Ending

 

IMG_4642I submitted my PhD thesis this week. Woo hoo.

I had planned to submit it earlier, the middle of the month, not the second last day before the deadline, but I kept proofreading and finding errors and I did not want to inflict the 70,000 word beast on a friend so I plodded on myself, until I ran out of time.

In between, as you know, I was scrambling with the job situation, and prepping for the FOUR courses that I will teach together. Ok, actually prepping for two, because I don’t know what is going on with the other two because it was only confirmed I was teaching it last week, and that’s when I got the textbook and a flood of info which I have only glanced at. And I still don’t have a contract.

I had all these plans for the way my PhD would end. I would submit at least a month in advance and use the last month and plentiful library access to write and submit a paper. That didn’t happen because a) I didn’t finish writing as quickly as I expected b) I realised I’d better prep for courses if I was going to take on enough work to make a liveable wage (by this I mean at least as much as my PhD stipend, oh how the mighty have fallen).

Then I planned to submit 15 days before and be completely prepped for the courses I would be teaching. That didn’t happen either. Well, I finished writing but the editing didn’t end, and I didn’t finish all the lecture PPTs, though maybe that was unrealistic too.

I held on to my 80 something books till the last minute because another of my grand plans was to scan everything I needed. Didn’t happen either. I did scan the material for the courses and got all of it (I hope) and some extras, but nowhere close to everything I would have wanted done. Finally, I just had to let go.

Returning my entire collection of books was the hardest part. In the end, I had to take a little suitcase to office and make two and something trips down to the book drop and finally, my bookcase was empty, and so was I.

I had also planned to hold on to my office key and use the office till the last day (or obnoxiously more) but a) I realised there were new students coming in, and they were being assigned the not-so-nice desks because we were still occupying ours b) I like abiding my the rules, but mainly c) something in me clicked shut when I saw my empty bookcase, and I cleared out my desk that very day and carted everything home in my little purple suitcase and handed back the key. And that was that. Happily it turns out that because I am part-time teaching I will get a desk in some other office, or at least some sort of office space, so I won’t be totally adrift.

I was soooo tired from a) lugging the six copies of my PhD across campus in the hard sun only to land up from at the Graduate School counter to an unceremonious “what?” from the inept woman there who acted like she had never encountered a student submitting a thesis before b) clearing out the office and lugging the admittedly stuffed suitcase to the MTR c) the emotional intensity of the ending.

The next day I felt incapable of doing anything, although there was so much to do, so I went for a run and cut myself some slack by sitting in the bath for like an hour, reading fittingly Bridget Jones’s Baby and when I finally got myself to emerge, I had finished half of the (slim) novel and so said what the hell and basically read the whole thing. That evening, some of us grad students met in a bar to celebrate/drown our sorrows and it was nice, though the sad thing is, I don’t think these people are my friends, not really. You can tell I’m in a maudlin mood, right?

At drinks, the other two people who submitted described their feeling as empty. I don’t feel empty, just… detached? I had finished writing and disengaged from the thesis a while ago, and had moved on if not made peace with to the next phase of my life which is being an underpaid adjunct, though there was something about having to give back my books that made me feel like I don’t know something died.

It really is the end of an era. The other day, I was grumbling to V about our department and he said that you shouldn’t say such negative things (eyeroll), you spent so long there, why did you do this anyway. And I said, don’t get me wrong, I loved it. When I look back on my life, I will look back on this as one of the best periods of my life. Despite all the disappointments, the lack of money or being made to feel like I wasn’t bringing in enough money, the imposter syndrome and questioning whether I was good enough, the insecurity about what now after and the fact that it appears I cannot go back to where I was even if I wanted to, spending three years immersed in ideas surrounded by books and people similarly preoccupied was the experience of the lifetime. Maybe our desire to extend this experience into a career is unrealistic, and maybe even more unrealistic is that the experience will not be sullied by the realities of ‘career’ but can you blame us? Not to mention the travel for conferences, getting hotels paid for and exploring a city on my own. The sitting alone, entirely alone in an office for days on end, and writing about something that probably noone else cared about but which I was being paid to do anyway. And the not small achievement of writing essentially a book, finally forming an argument even if not the most groundbreaking one (well, of course I’m going to downplay it).

So yeah, for this I am grateful.

 

 

 

 

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unZen and the art of job hunting

One of my kids’ books features a zen monkey who quotes Lao Tzu: “At the centre of your being you have the answer: you know who you are and what you want.”

But do I? This job search has taught me that I don’t really.

At one point, having seen what making it in academia would involve and realizing what academia is – not that well paid, badly organized, full of egos – I had convinced myself that I would be happy to give it up and go into a non-academic job. But then I found myself faced with the choice of one decently paying commercial job and a handful of not-so-well-paying, precarious teaching jobs, I had a mini identity crisis. What did I want?

