Thursday, December 1, 2011

The first 4 months of fatherhood

Well, it's been a long time folks, but I'm back and ready to join the blogging world once more!  My absence has been due to a number factors such as my family visiting from England, various sporting commitments, a change in schedule at work and mental fatigue resulting from my little family expanding by 1 person.  However, now things have settled into a regular(ish) routine, I'll be subjecting you all to my various musings that I know you've all missed so much!  As Isabella is probably the most interesting development over the last 3 months, I should probably start there, so let me share with you my tips in bringing up ickle ones,  from Daddy's point of view.

1.  Let the girls do everything, your time will come

Before Bella was born, I thought I'd get stuck into bathing her, changing her clothes and nappies and feeding her (from the bottle I hasten to add).  However, I quickly learned that babies want mummy.  Also, the female side of the family are only too happy to take over as their mothering instincts kick in.  At first, I was a little annoyed as I wanted that contact time and those opportunities to get to know my little treasure a bit more but several things happened to change my thinking.  To start with, getting the angle right and actually getting the bottle into her mouth were surprisingly difficult.  To make matters worse, she decided to practice her projectile vomiting after I fed her 2 of the worst (I mean first) 3 times.  After that, both dad and child were cautious around feeding time and relieved smiles appeared on both faces at the appearance of mum, mother in-law or auntie.

Now, I'm happy to feed her as she's a bit older.  That's probably only because I was forced to feed her last week as Hanh went to Da Lat and Nha Trang leaving me alone with our little one for a few hours for 4 days before help arrived in the evenings!  We're both (Issy & I) much more comfortable around dinner time and she now knows her dad isn't a useless offe!  Changing nappies has never been a problem, even if it is a smelly task and dressing her is cumbersome and awkward, though not impossible. 

2.  Sleep in a different room, rest is a God send

I'm one of the lucky ones.  Most of the time, my sister in-law, mother in-law or perfect wife sleep in the living room with Bella, while I sleep peacefully in our bedroom.  You might ask why she doesn't sleep in the bedroom with us and that would be a good question.  Fortunately I have a good answer other than the fact I just need my beauty sleep.  As Vietnam is so hot, air conditioning is a life saver.  The cot for Bella is rather large, and there's only one place that it can go in our bedroom.  This spot happens to be directly under the a/c unit which isn't the best place for her to sleep, so her crib is positioned in the middle of the living room.  I'm pretty sure she's happy being in the centre of the room as she's gets a good view of the TV and is the centre of attention without even trying!

That being said, my sleep time is very important.  Firstly, the simple fact is someone has to earn and teaching is pretty exhausting in terms of energy.  If I'm flat in the classroom, it's likely that the students will also be lethargic.  Therefore, it's essential for me to have uninterrupted snooze to do my job as well as possible.  Secondly, until recently, Bella has only really wanted women's attention.  I've struggled to feed her, settle her and get her off to sleep.  If she decides she wants something, she generally gets it, usually by bawling her eyes out and testing her lungs.  Now it's changed somewhat as she's much more comfortable with me and with Hanh returning to work soon, I'm sure I'll be taking more responsibility during the night shift, but until now, I've been enjoying sweet dreams!

3.  Learn the locations and opening hours of all shops that stock nappies, baby milk and wet wipes

For those who don't know, babies are machines.  They drink milk and get through nappies quicker than you'd every imagine!  If they're on the breast, I guess trips to the store are less frequent but if they develop a taste for formula, you're off to the store every 10 days!  Bella drinks both variety of milk, and seems indifferent to which she prefers.  However, the cost of baby milk is adding up.  One carton costs about $20, which I guess is cheap for 10 days worth of food, but still!  Nappies spin a similar story.

The main problem is that you don't always keep on top of how much milk or how many nappies you have left.  It could be 9pm when you suddenly realise that you don't have enough supplies to get you through the night!  Therefore, having an encyclopedic knowledge of baby-ware shops is essential.  We have several outlets close by and fortunately we've not been caught out in the wee small hours of the morning.  However, it's always best to be prepared as you don't want to be driving around desperately, half asleep searching for shops which may or may not be open or supplying what you require.

4.  They're not made of china

This was probably the single best piece of advice that my doctor gave me when I went to the doc for Bella's first month checkup.  In the first month, I was always so scared of picking her up.  I always had visions of me forgetting to support her head resulting in it falling off.  Fortunately, that didn't happen.  Trying to get the right combination of being firm but gentle was something that I initially found particular tricky.  Obviously, as they get older, things become much easier as their muscles develop and you get more comfortable handling them.  Having said that, it's easier said than done to have a firm hand when they're so small!

5.  Crying is a good thing

Babies are supposed to cry.  It's what they do!  Crying just means they need something.  In antenatal classes we were told waterworks are due to hunger, need of a cuddle, changing time, being too hot or cold, being too tired or being gassy.  Therefore, all you have to do is figure out which one it is!  The problem is, they generally follow each other.  After sleeping, she just wants attention.  A few minutes later she's hungry.  While she's eating she usually attends to a call of nature so a pit stop is required.  Then she wants more food or is gassy.  After that it's either play time or nap time.  At any stage, tears and screams are to be expected.

In the early months, crying was a relief to me.  She used to sleep so peacefully and deeply that she barely moved.  I constantly put my head over her nose and mouth, just to check she was breathing.  Later, I put my hand on her stomach to feel it going up and down.  Crying signified life which I think is all new parents think about.  Now, her lungs have developed I feel a little differently, especially when I can't settle her down.  That being said, you can't be angry and although it can be frustrating at times, you can't help but smile.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Welcome Andrew....opps....Sorry, I mean Isabella

After being awake for about 28 hours, I was a little bit like a zombie.  I staggered up the stairs, showed the nurse my piece of paper saying I was the father of my child and was lead to a room.  I figured at this point I'd be able to pick our baby up, talk with her/him and start to get to know it.  Well, as it transpires, it turned out to a viewing gallery and my ticket allowed me about 30 seconds to see my baby. 

