Thursday, February 21, 2013

Our Wedding of the Year

On Christina and my 40th anniversary (17FEB13), son Dale married Ean (Yen Ngoc Than) at Lagi in Vietnam.

It was a spectacular occasion with several short formal elements where grandparents and other senior family members grant approval for the union to take place. The remainder was like something out of a celebrity event with fireworks and all.

Three hundred relatives from Ean's family turned up for the feast at midday and there was much frivolity and laughter as those who had not seen each other for a year or two whooped it up. A table of young people was rather loud and got louder as the intake of the dreaded drink beer took hold. But not to worry, the music from the karaoke type machine was so loud, my teeth shook and Dale, being hearing impaired had no chance of hearing anything but the music.

The session lasted until about 2:30 pm and almost immediately after the last course of food (fruit) arrived, the   guests began leaving slowly like crabs on a beach. As we were to find out, another marriage was planned and a reception starting in a hour. The workers at the venue had a tonne of beer cans and other stuff to clean up in a hurry before re-setting the tables.

By the time we departed from the venue, all I wanted to do was to crash for an hour or so. I had been "forced" to engage in a couple of "YO!" sessions and even though the beer has ice in it, it was beginning to take its toll. A Yo session is where you are challenged to drink a full glass of beer in contest with another. I had last done that when I was in my twenties ... now that I'm a responsible drinker, I'm out of touch with these rites of passage.

A good day was had by all and it was a joyous opportunity for families to get together. As you can see, Dale looked like a celebrity as did Ean in her traditional dress. Both had a couple of changes of clothes. Dale went to a white suit and Ean to a lovely royal blue dress.

Obviously we wish them every happiness and hope they live long, prosper and look after us when we get old and difficult.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

My Remarkable Interaction with 6 Year Old Hung

Last night my new daughter-in-law asked me, my son and wife to attend one of her relatives places for a chat. We had already had dinner at Uncle Ing's place, where I learned why many of us in Australia are fat and obese and few Vietnamese are not. But that's a story for another day.

I had the most fascinating experience with a six year old girl called Hung. She looked as cute as ever in her school uniform, her long, jet black hair, smooth brown skin and brown eyes. She approached me and, probably never having seen an aging Australian with different eye shape, skin colour etc, addressed me in Vietnamese. I said hello to her in Vietnamese, one of a growing handful of words I know and then spoke a few words in English. She suddenly began speaking to me in English that was comprehensible, but slightly out of tone. She began counting to me and as I watched her searching for the next number, she reached 20 before she decided that was enough.

I told her she was very good at counting in English. We sat down and I began to point to parts of her body and say the English word. She responded, "nose", "eyes", "chin", "fingers" in her cute little voice and when the intonation was incorrect, I would tell her, "no, it's n-o-s-e" and as quick as a flash she would repeat it. Several times she had successive attempts, but eventually got it as close to 100 percent as anyone could expect from a six year old.

What I found quite remarkable is that she remembered every word we had spoken and got the correct intonation in several repeat sessions. Then she decided to teach me Vietnamese. She would say a word and then open her hands out in front of me to say, "well, say the word". If I got it incorrect as I did many, she would gesticulate in the way Vietnamese do to say "khong" ... "no" and redisplay her tiny hands to suggest I repeat the sound.

I couldn't believe it. There I was, a 65 year old man being taught Vietnamese by a six year old girl. And she was doing a great job of it. We had about a 3/4 h session, but I'm sad to say I'm not as efficient a learner as Hung.

It was an amazing experience and suggests to me that this young lady is brilliant. Truly an example of what is known in education as the "blank slate", the slate that has plenty of room for learning and absorbs everything quickly.

If I was staying here for an extended period, I'd ask her parents if I could have a few one hour sessions with her each week from which we could both benefit. I enjoyed our interaction very much despite our vast age difference and the absence of a considerable language barrier.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Finding Paradise in Lagi, Vietnam

Our trip from Ho Chi Minh City to Lagi, 200 km away took about four hours in a "bus" which was really a large taxi. Five of our extended-family-to-be met us at the airport, so they and we three had to cram into the bus with all our baggage. I had my feet up on the engine cowling and Christina was twisted a bit like a pretzel, however, after a slightly uncomfortable journey we made it to the Mai Long Hotel at Lagi where I sit now as I write.

