Friday, December 30, 2005

The Magic Hat of Inevitability

I never thought game shows were good for you.

Game shows don't interest me. They haven't done so since puberty, when Sale of the Century occupied the next timeslot after Dr. Who. I'd be quite happy to be on them, especially Who Would Like to be a Millionaire? It's not the same thing as watching them, but then I don't enjoy watching TV much these days. My wife does enjoy game shows, though.

To set the scene: the box was on on Boxing Day, and Mrs. Down and Out had tuned it to Chiếc Nón Kỳ Diệu. It's a Vietnamese version of Wheel of Fortune, where contestants spin a big wheel. If if stops at the right spot, the player must guess a letter from a secret phrase. You could describe it as a combination of roulette and hangman. Chiếc Nón Kỳ Diệu provides a few additional letters over the "canonical" U.S. version as choices: "Ă", "Â", "Đ", "Ê", "Ô", "Ơ", and "Ư". Tones aren't part of game play, although they are present in the final phrase. Otherwise, the show is almost a straight copy of Wheel of Fortune. The name, however is new: it translates as "Magic Hat". People think the roulette wheel looks like the traditional conical Vietnamese hat.

So, we have a Vietnamese show, where the host and audience and contestants speak Vietnamese, and the secret phrase is  Vietnamese. That would make the contestants Vietnamese, right? Not this Boxing Day, where there were not just one, or two, but three foreigners on the show. One was from Canada, the second came from Australia, and the third hailed from Iraq. All three spoke understandable Vietnamese, and were competent enough in the language to play it. At one point, the Iraqi even sung a song in it, thus endearing himself to the audience. My wife loved that episode, and I even came out and watched it for all of five minutes. Regrettably few foreigners learn the language, so getting your proficiency up to playing a game show - that's almost unheard of here.

Now imagine a thought bubble, like you have in comics, coming from my head, and from the head of my wife (and later, when he heard about it, from the head of my Vietnamese teacher). The bubble contains the following sentence:

If they could do it, why can't you?

So the episode has inspired a big sea change in the Down and Out household. My wife stills wants to improve her English, but now she's speaking to me mostly in Vietnamese. What's more, she'll be throwing lots of new words into the conversation. The consensus is that I have a lot of problems with vocabulary, so her doing this will improve my language. Even if it is occasionally disorienting, I'm glad she is doing it; it's what I need.

I'll continue to refrain from the game shows, however. If you've got a neat moral lesson from five minutes watching, why continue further?