I counted, two arms, two legs and one head.  Good start I thought.  Cute little face - definitive plus.  Potentially blue eyes (I still haven't worked that out yet) - double plus.  Looks like me - plus as it's definitely my baby, minus that she may end up being the female equivalent of her father.  I went to pick her up, but was fended off by the nurse.  I figured they must have tests to do but I was a bit put out.  The nurse quickly lifted up the diaper to show me the sex.  She lifted up our baby's legs for about half a second.  As no spoke any English and I didn't really get a clear look, I made the decision the our baby, was in fact, an Andrew, my son.  I quickly took two pictures and was asked to leave the room.
My wife's sister told me that I wouldn't be able to see Hanh until about 1 or 2pm so I decided to go home.  I found my motorbike in the car park, paid the attendant and drove home - which I wouldn't advise doing after being awake for as long as I had!  I stopped off at the shop, bought some milk as I was desperate for a cup of tea and eventually made it to my house at about 9:40, roughly 27 hours after I'd left the house the previous day.  I hadn't turned off my computer from the day before, so I opened the top, uploaded the two pictures I had taken and announced the arrival of Andrew to the world on Facebook.  I didn't even look at the pictures.  I was too tired.  I was only really thinking about Hanh and Andrew.  I hoped they were both healthy and couldn't wait to see them both.  I set a couple of alarms for 1pm and 1:10pm, closed my eyes and fell asleep.

As is normal for me, I woke up a couple of minutes before my alarm went off.  At first, I didn't know where I was or what had happened before I went to sleep.  However, after looking to my left, I saw the cot already made and suddenly remembered I had some to be.  Unlike the previous morning, I had a quick shower, gulped down some water and dashed to my motorbike.  Again, I don't remember all that much about the bike journey but I think it was fairly uneventful.  For this experience I know that if my wife goes into labour in the UK, I will definitely not be the one driving the car!

I arrived at hospital and called Ngan.  See came down to meet me at reception to tell me her bag had got stolen.  This was a big loss for us.  Most of the money that we were going to use to pay for everything was stolen, 3 mobile phones (including my wife's) and my sister in laws identification papers were gone.  Fortunately, I'd kept some of the money (which turned out to be enough to cover all the fees) and the important documentation for Hanh and myself.  If these papers had have been lost, it would've made life very difficult as bureaucracy is king in Vietnam.  At the time, I took all this in my stride.  I was to concerned about Hanh and excited to meet Andrew to care.  Ngan led me upstairs to the room my family was staying in.

At about I walked into the walk.  Hanh looked exhausted.  My managed a faint smile and nodded to say she was OK.  In the time I was away, her parents had arrived from her hometown.  Hanh and Ngan had decided not to tell them that their daughter had gone into labour to save them from any stress.  In hindsight, that turned out to be a good idea, though not necessary one I'd have chosen in the same circumstances.  My attention then turned to the centre of the room.  There was a small baby's bed, covered in a pink mosquito net.  Inside was my child dressed in pink.  I spoke to him and he seemed to recognise my voice.  I look into his eyes and felt a surge of love that will stay with me for life.  Just of innocent purity.  I picked him up, held him and started walking around the room, talking the sort of non-sense that only new fathers are allowed to speak.
 I distinctly remember saying "Why have they dressed you in pink Andrew?'' and ''Why is your bed pink?'' in my 10 minutes of rambling after which time my wife said to me ''Mark, why are you calling Isabella Andrew?''.  I stopped, looked, put two and two together and had realised my mistake.  I offered a token ''Are you sure?'' to which the response was ''You can check if you want!'' - Check mate.  I'd lost.  Andrew was in fact Isabella which seemed to make much more sense since everything was pink!

Since I'd informed everyone that we'd had a boy, I knew that a bit of stick would be coming my way.  To be fair to everyone, I haven't received a lot of mickey taking for which I'm incredibly grateful.  Hopefully if you've read the previous two blogs, you'll see that I was exactly in the best place through both physical and mental exhaustion.  Hanh needed me to pick up a few things from home, so after an hour and a half, I went home, had something to eat as I was starving and updated Facebook.  I called my parents and gran to inform them of the change of gender before going back to the hospital for the 4th time.  This time, I just spent time with my family.  Hanh and Isabella spent most of the time sleeping after their earlier struggles and the in laws and I just watched them.  At about 21:30, I said my goodbyes and went to my local.  I knew that a couple of the darts team would be there so I got my first proper meal, a whiskey and watched the community shield, reflecting on what had happened in the previous 48hours and contemplating on what the future will hold. 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Isabella - The Birth

5:30am, Saturday 7th August 2011 - Wake up call

Wearily opening my eyes, I hazily saw Hanh stood at the foot of the bed.  'Mark, our baby's coming!'.  The words I'd waited the last 9 months to hear barely sunk in.  Hanh took a quick shower.  I didn't.  I immediately went to my laptop and found someone to talk to on Facebook.  As it was about 11:30pm in England, it was just about reasonable to expect to find someone online.  And I did.  My close friend James was on FB and I told him I was about to become a dad.  He said shouldn't I be more concerned with Hanh than chatting online (a fair point) but as Hanh was busying herself and getting ready to go to hospital, I thought I should stay out of the way.  I tried calling my parents on their UK landline, but there was no answer by which point my wife was ready to go to hospital.  Making sure everything was switched off, I had money and my phone, we went to the front of the apartment block where a taxi was waiting for another fare.

