First week…in Da Nang

Well, 6 hours in Ha Noi makes me long for Da Nang. The ease of Da Nang trumps the pollution and noise of Ha Noi. It’s unlikely I will visit HCMC without K by my side. I’m not really a “traveler”. The only reason I would return to Ha Noi would be travel with K. My main goal for being here is to procure a new passport so I can have my papers together to get my work visa. Did I mention I have a job?…Well, I haven’t signed a contract yet, but…when I get back I should have all my paperwork together and be ready to begin.

My first week here in Vietnam could have been better, meaning if passport was in hand, but I have learned a lot about myself. I learned that I have the capacity for enduring patience. Here you need the ability to take things slow. In Jamaica they say “soon come”. In Da Nang they say “no problem.”


Tien and Tam made my transition a bit easier. I would greet them in the morning as I ate my pho. Tien would then take me on his motorbike to different places. We would return in the early afternoon. I would shower and nap until we met up for beers and he would show me a new food stall to eat at. He would speak to each stall, explain that I wasn’t a tourist and made sure I got the best price.

Tam (Easy Rider)

I met Tien a block from my hotel. I had sat at Bamboo 2 watching the motorbikes make their way along Bach Dang which runs along the Han River. Whole families, sometimes made of four, were on one scooter. I watched a scooter carry a baby in a restaurant highchair pass by. It was amusing to see the evening cruise. I was wondering back to my hotel when Tien approached me and help me find my way. I took his card and agreed to go to Marble Mountain and Monkey Mountain the next morning. I relaxed in the hotel and watched some TV until I fell asleep.

FRIDAY…Good morning Vietnam! September 2nd was a national holiday. My first breakfast was French bread and jam. I had a coffee with milk and watched as others were offered noodles for their breakfast. If I knew it was possible I would have ordered pho myself. I took note to ask for it the next morning. Tien met me at 9 and we headed out on his scooter to Marble Mountain. It was already really hot, but it was nice to have the wind in my face. Tien pointed out hospital bunkers left from the war and the resorts and casinos that lined the beach. There is a lot of development happening in Da Nang. Once at Marble Mountain I was left to make my climb of a gazillion stone steps in the heat of the morning.  I donned my backpack and climbed. There were a ton of people climbing the steps, young and old. It was a bit overwhelming, the heat, at first. I climbed and was continually asked to purchase incense for the Buddha At one set of stairs I stopped to rest as did three other boys. I wiped my face with my Dallas Cowboys bandana as they began to take pictures of me with their cell phones. Then they began to take pictures with me. After the pictures it seemed that they adopted me and grabbed my hand to climb with them.

I wanted to see the sleeping Buddha, but it was way too crowded and dark to make up the haphazard steps. I reflected on Uncle Randy’s story of his trip to Marble Mountain and felt that it was okay to not climb into the hole. I just got to Vietnam and I didn’t need to hurt myself. I will go back with K. The steps were steep going up and down . I met Tien at the bottom and we moved on toward Monkey Mountain. We scooted by China Beach, which was empty of people and only had tiny breaks as proof of surf.  Fishing boats were pulled onto the beach waiting to leave that night for a fishing trip. I expected to see food stalls along the beach serving what they caught, but honestly, it is way too hot for anyone to just hang out on the beach like that. Across the road were a few places to stop and eat, but they were empty during the day.

Once up Monkey Mountain I was able to walk around an area covered in stone.  Heat radiated from the sun and the ground. Vietnamese people milled around the temple and surrounding grounds. There was this amazing huge pristine white Buddha that rose out of a lotus.  The architecture and landscaping would be K’s dream to walk around to see. I did find myself in an area where I should have taken my shoes off so I just rushed myself down the stairs back to Tien. I was hot and tired at this point. Glad to have been to a few sights Tien took me back to the hotel to cool out.  I returned to my room and began to ruminate about my lost passport. I had a hard time thinking about where it had gone. How did it leave me so easily? How come it was so hard to relocate? I took apart all of my luggage, pointlessly, looking for that little blue book. They should make electronic passports the size of credit cards that gets slid through a machine as you enter each country. I mean, come on, it is the new millennium.

I made some more phone calls to Vietnam Airlines to inquire about my report of my missing passport. After being disconnected 5 times someone finally called my room to say that it wasn’t found. I sat on my bed feeling a bit low. Then my mind just began to race. Mr. Hiep was sitting next to me. He’s the only one I talked to while I was holding the damn thing. Something might have happened when we exchanged business cards. He had been so nice and willing to help, what if he actually picked it up and was waiting for me to call so he could prove that he was a “scout boy” like he claimed. My mind went negative…it was like the time I lost my wedding ring and I almost jumped a little person on BART because he looked suspicious. He could have crawled under my seat and slipped it off my finger while I slept on the train…horrible, I know…of course, I found my ring in the gym at my office. I just had a feeling about Mr. Hiep. I ended up calling him.