In the teaching jobs corner:

  1. They are in line with what I’ve been doing for the past three years, and give me a foot into the door of a new career.

BUT

  1. They pay shite
  2. Teaching takes a lot of effort, and I’m not sure I want to do sooo much teaching that I don’t have time for anything else.
  3. There is no stability. Next semester, I’ve have to start this search all over again.

But the thing that really pissed me off about these jobs is how unprofessional these places are. They are vague with info, and provide no proper confirmation about anything – whether you really truly have the job, how many students, hell, when the semester starts and ends. In order to withhold this info for whatever mysterious reasons – I guess amazingly because they don’t know either – they don’t even reply to email. I heard from one friend that one of the places that I was slated to teach at confirmed over email that she would teach a coach, and then silence, until nearing the start of the semester, she emailed to ask them for details, and they told her that they found someone inhouse to teach that course #sorrynotsorry. This made the vagueness of communication unnerve me further.

In a fit of pique one morning having again not received a response to an email query, I fired off an application to a non-academic job. And to my complete and utter shock, the HR replied right away. They asked me to state salary expectations, a category I had left off my application because my real expectations are high but I’m willing to compromise? Pressed on this point and suspecting that if I put in my last salary, I might scare them away I asked around and found a former colleague had worked there. Although she told me the pay would probably not be amazing, the place was a good one to work at, I got excited.

The thing was that two weeks or so before the start of semester, I felt bad to back out of the teaching jobs. But two weeks or so before the start of semester said teaching jobs were being vague and hadn’t even signed a contract yet.

Of course, on the day I apply to something else that writes back, the woman from the teaching position replies to my email saying sorry I was on leave (on leave replies are not a thing that exists in academia I’ve come to understand, eyeroll). Anyway, I went in for the editing test of the commercial job, and while I liked the place, I disliked the politics they espouse which are on the (economically) right wing of the spectrum. Nevertheless, I could swallow that for financial security. Unfortunately, I think I did rather badly on the editing test.

While waiting to hear back, I wondered why I was ‘wasting time’ prepping for the teaching jobs. If I did indeed land the commercial job, then all these PPTs on Pride and Prejudice would be for naught. It all very well to say carry on as if you weren’t getting the job, but the fact is that if I were to get the job, I should have been trying to get a paper published not prepping for courses that I wouldn’t teach. The problem is that depending on my future path, the claims on my current time would change. Not knowing what the future held became even more frustrating because it gave me the sense that my current effort might be entirely a waste of time.

Anyway, I didn’t hear from the commercial job for a few days in which time, given the alacrity of their first response, I had given up on them. I was fine, except my ego was bruised. I knew my test hadn’t been stellar but I didn’t believe it was so bad as to write me off the second interview. That’s the other thing about job hunting, the sting of rejection.

Then, of course, just as I had given up hope, I got called in for the second interview. And of course it happened on the same day that the institution I would be teaching with contacted me to ‘double confirm’ that I would be available and said they would start processing a contract.

Now with the possibility of the commercial job becoming real, I had to figure out what to say about the teaching. I could of course back out of the teaching altogether – and given the lack of professionalism and low pay, why not- except:

  1. I didn’t entirely want to close the door on an academic career given that I did have a PhD and it was a path I wanted to explore (but not risk bankruptcy for)
  2. Although I had established that these institutions wouldn’t treat me the same way – they have a clause in their contract that if 10 students don’t sign up the course gets cancelled – I did not feel comfortable backing out at the last minute. If nothing else, these were not bridges I wanted to burn entirely.

Finally, I did the kind of Libran balancing-act that my conscience would be comfortable with even if it may not have been the most sensible course of action. I told the interviewer that I could start in two weeks but I needed to be out of office a couple of half-days to teach for three months. They didn’t seem as fazed by this as I expected. And I really liked the manager which helped ease my misgivings about the politics of the place.

Then came the agonizing what-ifs. Even if they agreed to my conditions of being out of office for a bit, I would need to cancel two teaching jobs. And the whole arrangement of a full-time editing job and two teaching jobs was going to be crazy hectic for me. Now, I realized that I needed to speed up prepping for the courses because if I did get the job, I would have zero prep time during the semester.

The idea of being so crazy busy that I wouldn’t have time to breathe began to give me a minor panic attack. But more than that I was stressing about cancelling two of the four – yes I need to teach four courses to make slightly about my student stipend – teaching jobs I had committed to (but not yet! signed a contract for) .

