Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Escape from Hanoi, Part 1

Time travel back with me to mid May…  I had just accepted a job offer in the Virgin Islands and was pretty excited about that.  Tropical paradise and all that.  Then I got even better news; six months previous to that, I had spent a few weeks researching and sending out letters of introduction with my CV (like a longer resume) to every single international school in France, Germany, and Sweden, and I even built up a website to highlight my teaching skills and sell myself.  One school in France got back to me saying they might have a position opening for next school year.

Not one to let opportunity pass, I stayed in touch with this school, pestering them about once a month to remind them that I was still very much interested in teaching for them.  They kept saying, ‘yeah we know, we’ll let you know’.  A few months of this passed, and I didn’t hear back from them, then I decided to take the gamble and fly to London for this job fair.  About that time, in my daily job hunt, I noticed an ad, “Teach in the French Riviera” on the London Times Educational website, which is about the hottest and most used European teacher website.  When you post any job there, you’re going to get hundreds of applicants.  When boasting about teaching in the French Riviera, you’re going to get many hundred more.  I read it, like probably a couple thousand teacher before, and discovered it was for the school I had been in contact with.  I didn’t know the school was in the Riviera because the school goes by this long, unwieldy French appellation which got shortened into a long, unwieldy acronym.  I just knew it was in France, and that’s somewhere I wanted to teach.  I didn’t know it was in THE most desirable place in France to live, right on the Mediterranean, in that little sweet spot right next to Italy.  So of course, the competition would be fierce.

For any European job, me being an American puts me at a huge disadvantage.  At least half the European schools I applied at wouldn’t even consider someone without a European passport.  Mostly, it’s because getting a work visa for a non-EU citizen is a pain in the ass, and in the French bureaucracy, it’s worse than almost any other European nation.  Finding a job there as a foreigner is a super hard sell.

So, I figured this was the moment I was waiting for, and dropped them another line, reminding them that I would love to work there.  “Yeah, we know, we’ll be interviewing in about a month from now, we’ll let you know.”  Well, I knew I didn’t stand much chance with that, so I went into negotiations with the Virgin Islands school, a bird in the hand, and all that.

A month passed and no news.  Then a few weeks later, I get an email asking if I’m still interested in working for the French school.  Absolutely.  We set up an interview for the next week.  The interview comes up and I kick ass.  After going through 3 full days of non-stop interviews in the London fair, my interview skillz were top notch.  The director of the school tells me that I just made it to the top ten of a very large field of applicants, around 500 people applied for the post.  Yeah, I got game.  Not over yet though, he sets up a second interview for the next week, this time with himself and the head of the History department.  The second interview comes, and I ace that one too.  He tells me at that point, I bumped up to the top spot, and I pretty much got the job.  I just have to go through one more interview though, this time with the head of the School board. 

At this point, I had the Virgin Islands job if I wanted it, so I knew I had a fall back.  And tropical paradise is a pretty good fall back.  The only thing that made me more interested in France is that the island I would be moving to was tiny, only 20,000 people.  I’m now a single guy, and after being stuck in the tiny island of Hanoi expat life, the thought of going to an even smaller social scene wasn’t appealing, especially one with few single people, as I was told the Virgin Islands were (by someone who was currently working there and single).  Paradise, yes, but paradise by yourself can get lonesome.  In France, I have a real shot at laying down some roots, and finally finding a place to rest my wandering soul.  I speak the language, love the food, understand the culture, and I really like the idea of having workers rights, a concept that doesn’t exist in Asia (and barely exists in America).  Plus, the Riviera ain’t such a bad place to live either.

This is all happening at the end of May.  I only have a month and a half left in my contract in Hanoi.  If I can just survive the next 45 days, I got either tropical paradise or the Mediterranean, both a far cry from the ol’ Loud and Dirty.  I left work early so that I could go home and prep for my final interview.  I took the highway to get home…And the next thing I am conscious of, I am in a hospital.  I look around confused and clueless as to how I got there.  My arm is in a cast.  My face hurts like hell, so does my leg.  My pants are bloody and torn.  I look over, and there’s my coworker Ryan sitting next to me.  I ask Ryan “What happened?  Why am I in a hospital?  Where’s my bike?”  Ryan rolls his eyes and sighs.  He tells me in a tired voice that I got hit by a car when I was riding my motorbike home on the highway, a foreigner named Steve saw me on the side of the road, picked me off the road, brought my motorbike to his house which just so happened to be a few blocks away, then brought me on the back of his motorbike to the hospital where I was diagnosed as having a broken wrist, three broken teeth, a crushed sinus passage, a bunch of road rash, and a concussion.  By his rapid-fire litany of that sentence, and his weariness, I deduced that he had probably told me this a hundred times and I had lost my short term memory.  I asked him.  Yup.  This was about the hundredth time he told me.   At least this time, I remembered.

The doctors then put me into a hospital bed, and Ryan told me (again, and also for the first time subjectively) that it was very important that I tell the doctors and the insurance company that I was WALKING when the accident occurred.  This is important because I don’t a have motorbike license in Hanoi.  Very few foreigners do.  I knew a total of 2 out of all the foreigners who had one.  The reason is twofold.  One, the process for getting a motorbike driving license in Vietnam is extremely byzantine, complicated, long, and like most things in that country, only works out about 30% of the time.  Reason two is that the government realizes that foreigners are the best drivers in Vietnam.  We’re not the ones who make the roads dangerous.
 Still, if the cops wanted to, they know they could literally pull over any foreign driver, and none of them would have a license.  But they don’t.  My theory behind that is Vietnam is really trying to boost their tourism, and the last thing they want is for tourists to be reporting back about always being hassled by the police.  Not good for tourism.  So, yeah, the accident happened while I was “walking”, although I still had my motorbike helmet with me in the hospital.  The doctors don’t care though, unlike here, they’re not in the insurance biz.

Eventually, they put me into a bed, and tell me I have to spend  at least the next few days in the hospital, to make sure I don’t have permanent brain damage, and they are also going to need to operate on my sinus passage.  Eventually Ryan goes home when I get sorted out.  Thanks again Ry-Ry.

I wake up the next day, still dazed from my concussion, but lucid.  I check my email on my phone which miraculously survived unscathed, only to find two emails from the French school, one email asking where I was, and the second asking if I was still interested in working at the school.  Shit!  I had missed the interview by a full day!

To be continued…

1 comment:

  1. so... what happens? you can sure craft a good story, and i want the next installment now!