Vietnam. Lost in Translation.

Yestersday in my Vietnamese class I learned that the way I have been pronouncing ’em ơi’, a polite way of getting someone’s attention, sounds more like I am saying, ‘vomit’. Also, the word for a ‘serving or portion of food’, and the word for ‘poo’, in Vietnamese are very similar. So if you are trying your very hardest to use the Vietnamese you have learned when you are out to dinner, it is very probable you’ll end up saying something like this-

‘Hey vomit, a poo of chicken wings, thanks’.

The huge differenes between English and Vietnamese means Google Translate isn’t always much help.

Recently, I was trying to get my motorbike fixed using Google translate on my phone. I typed into my phone that I thought oil was leaking and showed the mechanic. He typed something back and it translated to,

‘Another time there was oil so I ran away’.

The word for ‘repair’, and the word for ‘milk’, are very similar in Vietnamese as well so when the mechanic handed me my phone with a nonsecal message that involved something about ‘milking a bike’, it was time to call a Vietnamese friend for help. Lucky, I have some wonderful Vietnamese friends in my life who are always happy to help when the going gets tough.

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Things regularly get lost in translation both ways here. The other day I received this  very resassuring message from my Grab driver.

 

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I am trying to learn Vietnamese but progess feels like it is moving at a glacial pace. I’m realistic that I probably won’t ever be fluent, but it’d be nice to be able to able to have a chit-chat with my neighbors. I was talking about this to a Vietnamese lady I met out at a recent dinner.

“I really want to improve my Vietnamese, it’d be nice to just chat to the neighbors y’know. ‘How are you?’, ‘it’s hot today, isn’t it?’, that sort of thing”.

The Vietnamese lady laughed, “Foreigners always talk about the weather! We don’t do that. You say to a Vietnamese person, ‘it’s hot today’, and they’ll look at you and say, ‘Yes. It is. Obviously’.

Apparently stating the bleeding obvious, ‘phew, hot one isn’t it’, ‘geeze that was a lot of rain’, is considered an odd thing to say if you are trying to start a conversation with someone.

‘My boyfriend is American and he does this. But in Vietnam we never try to start a conversation talking about the weather,  that would be so strange. We ask people how they are’.

In reality, Vietnamese people will ask more than how you are. If you are attempting to strike up a coversation, why faff about with the weather when you can ask, “Are you married? Why not?”, instead? 

“Why do you look so tired?”

“How old are you?”

“How much do you earn?”

“How much rent do you pay?”

There is no beating around the bush in Vietnam and these questions that would be considered forward or downright rude to ask someone at home, are no big deal here. The cultural difference between Vietnam and Australia run a lot deeper than anything in this post,  but people are people all over the world. Communication style may differ, but we all have the same need to connect with others, which is why I’ll keep pushing on with my Vietnamese lessons. Hopefully I won’t say anything too offensive a long the way.

 

Here a few random photos of daily life here in wonderful Saigon.

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I took this photo the other day, while I was out at the shops. Vietnam is such a wonderfuly interesting country full of contrasts.

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First dinner of our ladies-over-30-social club was a hit! That’s me front left.

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Driving home on a drizzly afternoon.

 

 

 

A mixed bag of photos I have taken recently.

 

 

Teaching English in Saigon- Part two. The difference between boys and girls…

The page in their book told me that today’s topic for their English class was, ‘The differences between boys and girls’.

Oh God no.

I looked at the room full of  40 eleven-year-olds staring back at me and felt a bit panicky. What differences exactly am I suppposed to talk about here? Are we getting down to the anatomy or is it more of a gender stereotype, ‘boys wear blue and girls wear pink’, kind of deal?

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Is this what I am supposed to be teaching today?

I was covering an upper primary class at short notice so I hadn’t known what I was going to be teaching until I walked into the room. The textbooks can be pretty vague, often with just a few key words to teach that we then create a lesson around. Normally, I like the freedom, but not on this day.

I tried to think of a plan. Do I open with -“okay boys and girls, you are coming to an age where soon you’ll be noticing changes in your body”.

No. Fuck no I am not here to explain puberty to a room full of  primary school kids in a 35-minute English class.

