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Surprising cat-call 17 May 2010

Posted by uggclogs in Height, Vietnam.
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I recently told a friend of mine that I had had the pleasure of being cat called while back in the UK in March. And I say that completely without sarcasm, it was in fact a pleasure, because it never happens to me.

You see, being a 1m88 (6’2) tall woman in a country where the average height for women is 1m53 (5’0) and for men is 1m65 (5’5), and being told daily that I am so fat, I am not exactly the measurements that most men find attractive in Vietnam. Luckily, I am here with the most wonderful partner, so I am not in the market for male attention.

But imagine my surprise this Saturday.

I was walking along a main street in the French Quarter trying to hail a taxi, after having had a few drinks after the big performance at the Opera House.

I was probably looking quite dainty in my full length evening gown, which I was hitching up to prevent it from dragging along the dusty streets of Hanoi. It is elegant with a rather plunging neck line.

A truck driver passing by startis honking his horn, but if you’ve ever been to Hanoi, the sound of honking is part of the soundscape, and I did not even flinch. Then, he hangs our of his cab, starts whisteling, hooting, and generally making lots of noise towards me.

Which makes the entire street turn around.

And join in! I consequently had about ten men hooting and whisteling at me! It was a most surreal experience!

I did what I always do when nervous – hold my head up high, hurry on, and hail the next best taxi that comes along.

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Language Tongue Twisters 14 May 2010

Posted by uggclogs in Life.
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Speaking other languages often makes for funny situations. Some of them are just funny because you cannot get your meaning across. Others are funny because of what you say instead of what you meant to say.

This meant that while in France (learning French) I managed to proclaim that I am unable to swallow doctors, when in fact I tried to convey that I have trouble swallowing pills.

Or that time where (still in France) I told my class mate that I have a sore chicken, instead of a sore shoulder.

Pretty funny, but relatively tame. (I was also 15).

Except recently, when I went to the local store and asked for a can of coke. I always try to speak Vietnamese to the shop owners, and they totally love and encourage me.

So they have been very kind and flexible with my lack of language skills.

Not remembering the word for can, but remembering that any type of container has always been called box before, I ask for a box of coke. Not wrong, but not correct.

The guy smiles, and corrects me.

Next time, I cannot for the life of me remember what he said ‘can’ was in Vietnamese, so again, I ask for a box of coke. Sure, he says, and again corrects my Vietnamese.

Third time lucky, I think. However, I am a very visual person, and I normally need to have words spelt out to me am I to remember them. So I walk into the shop and ask for (what I believe to be) a CAN of coke. (Notice the slight tinge of pride in my voice as I manage to ask this).

The entire shop (shop keepers, customers, everyone) literally burst out laughing, and can nearly not keep themselves upright as they give me a can of coke. They are laughing so much, that they don’t even muster the straight face needed to correct me.

Back at HQ, I consult someone to find out what I had asked for and what was so funny about it.

Turns out I had asked for a vagina of coke.

Nice.

Excuse me? 14 May 2010

Posted by uggclogs in Life.
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Today, while in a deep (albeit mundane) conversation with a friend, a Vietnamese colleague comes up to us and goes

“Sorry to interrupt.”

Me, assuming that this person wants to speak to either one of us, starts turning my head towards her, but seeing that I am mid sentence, I don’t make eye contact with her, and continue with my sentence to my friend, just to wrap the sentence up.

“SORRY TO INTERRUPT” she yells.

That certainly stopped me in my tracks and made me look at her (picture a stunned mullet here).

I am not entirely sure what happened. I think she has come to believe that in English, when you say “sorry to interrupt” you are in fact saying “I am interrupting now, please drop everything and give me your attention.”

Unfortunately, it worked, because I was so surprised. Yet another one of those trans-lingual moments that I keep finding myself in which I choose to believe are not meant to be rude, but which I am never entirely sure of.

Only in Vietnam #9 10 May 2010

Posted by uggclogs in Travelling, Vietnam.
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…will a fight between two women on the street escalate to one of them bashing the head of the other one in with a motorbike helmet, while their respective boyfriends are watching on without stepping in.

