I don't remember the exact moment I realized it, but at some point I came to terms with the fact that I would have to leave dreamland. I was in denial for awhile, continually extending because of one excuse or another -- mostly because I was on a very tight budget and I could self-sustain easily at the hostel -- but I woke up one day and knew I needed to get a real job somewhere I could legally work. I had a few options: I could go back to the states and hustle my ass off in New York until someone would pay me to photograph things, or I could go to Italy and apply for artist residencies and do some more work exchange until I found something paid, or I could go teach English in Asia.
Asia was never on my radar. I was fully engrossed in Europe and had planned on sticking around there for awhile, until my friends would slap me with the truth every so often: "Aren't you worried about being illegal?" It sank in after awhile and I realized, to my dismay, I actually had to leave. That took Italy off the table, and soon after I realized it was not a realistic time to take on New York with my lack of $$$.
My friend Sara, who I had met at my first hostel (Art City) in Barcelona, has been teaching English in Vietnam for around 3 years and had mentioned on several occasions that it was a great place to save money and live very comfortably. The whole thing fell into place rather quickly: she gave me her school's contact info, I applied, I was interviewed via Skype three days later, and was hired and sent a contract that day. I booked a ticket, sorted out my visa paperwork, and the rest is history. Anyone interested in teaching here, shoot me an email. I can point you in the right direction.
I've been here in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly and known by many as Saigon) for almost 2 weeks now and the whole thing has been really expeditious and surreal... In my first 24 hours I had to find affordable accommodation for my first month. I found a room in what is known by the other expats as "The Alley" just by rocking up to all the buildings that had "ROOM FOR RENT" signs on the doors. After about 3 hours of hauling my shit from door to door, I found a room in a share house, which is basically just a hotel-style room (double bed, bathroom, closet, TV, fridge, desk) but it's perfect for now. The daughter of the landlord made up a handwritten contract on the spot and I was solid for the month. I kind of can't believe how little I paid for this place: $280 USD for the month, which includes all utilities, and GET THIS: they do my laundry whenever I need it done and they clean the place twice a week. WTF. Ok. Welcome to Vietnam.
Where do I begin? Street food every five feet, motorbikes flooding the roads like nothing you've ever seen, the most absurd nightlife, the colorful streets full of locals and expats sitting in small plastic chairs drinking ca phe da (Vietnamese iced coffee) and beer on ice (haha), the fresh juice/smoothie shops on every corner, the fact that you can get pho and noodles everywhere and any time for less than $3 USD, the strange amount of KFC's, the unique brand of ultra-polite Vietnamese hospitality, being able to order and drink out of a coconut at any restaurant... And (finally) I've found a country that celebrates fair skin -- all the skincare products for women contain whitening agents, which is lame because I really don't need to be any whiter, but COOL that you guys are into it.
I started -- or more like 'was aggressively thrown into' -- teaching first-graders on Monday of last week. I can't even... just... I'll give the full rundown on that in another post... #carnage
A couple things I've learned:
- You must take your shoes off when entering anyone's home. And some shops.
- Women are expected to dress a certain way that is much more conservative than I'm used to (especially given how hot it is here). Women also don't have blonde hair or tattoos. My first week I felt very out of place and uncomfortable, like I was some sort of alien. I am getting to feel more comfortable the longer I'm here though.
- If you look like a "Westerner" (i.e. hailing from Western civilization), you will get regularly harassed. Western expats working in Vietnam are making approximately 13x the wage of the Vietnamese, so if you look Western, you're considered "rich", and the locals will aggressively try to sell you things.
- Being a Westerner also makes you a target for theft. I don't ever carry a purse -- cash and phone in front pockets at all times.
- You can live like a total V.I.P. here on what the U.S. and Europe would consider very little cash. Like, cocktails on 20th-story rooftop terraces and all-you-can-drink wine and cheese nights are a totally standard and affordable thing (for an expat) to do after work.
- You will inevitably get food poisoning at some point (I haven't yet... knock on wood). TIP: Only eat street food if you see locals eating it, and avoid street meat in tourist areas -- if they're selling to tourists, they could give a shit less if it's gross and contaminated. If they're selling to their own neighbors, you know it's legit.
Saigon, you cray. I kinda love it. I love the excitement of the newness and culture shock. It's also refreshing to actually generate steady income and live like a real human again after being a hostel bum for a year.
So, who's coming to visit? ;)