This blog post is three days late but it is a worthy of broadcast for travellers going to Vietnam.
First thing… language barrier. It hits you like a wall. But first let’s put all this into context.
I wasn’t in Vietnam as a tourist. So things may be different if you’re travelling as a tourist.
Security at the airport was unusually tight because of the arrival of APEC leaders and delegates. Everywhere, black clad members of the elite police unit stood, armed with the standard issue AK47s or smaller MP5s.
My baggage didn’t arrive. So I had to place a report. I took a fair bit of time trying to explain what a Pelican case was. “No… it’s not a bird and no it doesn’t have metal corners like what you have on your catalogue.”
Thanks to Google, I found a picture and showed it to them. It helped A LOT! Google is indeed a blessing to mankind.
Then the ground staff asked for my email address and I passed it on to her. She said she would all when the bags arrived. I asked for her email address but I couldn’t write it on my English speaking keypad.
My phone’s autocorrect function just went “WT…???” and shut itself down. It couldn’t handle the pressure of dealing with the Vietnamese language. Too stressful.
Outside the terminal, the signs in English were few. The Vietnamese use the Latin script for their language, courtesy of their French colonisers many years ago. But it’s a difficult language to understand and the words were, quite taxing on my Papua New Guinean tongue.
A Vietnamese producer I met in Bangkok a few years ago was explaining to me just how complex the Vietnamese language is. To put it simply, he said there was five sounds and meanings to the sound “WAH.” The differences are subtle. It’s difficult enough trying to explain by writing so I’ll stop there. I am not an expert here, even though my country has 800 of the world’s languages.
Back to the airport…
So it was raining heavily, when we arrived. Typhoon season, they said. I mean, serious raining. I come from Lae where it rains a lot. BUT it doesn’t rain nonstop for weeks. The last time it happened, Tent City was created.
We asked for a taxi. Nobody understood. The military guy we asked, said something about a visa card. I don’t know why.
So we eventually found our way around, like Papua New Guineans always do, and got into an 8-seater taxi. We headed for the Grand Mango Hotel – a place I found online. Fast forward to 6pm, Vietnam time, at a seafood restaurant. The taxi driver said it was a OK. He didn’t tell us it was expensive.
Two team members, Ivan and Freddy, asked for a lobster and a fish separately. We knew the Vietnamese Dong (their money), isn’t a decimal currency but we hadn’t really gotten around to understanding costs in Vietnam.
So Ivan paid 1.5 million Dong for the lobster. Freddy paid a few hundred thousand less. The larger lobster was 5 million Dong. We could have bought it. but we didn’t. Millionaires. Tycoons with, literally, millions in their pockets.
Later that night when I was converting the value of the Dong to US dollars, it hit me. That place was EXPENSIVE! If we had bought the 5 million Dong lobster, we would have spent something in order of 200 US dollars or K600 kina!
Language barrier. We didn’t break through it like they did the sound barrier but we found a way around it and it cost us the equivalent of the price of a good phone.
Freddy dubbed Ivan, “the millionaire.”
Apart from the language barrier, I found the Vietnamese to be very kind, respectful and helpful. They are small people with big hearts. Remember, the grand parents of this generation fought the French and won. Then they fought the Americans and forced them out.
The same tenacity and drive, is being put into the fourth industrial revolution… the digital revolution and it is reaping important results. Vietnam is now the 47th most powerful economy in the world.
They do business in their own language and they own their economy.
What is “language barrier?”