Harriet Burnham - Lost in translation on the Mekong


It was dinner and meeting the family. That was all… I thought. So Miss, my student, picked me up on her motorbike, the typical Vietnamese way to get around, I hopped on the back with my bag of fruit for her family. I only expected to be out for a couple of hours.

After one hour on the back of the motorbike and leaving the city far behind, I found myself in a little village of rice fields.“Did you bring a toothbrush?” Miss asked, as if I knew the whole time this was not just dinner.
“Err… no.” I replied, a little confused.

“We’ll buy you one!” She responded with her typical Vietnamese chuckle.

We got to her house, perched right on the side of the red river. It was small and basic. We sat on the floor to eat rice, noodles and the chicken Miss’ mother had killed especially for me. After our meal, Miss took me out to the village to meet her sister and of course sing some karaoke. We continued on down the narrow road covered in hay and stopped at a little hairdresser’s house, so I could get my hair washed. I could have fallen asleep as the very pregnant hairdresser scratched, massaged and pounded my head, and then my face! We walked to the next village for some yogurt and then back to Miss’ home. I noticed the stars that dotted the black sky and the silence. There are no stars in the cities, and certainly no silence. I felt calm, and so glad that such a misunderstanding could turn into such a remarkable night.


We woke at 5am the following morning to the crowing roosters. I was glad when it was time to get up; off the hard platform they called a bed, still in last night’s clothes. Early morning in the country was stunning. Ladies in their conical hats cycled past carrying baskets full of lush green leafy vegetables, as the orange sun rose over the glowing green rice paddies. Miss and I stopped at a little concrete restaurant for a steaming bowl of pork noodle soup for breakfast. An old man sitting on one of the small plastic chairs at the plastic table with us, asked if I spoke any Vietnamese. I tried to impress him with “Xin chào (hello), tôi tên là (my name is) Harriet”. But he didn’t seem to understand my bizarre accent, so he frowned and offered us some tea instead.

Sitting on the back of the motorbike and riding out of the village at dawn gave me time to appreciate the picturesque town, where I had a truly unique and completely accidental cultural experience. 

Quick facts
Capital: Hanoi
Government: Republic
Language: Vietnamese
Population: 88.1 million
Religions: Buddhism
Timezone: GMT +7
Climate: climate, with humidity averaging 84 % throughout the year
Currency: đồng
"Discovering Vietnam and how radically different it is from England (I really did fall in love with it) has also made me want to travel more and explore the world and all it has to offer. I would never have been this adventurous had I not been on this placement; it’s really opened my eyes to the world."

Marianne, English teacher