Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Lost In Translation

I've only seen "Lost In Translation" once, the film by Sophia Coppola starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansen. I remember it as a story of two people at very different stages in their lives, each feeling lost but finding themselves through finding each other. I remember it being beautiful and moving, but the only scene which I specifically remember is the one where they end up in a karaoke room in Tokyo. Something about the simultaneous strangeness and familiarity of the karaoke was particularly striking, both for the characters and for me.

Doannie and I had our own "Lost in Translation" moment last night when we too ended up in a karaoke room. We went with a group of Vietnamese medical students after conducting a conversation class with them down by the river (one of the responsibilities of my rotation at the hospital here). From the outside the place looked like a small hotel, at least 8 floors high but no more than 2 rooms wide. Then just like in the movie we were ushered up a narrow staircase and into a small room equipped with its own karaoke machine and a serious sound system. Instead of an American style karaoke bar where you write down your song requests and sing to a room full of strangers, this place was full of tiny rooms of solo performances, which turns out to be a slightly different beast.

We quickly learned that crowd pleasers back home like "Sweet Caroline" and "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" don't go over very well here, because there is no crowd to play to. Actual singing on key and on time is the goal, usually as a solo. The karaoke machine actually rates both your timing and your ability to stay in key and gives you a score (Doannie and I both managed to get in the 80% range). Thankfully we had bottle service from the bar downstairs (i.e., a guy brought a bucket of warm beers and a bucket of ice) to loosen us up. A duet of Boyz to Men's "End of the Road" won us some fans amongst the medical students.

For them karaoke is serious business, and a few of them scored 100%. As I listened to them sing tender love songs in Vietnamese (as well as a few by the Carpenters and Celion Dion), I had my own "Lost in Translation" moment. I don't understand most of what is said around me most hours of most days, and I have come to rely heavily on Doannie to fill me in as best he can. But I have also found my acuity for emotional subtext has sharpened as I watch the world go by in this strange and lyrical tongue. It is a beautiful thing to bear witness to someone else's pilgramage to their homeland, especially when that someone is your newlywed husband. As I sit on the sidelines in unusual-for-me silence, I see what a special gift we have both been given to experience this together.

1 comment:

Moriah & Manuel said...

Hey there -- awesome blog. I've had similar moments to your "lost in translation" post (minus the karaoke) w/ my dear one in Argentina, especially on the early trips when my Spanish really sucked (it now only sort of sucks). Happy travels & enjoy the explorations of the homeland. Can't wait to read more -- what little we got to see in Vietname TOTALLY made us want to go back.