7:00am - Optimistic Text Message

During the taxi ride, I decided to prepare for wetting the baby's head, a UK tradition where the proud new dad gets to have a party with his friends while his wife stays in hospital.  Seems a little cruel of the dad but who I am to stand in the way of tradition?! Anyways, I text about 5/6 of my close friends to tell them to keep the evening free as Hanh's waters had broken, and all being well I could be a father in the late afternoon.  Malone called me, Henno et al. sent messages wishing us luck and to keep them posted.  One more thing off the list ticked off, so far, so good.
7:15am - Tu Du Baby Hospital

Before the birth, choosing the hospital we would have our first child at was a major decision.  Early in the piece, I was angling that we go to an International Hospital where at least some of the doctors and nurses would be able to communicate with me in English.  However, Hanh was keen to go to one of the famous Vietnamese Hospitals.  For those who don't know, the quality of the doctors and nurses in these Vnese hospitals is excellent.  In fact, the people who helped us bring Isabella into the world were first rate so we were never comprising the quality of treatment.  Also, the cleanliness and facilities in the treatment areas were also comparable to what you would find in an International hospital.  It's the 'hotel reception and service' where the conditions differ.  The waiting area was like a bus station with plastic chairs and too many people. It's also usual for women to have to share beds and rooms after labour.  Looking at the building, you wouldn't recognise it as a hospital and would, wrongly, assume the rest of the hospital would be similarly uncomfortable.  In the end we chose Tu Du hospital.  This was because the majority of emergency cases in Vietnam get taken here, and also that this hospital has some of the best trained professionals in childbirth in the country.  Also, I was insistent that we have a private room which we were fortunate enough to receive.  For people reading this at home, you may feel a little shocked that I say fortunate, but things in VN are very different to the UK.  We received fantastic treatment both during and after the birth, so any fears you might have can be erased.

Back to the story.  We arrived at Tu Du at about 7:15am and were met by Hanh's sister, Ngan, who had taken the brunt of the go to the hospital pre-consultations with Hanh.  This wasn't because I was too lazy to go or uninterested but because the doctors couldn't speak English and that men aren't allowed to be present.  I hear this is quite common in Vietnamese hospitals, and for me, is a draw back as although I kept tabs on what was going on, I probably never really got the full picture.  Hanh and Ngan went to the reception, I handed over some of the money to Ngan for safe keeping, and they sorted out all of the paperwork.  Hanh still wasn't experiencing any noticeable contractions, but we figured they must be imminent.  At about 8:15,  Hanh, minus belongings, was taken upstairs with the other expectant mothers.  Ngan and I went to the waiting area, sat down and waited.  You see, at this time, no one was allowed to accompany Hanh, which is another negative aspect of the hospital we chose.  We didn't think to ask if I would be allowed with her as we just assumed I would be so this was a bit of a shock to the system.
The reception area    

For you to understand the full extent of the following ordeal, I really have to describe the reception area in more detail.  At the front there is a reception desk.  There are 2 large LCD TVs displaying details of the babies that have been successfully delivered.  The centre right for natural births, and the centre left for C-Sections.  The other two screens were a little smaller.  The one on the left showed Animal Planet and the one on the right advertising.  In fact, it showed the same 3 adverts on loop.  The reception had a couple of phones.  These phones were for the women in labour to contact their other halves or family members.  The expectant mother would called reception, and the receptionist would make an announcement over the tanoy to those waiting for her.  In front of reception, there were rows of plastic chairs, most of which bent back far too much and easily.  All we could do was sit down at wait.

8:15am - Midday - The wait

At the beginning, I was in good spirits.  Although I didn't know if the contractions had started, I was just excited that I'd be meeting Andrew or Isabella sometime soon.  I had my phone and iPod so I could amuse myself for the time I had to wait.  I couldn't really speak with Ngan as her English isn't too good and my Vietnamese is pretty terrible.  At about 9:00, I checked my camera, but found out it had no battery.  I figured I had time, and if anything changed, my sister in law promised to call me.  I took a taxi back home, picked up a few bits and pieces, hopped on my motorbike and drove back to hospital.  I must have been gone about an hour, but nothing had changed.  I popped on my music, watched the advertisements again, and again, and again and counted down the minutes.  At about 11am, Hanh came down with another couple of women.  Her contractions still hadn't started and it was lunchtime.  Hanh chatted with Ngan and I while she had her lunch.  At noon she disappeared upstairs again and the wait continued.
Midday - 16:00 - The wait continues

At this point, I was still pretty jovial.  That was about until 14:30 when my iPod ran out of battery.  Disaster.  Nothing to listen to, no one to talk to.  So, I started texting Danny to ask for sports results and to get let everyone know the wetting the baby's head night would be postponed as I had no idea what was going on.  The only problem with this was my phone was fast running out of battery. I tried calling my parents landline again, only for no one to pick up.  I then remembered they were in France on holiday.  I checked my wallet and found mum's business card and mobile number.  I tried it, they answered and I informed them of the current state of play.  I then called my gran.  With everyone informed, I stopped using my phone in an attempt to save battery.  With absolutely nothing to do, I started to get tired and try to find things to occupy my mind.  At four, the the tanoy announced 'Pham Thi Hong Hanh'.  Ngan and I immediately sprang to our feet.  I was passed the phone and Hanh informed me that I could join her.  Knowing that I would only be allowed with her at the final stages I thought it must be show time.  I went upstairs and Hanh appeared fine.  Yup, you guessed it, it was dinner time!  Dinner time!  It took a few minutes for my heart to stop racing but eventually my pulse returned to normal.  Hanh ate dinner, we talked and I departed back to the 'bus' station.

17:00 - 21:00 - The wait - part 3

No contractions, no iPod, no one to talk to and limited use of my phone.  I didn't start this part of the wait in particularly good spirits.  I was, however, very hungry.   Knowing it was going to be some time both I was going to be a dad, I decide to stretch my legs and go to the local supermarket.  I was only about 3 minutes away and it would be easy enough for me to get back to the hospital if needs be.  I also needed to move my motorbike as I'd parked it somewhere without overnight parking.  I bought the usual food you'd buy when you travel such as Pringles, Oreos, chocolate, Pepsi and bread.  I went back to the hospital, convinced I had enough sugar to keep me going through the night.  Without any incidents, and slowly starting to lose my mind, another announcement beckoned me to the reception desk.  It must be now....nope.  Hanh called to inform me it was the last time she could call me.  Still no contractions.  She urged me to go home and get some sleep but I declined as I didn't want to miss the most important day of our lives to date.  I went back to my seat, wondering how long this would continue.

