Monday, February 20, 2006

The one man travelling expat show part one

(This is perhaps the first installment of several
which are all based on the adventures of EXPAT MAN,
who dares to travel where everyone else is also travelling,
the only difference is he speaks 75 more words of Vietnamese)

Somewhere in Hoi An you sit in a café. It is kind of a boulangerie slash café. You spotted the Mille Feuille on the way in which will be complimented by a Café Macchiato. The waiter scoots past and a bunch of arms and eyebrows rise in an attempt to attract the young flustered man’s attention. You can’t resist a wry smile as you holler “em oi!” to which the young boy swivels on his heels and looks at you with a ready-to-serve smile.
Cho anh mot ca phe va mot banh Mille Feuille,” you say with what you believe to be exquisite pronunciation.

As the waiter disappears, the other customers in the café are caught between resentment and respect. “Who is that man with such an alarming command of the local lingo? For he is no ordinary traveller.”

Yes – you are no “tourist” travelling through Vietnam from North to South, or vice versa, you are EXPAT MAN. You have no time for these trifling conversations about how to find the cheapest hotel in Hue or the price of butter in Laos. Would you be caught dead wearing a Red Bull T-shirt or fisherman trousers? Of course not.
Nor are you clutching “the Bible” (The Lonely planet) close to your chest. That is because EXPAT MAN knows where he is going. You have been here frequently. You have immersed yourself in the culture. In fact, this must be your favourite boulangerie in all of Indochina! You have no need for a trusty sidekick like Shoeshine Boy, who is giving the regular tourists the 20 question treatment. When Shoeshine Boy asks you from where you come from you scoff, “Vietnam!”

Earlier on perhaps the tourists saw you haggling in the market and although no one understood your Vietnamese the other tourists didn’t know that, they just looked in awe and admitted, “EXPAT MAN sure is one hell of a haggler.”

Back in the cafe as they admire your cultural know how, the waiter arrives back and serves you, with an honest effort of panache, a plate of fried bread with two poached eggs and a coconut shake.

Xin moi anh (here you are),” he says with a big smile, before heading off to take the other customers orders in English.

Saying nothing, and too ashamed to look up as you realise your mangled Vietnamese phrasing is to blame, you begin to eat the eggs and sip your coconut shake and begin to wonder what will happen when you order the bill. Then again, perhaps you should just do the sensible thing and say it in English. Or at least improve your pronunciation in the meantime. Or perhaps you should try a bit of French as you are in a boulangerie, or is the right word patisserie?

Never you mind.


elliott said...

Lucky you didn't order the bill. Kristina ordered the bill once in Bandit Town with a cheery "Chi oi, xin thuc don nhe!" and watched as the woman disappeared with a calculator in hand. Five minutes later, she reappeared but not with the bill – with a plate of oily fried eggs (trung ran), which we all looked at horror without really knowing what to say. Or at least, I think that was the confusion... My memory's a little fuzzy around the edges...

pittstop designer said...

yes - tried to tell that story today but couldn't remember the exact words. I said she said "ting tien" which sounds nothing like "trung ran".

never me mind!

elliott said...

Yes that's it! Tinh tien. Thuc don ("menu") doesn't quite make sense, does it? In any case, we didn't think it sounded like trung ran either!... Actually now that I think about it, perhaps they thought she meant "trung chien"? (fried egg), cos trung ran would be made more like an omelette and we very definitely got one fried egg - no onions. That's it! A tinh tien / trung chien paradigm. As you can see, my inherent ability to ruin a perfectly good story in the telling has not diminished

pittstop designer said...

Ah - I should have used that as the punchline. ARSE! I just used coffee and mille fueille as a completely ridiculous example as it does happen. Ask for a fork get a ashtray, etc. Alan on ariving in nha trang asked for eggs on toast and got a coconut shake and he was speaking English!

pittstop designer said...

any funny stories on keys in Vietnam or toyko? getting locked out or in as the case may be?

elliott said...

There are definitely not so many locks here. So few in fact that I recently compained to my new landlord that there weren't enough. I asked him to put a chain on the door instead, although this obviously won't be very effective when we are both out!

elliott said...

And once, when I was supposed to interview someone of global standing, I travelled all the way to the office on a saturday morning, hungover as a frog, and I realised, after spending an hour and twenty minutes of feeling like vomiting on the train, that, by the time I arrived in front of my office, that I'd left my work keys at home. So I went all the way home - another hour plus – and then back again just to pick up the tape recorder that i had originally gone all the way to work to get. i have never forgotten my keys since...