Sunday, November 23, 2008

Two tongues = handy

My cardiologist "aunt" from Hanoi came to visit for the weekend. It was entertaining. She took me to an exorbitant but mind-blowingly awesome buffet at a 5 star hotel yesterday. Srsly, there was like foie gras cooked on demand and a chocolate fountain. Then today we ended up at a "binh dan" restaurant. It was hilarious cos she was visibly, like, "holy shit this place is SO LOW CLASS". Whereas to me, a place with chairs that are more than stools 10cm off the ground and tablecloths is woah break the bank already. I've been eating at pavement stalls. She said it was the first time ever she'd been to one - having spent her whole life in Vietnam! I'm not sure whether she knows she's in the 1%. I wouldn't say she's a snob, just...removed. I'm still fascinated by her, though. Such a dynamic, complicated yet endearing modern woman in a society that's not really caught up yet - the stuff heroines of novels are made of. Her family's interesting too. Her mum was a ballet dancer, then joined the army's arts corps (who knew such a thing existed!), then switched into medicine and later Eastern medicine. She knows Portuguese fluently, having worked in Africa for some time. Her dad was a famous architect, and went to Cuba and France to work. Like, wtf, I didn't know there were people like that in Vietnam.

So I was farewelling her today when I got into a conversation with a xe om driver. He's a good bloke. Then one of his regulars came round, an Aussie. So began one of the funniest, most disjointed conversations in my life because while neither party could understand the other, I got both ends.

Dramatis personae:
1) Aussie: 61yo, Vietnam Vet, big, bluff, rough-house Queenslander with tatts and a beer gut. Doesn't speak any Vietnamese and probably thinks everyone should understand English. Likes giving the driver punches in the arm, the only way he can communicate.
2) Driver: 40ishyo bone-skinny, chain-smoking, gap-toothed. Doesn't speak English except for "yes", "no". Ducks when Aussie comes, having been smacked too many times.
3) Me: bemused and amused, in PJ shorts because wasn't planning to stay downstairs for long.

Driver: I have no idea where he wants me to take him! And he never pays me enough. He only pays 70 000 for a whole day's driving, I barely break even with the cost of petrol these days. I might as well stay at home. It's no holiday, being his driver.
Aussie: He keeps taking me in circles and asking for more money, the greedy bastard. I always shout him meals and cigarettes. It costs me 150 000 a day!

Driver: There was this girl who kept wanting money from him...she wanted him to buy her a motorbike! I tried to tell him to stay away.
Aussie: There was this girl - she's 38 but looks lots younger. Isn't she cute? *whips out phone*

Driver: I feel sorry for him despite his cheapness, because without me he'd have to take taxis everywhere. He's a good bloke.
Aussie: I'd punch the lights out of anyone who tried to lay a finger on him. He's a good bloke.

Driver: Did you see the powdered pills he put in his coffee? Can you ask what it is?
Me: Shit, I hope they didn't give me the wrong cup! I'm scared! I don't want to ask. He wants me to come up to his room to "fix his computer". I don't know what to do!
Driver: Oh my god. He loves flirting with girls. Don't go!
Aussie (oblivious): Can you ask him how I can buy some fairy lights, like up on that tree there?
Yes, I did drink from a cup potentially with white powder in it AND went to his room. I KNOW!!! I can feel the disapproval coming down the mother-daughter psychic connection line as we speak! But he left the door open in his room, and I poked my keys between my fingers as makeshift brass knuckles just in case. Nothing happened, thank Jeebus...I'd have no one to blame but myself. Fortune favours the extremely stupid sometimes.

1 comment:

Dragonfly said...

Oh my gosh, I LOVE that dialogue. It is so "Love Actually goes to Vietnam". Seriously awesome.

Your aunt sounds like quite a lady. And go the pavement stalls, I am a huge fan of street food in all countries (erm, not that my parents would need to know that).