What a day. Extremely busy from the get go. I'm sitting here, exhausted and covered in road dust and fumes galore. But it's been great.
I arrived at "tieng viet" ("vietnamese" in vietnamese, pronounced pretty much nothing like it looks) class this morning at 8:15. Class had been starting at 8:00 but that just didn't give me enough time to get motivated my act together and have my coffee in the morning. So I moved it back to 8:15. And just like Robert Frost said, that has made all the difference. I was way more with it this morning -- chipper, even -- and my teacher, Miss Thuy, didn't make fun of how tired I looked for once. I explained to her that I'm just not a morning person.
Anyway, the lesson this morning was great. We are beginning to move on from pronunciation and learn some grammar and a little vocabulary. Grammar is way easy, so it's getting more interesting. Today I learned to say "I like to drink beer" ("Toi thich uo'ng bia"). It was one small step for a man but a massive leap for this man's lifestyle. I also began learning more pronouns. They're kinda complex in Vietnamese. There are many words that mean "you" in Viet. It depends on the gender, age and relationship of the person to you. Gender is obvious, age and status aren't. "Ong" is reserved for older gentlemen or very senior dudes (like government members and CEOs), while "ba" is used for grandmotherly types or a polite way to address a very high status and somewhat older woman. I made fun of the girls at my hotel by calling all of them "em" (loosely translated as "you" meaning "younger sister") and one of them "ba" and the one singled out got pretty mad. A good laugh was had by all.
Language class over at 9:30 I walked back my hotel, the Mogambo. It's about a 12 minute walk. The Vietnamese can't believe I walk that far ("What -- you no have motorbike?!") and think I'm crazy. I tell them how Vietnam reminds me of LA in this respect but I think the observation is lost on them. No one walks here except those that are too poor to afford a bike.
I get picked up at 10 by Sebastian, my real estate agent, to look at an apartment. He was born in Vietnam but raised in France. The dude is totally, and I mean totally, French. Not only his accent, but the way he carries himself, his sense of humor, everything. I like the Frenchies here.
I'm in the office by 11 and stay until 6:00. Then I have an appointment to look at some more places with another agent. I hop on a ubiquitous "xe om" taxi. Xe om taxis are just guys with motorbikes who hang out on street corners looking to give rides and make a buck. They're cheap and convenient if you don't mind more death-defying thrills between point A and point B than a roller coaster at Paramount (but no safety bar). And you gotta negotiate the fare every time. And these guys almost *never* have any change for larger bills (change is always a problem in Vietnam so I make sure I got it at all times now). Well anyway the guy I handed the address to this time was clueless. We drove around the city for 20 minutes, me choking on fumes and trying not to look as we rushed headlong into and cut across oncoming traffic. At one point I said "Can thun!" (a new word I learned that means "look out") and the guy smiles and shouts "no problem!" with a wave of his hand as he swerves dangerously around a another bike. Well eventually the agent calls me to find out where I am and I put the xe om guy on the phone. He's talking for like 5 minutes as I think "Well I have no idea what he's saying but oh boy this is taking a long time and that can't be good." Eventually after another false start we get there and the guy has the chutzpah to hit me up for more money since it took so long. Although I admire the chutzpah there's no way I'm giving him more money. "You should have known where it was!" I say, chiding him and giving him a hard time. He grins sheepishly and takes off. Oh well can't blame him for trying.
Two more xe om rides and two more apartments later I'm trying to communicate with another driver. This time I call the agent and hand the driver the phone. He takes it, but looks at it like I just handed him a lightly fried weasel. Then he hands it to a cab driver who pulls alongside, as if to say "What the hell is this?" Eventually I get him to hold it to his ear, but he's holding the wrong end and shouting "hello! hello!". Oy. The agent hangs up and he hands the phone back to me like it's a hot potato. It occurs to me that the guy may never have talked on a cell phone before. I am truly among the innocent. I know I'm sort of close to the next apt so I shove a crumpled bill into the guy's hand. He's happy and takes off. I find the agent but the landlord has left because we were late. Such is life in Viet Nam.
I have an excellent club sandwich at a cool little Irish bar a few blocks from my hotel. I take the opportunity to practice Viet with everyone I come in contact with. Speaking Viet must be rare for foreigners because 3 out of 4 times I get a very surprised reaction, followed by a rapid query in Vietnamese. Once they figure out I can't say much they talk to me slowly, loudly and patiently like a differently-abled child. That's great because it's easier to understand that way. One Viet guy working at the bar hears me struggling to order in Vietnamese, then comes over to introduce himself and give me his card. He's a photograper and invites me to visit his studio and see his photographs.
At 8pm I meet a 24 year old kid named Viet and his girlfriend Vui to practice English and maybe a little Viet. I met him on the street a few weeks ago while I waited outside a store for my mom and aunt to buy every pair of shoes in the place. I gave him my contact info and he has been on me like white on rice ever since to get together and practice. I was getting a little annoyed, but a promise is a promise and I met with him. He turned out to be quite charming, if still a little intense. We made small talk in English. I practiced a little Viet and showed them some pictures from the States. Even the waitresses at the cafe were getting into the act, trying to teach me new words. Everyone here is a teacher. I'll probably see Viet again, but need to take him in small doses.
I'm in my hotel room now. World Cup fever is afoot. Australia just beat Japan and I heard much cheering from the bar next door. The Euros here are nutty about the World Cup. It's like a 2 week long superbowl. The Viets like it too. I was out walking on Saturday night and people had TVs set up on sidewalks.
That's it for now. Good night, and good luck.