Language lessons

Him (tapping at my flat, squat, snub Asian nose): Button! Button! What’s “button” in Vietnamese?

Me (tossing between the Northern and Southern Vietnamese terms, then decided on what I use most): Hột nút.

Him (pronounced it as English words): Hot nut?

Me: Hahaaa! Thanks! That works too. But technically, the ‘o’ in ‘hột’ is like the ‘o’ in ‘hone’, not ‘-aw-‘ like in ‘hot’ or ‘pot’. And the ‘u’ is always ‘-oo-‘ in Vietnamese. So it should be “hot noot”.

Him: Oh, I see. Hot nude?

Me: That’s it. I’m sending you to a proper language school! A non-R-rated one!



Why is it…

…that where English is spoken, a European accent is considered cute while an Asian accent is deemed annoying?

Maybe I’m wrong, but that seems to be the vibe I get from popular media. And being an Asian, I find it hard to stay neutral when hearing all that. Nope, no one’s said any thing nasty to my face. Yet. Although behind my back, it could be a different story. I have a slight accent which is not always discernible, and which changes a little depending on whom I’m talking to.

Anyway, back to the main question. I’d like to know, if it is purely acoustic — like how a baby’s laughter is obviously more pleasant to the ears than fingernails scratching on plaster. Or does it in fact stem from prejudicial roots which still perceive — albeit subconsciously — certain ethnic groups as lowlier than others? And as an accent is connected to a race, a voice attached to a face, how we hear someone is inevitably influenced by how we view them?


A crazy bunch of nomads

I’ve been meaning to write this for yonks! But you know, other things get in the way, like life, or work, or sleep, or books, or work, or other pressing matters like belly button lint, or facebook-poking, or roti-bread-eating, or neighbours’-eardrum-torturing. And I haven’t mentioned the most loathed four-letter word yet, have I? WORK!

Anyhoo, the thing is, in the last year or so I’ve been feeling a bit unsettled, a tad restless, a little bored, trapped, stagnant. And it’s not because I’ve been single. Okay, partly that. But whatever the reason, it feels like I’ve stayed here for too long. Especially after TM went to Uni in Brissie and m’ moved back to VN, and I was left here on my own after that short stint in Sydney. Feels like I need to move. Maybe back to VN? Maybe to France? Botswana? Finland? Antarctica? Somewhere. Anywhere. Out of here.

Yet how can ten years be that long? Other people live in a town for their whole life. They grow up and go to school and go to work. And they get married and have cute little kiddies who in turn grow up and have more cute little kiddies. And they travel a bit, and retire and go dancing in a church hall and grow things in the backyard. And they’re happy. Genuinely happy.

And here is me, a decade in one place and already getting itchy feet. Why this strange need to move about? Yet at the same time wanting to feel secure, stable, settled. It’s so contradicting it gave me a splitting headache. Then I really sat down and thought about it, about BaMẹ and the 3 of us. And it dawned on me like a lighting flash. Because we’re a bunch of nomads, that’s why. Sometimes by choice, other times not. But we’ve moved around. And as often happens, when you’re naturally bound to do something all the time, especially when deep down you know it’s not necessarily good for you, you also secretly wish you could stop doing it. Like eating too much chocolate. Or buying too many books. Or falling in love with the wrong person.

Anyway, back to the topic. Here is a little summary of our journeys, so far:

Before BaMẹ met — Ba was born in one town in the North, grew up in another, moved to Hà Nội after Uni, worked as a marine engineer on commercial freight ships for about 15 years, during which time he travelled to roughly 35 countries. (He used to be away for 10-14 months at a stretch when I was little. It was a tremendously difficult time for all.) Mẹ grew up in a village in Central VN, until the age of 10 when she and her sister were transfered to Hà Nội. (Because of the war, they had to travel ON FOOT for over 3 months, through the jungle, across half the country, to get to HN. This is a looong novel in itself. Maybe one day when we’re up for it, I’ll sit her down and write her story.) Mẹ stayed in a boarding school there until 18, went to Uni in Ukraine for 6 years. Then back to HN to work.

After they got married, we lived in HN until I was 6 and m’ was 2. Then we all relocated to HCMC where TM was born. Then I moved to Melbourne at the ripe old age of 17. Three years later, m’ came here. And another three years later, TM arrived. At which point we all had a vision of the 5 of us living in Melb together. But apparently, and unfortunately, the power that be had different plans for us. So somehow TM moved to Brisbane. m’ went back to VN. I hopped to Sydney. BaMẹ still in VN. Then I came back to Melb. Then m’ came back to Melb. And WE’RE STILL ALL OVER THE PLACE! Like the same poles of some magnets — desperately trying to come close, yet still pushing apart. 😦

If all that moving back and forth didn’t make your head dangerously spin at an alarming speed yet, then you should definitely go and apply to be an astronaut! Really! Coz I’m getting all dizzy at my own story. Anyway, so right now m”s plan is to go back next year and live in VN again, to be near BaMẹ. TM’s plan is to come back to Melb after Uni for a bit, then go to Europe or somewhere. And me, I’m not sure about me yet. *sigh*

So this constant need to be “out and about” seems to have been engrained into each of us, without our even realising it. Many would comment on how lucky we are, to be able to go places. And I’d agree, to a certain extent. Because as with almost everything else in life, there’s a good side, and there’s a not-so-good side. It is a privilege because we’ve been here and there, we’ve seen things, expanded our knowledge. That’s made us more independent, adaptive, accepting. But it also can sometimes be a curse. It’s developed in us a fear of airports, yet inevitably draws us to them. It’s created in us a false sense of belonging, to many places, yet actually to nowhere. It makes us feel the deepest pain in this quote “Do you understand the sadness of geography?” (from the movie “The English Patient”)

Yet the worst thing, to me, is this sense of self-created unsettledness, uncertainty, unrest. The Different Grass Syndrome, as I coined it. Long ago I’ve come to the conclusion that the grass isn’t greener on any other side. It’s all relative, someone’s green may be another’s brown. Your green today may be your own brown tomorrow. But the grass surely IS different on the other side. And the addiction to finding out those differences, then to conquer them and get used to them, is so compelling it sometimes clouds all other judgment. It’s an innate urge that’s never easy to fight. At times you just want a simple, easy, happy life. Is that too much to ask? Of yourself, if nothing else?

Home is where the heart is. But when one isn’t even sure where one’s heart is, what does one use to gauge?



NOTE: An interesting side-effect that I’ve noticed, of all this leaping around, is that we all have funny “universal” Vietnamese accents. Ba has one that’s predominantly Northern, and TM’s is Southern. Understandably enough, since they both grew up in one area until adulthood. But even theirs are not your “typical” regional accents. While Mẹ’s accent is a bit of a mix of everything, which to us, is really cute! m’ and I can switch back and forth between Northern and Southern but I guess our Northern enunciation’s gone a bit awry now.

Also I often find it amusing when people ask us whether we came from the North or the South. Sometimes they find it hard to guess just by hearing our voices. a/ When I can’t be bothered I’d say South, since I sound Southern enough. b/ When I feel like being mean I’d say North, just to see the puzzled look on their face. And c/ when I want to be nice I’d tell the abridged version of the little novel above, just to waste people’s time, and brain cells. A similar thing happened when I traveled overseas, i.e. outside of Aus and VN, when questioned where I’m from, it goes a/ VN, b/ Aus, and c/ VN then Aus, according to the 3 moods above.