Monday, November 2, 2009

Random Blatherings.....again....

Sitting at the the only Wi-Fi Cafe in a town whose name I don't even remember (Cẩm Phả or something like that – about 20 miles East of Bai Chay/Halong City) at what appears to be thee only public Internet spot in this town. The Internet is not working, they tell me......guess I'll write this and cut-and-paste it into blogspot later. Still though, an OK margarita in a glass with salt and a little umbrella for 30,000 Dong (about $1.70USD) makes up for this place's lack of Internet......

It's an interesting-looking cafe....a kind of décor that's a mixture of bright orange and mustard yellow and avacado green vinyl booths (unintentional retro attempt at something that was hip in the mid-90's) and tables that have thee ugliest lavender-and-brown-and-white chairs in recorded history.

Damm me – I sooo wish that I had brought my camera. Instead, I brought my new laptop so I could watch The Bills-Carolina game in my hotel room in Bai Chay (and they won back-to-back road games....Christ, will wonders ever cease??).

But it's got these bizarre, little miniature sharks in an aquarium on the wall....dunno whether these are baby sharks, or if they only grow to a maximum of one foot long.

WAS gonna go to Hanoi (Geographically, thee closest thing to Hai Phong that MIGHT count as a “real” city), but I figgered that I MIGHT have three, four weeks left of decent beach weather this year, so I went to Bai Chay.

Left Bai Chay this afternoon because I was tired of being someplace I'd been four, five, six times before and had I known that Tam was gonna tell me to take Tuesday off from the school, I woulda went to Da Nang this weekend (Vietnam's fourth-largest city and a place that I have never been to and I really want to see – ESPECIALLY with an 800,000VND [$50USD] round-trip airfare from Hanoi airport).

So, when I got the info that I was relieved from work Tuesday, I wasn't sure what to do. Anytime away from Hai Phong is a nice time, but Bai Chay was getting tiresome, and hanging out at the beach alone drinking Tiger beer (buck twenty-five forra sixteen-ounce bottle served to you ice cold at your beach chair) wears thin after awhile, so when I woke up at 2PM (Bills game ended at 6:00AM Vietnam Time), I felt ambitious! What the hell? Me is gonna ride my scooter to the Chinese border.....maybe try to cross...whass the worst that can happen?

Well, THAT was a quick nix when I got about 40 miles east of Bai Chay/Halong City as the road turned into something that a fucking mountain goat couldn't traverse, and I could only safely manage 20 miles an hour on this road that looked like it never quite recovered from The American War (or, The Vietnam War, as we call it), and the sun was gonna set at 5:30pm, and it was 4:30 now.....and this was a rather narrow road with big-ass trucks and busses all over it.....and with 80-plus miles to get to Trung Quoc (or, as we call it, China)....this really wasn't gonna happen!

So, turned around, and went back to thee nearest decent sized town (Cẩm Phả, in this case), grabbed thee nicest-looking hotel that I could see (which wasn't difficult – look for any structure that's over 4 stories and that appears to be fairly clean) and decided to camp out there for the night. Decent small room with TV, fridge and Air-Conditioning for 220,000 Dong ($13USD) for the night.

And here I am....., let's go with the random blatherings......

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Doing a lot of free-lance work. This is where a group of parents will get their children together for a private class and contract with you to teach them. Being the communist that I am, I TRY to make Tieng Anh (“The English Language”) accessable to as many people as I can by making my per-hour teaching fee reasonable.

Yeah, freelancing DOES pay me slightly more than teaching at an established school, but I don't exploit it. For example, if a group of parents got their children together for a private English Language class taught by a native English speaker from one of the Big 7 (England, Ireland, Canada, The USA, New Zealand, Australia or South Africa) and approached one of the larger, established English Language schools to provide the classroom and the foreign teacher, shit – they are looking at ONE MILLION DONG ($60USD) PER HOUR! Thass about one-third the average monthly salary of a typical Hai Phongian (Hai Phonger?)!!

Then the established school turns around and pays the native-speaking English instructor his or her standard rate of 250,000 Dong ($15USD) per hour, and fucking pockets the rest!

There are some folks that actively DO exploit this, charging 575,000 Dong to 650,000 Dong ($35 - $40USD) per hour to freelance a private class. But because I'm one of only about twenty Americans in Hai Phong (and ten of those twenty don't teach – they work for U.S. multi-national corporations) and because I keep my rates reasonable.....well, work's been knocking at my door.

