Trinh & I had dinner tonight at a local noodle shop, just the two of us. Our casual conversation drifted from the birthday party we'd just left to the waiter's goofy hair, the food, the untold thousands of birds in the parking lot, and plans for tomorrow.
At one point I said, "Ngày mai Trinh muốn đi lửa với Mommy Daddy, huh?"
What I meant was, "Tomorrow do you want to go to church with us?"
Her response was a mix of surprise and confusion. She jerked her head up from her noodles, fixed me with a strange look, and said loudly, "FIRE! FIRE ON THE MOUNTAIN!"
My turn to be perplexed. I sputtered, "What do you mean, fire? Why fire on the mountain? What on earth are you talking about?!?"
She gave me a level look, the kind reserved for idiots and the linguistically challenged. She said, "Daddy, what are YOU talking about? You said "fire". Why did you say that?"
"I did? When did I say fire?"
She replied, "Daddy, you said "lửa". "Lửa" means fire! Fire on the mountain!"
Ah, the travails of being the not-so-fluent parent of a radically bi-lingual child. The word I had meant to say was "lễ", not "lửa". "Lễ" is "church". "Lửa" means "fire".
I know, I know, if you're a VN speaker reading this, you're like, "Man, how can you mix up those two words?" Well...it happens, OK?
I'm not sure where the "on the mountain" part came from, but my guess is that she's been watching news about the fires in California at Nhà Ông Bà.
Back to the story: fully aware that the waiter kid with the goofy hair who was sitting at the next table doing his homework was listening, I stammered, "Well, dear, I meant to say "church". How do you say "church"?"
The "must I explain everything to you" look came back to her face. "Daddy," she replied, "you can say "nhà thờ" for "church". Don't say "lửa". That means FIRE!!!"
At this point, the waiter kid pretty much lost it. As usual, I couldn't decide whether I was terribly proud or thoroughly humiliated.
Both, I suppose. As usual.