Ten minutes later he showed up at my hotel. We talked about the situation. He didn’t have the passport, of course, but he did have connections at the airlines and promised to look into it when he returned to Saigon (HCMC). We talked a little more about my situation. He asked me about my teaching, and what schools I was interested in. When I mentioned Fisher’s Superkids he gave me a phone number of another American who was teaching there. It was definitely not a waste to give this man a call. I met with Tien and we went around the corner from my hotel to his watering hole. There I met Tam, his brother, and sat for a bit watching the motorbikes, learning about the different tours he takes people on. Tam rides a full size motorcycle and makes longer tours all over Vietnam, mainly through the mountains. They both have comment books and both had very good comments from people all over the world.

After the nightly deluge Tien brought me to a place to eat Com Ga, chicken dry. Folks, it was hella dry. Basically it is roasted chicken and rice. I felt good meeting the brothers. Tien and I would set out again the next day. Back in the room I showered as the room cooled off. I sat back waiting for 10pm when I would skype with K. It would be her morning, yesterday.

SATURDAY…Pho for breakfast along with coffee and milk. Tien and Tam sat across the street at a café. Tam was taking an older Australian lady into the mountains for the day. Tien would take me to My Son Sanctuary  It was a long ride on the back of the motorbike. Along the way there were rice fields and people tending to them. Some used a sickle to cut the grass down and some fields used a weed whacker with a gas motor. They would put it on their shoulder and ride their motorbike to each fied and cut a swath down. It would be picked up, separated and the ride would be laid out on tarps along the side of the road. They did the same with the corn they harvested.  After about an hour on the scooter, we stopped at a place where they made rice paper. . A woman would ladle the rice mixture that included sesame onto a hot skillet heated by the rice husks. Using a wooden baton with a wet cloth tied to the end she would roll it onto the baton and then lay it out on a screen to dry. I had an opportunity to make a few myself. I must say I did well, and we ate what I made. It tasted good.  Back on the motor bike we went to the heritage site.

It was hot and steamy. I thought it might be good to spray some OFF on my exposed limbs and headed up the road to the ruins.  I was very surprised at the amount of people there. Mainly Asians, there were a lot of Japanese and Korean tourists. It was extremely hot. I had to sit down a lot to rest and drink water. I was beginning to feel tired. I think the jet lag was sneaking up on me.  I didn’t stay too long. I wasn’t feeling well. My ass hurt and I wasn’t looking forward to the ride back. On the way back Tien showed me where it would be good to get BBQ beef, but I was too tired to go for it. I requested we get back to my hotel so I could pass out. Scooter butt and jet lag got the best of me that day. No beers with Tien that night.

I was glad to be able to post pictures on Facebook,  and play some scrabble. In the background commercials for that teen movie Eclipse would play. One other channel in English showed Master chef shows continually. On ESPN I was left to watch east coast baseball. I took a nap before my skype session with K. I am very grateful for technologies. It helps to not feel so far away, although it doesn’t help me determine which day it actually is. I am totally lost in time.

SUNDAY…I am so very grateful to have met Tien. I don’t know how I would have gotten my cellphone otherwise. It wasn’t enough to have a name card and email, I needed a number for schools to get a hold of me. We spent about 30 minutes going over the phones. I became a little frustrated with the language struggle, but Tien said “no problem” I got my cheap ass Nokia and SIM card and bought some time. Afterwards, we drank some beers at Tien’s sister’s stall, where I had met him a few nights before. We sat as the rain began to fall and had a few cold ones. Then Tien showed me a place to get fried noodles.  You really need a Chinese person to show you where the good Chinese food is at…this is where I miss my buddy B.O.B.B.Y. I sat at the food stall taking in the sights and sounds. Holy smokes, I’m in Vietnam.

The day was chill. Tien was showing me around. He showed me a great place to get pho. That particular spot was owned by people from Ha Noi and it has been the best pho I’ve had

first faux pas, leaving chopsticks in bowl

As the night grows older Da Nang cools off, but also shuts down. Cafes close and only a few restaurants are open. After spending the day in the heat I retire to my room for some TV and a nap before my nightly skype session. I needed to calm down a bit. Monday was my day to head out around town to look for work.