21-00 - 01:00am - Yet more waiting

After more sitting around looking at the same 3 ads, I started to become really tired.  I could barely keep my eyes open.  Ngan urged me to go home for a while, but I remained robust.  I just couldn't miss the birth.  Some of the other patients started trying talking to me, but our respective language deficiencies meant it got no where.  However, a row of chairs did become free so I put my head down for half an hour.  It was a necessary respite, although I didn't feel any better for it when I came round.  Then, when I was thinking about going home for a couple of hours sleep, we were summoned again.  Ngan took the phone and I was instructed to go upstairs, it was time.
01:00 - 07:00am, Sunday 7th August 2011 - The final stretch

I went upstairs with Ngan.  I asked her if this meant our child was born and she said yes.  At this point there was a miscommunication as I thought our child was here so I text my parents saying 'born' before switching off my phone. As it turned out, this was an error and Hanh was in the final stages.  I put on some hospital type attire, slipped on some sandals and went by Hanh's side.  She was sedated by the EPD, nearly full dilated, in good spirits and in not too much pain.  Contractions were coming regularly and she was taking them in her stride.  As the doctors had no English, Hanh was playing the role of both woman in labour and translator and at this stage, everything appeared to progressing normally.

At about 2am, the EPD start wearing off and the doctors were confident a normal birth was only a matter of time.  Although the pain was increasing, Hanh was still okay, and was laughing at the random non-sense I was talking.  However, within about half an hour, this had changed.  Hanh was in agony, told me in the politest and sweetest way to be quiet and started trying to tug violently at my shirt during contractions.  At times it felt like she would strangle me and hours later I wore red marks that any warrior would be proud of.

In the next half hour to hour, the pain must have been unbearable.  I've also never felt so helpless.  There was absolutely nothing I could do.  Hanh was contorted in pain but was so close to delivering our first baby.  The doctors were telling her it wouldn't be long and that she wouldn't need another EPD as our baby had progressed a good way down the birth canal.  At about 3am, enough was enough, Hanh had another EPD and everything relaxed and nothing seemed to happen for at least an hour.  During this time, we heard other mothers successfully having their babies and Hanh started to become frustrated as another baby issued its first cry, wishing it was her.  There was nothing to say.  I probably uttered some useless words like 'our child will be here soon' or something equally cliche.  I just felt increasingly useless and wanted it to end.

At about 5, the pain started to come back.  Various doctors and nurses came by, tired to get Hanh to push and kept assuring us that our child would be out soon and that they could see her head.  2 hours of severe pain later, the decision was taken that our baby wasn't going to come out of her own accord and that a C-Section was required.  Ngan, who had waited outside the entire 6 hours, came in to fill in the necessary paperwork, Hanh was wheeled away for surgery and I went downstairs to pay for the operation.

8:10am - Isabella was born

I don't know exactly what time Hanh went into surgery or how long it was until I knew anything else happened.  I was mentally exhausted, disorientated and didn't know if my wife, child or both were in danger.  Ngan seemed pretty calm which was a good sign, but I just sat down in the waiting area and wept.  All I was thinking was let them both be OK.  At 8:10, the monitor informed us that Hanh's operation had been successful.  It was a relief, but I still didn't know if they were both healthy.  I assumed that because we had received no further news that this meant everything was fine, but I've learned not to assume that in Vietnam. At 8:45 I was allowed to see the our baby.  (The story will continue......)

Waiting for Isabella - prequel

This will be the first in a series of blogs I intend to write about our pregnancy and Isabella's first adventures in the world.  The entries are purely for me to self indulge, to keep a record and to give any future fathers an insight into how they might feel later.  My future postings will be solely from the male (i.e. my) perspective and will largely focus on the challenges people might encounter in cross culture relationships, especially where significant language barriers exist.

Waiting for Issy - The first 6 months

In the initial stages, not a lot changed for me.  Obviously Hanh was experiencing the usual changes women go through with imminent child birth, but she was still going to work everyday, going out with friends, driving her motorbike and generally just living life like normal.  As a future dad, there was very little I could really do at this point.  As many of you will already know, family is extremely close and important in Vietnam, so my wife's sister was around most weekends and as most caring is done by the immediate family minus the men, I felt pretty surplus to requirements.  I just carried on life as normal, working, having a few beers and playing and watching sport.  Of course I was conscious of what was going on at home, it just felt like there was very little caring I could be as everything was already covered!

The final 3 months

At this point things started to change.  Hanh wanted me about a bit more and I started going out a bit less.  Not that I'm always out, but I was frequently busy playing football, cricket, tennis and working so as D-day was approaching I started to cut down on the amount of sport I was playing.  This was helped by the fact I was injured, but as Hanh was becoming increasingly tired and immobile, it also felt right to make sure Hanh wasn't at home alone too often or for too long.  I can't overstate how much on what I did during the final months was based on feeling.  You read countless blogs, websites or go to antenatal classes that tell you what you should be doing, but in my case, it was pretty obvious and a sudden mentality change happened.  It was at this point that I knew that life as we knew it had now changed.

Antenatal classes

Both we went to these classes, I'd heard mixed feelings from other men.  Some thought they were a waste of time whereas others felts they were very informative.  I must admit, I definitely fall into the second camp.  Both Bella was born, I really didn't have too much of a clue about what I was going to be facing or what I had to do.  It's good asking other people about what they experienced, but it so often the case with anecdotes, everyone has a slightly different story so it's difficult to know who to listen to.  The best thing about the antenatal classes was realising that (in particular the men) were as clueless as me.  I had no idea about babies' feeding habits, sleeping and bathroom routines, what colour their poo should be in the first few days, what temperature they should be, that the babies' neck need careful support and that babies are prone to hiccuping.

