Scary ghost stories !

The power was out today. No, I mean the power was REALLY out. Across half the country and part of Cambodia. Some 50 million people had no power today. It started at about 1:30pm. I was in a supermarket across town. The only visible sign was that the lights flickered and died, but quickly sprung back to life as the store switched over to battery as the generators started up. Life went on, at least until I went outside to face the zombie apocalypse. I mean the black-out.

Normally when the power goes out in Saigon it’s planned. It’s a brown-out. They’re scheduled, and if you live in a good enough neighbourhood they even give you advance notice. During this time, the traffic lights stay on. But not today. Something must have crashed hard on the Saigon grid, because everything was out. There were still a lot of lights around because people are used to brown-outs and all the bigger hotels and stores have generators.

I returned home and parked my bike. The landlord said “No electric” and I just nodded and said “I know” and carried my bags upstairs in the pitch dark. I dumped them, not even bothering to put the ice cream in the fridge, and I went out. I wandered around a bit, grabbing a beer and walking through the park looking purposeful. But it was sort of hot and my beer was a little warm, so I decided to check out a bar I had passed a million times but never entered. I knew it was an expensive bar. It’s called Alezboo, and the reason I wanted to go was that I knew they had shishas with various flavours for smoking. I had done this once before in Malaysia and it was quite a relaxing, enjoyable experience. It’s something that’s meant to be shared, but I had noone to enjoy it with me so I bought an entire $10 shisha for myself and an extremely over-priced beer. I even had a delicious and powerful cocktail. The shisha was delicious. I chose strawberry.

My friend the massage guy came past and I let him give me a quick five minute massage. I felt generous so I gave him full price ($2.50) even though I only let him do it for a few minutes, which normally costs less. I sort of felt like the king of the world, sitting there on the sidewalk in De Tham street in Pham Ngu Lao, leaning back on a nearby chair with a beer in one hand and the shisha pipe in the other. I must have looked relaxed because a lot of tourists walked past and said “That looks like a good place to hang out”. I think that’s why they have shishas there, because watching someone kick back and smoke one is very appealing. Not that anyone else wanted to smoke one, they just saw some guy kicking back and smoking out of a long pipe and went “Ahh, the Orient. Let’s drink here”.

I headed home afterwards, and as I was walking, the power came back on. What luck ! Unfortunately I had to get ready for work. I quickly turned on the aircon and got dressed, jumped on my bike, since I was a little late, and gunned it across town.

When I got past about District 3 I noticed that the power was still out in the other half of Saigon, and it continued to be out for the rest of the evening. When I got to school I was incredibly amused to see the staff sitting around in front of candles. I wondered how many students were going to turn up. Most of the younger ones did.

My first class was a new one. I had to introduce myself in the dark. Playing games with my toy cat was not an option. I tried it and quickly realised noone could see properly and students were going to get hurt, or the cat would get burnt on one of the candles scattered around the class. I did a pretty good lesson, mostly based on what I always do. A few minutes in, a teacher appeared at the door holding a cordless telephone and held out the receiver to me. I was wondering how they hell they had a powered, wireless telephone functioning during a blackout, but I guess things have to have a battery backup here. It was the supervisor, congratulating me for making it to school and telling me to not bother writing on the board and just talk to the students. I didn’t really need any help working out what to do so I just said “No problem. All under control”. I ignored his advice as usual and still wrote on the board, though mainly I just drew pictures and got the kids to guess them.

I did one fun thing, since my lesson involved the “th” sound and I always used the word birthday. I got each of the kids to sing one word of the song Happy Birthday, and I don’t know why I didn’t see it coming, but at the end of the song, all of the kids in front of a candle spontaneously and without my suggestion, blew out the candles we had lighting the room. The room was plunged into darkness and I cackled with laughter. The teacher’s assistant came in wondering what had gone on, and brought a lighter to re-light the candles. At the end of the lesson, they all did the same thing again and then ran out in darkness, tumbling over each other. Noone was in the mood for a real lesson. They wanted fun. By the second class things were getting pretty dark. Fewer students had bothered turning up and the atmosphere was eerie, but we had a fairly good lesson, albeit a little bit unusual.

For the final class with the TOEIC students who were the most advanced, we were in pitch darkness with just three students sitting in front of three candles. We discussed all sorts of things and I discovered one of the girls was a cosplayer, while the boy was a hardcore World of Warcraft addict. We chatted for ages and the night seemed to be wearing on for so long. I fell silent and said “What would you like to talk about now ?” One of the girls gave an evil smile and said “Tell us ghost stories”. I agreed and pulled my chair up close into the middle of the aisle and all three students crowded close.

I sat directly in front of a candle, like one would in front of a torch during a camping trip. I told them the Japanese ghost story of Hanako, the ghost of the bathroom toilet. The cosplayer girl looked terrified, hanging on the edge of her seat as I told them gruesome details about how (in my version) Hanako killed herself in the bathroom after being bullied by other students and then went on to haunt the toilet and the only way you could be safe was to call out her name and ask if she was there and then check there was no legs visible underneath the door. I described how if you failed to check for Hanako, you would be sitting in the toilet alone when suddenly a hand would wrap around you from behind and muffle your screams as she killed you. Both the girls screamed.

The teacher’s assistant had been watching from outside the whole time and she came in chuckling as the two girls leaned against each other panting and laughing and said “Sorry, time is finished”. My students all groaned and said “Nooooooo”. I just grinned at them from behind the candle and said “Be careful when you go to the toilet tonight… Hanako likes the dark” and with that, I blew out the candle. The girls screamed again.

Black outs are AWESOME.

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