The time between these call-backs is agonizing. The well-meaning advice is apply and forget about it, but it’s hard to when you are in the interview process. It’s hard not to what-if, or in my case at least have a game plan about what to do with the other balls in the air.

So what happened in the end?

I haven’t heard back from the commercial job. I’m a little miffed ego-wise, but for now, I’m okay with it. I had told myself when I started applying in April, that I would prioritize teaching jobs for the first semester to give that career path a chance and having actually got four offers, it seems silly to close off that option even though they lack stability. I might as well get that experience on my resume. And the money all put together is not that bad.

The commercial job would have given me stability, but it was going to be a nightmare doing it together with teaching. So I’m actually fine with it not coming through except for the unease about what I’m going to be doing three months down the line and whether this means that I’m unemployable commercially.

To go back to the quote that started this post, the answer may be at the centre of my being, but I don’t know what it is. I feel easier fate having made that choice for me.

 

 

The ethics of bingeing

At a conference I once attended, a woman with pink hair presented a paper on the ethics of bingeing on TV shows. She argued (and I paraphrase what I understood) that given that several TV shows are engaging with topical ethical issues, bingeing could be seen as an immersion in ethical dilemmas and not a retreat. While this is an attractive proposition, someone in the audience pointed out that bingeing today may involve engaging with complex ethical issues, but it doesn’t really go beyond that into actual political action. It remains a solitary, self satisfying act.

I’ve been off TV for a while. For one, I prefer reading and V hogs the TV (we have only one in the house, shocker!) and because I have alternative entertainment in the form of books I’ve never really fought it (except when he started watching Trump’s antics through the prism of Fox News that is). Then we discovered streaming software and I slowly got back into TV, partly fueled by the fact that there is really a lot of excellent TV being produced.

My current mental state also means that I need an escape route. So yeah, I’m not one of those claiming any ethical dimension to my TV indulgence. It is escapism pure and simple. TV helps me ignore the claims and worries of real life by projecting me into other worlds and giving me other things to think about.

If I’m honest, books do the same for me and probably always have. V was the first person to suggest to me that there was nothing intrinsically noble about reading and it was just escape. I don’t entirely agree. Books stretch the imaginative faculties in a way that TV doesn’t – which probably accounts for why TV has been my escapism of choice lately, it’s just easier. Ironically, I can finish a good book faster than I can watch an entire TV series (I can’t/don’t watch on the MTR or at uni, instead I read recaps and analyses of the episodes). Also finding the right book is also challenging. I do have some ideas in mind, but it involves a trek to the library. Yeah boo effing hoo I have a library system at my fingertips but don’t seem to have the time for a ten minute walk. I also still have vestigial guilt about reading anything not PhD related or more recently unrelated to the courses I’m prepping for. Reading is not free from worry and need to work.

So yeah for probably the first time in my history, TV is taking precedence as a form of relaxation and all I can say is:

A) who would’ve thunk?

b) I’m grateful. Grateful that a medium of such entertainment exists. Grateful for streaming services that are like a cave of treasures for the taking.

Not grateful for the problems I’m trying to escape but they are admittedly not life and death.

This too is another change. I used to want to tackle things head on, wrestle with them mentally and figure out What To Do. Now as more things seek beyond my control, I’m leaning towards Let It Be. However, I’m not evolved enough to just LIB without some kind assistance. Enter the Idiot Box – the 20th C’s own form of therapy lite.

Life without control

I have not yet mastered the art of letting go of the things I cannot control. If anything, I have become more anxious, or at least I am conscious of my anxiety, or there are more things to be anxious about. Or less things that I can control.

For example, when applying for jobs, I worry about what if this one calls me before that, will I accept, but what if? Which is all pointless because a) noone calls b) if they call, would it have done me any good to be worrying about all the possibilities and permutations and combinations before the fact. To be fair, I worry about these things because I want to figure out whether to apply at all. Why apply, if I won’t accept. But I only won’t accept if a number of other things fall into place, which I have no way of predicting. So.

I have always said that having kids is an exercise in losing control. This feeling of basically having to let go and go with the flow (even if the flow is basically getting no sleep, or having to sling your baby and carry her around 24/7 because she will not be put down. The alternative is to run from pillar to posts for solutions that basically stop being relevant just when you found them because the baby has moved on to a new problem). I never quite got the hang of this loss of control or at least, I never got over the resentment of having to lose control, but thankfully, the babies grew up, and gave in to a modicum of a routine. Of course, modicum is the operative word.