We only took 2 intensive courses due to my work commitment, but in that time we learned about the signs of labour, what to expect when something goes wrong during the delivery and different pain relief options.  Now, as we have a couple of complications during the birth along with the fact that the doctors didn't speak English, the knowledge about what was going to happen was a great source of comfort to me.  As although I didn't really understand what was going on, it was similar to how the midwife giving the classes said it should go. Therefore, in the midst of the final stages of labour, I felt strangely calm and confident in the doctors as they were doing exactly what I thought they should be.  Without the classes, I think I'd have been a mess.

Not only did we learn a whole lot about pre and post birth, it was just fun to chat to couples at a similar stage of pregnancy to chat about what they were going through.  The best bit for me was that everyone had something different to say.  The women were all experiencing different 'side-effects', feelings and bumps were different sizes.  The men, generally, felt equally useless but excited about their upcoming arrivals.  It was a fun environment to discuss questions that you might find a little embarrassing to articulate in normal conversations.  I also gained a sense of security knowing that I wasn't the only one having 'stupid questions'.

The month before

Imagine, you're 8 years old.  You've been locked in a room for you don't know how long and you have no idea what the date is.  Someone lets you out of the room and says 'It's sometime in December'.  How would you feel every night?  Well, if it was me, I'd be so excited that Christmas is anytime soon that I wouldn't be able to sleep.  Christmas could be tonight, or it could be in 24 days time.  If you understand this, you'll start to understand how I was feeling in the lead in to labour.  Hanh and I had reached an agreement at this time, that she would only call be for one reason, to tell me that our child was on the way.  However, as she was the only one in on the agreement, my heart stopped every time one of my friends called me.  Also, by this point, my wife was struggling to sleep which meant I was too.  Hanh tossed and turned in bed, trying to get comfortable, and I keep waking up in fear that she was in labour.  Therefore we were both getting more and more tired and tense as we just didn't know when our little one would choose to make an appearance.

In the final month, I was definitely at home a lot more.  One thing they told us at the antenatal class was that massages were good for pregnant women and Hanh definitely remembered that part!  However, I don't think I'm very good at giving them because she didn't ask me too often.  What I remember most clearly from this stage is impatience.  We both just wanted him/her to come into the world.  We were tired of not sleeping well, I was tired of constantly being on edge whenever I felt my phone vibrate and generally just tired of waiting!  Well, at 5:30am on Saturday 6th August 2011 (or so we thought), the waiting was soon to be over.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Friday, June 17, 2011

Our New House

Mr and Mrs Hendicott

I'm sure that everyone who was there agrees, the newly wed Mr and Mrs Hendicott's wedding far surpassed the royal wedding and left everyone present thoroughly entertained and immersed in their happiness. With all of the different variables that could have gone wrong, this is no mean achievement and will certainly be the event of 2011 for the vast majority of those in attendance.  However, it could all have been so different...

On Sunday (22nd), mount Grimsvotn erupted, leaving those contemplating traveling to or around the UK in limbo about whether there would be wholesale flight delays and cancellations like last year.  As people were coming to celebrate James and Helena's wedding from America, Iceland, Vietnam and all regions of Britain, anxiety and worry was hardly the perfect start to the week.  In fact, the potential damage of the natural disaster would have deprived the wedding of about 75% of the guests, including the groom's family, his bestman and groomsmen and the maid of honour.  With all the arrangements made, paid for and set in stone, prayer and positive thoughts about favourable winds were the only option.  Fortunately destiny was to be on their side so everyone made it across to the land of leprechauns for their transformation from two free spirits to one.

The Day Before

As one of James' closest friends, I was privileged to be invited to the wedding as a groomsman alongside his brother Thomas and his best man Dickon.  That being so, I arrived the day before (Thursday 26th) the happy day to try on the rather dapper attire J had selected to check it fit snugly, print and laminate the table placement lists and buy a few minute bits and bobs.  I was also lucky enough to see Helena before departed west and witness the final pre-wedding conversation of J saying ''Don't be too late'' with the reply coming ''Don't worry, I won't''.  Although James apologised for it being a little hectic, I think he was overstating the amount of things we had to do.  This was probably due to nerves (or anxious anticipation) as he wanted to give his (then) fiancee the perfect ceremony and reception they had dreamed of.

Later that evening, Dickon and Sophie (recently engaged) arrived in Dublin airport at about 6pm.  Greeted by J, they swiftly went to the hire car place to pick up the rental.  As bestman, Dickon was also given the responsibility as the groom's driver for the wedding.  Unfortunately, however, his picture drivers license had expired, leaving affairs in a bit of a pickle.  Luckily behind every great man (not meaning to talk Dickon up) there is a great lady and true to this expression, Sophie stepped up, filed the appropriate paperwork and she found herself promoted to chauffeur, a job she fulfilled with the minimum of fuss.  By this point I was flat out on the sofa, catching up on some well earned rest after having only had 5 hours sleep in 60 hours (that's what flying to Ireland from Vietnam does!) and being led around Dublin all like a sheep following its shepherd!

It must have been at about 6:30 that I was woken to the glorious smell of Indian food!  Wonderful western size portions of various curries, rice and naan breads were the perfect way to disturb my slumber!  The four of us tucked in and demolished as much spicy delights as we could manage before heading into town to see Roddy Woomble (better known as the lead singer of Idleworld, a popular indy band).  Before we left, James warned us that Dublin taxi drivers were notoriously rude and unpleasant. However, much to our amusement, the 2 drivers we had gave him some fantastic marriage advice, banter and wished him the best of luck for the big day!  I'm not sure if he felt the egg on his face, but I certainly enjoyed the irony of things!  The common message which was given was 'Happy wife, happy life' resonated and from personal experience, I'd have to agree.

