On the morning of November 4, in the words of John Lennon, we took a chance and flew away. From everything we knew. It was a leap of faith but after twenty-four hours of travelling, I was wearily ecstatic to land at Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport in Hồ Chí Minh City. The first week seems like a blur! Although I don’t know why. We didn’t do much…
We arrived in HCMC in the early morning of November 6. Rhinoceros*, my high school friend, was nice enough to offer to pick us up and greeted us with a happy, familiar face and hugs all around. He hailed the three of us a cab and we started off towards his flat in the new and burgeoning expat district of Phù Mỹ (pronounced: FOO MEE) to the south of the city, which he shares with his girlfriend, Pistol. These two are two of the most hospitable people I’ve ever met and Bagheera and I are continually grateful for their generosity. They offered us not only their place for as long as it took for us to get on our feet but also their king-sized bed and en suite. This was but one example of their incredibly nice welcoming. They also had an old cell phone that they leant us for our first few days until we could get our own phones.
In our jet lagged stupor, we managed to pull ourselves together enough to send some e-mails telling our families we’d arrived safely and then it was off for some non-airplane grub around the corner from the flat.
We came back, showered, relaxed, caught up with Rhino and then it was time for dinner. We went down to District 1 onto Bùi Viện Street (backpacker district) to meet Pistol for dinner. I knew Rhino but I’d never met Pistol so it was great to finally meet the woman who was not only putting up two Notorious B.A.Yites but we were also two girls she’d never met. Rhinoceros ended up leaving us to go to his darts match which left us the opportunity to chat with her and get to each other a bit.
After dinner, we hopped over one street to watch Rhino’s team play darts. His team is pretty good! I had one beer and then started to feel my forehead approach the table which is pretty much the universal sign for “time to go to bed.” Pistol helped us get in a cab and gave us written directions which we folded up and kept as our precious, dog-eared lifeline for the remainder of our time with them.
I don’t remember getting into bed that night.
My body woke me up at 8:00 on our first full day in Vietnam which was perfect timing to see the polls close on the east coast in the US presidential election. We were relieved to follow the coverage that resulted in President Obama being re-elected for another term. This means there’s a better chance the North American continent will continue to exist upon our return. We can only hope…
Rhino made us a delicious breakfast of eggs and fried potatoes (something he’d seen Pistol make a few times) which we devoured! After a morning at home, we went for a traditional lunch of phở (pronounced: FA?) with Rhino.
The meal was delicious! And I was sufficiently drenched in sweat.
That night, Pistol made us a delicious vegetarian meal of red rice, mung beans and veggies with some legitimate South American hot sauce. I, again, had heavy eyelids while trying so desperately to peel them apart in order to look awake and interested in the dinner table conversation but soon had to excuse myself and my jet lagged eyeballs to retire for the night.
The rest of the week included:
- One-hour massages, manis and pedis for Bagheera and me that came to a grand total of 190,000 VND (less than $10) for both of us.
- Dinner at a traditional Vietnamese restaurant in District 7 called the 404 (pronounced BOMB-LAY-BOMB) with chairs and tables that by Western standards would be considered kid-sized. We ate tamarind prawns, veggie noodles, grilled okra & eggplant over a bucket of glowing orange embers. Our co-patrons, all Vietnamese men, looked at us like we just stepped out of a movie – something we quickly became used to.
- Meeting with the recruitment manager at Vee You Ess language school that resulted in us booking a demo lesson the following Wednesday morning and securing a teaching position by Wednesday afternoon! We start on Saturday morning, bright and early!
- Celebrating our new jobs at dinner with Rhino and Pistol’s friend’s birthday dinner Wednesday night at a delicious Japanese pizza place. We met more expats who were very welcoming but alas, the nightly ritual of me almost plunging my face into the table as the result of jet lag happened again. *sigh* Thank goodness Bagheera fared better than me! She’s been keeping me on the straight and narrow while I get my wits about me and adjust to the time zone difference.
- Buying new smartphones and adding Rhino to Google Latitude so that if/when we get hopelessly lost, we just call him up, he looks for us on his Google map, finds us and either directs us somewhere we know or in an extreme circumstance comes and picks our lost asses up. We soon realised how creepy this feature was when Rhino texted Bagheera referencing her exact co-ordinates. Good thing we like the guy.
- Seeing the worst of the worst accommodations the city has to offer before finding our dream home! Dan the Man, the only real estate agent we should have worked with, really is The Man! He’s incredible at taking the few stipulations we had and finding three stellar properties, the third of which we ended up taking. This shouldn’t surprise us though because after signing our lease he mentioned that he had been featured on an episode of House Hunters International earlier in the year. This guy was so modest, he didn’t even mention these “credentials” until he’d already found us a place. We liked him so much (and he liked us) that we’ve made plans to have him and his girlfriend for dinner once we’re settled in.
- Moving into our new flat in Bình Thạnh district, right on the border of District 1, the district in which we will be working. The flat is huge with two equal-sized bedrooms, two bathrooms with suitable showers, huge open-concept kitchen and living room, AC in every room, balcony, laundry with outdoor laundry balcony, and two rooftop terraces. Our landlords are adorable and their 13-year-old son “Joe” (definitely his Western name) is our translator and he does an incredible job.
- Spending Friday afternoon at Vee You Ess signing contracts, receiving our orientation and getting prepped for our first day of work on Saturday. I’m teaching 9 and 10 year olds Saturday morning and I’ve got two more classes Sunday morning. Wish me luck!
So as I said, we didn’t get up to much during our first ten days or so in South East Asia. It’s too bad we’re not more adventurous. I guess we just need to get our acts together…
*All names have been changed to protect people’s privacy. Most of them would agree to let me use their real names but creating fake names for them was just too extraordinary an opportunity to pass up.