs the HDMI cable connecting this machine, and the TV, which took me an hour of grappling and contortion to get into place. It’s a trait of the Vietnamese which the Thais don’t have. They ( seem to ) feel like it’s their prerogative to give you advice and directions, whether you ask for them or not. I put up with it from the apartment owners ‘cos the place is the best I’ve been in here, and the rent is reasonable. From others, I’ve felt like telling them to shove it, but so far have managed to keep my mouth shut. The VN are lovely people who’ll go out of their way to help, but they’re also martial, and they don’t take shit. Getting into a shouting match with one would end badly for me, I imagine.

So with the recovering from the accident, I’m spending way too much time horizontal on the couch, watching video content. Which isn’t such as bad thing, but I get the old Proddy restlessness and guilt if I achieve nothing for the day. At the least, I’m soaking up the Vitamin D by sunning myself on the balcony, to try to compensate for long periods indoors with the aircon on.

OK, this is a getting a bit ‘day in the life’, so I’ll take off now, and hope to hear from you soon.

cheers,

D

The Kindness of Vietnamese

I continued yesterday being the brunt of typical Vietnamese kindness.

They generally won’t suffer affronts, but many or most Vietnamese will go out of their way to help out.

A case in point was yesterday’s visits to hospital to get my ankle patched up after the latest bike accident.

First of all, my good friend Henry continued his long track record of helping me out by giving up most of his day to ferry me to and from the hospital, and to translate the doctors for me.

After the usual long dither I decided on the plaster option ( ~2 million VND vs. ~50 million VND for surgery ) , after the doctors told me I could make a full recovery that way – it would just take longer.

By mid-afternoon the nurse was ready, again with Henry in attendance.

Her first move had been some artful editing of my condition, to save me 600,000 VND, reducing the fee from $2 million.

Then, I made sure to get my bleating in about how UNcomfortable the ‘half plaster’ had been, and my recommended improvements for the full plaster.

I was vindicated, sort of, when she removed the old plaster, to reveal a wound which wasn’t healing, and bruising on my shin, and upper calf muscle from an ill-fitting first cast.

Then she patiently ignored my whimperings and complaints, to produce a cast which – at a stretch – qualifies as a work of art.

First, it has a breathing hole on the top of the instep, so the wound can be dressed and re-bandaged, if necessary.

Then she made ample room at the top of the cast to allow some movement and avoid bruising. And there’s plenty of toe wiggle room, which will help avoid total atrophy.

Then. via Henry, she has offered to come to my digs in a day or three to check, and re-dress, the wound. Henry also told me I’d gotten special treatment, because hospital staff are keen to make a good impression on foreigners.

For a fee, of course, but that’s all hunkydory, as was the entire caper. I wish I’d dithered less, and gone for the cast earlier.

I’ll be wearing it for around 8 weeks, by all accounts.

So it’s back to a version of lock-down. The school year, and job, ended June 29, so no full-time work. So, it’s lots of Netflix, and some online teaching to keep my hand in, and for some pocket money.

All going very well, I may in a week or five make a long-awaited trip to Dalat, the inland, high-elevation holiday spot.

School wind-down

Winding down to the school year’s end on June 30, the work is easy.

Basically, turn up on time, keep the students quiet and (pre)occupied, collect your pay.

Keeping them occupied can mean setting a simple written assignment,or showing them a movie. Both mostly void having to move or talk – perfect!

After today, there are only three more days at the school before summer break.

Darker

I just learned today that the school won’t be renewing my contract for the next school year, beginning early August.

Also, a couple of hours ago, I had another bike accident. My right ankle , and back, are fubarred.

I’ll survive. But for now, it’s all but certain I’ll be back in dear wet old NZ sometime in August.

New Kid on the Block

Monday morning and a pale new face belonging to a South African appears in the teachers’ room.

Chances are fair to middling that this isn’t good news for Yours Truly. That because the young and stick-thin chap is apparently a full-timer.

‘Apparently’ because he’s taken up a teachers’ room berth among the full-timers, who get their own dedicated work-stations. The lower ranks, such as myself, have to scramble for whatever berths are vacant.