MONDAY…I woke up early to set out my shirt and tie. I wasn’t looking forward to wearing so much material in the heat, but that’s the only way I can think of to get a job, look professional. They key is to wear a tank under so it gets sweated out before the shirt. I wanted to wilt when I stepped off the elevator at my hotel, but I persevered. Tien took me to each English language school in the city, nine. Again, Tien is the man. I don’t think I would have found the schools without him. It would have taken me a week to apply to each school, if I found them. It is very important to have a motorbike in Da Nang, because the schools are very spread out. We made it to the school that I had made contact in the spring, the school that offered me a job and then quit communications. I met directly with the director this time. We chatted for just a moment. It was long enough for him to tell me that they had too many teachers for their 50 students and give me directions to a café that had a bulletin board that listed jobs.

oh yes I did

Bread of Life is a café owned by an American and employs deaf people for vocational and ASL training. UCSI director mentioned they had good hamburgers and I figured I might be able to find a lead. I left UCSI campus determined to never contact them again and headed for a familiar lunch. He was right about the bulletin board. I found a posting for a job, a few postings for cheap housing, and a post for Vietnamese language lessons. The Coke was cold, the burger and fries were okay, but it was good to try and wrap my head around a few things. I made a list of things to do before the end of the afternoon. I knew I was ready to get out of this shirt and tie, but the day was not over.

30 minutes after sending Mr. Simon my CV he called me for an interview. I got back into my shirt and tie and went to interview at Gia Minh. It’s an English language school far down the road from my hotel. Through an alley and up some stairs you can hear the voices of eager and happy children. It was steamy in the office. Fans pushed around hot air. One of the young women working administration led me back to Mr. Simon’s office. The difficult part of the interview was understanding Mr. Simon. He himself doesn’t have the best command of the language, so it was slow going. He took whatever paperwork I had and made copies. I made him aware of my passport situation and he let me know that I needed to get my paperwork in order so I could get a work permit. He showed me the work permits he held and his teachers have been with him for many years. I just wish I was able to speak to one of those teachers.

We walked through the small school and I met a few of the children. Super cute! I never did see a teacher in the building. Red flag. I left the office feeling good, otherwise. I knew that if I didn’t have my paperwork there would be no contract. Even if he offered me a class I wouldn’t do it. I’m not trying to get stuck somewhere doing shady business, plus, my ideal place was Fisher’s Superkids. It all happened very fast. Damn, that passport. I needed to push Mr. Hiep on that issue. I didn’t want to push too much because it is Vietnam and they have their own timing. A call wouldn’t hurt.

TUESDAY…I Just wanted to get around the city myself. I started out with my pho breakfast and headed out toward no where in particular. I had been on the back of a motorbike for the past days and kind of felt that I needed to walk around to get my bearings in the place. The woes of scooter butt. I made it three blocks before three motorbikes tried to pick me up. I kept trying to tell them no as they would show me their comment books when Tien rode up on the sidewalk beside me. Since he was there I got on and told him he needed to take me to the immigration office so I could report my passport missing. There I sat in a hot office waiting for what seemed like forever, but was probably 15 minutes. Heat makes time go slow. On the back of the photocopy of my passport they wrote that I needed to go to the U.S. Embassy in Ha Noi. My stomach dropped. I didn’t want to leave Da Nang. I so wished there was a consulate here. I needed to make another call to Hiep, who kept telling me to calm down, he would hear about it soon. Come on man, it’s been a while. If they haven’t found the passport now then they won’t.

After the immigration office Tien took me to Cham Museum . I can’t say I had the best time. I’m not really a museum person, but it was nice. It was also very hot in there. I did think it was interesting how they placed the reliefs in the wall as if they were found there. Of course I liked the lions. There was a nice big tree in the back for shade. I sat there for a while and tried to get my head together. I didn’t really want to do anything. Day by day the amount I owed Tien was mounting, but without my passport I couldn’t cash my traveler’s checks. Money stresses me out. Not knowing the language was stressing me out. The heat was getting to me. Tien could tell something was wrong He said let’s go to Hoi An. I reminded him about money and he said, “no problem”. It was a problem. I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Let’s go to Hoi An, screw it.”

I didn’t like Hoi An. I didn’t like that every step I took they asked me to buy something. I couldn’t walk by one store, stall, or even restaurant without being accosted. It was too much for me. I stopped to buy a soda and was dragged to a tailors shop to look through a catalog of clothing. It was my plan to have clothing made, but I didn’t have Tien with me to introduce me to the right tailor. It was like sitting at a time share meeting. They wouldn’t take no for an answer. I finally escaped the tailor to be harassed by a cobbler, to a souvenir hawker. “Why you no want table runner?” “I don’t have a table.”  I booked it through the alley into the food market. I took out my camera to take a picture and got conned into taking this woman’s photo and then she charged me for it. I should have deleted it in front of her. I wanted to kick her basket over.

