In all my travels, I have never had trouble with jet lag. However, since we landed in Ha Noi, I have not slept well. Neither has David. As I sit down to begin crafting this post, it is 3 am. I’ve been up for an hour. Our bodies have followed this pattern for the last three nights, with fitful sleep dotted by blissful naps. An 11 hour time difference and minds spinning with logistics is taking its toll on our sleep cycles.
Despite the lack of sleep, our first two full days in Ha Noi have also brought excitement. Fatigue and the reality of starting a new life in Viet Nam have also created a fair amount of stress.
We are currently living in a two bedroom apartment in downtown Ha Noi. The school has provided this location for our first week while we determine where we want to live and get settled. I have enjoyed standing on our small balcony and watching one of Ha Noi’s famous hectic streets pass below. The constant horns of motorbikes and small cars create the city’s soundtrack. Our serviced apartment (more on that term in a future post) is part of the same complex of a major high-end hotel. We are allowed to use their pool, a luxury we have taken advantage of multiple times when we can’t sleep.
Visiting St. Paul American School Hanoi
On Thursday morning David needed to travel to his school to get some paperwork reviewed. Another teacher staying at our apartment building also needed to go, so four of us (including her spouse), decided to share a cab and head out to school early in the day. The hustle and bustle of the city does not extend all the way to Splendora, the school’s neighborhood. A few kilometers of green space and lighter traffic was a welcome reprieve, though cloudy skies made it difficult to fully appreciate everything around us. While David and his colleague talked to administration, I got the chance to get to know another accompanying spouse. We ran into a returning teacher that David had spoken to during his interview process and soon he was taking us around the school on a brief tour.
We went through a series of four large interconnected concrete structures that house several hundred students in Pre-K through 12th grade. Piles of textbooks awaiting the start of school covered the library floor. It was an oddly comforting site in a flood of new experiences. Diverse artwork brings character to the simple structures. There isn’t an opulence to the school, but it has a warmth (literal and figurative) to it.
The school’s neighborhood is a new community that is still being developed into a suburban megalopolis. High-rise apartment buildings are next to open construction sites, fields dotted with water buffalo, and roads blissfully free of thousands of bikes. Visiting the campus felt grounding, helping to reaffirm that we LIVE here now, we aren’t simply tourists passing through.
On Wednesday, David and I tried several times to get SIM cards for our phones. Tired legs and several false starts prevented us from achieving our goal, so when we woke up on Thursday, it was a high priority. We gathered our paperwork and headed towards a different store than we had tried the day before. I had renewed hope that we would be successful.
A charming young woman greeted us with the best English language skills of anyone we have encountered. Vietnamese is a difficult language, and despite a few months of daily practicing, I am a novice capable mostly of reading a menu and naming animals. My telecommunications vocabulary is nonexistent. To say her English skills were a relief is an understatement.
In less than 30 minutes we had obtained SIM cards and a year-long data plan for our phones. For less than $40 a piece, we will have unlimited data streaming for the whole year. I felt my stress melting away, replaced with a sense of empowerment and fun. A logistics (and financial) win!
Exploring the Neighborhood
David and I spent most of Wednesday looking for permanent housing. That process is still ongoing, and will be the focus of a future post. On Thursday we gave that a break, leaving us time to get to know several of David’s colleagues and Ba Dinh – the neighborhood of our temporary home. The weather was rainy most of the day, but our desire to see the sites kept us on foot. We were quickly rewarded for our decision as we stumbled upon this lake. Ha Noi has many small lakes like this that are nuggets of paradise in a busy town. Most of the lakes have walking paths that surround them. Because we were on a mission to get SIM cards, we didn’t head across the bridge (intriguingly called Monkey Bridge) – but I hope to see the lake’s island soon.
Ha Noi’s streets transition from clogged arteries to small back alley streets almost instantly. A quick turn can instantly reduce a person’s stress level and often feels like going back in time. After a wonderful meal on Thursday evening, we went for an additional stroll and found yet another small lake. There were men fishing with nets in the shadow of this large skyscraper.
The banks of the lake were shrouded in moss covered trees and flanked by cafes and restaurants. The sidewalks serve as the parking lot to motorbikes and the floor to impromptu street food stalls.
The sun is coming up now over Ha Noi now, though it is raining again – so there isn’t much to see outside my window. However, I think I should try and sleep again. Sweet dreams everyone, more soon.