Now you might think that going to a gig before your big day is a questionable decision but the significance of the event will become evident later.  Besides, I hadn't been to a gig for about 3 years as decent live music can seldom be found in Vietnam.  Anyways, we met up with some of J's friends from university, had a few pints of guinness, tapped our feet and nodded our head to Roddy's wonderful voice and shared good times.  It wasn't a late night but I think it certainly took the edge off what might have been a particular nerve racking evening for the groom.  After the show, James had a few words with Mr Woomble (who he'd interviewed only a week earlier), we went home, watched an episode of South Park (very cultured!) and had a wee dram before hitting the sack.  When we opened our eyes, the wedding day had begun!

The Wedding Day - Friday, May 27th

Far from the frenzied pandemonium I was expecting, the atmosphere in the house (at least in my humble opinion) was chilled and relaxed with anxious excitement.  We all woke up in plenty of time, got our bits together and loaded up the car.  We'd allowed ourselves 4 hours to make the journey from the centre of Dublin to Collooney, country Sligo, which is about a 230km drive, and it wasn't long before the banter started!  I commented on J's becoming a man after performing his congenial obligation (perhaps the wrong choice of word but I'm sticking to it) to which he responded ''Mark, it's not like I'm losing my virginity'' which bought laughter so explosive that I swear the car shook!  That being so, I indicated to Dickon that he crack open bottle of malt he'd sneaked into the car and the wedding day had well and truly taken off!

The journey down was light hearted, fun and James appeared nerve free to me.  Butterflies might well have been doing somersaults in his stomach; however, if they were, he hid it remarkably well.  About halfway, we stopped at a small village called Longford, which was about 90km from the castle.  Sophie parked up and we found a small cafe.  We all had a decent breakfast although I think I won in the gluttony stakes with 2 cakes and a BLT sandwich plus, of course, copious amounts of tea!  At this point we met our first surprise.  J was called by his parents who informed us they were literally 5 minutes away so we were soon joined by them!  In my mind, it somehow seemed to fit the day and was a positive omen of what was to come, especially as guests meeting problems on the journey was one of the primary concerns.

After our pit stop, we made our way to the castle.  To say it's the perfect location for ones big day is a little bit of an understatement!  The venue was just fantastic!  The long, windy road in promised a spectacular building and we weren't to be disappointed.  By this time it was about midday and with the ceremony due to begin at 13:30, we had ample time, but not as much as we thought, to shower and figure out how to wear a cravette.  I voiced concerns about how to put on cuff-links but no one else seemed to think that would be a problem!  Regardless, we agreed to meet in the bridal suite at 13:00, fully suited and booted before the vows were to be taken.

At 13:30, all looking rather dapper, apart from James of course :-p, the obligatory pre-wedding bottle of champagne was cracked open and as champagne flutes were neither present nor appropriate, we passed the bottle around, finishing about half of it. J also chose this moment to give Dickon, Thomas and myself some small gifts to thank us (I'm still not sure what for?!!) which I'm sure we were all touched by.  With 15 minutes to go, we thought it best if we went down stairs to mingle and direct the guests, who had started to gather in the lobby, to the chapel in anticipation for the bride's arrival.  With about 5 minutes to go, we left J to go downstairs to await the arrival of Helena, her mother and the bridesmaids.

''Don't be too late'' with the reply coming ''Don't worry, I won't''

Anyone who knows anything about British weddings knows that it's customary for the bride to arrive late.  10/15 minutes would probably be about normal.  As someone who's usually pretty punctual and abhors tardiness, it would drive me mad, but fortunately I wasn't the one waiting.  We weren't really expecting the bridal party to arrive until 13:40 and we were enjoying speculating about how James was feeling.  We figured he'd be getting a little anxious but he were kinda enjoying it.  At about 13:45 the mood had somewhat changed and a little panic had started to set in.  Whilst we knew the girls were on the way, the registrar had informed us she had another wedding and threatened to leave if they didn't arrive within 15 minutes.  We decided that one of us should go upstairs to check on J, so I quickly popped my head round, he looked expectedly at me and I shook my head.  It was at that moment I realised we'd probably called it wrong as although I'm sure he was fine to that point, the eye contact made might have cranked up the nerves a touch.

Now, I'm not sure how much J knew about the registrar's circumstances, but I'm sure Helena was completely oblivious to it and the time continued to pass.  At about 13:50 we were all getting edgy.  We couldn't speak to James, but we were sure his nerves must have been starting to fray because to be honest, I was starting to fret.  The registrar was impatiently pacing at the top of the staircase above us and again came down, this time to give us a 5 minute deadline.  At this point, we felt pretty helpless.  We considered what we would do if she left and even enquired as to what time she could come back.  All jokes of Dickon pretending to lose the rings we forgotten about and we just looked into the distance.  We saw a couple of cars pull up but they were to be late comers but one positive was the photographer and camera crew had arrived.

Several more anxious minutes passed but just in time, the bridal car appeared, pulled up and an amazing sight instantly calmed the situation.  Helena stepped out of the car and looked stunning, relaxed and totally ready to marry my best friend.  Her bridesmaids, also looking fantastic, mother and brother who was about to give her away quickly assembled, ascended the stairs and briefly paused before we heard music I'm sure James was relieved to hear and will never forget.

The ceremony

For me, the walk down the aisle, the music and filing to either groom/brides side was all a blur.  I was so anxious that the registrar stay and that the ceremony could actually take place to really take anything in.  We barely had time to introduce ourselves to the bridesmaids or figure out the order in which we'd enter.  The aisle was very narrow, making in pretty difficult for two people to walk down it side by side, but this only added to the intimacy of the occasion.  The chapel held about 90 people, made up of close friends and family of either side, and all eyes instantly focused at the back of the room as soon as 'Here comes the Bride' resounded by guitar and saxophone, in a uniquely fitting tone for what was to follow.

