Semester at Sea Fall 2006 Voyage
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Vietnamese Pie-Plate to the Face
Communication as an Art
I do not speak Vietnamese. I prided myself in scribbling down four sheets of phrases and words and quickly referring to it on a regular basis – the pages began to recognize their creases and folds, wearing thin. I was not even concerned about the time it took for me to reach into my pocket, flip through, skim, flip over, skim, and then respond with so much enthusiasm that my response was too muffled to understand. The concept of communication is exciting, but these travel plans are so puddle-jumped that fluency is not a reasonable goal, but what do four pages really offer me? I realized that I had specific restrictions that I couldn’t salve in a matter of five days. My muteness expanded beyond language and spanned into absent-mindedness on our countries’ historical relations as well. When communication is teetering at the edge of grasping and utter confusion, alternatives to language rise to the occasion…but I didn’t walk into these foreign lands with that confidence; it came unexpectedly and out of necessity.
1) The Mekong Delta held such life and beauty. Nature has no issue with intercultural communication; it spoke loud and clear. I stayed in a river village with 18 other SAS members, sleeping under mosquito nets in a house on stilts. They performed for us – a band of local farmers. They were bright-eyed, smiley and barefoot, giggling spirit bouncing off of giggling spirit. Afterward I tried to tell them, “I am very happy” in Vietnamese – Toy shien shien – quite unsuccessfully, but maybe my own sparkly eye and toothy grin said something.
2) Sitting in a Can Tho park late in the evening, a group of young teenage boys walked past a friend and I. We sent out a Xin chao to them, and they quickly assumed we had a whole lexicon of Vietnamese waiting to be spilled out into conversation. They motioned for us to come with them; we followed. They didn’t speak English, and we definitely didn’t speak Vietnamese. What next? Each group frantically searched for alternative forms of communication. They used hand signals to invite us to dinner. We used our fingers to share our ages. We walked the streets, and both groups filled the silence with songs from our own cultures and used varying levels and degrees of giggles and laughter as another form of communication.
Last, and the most exciting and intuitive of the night when all else failed, all other sources of communication utilized, and we lingered on the dock in further silence, my friend and I circus balanced. It was our parting words without words, a parting performance to their utter flabbergasted amazement. Maybe it was ridiculous, maybe it set their minds a-reelin’, but we shared pieces of ourselves stretching over boundaries without ever sharing a word. It was genuine, a pure mingling of cultures.
left heart and
I lacked any form of intercultural communication with Vietnam prior to landing on the shores of
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