ESL, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Yesterday…In my Normal Life

5 Comments 19 December 2008

Isn't this how all cities are wired?  This is completely normal!

Isn't this how all cities are wired? This is completely normal!

I had a funny little day yesterday. The scary part is that I’m starting to believe this is normal for my life in Vietnam. My definition of normal has slowly changed over the last three months. I often wonder what my friends in the US would think…is this normal? I will let you be the judge.

I woke up to the cleaning lady ringing the doorbell to the apartment at 8:30AM. Now I normally don’t sleep that late, but in my defense, I’ve been sick. The cleaning lady proceeds to leave her shoes outside and comes in and cleans the whole apartment for the next 3 hours PLUS doing my ironing for the grand total of $6. This seems like a totally normal price to me – so what if I used to pay $60 for that in NYC and there was no sign of an iron being picked up. As I puttered around getting my breakfast I noticed a stream of ants in my kitchen…damn…I knew they would find me; it’s inevitable in the tropics. However – I was prepared for the ants – every piece of food is in it’s own little piece of plastic armor; a zip lock bag. I take my cereal out of the box and immediately put it in a zip lock, my tea bags are zip locked, my crackers are zip locked, my pasta is zip locked…so why the hell are these ants in my kitchen?! I motion to my cleaning lady and point at the ants. We watch them march up into the cupboards and around the secure zip lock bags (this is easy to see as the cupboards are clear plastic just for this purpose – to see bugs – it’s like human night vision). My cleaning lady knows no English at all. She assesses the ant situation and mimes the action for a spray can and makes the ‘psssttttttt’ noise pointing towards the ant army. Apparently there is an international sound for bug spray. Hmmm – we had a whole conversation without saying a word…normal?

Completely normal - standing in oncoming traffic spraying down the road...I love it!

Completely normal - standing in oncoming traffic spraying down the road...I love it!

After lathering up with mosquito lotion I get to work. I spent the morning working trying to make a living writing and doing IT consulting. Around lunch time I walked out to the corner, dodging the motorbikes driving on the street, to meet my motorbike taxi driver, Nam. We sped off to the post office where I had to pick up some package that was mailed to me at school. I went inside, and figured out where to go after about 10 min. of trying to read signs that I didn’t understand. I proceeded to wait 40 minutes after I gave them my claim slip and passport number for someone to pull a CD sized envelope out of the back room and give it to me. Finding my inner patience…the key to survival here.

I got back on the motorbike taxi and went to the school to teach my elementary students. I was doing a review on past simple tense and used the song Yesterday to help them understand the concept. After about 5 times of listening to the song, they were able to put the lyrics in order and we all sang the song for the 5th time. I hate karaoke, and here I am belting out Yesterday in the name of learning…what has happened to me?

Nam picked me up after work and we started to head back to my apartment. While sitting at a busy traffic light inhaling petrol fumes he asked me in broken English if I wanted to learn how to drive a motorbike. “Yes, I do want to learn how to drive myself, but I’m scared!” I said. He said, “Easy, I teach you in hour.” With this last statement he started to pull over to the side and slow down…I quickly realized that he meant ‘learn NOW’…not ‘learn in general’. “Oh, no, no, no – I cannot learn tonight! There is too much traffic and I don’t think I’m ready!” Nam kindly understands my sheer terror of the thought of learning to drive a motorbike during rush hour and speeds back up and heads towards home. I kept wondering if Nam understood that if he taught me how to ride, he was out of a job! However, I loved his ‘just do it’ attitude…so as he dropped me off at the little mini-mart across the street from my apartment, I said, “If there is a place with no traffic, I can go on Saturday morning and try to learn.” He seemed all excited about it, and we made a ‘driving lesson date’. God help me.

Washing dishes in the street...why not?!

Washing dishes in the street...why not?!

At the mini-mart I sat in the isle looking at bug spray for about 15 minutes. I was shopping by pictures as there was little to no English on the cans. I decided to go with the Vietnam brand instead of Raid – it was ¼ the price. Plus – it made me laugh…the one piece of English on the can read “kills most pets”. I had no doubt that if it killed most pets that it would kill my ants…sold. As a side note, I was assuming it meant pests…at least I hope so! I picked up a jar of pasta sauce and headed to home. I walked past the hookers at the brothel in my alley and smiled nicely and said Sin Chao (hello)…ahhhh…neighbors.

I sprayed for ants, and watched old MTV videos from the 80’s on tv while my pasta cooked. Since I have no forks in the apartment, I ate my pasta and sauce with chop sticks sitting in front of the tv watching Pat Benatar. I even made myself a little Gin and Tonic; without ice of course.

Finally, I put the padlock on the door and went up to bed…just another normal day in Vietnam.

Your Comments

5 Comments so far

  1. Lynn Nill says:

    You know Sherry, I’m missing little details of your life. You have an apartment! You started an IT consulting business! Both these items were surprises to me. I’m really looking forward to your visit and getting to catch up. I also think it will be interesting for you and Daniel to compare notes. He’s started doing some private tutoring and does research for an econ professor in Taipei (that one is volunteer), so you are both branching out.

    In Taipei there are jobs cleaning up English translations for people. I don’t know how well they pay but I wonder if there are jobs like that in HCMC?

  2. admin says:

    Yes Lynn – we do have a bunch to catch up on – hopefully of a lovely glass of wine! However – nothing is as glamorous as it might seem – I”m still basically struggling along just trying to figure out a direction! Can’t wait to see you!

  3. Linda says:

    Sounds totally normal. And also like lots of fun.

    I suggest buying a Spork to solve your pasta-eating problem though (if it is a problem? Pasta with chopsticks sounds like an interesting challenge).

  4. Marie says:

    Hi Sherry,
    I can see this is an old post but I just had to click on it when I saw the pic of the electricity nest. I had one just like it outside of my bedroom window when I lived in Saigon. I’m also an English teacher but am back in New Zealand now.I love your blog and I have a feeling I’m going to spend a lot of time reading and finding out where you went next!
    Signed fellow teacher, blogger, misser-of-Vietnam,

    • admin says:

      Thanks Marie! How long ago did you live in Vietnam? Isn’t it funny how we miss it when we are gone – yet when I was there it was full of challenges!

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Sherry traveling the world

I'm Sherry, a corporate cube dweller turned nomadic traveler. I travel to off-the-beaten-path destinations to bring you unique travel experiences and photography. But it's not just about travel, it's also about life experiences of a middle age wanderer.
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