Feeling angry and abused I felt hungry. I had not had any fish or seafood since being here. I saw a couple sitting in a restaurant that advertised garlic prawns as a special and I went in and sat down.  I ordered a long island ice tea and waited for a long time. I thing they went to go fish the three prawns they gave me, I was hungry too, so another disappointment…I just wanted to get the hell out of Hoi An. I didn’t understand the appeal. I may go back to get clothing made for work, but that is about it. Get me back to Da Nang. I washed my scooter butt and lay in bed to wait to skype with K, who I was missing tremendously. I was reaching my limit of Vietnam.

WEDNESDAY…After a night of drinking Remy and loud music at the Festival Club I went to Bread of Life for an American breakfast of pancakes and eggs and bacon. Ah, bacon. I had walked there from my hotel and it was very far. I had to call Tien to pick me up and take me back to the hotel. I upset my body by not having pho and I needed to lay down. I blame the food, but I know it was depression. I was feeling out of sorts and after the Festival Club I was feeling taken advantage of. I didn’t want to be part of the city anymore. I slept most of the day.

THURSDAY…I knew I needed to start making plans to deal with the passport issue. I had three huge bags and my backpack to deal with. I felt that if I moved everything up there with me I wouldn’t come back. People have been telling me left and right about how easy it is to get a teaching gig in Ha Noi, but I wanted to stay in Da Nang. I knew I had to get my paperwork in order before anything could happen. I finally heard from Mr. Hiep after a few email exchanges that the passport wasn’t to be found, duh. So which way would I go, by plane or train? Well, by sleeping bus of course. The front desk at the hotel worked out the arrangements. I made my appointment at the embassy for Monday. I would be able to store my larger bags at the Dai A and I was about to be on my way. I still needed some comfort and my body wasn’t use to eating so many carbohydrates…I needed a steak. Going through the in Da Nang website I found an Australian pub and grill across the river by the beach.

The Billabong is a small, but nice place that serves Vietnamese beers and the regular cast of spirits. They have many types of food, but not Vietnamese. I sat at a table away from the bar and stayed quiet. After I ate my steak and fries, which were perfect by the way, three Aussies invited me to the bar for some happy hour beers. We watched some soccer and learned about the Rugby pools. It was nice to get to know those guys. Two of the three were visiting and one has been living there for a while with his Aussie wife and kids. I thought of my friends Chris and Marcy and began to look forward to their visit to Vietnam. Aussies are very friendly. It was good to get to that side of the river. It is even more laid back and beachy. I hope to find residence on that side.

Tien picked me up to take me to the other side so I could skype with K. It wasn’t that time yet but it had been raining and I wanted to get back before any more started. Tien told me that he and Tam had missed me. I was leaving for Ha Noi as they were leaving for Hue and the mountains. They got some Dutch clients and would be gone throughout the weekend. We wouldn’t see each other for goodbyes. I didn’t realize how much we were actually friends. It made my heart feel good. I inadvertently agreed to go home with Tien. We snaked down some thin alley to his house and I met his family. He has three children, 7, 5, and 1. Talk about cute!!! We ate some pho, even though I was full from steak and fries. We sat and talked a little. We watched as his youngest would wipe the table down after we put our sweating beers on the table. Tien couldn’t help but smile over his brood. I felt really special meeting his family. I feel really special having met Tien. I don’t know what my stay in Da Nang would be without him. I got choked up on the motorbike back to my hotel. They’ve given me true Vietnamese love. We agreed to meet in the morning before we both left to say good bye and good luck. Published Sunday night awaiting my appointment for a new passport at the U.S. Embassy.

sorry if it could have been edited better, kinda not in the mood…

2 thoughts on “First week…in Da Nang

  1. just wanted to let you know I’m reading and enjoying your posts, even though your adventures are of the slow, hot and sometimes frustrating kind. someday you will look back and smile over the memories of these first days. and you’re paving the way so K doesn’t have to go through as many of these hiccups. carry on, friend and keep writing it out. writing is like sweating, for the emotions rather than the body.

  2. Hey Zion. Reading your post reminded me so much of my first few days overseas 10 years ago. Thanks for sharing your ups as well as your downs. Glad to hear you knew about the undershirt. It took me until Jamaica to learn that one; two years in Taiwan sweating through my shirts. Technology has made it so much easier to be apart for those you love back home. Oh, I stopped taking pictures of people a long time ago. Sick of the hassles. Some people have the knack for people photography without getting hassled, not me. I’m definitely more of a landscape photographer. Look forward to reading more about your travels.

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