Hey – it keeps me busy......

Naw, I ain't into freelancing 'cause it pays me slightly more than working at an established English Language school.....nope. I do it because I don't hafta put up with bullshit and politics and back-stabbing and having to wear a shirt and tie and all the good stuff that goes with it that one deals with working for an established English Language school! Believe me, English as a Second Language teachers abroad (and ESPECIALLY in Vietnam) can be a really scary lot. I was blessed in the respect that I got along quite well with most of my fellow instructors (and many of those are still friends of mine where we go out and socialise and the like), but if you wanna see an example of the extreme, check
this forum and start reading......Jesus.......

The best freelancing gigs are the one's where your client just says: “Just simply have at it!! Do as you will!” and then YOU create the lesson plan. Established schools have you read “Hoa went to the market” and teach that over-and-over (rote-style learning) from the fun, thrill-packed and wildly creative Government-approved textbook. Still, when I HAVE to teach from that.... I ATTEMPT to make it as fun and interesting as possible.

Sometimes you get kids who want to do nothing but learn....and, well, sometimes, you get a group of kids who are Vietnam's next generation of street-sweepers and panhandlers and herion addicts (a pretty big problem here).....but still – can't imagine what else I'd rather be doing! LOT better than all (except for two) jobs that I've held in the past.....

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No Internet here in Cẩm Phả ......roads that a M-1 Abrams tank couldn't ride over, and cultural misunderstandings. As my friend (and the guy who was kind enough to cover for me at my school when I was Stateside for seven weeks this past summer) Dave explained to me - “T.I.V.”

...or, “This is Vietnam”

Things work a LOT differently here than they do in, say, The States. I could write volumes about this, but I'll tell you a couple quick examples.

On one freelancing gig, the client and I DID agree on the RATE of pay, but I had made certain that he understood that I wanted to be paid AFTER EVERY CLASS (as, I did NOT know this person at the time, and I also wanted some spending money for the week). Tam passed this information on to the client, and they agreed. Or so I though.....

Apparently, they never DID want to pay me after every class! No, they were NOT trying to scam me, but felt it a bit insulting (somehow) to them that they pay me after each and every class!

I say they “somehow” felt this insulting because A HUGE AMOUNT (like, maybe 75+%) of services in Viet Nam (like class fees/tuition, contractor/construction, and MANY other services) ARE DEMADED to be paid for AND ARE paid for UP FRONT BEFORE the service is provided. So, based on this common practice, I could not understand WHY they felt insulted by my stipulation!

I mean, I have one private tutor student that I have had for quite a while now. What I do is I tutor this student for a month's worth of sessions. Then, the first week of the next month, I send a bill home with this student for their parents, and the student comes back with payment at the next class. I know the student, this student's parents have always been I bill them after-the-fact (which is standard in The States). Never had anything resenbling an issue.

Anyways, WHERE the cultural misunderstanding came in is directly after I performed my first class for this client. After the class (which was at a Public School way out in B.F.E....and the client drove Tam and I out there so I'd know where it is exactly for next time), when the client dropped us off at my house, Tam and I were getting out of his SUV and I said: “Oh, shit...forgot.....uhhhhhhh.....uhhh....the payment?”

“Oh, yeah.....I'll explain that to you when we get inside” Tam stated.

I almost blew a gasket......smelt a scam coming here.......BUT, I got out of the client's SUV and thanked the client, and walked inside my house.

“Errmm.....Tam? Sure hope you did get my money for this class I just did like was agreed upon?”

“, actually, it's like this......”

I felt the fun feeling of just having worked for free creep up inside of me and I almost lost it.

“WHAT THE FUCK, Tam? This client AGREED to pay me after EACH CLASS!”

“E, do you want your money now?? Fuck it – I'LL pay you now........”

“, I DID get scammed....???”

“No, no.....Jesus Christ.....sit down.......”

THIS is basically what went down: Tam explained it to me that Vietnamese people (AND, from what many sources have told me, Asian people in general) have severe difficulty in saying the word “no”! This is thee most bizarre thing that has ever been explained to me, but it is a fact!! So, when this client agreed to pay me after each class, he actually APPEARED to agree.

This is HOW a Vietnamese APPEARS to agree to something – what occurs is that you are in negotiations with a Vietnamese person. You will put in a condition that the Vietnamese person finds objectionable, but since they have tremendous difficulty saying the word “no”, they will say the Vietnamese equilvent of “Yeah....OK....sure.....whatever....” in a deadpan voice (like we do).