To get full-time status, it’s almost certain that his contract runs into the new school term, beginning in early August. That makes him the fourth full-timer.

That’s the same complement as when I started. They covered most, but not all, English classes, but one of them didn’t return after January. Which all means that the Old Kid ( me ) might be for the ( chopping ) block.

You would think I could just ask directly about the arrangements for next term, but it’s not so simple.

Office politics mean other teachers’ employment details are a no-go zone. I learned this in Thailand after I was persuaded into revealing my wage to another English-speaking teacher, a native Italian. Turned out that I – as a native English speaker – was earning around 10% more than him, which didn’t go down well.

Also, teaching schedules are handed down from On High ( HR and principal ) , so it’s unlikely that anyone in the teachers’ room knows next term’s schedule.

I asked HR about work ongoing after the month-long July break, but they deflected with a promise to inform me as soon as there was news.

So, it’s time to brush up the CV, and start firing it out, just in case.

Meantime, I’ve almost recovered from the computer melt-down of a month ago, and more on that in another post. So time to brush off the cobwebs and start putting in some online teaching hours as insurance.

Stop Press

Out with the old

Rather than fix the Old Dunger bike, I rented a new one at 1 million / month.

The prospect of turning up at school looking as if I got the wrong suburb didn’t appeal much. The school’s very upmarket.

The repair bill for the old bike came at about 1 million VND. That’s about the same as its retail value if it’s going.

I arranged to sell it as is for 500,000 vnd, but the buyer pulled out, leaving me with a white elephant. Learnings again.

Head down, arse up


Three weeks down, five to go.

Term now ends June 30, so it’s a case of making hay while the sun shines. The “Eagle”‘s monthly bowel movement is due June 7th after which I will feel a lot more secure.

I have two classes daily Grades 8 ( 13-14 years ) and 9. The younger students are eager, disciplined and easy to teach.

The older class is a battle with teenage hormones and several renegades running amuck among them. There’s a way wider range of English abilities. Three or four are maybe at the level of a good New Zealand 12 year old. Five or six are not far above New Entrant level.

Past July, the job isn’t assured, so I was pointedly told by the Head Teacher. The solution would be to sign up as a full-timer, which would mean more than 40 ‘office hours’ a week.

But that’s a bridge too far for me. And it seems, for the three other full-timers, who’re making noises of complaint about it.

The Head Teacher has told me that the school has been looking for two years for a 4th full-timer to tackle the brutal schedule.

Right now, I’m going to gamble that they won’t find one before August. In which case they’ll probably extend my contract at the ‘part-time’ mornings-only hours.

Laptop Blues


The laptop I bought in May 2019, just before leaving New Zealand, is unwell.

It may be terminal. I’ve been able to get by using flash drives, Linux, and the school’s machines. But revival attempts on the PC are taking up way too much of my time.

The worst upshot has been missing online classes with my favourite Japanese student. He’s an interesting guy, a native Japanese who’s lived in Thailand for 3 years, and supports himself as a sports writer. He’s been far and away my most consistent and loyal student. I regard him as a friend.

But his tolerance for me being forced to cancel classes won’t be unlimited.

Apartments


I’ve become accustomed to the smaller living space, cheaper rent, and higher electric costs at the new digs, and plan to be here til July.

I’m also finding my way among the local roadside food stalls. So far I’ve found good, cheap, quality sellers of duck eggs, avocados, pork luncheon, and fresh greens. Still on the list are banh it, and seafood. I’ve learned that rather than ask uestions, the fastest way of identifying a mystery food is often just to buy a sample.

What a Difference

As the old song goes, what a difference a day makes.

Day 1, May 4, back at school and Murphy’s Law struck with a vengeance. I started thinking seriously about resigning. Day 2, and problems disappeared like Vietnamese puto cakes.

Day 1

The rolling train-wreck started the previous day when my laptop decided its number was up. The damned thing refused to boot into windows, and the Linux install gave me no WiFi. So, all told, next to useless.

