This was a remote village in Vietnam, and many of the kids there hadn't seen a white person before. The kids didn't think I was a god or anything, but my blazing whiteness was utterly alien to them. I looked like some sort of nightmarish cartoon character, only these kids hadn't seen cartoons, either. If this was a movie, we would be just a few humorous misunderstandings away from realizing that deep down, all people are the same, you guys! But in real life, the gulf between cultures can be almost incomprehensible. I'm talking about things like the basic concept of time. At the same village, I had this exchange:
"How long does it take you to fetch water?" I asked.
"No," he said.
"No, sorry. What I mean is: How long does it take to get water from the well?"
This went on for ... well, a long fucking time. Then I realized I'd been missing what his eyes were saying: "It takes as long as it takes, dickhead."
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"I usually get home sometime between dumbass-American o'clock and half after take-your-shit-elsewhere."
See, it turns out not everyone measures time in minutes and hours. Sure, the people I was working with had a basic idea that time exists: Stuff happens and then something else happens after that. But there isn't much point in keeping track of minutes and hours if you can get by just fine without it (remember, watches weren't even commonplace in the west until a few hundred years ago). When your major daily concerns are getting water and avoiding crocodiles, you care a whole lot less about how fast some arrow moves around a dial. That stuff isn't done by appointment.
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"Besides, they keep eating our damn clocks."