My kids are older, but they are unpredictable. One of the unpredictable things is there health. Last year, Nene has been sick one every month, if not more. He basically has a permanent stuffy nose (like allergies, but to what we don’t know, likely the air which we have no control over and I do not possess a husband who believes in the expat solutions of air purifier, special cleaning of aircon with tea tree oil, what not), which at some point degenerates into a bacterial infection/tonsilitis. Mimi’s health has been pretty robust – being around a sick brother notwithstanding – but occasionally she falls sick too. And then, there’s me. So there are three variables that cannot be controlled, and doctors visits and care etc which all takes time, which in between trying to finish writing a dissertation and apply to jobs and write a proposal for a postdoc that will anyway not consider me (and which now is not posting the recruitment ad eveb) and prepping for the poorly paid jobs I’ve been offered, is time I barely have. Even with hired help at home.

I am sorry to say that the time before last that Nene fell sick I collapsed into a blubbering mass because I just did not have the time to take him to the doctor. Again. Then I felt guilty about that.

But today I did better. Today when each of my children complained of some ailment that would require a trip to two separate doctors, requiring me yet again to reschedule my carefully laid plans for the day, I took a deep breath and went with it. Sequenced the events in my head – prep helper to get appointment for local pediatrician in case ENT for Mimi doesn’t work out, call ENT on repeat in the morning and request afternoon appointment so I do not have to cancel lunch meeting with former boss, if afternoon is not available, cave and take whatever appointment, but resist urge to contact former boss until this has been confirmed. Once inevitably only 2 pm appointment is available, accept it and cancel lunch. Go with Mimi to Central to ENT to be told she has middle ear infection, but basically it could have been diagnosed by pediatrician (but what if it coudn’t have so good I did ENT and saved myself two potential visits, at least I’m covered by insurance), head back and work on bibliography while Nene plays with cars on my leg, only snapping at him when he jabs at my keyboard and basically erases entire bibliography which I thankfully am able to recover, then dither over whether to send Nene to doctor with helper because the doctor will give the same medication anyway, cave to guilt and take himself, bring home the same medication including one dodgy looking cream that I’m not sure I want him to apply, dither over whether to sacrifice run in favour of packing for next day’s minibreak which I probably should not go on because of all these doctor’s visits but it’s the summer vacation…

The thing with kids is that I cannot afford to procrastinate on my own stuff. When time is mine, I have to work like a horse, because I have no idea at what inopportune time the interruption will come. How do working parents with no flexibility do it, I wonder? But I know. I was that parent. You do what you can. You don’t feel guilty because you don’t have a choice. Because I seemingly have ‘the time’, I am plagued by endless claims on it. But it is finite and so am I. Nobody else seems to understand this.

I am not good at making decisions on the fly because I want to agonise over the perfect one. I am getting better at deciding something and then squeezing my eyes shut down on the what ifs. Today I managed this, even with the PMS hormones raging and threatening to take me down into sadland. Of this I am proud.

Exercise

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I did let myself go off the wagon a bit what with Vietnam and those massive breakfast, but this week, I’ve had the perfect exercise record. Not only did I get some exercise every day, I had a great deal of variation: 2 days running, one day yoga, 2 days swimming (which shows me both how weak I’ve become and also how this is probably the only activity that I have a hope in hell of losing the muffin top), and 2 days of cycling.

The cycling is new to the mix. We have a beautiful cycling track along the promenade on which I take my daily run by the sea, and I’ve been itching to use it, more so since Nene got his bike, but we really don’t have the space the park another cycle. I’ve wanted to rent one, but there isn’t a shop that does this anymore (the one that there is, has turned into a fishing shop). Then suddenly a bike-sharing company came to our part of town and I found my solution. The charges per half hour are super reasonable, while it isn’t perfect – for example, the first day I got charged twice and the bike had a slight problem, and the second time, the bike seat was a bit too high and I couldn’t figure out how to adjust it, but I can’t help thinking how wonderful it is that it exists. And cycling does use a different set of muscles. When I’m on the bike, I don’t feel particularly tired, until I get off and my thighs are shaking.

Yoga I’ve been doing once a week for years now thanks to the subsidized class at the university that I’m so going to miss once I graduate. I had actually surprised myself by getting quite good, but then I had a bad sprain and it appears I’ve reset to square one. What I like about yoga is the sense of achievement I get in holding a pose,  the aesthetics of it and the sheer surprise at what you can get your body to do. The instructor has ordered these yoga wheels, and the last time she tried to get us to do a shoulder stand using it, I begged off. This week, I tried… and like with other poses I realised that it takes a bit of daring to let your body go backwards, but once you’ve taken that leap of faith, it’s not so hard after all.

I don’t know if I can actually keep this up (probably not), but I’m pleased with the last week.

