I can't do Vietnam justice with a camera. Of course each picture illuminates some feature of Vietnam, a motorbike, a lake, a spread of Vietnamese dishes, a food stall vendor in a conical hat, yet when I peruse the photos I have taken thus far, I never feel satisfied with these momentos. None seems to capture the quintessential or invoke my feelings toward Vietnam. And how can I even begin to use words to orally describe my surroundings to those who inquire: "So, Vietnam, what is that like?" The closest I can come in words would be an onomonpeic poem of the daily sounds.
As a Christmas gift I receieved a digital voice recorder which I hope to capture the sounds of Vietnam as an instinctual way to truly feel life in Vietnam. Sound is deeply imbedded in culture and I can't pronounce the Vietnamese language well without sounding sing-songy myself. Sound makes Vietnamese challenging yet fun to learn especially as I learn words that are separated in meaning only by the tone of voice. Upon meeting another foriegner named Bo, I remarked, "Why in Vietnamese you name means, father, beef, and region"!
Before I left for Vietnam I only wish that I would have brought with me some more songs in my bag of tricks. "Sing a song," my students plead with me. I don't consider myself a good singer, I can simply hold a tune but that is all that seems to matter to the people here as they applaud enthusiastically after I belt out a humble rendition of my now signature song, Jewel's "You Were Meant for Me". Sometimes I feel like I am living part of High School Musical: Vietnam.
Not surprisingly then, Vietnamese love karaoke. They like some English groups that I have never heard of. "You don't know, 'Michael Learn to Rock'?" a friend prods me with a look of shock. I guess groups like these never made it in the US or their respective English speaking countries but found a niche market in the Asian karaoke scene. Go figure.