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April 2019


Today's Topic: If you could ask one question. As I go about giving lectures, seminars, and workshops, I meet many people of all ages here in Việt Nam. For a variety of reasons, some of which I have covered previously in my blog, it is necessary to establish my age and marital status from the get go. Given that I am always older than those with whom I come into contact, my age has seldom been asked. I think it may be the gray hair and my "seasoned" face that negates the need to ask. That said, the following is probably the most commonly first asked question I get: "Is your family with you here in Việt Nam?".  When it is discovered that I live by myself in Hà Nội, I can guarantee the next two questions will be: "How do you eat? Who cooks your meals?". In the người Việt (Vietnamese [people]) culture, men do not cook meals, nor do they shop for food.

In case you're wondering...I cook my meals the the same way you do, with pots and pans.


Today’s topicThey always win. I frequently find myself strolling around one of the most popular lakes in Hà Nội: Hoàn Kiếm Lake (pronounced “Juan Key-em” with a sort of “down-up tone”). This scenic lake, with it’s unique green water, local population of aquatic soft shell tortoises, and 18th century built Đền Ngọc Sơn (Temple of the Jade Mountain) pagoda, is located in the Hoàn Kiếm district. It is not an overly large lake (it has a perimeter sidewalk of maybe a mile in length), but, it is a good sized lake with an average depth of about three and one half feet. Given Hà Nội is only about 53 feet above sea level, three feet is pretty much the average depth of all of the many, many lakes in Hà Nội. In addition to the regular weekend attractions at Hoàn Kiếm lake (buskers, artists, vendors, etc.), there is always a festival or activity designed to attract tourists and locals to the lake. For the safety of weekend visitors, beginning every Friday afternoon and lasting through Sunday evening, the main street surrounding the lake is closed to cars, motorbikes, and motorized three-wheelers. For very good reasons, Hoàn Kiếm lake is listed as a regular “must see” destination on EVERY blog and trip advising webpage that talks about Hà Nội. It is also a mere sneeze away from the historic Old Quarter of Hà Nội (also a blogging fave). The Old Quater is packed with many popular hotels fancied by the “with-it” touring westerner. This makes Hoàn Kiếm lake a prime target for those người Việt (Vietnamese [people]) wanting to practice their English skills. Like birds of prey, these predatory elementary school-aged rascals hunt for the unsuspecting English-speaking westerner. With their list of questions in hand, and an uncanny ability to spot those who speak English, these children suddenly appear out of nowhere, with great stealth I might add. These very respectful, but not shy, children politely ask, with perfectly rehearsed English, “May I practice my English with you?” Nobody, I mean nobody, who speaks English, can resist their siren's song. How could you?  Having been approached on numerous occasions over the past eight months, and most willingly participated, I recently developed and implemented a plan to even the playing field...a little bit, anyway. Now whenever I am approached, I only agree on the condition that I, in turn, am allowed to practice my tiếng Việt (Vietnamese [language]). They always willingly agree and humor me.  So this is a little bit of how it goes: 

Them: “What is your name?” Me: “Tôi tên là Pôn”

Them: “Where are you from” Me: “Tôi là người mỹ, bang Texas” (I’m American from Texas)

Them: “What music do you like?” Me: “Tôi thích âm nhạc blues”

Them: “What is your occupation?” Me: “Tôi là giáo viên.” (I am a teacher).

Them: “How long have you been in Viet Nam?” Me: “Tôi đã sống ở đây tám tháng” (I have lived here 8 months)

Unfortunately, the English skills of the average third and fourth grade students in Việt Nam far surpass my meager knowledge of tiếng Việt; and, these are not your average third or fourth grade students. These are advanced English speakers and they are out to hone their English skills. That means, at some point, usually question number five-ish, I must laugh and then tap out: Them: “What is your favorite color?” Me: “Tôi xin lỗi. Tôi nói ít tiếng việt” (I am sorry, I speak little Vietnamese).

They always beat me at my own game…sigh. My ultimate goal before I leave Việt Nam is to speak as much  tiếng việt as a the average 5 year old...please wish me luck!!

(pg. 2) (pg. 3)