TV Obsessions

So, I’ve been tripping on two TV shows recently:

Riverdale


If you were a middle-class child of the ’80s or ’90s growing up in India, you would probably familiar with Archie Comics. Even if they described a reality far removed from our own, resulting in me mispronouncing exclamations such as “Egad”, they were totally a part of my childhood. At one point, we got our hands on a film based on the comics and it was such a thrill watching those lines comes to life.

So obviously when I heard that there was now a TV series based on the comics, I had to check it out. And then I got hooked. The series is dark, centering on a murder mystery, in this sense completely untrue to the original which was frothy throughout, and yet, this is probably the only way it could be translated into the 21st C. It is over-the-top in visualisation but again, I think that is needed to deal with something that could otherwise fall into kitsch. The characters though look exactly as you would imagine them, except Jughead, who is hot (from the food-obsessed outsider, he is now the dark brooding outsider. It just occurred to me that the divorcing of Jughead from food is sacrilegious and yet I was too busy lusting after him to notice at the time. Jughead was my favourite character in the comics, and he retain that status in the series). Also, they play up the chemistry between characters exactly that was latent in the comics. I also love what they did with the Pussycats. The soundtrack of this series is amazing.

Have you caught this series? Who was/is your favourite character?

Twin Peaks


So after I binged on Riverdale, I had to find something else, and Twin Peaks had been on the periphery of my attention. However, when I found the series online, and started watching, I was struck by how retro it was in feel. And then I realised the reason was that I was watching the original series from the 90s. It was/is apparently a classic so I’m not complaining; anyway, by the time I realised that the hype recently was about the Season 3 remake, I was hooked.

The series centers on the murder of a small-town sweetheart, and while I signed up for a murder mystery, it suddenly turned out to have a very creepy supernational element, which I only just managed to stomach (because I was so hooked I couldn’t stop watching although I was scared semi-shitless). The horror genre is not my strong point. It’s not all horror, so don’t be scared off, if I could watch it so could you, just be warned that it’s there. I’m now mid-way through Season 2 which has slowed down a lot after the primary mystery got solved, but I can’t stop watching.

Have you watched this one? Do you love it? I can’t say that there’s any character I completely love (well, maybe Audrey) but there are a few I can’t stand: James, Donna when she’s with James, and increasingly Sheriff Truman.

 

 

Just another in paradise

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So we recently spent a week in Hoi An and Danang, Vietnam. This has suddenly become the ‘it’ destination on the mums groups I’m on, and while I’m not exactly a follower of these trends (even if I could afford to keep up with them), this destination was on my radar because I’ve been wanting to do a relaxing beach holiday with the kids in a kids-friendly resort to see if those facilities are really worth it, and I’ve never been to Vietnam. Also, Vietnam is a super short flight away, and there’s only an hour time difference, which fits my parameters for holidays with the kids.

Initially, I had my sights on the Hyatt Danang, because that’s the one that gets named a lot, but given that it turned out to be super expensive, we decided to do 3 nights there are three nights in a cheaper hotel, which is when I hit upon the idea of going to Hoi An, which is the historic town, first.

Since I no longer have time for long rambly post, here are my hopefully truncated thoughts:

The good

The hotel we picked Hoi An River Town Hotel was probably one of the best hotels I’ve stayed at ever. I’m not sure about its star rating and it’s definitely not a huge sprawling five star facility, but it hit the spot on all count. It is small but beautifully decorated, it had two adequate pools that were never crowded, the rooms were clean and comfortable, the wifi was excellent, the buffet breakfast was lovely, and the staff were amazing. Nene fell sick on the first night, and couldn’t really eat much. I requested to be allowed to take up a few items from the breakfast buffet, and they readily obliged. At night, when Nene refused everything and demanded only the yogurt from the buffet, I went down and asked Reception if there was any, and they got it for me from the kitchen (Nene unfortunately puked it all up, but that’s another story). When he finally came down, the staff all fussed over him. It was truly warm and personalized service, and for that I would totally go back to this hotel, and recommend it anyone. The hotel is not in the thick of town, but a short walk to the night market and the back end of the old town, overlooking the river. So close to the action but not so close that it’s noisy, which suited us.

Because Nene was ill, we didn’t get to do as much as we might otherwise had. Not that I had planned a lot, but the one thing I wanted to do was walk around the Old Town, which is a UNESCO heritage sight. And it did not disappoint. It is quaint and beautiful. We went into one of the shops where they do silk embroidery so intricate that it looks like a painting and on the upper floor you can buy silk scarves or get stuff stitched. Apart from that, they showed us the process of silk making, including the worms, the cocoons and the loom. That was interesting for the kids. Though the cocoons are boiled with the butterfly/worm inside which is pretty ick. Seems like hard to find a cruelty free product if you think about it.