What came next brought tears to the eye.  It was moving, fitting and the personalities of James and Helena came to the fore in what was a simple yet compelling ceremony.  The songs 'The Time of Your Life' (Green Day) and 'Better Together' (Jack Johnson) and musician, Mark Baker who J had met in Korea, were a perfect match, unique yet totally appropriate.  The readings about a kiss and holding up a ceiling powerful in their meaning.  The vows, simple, traditional.  The lighting of the candles, first by the couples' mothers and then by the couple themselves, was an overwhelming symbol of unity.  I must admit to being blown away by the whole event.  Even the registrar managed a smile by the end of the ceremony!

The Pictures

From here, things relaxed into a celebration of the love between J and his new bride.  James and Helena caught everyone on the hop at the end of the ceremony by pretty much sprinting down the aisle and into the lobby where drinks were served.  The groomsmen and bridesmaids followed them out at a more leisurely pace before the chapel emptied.  True to form, we went upstairs, rescued the champagne and once that was drained, we made our way to the bar before the photographs started.  Of course, we had to wait for the bridesmaids, but we enjoyed messing around taking some random shots for our debut album cover if we decide to become a boy band!  This part of the day didn't take too long, probably as James Goulden the photographer, knew exactly what he wanted and not before long we were in the dining hall for the banquet!

Dinner and the Speeches

As a man who likes his tucker, I can honestly say that I've never been so well fed in terms of both quality and quantity of food!  The feast was quite simply mouthwatering.  To start I had duck pate followed by a thick vegetable soup.  The main course was perhaps the most exquisite food I've ever tasted, Guinea foul! It was beautiful.  The meat was soft and tender accompanied with perfectly cooked vegetables and a rich sauce.  If that wasn't enough, the trio of deserts (apple tart, profiteroles and cheese cake) simply melted in the mouth.  I could go on for hours about the food, but since I've already done that about the previous parts of the wedding I'll keep it brief.  It was divine.  So much so that James jokingly commented: 'I've spent a fortune on this food, and you know what, I'm glad'.

By now, it must have been about 7:30 pm and it was speeches time.  Of course, James and Helena had also put a twist of this section by holding a short open mic session where anyone could speak (which of course I took advantage of) once the main speeches had been completed.  To start Dickon's speech had everyone in stitches!  It was witty, incite-full, down right funny yet was unpinned with sincerity and obvious joy for his closest of friends.  Highlights of his speech included 'some of us have grown up from our juvenile times going to gigs and getting drunk' (referring to himself), looks at James, 'and some of us clearly haven't' and the introduction of speech was a voice over of the A-team theme song which I'll try to make available later.

Dickon's 10 minute masterpiece was followed by Sean (Helena's brother) giving some short, sweet but heartfelt sentiments and then by Fiona (a close friend of the bride) who revealed Helena's pet name of 'Cuddles' for J.  Finally, it was time for James to step up.  He had confided to me that this, along with the first dance, was the part of the wedding he was most anxious about.  He started by saying 'Sorry, I'm quite overwhelmed by all this' to which Thomas replied 'Awww Cuddles' - Classic!  I have to apologise to J as I don't actually remember anything about what he said but I'm sure he was just relieved to get through it!  One point of note was that at this point we distributed Soju and Kimchi to the 7 tables as they had met in South Korea and seemed like a perfect token to reflect this.  The Soju was well received, the Kimchi less so!!!

The first dance

After dinner, things progressed quickly.  Drinks were consumed, conversations lit up, the cake was cut and it was soon time for the first dance.  Time had lost all meaning at this point, owing to either the magnitude of the occasion or by jet jag.  I don't think I'll ever know which!  As I've said throughout, the wedding was littered with little quirks or their personalities and this was to be no exception!  I think only 3 people in the room know what the song would be, James, Helena and me.  'You held the world in your arms tonight' by Idleworld.  Earlier I'd written that the gig the night before would have great significance later....this is why.  The encore song the previous evening was none other than the first dance song.  Coincidence, maybe.  Destiny/Fate, I'd say so.  Fitting?  Definitely.

Seeing Helena head bang to the intro was classic!  Seeing their beaming smiles was warming and seeing the bride bouncing around while J was leaden footed was mildly entertaining!  But all joking aside, it was again in keeping with what had happened before and I'm sure he was (again!!) relieved when at the second chorus they were joined by the groomsmen and bridesmaids!

The conclusion - For me anyway

After the first dance, a local band 'Sounds of System Breakdown' played a fantastic set of electro-rock and most of those in attendance had a dance at some point.  The atmosphere was electric and happiness abounded.  I honestly think I spoke to everyone at some point during the night and everyone was in great spirits with huge smiles on their faces.  It was the intention to light some lanterns and let them drift away in the wind but everyone was having such a great time on the dance floor and at the bar it probably would've been a touch of over kill so the idea was abandoned.  At about midnight, I was exhausted and once Vodka Redbull couldn't keep me awake, I retired upstairs with the party in full swing.  I have no idea when the party ended but I do know that James managed to split his trousers!  Good work fella!

And that's the wrap really.  It really was a splendid day and I'm running out of adjectives to describe it.  I'm thrilled for James and Helena.  The day had everything.  There was tension, beauty, love, humour and they were surrounded by friends and family.  James dreamed of the perfect wedding and he got pretty close!  I can only wish them all the best for their future as husband and wife and if the wedding is anything to go by, they have the most solid of foundations from which to build from!  

Good luck Mr and Mrs Hendicott!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Things I miss about Blighty

Being abroad, you get a lot of time to think about what life was like living in the motherland.  You start missing some aspects of life a lot and others not so much.  While writing my last blog entry, I started contemplating what makes England so special to me.  Don't get me wrong, there are an awful lot of things that could certainly be improved but I for one count my lucky stars that I was brought up in the land of tea and biscuits.  So, let me tell you what I miss about home.

