Saturday, March 15, 2008

My day as a Prisoner

Ladies and gentlemen I am writing this blog as a free man. I found myself held captive at a school called Ocean Language Center for eleven hours. It was my own fault to a degree, as I willingly went along with them at first. But, I think I am moving to fast. I should start at the beginning.
There is a small city about two hours outside Hanoi called Viet Vi and I had an interview to be the DOS (Director of Studies) at a school there. I had my interview and all went well. I even agreed to visit the school and check out the city. We made plans for the following day, I was to be picked up at 1pm by a driver that was going to take me to Viet Vi to visit the Ocean Language School. My first instinct was to call off the visit after I accepted a job at Oxford UK language school, but I was curious and this opportunity may have been more lucrative for me. I felt my first of many reservations when the driver that showed up was a Mai Linh taxi. This is a small hatch back taxi that Karen and I never take because they are so crooked. I said Hello and sat in the backseat. I put my MP3 player on and settled in for a long drive. About 25 minutes in to the trip the driver pulls over to the side of the road and gets out. We were in the middle of farmland and I was a little nervous about this turn of events. I was relieved to see he was just relieving himself on the side of the road. I stepped out and lit a cigarette. Upon his return, and seeing that I was smoking, the driver became very excited and proceeded to pull out his pack of cigarettes to show me that he too was afflicted with the dirty habit. He invited me to sit in the front seat. I obliged and he rolled down both windows and for the next hour and a half he would chain smoke as we made our way over the treacherous roads to Viet Vi.
At this point I will mention that I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt, as I knew it would be a long drive and I wanted to be comfortable, also, based ON the conversation of the day before, believed I was only going to view the school and take a tour of the city.
I arrived at Ocean Language School just after 3pm and was met by the entire staff, as if I was some kind of visiting celebrity. Everyone shook my hand and bowed as they smiled from ear to ear. I was taken on a tour of the school, which in all fairness was fairly nice, and then led into a back office where I would spend the next hour fighting to understand what the CEO and Manager were saying to me. There was a lot of pressure and it felt like I had walked into a timeshare presentation. The desperation was dripping off of the both of them as they talked of all the time and money they had invested into this school and how their very futures rested on being able to bring in an experienced foreigner to run the academic side of things. It was just after that when he explained that the students were so excited to have a real English teacher in the classroom tonight. ( This is the point where if this was a movie you would here the sound effect of a needle being scraped across a record as everything came to a stop) "Excuse me?" I asked him. " It sounded like you just said the students were excited about me teaching them this evening?" " Yes. Werry, Werry Happy to see you tonight." Well, this was not good. I was not prepared nor dressed to teach a class. I hadn't stepped one foot inside a classroom for three months. I made it clear I was not happy about this obvious ambush and he backpedalled by saying it would just be a hello, meet and greet sort of thing. It was then that he decided to tell me it was too late to drive me back to Hanoi tonight, so he would put me up in a hotel and drive me back tomorrow evening. That was simply not going to fly. "Absolutely not. Do you understand me? I am going home tonight. I am not prepared to spend an evening here." He seemed visibly disappointed but agreed I would go home this evening. " After you do 5:30 and 7:30 class. We will drive you home." There was a menacing tone to his voice that made it clear my safe passage back to Hanoi depended on my teaching these classes. After a few long moments of silence, his demeanor changed back into a friendly, smiley one and he announced that it was time to go to dinner. I cant say I had any appetite as the entire time he was talking to me he would randomly belch, filling the air with a rotten smoked meat smell that had absolutely turned my stomach. My rising gorge, notwithstanding, I was lead toward the taxi again, stopping only long enough to grab a bottle of French wine from a box behind his desk. We drove a couple of blocks to a decent looking restaurant, where he proceeded, after my admission of an allergy to seafood, to order potato salad and fried dumplings. He uncorked the wine and poured me a glass. We clinked glasses and as I brought the glass toward my face I knew there was something terribly wrong. It tasted like vinegar and I could barely swallow the little bit I had taken into my mouth. The taste must have gone completely unnoticed by my host as he slurped noisily from the glass before swallowing and saying " It's good isn't it?" " Mmm Hmm." I managed blinking away the tears. I pretended to sip my wine as I attempted to eat potato salad with chopsticks. Finally the horrible meal was over and we made our way back to the school. My meet and greet had turned into me doing the first hour and the Vietnamese teacher doing the second. Completely unprepared I walked into that classroom and rocked the house. If he hadn't wanted me with every fibre of his being before that he definitely did now. I had an hour to kill before the next class, so I went for a walk and found an Internet cafe.
At 7:30 I was ushered into an adult class who were on their second English class and could speak no English at all passed Hello and Goodbye. Of course, nobody had told me this and after a ten minute introduction where I outlined my recent history and my origins. There was nothing but blank stares and the distant sounds of frogs and crickets floating in through the open window.
" What level students are these?" I leaned over and whispered to my host.
" This only second class." He beamed.
" So they didn't understand a word I just said, did they?"
" Oh No." still smiling.
" Take me out of here." I demanded.
Out in the hallway he told me that was not the actual class I was teaching, he just wanted them to see me. I then went on to teach forty minutes to adults that were about mid level and could understand the words that were coming out of my mouth.
Finally it was 8:30 and I made a bee line for the taxi. The manager caught me as I was fleeing and started to make many plans for the near future. " We will pick you up same time on Monday. Stay the week and we will drive you home on Friday."
" Yeah, sure. sure. absolutely. 100%" I would have agreed to anything at this point, I was so desperate to escape.
I got in to the taxi and the manager said "Wait, wait one minute." and ran back into the school.
" For the love of God, drive man!" I demanded to my driver, but he just gave me a puzzled look.
The manager returned with a bottle of the same awful wine we had at dinner and offered it to me through the open window. The driver and the manager then spoke at length in Vietnamese about money, and finally we were off. We were driving for about five minutes when the driver shocked me with English as he leaned over and said. "Very bad company. They, all day, no food or drink for me. Very bad company."
" Your preaching to the choir, brother." I responded.
He said he was really hungry and by the time we got back to Hanoi there would be no place open for him to eat. I told him to stop and eat somewhere. So that is how I found myself at a roadside stall after ten pm, drinking Bia Hanoi, and watching my driver slurp Beef Pho noisily as we bonded over the mutual screwing we both received at the hands of Ocean Language School.
It was an experience I shall not soon forget and a very valuable lesson learned.
Till next time, Take 'er easy.
Ed

2 comments:

Marty & Mel said...

That's gold. I love reading your adventures keep them coming. Did you give the wine to the taxi driver or take it home?

ella said...

Hello, I was just searching for the recent blogs I read about the same school..and found yours..guess we shared the same thoughts..hahah
hope to hear form u..
r u still in vietnam?