This is NOT meant at all to be disrespectful (unlike how it is used in English – where it disrespectfully dismisses somebody and their intentions and/or ideas), but rather it is intended to make all things during the negotiations go harmoniously and to keep a happy feeling of cooperation. This is no shit – this is a fact! It creates boatloads of misunderstandings between Tay and Viet.....but it IS thee way things are done here.

And what about the Vietnamese equilivent of “yeah yeah.....sure....whatever”?? What THAT ends up meaning literally is that “We'll hash out the details later – I am happy now that we have reached an agreement-in-principle....please do not disturb my happy feeling with what I feel is nit-picking.”

Anyways, this client paid me after the second class and, since I am now doing two classes per week for him, he has paid me after the second class of every week. A good guy, actually, and we plan to expand our working relationship to do even more classes in the near future!

BUT....BUT.....NOW that this HAS INDEED been explained to me, it does make me realise how, in in my past dealings with Vietnamese here, that I was NOT being scammed, but rather, it is the culturally-accepted norm of executing negotiations over here.......

…..which, sadly, begs the question: Does this mean that when an American person enters into an oral agreement with a Vietnamese person in The States, that the American person can change things that they INITIALLY agreed to, because they did not wish to disrupt the feeling of harmony during the negotiations? Or are we just way too litigious and uptight as a society?

Another T.I.V. Moment came when I had two students of mine at my school come up to Tam and I and explain that they could no longer attend out school. When I asked why, they stated that they have to attend another class at this time.

“WHAT other class? Is it another private English school?? Are you unhappy with the way we've been teaching you?”

“Khong! Khong! ('No! No!'). This is a different subject, in a class held by my Public School teacher”


Tam nodded and understood immediately!

Basically, Public Schools, their teachers, and how students achieve a passing grade work a LOT differently here than they do in The States.

These two students were victims of the “Sooooo-
HOW-badly-do-you-want-to-pass-this-class?” scam!

Uhhh, E?? What the fuck is the “Sooooo-
HOW-badly-do-you-want-to-pass-this-class?” scam??!?? like this. Teachers in Viet Nam command a great deal of respect. Even non-performing ones. And passing classes at Public School and University is not only important, but it brings MUCH dishonour to a student AND their family to bring home an unacceptable grade. There is a LOT, a LOT more societial pressure for a student here not to fuck up than there is in The States.

So why not take advantage of this intense socital pressure and use it to make a few extra Dong?

Soooooo......what Public School teachers do is they teach their normal class during the day (which is EITHER: 7am to 11:30am OR 1pm to 5pm, depending on the grade. Because of severe school overcrowding, older kids go half the day and younger kids go half the day - six days per week) and, in the late afternoons or during the evenings, the Public School teacher will hold a special sort of “helper-tutoring” class.

Oh....and this class is held at an additional tuition/fee.

And you WILL buy your special texts and materials from the Public School teacher herself!! Not from anywhere else.

Now, even if you are WILL attend these classes.

What?? You feel that you easily comprehend the material in class and you don't feel that you need to attend this “supplimental education”? Or that you have better things to do with your evenings??

Again: “Sooooo-

T.I.V., baby....T.I.V.........

More in a few weeks....



HRD said...

I find cultural differences amusing. It's amazing how you have to adjust your expectations when you spend time in another country, and it would be the same thing for a Vietnamese person living in America ... that is, if they were to attempt to assimilate into the local culture as you are doing, rather than form their own closed communities and forcing their host country to conform to THEIR imported culture.

Whoops, slid into a bit of a rant there ...

I'd love to live in Italy for a spell at some point. However, unlike France the internet access in Italy is generally awful compared to the high-speed access we're used to in the densely-populated areas of the States. If you want it fixed, you have to understand that "tomorrow" means "in two weeks or so". All things happen slowly. The pace of life is quite different than I'm used to.

One culture isn't better than another, you just have to learn how to adapt to the differences. Or, as many people who emigrate to the states do, don't assimilate and force the host country to adapt to YOU.

I'm guessing if there's an ATM in Viet Nam the first question it asks you is NOT "Press 1 for Vietnamese or press 2 for English."

E said...

Actually, every ATM in Vietnam has "Press one for Vietnamese, 2 for English" ;-)


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