Anyone get that reference? Award yourselves 10 points.
Language is a funny thing. Especially to those denizens of the British Isles, where even a vague grasp of any tongue other than English is regarded as a mark of extraordinary intellect, and where knowledge of more than one foreign language is frequently viewed as outright witchcraft.
Even to a relatively international Englisher such as myself, who has lived overseas, has substantial globetrotting experience, a French/Spanish speaking girlfriend and a (illegitimately pirated) subscription to Rosetta Stone, I rarely get further than learning the local lingo for “Hello”, “Beer”, “cheers” and “thank you” (often utilised in that precise order). And until now, that’s been good enough to see me through.
No longer, it would seem. Unlike almost everywhere I’ve travelled previously in Asia, English is hardly spoken in Vietnam outside of tourist areas. In India for example, no matter how remote a hamlet I found myself in, once recognised as an English speaker, some bearded village elder or other would be wheeled out and happy to interpret for me. Not so here in the ‘Nam. People here generally take the British approach, ie: if you don’t understand the first time, they will usually just speak Vietnamese louder. Or ply you with endless cups of tea until you go away*.
The logical thing to do would be to learn a little Vietnamese ourselves but this is easier said than done; the Vietnamese language has six different tones and a change in tone changes the meaning of the word completely. Accordingly, even if you’re reading the word phonetically from a phrasebook, your intention to request a hotel room for two could easily be interpreted as a request to have your toenails painted lilac or a room service instruction to urgently bring forth two roasted quail’s eggs and a choc-ice.
We have fallen afoul of this several times, usually in restaurants. We’ve ordered a beer and received three (I didn’t mind this too much), we’ve ordered a bottle of cold water and received two steaming mugs of tea, we’ve ordered a hot coffee at breakfast and received an iced coffee with rum, and we’ve ordered a pork stir-fry with rice and received steak with egg and chips (actually, I didn’t mind this one too much either). On the whole, I’d say we’ve been lucky, but there are only so many times one can be lucky when playing the game of Russian roulette. And that’s precisely what I consider this ordering process to be, when you consider that at one of the few eateries with an English translation of the menu we saw such delights as ‘snake-head stew’, ‘pigeon porridge’, ‘sautéed frog with banana curd’, ‘crocodile hotpot’ and ‘grilled dogmeat with chilli & lemongrass’. Only so long before one of us pulls the trigger on a full chamber, so to speak.
You don’t believe me do you? You think I’m exaggerating for comic effect. I can’t blame you, I’d think that too. That’s why we took photos of the menu.
Where’s Douglas Adam’s Babelfish when you need one?
Travel roundup time! We’re in Da Lat, about a quarter of our way up the country, comfortably ahead of schedule (we have a schedule?!?) and just one days ride from Phan Rang, the start of the beach resorts. The front half of our beloved Desmond is now fully operational following my fitting of new fork seals, springs and brake pads. The rear half less so, following my fitting of a luggage rack that a) was woefully inadequate for our needs, b) gouged a massive hole in the rear suspension, and c) disintegrated completely on a mountain road miles from anywhere. This last forcing us to flag down a bus to transport Marie-Carmen and half of the gear to Da Lat, while Mr Bob jockeyed the crippled old goat the remainder of the journey alone, up what must be some of steepest roads I’ve seen since Nepal.
We’ve seen some amazing things too. Like a man with a fridge-freezer bungied to the back of a scooter. Like a huge medieval European castle currently being quite inexplicably constructed among the tea plantations. Then there’s this place called Dambri. . .
It’s hardly a footnote in the guide book, it just says there’s a waterfall, but since there wasn’t much else in the area around Bao Loc, we decided to go for a nosey. And we were in for a surprise. It’s the biggest waterfall I’ve ever seen, by a factor of about 15, in fact it’s one of the largest waterfalls in Asia, both in height and flow rate, and set amongst spectacular jungle scenery. Unquestionably the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. And it seems the Vietnamese government agrees, because they’ve gone to the effort of sculpting a most bizarre visitor park around it that gives the whole place an Alice-in-Wonderland feel, with giant mushrooms and carved wooden animals both realistic and mythical, all blended in among pathways through the natural jungle. Very tastefully done too, the park doesn’t encroach on the waterfall itself (other than the cable car that can carry you to the bottom of the valley for those who don’t feel like braving the terrifyingly steep and slippery stairway cut into the rock of the valley wall). There’s even a rollercoaster. Sort of.
Stand aside Disneyland because this is the most awesome rollercoaster in the world. Or it was, once I discovered that I was supposed to be controlling the fucking thing. Up until that point, it was rather frightening. I mean it; there I was, alone on a rollercoaster (MC chickened out) twisting and hurtling down a canyon wall at what felt like 100mph and thinking ‘fucking hell, this thing is ludicrously fast and doesn’t feel safe at all’, when I rocket past an orange sign. It said “Brake now”. ‘Do WHAT now?!?!?”. Ohhh’ that’s what this lever is for. No one had thought to tell me I was fucking driving! Tailor me up one more pair of brown trousers please Mr Moss Bros.
Anyway, an excellent visit all in all, and Madame was pleased because it gave her the opportunity to play with all of camera equipment she’s been lugging around since we left. Madame was even more pleased when some of her pictures were rated highly on her photography website, and positively ecstatic when one of her shots from a temple we visited was selected for publishing by Le Routard (the French equivalent of the Lonely Planet guide). Congratulations my dearest.
Well, as usual dear readers, I’ve got much more to tell than I can be arsed to type so I’ll call it a day here. We have a Halloween party to attend shortly. . .
Peace & Love,
*Being without a cup of tea is evidently a crime here; any hotel, bar, restaurant or even motorcycle workshop that you enter will swiftly present you with a brew. And when the liquid level in your cup dips below the 20% threshold, it will be refilled. In Bao Loc we visited a coffee shop and ordered two coffees, and these we received. Accompanied by two cups of tea. Apparently no other hot beverage meets the national requirement, one must always have tea.