And surely vocabulary and pronunciation aren’t supposed to be the focus of today’s lesson, are they?

‘Vagina. Can we all say, va-gi-na’? It’s a ‘vvvvvv’ sound. Then the ‘g’ as in ‘giraffe’. Vagina’. Good job everyone!’

No. No. No. No. I am just going to make this real simple, try and survive the next 30 minutes then get out of here.

I drew an outline of a boy and a girl on the blackboard, still not sure how I was going to play this.

‘So, let’s look at some of the differences between boys and girls”, I said.

‘BOOBS!’ yelled a voice from the back and the entire class including me, cracked up. Very good. When I ask you how old you are you tell me your name, but somehow you know do know the word, ‘boobs’.

‘Yes, okay. What else? Well, ahhh men have moustaches and beards. Some men do.  What kind of toys do boys like? Yes trucks and stuff and girls play with dolls. And ummmm girls have long hair. Well, not all girls and boys can have long hair, but generally. Yes and umm clothes…. well y’know ahhh girls wear dresses…’

This bumbling train-wreck went on for a few more minutes until I decided that was about all we were going to cover there. I looked back at the book, maybe there was some written work I could get them to do?

There was. It was a list of activities and the children had to write whether it was a ‘girls’, activity or a ‘boys’ activity. It went something like this-

Climb trees

Sweep the floor

Play soccer

Help mother with cooking

Play on the computer

Play with dolls

I mean come on, it’s 2019! I know just minutes ago I was teaching the children gender stereotypes about long hair and dolls, but, it’s 2019, am I really supposed to be teaching the children gender stereotypes?

I drew two columns on the board- ‘Boys’, and ‘Girls’.

‘Okay, everyone, who can tell me, is climbing trees something that boys or girls do?

‘Boys’, shouted the kids.

‘But, can girls climb trees?’

‘YES’.

‘So we’ll put climb trees in the boy’s and the girl’s column. Now, who sweeps the floor?’

‘Girls!’

‘Does your Dad sometimes sweep the floor?’

‘Yes’

‘Alright, so boys and girls can sweep the floor!’

In the end, I put all the activities in both columns because boys and girls can do anything and there is no way I am teaching a room full of year-five kids that sweeping and cooking are girl’s jobs while the boys are out playing soccer and climbing trees. When I was a kid, I was a little monkey and I could climb higher than most of the boys anyway.

There’s no place like….

I’m home. After 18 months living out of a backpack, everywhere from Outback Australia to Nicaragua, my stuff is out of storage and I have a fixed address. I am back at work and I am giving adulting a go.

I hear of people having post-trip blues, but right now, I am stoked to be home. It’s the middle of summer here and I am back with my mates and my family. The work and bills part is a bit of a downer but it is nice to be not starting every conversation with, “Where are you from, how long are you travelling for?”

 

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Moving Day.

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Christmas Day with family and friends.

“So,where next?”  people keep asking.

“No-where. I’m staying in Australia.”

“Pft, right I’ve heard that before.”

My life has been on a work, save, travel, repeat rotation and part of the reason I’m home for a while is money, as in, I have none. They say travel is the only thing you buy, that makes you richer. No, no it does not make you richer. It makes you a 33 year old with no assests whatsoever other than a 1989 Corolla.

I would love to be one of those people that travel the world and support themselves “making money from their laptop”.  The folk that travel to beautiful, exotic locations and earn cash from their blogs. How in the holy hell they do this, I don’t know. There are plenty of websites that will tell you, “You too, can live the life of your dreams, making money online” but the reality is, you can’t. Well maybe you can, but I can’t. Shout-out to everyone that comes and has a look at this blog, but I think I am a long way from anyone wanting to pay me for it.

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How can this man even see the screen with all that sunshine? I’m suspicious he is working at all!

I reckon I have heaps more adventures left in me, but for now, I’ll be looking for them in my own backyard.

 

Ten Travellers You’re Bound to Meet on The Road.

You’ve booked your ticket, packed your backpack and highlighted all the important bits in your Lonely Planet.

This is it. The big one.

You are going on that big round the world trip.

