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.

Our recent Holiday in Jordan

We started with a long drive down to Tala Bay – staying at the Movenpick resort was just the ticket!

After a three day stay we ventured up to Wadi Rum, a fantastic trip into the dessert and Cathie went on a balloon ride, resulting in some lovely pictures.

Cathie’s Pictures

Cathie’s Balloon Ride

After Wadi Rum we ventured up to Little Petra and then Dana, spending a night in each.

Little Petra

Shoback Castle and Dana

Um Al-Jimal & Poppies

We set off about 10.30am to visit an ancient basalt city that had fallen victim to the earth quakes around 600AD up near the Syrian border – the place is rarely visited and I can’t imagine why, apart from the fact it is free it is just wonderful.

On route via Jerash to Rehab and then Masraq we passed through some lovely farmland, the whole area had been enlivened by the recent rain and the poppies and other wild flowers where starting to come out – I am still searching for a Black Iris.

Poppies near Jerash

Here is a slide show of some of the flowers we found.

Umm Al-Jimal is a fantastic – get a car and go take a look.

Here is a pic of the main tower, I think it has been re-built but the walls are surrounded by collapsed ruins.

Tower Um Al-Jimal
Tower Um Al-Jimal

Some of the highlights can be seen in this slide show.

Iraq Al-Amir Handicraft Village

Todays little adventure starts at the 8th circle, we turn right and out towards Iraq Al-Amir to visit the handicrafts market, see some caves, an old Roman ruin, a Roman Aqueduct – I am pleased to say that we found all of these.

But, why is it not possible to place some very clear signs – brown ones, there is one! Anyway, if you venture out on the Wadi as-Seer road you will need to turn left onto the Iraq A-Ameer Street, which takes out to the market, if in doubt ask at the police station that you will find at an intersection – it is in the middle of the road, I think in the middle of the Wadi as-Seer township.

The markets are terrific, established by Queen Noor to provide employment for local craft makers, lovely hand made paper pieces, pottery and various other craft pieces.

About 3klms before the markets you will catch a glimps of the Aqueduct – there is a picture in the slide show.

One the hillside overlooking the markets you will find the caves, and about 1kl further down the road you will find a terrific pre- Roman Ruin called Qasr al-Abad.

The area is just outside Amman and you feel it is little changed, small farms are plentiful with pretty surrounding scenery and there are plenty of wild herbs growing: drill, some wild basil and nettles.

Enjoy the slide show.

Twinkle Toes

After a bit of a big night at the January Internations function held at the Grappa Restaurant in Amman a number of teachers and students from the Amman Baccalaureate School headed of to a refugee camp populated by people from Gaza who had been dispossessed of their land. This is not a small group of refugees and number about 35,000 and they live on the outer area of Jerash, which is about 50klms North West of Amman.

Twinkle Toes is an initiative to distribute shoes and clothing – the ABS students support the programme as part of their IB CAS committements.  We set off at 8.45am in two buses, one full of shoes, the other with us!

On arrival the buses entered a narrow lane and pull up outside some typical Jordan houses: square, flat roofed and made of cement and brick. The weather is kind, not cold and the rain has stopped. Children began to appear, smiling and with warm greetings. The bus was quickly unloaded and the shoes set out on the open roof of one of the houses.

The process is simple. Diagrams of shoe sizes one set for the boys and the other for girls are laid out on the cement surface which is still wet from the early morning rain. The plastic bags containing the shoes are placed around the perimeter – we are ready.

At first it is relatively orderly with children and their mothers or fathers queueing up the stairs to the roof. But within no time the crowd expands and there are some difficult moments on the stairway with young children crying and Mum’s getting agitated.  However, with a bit of intervention and crowd control we get most of the children fitted with a pair of shoes, socks and some clothing.

The ABS teachers and students keep cool under the increasing pressure and at about mid-day it is decided to finish up and leave the dispensing of the remainder of the  shoes and clothing to the leaders of the group – possibly this is a better way to arrange things, but desperate people are desperate.

It is difficult to comprehend the plight of this community, they have no rights and rely entirely on this type of provisioning. Apparently, Jordan does not want to grant citizen ship in the belief that come the negotiated peace with Israel over the occupied land, the Gaza refugees would be able to return to their country – this is a pipe dream and simply a very sad situation, a kind of case-22 in the craziest of senses.

Hope you enjoy the slide show!