Eating Fish Runs Out

December 12, 2017
Posted in Journal
December 12, 2017 Andrew Spidahl

Eating Fish Runs Out

So far google translate has been a helpful app to have on my phone as we negotiate with little to no Vietnamese language. We’ve learned the basic numbers and a few greetings and phrases–hello, excuse me, thank you, how much…but often these aren’t enough. So, in the absence of a Vietnamese English speaker, we turn to google translate. On several occasions we’ve used the speaking function, where one person speaks into the phone in their language and google translate speaks out loud the translation in the other language. Sunday afternoon we had a basic conversation in this fashion while sipping Pepsi and Number 1 soda, iced in cups. 

“Where are you from? How old are you? Do you have any kids? What do you think of Vietnam?” The small village market was mostly closed over lunch hour, but a handful of women were selling a few items–nuts, noodle soup, various fruits, boiled corn, drinks with ice… Our vendor was patient and friendly, and seemed pleased to have a couple of sunburnt weirdos like us stop by for drink and a “chat.” She had four kids, she indicated by holding up four fingers. Just this evening (Monday) we stopped by to ask someone where to find a pharmacy (Kallie got a small burn on her leg from the motorcycle exhaust pipe and we were hoping for some ointment). We typed in “Pharmacy” on my phone, Google gave us a translation, and the man helping us grabbed my arm and pointed to a place with the lights on a couple doors down. We thanked him and pulled up to where another man on a couch was reading in what we took to be his combination home and pharmacy. After determining with some good old fashioned gestures that the pharmacy was open, we typed in “antibiotic ointment and bandage”, got the Vietnamese version, and were immediately ushered inside. When Kallie showed him her burn, he nodded and came back with what we needed, “no charge,” he insisted.

This is not an ad for Google translate, and it’s not fool-proof, but it has worked better than other translation apps we’ve been exposed to. Today was a good example. One of our friendly hotel staff indicated that he could take us fishing for the day if we were interested. We were interested, and decided to invite our new motorbike friends Jean Francois and AnnEmilie to join us for the excursion. It began early, at 4:30 am. Unfortunately Google did not have a correct location for our hotel, where we were to meet, so JF and Ann had to search for it a bit. Thus I was the only one downstairs at 4:30. Our guide spoke into his phone: “WHAT FRIENDS?” came the translated question. I correctly interpreted that to mean “Where are your friends?” and was able to reply “they’re coming.”

He spoke again into his phone and showed me: 


Hmmmm. Didn’t quite get that one…


Hmmmm. Still nothing.

By this time Kallie was downstairs, and he pointed to her and then to his shoes. “Kal,” I said, “I think he wants to make sure we have proper footwear.” In faith I nodded and gave him the thumbs up–we had proper footwear. Our friends arrived, and we piled in. He arranged us three cozy across the middle seat and one in front, indicating that there were more coming to fill the back. “FOUR HELPERS,” his phone said. That was clear enough, but I found it hard to believe we’d fit four more men in the vehicle. But that’s just what we did.

The ride to Vin Huy Bay was fine, and even at the early hour of 5:30 the sun was up.  We were starting to get hungry, and though our guide had mentioned something about breakfast, we weren’t sure what that meant or when. When we stopped in town, JF went to buy some Banh Mi (breakfast sandwiches) for all of us. Our guide showed me his phone: 


When he saw my hesitation, he gestured an eating motion and pointed toward the boat. “Cóm,” he said in Vietnamese. I knew that meant rice, and deduced that we had breakfast planned for when we arrived at our destination, we just hadn’t eaten it yet. Oh well, a couple of extra Banh Mi never hurt anybody that I know.

After a fifteen minute boat ride we landed on a rocky shore that was three parts wild and beautiful and one part washed up trash. Just to get to our landing we had to do some boulder scrambling. In more ways than one, this was not going to be an ordinary fishing trip.

As one of the others got a rod ready, our guide showed me his phone: 


Perhaps, “Have you ever fished before?” I nodded that I had, without trying to explain that it was from a boat on a Minnesota lake and not from cliffs on the ocean. Same concept. We started with cane poles and bits of shrimp, and though we had a few bites we didn’t manage to pull anything up. It was time to go to the other side. This time our guide skipped the phone and gestured to indicate that we must go carefully because the walk was steep and dangerous, but the fish were bigger and better over there.

Jean Francois tries his luck with a casting pole from a rock ledge.

We scrambled up some boulders to a narrow path and walked over the crest to see a stunning view of the roiling ocean flanked by red sandstone cliffs covered with vegetation. A small stream gushed somewhere to our left. It was beautiful, and worth the trip fish or no fish. As it turned out, there were fish. We foreigners didn’t end up catching any–I hadn’t quite figured out if one should watch the bobber or feel for a tug; but our guides managed a healthy stringer for lunch, keeping them in a tide pool that served as a live well.

Back at our fish camp they quickly put together a couple charcoal fires under a rigged tarp and got some rice and soup cooking. Another went to clean the fish. One of them scooped bags of bleached coral to spread for a floor. We gathered around to a hearty lunch of rice, spicy fish soup with veggies and pineapple, grilled tamarind fish, cucumbers, bananas and Beer Saigon. There was plenty of toasting in Vietnamese. Everything was delicious, and in no time we were stuffed.

Our guide encouraged us and showed us his phone:


We laughed and determined that perhaps that meant, “Eat it up! There’s more!” There was more, and it was all very good. After we had let our distended bellies relax a bit, we decided it was time for a swim. We found a gentle pool between the rocks where the water was up to our necks and the bottom was sandy. Small colorful fish swam with us as we enjoyed the tropical water and the occasional wave that foamed in to refill our private swimming area.

It was a beautiful and refreshing way to finish our excursion, perhaps best translated: 


…which of course would mean, “We fully enjoyed our day out.”

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