Friday, May 21, 2010

Inappropriate Giggling

This is an important one I'm about to share -- especially for Americans.  In fact, this and the durian posting should be the two things you remember if you ever travel to southeast Asia.

One of Victor's friends in the neighborhood, Jay a Hong Kong rescue dog, was being shipped to London as his owner was relocated there. Long story short, at the airport Jay jumped out of his crate and went missing.  For four harrowing weeks his poor owner flew back and forth from the UK to HK to organize search parties.  Everyone in the neighborhood got involved; we all wanted to find Jay.

Since I know all the dog walking helpers in the hood, I used to chat with Jay's walker routinely during the four weeks to get updates.  It was the same "he not found, ma'am" and we all went about our business.

Then, a few days ago I found out from a friend that Jay had been found on the airport premises...dead.  I was gutted; the entire neighborhood was.  Later that day I ran into Jay's helper.  She says, "Jay dead" and starts for a good 5 seconds.

Had I not had a similar experience in Vietnam a few months back I would've gone postal on this helper.  But I learned there that many Asian cultures laugh or giggle when they are embarrassed, ashamed or in the wrong.  Bizarre reaction, I know.

The Backstory:

As part of our Vietnam trip I planned for us to spend a few days in Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage site that was, according to the tour guide, only a 2-hour drive from Hanoi where we were staying.  It was a tough call, but I decided that 2 hours wasn't so bad for what was essentially an overnight stay since it was supposed to be so spectacular.

When our bus rolled up to Halong Bay FOUR HOURS after leaving Hanoi, I was rip-shit mad.  The guy who worked for the tour opened up the bus bus doors and I just unleashed on him:  "Two hours?? Where do you people get 2 hours??  We didn't hit traffic; there is no way in hell that trip EVER takes 2 hours.  Why would you tell me that???"

Instead of giving me some sort of excuse, the guy just stared at me with this big goofy grin on his face and laughed and said, "Let's get your luggage on the boat."  As if I hadn't just had this major meltdown on if there was nothing at all wrong.  So I said, "What is wrong with you?  Why are you laughing?"  Again, all of this is still in a majorly pissed-off, raised voice.  The guys continues to pretend like I've just said, "Hello -- great to see you! Where's the boat?"

We get to our cabin (me, still seething) and find a "guide to Vietnamese culture" pamphlet sitting on our pillow.  #1 on the list informs readers that Vietnamese people will laugh and smile when embarrassed or in the wrong.  It's the way they show deference while avoiding confrontation (something the Vietnamese try to do at all costs) and not to be misinterpreted as anything else.  Oops.


  1. Wow. That is so bizarre and fascinating.

  2. Love reading your blog. I had for the first three or four years in HK, but gave it up when we moved to DBay a year ago..Anyway, I want ask you about Halong Bay! My wife and I have been talking about going there because, as you know, the pictures with the rocks coming up out of the water are just sooooo cool. Was it worth it? And do you have any tips? (Sorry if there's already a blog post about it- I just haven't got there yet). Thanks! hkdaddyo

    1. Hi! I'm sorry I'm only seeing this now - just sent you an email and hope you haven't gone yet! I HUGELY recommend Halong Bay!