We arrived in Hanoi last night; a four-hour flight from Kuala Lumpur. Our in-flight meal was the delicious nasi lemak rice dish and our in-flight entertainment was the little girl sitting in front of us who spent most of flight engaging us in peek-a-boo. Our hotel sent a taxi to pick us up and we spent the ride into the city wondering at the hordes of skinny brown cows on the side of the road. Motorcycles are everywhere. So are conical hats.
The English situation appears to be a bit less widespread than it was in Malaysia, so I’m back to the phrasebook. Lonely Planet deems Bahasa Melaya “one of Southeast Asia’s most approachable languages” and indeed it is so; no intense pronunciation craziness and relatively familiar grammar. Vietnamese, on the other hand, is one of the South East asian languages that involves tones. I stared aghast at the phrasebook’s diagram of the 6 tone pitches that can be found in Vietnamese vowels. What on earth does it mean to start low, go lower, and then sharlpy rise? I tried it myself, whispering quietly in the cab, practicing the phrase for “thank you” – “Cám ơn cô.” By the time the cab driver dropped us off in front of the hotel, I felt ready to give it a shot so I opened my mouth and gobbled at the good man. He did not seem impressed.