Here’s a preview of ten travellers you are bound to meet out there on the road.

1. The Massive Tight-Arse Traveller.

Not to be confused with the budget traveller, the massive tight-arse traveller can be found complaining loudly and frequently about having to pay to use the toilet. Because the world owes them a free, clean toilet at all times. They never tip, ever, and will walk 2km in the heat to save 5c off the cost of a bottle of water. They consider places that charge tourists one entrance fee and locals another, lower fee, to be the biggest injustice known to mankind. This is despite earning many times what the locals earn and the fact that if locals were made to pay the tourist price, many of them would be unable to visit

Catch-phrase: “It’s not the money, it’s the principle.”

2. The Super-Traveller Traveller

This traveller has travelling down to a fine art. They have a sixth-sense for finding the best and cheapest food in any given location. Their sense of direction is so freakishly accurate you start to wonder if they have had Google Maps implanted into their brain. That back-pack they are carrying is half the size of yours, yet they are travelling twice as long and have everything they need. They are chatting away with locals while you are still struggling to remember the word for ‘thank-you.’ When you ask them how long they have been learning the local language for, they’ll reply.

“Ever since I arrived.”

They arrived in the country last week.

Real Super-Travellers are born, not made. You can learn from them, but you’ll never quite get there

3. The Selfie Traveller

This traveller does not go overseas to meet interesting people or experience new cultures. The main aim of this traveller’s trip is to head to beautiful and iconic locations, turn their back to them and take a photo of their head in front of them. The Selfie Traveller does not really care what such places look like, as long as they look good standing in front of them.Their enjoyment of any given trip is measured by the amount of Facebook likes and Instagram followers they collected along the way

4. The Glam Traveller

While you have tomato sauce stains on your shirt, dirt under your fingernails and a sweat mustache, the Glam-Traveller looks like they just stepped out of a magazine. Not only do they have glossy hair and nice teeth, they also appear not to sweat, while everyone else around them is wringing out their pit patches. Spend a bit of time with a Glam Traveller though, and you’ll see they spend no more time on grooming than you do. They just wake up looking like that, and stay looking like that, all day.

Take heart. Glam Travellers are a rare breed. The rest of us look like shit too.

5.  The Everyone’s Mate Traveller

Within half an hour of checking into a hostel The Everyone’s Mate Traveller knows all the staff and most of the guests by name and has organised a beer-pong tournament. Everyone’s Mate can walk into bar alone, knowing no-one, and leave with invitations from seven different groups of people to come travel with them.

Everyone’s Mate mangles the local language, but hey have a crack at it with such charm that they can be found laughing and joking with locals everywhere they go.

6. The Born-Again Hippie Traveller

This person works in either a bank or for an insurance company at home. Whilst on their big overseas trip, they somehow got invited to a Rainbow Gathering, had an epiphany and decided what they are really meant to be is a ‘free spirit’. Now they walk around barefoot, draped in colourful scarfs, clutching a copy of Eckhart Tolle’s “A New Earth.” The Born-Again Hippie Traveller likes to use words like ‘energy’ , ‘vibe’ and ‘fully’.

They will hug you even when you don’t feel like a hug.

They recently paid $30 for a Finnish backpacker to dreadlock their hair.

One day soon, their money will run out, they’ll go home, cut of their dreads, return to work and those rainbow fisherman pants they’ve been wearing for a month without washing will gather dust in their Dad’s garage.

7. The Know-it-all Traveller

The Know-it-all Traveller fancies themselves a Super- Traveller (see 2.) but in reality, is nothing of the sort. They take great pleasure in topping any story you might have however they fail to realise the difference between telling a good travel tale and boring everyone shitless with a long-winded saga. The Know-it-all Traveller tends to have a loud voice and can be found at hostel bars, interrupting conversations and giving out unwanted advice with a patronising tone.

Learning a language? You are doing it wrong and they know a better way.

Going somewhere? Ha! They have already been and you are going at the wrong time of year.

Just had lunch? Nobody eats there any more. They know a much better restaurant, ’cause, they are just good at this travelling thing.