As hotels go, it's very nice and it's also very cheap at about $12 AUD per night. Everything is inexpensive here by Australian standards which makes one realise how taxed and profit conscious we are. One thing that really impresses me is that wifi in the hotel is free and lightning speed, not like the service provided in our so-called "first world country" by Telstra/Bigpond.

The local currency, with the unfortunate title of "Dong" is in the thousands and you feel like you are being over-charged for everything until you work out the comparative cost. Twenty thousand Dong for two cups of Vietnamese style iced coffee is about $1 AUD. Take off the last four zeros and divide by two for an approximation.

A can of 330 ml beer is worth around $0.50 cents ... very easy to become a drunkard here.

Our new inlaws, Nup (mother of Ean, who is marrying son Dale) and Vian (father) run a fish wholesaling business and seem like a very lovely family. They are surrounded by what seems like a cornucopia of brothers, uncles,  grandparents, fathers and so on. The great point of note here is that everyone looks after everyone else in the family. The older family members are supported financially by their offspring ... no Centrelink Office here.

The people are friendly and manage to keep themselves reasonably well groomed and clothed with the odd exception. Everyone and everything here seems to busy with motor cycles coming and going day and night.

Our hosts have had us running from place to place meeting Uncle Ing, grandmother something or other, attending dinner here and breakfast there. We even found Paradise as you can see in the two photos above. And I thought paradise was only an imaginary place where the good, dead finished up. Not true!

There are no credit card facilities here which has been a pain, but we have managed to use ATMs to keep ourselves loaded up with Dong.

At present we are in the middle of the Chinese New Year so celebrations are ongoing, but shops are still open selling coffee and food, hardware and other things. The next week promises to be an interesting and demanding one for all of us. I'll keep you posted.


PS: Our new daughter in law is a lovely, intelligent lady who will be a welcome addition to our family and despite the cultural and language challenges, a great partner for our son

Thursday, February 07, 2013

It's Different but Similar in Vietnam

After an uninteresting and ordinary flight from Singapore, we arrived safely (always a bonus) at Tan Son Nhut Airport around 6:30 pm. While the standard of the airport surprised us, the two and a half hour wait to get our pre-booked visas process didn't. Been there, done that in several other countries.

After standing in queue for so long, it reminded me why one has to be at least reasonably fit to travel. It's not just carrying the bags that is the issue. For some, standing without anything to drink for a couple of hours can be daunting. Fortunately, I'm reasonably healthy and a placid person and not usually prone to impatience, having learnt early in life that being impatient doesn't help to make things happen any sooner. I do admit though, that I was pleased to get my visa and get out of the airport.

Friends including our daughter-in-law to be were waiting patiently for us and as we were incommunicado, must have wondered whether we had in fact arrived. All's well that ends well however.

We spent our first night at Saigon where, in the course of finding a place to have a beer, son Dale and I had an interesting interlude with a couple of "bar" girls. One sat close on my left, threw her leg over mine and rubbed my thigh. Even after only one beer, I thought she was stunning ... we drank our beer quickly and scurried off with tails between our legs. Maybe we should have stayed to see where the journey led, but we had a fair premonition and decided cowardice was the best form of survival, my son being about to marry and me with a wife of almost 40 years with whom I'd like to spend the rest of my days. I still have a vague recollection of having said, "until death do us part", with no mention of sudden death!

The city was as expected, similar to other Asian countries we have visited and also had some similarity to the Arabic countries with the sole exception of course that most of the people are Asian (what a surprise). There is a flower festival under way at present and we spent about an hour wandering among the many beautiful varieties of flowers. Unfortunately, I had left my camera in the hotel so missed many golden photo opportunities which I regret.

After doing some necessary business with the Australian Consulate-General's Office at Saigon, which was almost as painful as the visa issuing process at the airport, we walked about the streets and markets and managed to find a restaurant for dinner. We had an early night for in the morning we were off to Lagi which is where we are now.

Everywhere in Vietnam is a reminder of how resilient and motivated the Asian people are, having a penchant to turn anything into a way to make a Dong or survive for another few days. The motor scooters and motorcycles are ubiquitous; the thought passed my mind that there must be a huge trade in sins of the flesh, motor bike sales and repairs. Everything else must surely be subordinate.

Thanks to our Vietnamese friend Phuong, adapting to the local routine is much easier.