The assailant consequently started pulling the first woman’s hair, all the while screaming at her.

The woman being bashed does not say a word, does not fight back (only shields herself and tries to pull herself loose) and does not cry or look emotional.

When finally someone stops the fighting, they all step on their respective motorbikes and ride away.

The only other fight I have witnessed in Vietnam happened in this same street, but that time it were two men going at each other with their fists on a funeral bus.

Bless his cotton socks 7 May 2010

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One of the kids at Blue Dragon (the Children’s Foundation I am working at here in Hanoi) was giving me a bit of lip this week, being all funny and cute. I was mockingly berating him calling him a very cheeky boy.

The next day I see him again, and he was playing with something, so I went over and had a look – turns out it was a little box that had a little pop-up ghost inside, which gave me a fright. Again, I laughed and said “Cheeky!”

He is an absolutely gorgeous young man, and he loves joking around like that, so he gets that from me a lot. But I did not realise until today that he had never quite understood me correctly.

Whenever he now sees me (be it walking down the street, or in the centre, or in the office) he yells at the top of his lungs

“Chicken!!!”

Can’t help but smile. How adorable is that. Although all the other staff are now looking mighty puzzled whenever we are around each other. I just can’t be bothered to explain, and I don’t have the heart to correct him.

So: Have a chicken weekend, everyone!

Only in Vietnam #8 5 May 2010

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We recently had a party at our house, and before we had people over, we tried to make sure that we had everything we needed.

We also have a small balcony in our apartment, and it is tiled with what looked like black slate. However, due to years of a dripping drain pipe that had only recently been fixed, we had a big stain on the tiles, which I thought a little unsightly.

I requested management of the building to come along and clean it for me, and I suggested that they might need to scrub a little (bit of elbow grease never hurt anyone) or use a high pressure water hose.

I came home to find the balcony shimmering black, but not because they had cleaned it. They had covered the slate tiles with thick, black paint… Only in Vietnam.

Only in Vietnam #7 29 April 2010

Posted by uggclogs in Life, Travelling, Vietnam.
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Not sure if it is really ‘only’ in Vietnam, but here goes…

On Tuesday evening, on my way to a restaurant with a friend, we got stuck in a freak-spot of traffic. All the motorbikes and cars and trucks were flowing nicely everywhere, except for at the entrance to Long Bien bridge, where everything was at a complete stand still. It is not an uncommon occurrence for Hanoi traffic, but the next day I discovered why –

A body had washed up on one of the banks of the Red River, and the monster traffic jam was caused by everyone stopping to stare. Apparently, there was a complete standstill on both ends of the bridge, as well as all along the middle of the bridge for several hours.

It made me sad.

Only in Vietnam #6 19 April 2010

Posted by uggclogs in Travelling, Vietnam.
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And this is why I should have known better than to engage in an all out social status conversation with a group of Vietnamese ladies:

An acquaintance I met here in Hanoi was telling me that him and his wife had been invited to a wedding outside of Hanoi, and as the only foreigners there, they were placed at the family table, together with the elderly matriarch of the family.

During the meal she is sizing them up, so the man tries to start a conversation with her. The standard Vietnamese conversational questions (how old are you, are you married, do you have children?) ensue, and to which he is politely replying truthfully his standard answers, including “yes, we are married,” and “No, we do not have children.”

She looks at them, and asks:

“How long have you been married?”

“Five years.”

“And no children?”

“Not yet.”

She proceeds to point to his crotch and proclaim loudly;

“Is it broken?!”

Lost in Translation – Vietnamese version 19 April 2010

Posted by uggclogs in Height, Travelling, Vietnam.
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So, as you may already know if you read this blog regularly, the delights of communication (or attempts thereof) between myself and the Vietnamese has caused many a funny moment. But I have never quite ever let the conversations run their course, because I sometimes conveniently feign a lack of understanding (in particular when already married taxi drivers are asking whether I would like a Vietnamese boyfriend).