When they tell you they paid $14 for a taxi from the airport and you only paid $11, smile inwardly but don’t say a word

8. The Party-Animal Traveller

The Party-animal traveller views the world as just one giant, global pub-crawl. Sure they like to see all those sights that everyone talks about, as long as those sights can be seen from the window of the bar. They rate a destination based mostly on how cheap the beer is and how lax the drug laws are.

Your most memorable nights away will feature a party-animal traveller.

Spend too much time with them and you’ll find yourself in a situation where you are bribing a police man.

They should be your first point of call for advice on which local beer is best.

9. The “I’m not a tourist I’m a traveller” Traveller

This traveller considers themselves a true ‘traveller’ and loves to fire the question, “Are you a tourist or a traveller?” at every person they meet.

You’ll stumble over your words,

“Ummm, well, this trip I am backpacking on my own, but last year I went to an all-inclusive resort in Fiji for Mum’s 50th birthday so ummm I’m not sure.”

No one else around really knows (or cares) what exactly it is that differentiates a ‘tourist’ from a ‘traveller’ but this traveller is determined to put everyone they meet into one of two categories. Beware if they decide you fall into the ‘tourist’ category. You will be shunned.

10. Why is this person travelling? Traveller.

This traveller hates all things foreign. They pride themselves on only having eaten western-style meals since leaving home, avoiding all that weird, foreign food all together. After making zero effort to learn even a few words of the local language, they will go through their trip with a constant feeling of irritation that the local people “barely know a word of English”. They will huff and puff about how such crowded buses would never be allowed where they are from and rave on about the fact that where they are from is cleaner, better ran, more organised and generally superior in every way.

Despite all this, they insist that they love to travel and already have their next destination planned.

Have you come across any of these people while travelling, or do you see a bit of some of them in yourself? Are there any others you’d like to add?

Semuc Champey – Pools of Paradise.

My idea of travel-planning is just a small step up from sticking a map to the wall and throwing darts at it, so when I decided it was time to move on from Lake Atitilan, I booked a ticket to Semuc Champey without quite knowing where or exactly what, Semuc Champey was.

Getting there was a long day, starting at 4.30am, crammed in a mini-van. I spent the next 14 hours feeling grateful to be short.  We arrived at our destination of Lanquin in the evening where another truck too me to my final destination, Utopia Hostel. It was here that I signed on to the Semuc Champey tour, still a little vague on what Semuc Champey was.

The tour started with a slightly hairy ride in the back of a truck, to our first stop at Kanba Caves. Kanba Caves are a network of caves and chambers stretching 8km into the earth and we were there to take a candle-light swim through the river that runs through them. This ‘swim’ turned out to be some real, risk to life and limb, Indiana Jones-style adventure shit. We scrambled over slippery rocks, swam through deep water while trying to keep our candle alight and climbed up a rope with a waterfall pouring over it. On the way out we had to slide down a hole with water rushing through it and the girl in front of me, who couldn’t swim, started to panic a little bit, but the only way out was down. In Australia, like most places, to go in anything like this you’d be required to sign a 6 page waiver, don full-body safety gear and undertake a two day training course. In Guatemala, they give you a candle.

I didn't take my camera into the caves so a big thank-you to Alana at Around the World in 80 Frames. https://rtw80frames.wordpress.com/ for letting me use one of her photos.

I didn’t take my camera so a big thank-you to Alana at Around the World in 80 Frames. https://rtw80frames.wordpress.com/ for letting me use one of her photos.

Bridge near the caves.

Bridge near the caves.

Next up was a hike up El Mirador. We had a guide to take us, but he didn’t seem too fussed on the guiding people part of being a guide. He ignored us for most of the day, headphones in,  I-pod on, charging off ahead. A few times I wondered if I was still going the right way. I caught up with him at one point and he looked at me, exasperated and asked.

“Where is everyone?”

I shrugged and thought, “I think answering that question is your job.”

The hike up El Mirador is beautiful, but steep and exhausting and I arrived to the top red-faced and drenched in sweat. Then I walked to the edge and looked down.

If the climb up there hadn’t already taken my breath away, this view would have.

Semuc Champey. Knock-out gorgeous natural wonder.

