1/18/10: Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
We were awoken from our sweet, sweet slumber on our beloved Marguerite by the crackling of the intercom followed by Son’s voice. “It is now 7:30 and time for breakfast. We are waiting for you upstairs.” Then came a slight pause and some more crackling, followed by Son again: “It is now half past seven and time for breakfast. We are waiting for you upstairs.” I suppose this second announcement was for those of us who prefer to be told the time in fractions instead of whole numbers. A truly cosmopolitan boat, the Marguerite caters to all kinds.
As we sat down to breakfast, Son announced that he would be taking those of our group that had booked the three-day tour for a full day of kayaking and that Tony would be the tour guide for the rest of us for the day. Tony was a very lovely man, but just as Son had his own peculiar traits (love of mediocre jokes and making the same announcement twice but in two slightly different manners being among them), Tony also had his own strange tendencies – the most obvious of which was saying everyone’s name in the group at the end of every speech he gave us.
We first noticed this when he introduced himself to us, saying that he hoped we had so far enjoyed our stay on the boat and then immediately proceeding to ask the five of us our names. “Monica,” Monica said. “Monica,” Tony repeated gravely. He then asked her to write her name down on a piece of paper, and when she handed it back to him, he studied it very carefully and softly repeated to himself, “Monica,” committing her name to memory. This same solemn process happened with “Kavi,” “Chris,” and “Kevin” until it came to be the moment I was dreading – my turn.
I have to explain here that all my life I’ve had a somewhat ambivalent relationship with my name. I love my name, but I’m also sort of tired of explaining to people how to say it. This could be partly because I have never really decided exactly how I should say my full name. In the past, I would introduce myself and pronounce my name “Jo Jang,” but then when these same people saw my name spelled, they would say, as if suddenly the fog had been lifted and everything was clear, “Ooooh, so ‘zh’ in Chinese is like a ‘j’ sound in English!” And I’m not sure why, but then I would nod and agree even though nothing – and I mean nothing! – of the sort is true. So then to avoid that particular discussion altogether I started saying my name was pronounced like “Jo Zang” but that didn’t sound quite as good as the alliterative “Jo Jang,” plus I had gone around for the last 10+ years saying my name was pronounced “Jo Jang” so it was a rather tough switch. Also, on an only somewhat related note, I hate giving my name when I go to Starbucks or any other place that is trying to be more personable, you know, like they know me and I’m their friend or something, and they ask me for my name at the register so they can announce it later, and then when I get my drink or meal or receipt or whatever, it inevitably has “JOE” written on it in big red marker. This always throws me off, but I have to say the irony is pretty delicious.
Right – so I sort of have this – not exactly fear – but fatigue when it comes to explaining how to spell my name versus how to say it. So when Tony got to my turn and asked for my name, I said “JO” very clearly and loudly. I was still debating whether I should spell my name correctly for him on his piece of paper or just write “Jo” for the sake of clarity, a discussion I have had with myself at least a million times and have never fully resolved. Luckily I was spared from making this decision, because Tony never asked for me to write my name down, I guess because “Jo” is only spelled one way. Tony then told us the schedule for the rest of the day, ending by looking at each one of us in turn and saying our names. “Monica. Kavi. Chris. Kevin. Rho.” Then he walked back to the lower level of the boat. The five of us then exchanged confused looks. After a few minutes of serious discussion, we eventually collectively agreed that he thought my name was “Rose” and that there was no point in correcting him since over the course of the day he would probably say my name, at most, only once more.
Boy did we underestimate Tony’s love of saying people’s names. The rest of the group thought the whole situation quite funny and only escalated the matter throughout the day by loudly saying things like, “Come on, Rose!” or “Let’s go, Rose!” when Tony was in earshot. I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back on it, I’m now fairly certain Tony went the whole day not entirely sure whether my name was “Jo” or “Rose.” Rather than avoiding saying my name, he still ended every speech he gave by saying all of our names in turn, ending with me and alternating between calling me “Rho” and “Rose.” All told, he probably said our names at least five times each. I think he also tried to figure out what my name really was by calling me, in turn, “Rho” and “Rose” and seeing which name I responded to, but I just responded to both because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, which I think greatly frustrated Tony’s efforts.
At the end of the day, after we had packed ourselves back into our minibus and were almost back in Hanoi, Tony gave his last speech, saying goodbye to us and of course, ended by gravely saying each of our names one last time. “Monica. Kavi. Chris. Kevin.” Then there was a pause as he looked at me. “Rose,” he said, and I smiled and nodded encouragingly. “Rose… Rose,” he repeated to himself.
It was hours later, when Kevin and I were discussing how my name got turned into “Rose” when suddenly it became clear to Kevin. “Tony couldn’t say the ‘j’ sound! Remember how he called the boat the Marguerite Runk?” And then the fog was lifted, and everything was clear to me. Tony, I’m sorry I doubted you. I know now that you knew my name was “Jo” from the very beginning. I’m sorry that we confused you. But if you want, you can still call me Rose.
Pictures of the Day: The “logo” of Ha Long Bay: the kissing (or fighting) cocks.