Speaking the same language
In addition to being my driver Mr. Traum has become both teacher and student.
Each day he peruses the wrinkled piece of white paper on which he has written words in English and Vietnamese.
He notes the traffic signals with an enthusiastic “red light”, “green light” as I struggle to keep pace with my Lonely Planet dictionary.
We exchange the words for bridge (cau), catching fish (sounds like cau), and chicken (ga) as we drive along the river past markets, bridges and men fishing in a canal.
There are unexpected adventures from miscommunication.
I try to ask the name of a Catholic church situated down a long, narrow street. We have driven past the street for a year now and I marvel at the setting, majestic steeple framed by narrow buildings and illuminated by a setting sun.
Traum misunderstands my query and instead makes a u turn, carefully avoiding the flood of motorbikes, taxis, and buses, and drives down the street to the church. It is beautiful and he stops outside its gates and points inward. I exit on cue, make my way past stalls selling tea and nuns in habit resting and genuflect.
The next day we take a different route home and, spotting a church, Traum announces “church”. I smile, nod and tell him “vong”, yes, “nha tho”, with the proper intonation, church.
Instead of continuing on our route he takes the side street and brings me to its gate. Inside Jesus is adorned with neon, the windows made of day-glow tinted stained glass and kitsch statues everywhere. It has its own unique beauty and I am at peace.
As an educator I smile. Had Mr. Traum, not been such an eager student, the word “church” would never have been in his vocabulary. And, our detours continue with the driver practicing his English, me my Vietnamese as churches, markets, byways, and hidden jewels of the city are revealed.