Thursday, February 24, 2005

Over the rainbow

They eat Ga snacks and Choco-pie and at times seem like they are from another world.

It's a world of order and ranking, where younger is addressed as "em" or "chau" and older "chu" or "co". That is older than you but younger than your parents. Older than your parents is "bac" or "Ba" and "om" if they are very old. And there is more "Chau", "Em", "Anh", "Chi", "Chu", "Co", "Bac", "Om", "Ba" like the notes of a scale, fa, so, la, ti, ba, om ..... but then it changes all over again when you get married, because then it depends on the age of your husband, and in fact your name, if you are female, changes to "Em" meaning younger, even if you aren't younger but older. And teachers are "Thay" and "Co" not "Chi" or "Anh" or "ba" or "fa" or "la-ti-doe". It breeds complication in multiples and is all like science fiction to an outsider, like stumbling into an isolated colony in the pages of a book.

In the outer villages the children are named after something offensive until they are seven or nine or somewhat older, to ward off evil spirits that might bring disease or early death. Children might be called dirt, or pig or penis or worse and tradition in certain parts means newborns are insulted rather than complimented.

"Your baby is so ugly."

"What a pig!! Oh my god I feel like cutting my eyes out."

"How does such a scrawny neck hold up such a pumpkin of a head? If it was mine I would bury it under a tree."

The more vile the insult, the better. You're not interested in the baby. You think that it's inconceivably disgusting, a runt, and an animal. Your not going to come around when no-one is home and steal it or kill it out of jealousy.

And then when the children get older they get a new name. Something nice like flower, or sunspot. The new name is the one they start telling new people, and the old one is kept for family if they want to use it or discarded like a shell. A childhood name for your safekeeping, it's more science fiction.

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