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Saigon With The Wind, or A Hô Chí Minhute

Either those are excellent titles or I need to sleep better while traveling.

One of the more romantic goals of this trip is to travel from start to finish with as little international flying as possible, as much for environmentalism as for adventure and money’s sake – that said, neither of us were keen on swimming across the South China Sea, so some concessions had to be made.

We left Manila’s lights buzzing angrily behind us and shot westwards towards the eastern side of South-East Asia, practically every coastal kilometre of which belongs to our next target: Vietnam.

My knowledge of the country is thus far limited to its cuisine (or other countries’ interpretations of it, at least) and dubious claims to historical fame by enthusiastic American troops, so I’m going in totally blind. My only hopes upon landing are that it’s a) at least a bit cooler than the Philippines at 2am, and b) that the hotel is as close to the airport as it appears on Google Maps.

My first hope was predictably dashed as soon as I stepped out into the shirt-stickingly warm Hô Chí Minh night, but that was a long shot to begin with. We staggered through the various steps of airport tedium, with a brief hiccup at passport control regarding visas – more on that later – and headed into the night in search of bed. Barely five minutes into the walk, we had our first real Vietnamese experience when we dared to walk near a road.

Roads in Vietnam, especially in populated areas, are the stuff of legend. The first thing you’ll note is that there’s a ten-to-one bike-to-car ratio. The second is that there is never a moment that someone isn’t honking a horn very close to you, or indeed at you. The third – and this is a crucial point that will shape your everyday behaviour here – is that crossing a Vietnamese road takes a combination of confidence, spatial awareness and kamikaze-like determination. It’s not that you have to worry about bad drivers per se, it’s just that people have places to be and if you’re in the way then that’s your problem.

Hô Chí Minh, or Saigon, is a truly mad city – in a way that I couldn’t help but love. It seems impossible to be bored if you have any reason to be outside, particularly if you happen to be near the busier areas. You can’t walk in a straight line for restaurants spilling out onto the mostly-for-show pavements, and the city’s labyrinthine layout means you’ll probably get turned around a few times on a ‘straight line’ journey anyway. In the space of a few hundred metres you can walk past rustic old homes, gleaming skyscrapers and French colonial architecture; one of the city’s listed sights is its post office, which sounds fairly banal until you’re looking up at it.

We’d booked a few nights (admittedly unknowingly) directly next to Bùi Viên, the Walking Street: pleasant-sounding enough, but notorious for its thumping nightlife, dubious businesses and not-so-subtle streetside narcotics salesmen. All terribly fun if you’re into it, but sadly a bit beyond our thin budgets. We could enjoy the bowel-shaking bass for free every night, however.

As part of our Southern Vietnam experience we booked a trip to the Mekong Delta, the ‘rice basket of Asia’. My top takeaways from the trip include a pair of monks openly judging the sartorial choices of passing tourists, and an eerily silent boat ride though dense marshland – an atmosphere totally broken when the gondolier dropped us off, started up a hidden outboard motor and roared off into the shattered mystique of the Mekong wilderness.

We’d intended to stop in Hô Chí Minh only for a day or two, but were delayed by previously-mentioned Visa Stuff. The following information pertains in this instance to British travellers, but equally applies to those of other European nationalities.

A cursory check in advance of the trip informed us that UK passport holders can enter Vietnam with a ‘visa exemption’ – what this means is that you can enter the country for up to 15 days without needing to apply for a visa in advance. This is handy, but slightly less so when you plan to stay in the country for upwards of three weeks as we do.

It isn’t the end of the world if you end up in the same situation as us (or the nice German/Romanian couple we ran into who had the same predicament) – all you need do is head to the Immigration Visa Extension Office, and walk right past it to a totally different building. The Immigration Office is an unnerving waiting room of bureaucracy and sternly armed guards that will only tell you to go to this other building anyway. What you want is floor 3A of the Itaxa House building, a few blocks along from the Immigration Office. You simply entrust them with your passport (not my favourite part), pay $55 (far less than the tour companies will ask for) and go back the following day for your new, extended visa.

Now legally equipped to explore the country, we strike out northwards with the equally bustling Hà Nôi in our long-range sights. We’ve got more than a few stops along the way before then, however – the first of which being the dunes of Mūi Né along the coast.

