Guest blog 12 – Laura Ponting’s Vietnam adventure

My second guest blogger is Laura Ponting, who is currently doing a DELTA course in Vietnam. We’ve never met, but when I saw her name on twitter, I wrote to her to ask if … well, she explains below.

Laura Ponting

By way of an introduction:  Well, well, well. Isn’t it a very small world?

As a complete newbie to Twitter a few months ago, my third or fourth received tweet was a DM from mine blog host asking if I was related to “THE Clive Ponting.”  Well, in a kind of ex-student, ex-wife way I suppose I am. It transpires that my infamous ex was at Reading University (the breeding ground of many infamous folk) at the same time as Ken.  Several DMs then weeks later mine host and various other chaps (including the marvellous @Marisa_C) gave me enough confidence to start my own blog about teaching/training in Vietnam. Now, 565 tweets later, I’m well chuffed to have been invited to write this guest blog.

I’m always anxious that there isn’t enough techno-teacher-speak going on in my blog…(and there are… er…NO gizmos) but I can’t do that very well. So…I’ll just do what I do… rabbit, rabbit, rabbit…[i] (See first link below)

Rabbit 1: I have my own pronoun (kinship term). Better live up to it.

Today, I have been immersed L2-wise and chatting in my awful Vietnamese to various people (hotel staff, peanut sellers and a chap on a park bench).  After the usual questions about age, nationality, marital status etc. I volunteer the information that I am a teacher.  I’m not sure if I would do that in the UK.  Why do I do it here? 

Well, firstly, there’s a language point. In order to converse with someone politely, it is necessary to know their relative age, status etc…  I would usually be ch (older sister) or, sadly, even (grandmother) due to my advancing years.  But teachers have their own pronoun and instantly female teachers become cô.  This brings me to the second, related, reason why I volunteer that I’m a teacher. Teachers are held in high esteem here. I tell people I’m a teacher because I’m as proud as punch of the fact.  The hotel staff told the taxi driver, the peanut seller told the pineapple seller. (I never noticed where the chap on the bench went.) But for me there has to be total reciprocity. You give me your respect. Now I’ll earn it.  So…there we are…motivation to become the best teacher you possibly can, summed up in two letters, cô.

"Did she say she was a teacher or a shoe?"

Rabbit 2: I earn more money than many people around me could ever dream of.  Yes, even as an EFL teacher! 

Of course I don’t earn a lot by Western standards. But I can have massages, High Tea at the Metropole, jaunts to Cambodia, have clothes tailor made (to accommodate my Orang-utan-length arms!), buy a new motorbike etc… without thinking twice about it.  What a great place, eh? Yes. But my Vietnam is not ‘the same place’ most Vietnamese folk inhabit.  Well, actually, it IS the same place and THAT is what I should always remember.  It is also what I really hope other teachers here and elsewhere don’t forget.  

The grandmother of one friend and the mother of another have recently had to sell their beautiful, long hair in order to pay for a wedding present and help pay for a funeral.  Apparently, it’s not as shameful as it used to be because some women choose to have their hair short now. But everyone in the village KNOWS why they’ve had to do it.  

It took no computers to teach these cool guys "Cheese!"
No, these guys may never be able to afford computers. Many don’t have access to computers. Let’s not forget them when we bang on about the need for ALL GOOD TEACHERS to incorporate this or that technology into their classes.  When it comes to most of the people here, especially those not living in the big cities, it’s going to be a long, long time before a computer or an English teacher trained to use it comes anywhere near their village. Less than a quarter of Vietnamese people use the internet. (In June 2009 there were 2,531,445 broadband connections for a population of 89million).[ii] (See second link below)

We can set up small schemes and plans. They are great and probably the way forward.  But when it comes to the big schools, like mine, feeling pressurized to tech-up…that’s just going to price even more students out of the market.  Not want we want to hear. But true. Sorry.  Let’s also not put first-rate young teachers under pressure to leave places like this for fear of ‘getting left behind forever’ in some great technology race.

Rabbit 3:  I rented, bought and sold a Minsk motorbike and have wild times. ‘In Minsk We Trust’

Brian says: "Come teach in Vietnam!"

It’s a fact that many of my colleagues here are a bit odd (it’s a regular topic of conversation- they won’t mind me writing it here!)  Many of them are adventurous too (they walk across the roads and everything!) So, hey, why not hire a bunch of clapped out Belorussian 125cc Minsks and take the six-day trip in rainy season to Sapa and the Chinese border? 

