Reflection on first year in Vietnam

I started this a year ago and never finished the first line, what follows is a bit of a short summay of the first year.

I have started a new job as Director of Technology at the International School of Ho Chi Mnh City, August 2012. On my own, Cathie will join me after Xmas. Settling in to a new set of surroundings is always difficult, but the only way is to get out and about. On waking I was greeted with the most beautiful sun rise over the wide expanse of the Saigon River, which slowly meandered along past my third floor balcony view…..the school had put me up in a resort next to the school, after a short flirtation with the idea of living in the community, I eventually found myself ensconced in a lovely one bedroom apartment.

The most difficult adjustment for me was simply the humidity, i just resembled a tap and whilst keen to get out and look around i quickly found that I needed to change my approach. To give you an example, I am used to shopping locally at home in Melbourne and whilst there is a small shop on site I wanted to visit the local supermarket, I chose the one across the double lane highway, four lanes each way! I had read that to cross a road just walk out and the bikes will avoid you, I don’t recall the advice including what to do about cars, cement trucks, buses and huge lorries stacked with all many of things. So, i observed for a while, there was a tricky set of lights where bikes lined up waiting for a green light, but this only applied to some many just rode into the oncoming traffic, and when the light turned green, there was much anticipation of this event, the riders would sweep around and across the road in a rather frantic but well organised charge. I then noticed some locals who seemed to share my trepidation, so I sidled up and used what I been taught in Rome to use a human shield to cross the road, well obviously we all made it and by using the more or less walk straight out technique, but not when crazy bus or lorry drivers where in abundance….lesson 1 learnt use common sense.

The supermarket called Metro is a wholesale place, and for businesses, but as an expat I got in after much gesticulation and by handing over my drivers license, i am always wary handing over cards of any sort for fear I may never see them again! I need not have worried as the card was returned with a huge smile and a delightful and respectful ushering towards a lady dressed in traditional dress who scanned my card and who instructed me in perfect English…don’t lose that and show when paying….ok I said.

I love a good shop, and the place had aircond – putting aside environmental concerns as to where the power came from – I had a ball looking around and buying some cheap local beer, some wine and nothing to eat. I then set off back across the road back to my apartment, about 30 minutes, and it is something I have never done again: dangerous and dehydrating ensuring the beer was quickly consumed.

I have since discovered taxis are excellent and affordable, there is free bus and a boat into the city, And also a bus service that goes to the aforementioned Metro, all included in the rental charge, which I must admit is tad high, but then I do have a bar 10m away out my back door: there is also a pool, gym and tennis courts, I did venture into the gym once, no twice, the first time made ill and the second confirmed the feeling, so,I adopted Oscar Wilde’s suggestion …when I feel the urge to exercise I rest on a bed until the urge passes…seems good advice to me.

The first days at school where uneventful, I have seen it all before, I was asked to talk briefly to the staff and I did so, only person to do so without a bloody powerPoint, One person came up latter and said to me..thanks for your nice little talk we were reassured…she left it at that, and I was a bit perplexed as to whether I had reassured the staff I was another IT dick head or somebody that was about meeting their needs, thankfully it turned out to be the latter. I won’t go into details, but the year turned out to be one of fixing things e.g. Network, getting new servers, doing a budget and starting the process of accountability for expenditure based on clearly stated educational and administrative objectives, qualitative and quantitative ones..the idea of objectives and plans did seem to strange to many it seemed. Apparently it had been a case of, if you want something fill in a PO (purchase order ) and you get it…i said that is not budgeting or planning is it? Anyway, much was achieved in the first year and all of the credit goes to the highly skilled IT team, by far the best I have worked with by a country mile.

I tend to use colloquial Aussie language with a liberal sprinkling of rhyming slang picked up mostly from Dad, and also wise sayings I learnt from a Yorkshireman who told me when I was computer sales rep..if you want to know how somebody thinks find out how they get paid..i will return to that idea in a subsequent blog about Budgeting and Planning.

The IT team operates as a respectful family, this is their core value, we help each other and I quickly learnt that what was important was the outcome not necessarily the process, Vietnamese have there ways of doing things and these work, well mostly, but ways certainly do not work all the time either!

I have taken it upon myself to try and explain a few of my sayings, this is usually meet with much laughter and obvious …what is he talking about…., here is an example:

Running with the hares and hounds….this necessitated a discussion of the practice of the upper landed classes in England fox and hare hunting, in the end the general idea of two bob each way or having your cake and eating it, was understood, and yes there are always plenty of examples in schools, deputy heads responsible for staff welfare, for instance, rarely stand up to the Head, in fact one of my pet hates is bosses who will not disagree with their boss or bosses.

The year ended and for some reason know only to the good Lord or rock spirit or the cat fish the parent company decided it would install a new admissions system during the June and July the busiest period, do a timetable without reference to room numbers or student choices and to cap it of install a new student admin system the week before school starts without the timetable being complete. Dick Head Andy pointed out, I must say it was one of my better direct missives, that this was all likely to end in tears, put people under undue stress, against all principles of IT projects and straight bloody idiotic, possibly the last word was what got the powers in a flap, who knows and I don’t much care.

The above necessitated a new saying … there is whiff of dick head in the air … Seemed to bring much mirth to a few people I used it with.

Fortunately because of pure luck, the professionalism of the teachers and the remarkable tolerance of the kids, othe kids are in classes happy and being taught, the IT staff worked three weeks straight including weekends otherwise this fairy start would not have happened.

My dear wife tells me I have an ability to predict the future, in so far as that maybe the case, it is a curse rather than a blessing as they say.

The following blogs will concentrate on our many trips and all the wonderfully positive things we have experienced, I hope you get some enjoyment reading each…there will be pics too! Love to all.