The train-wreck continued when my bike died on the way to work. The smallest Mercy was that it happened at my planned Cafe stop. I quaffed my coffee, left the bike there and ‘taxied’ to work. On the pillion of a motorbike. Clutching as I was, a laptop, a backpack bag, and a 6-litre water bottle.

At work, I learned that, as feared, no aircon was allowed in classrooms. Nowhere in New Zealand even approaches that heat. It’s like Venus. Hot enough to begin a weight-loss programme by going outside for an hour.

On arriving home, a 15-minute bike-ride, I cranked up the aircon, flopped into a chair, and stayed inside for the rest of the day.

Day 2

School admin saw sense, and allowed aircon in classrooms. Without it, myself and foreign teachers from South Africa, the US, and Canada suffer so brutally that survival is uppermost in mind, and teaching ( almost ) nethermost. Ahh, the sweet relief of cool air!

I put a patch on the bike issue by renting another short-term. Taxi-ing to work each day while I fix the Old Dunger bike would be clumsy, and expensive. I was able to rent a good bike for 80k VND / day.

I discovered the laptop would at least boot into Linux.

And, students, perhaps picking up less of a scent of blood ( and sweat ) in their nostrils, seemed to go easier on me.

Day 3, May 6

After getting through my 3 hours’ worth of lesson, and home to Sweet Shelter, the Head Teacher asks me to take his Wednesday afternoon class May 13, for 90 minutes. It’s a vote of confidence from him, and I’m thinking it’d behoove me to be in his credit column.

Happy Birthday ( to me )

Happy birthday – here’s a power cut to celebrate…

It was the usual routine this morning – walk, coffee, work. Until, that is, the last was knocked out of the schedule by a random power cut at the apartment.

I’d just started an online lesson with my favourite, and regular, Japanese student when everything went West. The lesson, the fan, the fridge, my caffeine-fueled buoyant mood – all gone in a flash.

It means that I’ll likely suffer a penalty for a ‘cancelled’ online lesson. Something I can ill afford when margins are so slim. Also, fridge-stored food will suffer, possibly in the rubbish basket.

After it dawned on me what’d happened, I trudged down five flights of stairs to share my unhappiness with the ( wonderful ) hotel receptionist.

Via my phone, and Google Translate, I learned that the power would be restored at 11:00 a.m., two hours hence.

This isn’t rare here – whole suburbs go black. But at the last apartment, we were at least warned the previous day. It seems the current apartment manager(ess) doesn’t have the nous to keep up, or wasn’t told.

Learnings

  • Prepare for the worst

    That is, have a backup plan. Examples? Power cut
    – ask apartments whether they have such thing as backup power supply. Use the dinky wee
    USB charger I have to power whatever I can. Internet down – Get some reliable phone data, ffs.

  • Remain calm, focus, execute

    That was the mantra I used in Thailand. One I need to revive as I start another full-time teaching stint.

  • Smile

    Whatever happens, don’t lose your rag. It’s a bad look, it won’t help, and it’ll earn oneself enemies. Half a world away ( 8665 km ) from home, I need all the friends I can get.

Back to School

I learned an hour ago that my school is back from next Monday, May 4th!

I’ll be teaching Monday – Friday, 8.30 a.m. to 11.45 a.m. You might think this is cause for celebration, and it is. But, the news comes with a large dollop of nerves.

Here’s why;

  • Rustiness

    It will have been more than three months since I last stood in front of a bunch of teenagers playing the role of teacher. Yes, I’ve been teaching online, but that’s a cakewalk compared.

  • Heat

    Hearsay, and a website, has it that air-conditioners won’t be allowed in classrooms. Covid-19, you understand. It’s coming up toward the middle of summer here, with temperatures feeling like mid-30s °C by late morning.

  • Covid-19 changes

    Students and teachers have to wear masks at all times, and keep a(n anti-) social distance of 1.5 metres. I expect there’ll also be rigorous washing of hands etc. All told, a different game to when I last played in January.

  • Moving

    Ramping up the pressure a little more, I’ve committed to moving apartments. I have to do it a day or two before school starts.

On the Other Hand

This is what I signed up for. I’ve done it before. Buy the ticket, take the ride.