It had to happen, I couldn’t just sit around all the time drinking iced coffee and eating noodles, I had to go to work. It’s a gentle start for me with three days of induction followed by a week of materials development and preparation before meeting the students and starting to teach them.
The university is 15 minutes walk from the Sky Gardens tower block complex of apartment buildings in the Phu My Hung residential district where I’m living. Its a collection of modern buildings surrounded by brown-watered, sludge-filled creeks that will eventually find their way into the Saigon River. The creeks fill and empty in tune with the daily cycle of heavy rain that falls at this time of year and maybe the tide, as we are not that far from the sea. The buildings are fronted by the busy Nguyen Van Linh toll road that brings traffic out of the narrow chaotic city streets towards the more open southern extension of the city. It’s a six lane highway with four of them full of motorbikes.
I’ve joined a large group of American, Australian and English teaching staff administering to 3000 or so students studying English and Business and, in a slightly randomly twist on the usual subjects, a bit of Art and Design. The well healed of HCMC send their sons and daughters here to get the coveted English education that will hopefully one day give them access to the wide world of foreign business opportunities. The main building is 5 stories high with a pair of wide, sculptural looking external stairwells giving access to the floors. The English department has taken over the top floor and some of one of the two outlying buildings placed across an adjoining lawn. We all have a desk, there’s a room full of books and photocopiers and stationary. Its clean, modern and open-plan all so very very different from the crappy London language school I was used to in my previous job.
Beyond these buildings is the new sports complex with gym, sports hall and, worryingly, the medical centre. Surely sport and illness are separate things and cannot be in the same building. I’ll be joining the gym soon and be pounding the treadmill again during my non work hours, in the pointless pursuit of physical fitness. I’ve read in ‘The Word’, HCMC’s glossy, expat advertising magazine, that a cricket club operates out of the university for us colonial types so I might give that a look too.
Because we are in Asia a large part of the complex is given over to food outlets where we can buy our breakfast and lunch and snacks in between. There’s an indoor air conditioned area and an outdoor tent-like construction serving foods of the region and sandwiches too. Eating is a constant event, I can’t detect any obvious meal times, you just have what you want when you want it and nearly all of it comes with chillies. There’s little wheat or dairy so people don’t get as fat as we do in Europe. Except the children who have developed a taste for KFC and burgers.
On my way home each day I come across a woman sitting by the side of the road with a bag of snakes for sale and it brings me back to the reality of Asian life. They can build big roads and modern clean universities and apartments but the people here will still crouch down next to the traffic selling weird stuff to the passers-by if they can.
I’ve been shown an architects model of the completed campus, an array of neat glass blocks circled by blue water and miniature trees. It is small and perfectly formed, the Kylie Minogue of universities and a charmingly pleasant place to live and work.