It was a Tuesday evening and it had rained all day and the night before. I put on my rain gear – jacket, pants and overshoes – and drove my motorcycle to work. It was raining hard, visibility was poor in the fading light, and of course almost no one was driving with lights on (Vietnamese think this saves petrol). The rain was coming down in such big drops in the wind that it stung me through my rain suit even though I was only driving at about 30mph.
Finally, I arrived at work and carefully pulled off my rain gear – the water running off it in streams. Miraculously, I was 95% dry, which was better than one of my colleagues: he was soaked to the waist. He apparently had to drive through two feet of water. “Have you ever thought about scuba gear and a dry suit?” I asked him – a bit smug of me I suppose.
At about 5:20pm, I went up stairs to my classroom to set up, I assumed that if even one student braved the weather and came to class – I would be lucky. Right about when the clock ticked over to 5:30, to my surprise – my first student walked into the room. It was a woman I call Angela, an early-thirties stay-at-home mom. I hadn’t seen her for about 2 weeks, apparently her son was sick, and so this was a pleasant surprise. Only one student; but it was time to start class, and I never delay class until the students trickle in. We started with the lesson, jobs and workplaces. Eventually two other women came into class, Kim and Francine. More people than I expected, the place was “packed”.
After going over the various types of jobs, workplaces, and kinds of common career terminology, we switched to the pronunciation section. I explained to them that when people say, “I’m looking for a job,” or “I want to go home,” often times the sounds will be shortened. Such as, “I’m lookin fer a job,” or “I wanna go home.” I added, “It’s best when you’re learning English to say it in the long form, but be ready to hear people say these shorter forms.”
A thought crossed my mind for an interesting tangent, so I went for it. “In some places in the USA,” I said, “People have many different sentences that are extremely shortened. For example.” I wrote on the board: Jeet yet? I then said it out loud in my best Ozark twang and asked, “What does this mean?” They looked at me blankly. I wrote next to it: Did you eat yet? Then to show the progression I also wrote: Did ja eat yet? They were still mystified by the difference, and tried to say it themselves. I then wrote the rest of the “conversation” in its shortened form, “Jeet yet? Nah, jew? Nah, Yontah? Aight.” Next to it, I wrote down the ‘translation’: “Did you eat yet? No, did you? No, do you want to? All right.” I tried to explain what “redneck” meant, describing a person who works manual labor jobs, lives in fairly simple conditions, and talks in a way that isn’t considered very sophisticated, but I wasn’t making much headway. “Ok, this kind of speech is like Quang Nam accent in America,” I told them (Quang Nam being a rural province just to the south of Da Nang with a very distinct colloquial accent). As soon as I said this, they instantly understood and broke out into a laugh of recognition – it now made perfect sense.
After our enjoyable but small English class, I suited up and drove home, the rain was coming down even harder if that could even be possible. This was not a night for hanging out on the town, in fact we were scheduled to have a tropical storm (possibly a typhoon) hit the next day. Therefore, I opted to drive home, walk down to a shop to buy a few drinks and enjoy a night at home. Rain gear hung up on the hat rack, I took one of my 30-cent beers up to my room, sat down in my bed next to my cat and began to play a computer game. Only a few minutes into the game, the electricity went out, bringing my adventure to a quick end.
I went downstairs, the only light I had was a little LED on my mobile phone, so I opened the folding metal door on the front of the house to let in the candle light from the houses across the street. After I opened the door I turned to go inside and heard a clear, “Hi” behind me. A robed and shaven-headed silhouette stood next to me – it was a Buddhist nun from next door. Without another word she put two candles in my hand and then lit one for me. “Thanks,” I told her in Vietnamese, “I don’t have any of these.” I sat back down, and began to think. The light put flickering shadows on the walls. It was really quiet, just the sounds of the rain (which had slackened), people talking, and someone faintly picking a guitar. Time ticked on, it was actually quite nice, unusually peaceful. I went upstairs and grabbed my tenor recorder, then began to play a few slow melodies with its low haunting tone echoing through my concrete house. After more than an hour the power came back on, thank goodness.
The next day was supposed to be the day the storm would hit, but that morning when I awoke it was hot and sunny – and in fact it stayed sunny the whole rest of the day. So much for battening down the hatches for a typhoon.