I have been a bit lax with updating this blog. I don't always have the Internet right in front of my face here!
Since my last update, we have been settling into our jobs and lives here. Matt has started guiding and working in the office for Slopony and I started both of my teaching gigs last week. Teaching here is incredibly different than in Korea. Here I'm totally on my own, which is both a relief and a challenge.
I started teaching my classes at the National Park last week. I went on Monday afternoon for a meeting to organize the group of 34 students into three classes. However, it seems there was some sort of party celebrating rangers visiting from another National Park. About half of my students were too drunk to show up! We organized the classes anyway, but now they are being reorganized because apparently drunk organizers don't organize classes well!
The National Park classes got off to a rocky start last week. Most of them have a very low English level. I have been telling them that we don't need a translator, but one of my classes went and retrieved one during the break. There seems to be several sets of expectations about what will be happening with English lessons at the National Park, which is difficult to balance. Our main goal is to improve their pronunciation so we are using simple vocabulary. Many already know these words, so they think it is not helpful and they are bored. I'm trying to get them to understand that if no one can understand you, it doesn't matter how many words you know! This coming week should be better as the classes are being rearranged by level. I go there three afternoons a week and meet each group for about 2.5 hours.
My other English teaching post here is to work with the Vietnamese staff of Slopony. They are the wife of one of the owners and two of her younger brothers who help belay and guide on trips. I'm also supposed to teach the son of the farmer who owns the cliff with most of the climbing on the island. He didn't come to the first lesson because he was sick, but I think he's worred he can't afford the lessons. I need to tell him that I don't really want any money from him. He's a sweet, smart kid from a poor farming family and I really couldn't take any money from him. He leads trekking trips for SloPony sometimes. They are all really nice and sweet. Two of the boys are about 20 and the younger brother is about 18. We have lessons three times a week also, but I see them all the time so I'm trying to verbally quiz them everytime I see them. If they can speak English, at least conversationally, they will have much better opportunities living on a tourist island. I think I 'll see a lot more improvement with this group.
In other news, I learned to drive the motorbike this week! It was the first step on my list of things to become badass. I can now drive myself all over the island. Also, I have somehow managed to catch a sneezy, snotty, sore throat cold in tropical conditions! I haven't been taking many pictures, but I'll pick up the slack on that too.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
We left our home of one year last Tuesday afternoon. We headed to the train station and took the KTX train to Seoul. We stuck near the train station because it had everything we needed, an airport bus stop and a giant jimjilbang. We got a room accidentally in the red light district. I didn't know that Korea had a red light district, but our hotel was on a street with sliding glass door store-fronts and girls in tight pants and bikini tops. We were surprised that Korea could ever be that open about prostitution (or whatever goes on behind the store front). But anyway, we saw a movie and got our last jjimjilbang fix, slept then got on the airport bus early in the morning.
We arrived in Hanoi without any problems. Our flight was really good. We had the emergency exit row and they showed Slumdog Millionaire for the in-flight movie. Our visas went through without a hitch and our pre-arranged airport pickup was waiting with a white sign with my name on it!
We checked into our hotel and wandered around the Old Quarter of Hanoi a bit. We had some good food, walked around the lake, and dodged motorbike traffic. We watched a water puppet show. The stage is a pool of water and the puppeteers stand behind bamboo screens and operate these marionettes. The puppets don't have strings, but are on the end of a long bamboo pole. It was pretty cool. Pictured above is bustle of Hanoi and this cute boy about the enjoy a meal with me in Hanoi!
Thursday morning, we began our trek to Cat Ba Island from Hanoi. It starts by taking a 2.5 hour drive to Hai Phong, the largest port city near the island. In Hai Phong, we get off and wait for another bus to take us the the ferry port. Then we hop on a high speed ferry for about 30 minutes, and finally get on one last bus that took us to the center of Cat Ba Town. It sounds more arduous and difficult than it really is. You buy one ticket in Hanoi that covers all the transfers.
We walked into Slo Pony and met our boss and other Slo Pony employees. Our room was still being occupied for one more night, so we stayed in a hotel for the first night on the main drag of Cat Ba Town. There were speakers blaring with a karaoke contest. The Vietnamese are also huge fans of karaoke, like Koreans. However, Vietnamese karaoke seems to be better if everyone on the street can hear you.
The main drag along the harbor of Cat Ba Town. The bright orange building on the right is Slo Pony headquarters and Noble House, the restaurant that hooks us up! We've already befriended all the girls that work their. They are quite curious as the why Matt hasn't married me yet! He tells them that I am too dangerous!
On Friday morning, we were able to move into our permanent room here. We had to load ourselves and our heavy bags onto motorbikes to get there. We are staying in Ben Beo Harbor, which is only a few minute ride from the main part of town. Our room is very nice. We have our own bathroom, mini-fridge, and air-conditioning! It's pretty hot here. Our room has a waterfront view. We can throw a pebble from our front door into the harbor. It's by far the best view I ever had from a living situation. It's quieter than town because there is less traffic and people, but there are plenty of boat engines to get you up at sunrise. Ben Beo harbor is where most tourists board their Ha Long Bay cruises on the island. Above is Matt standing in our doorway, modeling the view from our room and below is our room is the state of unpacking!
As its our first week here and we are both working out the details of our working situations here, we've been going to the beach almost every day. The beach is quite nice and we are working on our tans despite slatherings of sunscreen.
(A view from our motorbike tour of the island- Jurrassic Park could have been filmed here!)
Our mode of transportation is no different from any other Vietnamese person. We ride a motorbike like everyone else. Matt is doing all of the driving right now, but soon I will learn to drive it myself. I will need to drive it to get out to my lesson in the National Park. Aaah! It's scary, but it's my first step in becoming badass. On Saturday, we rode the motorbike all around the island and did a tour. It only takes about two hours to drive all the main roads on the island.
On the days we haven't gone to the beach, we tagged along on the climbing trips Slo Pony offers. On Sunday, we rode out the Butterfly Valley (and the name doesn't lie, there were tons of butterflies). This is the main climbing spot on the island. It's a huge cliff on one side of a farm. Matt climbed, I watched.
Yesterday, we were able to tag along on a trip out into the bay! The climbing in Ha Long Bay is called deep water soloing. You aren't tied into a harness or with a rope, you just fall or jump into the water when you're finished climbing. I only watched this activity, too. I did a bit of kayaking, sunning, and beer drinking while the rest of them climbed up cliffs to jump back in. In the bay are fish farming villages. There aren't many fish left in the bay, so people have created fish farms on the water and grow the fish from babies in nets all around their small homes on the water. Entire villages live out there and there are convenient stores on small basket boats that paddle around selling chips, fruit, and drinks. Matt is swimming and browsing at the same time.
So, our life here is pretty good. We don't have a kitchen to cook in, but the restaurant below Slo Pony give Slo Pony employees fifty percent off everything, but booz. We'd drink them out of business if they did. So , we have been eating there a lot. We have been going to bed early and waking up early, which is a nice change from our previous hours in Korea. Vietnam is an early country and Korea is a late one. Not many things are open before 10am in Korea, but in Vietnam you are considered physically ill if you sleep past seven!
Our place seen from the harbor.
This is kind of a long update! We'll try to get on the Internet more than once a week!I'm still going to post to this blog. I'll have to change the title, I suppose, but I'll do that another time.