It is amazing how small the world becomes during a visit to the Foreign Police. Last week, I made my second and third (and final) trip to the Office of the Border and Foreign Police in Bratislava, to secure my visa to teach.
Just like our first trip, we made the best out of a day-long bureaucratic nightmare. Because of this, we were once again pleasantly surprised. Surrounded by people from “all over the planet,” as our colleague and translator Peter described, we met a new Vietnamese friend named Tai. He is a translator for incoming Vietnamese immigrants.
The little man in the Nike hat sat down beside me, reached into his backpack and pulled out an old book with a blank cover. We had been talking for a few minutes in English, and after he opened it I saw that it was a Vietnamese/English learning book. “I do not speak it very well,” he told me. “Can you read this to me?”
So, in the middle of the small and almost dilapidated, communist-style waiting room, I read to him a dialogue between a husband and wife leaving for the train station. He read it after me with almost no errors, but I could see that he was hesitant to speak it in front of me. After he finished, I then read the text in Vietnamese. I think I botched every word, but he just smiled and corrected me patiently.
Tai ended up inviting us to lunch for some Vietnamese soup later that day. We joined him, and at a lunch table in the middle of an open-air market in Slovakia, we spoke bits and pieces of each other’s languages to each other (English, Slovak and Vietnamese). And even though there was minimal dialogue actually being spoken, we communicated the entire meal, anyway.