Semuc Champey. Knock-out gorgeous natural wonder.

Semuc Champey means “where the river hides beneath the earth”. It is a 300m long, natural limestone bridge with the Cahabón River roaring below it. The bridge is made up of a series of pools and small waterfalls filled with cool, turquoise water, surrounded on either side by sheer jungle-covered cliffs.

It really is knock-out gorgeous.

After giving us some time to catch our breath and take it all in, our impatient guide rounded us up, then took off again, this time down toward the pools.

Every hot, sweaty, muddy step was worth it when we arrived.

How’s the serenity?

The rest of the afternoon was spent sliding down waterfalls and swimming in the clear, cool water. Despite beauty of Semuc Champey, it’s remote location and difficulty to access means relatively few people visit and there were only around 15 or so, including my group when I was there. It was easy to tune everyone out, float on my back, look up at the jungle and imagine I was 100,000 years in the past.

If that all sounds like enough awesomeness for one day, it’s probably because it was. I had earlier however, paid up-front to tube down the river back to my hostel rather than take the truck. This might have been fun if there had been other people, sunshine and beer. Instead it was just my guide and I, floating down a cold river. In the rain. It was kind of shit.

Cold and shit-house tubing trips aside, Semuc Champey is a massively under-rated natural wonder. Go before too many people figure it out.

Chicken Bus’n it to Nicaragua.

“It’s all part of the adventure” is a euphemism backpackers like to use when best laid plans turn to shit. You have to expect a few bumps in the road whilst traveling, but then there are times when things go so far off plan that you find yourself waking up in Nicaragua’s seediest hotel on the morning of your 33rd birthday.

Being the cheap-o traveler I am, I skipped the tourist shuttle and took the local ‘chicken’ buses to travel from El Salvador to Nicaragua. Chicken buses are a slow but cheap’n’cheerful way of getting around Central America. Called ‘chicken buses’ by tourists because they are sometimes used by people to transport live animals, they are usually old American school buses, often brightly re-repainted with a bit of an “I love Jesus” theme. They rattle from town to town and just when you think another person could not possibly fit, two more get in. At every stop, shop vendors stream onto the bus selling everything from hot food to pens. We even had a couple of buskers come one and play some songs at one point.

Taking the chicken bus from El Salvador to Nicaragua is a long day with multiple bus changes and involves crossing into Honduras for a couple of hours. It was interesting, but exhausting, so when a man I talked to in the immigration line at the Honduras/Nicaragua border, offered me a ride all the way to León I happily accepted. Sweet. Saves me getting yet another bus. He also offered a ride to a young, German gap-year kid and I assumed we’d all be going in a car. We followed him out of immigration to where this was parked

With only two seats, David was to go in one truck while I was to ride in another with his mate.

Admittedly, I did have the thought of;

“Hmmmm is it really smart to be hitching a ride in a truck in Nicaragua at night?”,  but I figured old-mate didn’t use truck driving as a front for kidnapping backpackers, so I told myself to relax.

My driver and I attempted a bit of conversation, but the language barrier made it difficult, so we settled into a comfortable silence. Barely fifteen minutes into our trip, the driver’s phone rang and I tuned out as he chatted away in Spanish. When he hung up the phone, he turned to me and said something that sounded like,

“The roads are too dangerous to go further, so we have to turn off and spend the night at a truck stop.”

My Spanish is poor, so surely I misheard. I did not just hear we were going to be spending the night at a truck-stop. If I had to make a list of all the places I would least like to sleep, a truck-stop in Nicaragua would be near the top.

“León? Esta noche?”  I asked.

“No, León  mañana.”

“Oh Lord, what have I gotten myself into?”

As we pulled off the road and into the truck-stop all I could do was say a silent thanks to any god that wanted to listen that Gap-Year David was there as well. David spoke fluent Spanish so he headed on over to the local trucker bar and asked if there were any hotels around while I stood around and tried not to think about what a bad idea this had turned out to be. David came back with the news that there was a hotel, half a k up the road. So off we went. As we walked, David told me that his truck driver had told him that he had received a call and up ahead people were throwing rocks at trucks and attacking them.

