How I miss teaching English in Vietnam. I miss the walks around west lake. How it was like watching life unfold right among you. All of it’s action. The sensations vibrate through your soul. Fisherman laughing. Like they’ve been doing for decades, together. The tradition surrounds you when you are an English teacher in Vietnam. How I’d walk through the pagoda, only a mile from my house. Watching all the tourists see it for the first time. I’d seen it the day before, and the day before that, and again, tomorrow. It’s golden statues and tallness, it’s bigger-than-you-ness. The incense envelopes you. It breathes you in. I’ve never prayed before, but Vietnam takes your fingers and places them at your heart for you. How I miss walking out and continuing on, around the lake, with the locals, and the transplants, and the tourists. Walking amongst each other like a dance we’re all learning for the first time, or the dance they’ve done forever. Since their grandparents and mothers taught them: how to make pho, how to drink coffee, how to weave your motorbike with all it’s pride and nonchalance. A school of fish. A nation that welcomes you and asks you to stay. Not because they need you here, but because they’re curious. Because this nation is young and moving. It’s becoming itself each and every day. Like a teenager learning to finally be itself. A drive to learn English, to teach you Vietnamese, to globalize itself. Finding it’s independence and it’s beauty among the nature that surrounds each bustling city. In the mountains, the rice fields that are just a bus ride away. Oh, the sleeper buses. The disorganization that takes you exactly where you need to go on your day off from teaching. Weaving through the greenery. Stopping for bun cha & a cafe sua da in a little city. How the sweetness of condensed milk softens the spicy, chili fried pork. Even the food cares for you. Like the women on the streets who smile when they want to. Who carry their children home from school. Who brought me back to their village to share a hot pot. Who fed me jack fruit straight from their hands inside Vinmarts. Not to sell it to me, but simply to share the fruit of their country. The women who were selling, though, they always got you. The ones who yelled and followed you and convinced you to buy their pineapples. Who eventually remember you, and now know you live on their street. How you will buy from them only once a week and you will share a hug because now you are neighbours. How you go to Tom’s cafe across the street each afternoon before riding your motorbike across the red river, over the Long Bien bridge to see your students. How Tom remembers your order. How you forget your wallet and he hands you your coffee anyway, motioning you to leave with a knowing smile. When you get to school your students say “teacher, teacher!” with excitement. Even though they’ve been at school all day. It’s hour 12 of their day now. How they still learn and laugh and love you despite their exhaustion. How they will go on like their parents have through hardships. You make arts and crafts, you learn their favourite colours, memorize their birthdays. You teach adjectives to describe their emotions. They teach you how to say “I love you” in Vietnamese. You say it broken, incorrectly, to each of them when they head out the classroom in their puffy coats, down the elevator. How you miss them so much your heart aches for their hugs. For their energy. How they inspire you to want to learn. How they were your teachers. How you went to Vietnam to teach, but Vietnam taught you. How I got into a cab outside my house for the last time, for the airport. How I watched the man who cooked pho every Sunday night, smoke his cigarette and wave me goodbye. How I cried on the Long Bien bridge, remembering my motorbike. My freedom. My love of this country and of teaching English here in Vietnam. How I cry now, loving it from afar, and waiting impatiently till I make a trip back home. Back to Vietnam, my teacher.
Written by Gabrielle Barnes for Teacher’s Friend Vietnam