The highlight of the evening for us was taking a boat ride down the river. It was so peaceful and they give you candles in little paper holders to float down the river. Since my grandma had passed away we used this as a little ceremony in her honour, where the kids said what they remembered of her. The paper thingies and candles overturn and sink almost right away, and are probably pollution the river can do without, so would probably skip that part if we did a do-over, though the kids enjoyed it.


Another highlight was the beach at Danang. Glittering blue from afar but a bit more murky up close, with light sand, water just the perfect temperature and waves just rough enough to be fun, it is probably the most perfect beach I’ve visited so far. It is a private beach so not crowded (though I am not a fan of a private beach on principle). I wanted to stay near the beach so we could go every single day (and I knew that wouldn’t happen if there was a bit of a journey involved, because V just doesn’t truly see why people need to go to the beach every day, whereas I am a Goan who went to Goa every summer as a child, and basically hung out at the beach twice a day or more). My kids love the beach and so do I, it is the thing that calms me when I am angsty.


The one attraction that I was keen to visit in Danang was Marble Mountain and it did not disappoint. It is a short cab ride away from the hotel (adults could walk, but since there’s  a fair bit of walking up the mountain itself, the hotel suggested we cab it, and that was a good call). We went at 7 am and were pretty much the only one’s there except a couple of others. We took the elevator up to a point, and then walked. There are enclaves with Buddhist shrines all over, but the highlights are the caves with shrines in them. There’s actually a bit of scrambling and climbing in the caves that Nene especially loved (though you could take an easier stairway too). When we got into the biggest deepest cave, I gasped – it was so eerie-peaceful-beautiful. One of the unexpectedly best sights I’ve ever seen.

The pretty good

There are number of tours offering bike, boat and cooking tours to the countryside. Thankfully, I didn’t go with the popular recommendation in Hong Kong and book one in advance, because Nene fell sick and it turned out the hotel had a more reasonably priced recommendation. In the end, Nene and V were unwell, so only Mimi and I went. Although I was not super keen on a cooking tour (because you know my love for cooking), Mimi seemed keen on it, plus it was the only one that didn’t involve a bike (as I wasn’t sure there would be a kid’s bike for Mimi).


We started off walking through the market and picking up supplies, though these are not really the supplies you use to cook. This part did not wow me because a) it was hot b) the wet markets in Hong Kong were similar (I wouldn’t have been averse to a walk through the market myself, but at a cooler time). We then boarded a boat for a longish ride down the river to location of our basket boat ride/cooking trip. This boat ride is nice, but a bit long and the guide didn’t provide any commentary (though she probably would have had we asked her. I had a five-year-old to amuse so didn’t). From there we boarded basket boats to be paddled into an artificially created maze, where we were to do crab fishing. It was an interesting experience although super hot (tip: do not pick the afternoon tours for this). Fishing involved dabbling a piece of meat affixed to a stick into the crevices of the pier, and pulling it up when a crab caught on. I did catch a crab, but ended up hurling it into our boat where it scuttled around to the alarm of Mimi, so we finally had to disembark.

Then began the cooking part of the tour. First, the guide demonstrated how to sift rice, grind it into rice milk, and steam rice cakes (and we all had a go which was nice). We ended up cooking four dishes – pho broth, spring rolls, egg pancakes and stir fried noodles. This is basically more cooking at one go than I have done in my entire life. The spring rolls and sauce were surprisingly delicious if I may say so myself. While Mimi was into the cooking initially, four dishes was a bit too much for her, and as expected, she ended up not liking any of the food (except the pho, which thankfully she slurped up at the end). The guide was extremely sweet and friendly to her though, and my big regret is that I did not leave a bigger tip.

On our final afternoon, we dined in the hotel restaurant, and I had this. It was not the most fabulous thing I’ve ever eaten, but it did hit the spot. Overall, I have to say that I was not crazy about the food in Vietnam, though we were hampered by the kids who did not take to the food (well, that’s putting it mildly – Nene had a full on attack of food poisoning from the little place we went to the first evening, though he was already fighting a cold).


We then proceeded to Danang for our Hyatt part of the experience. The hotel is a sprawling (but not huge) five-star property right on a private beach. We got a two bedroom apartment, which is helpful with kids as we could prepare meals.

I was surprised when we arrived that the lobby where check in/check out happens is an open air area with very scanty seating and not very comfortable (we later wondered whether this was to prevent guest idling there after check-out). The property is not new and there’s a bit of wear and tear but our apartment was spacious and perfectly lovely, with a beautiful view. When I looked out of our balcony what met my eyes (the hotel pool, villas and the sea beyond) was basically the exact thing you’d see in a promotional brochure.

