Goodbye Hanoi, Hello Dong Hoi!

After hearing I was in for a ten hour ride from Hanoi, my first reaction was to Google “sleeper bus Vietnam”, which resulted in a long list of (mostly) horror stories about uncomfortable beds, rude passengers, and dangerous drivers. My experience on the sleeper bus to Hanoi was anything but that.

After the morose goodbyes to fellow teachers and a quick stop at Jeff’s new pad (see previous post), I loaded my two suitcases onto this big red bus and climbed into my upper deck seat, B9. I immediately knew I was in for a good ride.

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Jaundiced Mickey Mouse
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Shoes off! Like most places in Vietnam.

The seats on the sleeper bus were half seat, half bed. The back of the seat was adjustable from 90 degrees to around 15 degrees. My legs extended under the back of the seat in front of me, granting the average-sized Viet plenty of room to stretch out, and granting me adequate room to snuggle in close.

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Party bus.

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Excited for the journey.

The bus had A/C, blankets, and pillows…I could have lived on this bad boy.

After some reading and writing, I passed out, groggily rousing only when the bus stopped for restroom and food breaks and when the driver woke me up because it was time for me to get off.

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One of the stops. Restrooms, a small cafeteria-type restaurant and a little concession stand made up this stopping point.

My debarking stop was, in fact, not Dong Hoi. I was dropped off at 4:30AM in Le Thuy, a small town south of Dong Hoi.

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4:30AM. I’m either in the right place, or I’m about to be on Vietnam Taken.

Around 4:45AM was when Thu, the twenty-one year old recent university graduate who is my teaching assistant and new Ngoc (sort of. Don’t worry Ngoc, you’re irreplaceable) arrived on her motorbike. We chatted over bowls of pho and cups of coffee as the sleepy village woke up and the cattle come out from wherever they spent the night.

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Ahhh, reminds me of New Knoxville.
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Pretty standard Quang Binh school. An open courtyard surrounded by classroom buildings. No A/C, but fans and TVs that are hooked up to laptops. Most of the courtyards also have a volleyball court and net.

Mr. Ninh, the director of Quang Binh Globe, arrived a couple hours later. We all traveled (by motorbike, of course) to our first school of the morning.

It seems to me that Quang Binh Globe is in the process of recruiting primary and secondary schools into their program. I’m not entirely sure what that means – that’s just what I’ve gathered from questions I’ve asked and little bits of conversation I can pick up. I’ve been in three of these recruitment meetings so far. As the conversation is between Mr. Ninh, Thu, and the principal of the school, these meetings remind of me of when my parents used to spell words when they were talking about me. I can pick up some words, like Richard Felty, Quang Binh Global, and English. Thankfully, though, they keep me well stocked with coffee and tea in these meetings, so I can’t complain.

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I should mention that we took a stop at something of a town center (maybe Le Thuy’s town center? I’m not quite sure) where a volleyball tournament was going on.
As were boat race practices.
As were boat race practices.

After our first meeting, Thu took me to the Le Thuy market. What a harrowing place to be introduced to the Vietnamese market scene. I think every stallholder asked if Thu and I were together (lovers, married, any variation of the sort). We picked up some clams, shrimp, and vegetables, and headed out to Thu’s house for my first Vietnamese home-cooked lunch.

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Shrimp, water spinach, fresh greens, and baby clams.
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Thu and me. Photo cred: Mr. Ninh
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Apparently shots of rice wine are customary upon meeting someone for the first time. Either that or Mr. Ninh needed a late-morning drinking partner. But I’m never one to argue against shots.

It was on Tuesday morning that I finally arrived in Dong Hoi City and checked in to the Quang Binh Lottery, the hotel that is now my home. A/C, Wifi, cable TV with some English channels, a double bed – all the standard accouterments you would find in any western hotel room.

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Rooms include your very own lizard! My roommate for the night.

I also sort of led my first class on Tuesday, though I quickly found out that the class was actually a photo opportunity for Globe’s recruitment document.

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I like this photo. Really brings out my sweat stains.
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Thu and me. And my sweat stains.
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More sweat stains. And adults raising their hands.

