Notes on a Saigon Motorcycle Pimp

Photo + Video + Film
by Joshywashington Jan 14, 2010
With no Tesol, no plan and no clue, Josh moves through Saigon to find a job teaching English.

I STEP from my permanent residence at the MiMi guesthouse in District 1 of Saigon and for once I greet the endless propositions for a ride from the loafing motorbike men with a hearty ‘Youbetcha’!


“How much for an hour?”

“50 thousand Dong.”

“You’re crazy, 20 thousand.”

we feign hurt feelings and squint at each other

“40 thousand, good price. Let’s go now, thank you, OK?”

“30 thousand, let’s go, I got English to teach!”

And were gone.

Through the delirium of traffic we scoot, merging and negotiating the manic flow of motor bikes. He doesn’t seem to know where he is going. The city is a nightmare of urban development, but I expect more out of a man who does this for a living. This is before I have my dedicated driver, Joseph, before I rent my own bike and certainly before I crash it. The city still feels huge, which it should, and a grin is pasted across my face.

The first school is deserted. The next place is closed. The next is full up. There are over 400 language schools in Ho Chi Minh City, there are bound to be plenty of schools who are just a little bit desperate for my services.

Each time I dismount the motorbike to proposition another school with my resume (the resume is a hastily concocted exercise in bullshit) I clap the driver on the shoulder like he’s my best mate and I say,

“Be right back, wish me luck!”

He’s probably getting sick of that. But he should be glad I haven’t fired him yet. He has spent more time circling, head scratching and map checking than driving. Approaching the door of the primary school I flatten my wind wild hair.

The English school is run by the Turkish government. The headmaster is a short hairy man that says I can start the following day, teaching twice a week.

We haven’t visited half of the schools on my list when my driver answers his cell phone and hands it to me. The driver looks stricken with angst. A snarl of broken Vietnamese gibberish and decidedly English cursing squawks from the phone then *click. The driver pulls a U-turn and heads back the way we started.

“Sorry, sorry mister!” He shakes the cell phone, which is ringing once more.

“Hey! Wrong way…where are we going? What the hell!?”

We pull up to where we started and a gargantuan African man comes bearing down on us before we even come to a stop. My driver hops off as the Goliath in the Bad Hawaiian Shirt begins to bellow.

“Where the fuck have you been! What did I tell you? Huh, huh? Off that bike, gimme the fucking money, how much you got?”

My one time driver is groveling in Vietnamese and English. He is rummaging through his pockets with his head hanging like a wet sack and I’m still sitting on the bike, looking very much like little Jack Horner. A few dollars fall into the black man’s palm and driver sulks away.

Slap my ass. Saigon motorcycle pimp… looks like my rides over.


Do you have a funny story about teaching English abroad? What about horror stories? What was the hardest / easiest thing about teaching English in a foreign country? Share your experiences in the comments!

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