Monday, September 28, 2009

Househunting - I spoke too soon!!

After feeling so positive about house hunting yesterday, I might have known I'd put the mockers on it! So, let me tell you a story...

The Beginning

So, Hanh finds a nice looking house which is halfway between her work and my work. A three bedroom house which was said to have a lot of mod-cons and to be new. What's more, the price was very reasonable! Too good to be true. Anyways, Hanh called the landlady, arranged a viewing for a couple of hours later and we set off in search of the house. Needless to say, it started to rain en route but that didn't dampen our spirits. After getting lost multiple times, several through rather small alleyways that are so typically in Vietnamese back roads, we found our new dream home. :-)

The Middle

We pulled upto the house and it really did look beautiful. There was a freshly painted gate out front to meet us with a small patio area leading to the front door. Perfect for keeping bikes out during the day without having to bring them into the house. We walked into the house and the living area had a 3 piece suite, tv and cabinet....ideal I thought! Later I slumped into the chair and thought to myself: "I could be happy here!". Further in was the kitchen. Whilst not equiped with anything more than a gas stove and AC, it was very large with an ample sized table and 4 chairs. I was starting to think that we wouldn't be looking much further. Upstairs were 2 very large bedrooms with AC, bed frames (with no mattresses) and usually bedroom brigadier such as wardrobes and chest-of-drawers. Oh yeh, I forgot to mention they were both en suite. Anyhows, we went back downstairs and Hanh spoke with the landlady. We both (Hanh and I) that we liked the place, relayed that to the landlady and she told Hanh the price.

The beginning of the end

The price quoted was $110 higher than agreed. (I wasn't aware of this at that point) Hanh told her that we would think about it and we drove home. I knew that the price would be higher (the foreigner tax) and for the house, the price wasn't unwholly unreasonable. Besides, I really liked the house so I was willing to pay it. On the drive home, my better half started to have doubts about the safety of the area. I hadn't really considered it. Since the house was down a smallish alleyway it would be difficult to take a taxi and she didn't really feel comfortable with either of us driving there too late at night. So with that in mind we visited the place late one night and found the area to be family friendly, not too difficult to get to and we felt it would be a safe place to live as the other surrounding houses were also similar to what we had just seen. We put the initial fears down to the fact that when we first went it was raining pretty heavily and we hadn't really been looking around at the area as conditions weren't conducive to it!

What happened next?

Don't get me wrong, the landlady seemed pretty nice and for all I know is an honest and trustworthy person. We just went on a hunch. Since she would be taking our deposit (a sizeable amount of money, especially in Vietnam) we needed to feel absolutely safe with our money. The small event which followed created enough doubt for both of us to pull the plug.

After the inital rent requirement, we decided that we wouldn't pay anymore than the original agreed rent. The landlady (LL) pondered it for a while, and accepted, we thought we had a deal. However, then some strange things started to happen. I wasn't party to them since my Vietnamese is bordering on non-existent. First, the LL since reluctant to meet at the house to sign the contract and hand over the deposit. She said that we'd already since the place so why did we want to see it again? Hmmm, what is there to hide? Secondly, she was pushing Hanh to sign the Vietnamese contract and pay the deposit before I had the contract translated into English so I could understand it. Again, alarm bells. Thirdly, she removed 2 of the ACs to put them into her own house. Surely a lowering of rent should be required....apparently not. Additionally in the contract there were numerous crimes for which we could lose the deposit, half of which I'm sure are completely illegal and to be frank just unreasonable. For instance, our friends couldn't stay overnight...a complete joke if you ask me. Finally, I never mentioned the 3rd bedroom because apparently she wanted to keep that locked for herself. She stated that she wanted to come from time to time to clean it. Again, we smelt a rat. Seems like someone wanted to spy and what the hell is there to clean in a locked and unused room? Needless to say, plug pulled, on with the search!

The aftermath

Well tonight we've looked at another furnished apartment. Again it's on the 13th floor of a highrise. The place is very clean, modern and the furniture is all great. We were allowed to stay there are long as we wanted to check everything out and the LL's daughter spoke good English which put my mind at ease somewhat. I'm currently waiting for the contract and more importantly agreement on the rent. This time the price was paid down out front and there was no bumping it up after seeing a foreign face. Time will tell, but I have a good feeling about it...but we know what happened last time!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

News from September

It's an overcast Sunday morning in Saigon. The temperature is relatively cool for this part of the world and it's been the first time I haven't had morning plans for the last 4 weeks. It feels a little strange having time to relax and I'm a bit restless. Life has been going at full speed for the last couple of months and I don't think that's going to stop anytime soon. Well, not until the wedding is done and dusted! So, let me fill you in on the last few weeks.


Work doesn't really change. I'm lucky that I have some very good students, coworkers and support at the university that I work at. I have a really nice schedule which allows me to plan around it. I generally arrive at work at 8am and do any last minute preparation that might be required for my 9:30 start. There's not often an awful lot that I need to do so I usually have a couple of cups of tea and coco pops for breakfast before checking my emails and facebook. I then teach for a couple of hours before a 2 hour lunch break. We have several options for nourishment including the staff cafe, a sandwich shop and Thai place. I'm a fan of the staff cafe as it does some fantastic cakes! After lunch I teach again until 3:30 and I leave the building at about 4.

I enjoy my job. We are lucky enough to have a lot of good resources to supplement our text book which means lesson planning takes a little less time than at other schools I've worked at in the past. We also have a lot of high quality and experienced teachers who I can pick the brains of when I'm at a loss. Additionally, our students are generally very motivated and ambitious meaning that they have desire and drive making teaching them a joy.