Yay! Awesome!

I was a bit nervous walking down the road at night, but we didn’t have a whole lot of options. Ten minutes later we arrived at Nicaragua’s seediest hotel. I think they took their design inspiration from a sort of brothel/gaol cell fusion look.

It was a window-less concrete block of a room with a supply of free condoms and water-proof covers on the mattresses. I think it’s where truckers take their ladies of the night and I am sure you could pay-by-the-hour if you wanted to.

Complimentary condoms.

Complimentary condoms.

I am not sure I even want to know what this thing next to the bed is meant to be.

I am not sure I even want to know what this thing next to the bed is meant to be.

The owner arranged another mattress so David and I wouldn’t have to share a bed, then he turned on the portable fan and proceeded to spray air-freshener at it, wafting it around the room giving it an over-powering, freshly cleaned public toilet fragrance. The room was hot as hell, we didn’t even have a top sheet on the beds and I probably woke up covered in microscopic bits of trucker jizz.

Did I mention it was my birthday?

The truck drivers had told us that they were leaving again at four-thirty in the morning, so we were both up again before the sun came up. As we walked out of our hotel, a police officer who randomly happened to be standing there, told us to be careful, because it was dangerous to be walking around.

Awesome.

We made it back to the trucks and the drivers kindly drove us to León without a drama.

I think I’ll be taking the bus from now on though, and I’ve promised Mum, no more hitching rides with truck-drivers.

Breakfast with a Side of Awkward.

Maybe the fact he was drinking rum on the rocks alone at midday should have been a bit of a red flag.

When I arrived back in Antigua, Guatemala last week, one of the first things I wanted to do was catch up with my old Spanish teacher, Jen. We went out for beers and we were the only people in the bar, other than an older gentleman sitting alone reading and sipping rum.

The man got up to order another drink and we overheard him asking the bar tender if he could recommend any Spanish teachers in town. Wanting to help drum up some business for my friend, I chased after him as he left the bar.

“Excuse me, did I hear you say you were looking for a Spanish teacher?” I asked, waving my friend’s card at him.

His name was Frank and as it turned out he was looking for a Spanish teacher, for him and his daughter. He came back inside and bought us both a drink. He said that he lived in a big house with five-bedrooms and three maids. His daughter also needed some help with reading and writing in both English and Spanish, and we were both welcome to come and stay with them.

“Why don’t you both come over for breakfast tomorrow?” he said, “you can see the place and we can talk about this more.”

Bright and early the next day, I met Jen and we headed to his place together.

“Do you think he will remember us?” she said.

“Yeah” I said, “of course he will, he only met us yesterday.”

I knocked on the door and he answered.

“Hey Frank! How’s it going?” He looked a little bit confused but stepped aside to let us both in. He pottered around a bit, while Jen and I followed behind. He then called out for another person.

“James!”

A young Canadian guy came out of one of the rooms. He introduced himself to me. He introduced himself to Jen. Jen and I introduced ourselves back. Jen, Frank, James and I then all just stood there, looking at each other. It was 8.30 in the morning.

“Well” said Frank breaking the silence, “I don’t know what we are doing here.”

“Errrr, you invited us to breakfast yesterday.” I said.

I could tell by the look on his face no bells were ringing. The poor bastard had no idea who we were or what he had invited us to breakfast. Thankfully, James’ stepped in and saved the day.

“There are some boiled eggs and a tortillas in the kitchen. Would you like coffee?”

“That would be great, thank you” I said. Actually, I just wanted to get out of there, but in for a penny, in for a pound. Jen and I exchanged looks and I shook my head and tried not to giggle.

We headed to the dining table and James brought us all out food and coffee while Jen and I stumbled through small talk with Frank. We tried to refresh his memory of the day before and things slowly seemed to fall back into place.

When Frank got up from the table to clear the plates I whispered to Jen, “Just give him your details, tell him to call you if he needs you and lets go!”

Frank returned and we thanked him for the breakfast. Jen handed him her card and told him to call her if he decided he wanted lessons from her. We all shook hands and Jen and I got out of there.

In case you were wondering, Frank never did call her for lessons. At least the breakfast was good.