After 38 years of teaching around the world it's almost time to retire and say goodbye to living overseas. This will be my last full time year of teaching and my husband's last year as head of school. It's pretty special to finish it in a country that saw a lot of 'firsts' for both of us. We came to Vietnam back in 1994 when we started the first international school in the country since the war had ended. My husband was the founding principal and this was his first headship. Four other adventurous souls came with us and, because the original school building on Nam Ky Khoi Ngha street hadn't been finished, we began the school year in our living rooms - something we had never done before! We had 25 students and our daughter, who was three years old at the time, was the first student enrolled. We had already taught in PNG and Kathmandu (which is where we had adopted our beautiful daughter) but none of the other four had worked overseas. It truly was the chance and the adventure of a lifetime and, although we are not in constant touch with those that took that journey with us, we get together every now and then to reminisce and reflect on how fortunate we were to be in the right place at the right time for an unforgettable experience that set all of us on great career and life paths. That school is still going strong 28 years later and the school song that Pete and I wrote together all those years ago, is still sung at assemblies!
We returned four years ago to a run and work in a different international school. It is has been a rollercoaster ride with Covid-19 happening but it has still been a fantastic place to be and we feel so grateful to not only be given the opportunity to explore this beautiful country once more, but to also be in a country where the pandemic has been managed so well and where we feel safe.
So, one last trip to Nin Vanh Bay and Six Senses resort this week, and then in July, a trip on the Vietage Train. A fantastic and memorable way to retire! I hope that when travel starts up again you will come visit Vietnam and find it as enchanting and amazing as we have.
Tet or Lunar New Year is upon us with the Year of the Ox being heralded in this Friday. It's meant to be a time of celebration here in Vietnam and a time of sharing, of hope, and of family. For those lucky enough to have family close, their celebrations, although subdued, will be together. For those whose families are further away, it means finding friends to celebrate with instead this year. This is because last week saw a resurgence of Covid, which brought with it remote learning and another lockdown - just before celebrations are about to kick off. But I still count us among the fortunate, as Vietnam has done an amazing job of being on top of any outbreaks and keeping cases to a minimum.
We were lucky enough to squeeze in our school Tet celebration before last week, which meant I got to participate in my last one before heading home to Australia next July. It was colourful, noisy and as always, great fun. Happy Year of the Ox!
I count myself and my family among the lucky ones this year. Even though my husband and I couldn't get home to Australia for Christmas, our grown up children were able to be together and spend the time with extended family. Covid is pretty much under control here in Vietnam so we can travel and enjoy getting together with friends. And of course technology meant that we could Skype in and feel part of the celebrations back home. That would not have happened when we were here 26 years ago with our four year old daughter. Back then virtual visits weren't around and a phone call home was USD$6.00 per minute! So we spent the days over Christmas 2020 in Dalat, in the Vietnamese highlands. The weather was cool, the pine forests beautiful and the sightseeing interesting. The area has certainly changed a lot in those 26 years. More 'western' things are readily available now, but tourism has not been as kind to the environment as it could or should be. Let's hope 2021 will be better in so many ways. Here are a few of the highlights - hotel Christmas tree and gardens, Elephant Falls, Crazy House, Cu Lan village and the Cricket Farm. And although the cricket dishes looked yummy, we weren't brave enough to try!
I haven't written in my blog for a few weeks because life has been pretty hectic at work, which means I haven't had much time to write either. BUT now we're on holiday for a week and the words have started to flow again! Have been rewriting and trying to fine tune old stories, writing new ones, entering some competitions and loving being back by the ocean again. We're on the main island of Con Son which is part of the Con Dao archipelago of 16 islands off the southern coast of Vietnam. The flight in over this ancient volcanic group was stunning, and you could see the white sandy beaches and lush tropical forests, and imagine yourself on one of the deserted beaches just letting the world go by. . .
The ocean wildlife in the archipelago is amazing with turtles, dugongs, corals and the land creatures are fantastic too with black squirrels, monkeys, birds and colourful lizards who make the most curious (and very loud!) cry that sounds like 'tuk ah'.
Vietnam has some truly beautiful places and this is definitely one of them.
I really do love my job! Last week we had a professional photographer do a photo shoot for our school and I was thrilled with the way he captured both the Early Years and Whole School libraries and our students. The students had so much fun showing off our wonderful spaces and beautiful books. They are such a great bunch of young people at my school and make my job as a teacher librarian so inspirational and so much fun.
Sometimes it's hard to 'just keep swimming' like Dory did. Wandering around the apartment feeling sorry for myself, with my head full of ideas that just won't seem to un-jumble themselves, life feels like it's not moving forward. That it's stuck. That I'm stuck. I'm a writer who's never been published. Some critiques have been amazing and made me feel that contract is sooo close, while others have truly sucked and made me want to crawl under the bed covers and never come out again! Looking out my apartment window here in Vietnam, reminds me just how fortunate I am and that I need to stop and smell the frangipanis! It doesn't matter that I'm not published. It doesn't matter that some like my stories while others don't. The thing that matters is that I write. So that's what I did just now. I wrote. And it helped me to not be stuck anymore.
Do you ever feel like that? Do you ever have 'black cloud days'? What do you do to become 'unstuck'?
You can read today's thoughts, aptly titled 'Stuck', by following this LINK.
Although I can't get home right now because of COVID-19, I'm in a beautiful place by the ocean, on holiday, and safe, which is definitely something to be thankful for. I love the ocean. Our home in Australia is a 5 minute walk from two stunning beaches and we can hear the waves as we go to sleep at night. So being able to relax looking out over the turquoise waters of Ninh Van Bay, with a light sea breeze cooling me as a write, is a pretty good alternative! And the setting is definitely inspirational. Having to do a 'staycation' in Vietnam has it's perks! So I've been writing like crazy in between ocean swims and have added a new poem to my poetry page. Not one about calm, gentle seas rather the opposite. It's about the storms that gather out to sea on my beaches back home. You can read it here.