My sports calender is pretty full at the moment and it has made a massive difference to my life. I now have a couple of regular commitments which are keeping the belly at bay for another couple of years! On Wednesday night I play football at a wonderful all weather facility for a couple of hours. I'm hoping to get my skill and fitness up to a high enough level to become a regular fixture in their 11 a side team when the league kicks off in a couple of weeks. I did myself no harm a week ago in a friendly when I scored against them while playing for our University team. Football has never been a passion of mine but I'm starting to get into it.

There's also cricket! Unfortunately there aren't a lot of games, but we have a net session every Saturday morning and monthly games. It was strange picking up a bat again after a 2 year break from the sport. I was surprised how easy it was to get into the flow and it appears that my bowling is improving too! I hope to get back to the UK again for a summer sometime soon so I can play properly again, but until then the current arrangement will have to suffice.

Additionally, I've started playing tennis on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. My serve is horrible but my forehand, backhand and volleying is solid enough. I'm considering taking some lessons to try to get some power on my serve as I'll never improve without it. Further sport I've been able to partake in is screen golf and a few runs. I've not been for a run in about 3 weeks now as tennis and football have taken up most of my time, but I'm going to be running a half marathon in Cambodia in December. I have set myself a target of 2 hours which is a bit ambitious given the heat and the fact it's very difficult to road run where I am right now due to the traffic and severe lack of pavements. That being said, when I ran my first half marathon in 2003, I carried a lot more weight and was much unfitter than I am right now so I think it's possible!


I will make a separate posting on this after the Wedding Party, explaining the process we went through and I'll probably do it in a commentary fashion. However, I'll touch on the time aspect of it now. The honest hasn't taken that much of my time! I'm pretty surprised by that considering all there is to organise. Granted, I'm a foreigner in Vietnam and my Vietnamese is embarrassingly poor so I can't actually help out that much but I'm still amazed that it's not that stressful (for me) and I'm not sure why people seem to get worked up about everything at home! (heehee) The paperwork (which we completed in late July) was probably the hardest part. We needed to fill in various documents and take countless passport photos! For those of you who don't know, you generally go to a photo studio for these in VN. This results in them being heavily photoshopped unless you specifically ask them not to. I actually look like a boyband member in some of mine which is pretty cool.

We've both had traditional Vietnamese clothes made, Hanh's wedding dress will be finished on Monday and my suit should be finished on Tuesday so the clothes are all sorted! I'm not sure about a wedding cake (I love cake so there better be one!!) but the venue for the event has been booked. That being said, we haven't formally invited anyone yet! The invitations are now in our possession so they will be distributed in due course, but in VN these aren't generally handed out until 2 weeks before the date so we're actually ahead on that front! I have a few more things to buy but it's all proceeding scarily smoothly so fingers crossed that I haven't just put the mockers on it!

Finally, about a month ago, we went down to Hanh's hometown, Ben-Tre, for a photoshoot. In VN couples usually dress-up in Wedding clothes and take pictures in romantic places. I don't really like the concept of it because I don't think it's particularly natural but when I got into it, it was actually pretty fun. We have a lot of good photos, some cringable ones, and some that are just bizarre. I think the shoot lasted for about 8 hours in total, and believe me when I tell you it's difficult to keep smiling! All this is in aid of creating a photo album. I'm not supposed to show any one the pictures until after the wedding party but I'll put one on here for fun!

House Hunting

Again, something that should take a lot of time which has actually been relatively stress free from my side. Hanh, my perfect wife, has been busy finding potential houses on the internet and anything that she thinks would be suitable we've gone to see. So far, we've only seen 3 places. The first was a highrise apartment close to the centre of town. It was pretty spacious, reasonable priced and had a truly wonderful view of the city. Unfortunately it also had the smallest bathroom I've ever seen! I didn't really like the idea of having to sit on the toilet whilst taking a shower so a resounding no for that one. The second, frankly, was horrible. It was big enough but seemed like the builders never quite finished the job and the floor was terribly uneven. It was a 2 floor affair and the stairs to get upto the 2nd level scared the life out of me. I was terrified that I'd fall through them! I made up my mind with half a second it wasn't the place for us so on to option number 3.

Number 3 is a beautiful 2 bedroom house. It's furnished, spacious, new and in a great location for both Hanh and I to get to work. I took one look at the place and decided I wanted to live there. Hanh was less sure because you have to negotiate a small alley before arriving there. When we went to view the house, it was raining so we didn't get a proper look at the area as we were more concerned with the weather. Therefore we went there again a few days later at night to get a feel for the area and how safe we think it would be. I'm never really bothered about safety as I'm pretty oblivious to most things that go on around me but if Hanh had any doubt at all then we would look for somewhere else. Ngan, Hanh's sister, also came for a second opinion. I think we were all pleasantly surprised about the area and how nice it appears. It seemed like a family area and there was little noise. We are now in the process of signing the contract. Hanh has seen it in Vietnamese but I have refused to sign anything until I see it translated into English. We took the contract to the agency on Friday and it should be with us on Monday. With any luck I'll like the look of it, sign it, and Hanh and I can live together properly which will mark the start of our married life. Of course, I'll get one or two piccys up once we've moved in!

There you have it. Not much interesting has been going on really. I've been having a great time, but I like a simple life. Work, sport and a few beers at the weekend....long may it continue!