Saturday, April 22, 2006

The same in any language!

Ira was once presented with a conundrum: What is the only word that is the same in every language in the world? Well, this blog will be sort of a catch-all as we had a pretty eventful week. On Monday we went to a symphony concert. Those of you who saw the movie "Together" will remember the young Chinese violinist. Tang Yun, who played the young boy in the film, is now 17 and a very facile violinist. He played the Tchaikovsky Concerto for violin faster than I can ever remember hearing it. This is not to say it was the best interpretation, but the audience loved it and one had to be amazed by the speed and technique. The orchestra also played the Tchaikovsky 4th Symphony, also at a breakneck pace. It was another example of how culture abounds in Hanoi. Of course, it is not up to the level of some Western cities, but it was a fine night of music nonetheless. On Thursday we attended a showing of a documentray film "Mai's America," which details the travails of a young Hanoian woman who was an exchange student in, of all places, Mississippi! Needless to say, she ran into difficulties. Her attempt to go to Tulane University was also difficult and she wound up having to do nails in a salon in Detroit before returning home in semi-disgrace. Mai attended the showing and answered questions. She is currently still in university and trying to capitalize on the film. Most of the audience seemed thrilled, but somehow we were less so. It seemed to us that a rich(for Hanoi) girl went to america with illusions that were shattered, many due to her own poor planning and decision-making. On Friday, we attended the English class of our friend Luu, an interpreter whom we have known since our first visit to Hanoi in 1996. We had an enjoyable time conversing with the students. In truth we were sort of his show-and-tell exhibit. "See the nice Americans speak good English. Enjoy the big one's attempts to speak Vietnamese!" It was a lot of fun and we went out to dinner afterwards with Luu, his son Minh and a few others. It is always great to interact with people and discuss the similarities and differences of our countries and people. Ira has now begun working with EPIC, a high-level consulting firm here in Hanoi. They are economics-based and they help businesses with due diligence and other exciting tasks. Ira has a nice desk, which feng shui will tell him which way to face, a computer with special email and business cards touting him as lawyer and business consultant. He actually was sent on an assignment with two other firm members to Ha Tay province, which borders Hanoi. EPIC was signing a contract with the province's Planning and Investment Department and needed another body to appear, and to help with pictures and handshaking. After the ceremony, everyone went to a local restaurant for a nice lunch. The funny part of the lunch, other than Ira's Vietnamese chatting and the fact that most people spent the whole time talking or sms'ing on their mobile phones, was that all of the men, though they were high ranking government officials and businessmen love to pop the plastic bags that hold the wet towels that are distributed at the meal. It is strange to witness this, since you usually associate this behavior with young boys. We can only imagine if they ever hand these out at a formal state dinner! Our final experiences dealt with taxis. We must say that in general the Hanoi taxi drivers are friendly, courteous and reasonably knowledgable. This week, we had two experiences that were out of the ordinary. Ira's mobile rang one afternoon and it was Carol in distress. "The taxi driver has NEVER heard of Sofitel Plaza. HELP!!!" So Ira had to get on the line and guide the driver in. Fortunately, the directions are easy and Carol got home soon after. The second misadventure occurred when a driver seemed to be taking a strange route home. Ira asked why he was not taking a certain street. When he didn't get an answer, he asked was the driver taking the reasonable alternative route. The driver told Ira how he planned to go and became very frightened when Ira asked in rapid Vietnamese "How can you go that way? Not through the Old Quarter! Is this your first day driving?" Of course the route through the Old Quarter was longer, slower and filled with traffic. It's not the money as it only cousts about a dollar more, but the principle. We did let the young man know that we were not really angry and chatted with him on the remainder of the trip, but Ira's final words to him, which provoked a rueful grin and nod of the head were "Em can ban do(You need a map." The rest of the week involved DVD shopping(about $1.10 each) where we scored Brokeback Mountain, Crash, Capote and Memoirs of a Geisha among our 13 purchases. Carol also got some nice clothing and we had a great lunch at the Hotel Metropole. Oh, if you were still wondering about the universal word...TAXI!!!

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