Asia, Food, Missions, Travel

Lost in Translation

Sometimes you can just tell when someone wants to talk to you. A lot of people want to practice their English with a native speaker, and I love to talk, so it’s a perfect combination. I talk to everyone.

Getting his life story, in typical fashion

Getting his life story, in typical fashion

I got a chance in Laos to talk to some university students that are just beginning to learn English. They were about my age and I wanted to interview them to see what they eat on a day to day basis. It was research for me and a good chance for them to practice their language skills. Win win!

I started out by asking them how many meals they would typically eat in a day, how much water they drink, what their typical diet consisted of. Then, I moved into asking each of them, one on one, what exactly they’d eaten that day.

Rice for sale

Rice for sale

Sticky rice baskets

Sticky rice baskets

I got mostly answers I expected. They have sticky rice with every meal. It’s the main staple food in Laos. They also eat a lot of eggs. It’s a good whole protein that’s easily accessible everywhere. A couple of the students I interviewed mentioned fried eggs and omelets. I asked about milk and one of the boys told me he had beef milk for breakfast. Which took me a second to translate in my mind. Beef = cow, right? Pretty typical stuff.

Pink salted eggs

Pink salted eggs

There were a couple things that took more explaining though. One of the girls said she had eaten mango and watermelon that day, which just happen to be my two favorite fruits. She proceeded to tell me she’d had hers with salt (okay..) and chili peppers (a little odd..) and fermented fish paste (hmm, nope..)

Watermelon: my style

Watermelon: my style

One of the boys took a little more explaining with what he’d had for breakfast. It started with meat. Okay, how was it cooked? Burned. (I thought, maybe his mom wasn’t a very good cook? But, I didn’t ask.) Okay, so burned? On purpose? Yes, we throw it in the fire until it’s black and charcoaled. Oh, grilling over the fire? No, in the fire. Okay, moving on: what kind of meat was it? Buffalo skin. Oh, buffalo meat? No, skin. Sometimes you’ve just gotta let the details blur. I wrote down burned buffalo skin for his breakfast (with sticky rice, of course) and went on. However, later at the market, I saw what he meant.

Buffalo skin, notice the hair still attached, yum!

Buffalo skin, notice the hair still attached, yum!

At the end of the session, since I had been asking all the questions, I asked them if they wanted to ask me any questions. They spent quite a bit of time asking me questions about myself and my life. Finally, one of the boys asked, what do you eat every day? Which I thought was a really funny question since I had spent the last hour asking them about their diet. It’s funny to think my diet would be as foreign and weird sounding to them as burned buffalo skin sounds to me. I obliged and told them what a typical day of eating at home would include for me. Milk, cereal, coffee, white rice, sweet potato, chicken. The boy’s response? “That’s why your skin is so white, you eat a lot of white things.” Hmm, could be.

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