Why not, indeed? Fabulous times. Not a bike went unscathed. A personal highlight was towing my colleague Brian (pictured) through the mud after a spectacular fall did for his bike’s spark plug! But a bike which can have its exhaust re-attached with a cigarette packet and superglue, as mine did, wins my heart over. 

Other trips to Cuc Phuong national park, Ba Vi and Tan Dau soon followed. If it’s bike trips to beautiful countryside you want, this is the place for you.  If it’s a reliable bike to get you there…a Minsk isn’t your bike. But it’s jolly good fun to get repaired!

I could rabbit on…and on…but I’ll save that for those of you who mean to read my blog rather than you poor souls who accidentally stumbled across this when searching for Ken’s erudite wit and…(sorry chaps!).



Laura Ponting blogs at

11 thoughts on “Guest blog 12 – Laura Ponting’s Vietnam adventure

    1. Thanks Ms M.
      I’m incredibly less drama queen in my dotage (and those drama queen moments were in pretty dramatic circumstances!). I’m afraid that the rabbiting is increasing, however!

  1. Very touching anecdotes! I love reading about culture and especially sacrifice. I think that is beautiful about selling hair and something I’ve heard in fairytales. My sister once did this for charity and I deeply respected her for that. She grew her hair very long so that she could cut it off and donate it for wigs for cancer patients. There is a charity organization that does this.

    1. Thanks for this Shelly,

      I’m really looking forward to getting back to real-life in Hanoi and getting out and about more in Vietnam again. I’ll be able to get back to blogging more of these anecdotes as they happen pretty much daily.

  2. Hi Laura!
    I loved your post – you have a unique way of writing and it is great to know about your daily adventures in Vietnam. It is very interesting to know how people live there and how you live there!
    I really love the way you write – that is why I follow your tweets and blog avidly!
    Ken, hi!
    Thanks for having Laura on your blog – I really enjoyed her post!
    Thank you both,

    1. Gracious me Vicky!, That’s all terribly kind. Thank you. The great people here make it a very easy place to write about.
      I know I’ve been quiet blog-wise but…I’ll be back very soon!

      Oh yes, Thank you to Ken, too.

      1. Hi Laura,

        How funny that Ken checked up on your name! I love a good coincidence!

        Give my regards to DELTA and hope she’s behaving herself. The real world beckons 😉

        Best wishes


  3. Hello madam,
    As promised I am posting a comment about your entry. You’ re really a great storyteller, incorporating both facts about the country and your own personal experience. I consider your observations to be really helpful to those teachers brave enough to venture out to “that part” of Asia in search of experience, adventure, and personal growth. I hope you will have more opportunities to write more exciting stories and anecdotes about your life in Vietnam. Keep those entries coming and let me say that you are a fabulous teacher! Make sure that Ken Wilson knows that! He should observe one of your classes!!!!

  4. er…Lea…you are quite, quite the sweetest ex-colleague! I’m not sure Ken W needs to know I’m an ‘anything’ teacher but I AM sure that the students, me and him would have a ball in any lesson he ‘observed’ (I don’t think he does the passive observer thing!)!
    You’re also right about Vietnam. You know as well as I do that it can be an incredibly ‘challenging’ place to be at times. But, like anywhere, you only get from a place if you give yourself to it.
    p.s. You may be Parisian but how many times do I have to tell you about the ‘madam’ thing! 😉

  5. Well, I finally got to read your guest blog, and what fun it was, Co-person. I have absolutely no doubt that I would not be man enough to ride minsk bikes thru the rainy season, but it looks like fun.

    And, ah yes, the life of the privileged expatriate (even a low-earning one). Don’t we just get all the breaks! What impresses me about you is the way you seem to embrace it all so vividly.

    Keep on trucking – er, biking!


    1. Hello there Jeremy,
      Many thanks for your comments. Of course you’d be man enough! Everyone is…you just get drawn into the adventure of it all. (Well, we saw it as an adventure but 80 year-old Vietnamese ladies were passing me on their Honda Waves!)

      I do try to embrace everything vividly…just as English lessons can be ‘nasty, brutish and long’, so life can be ‘nasty brutish and short.’ I’m not into the ‘nasty’ and ‘brutish’ thing so do my best to do the ’embracing vividly’ thing instead! Works for me… I guess I’ll find out from Cambridge in September if it worked for the (DELTA) lessons too!

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