Tuesday evening, after returning to the hotel, I met my first expat in Dong Hoi! Day, is a 51 year old Australian who spends half of the year refereeing football (read: soccer) in Australia and half of the year lounging around Dong Hoi. Not a bad life at 51. Our first evening, we went to the beach.

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Beautiful evening on the South China Sea.

Wednesday, we went to Phong Nha Caves, a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site (one of eight in Vietnam). Check out the Wikipedia page and better pictures than I took.

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Vietnam’s version of the Hollywood sign.
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Access to the mouth of the cave is granted only by boat over a bay. Our boat at 8 passengers – two Dutch veterinarians, a Spanish couple, a mother/daughter duo from Israeli, Day, and me.
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Entering the cave. The motor on boat shuts off, and the captain paddles us in.
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After a loop in the cave in the boat, we hopped out and hiked 600 steps to the mouth of another cave. Here’s the view with which we were rewarded.

Thursday and Friday, we bummed around the beach, met some expats at different restaurants, and he showed me the sites of little Dong Hoi. It’s been great having Day around to help me learn the ins and outs of being an expat in the city.

Work began again on Saturday, when Thu and I took an hour bus ride north to Ba Don district for another recruitment meeting.

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Standard Vietnamese countryside.
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And again.

This time, the meeting was with the principal of a school and two new teachers, both my age. After the meeting, we yoots zipped off for a beachside dinner of new foods.

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The eggs are called trung cut. They are fertilized eggs that have been hardboiled. The leafy things are wrapped around shrimp pot sticker-type things. Called bahn loc (I think).
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The inside of the egg.

Sunday brought me to the front of the class again to lead a short lesson for some teachers at a school in Ba Don. The class was very unstructured, so naturally, after about ten minutes of introductions and general chitchat, we settled on the topic of the differences between American football and soccer.

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A couple more lessons and they’ll all be bleeding scarlet and gray.
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On our coffee break. I think every single student took a picture with me.

I came back to Dong Hoi Sunday afternoon. One of the restaurants Day and I went to is called the Tree Hugger Cafe. This with its Little Free Library, chairs of all sizes, and excellent coffee, beer, and local food selection (though nearly all food in Vietnam is “locally sourced”) could have very well be found in the Short North. Anna, the German expat and owner, runs a weekly English Circle for Dong Hoi residents who want to practice conversational English. I joined them Sunday evening for a historic bike ride around Dong Hoi. It was a fun way to spend an evening, and something I’m sure I’ll revisit often.

This week was full of ups and downs. I was riding an incredible high from my time in Hanoi when I arrived in Le Thuy, so the culture shock was intensely challenging. I think I expected to just hit the ground running, with no need for an adjustment period. In the beginning of the week, I found myself overcome with a sense of panic and uncertainty. I was hot, I didn’t know where I was, where to buy food or drinks or anything, what anyone was saying, what I should be doing. Thanks to the wise counsel of friends, family, and the teachers I met in Hanoi, however, those feelings have since melted away and been replaced by an awesome sense of adventure. This is why I applied to work in Vietnam. I wanted to be challenged. I wanted to experience one year totally different from my previous 22. It’s only been a week, but I really feel like I’m getting the hang of this whole living abroad thing.

I still don’t know when I officially start teaching. There’s a contract floating around somewhere with my signature on it, but it didn’t give an official start date. I haven’t heard anything about starting on September 1st, and September 2nd is Independence Day. So perhaps September 3rd will be the start of the actual reason I’m here? In the meantime, I’m enjoying adjusting and adapting to a new world. Living my the beach doesn’t hurt.

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6 thoughts on “Goodbye Hanoi, Hello Dong Hoi!

  1. Love your blog! What adventures! Love how you write too. Hugs from all of the DeFeres. Looking forward to more updates. Take a pic of Day!

    Xo

    Like

  2. Dad gave me the blog info yesterday. Had fun checkin’ you out this morning. Will share with T. Great pictures, keep the good news coming. Frank

    Like

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