Inspirational Corner · Thoughts · Travel Tales · Vicariously in Vietnam

Lost In Translation

You know that distinct warm feeling you get after a good talk? That type of conversation it almost felt rejuvenating. Even if it didn’t necessarily include any substantial context for that matter, you could confidently call it a wonderful conversation?

Let me tell you a short tale. It’s about a conversation with a sweet 80-year-old man whose name I never knew. I spoke zero Vietnamese. And he spoke almost close to no English. It was one of the most unforgettable conversation I’ve ever had.

It was Valentine’s day and I could not be more than happy to be finally out of Saigon. I was in the most romantic city of Vietnam, the city of Hoi An, and even though I was by myself and was missing my husband terribly, I knew it was going to be a good day. Although I was dressed in black from head to toe, (with the exception of the orange lipstick I chose for the day out of angst from being alone), I was feeling very pastel inside.

Sipping the last ounces of my iced Viet coffee, that I surprisingly happened to enjoy not only despite the jitters that my entire anatomy could probably handle, but also despite my strong feelings against coffee in general, the melody of La Vie En Rose in the background slowly faded away, prompting me that it was time to move on and get back to exploring the rest of the town. The colorful lanterns hung freely along the streets, adding more flair to the town, yet keeping its quaint charm. Vendors smiled as I passed by the stores, and even the tourists I came across were having a good day as we all exchanged smiles with each other.

It was getting quite hot around this time. Mumbling curse words to myself for my choice of outfit, I took shelter in the first open public ancient house that I saw. There was this man that ushered me in claiming that this is his home. He spoke very little English, maybe less than ten to fifteen words during our entire conversation. He was lovely, very friendly, and he called me beautiful. He could have been referring to his house for all I know, but let’s just pretend it was meant to be a compliment for me. As we walked around the house, at one point, I believe he tried to ask if I’m Vietnamese. I giggled shyly, remembering a vendor from Saigon a couple of days ago who had mistaken me to be Vietnamese as well, but darker, she said, calling me a “burnt Vietnamese”. I walked away with a polite smile, convincing myself that it was not meant to be an insult.


I told that story to the old man, and he simply smiled and brushed my cheeks. He pointed me to photographs of his ancestors hanging on the wall. He spoke in Vietnamese, associating some basic English words so he can to try to make me understand. He was touching his ears and pointing at another man’s photo with the same big peculiar ears like his. I suppose he was trying to explain that theirs are very similar. I told him of a superstition I’ve heard of about people with big ears living a long life. I’m not quite sure if he understood that.

I lingered for a little bit, because I felt he enjoyed my company too. I told him about my husband and how this was the first time that I was away for Valentine. He replied in his native language again and threw in a sweet, genuine laugh at the end of his sentence. Assuming he said a joke, I threw in a laugh as well. I complimented how beautiful his home was. I’d tell him how I’ve instantly fallen in love with Hoi An. He’d respond to me and though I’d have no idea what he said exactly, I’ll make an assumption and somehow we kept the conversation going. I told him about my travels. How I’ve been on my own for three weeks already. How I’m never going to be the same after this experience. I told him I loved Vietnamese food, and how I just had my first bowl of Bun Bo Hue at lunch and it was nothing short of amazing.

We talked like this for about half an hour. I thanked him for listening to me. I wasn’t deprived of conversations or human interaction as I’ve been meeting incredible people along the way. He just made me feel warm inside, and I appreciated that. He smiled at me and squeezed my hand. We bid our goodbyes and he gave me a soft peck on the cheek. He walked me to the door and waved as I left. And that was that.

Human interaction is a funny thing. They say communication only involves 7% of actual words, and the rest is body language and the vocal tone. Often times we have such a hard time understanding and communicating even with the closest people in our lives, when really, we’re just not listening. It was almost trivial, my conversation with this man. But it was the moment, all balanced with the perfect time and the perfect location with the perfect stranger. He could have been talking about anything for all I know. But one thing was for sure, there was kindness in his voice. We don’t really need to speak the same language to feel that basic human connection, because when it comes down to it, it’s quite simple. Compassion is universal.

23 thoughts on “Lost In Translation

  1. This is such a beautiful, heartwarming story! ❤ I've travelled a lot myself, and have at times come across people too, that even though we hardly spoke the language of each other, we were able to have a little conversation, it's such a wonderful feeling.


  2. What an amazing story! It is nice to hear how well you could communicate with someone in a different language. I know that a lot of communication is non-verbal, but it is easy to forget just HOW much. And what an amazing house!


  3. Wow, this was so well-written! The setting, the man’s character, your state of mind… It all comes together beautifully. And such a heartwarming story! It’s amazing how little we need words to get a message across. There are so many other ways to detect kindness.


  4. Lovely! One of the things I love most about traveling is the connections I had with the people I’ve met along the way. Different people have different journeys for different reasons and knowing a pinch of that journey through accidental conversation is a beautiful thing 🙂


  5. Super story, so kind of you to sit and chat with him.
    I similarly met a guy from Afganistan (he looked 125) in the middle of nowhere in Turkey. Same again, totally language barrier but we managed to have a laugh. Every now and again I wonder where he is…and where he was even going in the first place!


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