I obediently remove and bag my offending shoes (as per custom), throw my bag unceremoniously onto the bus and squeeze my oversized frame into the undersized seat. Its only a five-hour drive, after all.

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How To Cook A Teacher

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Us at Swedish wedding.

Hello! It’s been roundabout-almost-specifically-exactly a year since we left Korea. Blowing off the dust (sneezing messily in the process) from this blog, I realise that I’ve actually missed spewing my brain across the Web via inconsistent and rambling updates. However, I also realise that the purpose of a ‘travel blog’ can get a bit diluted when one isn’t actually travelling per se. Fascinating though app achievements and toe-nail pickings may be in certain circles, I blather on enough when I’ve actually got something to say.

So, Fell Out Of The Nest has laid dormant, waiting for its moment to strike/be taken down from WordPress due to inactivity. I’m happy to say it’s looking like the former; we’ve gone and found ourselves another bloody job in Korea.

A brief run-down, catch-up, filling-in and fleshing out of 2014:

* Not much happened

* I saw a woodpecker

* I found a week’s work as a labourer where I made the mistake of cracking an anti-UKIP joke among exclusively UKIP-voting workers

* I wrangled a month’s work as an ESL teacher to Italian students who were (almost entirely) not bastards, and who have reminded me that Instagram is occasionally amusing

* I got an iPad for Christmas 2013 and am seriously running the danger of destroying my relationship due to Family Guy: A Quest For Stuff

*I lived in a Spanish theme park for a week

* I went swimming naked in a Swedish lake with people who were fortuitously also naked

*I went running at least once without soiling myself

*I got another teaching job in Korea while reflecting on how thoroughly underachieving I’ve been in 2014

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Siblings in London.

Now everybody’s on the same page, I thought I’d like to take an indulgent minute to actually provide some faintly helpful information for any fellow emigrants looking to teach abroad. Please note that this IS specific to UK citizens looking to teach in South Korea; Americans and Canadians have a slightly different visa process, but God knows there’s enough blogs like this ‘un out there which could probably help you. Also, South Korea is a touch more anal about documentation, particularly RE: apostilled degrees – other countries often require a blessedly shorter process.

 

Us + 'Mericans in Yorkshire.

Us + ‘Mericans in Yorkshire.

 

An ESL Cookbook: How To Cook A Teacher (In South Korea)

Ingredients
You will need:

*1-2 English humans ripened to at least 18 years, preferably capable of formulating a native English sentence

*One genuine (or not, if you’re crafty) university degree in any subject (but extra points for English/Theatre/Education courses)

*One willing notary public (can be found growing in most good solicitor’s offices)

*One passport per human, whose faces and details should ideally match that of the passport’s.

*At least one teacher recruiting agency (not essential, but recommended) – for suggested companies, links are provided at the bottom of this blog page.

*One resume, or curriculum vitae (CV) with hopefully honest details of previous employment

*One criminal record check (previously CRB, now called DBS but otherwise the same damn thing); please note that any previous murder convictions may affect your employability

*One clothed photo of yourself/selves – Korean schools often like to know what the teacher looks like

* NOT ESSENTIAL BUT RECOMMENDED: I would suggest, at gunpoint if necessary, that you save up to buy a month’s intensive CELTA qualification course. It’s around £1,000 and a month of hella work, but it will make you more attractive than beer-goggles ever could in the eye of prospective employers.

Us + dogs + please don't drool on me

Us + dogs + please don’t drool on me

The Process:

1) Having let your human stew in their home country awhile, have them look at the Wikipedia/Flickr/Facebook/Wordpress/Blogspot pages relating to Korea. What looks good? Does megacity Seoul draw you with its shiny things and bright lights? Or the beach-city of Busan, right on the Eastern Sea’s coasts? Google ‘korea teacher blog’ and see what you find – make sure to choose http://www.felloutofthenest.com for maximum deja vu.

2) Find a recruiter. You can go it alone, but there’s no real benefit; it’s the school who pays them anyway, and you’re more likely to find a dodgy job if you don’t have professional backing.

