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'Thank you' are the first words to learn

While shopping at Rogue Valley Mall recently, I noticed my toenails desperately needed some attention and wandered over to the nail salon to get a pedicure.

As I sat with my feet immersed in a tub of warm, soapy water, I saw, sitting next to me, an elderly Asian man dressed in brown and gold robes traditionally worn by Buddhist monks — with an iPad on his lap, talking on his cellphone, also enjoying a pedicure.

I said to the young woman working on my feet, “Is that a Buddhist monk getting a pedicure with an iPad on his lap, talking on his cellphone?”

I was so surprised I wanted to take of picture of him just to prove to people I don’t make this stuff up. But I knew it would be rude.

She told me he was visiting from Vietnam, didn’t speak English, and was looking for a place to buy in Oregon to build a temple. Starting a three-way conversation with them, I asked if he knew the website “Move2Oregon.com.” He was looking for a large facility on several acres near a body of water, not too expensive. Tall order!

Using my own cellphone, I found several properties around Southern Oregon, but none even remotely in his price range. I continued to search for him but I noticed he wouldn’t make eye contact with me, and as soon as his pedicure was over, he got up and scurried into a back room. Laughing, the manicurist said he was intimidated by me because he didn’t speak English. But he came back into the room, I gave him a little bow with my palms in the prayer position in front of me, a traditional Buddhist sign of respect, and he smiled and bowed back at me. Then he morphed into Mr. Chatterbox. In Vietnamese.

As we sat side by side with our toenails drying under the heat lamp, we continued to look for properties. He pulled a piece of paper from his pocket with the words “Cordon Road, Salem” someone had written. I Googled that and got the name of a real estate agent in Salem, which led me to a 7-bedroom house on four acres in his price range. While it didn’t appear to be next to a body of water, he got very excited and kept pouring over the pictures of the property. He wanted more information, so I wrote down the phone number for him. Then I heard him speak the only English words he knew: “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

I finally got up to leave and we again bowed and smiled to each other. The owner of the salon told me to be sure to check in again to see whether he got the property. I look forward to going back. As I walked away, it occurred to me that the next time I am in a foreign country and I don’t know the language, the first words I will learn are “thank you.” They go a long way.

— Darlene Ensor lives in Medford.