Picture this…You’re a few days into a year-long trip in a new country, with new roads, new people and new surroundings. The shops are different, the food is new and even the highly polluted air is something you’ll have to get used to because you chose this. You wanted to be challenged. Now, all there’s left to do is to survive your first rainy season in Hanoi.
I stepped off the plane last September, unsure of my journey ahead. I’d just signed up to teach at one of the top 3 English schools in Vietnam for one year. It was my first week in a new climate and coming from Wales, I really wasn’t used to the heat. For Vietnam, particularly Hanoi, I was piggy in the middle of the rainy season! Let me tell you…wellies wouldn’t cut it! Imagine you’re on your way back to your new apartment in a district you’ve never heard of, and can only remember what the building looks like from the fact it sits opposite a football pitch somewhere along a never-ending street called Au Co. I was 10 minutes into a taxi ride (and I mean car, not a bike…) when the rain started POURING DOWN! Now, as a Welsh individual, I’m well equipped for a nonchalant response to ‘heavy rain’, as it’s pretty frequent in any season HOWEVEEEER, within two minutes the water was up to the car door and the taxi man was screaming at me in Vietnamese (I can’t speak Vietnamese) and was franticly waving his hands about. I’ll just remind you that this was my first week and although I am that person with an over planned folder of documents when traveling, this skill didn’t do me any favours at that particular moment in time. So, with no Vietnamese sim for my phone to access any Google searched answers to this predicament, I started to cry.
“I’m sorry!” I shouted. “Please, I can’t speak Vietnamese!”
Then the taxi driver pulled out his phone and quickly typed something out on it and showed the phone to me.
“Dude, I can’t go any further. You need to get out!”
My mouth fell open and I did my best not to overreact and stay calm, as my grandpa always told me, remain calm little one, nothing good comes from panic.
“I can’t get out! The water is up to the door!” I shouted, flapping my hands about.
He looked back at me with a blank face. I quickly typed a reply on his phone and gave it back to him with a small smile.
A van suddenly pulled up and honked his horn. The taxi man managed to get out of the window and jog over to them. Within a minute he was motioning me to wind down my window so I did, and he helped me climb out of the car, flip flops in tow. We waded over to the van and the side door opened and a man helped me climb in.
I paid the taxi man who jogged back to his car and tried to reverse back down the road and two of the other men sat up front said, “we will take you to where you want to go, don’t worry.”
Suddenly, I felt a huge wave of relief wash over me. I smiled at them.
“Thank you,” I said.
I climbed onto what seemed like a makeshift set of two seats in the back of a converted transporter van. This could have gone horribly wrong. It’s almost like the beginning of a fantastic Netflix true-crime series, I know, I know. Unfortunately, after showing them the address on my phone, these guys took me to my apartment which thank God, only around the corner and I skidded into the building, halting to a stop before the elevator. My landlord, Mr. Tang jumped up from his bed (the landlords have beds in the apartment lobbies, its where you’d keep your bikes and maybe wash some of your clothes in the wash and dry room downstairs) and ran over to me.
“Rain. No good,” he said, pointing to the sky.
“I got caught out in it,” I said, making a sad face.
Mr Tang walked over to the lift and called it down for me.
“You must dry, you are wet,” he said pointing at my hair.
“Yes, ” I said, smiling. “I will go for a shower now.”
He nodded and waved as I stepped into the lift, clutching my flip flops and handbag, I travelled up to my floor. Fumbling with the locks, I was finally back at my apartment and went straight to get a hot shower and dry off.
A silver lining to these frequent situations during the rainy season is that one minute the streets are flooded with water and the next the sun is out and has dried up all the rain (sorry, that’s cliché). Famous for many marvelous and atrocious things above all, Vietnam is also home to ‘the condom jacket’, it’s a plastic poncho-style raincoat that covers you in a way that lets the water run down on to the roads and less on your clothes. These genius devices like condoms themselves can be purchased from the local supermarkets and corner shops.
I thought about including some happily snapped photos of my own but I thought I’d feature a friend of mine, Dakota Brinkert and his awesome shots of Hanoi in the rain. The photos make my blog post sound dramatic because they’re so beautiful. Check him out on Instagram.
The life lessons I learned from that situation were to look at the weather forecast for that particular day and be aware of the different seasons a country has before I decide to travel. Although, I did have a few more instances on a Grab bike (Asia’s taxi app) where I was trying to speak to my manager on the phone under heavy rain showers and explain that it was likely that I might be late.