the world is a wonderful place if we want it to be. I sat at dinner tonight watching worlds collide in real-time, true unadulterated “lost in translation” moments. Picture this. Hanoi in the evening, crowds packing out the streets, motorcycles too numerous to count, everyone trying to sell something, and tucked away on a street a small, dimly lit restaurant with large windows – perfect for watching the organised mayhem as well as delightful eats.
The table besides becomes home to a small group of three Chinese visitors. I watch as a young Vietnamese waitress speaking broken english tries to communicate with them who are speaking chinese with one or two words of english throw in for good measure. But they have books with them – picture books. It’s great to see them try to figure out what the menu is using the pictures in their books, while the Vietnamese waitress is proudly holding onto her english as it’s the only plan she has. I offer my meal to them and link it to what is on the menu and then watch the group of three become four as the waitress joins them, taking them around the restaurant pointing at other people’s food and words on a menu. Words on the menu that become what they are in essence – symbols of communication – meaningless becoming meaningful through pointing at pictures and real life.
I sit amused at the show taking place before me, both inside the windows and beyond them. I realise how much I take for granted speaking english and wonder where I can get a book like theirs for when I travel to lands where english is limited. I wonder too if this is how the explorers of old did it – did they carry picture books too? Have we just lost this tradition?