A tale about language barriers & the lobster worth 5 million (Dong)

millionairThis blog post is three days late but it is a worthy of broadcast for travellers going to Vietnam.

First thing… language barrier. It hits you like a wall. But first let’s put all this into context.

I wasn’t in Vietnam as a tourist. So things may be different if you’re travelling as a tourist.

Security at the airport was unusually tight because of the arrival of APEC leaders and delegates. Everywhere, black clad members of the elite police unit stood, armed with the standard issue AK47s or smaller MP5s.

My baggage didn’t arrive. So I had to place a report.   I took a fair bit of time trying to explain what a Pelican case was. “No… it’s not a bird and no it doesn’t have metal corners like what you have on your catalogue.”

Thanks to Google, I found a picture and showed it to them. It helped A LOT! Google is indeed a blessing to mankind.

Then the ground staff asked for my email address and I passed it on to her. She said she would all when the bags arrived. I asked for her email address but I couldn’t write it on my English speaking keypad.

My phone’s autocorrect function just went “WT…???” and shut itself down. It couldn’t handle the pressure of dealing with the Vietnamese language. Too stressful.

Outside the terminal, the signs in English were few. The Vietnamese use the  Latin script for their language, courtesy of their French colonisers many years ago. But it’s a difficult language to understand and the words were, quite taxing on my Papua New Guinean tongue.

A Vietnamese producer I met in Bangkok a few years ago was explaining to me   just how complex the Vietnamese language is. To put it simply,   he said there was five sounds and meanings to the sound “WAH.” The differences are subtle. It’s difficult enough trying to explain by writing so I’ll stop there. I am not an expert here, even though my country has 800 of the world’s languages.

23433258_1884991461517223_815518918_oBack to the airport…

So it was raining heavily, when we arrived. Typhoon season, they said. I mean, serious raining. I come from Lae where it rains a lot. BUT it doesn’t rain nonstop for weeks. The last time it happened, Tent City was created.

We asked for a taxi. Nobody understood. The military guy we asked,  said something about a visa card. I don’t know why.

So we eventually found our way around, like Papua New Guineans always do, and got into an 8-seater taxi. We headed for the Grand Mango Hotel – a place I found online. Fast forward to 6pm, Vietnam time, at a seafood restaurant. The taxi driver said it was a OK. He didn’t tell us it was expensive.

Two team members, Ivan  and Freddy, asked for a lobster and a fish separately. We knew the Vietnamese Dong (their money), isn’t a decimal currency but we hadn’t really gotten around to understanding costs in Vietnam.

So Ivan paid 1.5 million Dong for the lobster. Freddy paid a few hundred thousand less. The larger lobster was 5 million Dong. We could have bought it. but we didn’t.   Millionaires. Tycoons with, literally, millions in their pockets.

Later that night when I was converting the value of the Dong to US dollars, it hit me. That place was EXPENSIVE! If we had bought the 5 million Dong lobster, we would have spent something in order of 200 US dollars or K600 kina!

Language barrier. We didn’t break through it like they did the sound barrier but we found a way around it and it cost us the equivalent of the price of a good phone.

Freddy dubbed Ivan, “the millionaire.”

Apart from the language barrier, I found the Vietnamese to be very kind, respectful and helpful. They are small people with big hearts. Remember, the grand parents of this generation fought the French and won. Then they fought the Americans and forced them out.

The same tenacity and drive, is being put into the fourth industrial revolution… the  digital revolution and it is reaping important results. Vietnam is now the 47th most powerful economy in the world.

They do business in their own language and they own their economy.

What is “language barrier?”

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Fuel shortage forces airlines to cut back on rural flights

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Grounded Islander aircraft which uses aviation gas.

A third level airplane operator in Morobe province has had halve its operations due to a severe shortage of aviation gas.

Avgas which is used by the North Coast Aviation (NCA) for its smaller piston engine aircraft has run out forcing the airline to ground its planes.

