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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Hanoi Spring Roll and a Conversation through Google Translation


One of the many amazing things about traveling is the opportunity to meet new people on the road. During my trip to Hanoi I met Hoang, a cheerful woman who works at one of the many Sihn Tourist offices in the city. Recommended by another traveler friend Jerik, I sought her out after I arrived to avail of a Halong Bay and Sapa tours. We met and conducted business but by the end of our transaction she unexpectedly extended an invitation for me to join her and some friends for a dinner at her place. Shy and feeling a bit paranoid brought on by a number of Asian gore movies, a series of images involving hack saw, chains and giant hammers flashed before me. "Hello Mark, you want to come yes?" as Hoang tapped me on my arm with a glistening smile and I was back to real world. "Sure, what time? I would love to go" I told her.

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It was winter in Hanoi and the next day Hoang picked me up in front of Than Long theater after I watched the city's popular cultural show 'the water puppet'. I sat almost frozen at the back of her motorbike, as we crisscross the busy Hanoi streets, barely avoiding mishaps only by inches, I felt coldness blowing fiercely on my face. It was a sooth ride going out of Hanoi's boundary into the outer city, it gave me an opportunity for an extra sightseeing riding in tandem with Hoang. i felt my hands almost going numb while losing grip at the back handle, fortunately Hoang would slow down once in a while enough for me to tighten my hold once again.

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We arrived at her apartment after 45 minutes and one by one her friends started arriving. My introversion at being a stranger vanishes as soon as they step inside flashing their widest grins. Hoang introduced them to me; I heard Vietnamese names that I soon completely forgot. I sensed that they are not fluent in English so language barrier became the biggest elephant in the room, as we just nodded at each other. Later on, their curiosity over their guest took foothold of the situation as one of them struggles to ask me questions in English.

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Noticing the strange situation of mixing verbal mismatch and weird hand gestures from both of us, one of them brought a laptop and browsed into the internet. After a while he handed me the laptop showing a Google translation page with his question typed on a box while another box showing its English translation. The result wasn't perfect, but through this virtual translation program, I was able to share some information about myself by answering Google's translated questions such as; "Your Brother Sister aren't here, how old them?", "You here sightseeing or marrying?", "Your parents alcoholic or alive?" there was this one ridiculous Google-translated question that was hilarious but somehow I've forgotten about it already.

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So you get the drift about how our conversations through Google translation occurred. I learned from them how they admire Hoang and me for speaking good English, I told them I wish I can speak Vietnamese fluently as well. They kidded me that I should stay at Hanoi for long. I thought about it and in fact have entertained the idea of working there since another friend I met there, Kach - a Filipina and her boyfriend Jon (from UK) have been living and working there for several months and are earning good money teaching English.

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While Hoang finished cooking the spring roll and the fish and vegetable dish, me and her friends exchanged 'cheers' over a small cup of tea which somehow helped warm me up while seated at the cold flooring. During the course of the dinner I downed a handful of spring rolls as they egged me on by saying "eat more good food". I stayed there up until around 10pm after I joined them for a few rounds of Vietnamese wine, which has the effect of a Ginebra and Emperador combined. Good thing I didn't fall off from Hoang's motorbike on the way back to my hostel.

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Riding at the back of Hoang's motorbike as she takes me back to the Old French Quarter in Hanoi, the cold intensified but I couldn't be bothered. Hoang was talking to me but I couldn't hear her clearly, but I'm sure she was doing so with a smile on her face as I could hear giggles trailing her voice. That night's dinner with new friends definitely made me more at ease with the city - as the next few days I ended up exploring Hanoi, with a feeling that I never went anywhere but home and I learned that the battering rams of communication can easily breach any kind of language barrier.

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