Progress is being made, I think, studying Tieng Viet with the security guard. I have learnt all the basics of security guarding as well as motorbike license plate recognition. Among other things.
I can now confound customers as they arrive on their motorbikes with “Hey you! Where are you going, the cafe or Cowboy Jack’s?”
Depending on the response, it is then, “Bên kia” or “Bên này” for parking their bikes. They look slightly confused being shouted at by a giant Tay from beneath a big umbrella. Then they spot Dang lurking in the background laughing his head off.
But he needn’t worry, I am not after his job that’s for sure. I am not convinced I could handle sitting outside for 15 hours a day, breathing in pollution, with only the occasional flurry of activity to interrupt the interminable periods of boredom. Respites are few and far between, the odd senior citizen stopping by your bench for a yarn or the occasional bout of shuffling motorbikes around.
Just how long can you spend each day on Facebook and Zalo? The mind numbing tedium requires, I believe, a special kind of mental toughness with which to cope. Either that, or attempting to key in your best selling debut novel on your phone. For all I know, Dang could be working on a new theory of general relativity. Anything is possible with so much time on your hands.
All I know for certain is that he has a terrible gig to contend with. He sleeps in a backroom of the cafe, works seven days a week and only gets two days off per month to return home to his family in Thai Binh. Getting back to work on time involves catching a 4 am bus to clock on at 7.30 am. He’s not very chatty those days understandably.
He’s been enduring this existence for the past seven years and is now on his second umbrella. He’s due umbrella number three soon by the looks of it. He sits all day with his back to the road. His horizon the frontage of Twitter Beans.
Despite the long hours and the separation from his family, Dang is always cheery and cracking jokes. He’s also the go to guy if you have a question about the local area.
Making a difference
Despite only spending 20 to 30 minutes with him each day, I genuinely think I am making some headway with Vietnamese. I noticed this recently in a cafe with Vietnamese friends. For once, I could get the gist of the conversation and actually contribute something.
What I didn’t realise until fairly recently is that Dang is not only teaching me Vietnamese, he is also teaching me the Thai Binh variant. It took me a little time to figure out that people from the countryside often replace the letter ‘n’ with an ‘l’. Hence Ha Noi becomes Ha Loi, and Nam Dinh is rendered as Lam Dinh.
To my surprise, when he decided to download an English language learning app, he did exactly the same when reading English. Thus the sentence “We are not lost” became “We are lot lost”. Which was unfortunate, and the complete opposite of what was being conveyed.
Breaking the substitutes
I tried saying, “N-n-n…not” to which he would answer “N-n-n…lot”. After much perseverance, we managed to break his programming. As he successfully uttered, “We are not lost” I jumped in with “Ninh Binh” which he immediately echoed back to me. We gave a little cheer that lunchtime.
My atrocious Vietnamese pronunciation, meanwhile, appears to be slowly improving. Or maybe Dang is just getting better at deciphering what I am trying to say.
Our new game, since the app was downloaded, is to shout out random phrases at passers by, me in Vietnamese and Dang in English. Poor pedestrians have been baffled by shouts of “Help me! I have lost my wallet.” and “Bạn đã tìm được bạn gái chưa?” (Have you found a girlfriend yet?)
We have a laugh, one way or another. It’s a win win. I get to practice my dodgy Vietnamese with someone who doesn’t know much English, and Dang gets to learn how to speak English with a Scottish accent. Aye, we are always talkin’ aboot the weather, according to him.