Trip Start Apr 21, 2005
Trip End May 17, 2005

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Flag of Vietnam  , Quảng Nam,
Friday, May 13, 2005


A few stories to illustrate the culture.

On my last visit I was invited to a wedding reception.  When the gathering broke, I was looking at a long walk across this new town.  Normally OK, except I was only two drinks from going over the edge.  One man pointed to his moto.  I nodded and got on.  He took me to his house instead.  Inside was karaoke.  He belted some Vietnamese songs unabashedly.  Then he gave the mike.  Next song Bridge Over Troubled Water.  So I fumbled along.  The few of you who have heard me sing Happy Birthday would understand.  At the end, my score was 100.  He was ecstatic, wanting me to sing more.  I'm not sure about this scoring system.  But I think my performance was rated against that of previous singers.  Notably, none of which knew English pronunciation.  So a pretty weak 100.  Agreed?  Anyway, word got around that I'm a fabulous singer.  I was repeatedly invited to another wedding.  On the condition that I sing at the reception, of course.  Also, my host family had all the nearby relatives over for dinner.  After wards, they gathered around to hear me sing.  Both times it came down to the lesser of two evils.  As much as I wanted to oblige, songs were not going to happen.

One day I was sitting in an internet shop.  "You, come back Hoi An."  Outside was one of the tailors I bought clothes from previously.  She invited me back to her shop.  Of course, she wanted me to buy more.  I told her I had no money but would stop by anyway.  "That's OK, you come for dinner."  She lived only a block away so we took off.  She introduced me to her daughter.  She wanted me to take her back to America.  "$15,000 for marriage...paper only...for three years."  I smiled but declined.  She wasn't deterred at all.  Why?  That's how she got her two oldest daughters to America.  I asked about her son sitting on the sofa.  Did she want him to go too?  "Oh, no! Vietnamese girls good to marry."  So he'll be staying.  I asked a couple of other shopkeepers about this.  They just laughed.  Apparently the going rate is $20,000.

In the evenings at the Nguyen house, the boys would teach me Vietnamese.  The key to learning is the vowels:

3 A's - one sounds like an 'e', another like an 'u'
2 E's - both sound like an 'a'
1 I - sounds like an 'e'
3 O's - one sounds like a 'u'
2 U's - one sounds like an 'o'
1 Y - sounds like an 'e'

In addition, the tone of each vowel can change with the addition of 1 or 2 of 6 different accents ~ . / \?  The grammar is pretty easy, though.  Verbs have only 1 tense and nouns have no gender.  Conversely, the Vietnamese have difficulty with our hard consonants like D T L J.  I got to the point where I could read and pronounce easy words on my own.

Near the end of my visit, Le Co invited me to have lunch with a couple of his friends who were fluent in English.  We drove to a nice restaurant on the river to talk about slang, idioms and other quirks.  For example, our room temperature drinks were served "on the rocks."  They did their best to understand.  But my rationales didn't always fly.  One saying they have in Vietnamese is, "men eat like tigers, women eat like cats."  A culture after my own heart.  Have I mentioned they eat five meals a day here?  The 100 degree heat and humidity, however, was melting my appetite.  This was the second time a man told me I was eating like a cat.

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