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!)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Comparing Life in England to Vietnam

Well folks, every 10 weeks I have to teach students how to write a compare and contrast essay whereby they are given information about 2 countries or cities and have to make an essay detailing the similarities and differences between them.  So, to show them I can also write one, I'll write a comparison essay between the two countries where I've spent most of life, Vietnam and England.

England and Vietnam are countries with different customs, values and economic development.  Despite differences, similarities can be identified between these two nations that I have spent the majority of life in.  This entry (essay) will describe some of the likenesses and contrasts between these important European and Asian countries.
The first major similarity is the popular sports in these countries.  Both nations share a passion for the 'King of Sports' football.  In parks all around England you will find children and teenagers playing football using jumpers for goal posts.  Similarly, in Vietnam, everywhere is a potential football pitch.  There are specific 'soccer' facilities and stadiums, the motorbikes and pedestrians often share the roads and pavements with budding footballers and badminton and volleyball courts are often usurped as football arenas.  Not only is this sport played, it is also viewed by millions of fans in both countries with the English Premier League being the most popular league.

Secondly, England and Vietnam are both hubs for cheap travel around their continents.  In Europe, Ryanair is famous for cheap travel between European cities and likewise,  Jetstar provides a similar convenient in Asia.  From England, in hours you can be in Italy, Germany, Spain, Poland and beyond.  This is even better if you hold a European passport as you won't need to apply for different visas to travel between these nations due to the freedom of movement established in the European Union.  Although there is no such paralleled agreement in Asia, Vietnam is close to China, Thailand, the Philippines, and Singapore and just a little further are India, South Korea and Japan.  Therefore residents in either locations are blessed with countless travel opportunities should they seek to explore them.

The final likeness is that they both having fascinating, yet contrasting, long histories.  In England, the royal family, the building of palaces and religious houses and the fighting of wars are considerable marks of British society.  This, in a different guise, is also evident in Vietnam.   The Vietnamese had a royal family until 1945 and palaces still remain, one of which can be found in Nha Trang.  Buddhism was established in as early as 2 AD and the Tran Quoc Pagoda in Hanoi is over 1,400 years old.  Both countries have also fought many wars, most notably in the 20th century with the 1st and 2nd world wars and the American war respectively.  It must be noted that England was a colonial country while Vietnam was colonised but this doesn't detract from the significance that the religious belief and ruling class have made to both countries.

*There have been omissions made to this paragraph, but it was not my intention to get stuck into long disposes of the countries' history

While there are a number of fascinating similarities between England and Vietnam, there are numerous differences.  Firstly, behaviour that is considered polite is vastly different between these countries.  To elaborate, in Vietnam calling 'Em oi' aloud to attract a waiter/waitress' attention is considered a polite action while the same action in England would be frowned upon as being incredibly rude.  To give another example, the English will always queue and wait their turn to be served in shops or when waiting in traffic.  However, in Vietnam there is no notion of waiting in line and nudging ahead of others in line isn't viewed as being an impolite action.

Another significant point of difference is in the climate.  The south of Vietnam has a sub-tropical climate has means the temperatures rarely drop below 25 degrees C (even at night), there are long dry periods with high humidity and two periods of about 6 weeks of heavy rain showers.  Right now, Saigon has extreme humidity which is an immediate precursor to the tropical downpours.  In contrast, England has a temperate climate with 4 seasons.  As is widely stereotyped about blighty, there is often a lot of rain, wind and overcast conditions.  However, the summers can be pleasantly warm without the sweat and discomfort of Vietnam.  The 4 seasons also allow people to set a natural body clock.  For example, the differing temperatures and amounts of daylight, means it is easy to know what time of the year it is whereas in Vietnam everyday feels the day so you can forgiven for not knowing which part of the year you are in.

Finally, the cost of living is enormously different.  As is true for most developed countries, England has an extremely high cost of living.  In fact, so much so that it is now incredibly difficult for young graduates to get on the house ladder without significant from their parents.  A reasonable London salary will barely allow a worker to rent a flat near their office without sacrificing their social life.  The price of public transport is very high, especially the trains, with the only saving grace being that the state provides education (up to university) and health-care are covered by taxation.  On the other hand, Vietnam is much cheaper.  If you are an expatriate earning a similar salary to home, you can rent an apartment in the best part of town, eat out every night and still have money to take regular trips overseas and rack up some savings.  Whilst health-care and education must be paid for, the trade off is certainly appetising to a lot of people.

Despite the distance of 5774 miles that separates England to Vietnam, the similarities for their love of football, being hubs for international travel and having intriguing histories might be considered surprising.  The differences of the weather, cost of living and behaviour are less shocking.  As someone who's lived in both countries, it is difficult to accurately compare the countries as overall there are many more differences that haven't been described.  Whilst England clearly is more developed, has better infrastructure, social services and, in my opinion weather, the trade off in terms of expense and standard of living is hard to ignore.