Humble Pie

When my son, Brent, was 8 years old we drove our VW bus from Paris to the Costa Brava in Spain. A friend of mine opened a bar on the beach in a sleepy little beach town that was becoming a hot destination for northern European beach rats. I was determined to have Brent embrace the foreign experience so I gave him some money to buy a Coke and told him how to ask for it in Spanish. He just looked at me and said, “What if they talk to me?”

I know just how he felt. It’s now 40 years later and I’m asking that same question – What if they talk to me? Here we are living and working in Saigon, Vietnam and terrified that someone will speak to us and find out just how ignorant we really are.

I love my job; I’m working for an International NGO that is helping Vietnam reclaim its legacy after shaking off 100 years of French colonial rule and the ravages of what the Vietnamese government calls the American War. But, here I am living and working in their country and unable to speak even a word of their language. It’s embarrassing, and I’m determined to make a dent in it soon. In the meantime I am totally dependent on the kindness of strangers.

I travel everywhere by taxi. This place is hot and humid and it rains like it will never end. No one walks. Fortunately there are lots and lots of taxis and they’re cheap. I’ve owned and ridden motor-scooters and motorcycles in the US but no way am I ready to try one here. It is motorbike mania… but I digress. I go by taxi, so every time I get ready to go somewhere I have to write down the address of my destination and hand it to the driver. And, sometimes but only sometimes, the driver will take advantage and take the scenic route that costs half again the normal rate. I’ve been here 3 weeks now and the navigational vertigo I felt at first is gone. I know the names of the major streets and recognize the businesses along the way. But… what if they talk to me?

It is quite humbling to be “of a certain age” and feel the vulnerability that a child feels because of his dependence on others. It’s probably worse, because children are of necessity trusting and dependent. We “masters of the universe” get a real lesson in these situations.

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