This weekend, though, finding myself in a good (read: not frail) state of mind, I thought I should be brave it and see how far the Vietnamese are willing to take a conversation!

Here is a rough translation of the conversation that I had with four ladies  (I would guess in their 40-50s.)

One of them: “Wow, look at her! She is so tall!”

me: *benevolent smile in their direction*

*giggles* “I bet she is two metres tall! She is SO tall!”

“Not true. I am 1m88”

“What?”

“1.88”

*fill in lots of talking through each other and very fast, no idea what they are saying*

One of them gets up, and stands next to me, to show her friends how much taller I am.

She then takes the lead: “Your Vietnamese is very good”

“Thank you”

“How long have you been in Vietnam?”

“One and a half years”

*Approving nod*

“Are you married?”

*Lies*: “Yes.” (It is just too hard to explain commitment in non-married terms in Vietnam, so I don’t even bother anymore. You are just not serious until you are married. And being single at my age? Don’t even bother.)

“Do you have children?”

“No” *correcting myself (culturally very important): * “Not yet”.

“Oh… How long have you been married?” *disapproval spreading over her face*

*I lie again*: “Two Years”

*disapproving clicking of tongue*: “tsk, tsk”

“Your husband is Vietnamese, or Westerner?”

“Yes.”

“VIETNAMESE???” *clucking and cackling*

“No, no! He is Western.”

“Ahhhh!”

“Is your husband tall?”

“Yes”

More clucking and fluttering when I tell them just how tall.

“How old are you?”

“26”

“So YOUNG!”

*big argument ensues where the lady asking the questions is defending my apparent barrenness to the other three – I apparently still have time for children, I am still young… phew…*

“And what do you do?”

Words escape me, as usual, so I say: “I work with children.”

“Ah, teacher!”

“No… With children… who… *what was the word for disadvantaged again? Oh, I know!* who are poor.”

“Ah!” *approving nods* (finally)

“And how much do you weigh?”

“Excuse me?”

“How many kilos?” *point at me*

*I tell her*

CACKLE CACKLE CACKLE!!!!

Fifty five?”

“No…” *I spell it out for them, even write it on my hand*

CACKLE CACKLE CACKLE!!!

The lady next to me now starts uncrossing my arms, feeling my waist, touching my arms, running her hands down my bum, twirling me around and inspecting me. She just could not believe that I could possibly weigh that much! At least she thought I was significantly lighter than what I am, I suppose.

Next she starts touching my hair and asking me something about it (I suspect she was asking whether it was my own hair colour?)

I was beginning to believe that she would inspect my teeth next (what had I got myself into?) when some guy (clearly working with them) walks up to us. He says “Hello”, and within a minute he’s got the full run down of my size, weight, height, social status.

Then, all of a sudden, they were called away to do some actual work. And not a moment too soon… That is the last time I let curiosity get the better of me! Although I should have known. I really should have.

You know you’ve been in Vietnam for too long when… 22 March 2010

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1) …you don’t think twice about riding side saddle as a pillion motorbike passenger because you are wearing a skirt.

2) …having a few near-misses with buses, cars or motorbikes on your way to work does not even make you flinch.

3) …you don’t think it strange that you cannot flush toilet paper down the toilet, and happily deposit it in the waste basket instead.

4) …you accept that the store clerk will be picking his or her nose while talking to you.

5) …you dismiss rude (and loud) comments about your appearance as a cultural difference, rather than an insensitive assumption that you don’t speak the language, or have feelings.

6) …you think wiping off the chopsticks in the restaurant with a tissue will be enough to counter food poisoning.

7) …you start blaming every ailment on the change in the weather.

8) …you know that the moment it starts really raining, you need to move your motorbike or it will get flooded.

9) …you know how to start a motorbike that has been flooded.

10) …the natural occurrence of a queue (that works) astonishes you.

11) …no good night out is complete without some form of karaoke.

12) …it does not surprise you that bars close at midnight (but stay open behind closed doors to keep up appearances with the police).