Currently, its fuel supplies come from Poland and with Papua New Guinea going through a foreign currency crisis, the drop in the Kina value have caused business costs to rise.

The airline is now calling on government to subsidize fuel for rural travel for the planes that use avgas.

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Captain Thomas Keindip, Chief Pilot of North Coast Aviation (NCA).

Captain Thomas Keindip, the Chief Pilot of NCA says running the airline has become quite difficult in the current climate.

The former MAF pilot is from Komba in the Kabwum District of Morobe. His family also depends on NCA as a primary means of transport to and from their mountainous local level government area.

There is now a back log of cargo that needs to be transported. The cargo includes food, building materials and school and health supplies.

Yalumet languishing in post-colonial neglect while Port Moresby thrives

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On the eve of Papua New Guinea’s 41st Independence Anniversary in September, a   relatively large group of villagers gathered at Yalumet, a government station tucked away in the hinterlands of the of the Kabwum District of the Morobe Province.

They met for a ceremony marking the end of a long running feud between political rivals backed by their clans. Those who facilitated the ceremony came from the Morobe Provincial Government.   For many it was rare for members of the government bureaucracy to visit this isolated community even on the eve of Independence.

Since the 1990s, Independence celebrations have become little more than commemorations of a day when school children raise the flag bearing the gold Kumul and the Southern Cross and sing the noble words of an anthem in a foreign language. Independence day has come to mean little for a people isolated and so far removed from the rest of Papua New Guinea.
As the country’s capital, Port Moresby, grows, evidenced by  new four lane highways and tall concrete buildings, Yalumet has remained   quite the same since the 1970s.

EMTV cameraman, Maisen Hungito, who brought back telling images of the state of affairs of the old government station and its people said in his own words:   “The airstrips were built with ‘man power,’ crowbars spades and digging sticks.”

Airstrips were the initiative of the colonial government and driven by Chief Engam Dumulok who envisioned positive change in the lives of his people.

In 1927, when the first missionary arrived in Yalumet, Dumulok was a 7-year-old boy who saw for the first time, new things that would become part of his adult life.

Dumulok never got a formal education but was a highly skilled, intuitive organizer and leader.   In 1968, he was appointed by a “Kiap” or patrol officer as a representative of his people.

He led the work parties that built the Yalumet airstrip. Later some of those skills and knowledge were passed on to other clans who built the neighboring Kabwum, Satuak and Sapmanga airstrips. In 1975, Engam Dumulok led the independence celebrations in Yalumet as the Prince of Wales witnessed the lowering of the Australian flag in distant Port Moresby. Years later, he would be recognized by the Queen for his services to his community.

Airstrips built by Dumulok’s work parties became a lifeline for the young independent country and a people hopeful of ongoing development. Schools thrived and services trickled down from far off Waigani to the people. Messages were passed through letters sent by plane or by two-way radio.

But by the 1990s, third level airline services began to experience demise when the second biggest operator, Talair, abruptly ended its operations after four decades in the country. Over the next 20 years, flights into Yalumet and other nearby airstrips became irregular and the delivery of government services declined.

Teachers from other provinces who previously lived and taught in remote areas like Yalumet did not want to continue working in those locations as travel costs became unbearable.

In 2008, Engam Dumulok passed away at 88 after having lived through a period that saw the arrival of missionaries, the exit of colonial powers and the arrival of the computer age.

The promising potential of new socio-economic developments Dumulok foresaw in the 1960s appeared to have waned after his death.

Early this month, the only third level airline servicing Yalumet and surrounding areas, North Coast Aviation, announced it was cutting back operations due to a shortage of fuel for its older piston engine aircrafts vital for rural flights.  The fuel shortage coupled with high import and maintenance costs will contribute to the further regression of Yaluet’s economic and social development.

On 16 September 2017, months after a new government takes office, the people of Yalumet will again, gather to see their children raise the Papua New Guinea flag and sing the national anthem in the language of the former colonial power.

One can safety bet that their living conditions will have seen little change unless there is a demonstration of political will strong enough to bring about a transition for the better.