The hotel has two pools – a kiddy pool that my kids avoided and a huge meandering main pool, with a water slide at one end and an artificial beach at the other. I avoided the artificial beach because I wanted to keep our sandy and pool suits separate. Anyway once our kids discovered the water park, there was no looking back. I had actually imagined more water slides when we booked the hotel, but I guess that was unrealistic and the kids had a good time in a pool. More than the pool though, the beach was lovely and the real highlight of the stay. I was given to understand that the hotel has a grocery where we could shop for supplies, but actually it is a rather fancy bakery, with some (expensive) supplies. Given that the apartments allow for cooking and the resort is sort of isolated, I would have expected something better, but alas that was it.

Another reason for picking this hotel was that it has a kids playroom and scheduled activities for kids, which I thought would give us adults a break. Later, I read reviews that this is not all that – my experience was somewhere in between. I had been expecting an indoor playroom that is at least as large as the (admittedly large) one in our estate in Hong Kong. It was much smaller. There are indeed activities and they are free, but they lasted only 20 minutes to half and hour or so and if we wanted the kids to stay longer we’d have to pay US$6, which was fine but it didn’t seem that there was enough to amuse them for half an hour there (and I figured they’d end up watching TV which they could do free at home). Nevertheless, Mimi did love the activities, and the ladies running it were very sweet, so I will give Camp Hyatt an overall thumbs up.

So basically to shop for supplies, we went to Han Market which is a proper wet market combined with cheap clothes and souvenirs. I ended up buying fans and a few coconut shell inlays bowls as gifts in addition to bananas, shrimp, onion etc. Danang town is not much (though apparently there are some good spa deals and we on Saturday nights the bridge lights up and spits fire), but we had a nice lunch at Retro Kitchen and Bar. The food was okay, but the drinks were really amazing – hello Earl Gray Passion Fruit Iced Tea.

On our last day, we had a bit of time (unfortunately in the afternoon) to kill between check out and our flight. We considered booking spa treatments for ourselves and leaving our kids in Camp Hyatt, but the spa treatments were so expensive we decided against it (and I did not have even a massage in Vietnam boo hoo!). Then, we decided to go to this amusement park called Asia Park, only as we got there the skies opened and so we hastily took a cab to a mall called Lotte Mart, which actually turned out to be a good call. There was lots of decent but cheap shopping, and frankly I could have spent more time there. It’s also where I discovered that Vietnam has lots of Kipling bags on sale, but we couldn’t figure out if they were fake or not, and after a lot of googling, it appears that they must have been fake. It’s weird though, they’re selling them at the airport too. I would recommend a stop at this place for cheap deals on stuff like T-shirts, and also some nice Vietnamese outfits, if that’s your thing.

The bad

Nene fell sick. That meant we lost a few days, plus I was pretty much on edge the whole time.

V and I fought a lot. Small stuff that turned into big stuff, and I realised that we both just set each other off. We made up, but I still cannot get over that we sullied paradise with our bitching and ranting.

 

 

 

 

 

Goodnight Irene

My grandmother passed away last week. She was 103 year old, and in the last few years of her life, the very things she feared most came to pass as her body and mind failed her. While I am sad at her passing, I am glad that the terrible last phase of her life is finally over. I would rather remember her when she was younger, the youngest looking nonagenarian many people said.
Gran was my second roommate and I can’t say we got along famously. A teenage girl and an old lady are not the best combination, though Gran did tolerate (or enjoyed) our Tom Cruise posters. Once when she was away I got the walls of the room painted blue and orange and she was not thrilled. When I went away to uni she got them painted them cream again. When I got married and moved out, her parting shot was ‘good you’re going… and can I have your drawers?” But I knew she loved me because she sent me off with one of her previous serrated knives from Dubai.
Distance and age made me appreciate Gran’s finer qualities. Her sense of style and the pleasure she took in her appearance. When the teachers in our school frowned upon us pulling our pinafores higher over our sashes to make them shorter and rolling our socks down, Gran said: ” Why? But it looks smarter that way.” She had no problems with short skirts but recommended stocking for church more for aesthetic than moral reasons. As she neared her 90s, she became insistent on getting her nails painted, preferably red. She reveled in compliments about how young she looked.
Gran was far more liberal than many people younger than her and was always up for an argument with me on all manner of scandalous things. She may not have been thrilled that I acquired a boyfriend but since I did, he might as well come tune to the TV so she could catch the cricket. When V’s parents visited for the first time, she diffused a tense moment by asking whether she could bring her boyfriend to my wedding, and earned their admiration thereafter.
She insisted on being active and had knee replacement surgery in her 90s¬†becoming the poster child for her orthopedic surgeon. ¬†She continued to travel and blithely told me that extra baggage was not a problem when you’re her age and in a wheelchair. She also continued to balance her passbook with an eagle eye.
I regret not talking to Gran more, learning more about her history. I only have glimpses – new dresses or hats every other Sunday, the rice pudding at her boarding school in Panchgani, where she was considered dumb for not being able to speak English, her hard days as a young wife. We were surprised to suddenly learn she played the piano.
I inherited from Gran my appreciation for beautiful things, possibly my nose and a tendency to hoard stuff. I hope I’ll have her grit and flair, but I have my doubts. There will only be one like her.
Goodnight Irene, I’ll see you in my dreams.

