Lost in Translation

Sunset view over Mekong Delta from Saigon bridge.

Language is always one of the barriers you have to deal with when traveling, especially in areas where English is not widely spoken.

Your troubles will start from trying to get a ride from the airport to getting around to wherever you’re going.

I was in a taxi with a friend late one afternoon in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam when I saw a gorgeous sunset in the skies. I asked the driver where the best location is for taking sunset photos and he suddenly got excited. He began blabbering in halting English and suggested the best place was ‘above the tuna.’

Before I could ask what a “tuna” is, the driver started scrolling through his phone to look for photos.

We told him to just take us to wherever that “tuna” is and he sped up but he started to show us photos from his phone. I became scared because he was driving and his attention was already diverted.

Suddenly, everything went dark. Before panic could set in, we emerged into the sunlight again.

We just went through a tunnel and the driver took us to the spot he said was just above the “tunnel” which he pronounced “tuna.”

The next afternoon, I borrowed my friend’s phone to call a taxi to go to Saigon bridge over the Mekong Delta which I read was a famous location for sunset shooting.

The driver spoke very little English and I speak zero Vietnamese but I think I got my message across. Or so I thought when a few minutes later, the phone rang. I saw it was the number of the taxi but when I answered it, he asked for someone who speaks Vietnamese. I gave the phone back to my friend and I heard the flustered voice of the driver from the other end. My friend talked to him in Vietnamese for a few minutes. Suddenly, my friend started laughing then hang up.

When I asked what it was all about, my friend said that somebody jumped off that bridge the past month and the taxi driver just wants to be reassured that I was not planning to do the same, otherwise he will not drive me to the bridge.

We arrived at the bridge and found several people were already there, a mix of locals and tourists. I got my sunset photos.

Internet Cafe troubles

Some years back, I was in an internet café in Tokyo trying to communicate with the café assistant. She spoke very little English and my Japanese was below sea level. It was so frustrating because all I wanted was to get on a computer and get online to send a story to my editor but the girl at the front desk was asking for an ID plus my passport. I tried to explain that I only wanted to go online for only one hour but she insisted on the ID requirements. I grudgingly handed her my passport and driver’s license and she disappeared behind the front desk. After what seemed like forever, she reappeared and handed me my IDs back along with a membership card for the internet café. She also charged me a membership fee. I only wanted a quickie but she enrolled me for membership.

I got into a booth and started working. 10 minutes into it, I must have pressed a key and the monitor turned all Japanese.

I had to call for assistance that took another 20 minutes to solve, and my one hour was up too soon. I only got half of my story done.   

Learning a few conversational phrases of a particular country you’re planning to visit can help you get around. Otherwise, you better be good at sign language, which I’m not. Barrier or not, this is just one of what makes traveling more fun. For more adventures, please subscribe to www.scramblednotesfromtheroad.com.

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