Sunday, July 30, 2006

...when you're a stranger


Long Binh River
Originally uploaded by Flostyle.
I wasn't going to blog about what I am going through right now. It is a rough patch and I know that it will end and I don't want my blog to turn into some kind of wailing wall for an experience I signed up for quite willingly.
But here I am and it is 9:30 am and I am exhausted from my days outing to find breakfast and leave my hotel for as long as I could manage.
This is my first weekend in Tra Vinh and I am totally alone. Normally I am totally fine with being alone, and in some respects I still am now. I am happy to entertain myself by reading or studying Vietnamese or poking around on the internet. However, language barriers coupled with the fact that I am, I think, the only foreigner in this town of 70,000 people, makes being alone quite daunting. The language thing is not that big of an issue on it's own; I mostly know my numbers and I can point to things and say "thank you" to hopefully make up for all of the social graces I am ignorant of. But here I am a walking freakshow. I see people nudging their friends as I walk past so as to make sure they don't miss getting a look at me. It seems that Vietnamese culture does not consider it rude to point and laugh at someone. Also since Hien from WUSC left, people (men especially) have started calling/yelling at me in the street. Sometimes they say something in Vietnamese and sometimes it is just "hello". I am not sure if they are just being friendly or if they are trying to make fun of me or what. I have tried to few tactics to deal with the situation: ignoring, nodding, replying... the first two seem to have the result that the person just stares at me as I pass but the latter seems to makes people want to continue shouting "hello! hello! hello!" I am just not sure how to take it.
I feel like a celebrity amoungst the paparazzi except without the money and fame!
The only other non-Vietnamese faces I have seen have been on billboards. I am so jealous of those faces who can just watch and soak up this beautiful place with out worriying about doing the wrong thing and without having to be a walking spectacle.

4 comments:

Flo said...

I have to add to this post, that I am worried that I have portrayed Vietnamese people in a negative light. Despite the strange reactions I get here, I have also been helped out alot too. Tonight I was lost in the streets of Tra Vinh and I asked directions of a young man outside of his shop. His father also came out and they were giving directions when the father decided not to mess around and just gave me a ride home on his motorcycle!

Jesse said...

That's a nice story.
I think once people become familiar with you and know that you are staying that you will blend in...although I suspect you will still be a "celebrity". When will you start your assignment and know more about your work? Love from Victoria!

jeannie said...

It will get better - as both you and they get used to the differences. I think it's always challenging, but good, to learn what it is like to be in the minority (and in your case, a minority of 1). When it gets too much, come visit me in farang central - Chiang Mai is overrun with tourists, both Asian and Western. Remember it's ok to get overwhelmed sometimes.
Jeannie

Anonymous said...

Hi again - I am new to blogging, so hope you will see this new message to your 2 month old message. Florine, you will look back on these experiences and laugh. I know it can be hard. At the risk of being motherly - the best advice would be for you to follow your gut feelings. Have you tried responding with a smile...

Rob and I have funny stories from our time in the Philippines. We were posted to a small island community where we and two Germans were the only white people. We were stared at. Rob was always annoyed when people would call out - hey Joe - as in GI Joe. Rob and another foreigner were working together one day in the jungle and walked out onto a rice paddy. Small children who had been playing there, ran from them in terror. We heard from our village guides that they had thought Rob and this woman were ghosts! I was lucky that I had Rob with me and we were busy working on a project almost from our first day there. The culture and language barriers were immense though. Even though many spoke English there was a thick accent to decipher and answers to questions were invariably -yes! because it was a cultural taboo to give a negative answer.

Anyway, the adjustment for me took about three months which you are now coming to (in our case we flew home after 3 months!). I just hope that if you are transfered to another community or country you do not have to start all over again.

Stick with it. Contact me whenever. I am working from home a lot so am available.

Love Tracy