The void writes back

So, after hearing nothing from a job (for which I am both underqualified and overqualified aka story of my life) which had said I’d be contacted by mid-June had I been shortlisted, I decided I would write in to ask if the position had been filled. This was possible because the job listed an actual human email address not one of the general HR ones. 

The person was kind enough to reply and let me know (alas but expected) that the positions had been filled (without me, if that’s not obvious). She added somewhat tersely that her original email had said that they would let shortlisted candidates know by early June. 

The reply I wanted to send: 

I know, but I needed to hear the cold hard truth that June 13 is no longer early June do that my mind could stop hoping. 

You see, job hunting is very much like dating, filled with hope and rejection. 

The reply I sent: 

Noted with thanks. 

I write letters

Tags

Cover letters. Applying to jobs. Every other day.

Are cover letters necessary? Couldn’t one just forward a CV? Well, in my case, I feel the need to explain why I’m still competent even though I’ve been stuyding for a PhD.

Yes, even though the PhD. It seems as if a doctoral degree is like krypton to commercial employers. I’m beginning to think I should leave it off. It seems weird that 10 years of media/corporate editing experience at some pretty good firms counts for nothing in the face of the stupidity of pursuing a research project for a little less than 3 years. Now I know what those mothers who took breaks to look after the kids feel like. Except, ironically, I never took a break to look after the kids. I never even took a break from commercial work, I kept freelancing throughout. But I guess the fact that I got accepted into a programme for abstract thinkers that very few people get accepted to makes me untouchable now?

And why do I want to go commercial again? Well, because academia will qualify you but not employ you. That is, all the jobs want teaching experience even though you just got your qualifications. It seem impossible to get even a part-time teaching job (which by the way pays less than my PhD stipend) without teaching experience. That old chicken and egg thing. The way around this is to know someone. Basically, many positions aren’t advertised, and when they are, it’s a formality and they already have someone in mind. Yet, the ad makes the poor sods out there who don’t know enough people think they actually might have a chance and so you apply (‘to the void’ as my colleague put it because noone ever replies). The only two gigs I’ve secured are through people I know, which should make me happy but makes me sad instead. These gigs pay so little there is no point celebrating them,.

Forget part-time teaching, I have not heard back from teaching assistant jobs. Maybe because it might make the actual teachers who are not PhDs insecure, I suppose.

Okay, to be fair, I still don’t have a PhD (I haven’t submitted and done the exam yet). Though honestly a PhD as a part-time teacher is overqualified. But okay. Fine. Maybe all this will miraculously change when I have that piece of paper.

But what won’t change is how little they pay. After spending 3 years, at best (at worst 5-7) on this thing, you have to spend a couple more doing part-time work or if you’re lucky a postdoc before you can actually get a job that basically pays less than my previous job correcting people’s English.

This makes me feel so angry that I want to chuck the whole dream posthaste (and I would if someone would offer me something else to do. See part on commercial sector cold shoulder). The poor pay, exploitative working conditions for part-time staff and general lack of transparency makes me want to smack the next academic who starts sanctimoniously critiquing the commercial sector.

Because you know, in the commercial sector, if you apply to advertised positions, you actually stand a chance of being considered based on your resume. Well, it seems like a better chance than in academia which really does seem to run on influence at the lower levels anyway. And that sector pays better. And you get nice tea in the pantry. For free.

This morning when I was reading a story to Mimi I was thinking that I could apply for a teaching assistant job. At a kindergarten. Oh how the mighty have fallen.

By the way, those are the jobs that seem plentiful. The teaching English. At all levels. That I am not actually qualified for, because I don’t have TESOL qualifications, but I know that doesn’t matter in the lesser institutions, if you’re the right colour. Which I’m not. Too much cafe in my au lait.

I really should have gotten a TESOL qualification if I wanted to diversify my career path (which I didn’t. I thought of the PhD as a passion project and that I would get back to editorial work after. Except the blemish of the PhD it appears is overwhelming).

When I started this job hunt, I was wracked with indecision about what I wanted to do. Ha! Now I’ll take whoever will have me.