3) Have a nice, shiny CV to hand – possibly trim down an all-round CV to focus on teaching experience (if any) and/or relevant skills. Send the recruiter your CV as well as a smug mugshot of yourself.

4) Say hi. Make them like you and smile to show you’re not a psychopath (frantic smiles might have an adverse effect). Let the recruiter know your situation – eg. your earliest start date, where do you ideally want to be in Korea, are you travelling with a partner etc.

5) Repeat stages 2-4 a few times with different recruiters: you can up your chances and be more picky with schools if you have a few different parties finding you work.

6) You’ve found a school you like! They’ll probably want an interview, either via phone or Skype; if you’re in the UK, prepare to get up for an 8-9AM (GMT) interview (4-5pm Korean time [KST]). Have a chat, see what the director/manager’s like. Most of the time, they just want to see what you sound/look like, so make sure to be friendly and speak clearly. If you’ve got any questions RE: holidays, working hours etc. then now’s the time. Also, be sure to ask for the contact details of current/past teachers – if the school’s happy for you to talk to the Western teachers it’s probably a good sign!

Us at (first) wedding in England.

Us at (first) wedding in England.

7) The school doesn’t think you’re a weirdo! Now comes the tedious bit. International employment is a bureaucratic pain in the bum, so I’ll expand the above ingredients. For this stage, you’ll need to get/print:

*Your CV/resume
*Your CRB/DBS: they cost about £26 from http://www.disclosurescotland.co.uk/basicdisclosureonline/index.htm , and take 2 weeks to arrive.
*Your original university degree AND a photocopy/scan
*Your passport AND another photocopy/scan
* A Korean visa application form (your recruiter will probably send you one): looks something like this  – http://www.teacheslkorea.com/downloads/Visa%20Application%20Form.pdf

8) A bit of legal fumbling now – you’ll be needing to find a notary public to glance at your degree and DBS for thirty seconds, stamp it with a metal thing and charge you about a hundred quid for it. However, this WILL allow to you to teach in Korea and you WILL make it back sharpish when you’re teaching. Just Google ‘Notary Public’ in your respective city and get a quote from them. Once you have your newly notarised documents…

9) …you need to send them to the Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO); everything you need to know about posting it is (refreshingly) well laid-out on the site at https://www.gov.uk/get-document-legalised . It’ll cost you another £30 per document but THINK OF THE TRAVELLING

10) Once you’ve confirmed the job with your school-to-be, print and sign the contract they send you (make sure it matches what you were told about your job!) and cram this into an envelope:

– your signed contract

– your photocopied/scanned passport

– the Korean visa application form

– a Health Check form (supplied by your recruiter)

– Four passport photos of your beautiful face/s

– your CV/s, with your signature somewhere obvious on them

– your apostilled DBS & degree

Then, send all your hard-earned bits of very important but incomprehensible paper to the school in Korea. I don’t know what your address is, but you probably will by now. NOTE: Make sure you send by FedEx or DHL – they can get a bit funny about Royal Mail parcels overseas…

11) Eventually your school will get your stuff to their local immigration office, and will send you your very own number, which you then pass on to the Korean embassy in the UK, along with your passport (which you will NOT have lost by this point). After a week or so you’ll get your passport back with an exciting new visa stuck in the pages.

12) From this point on, your school will be rabid to get you and will aim to arrange a flight date for you. And so, you’re on your way! Try not to punch any schoolchildren in the face – it’s not very nice and most of them study taekwon-do.

I’ve regurgitated all this information mostly because we’ve had to do it AGAIN for our new position teaching in Gwangju, south-South Korea. We’re seriously excited, and not just because we’re going to be living in a building with a helipad.

I hope we get to take the helicopter to school.

Us + sister + friend in Spain.

Us + sister + friend in Spain.

For your info…

Korean Recruiters

Our personal recommendation, having found us great jobs every time in Korea – ask Dan Henrickson at http://www.teacheslkorea.com

Other companies who have been fantastic include:
http://www.flying-cows.com (a British company)
http://www.footprintsrecruiting.com
http://www.opportunitykorea.com
http://www.peoplerecruit.com

Another tactic which worked fantastically for us was to browse the job offerings and, more importantly, post your own CV on http://www.daveseslcafe.com and await responses from schools and recruiters in Korea!