Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Godsmack

Five GOL-den rings! Four calling birds…this is the latest ice cream cart announcement song in our neighborhood. Last week it was “Happy Birthday”, while the week before it was “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”. Reading this, you may make the mistake, dear friends, of thinking a new song is being played each week. Would that were the case. These are three examples of The three songs that Ice Cream Cart Man plays. One is tempted to think the reason why these songs are played so often is that either he does not know how annoying the songs can be to westerners’ ears or he simply must choose from a limited selection. After all, why invest so much into an ice cream cart? But then I started noticing that I hear the same Vietnamese, Backstreet Boys, Black Eyed Peas and Abba songs on repeat. It’s not just at the cafes, but at events, clubs—even my co-worker has the same songs on repeat: “I Feel Pretty”, “I will Always Love You”, “My Huckleberry Friend”, and “What is a Youth” (from the film version of Romeo and Juliet, 1968). Are people here afraid of change? Of being overwhelmed by too much selection, as I am when I’m in the cereal aisle at grocery stores in the States? Do people here know something we don’t know about the microtonal makams of Whitney Houston? I have a hard time believing they are focusing on the sharps, flats and crescendos that Mr. Nick Carter is able to reach in “Quit Playing Games with my Heart”. Like the Literacy Campaign for Bikers in the Washington Area that I tried so hard to launch after seeing how many bikers on the Mount Vernon Trail blatantly ignored signs to dismount for bridges and tunnels and to yield to joggers/walkers, I long to start a reverse Mike Meyers campaign here called, If it’s American it’s Crap.

Then I think of the TV shows that Duke and I get sucked into here. Again, American shows. We were the type in the US to watch Anderson Cooper, Bill O’Reilly (just seeing if you’re paying attention), South Park, Simpsons, Best Week Ever—basically, the deeply intellectually challenging and cerebrally stimulating shows for which American television has become famous. Indeed, an entire Sunday was often spent in the apartment flipping between John McLaughlin, Tim Russert, Wolf Blitzer, George Stephanopolous and Fox & Friends (again, just checking). Here, I find myself watching, “Yes, Dear”, “King of Queens”, that horrible “INXS” reality show and “Built for the Kill” (National Geographic’s answer to WWF for animals) with complete disregard for how I will get this time back. I mean, these are the shows to which critics point as evidence of the death of network TV. Apparently, here, it is perfectly normal for me to get absolutely sucked into “I Survived: Being struck by lightning” or (I swear I am not making this up) “I Survived: Impaling”. Yeah, that’s right, an hour-long Discovery Channel show dedicated to freaks who survived horrific and ridiculously unlikely events such as being impaled. Impaled. The worst, though, is my propensity for watching “Airplane Crash Investigation” where National Geographic highlights a crash due, mostly, to human errors. The conclusion, inevitably, is that the aviation industry is in crisis and in major need of an overhaul. Indeed, as the show points out, while the commonly cited statistic that you are more likely to die in a car crash than an airplane crash is true, when factoring in the amount of time spent in each mode of transportation so that it’s broken down into an hourly rate, you are far more likely to die in an airplane crash. Yes, TV choices here are that limited. But it’s even worse for other ex-pats—there is only one French channel, one German station—Deustche Welle, which airs half of its programs in English--and two Japanese/Korean stations. For variety’s sake, Duke and I will watch these channels, despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that we have no idea what is going on.

Let’s take, for example, say, the Vietnamese channels. I went home from work for lunch the other day to watch myself on TV. That’s right—after two weeks on the job, apparently, I am qualified and knowledgeable enough about my position and organization to give an hour-long interview with a local TV station. So, the reporter who interviewed me called me to tell me it would be airing that day…I rush home to try to catch it and spend the next 30 minutes confusingly watching a music concert. I check to make sure I have the proper channel, which, indeedily do, I did. Finally, an announcer comes on and some commercials follow. Uh-oh, I realize. They are speaking Bahasa (Indonesian), NOT Vietnamese, thus alerting me to the fact that perhaps I was not watching the correct channel. 30 minutes went by before realizing this. 30 minutes.

So, I hope at this point, I have shattered any of your illusions, dear readers, that I speak Vietnamese in even the most limited capacity. 30 minutes is a long time to think that you’re on the same page linguistically as the performers you are watching. Bahasa isn’t even tonal for God’s sake. And while we’re on the subject, two examples of how well I grasp the tones:

Situation One: Setting—a mobile phone store.
Me (What I think I’m saying): “Hello little sister, is this phone new or old? Big sister wants to buy a new phone.”
What the saleswoman hears: “Hello garble garble, is this phone a penis or is it new? Big garble garble wants to buy a new garble.”

Situation Two: Setting—a food shop.
Me (What I think I’m saying): “Hello little sisters, do you sell ‘spices’ (said in English, as I do not know the word for spices)? You know ‘spices’, like salt, pepper, etc. Do you have that here?”
What the saleswomen hear: “Hello plural garble, do you have whomp whomp whomp here? You know, whomp whomp, like mosquitoes? Do you have mosquitoes here?”

How could I substitute such radically different words for what I intended to say, you ask? These words have the exact same spelling, but different tones. And since there are six tones, if I don’t hit a tone correctly, it’s a completely different word. When I mispronounce a tone, I have the choice of repeating the word with its five other tones and hoping for a sign of recognition on the listener’s part, or simply walking out of the store. Either way, I continue to reinforce the notion that Round Eye is innately, yes innately, incapable of learning a tonal language. You don’t know how many times I hear that here.

Gotta run. “I Survived: Decapitation” followed by “I Survived: Defenestration” is on TV. Really, when it comes down to it, “Married to the Kelleys” is as much a dramatic celebration of humans’ evolutionary prerogative as “The Sopranos”, right? The TV, she is calling.

3 Comments:

At 12:51 PM, Blogger Chaka-zulu said...

Greetings from Chaka-Zula land...sorry for the very delayed response, 1) I crashed my computer permanently, 2) I am in the middle of a few epic sagas a)moving from Hoboken to Midtown in the middle of which, I took on a dumpster with my car and lost which brings on fun with Geico and I can barely keep my eyes open through planning season at work. If not for the Red Velvet Cupcakes at the Cupcake bakery on my blog, nary know how I would survive. I think it is time to go take a nap...p.s. I hope this is the real Barba-Garga, aka Gargamel...I very much look forward to reading the rest of your stories.

 
At 5:48 PM, Blogger tandemadventure said...

Yeah! Great to hear you are still taking HCM by storm! :) Jess and I are living at my parents and are still unemployed. We both have gotten job offers that I guess just weren’t the right fit and plus they would have cut into our biking and road-trip schedule. Love the blog.

 
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