Story Michelle Armstrong
Greetings from Vietnam, my home for the past three years, where I have been living in Hanoi and working for the United Nations International School. Living almost 9,000 miles away from my hometown of West Point has presented its share of adventures and challenges, and I had a steep learning curve when I first arrived in Hanoi. One of the questions that I’m always asked is: How is living in Asia different than living in Mississippi? Oh, let me count the ways.
The Vietnamese language is a beautiful sound, full of melodic tones that rise and fall. But in reality those six tones mean that one word can have six different meanings — mã means horse, but mả means grave! A mispronunciation can cause serious problems and confusion, but this isn’t my only communication concern. I work with teachers from around the world, and who knew how confusing it would be talking with the British and Australians?
I remember my first week here, when my Aussie friend asked if I wanted to go shopping for “pot” plants to put in my apartment. What? No! I told her, only for her to laugh and explain it’s the same thing as “potted” plants. Or imagine my horror as I took my first sick student to the school nurse, who took her temperature and told me it was 38.3, and I was too embarrassed to ask her what that meant. I know now that a torch is a flashlight, a power point is a plug, A4 is a regular-sized piece of paper, and a timetable is a schedule (not the multiplication grid, as I’ve always thought). But turnabout is fair play, and my friends now know what I mean when I say bless your heart, y’all, fixin’ to and I’m sweatin’ like a pig.
Vietnam has some amazing food and I’ve been fortunate to sample interesting dishes all the way from Sapa, in the north, to Phu Quoc Island, in the south. Phở, the most common street food in Vietnam, is similar to chicken noodle soup; I eat it regularly. Bún chả, bánh bao, chả nem … incredibly delicious. And if your culinary tastes are more exotic than mine, you can find fetal duck eggs, fried insects and even cooked rat. Hanoi has Snake Village, where you can choose a live cobra, and have it cooked any way you want, and unfortunately, thịt chó (dog meat) restaurants are also popular.
On the other hand, I have been fortunate to introduce some of the South’s best dishes to my Asian friends: roasted pecans, MSU Edam cheese, lemonade, peanut brittle, fried chicken, sweet tea, cornbread, macaroni and cheese and turkey and dressing. I’ve even had a request to cook grits. While I admit that some of these dishes have been received better than others, everyone smiles when I walk in carrying my Tupperware container.
Vietnam is amazing, but there’s no place like home. I miss you, Mississippi, and hope to see you soon. Tạm biệt for now.