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Korea is a wonderful and strange place

Korean Music in the Airport

Korea’s Inchon airport is very good. In addition to the shops and food, free showers and rest areas, there are also cultural resources. The government rented a storefront to display art objects. There is also a small stage where I saw a performance of Korean classical music. 

Language Immersion Trip, part 3

We are leaving Vietnam this morning (I’m actually writing this on the airplane).  Yesterday the Consul General hosted a lunch for us in Ho Chi Minh City. Several officers who are will work with us in the Consulate also attended. Despite the torrential storm that swept through in the middle of lunch (or maybe because of it) we had great conversations. I think we will enjoy our tour. 

View from our hotel last night in Ho Chi Minh City. Lots of green in the park.

Although I still am not where I want to be linguistically, this trip has helped a lot. I’m more confident using the language, and I’ve picked up ways of saying things. For example, to get the attention of a waitperson in a restaurant, you say: “em ơi!,” which means something like: “hey, younger sibling!” Little things like that will help us interact with people more naturally. 

There is one sociological factor that will continue to be a challenge to me. Vietnamese people consistently, almost insistently, speak to me in English. I’m sure this is because most foreigners in Vietnam don’t speak Vietnamese.  People here simply don’t expect the Vietnamese language to erupt from a person with a white face. Even when I initiate conversations in Vietnamese, the answers are usually  in English. It’s frustrating to a person who’s trying to practice language. The exceptions seem to be people who have zero English, like many taxi drivers, and very educated people who recognize that I want to interact in their language. 

My wife, who is blessed with an Asian face, has a different problem. She is commonly mistaken for a Vietnamese person, and so people address her in colloquial Vietnamese. That’s great if your Vietnamese language proficiency is where you want it to be. It isn’t so great if you’re still a struggling learner, like we are. We will probably have to deal with this phenomenon throughout our time in Vietnam. But if that’s our biggest problem, we should be fine. 

I still have ten more weeks of language training before I return to Vietnam to begin my tour. I think my language proficiency is where it has to be for my job requirements. I would like it to be higher, though.  I will have to work really hard until June. 

They haven’t accepted this excuse from me yet, but I’ll keep trying.

Dismayed that there is a need to say this.

Want some breafast with your beakrfast?

Glad I’m not an electrician in Nha Trang

I’d probably look at this and just start to cry. 

Language Immersion Trip, part 2

Being in country for language immersion trip is beginning to pay off. Interacting with the local people was torturous at first. Later, it became unbearable. Now, it’s merely painful. 

A big challenge to us is that because so few foreigners speak Vietnamese, the locals are unaccustomed to speaking with foreigners in Vietnamese. Often, we will initiate a conversation in Vietnamese, only to get a reply in English. 

One of the teachers who is accompanying us is the language enforcer. The standing joke is that if she hears us speaking English, we have to eat durian as punishment. Wherever we go, she first tells the employees there that they are not allowed to speak to us in English. It works. She puts the fear of God into people. Once, an employee of a park, who I had had no interaction with at all before, walked up to me and reminded me that I was not permitted to speak English with him. 

Yesterday we had a guided tour of an historical site. I was able to follow most of her explanations. That was encouraging. 

Just a 1200-year-old temple. When this was built, Charlemagne wasn’t on the throne yet.

Other than language, we are getting a feel for the culture and society. Vietnam is an interesting country. Although China exerted a huge influence on the language and culture over the last thousand years, it’s very clear that Vietnam has a distinct culture. 

Vietnamese food is pretty awesome.

Plumbing failure

What’s wrong with this picture?

Good Morning Nha Trang!

Pleasant touristy resort town in southern Vietnam. Right on the ocean. Sorta kinda reminds one a little tiny bit of Waikiki. 

What’s more obnoxious than smoking a cigar?

Answer: smoking a cigar in an enclosed, air-conditioned room.

Now I know. But oh, how I wish that I didn’t.