1)  Family, friends and the cats

Of course these aren't unique to England but I'd be lying if I said they aren't the first thing that I miss about being overseas.  I've never found it particularly difficult to make friends or relate to other people but I've found that in the world of EFL it's very easy to get to know people on a superficial level rather than having a deep and meaningful friendship.  There are few people who I'll end up staying in contact once they leave Vietnam which is perfectly understandable as most EFL teachers want to stay in one country for a maximum of two years before they move on to pastures new.  This isn't to say I haven't made some amazing friends, I have, but if I have any problems the first people I'll speak to are those at home, who I've known most of my life, who understand me and my inadequacies. 

Family is obviously essential to everyone's lives.  Although I'm from not the most communicative (i.e. not great at keeping in-touch) of families, I know that if anything untoward was to happen, they'd fully support me and help me through whatever the situation is.  I also know they share my happiness and I'm deeply proud of all of them, even if I don't tell them that often.  That to my mind, is what family is, a group of people who care for one another, share the positive and negative times in a comforting yet not overbearing way.  One of my deepest regrets is that my family couldn't come across for my wedding, but it just wasn't feasible, logical or practical for them to fly over.  Now that I have started a family of my own, I've come to appreciate my siblings, parents and the role that my grandparents have played throughout my life.  So for everything, my heartfelt thanks and sorry for any times I've let you down.

Finally, I can't finish talking about family without mentioning our cats, Sootika and Clumsy.  Two amazing felines, though I'm not sure mum and dad will agree!  They're coming into their 13/14th year of their lives so they've done well.  They generally don't leave the house, sleep, demand food at inconvenient hours of the morning and disturb you when you're trying to work but deep down, I know that we wouldn't change them for the world!  I'm still working on Hanh to let me have a cat but she's still holding out.......for now!

 Ok enough of the sappiness!

2)  The weather

Now this might surprise you, but you guys back at home have no idea how good you've got in terms of the weather!  You really don't!  In Saigon there are two types of day.  The first is hot in the morning, humid through the middle of the day and then it stays hot until the next day.  The second, during rainy season, is humid in the morning, extremely humid in the middle of the day, heavy rain/thunderstorms in the late afternoon/early evening to finish being humid.  Everyday feels the same, there are no seasons and the amount of daylight is pretty much the same all year round.

In England, it is different.  The winter is usually cold, windy with the occasional snow shower or drizzle and overcast skies.  The spring has pleasant temperature, refreshing breeze with the odd shower.  The days become longer, the flowers start to bloom, the fields are a lush green and everyone feels happier.  The summers are nice, not too hot, but warm enough to find thousands of people crowding the small areas of sand on the beaches.  Yes, there is rain sometimes, but it's not as bad as some people make out.  Well, at least on the south coast anyway.  Finally, the autumn.  The days start to shorten, the leaves turn a golden-brown colour and start to fall, the temperatures start to dip and the winds and frequency of showers start to pick up.

For me, the changing amount of daylight is huge!  It makes me enjoy the summer months more and seeing nature changing before your eyes is something you only really appreciate when you're in a country where it simply never alters.  As the temperatures are always pleasant, I never felt tired or drained like I do in the wall of heat I encounter everyday in Vietnam.  The monsoon rains in Vietnam can be extremely hazardous and flash-floods aren't uncommon.  Therefore, I'd take the seasonal weather in the UK any day of the week!

3)  The cup of tea

Nothing beats a nice cuppa tea!  Here, it's very difficult to find good tea bags as about only 2 shops stock them and then it's hit or miss if they have any left.  Therefore, I've been patiently waiting on deliveries of PG Tips and Tetley from people traveling back home to see their families.  Even with good tea bags, it doesn't taste the same here.  This is because the quality of milk in Vietnam is nowhere near as good (to my taste) as milk at home.  Therefore taste of tea here is inferior.  That being said, I'll take a cup of PG with bad milk over any Lipton yellow tea any day of the week!  For more

4)  The food

According to my students, English food isn't famous worldwide because it's boring.  Well that's one opinion, but I'll respectfully disagree.  Although Saigon is blessed with restaurants from all over the world, especially some great Indian and Korean eateries, I really miss decent English food.  Yes, there are some places which do a reasonable job at traditional English cuisine, but there's usually something missing.  For example, finding a good Sunday Roast Dinner is difficult.  The vegetables are usually overcooked, the gravy too runny and the Yorkshire Puddings are too soggy inside.  The English Breakfast is usually disappointing as the quality of sausages and bacon is generally low.  More importantly, English desserts are difficult to find!  I haven't found anywhere that serves good custard and fruit crumble, steam pudding and trifle is impossible to find!  I miss mash potato on the top of pies, I long for fish and proper potato cut chips and just thinking about these foods is leaving a massive hole in my stomach!  I can't wait to come back in 3 weeks to gorge and feast on some of the afore mentioned! 

 5)  Paying for things Electronically

Vietnam is very much a cash society.  Most locals carry large wedges of money around in their pockets and transactions are settled in notes.  In contrast, Korea and the UK are largely card orientated.  Therefore I've got into the habit of not carrying cash and paying for everything on my debit card.  This means I'm often short on cash when I go out in Nam.  Even though more bars and shops have card machines nowadays, they often don't work or the operatives simply don't know how to use them properly.  Also, late at night the ATM's frequently display the ever annoying message of 'Out of service - Sorry for any inconvenience', knowing full well it's extremely inconvenient as I'm there to get money because I have no money yet I can't access any!!!!  As I'm wary of pickpockets, I don't like carrying large amounts of money, so I'm caught in a catch 22, risk getting money stolen or being left short at the end of a night out.  Things in this regard, are so much easier at home!

So here are some of the things I miss.  I expect some people in both England and Vietnam will disagree with me, but these are merely my thoughts.  Of course there are negatives about Blighty, but I'll leave them for another day as I'm in a mood of 'positivity' (if that's even a word!)