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70
desire. My guide not only indulges
each of my requests for a translation or
explanation, but even listens patiently
as I try to mimic her intonations of the
word mai, which can mean “wood”,
“not”, “silk”, “burn”, and “new”
depending on the tone.
Exhausted from so much
decadence, I head back to the Royal
Orchard Sheraton to try to rest, but
it’s as if the hotel staff are conspiring
against me. Right next to the room
service menu, I spot an order form
where I can obtain a language addict’s
cornucopia - newspapers in virtually
all major languages. I greedily check
off every box and call the front desk
to request expedited delivery. Upon
Traveling to a new place without sampling
receipt, I hide the stash in my suitcase.
its language is as much of a tragedy as it is
The VieTnaMeSe VernacuLar
Next stop – Vietnam. As the ship pulls
to go to a country without tasting its cuisine
into its berth, my eyes are so bloodshot
from last night’s newspaper overdose
or viewing its most fabled sites.
that I can barely take in the view of the
Phu My harbor at sunrise. My focus
improves the moment we arrive in
Ho Chi Minh City, helped in part by
I admire the local schools and
the immense billboards advertising
mosques, but avert my gaze whenever
language learning schools towering
I notice any Arabic writing, to prevent a
over the swarms of motorcycles and
total relapse.
bicycles that characterize this city.
I must admit that one of my
For a Westerner like me, it is much
strongest triggers is hearing a language
easier to read the signs here, thanks
spoken aloud. So, even though a better
to the use of Roman characters in the
strategy would be to avoid exposure
Vietnamese writing system. As I walk
altogether, I cannot resist the prospect
through the national history museum,
of an easy fix. Under the guise of
I wonder if I’m hallucinating as I notice
purchasing a handmade batik cloth
that artifacts are categorized – not by
from a Malay craftswoman, I hand
time period, culture, or ethnicity – but
over the asking price in local currency.
by linguistic group. I take a photo so
“Terima kasih,” she says to thank me,
that I can confirm it later, rather than
almost as if she knew that these few
trust my intoxicated state. A total mess,
words in a foreign language were all I
I stumble through the streets of Saigon,
was craving.
muttering aloud, “Tôi cân thuc hành
tiêng Viêt” (meaning, “I need to practice
TaLking in Thai
my Vietnamese”).
Now that I’ve fallen off the wagon,
poLygLoTS of The phiLippineS
there is no turning back. My next stop
is Thailand, where I am eager to spend
As I wander about the cruise ship,
two days in Bangkok, a city that is well-
I begin to wonder what my fellow
known for catering to its visitors’ every
passengers are thinking of my linguistic
avantoure
|
homo ludens
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