Monday, April 02, 2012

On the subject of Wheel of Fortune in Vietnam by Tabitha Carvan

Televisions in Vietnamese homes are always on, so the television was on when I had lunch with my friend’s family.

It was showing the Vietnamese version of Wheel of Fortune. The game has an added difficulty in Vietnamese, as tones must be guessed as well as letters. My friend told us that sometimes the letters are all revealed but still the contestants can’t work out the phrase, because an identically-spelled word in Vietnamese can have six different meanings, depending on its tone. I felt vindicated for finding the language so difficult.

The contestants, surprisingly, sang between rounds. Apparently the Vietnamese Wheel of Fortune has a performance section where you can show off your “special talents”. My friend said the talent is usually always singing.

Nathan mentioned that his Auntie Roz went on Wheel of Fortune in Australia. I had heard this story before, how she was robbed of victory by supposedly mispronouncing Gwyneth Paltrow’s name. Ridiculous! It’s not like she could have meant somebody else.

My friend asked Nathan if his Auntie Roz sang when she was on the show, but we explained that no, in the Australian version you don’t get to show your special talents.

“Is that the only difference?” she asked.

We watched the show, and ate. Her mother had cooked a fish on a charcoal burner that was out on the front steps, near the motorbike ramp. The motorbikes themselves were parked in the same room as us, a kind of combined garage-dining.

Her father was finding it difficult to eat, and couldn’t use chopsticks, because he’d lost his thumb in a factory accident. The hospital had tried to rebuild him a new thumb out of flesh taken from his arm, but it looked more like one of those homemade stress balls, a balloon filled with rice.

There was a glass cabinet with an unopened bottle of whiskey – not for drinking, just for show – which you see in almost every Vietnamese home, and a clock, branded “Money”, or at least that’s what it said in the middle of the dial.

I realised I was wearing two left plastic house slippers.

The Vietnamese Wheel of Fortune continued. The female assistant touched the letters to change them, another woman displayed the prizes on stage.

“Yes” I said. “Everything else is the same.”

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