Charlotte’s photography has captured a side of Vietnam like no one else has.
PH: Hi, why don’t you give us a breakdown on exactly what you’re doing on the far side of the world.
CL: What am I doing in Hanoi exactly… Good question. I am predominantly brunching (that’s basically all we do here). Secondly, I am attempting to be a motivating and successful English teacher to the loveliest, most hard-working children. I am generally trying to avoid death at all times (on the road and whilst walking). But principally, I am trying to gain more from my days, by going on daily ventures, making new friends and doing more things that will make me happy.
PH: So, you’ve been in the Nam for a little while now. I remember from my time there it can be quite the culture shock. What’s the most shocking thing you remember that you’ve since acclimatised to?
CL: The crazy little things I witness here, really do make my day. There is nothing that REALLY shocks me, but the way-of-living here couldn’t be more different than in the UK. Seeing things that people squeeze on a little moped… you can nearly always see a family of four squeezed on a bike, with only the parents wearing helmets and the mother cradling a sleeping baby. During New Years, it’s tradition to buy kumquat trees. And of course, the bigger the tree, the more ‘fruitful your year will be’. So for a month, the roads were filled with little mopeds, juggling hefty orange trees. You also see dogs propped up, casually enjoying the ride. I’ll leave my house and around the corner, locals are slaughtering chickens on the street. At every moment of daily life here, there are so many utterly insane but amusing things you witness.
PH: Coupled with the people, who are among the friendliest I’ve met, Nam’s more or less a paradise. As a foreigner you experience things quite differently to real life in the country. You’re ethnically Vietnamese but you’ve grown up in London. How does that influence the way you’re treated when you’re there? Do you still get the more polished Viet experience or are people a lot more relaxed around you?
CL: People are generally pretty baffled by me. From initial appearance, most assume that i’m a local and will speak Vietnamese to me. But if I respond in Vietnamese, my English accent shines through (you can take the girl outta london). Often, the Vietnamese are just intrigued and really happy to ask me questions. Being able to make basic conversation, does make everyday tasks so much easier. And it has made my experience more personal and unique I feel, as I share special little moments with locals.
PH: Naturally there are challenges that come with a trip like this, were you expecting this to be one of them? Would you say it’s improved over time or even become more pronounced?
CL: I would have never expected my race and nationality to become a challenge out here. I guess I have found ways of dealing with it over time. But in terms of looking for work as an English teacher, the fact that I am British Asian is something that is really pronounced. It has become increasingly clear that I am less desirable over a White teacher with the same qualifications, and possibly even less teaching experience. My teaching abilities are also enhanced by the fact that I can speak and understand Vietnamese. I can help accordingly when the student is speaking in Vietnamese and I could also do the teaching assistants job by translating my lesson. However, it is really all about selling an image here, and unfortunately for me, that image is White Native English teachers.
PH: What would you say is having the biggest impact on you?
CL: This issue has definitely had a huge impact on me and has tainted my love for Hanoi. Employers are honest about it, stating that they can’t hire me because I look Vietnamese. It’s incredibly disheartening being so clearly discriminated against for your race. And an even stranger feeling when you are discriminated against by those of the same ethnicity – by people from your home-town. I just hope that over time, they can look past the skin colour.
PH: Still, with an adventure like this the experience is its own reward – what have you enjoyed most about your time in Vietnam? Is there anything that you can’t wait to get your hands on when you finally get back to the U.K?
CL: I have had so many amazing and unforgettable experiences in Vietnam. My highlights were the unreal sand dunes in Mui Ne, kayaking around Ha Long Bay, the breathtakingly beautiful city of Hoi An and some insane camping festivals in Hanoi like Quest and Mystery Mountain!
I miss the little things like making a toasted salmon and cream cheese bagel for lunch! Or pick up some scones, clotted cream and jam at Tesco! I also of course simply miss drinking clean water from a tap and breathing in fresh crisp English air.
PH: Thanks for giving us a little window into your Vietnamese journey, is there anything you want to flog to our fine PH readers? They have impeccable tastes, much like yourself.
CL: Despite my unfortunate experiences of finding work here, Hanoi is a truly special and remarkable place. I feel incredibly fortunate that I have the opportunity and choice to live and work here. There is so much good to take from Vietnamese values and their way-of-living. They’re so fearless, they work ridiculously hard (including all the children) and yet are always generous, welcoming and genuinely happy.
PH: Ta, Gal, I’ll see you on the flip side.
For more on Vietnam Charlotte Le can be found on Instagram @charlottele
Extracted from Issue 7 | Summer Vacation. Get it here