Non-verbals and Hellboy and Dong

July 19, 2014

I was up all day and night watching Hellboy and Sandra Bullock movies while trying to find a typhoon website accurate enough to let me know if I should sleep in the shower.  I got information ranging from “panic! it’s a cat 4 hurricane barreling directly at you!” to “dreary day: 12 inches of rain” to “where are you?  Hanoi?  go back to bed, you hoser.”

Since that was clearly unhelpful, I reassured myself with the thought that somebody would have told me to evacuate, and then I unreassured myself by remembering that there are giant loudspeakers all over the city that jabber Vietnamese things at the populace on a morningly and eveningly basis.  It’s pretty loud, but since I forgot to spend my spare time learning Vietnamese, I’ve tuned it out.

Okay, then: commenced googling “Hanoi announcements.”

The first website was somebody’s blog, and read something along the lines of “the morning ritual is the government saying ‘wake up!  good day!  do your exercises!”  

The next websites are vague and contradicting and make me remember that the Internet was written by people, and people are idiots.  Lord help the weary traveler who finds my blog and concludes that this entire country consists of difficult walking and Maytag-on-Schwinn.  So for my next try, I went for the personal interview.

“What’s… that?” I asked, gesturing outside from my table at Highway 4, where I’d ordered minced pigeon and plum ice cream.  

“That?  Ohhhhhh…” and then a dismissive, fluttery hand motion that signified either disdain for the metal speakers or an inability to retrieve the vocabulary.  

Alright, fine.  Upon awakening this morning to zero flooding and thunder, I had to conclude I was safe, except whatever aftereffects Hellboy will leave on my psyche.

I finished another book and went back to Highway 4, where now I sit.  Eatin’ crab rolls, orderin’ frog legs, and drinkin’ Saigon all day.

What?  It’s raining.

Also, I love this place.  

Highway 4 is the restaurant at which I take my daily bread.  Or more accurately, my daily crickets, ostrich, snail, pigeon, and frog.  Everything except the snail (boring) has been delicious, and they let me sit here idling away, drinking 28,000 dong (yes the currency is dong, as in “more dong, more problems”) beers, even though beer makes me gross and I only drink it internationally.

froglegsHaha!  I’m tagging this post “dong” just to see if I get any more random hits.  

Anyway, I brought my computer and notebook today on the off chance that I could access the i’net, and boom: I found an old blog entry I’d handwritten and never got around to posting.  Here it is, from

July 10, 2014:

Amy and Aaron carefully made their way along the rocky Cape Elizabeth coast, stumbling and laughing as they inched toward the picturesque lighthouse backdrop for their rock-paper-scissors match.  They’d already recorded a barefoot sprinting contest in Payson Park and were planning on chugging cold ones for the camera at Sawyer Street, all of which we’d later edit to the tune of “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better”.

The Vachon twins wanted desperately to be on Amazing Race, and had thus put me in charge of filming their various contests so they could impress the show’s casting agent with their competitive spirit and fierce but friendly sibling rivalry.  

To this day it’s unclear why the Bud Lights would have been helpful, but it was fun for me to pretend I kept missing the shot so they’d have to do it over.  

My favorite part of the day, however, was filming Aaron as he perched solemnly on a rock, musing about the qualities that would make him the ideal Race contestant.

“I have excellent non-verbal communication skills, and 80% of communication is non-verbal, you know,” he stated, even though he know I knew it was from a Seinfeld episode.  “Like, if you put me in Australia, I’d have absolutely no problem communicating with the natives.”

He said this without irony and posed seriously as I burst out laughing.


“Aaron!  They speak English in Australia.”

At the time I couldn’t see anything but a funny mistake, but now I’m not so sure it was one.  Now I realize that there’s a lot more to culture than just language, so much so that a common vocabulary doesn’t necessarily indicate a common understanding.  

There are a lot of intricacies to language, as I’ve learned, and cultural and familial background influence a lot of them.  

“Sure, sure!” for example, is probably said jokingly and somewhat sarcastically in my little circle, though with inflection it could also denote rabid enthusiasm.  

In Bacolod, however, it was a crapshoot, and my mistake was taking it literally.  Some experience taught me that it could mean anywhere within the range of “I’m not paying attention to you,” to “I am, but I don’t want to say ‘no’, but… no,” to “I agree with the fact that you’re talking, but I don’t comprehend your words.”  

In any case, it didn’t mean yes.  I was left to interpret non-verbals, and I’ve discovered that I’m not so much good at that.  A friend got sort of upset with me recently because I’d started scientifically tracking our interactions in order to interpret them, and it was like, “well, why can’t you just talk to me?”  
And I get that- I do- but it seems like actions and words almost never align.  When you’re oblivious to a situation or you just want it to go away, you say what you say accordingly.  Actions- non-verbals- more accurately speak the truth.  

So even with a common language, like we have with the Philippines or Australia, it takes some relationship work to develop a deeper understanding and a common ground.  It takes a lot more than the couple of weeks that I had.

The trip was certainly a start, though.  Think they wanna talk about Hellboy?




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