January 2, 1969
LEARNING A NEW LANGUAGE

On my first full day in Vietnam I was given an assignment to stay with three local Vietnamese as they drove their truck around camp and picked up trash. They obviously knew what they were doing and my only job was to watch and stay with them.

The driver of the truck smiled and spoke to me, but I have no idea what he said. I smiled and said "Hello" to him in English. He smiled and spoke back to me in his language. Having grown up on the Mexico border, I was prepared to meet someone that didnít speak English. I smiled and said "Buenos Dias" which was over half of my Spanish vocabulary. He smiled and acknowledged I had spoken to him.

I watched as they sifted through the trash. When they found something they liked, they would turn to me and say "Number 1". If some trash would fall off the truck he would say "Number 10". It did not take long to understand that "Number 1" was yes, true and good. "Number 10" was no, false and evil. I learned so much about them in just a few hours.

  • a beautiful Vietnamese woman is number 1
  • a truck that will not start is number 10
  • cigarettes are number 1
  • smelly garbage is number 10
  • an unopened can of food is number 1
  • the hot sun is number 10
  • American GIís are number 1
I found we could work together by reducing every issue down to a problem that could be answered with either "number 1" or "number 10".

Years later when my college professors tried to teach me about "computer decision trees" (where every decision has a yes or no answer) a light came on in my head. This is what I learned from the trash men in Vietnam. WOW! Number 1.


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©1997 C. Warren Gallion
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