Toothy grin, eyes mischievous.
*i turn to his friend, questioningly*
*wrinkly finger jabbing towards my face*
“He lubb you”
“Oh…. Thankyou? I lubb you too… ”
Ahh Vietnam. A place where you can walk aimlessly in the streets, only to be stopped by a man pointing at your shoes and grimacing, as he whips your shoe off your foot, leads you to ledge on the pavement and starts gluing and re-soling your shoes as you look with a mix of curiosity and dismay.
I wanted them fixed anyway, I guess. I wasn’t expecting a declaration of love, but that’s a nice bonus.
After an early morning stroll, I sat by Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi to ponder life and watch all the little old ladies doing tai chi in their matching patterned two piece outfits. I arrived in Hanoi on Labour Day weekend, when most of the locals were heading out of the city, so I decided to stay put and explore by foot,making advantage of less traffic and less humans. Sitting by the lake reading my book, I was approached by a young toothy Vietnamese man with glasses and a friendly face.
“…..that would be lovely!”
*sits down next to me and pulls out his notebook*
“SO what is your name? Where are you from??”
“I’m Rosie, I’m from New Zealand!”
“Cool cool that is in Neverland is not it! My name is Dai but everyone calls me Kevin! Hahahahha Kevin! Yes!”
We continued in this way for about 20 minutes, me finding it a relief that I could talk to him knowing he wasn’t trying to sell me things, and him overjoyed to find a native English speaker sitting idly by the lake at 8am.
Our conversation ended with him asking for a photo, adding me on Facebook and asking for one piece of life advice.
“Miss Rosie if you had give me any kind of advice in the life in a very smart and good way what would it say????”
“Oh shit Kev, I’m not the person to ask. *tells him story about a wise old fisherman and a businessman*
“Ohhhh hahahahahaa good okay very nice story veryyyyyyyy nice I write down take notes! *writing* happy…. Fisherman…. Family…”
Kevin leaves me to read my book, he wanders away with his head in his notebook, repeating his new words, looking for his next conversation. Bless his cotton socks. This is perhaps one of those places where you sometimes just have to sit still and let the entertainment come to you.
My first couple of days in Vietnam were not so lovely. A little bit emotional and exhausted after fare welling my Hariharalaya family in Cambodia, a job I loved more than any job ever, and a country that 100% worked its way into my heart. Arriving in the middle of Saigon late in the evening, affronted with taxi drivers who scammed me of a lot of money and streets where I couldn’t walk without feeling like I was going to lose a limb, the noise, the smells. I was not prepared, mentally or physically, for the sensory overload that is Ho Chi Minh City. A rapid and uncomfortable reminder that the world outside of our lovely yoga retreat would test me in every way possible, and it didn’t care if I did yoga every day or meditated or I was a nice smiley person with good intentions, the world around me did not change to match my happiness or inner contentment. All the crazy goes on around us.
*I AM AN OASIS OF CALM, I AM AN OASIS OF CALM* I repeat to myself as I trundle down the street, monster Brutus backpack on my back, crumpled map in hand, sweat pouring down my face, street vendors standing in my path and waving bananas in my face, me holding back tears at having lost 80 precious dollars to the taxi man and his currency exchange friend, and still not having been taken to the right place where I can rest my weary head.
This is why we meditate.
After the madness of Saigon, Mui Ne was a beach paradise with very little to do apart from eat, sleep, beach, repeat. I made friends with a fellow traveller on the bus and we spent the next few days together in this pattern, including a trip to the sand dunes and a few sun rise/sunsets. Every time we walked down the street the men selling things would ask:
“hello, sir…. Motor bikes?”
“No thank you!”
But overall Mui Ne was pretty quiet, with no one trying to sell us anything on the beaches. I basked in the freedom of not having to get up at 6am every day, and it slowly started to sink in that I actually wasn’t going back to Hariharalaya.
Next stop was Nha Trang, a bigger beach city, sometimes called “Happy Hour by the Sea” which sounds lovely but in reality was full of Russians. I had one full day there and it was quite enough, and I left with a desire to meet some normal non -Russian speaking humans. As I was leaving, I met an English guy who was also escaping on the same bus as me. We took over the whole back row of the night us, watched a very terrifying and violent film, stumbled out of the bus at random intervals to pee into the darkness, coming face to face with a street food stall with bald, boiled chickens dangling upside down, looking sad and sweaty and uncomfortable. Needless to say I passed on food that evening. I passed out for 6 hours, grateful for the ability to lie down properly, and miraculously slept through the assistant bus driver’s snarfling and snoring in the aisle. A true miracle, considering that I usually sleep as if I’m next to a construction site – eye mask, earplugs, scarf on my face. This is what 6 months in a noisy Cambodian village will do for you.
Hoi An – a little haven of colourful lights, incredible food, cobbled streets, pagodas, beaches and friendly people. A lot of street hagglers and people trying to sell you things but really you can’t blame them. We arrived from the night bus at 6am and couldn’t check into our hostel until 2pm, so we had some time to kill. We hired a motorbike and braved the streets, heading out to the beach, and discovered a string of luxury resorts. We strolled in as if we belonged there, slightly dishevelled after twelve hours on a night bus, but beautiful nonetheless, and nobody asked any questions as we sprawled on sun beds and swam in the infinity pools. Living the high life, on a backpacker budget – only in southeast Asia. Also,we had one of those nights where you wake up in the morning and are entirely unsure whether you dreamt the kidnapping of a street dog, running into a big group of people from your hometown in an “all you can drink” situation, making friends with the Asian Mr Bean and eating mysterious prawn(??) pancakes at 4am on a street corner.
I spent the following five days with my lovely mother, who came bearing brand new UNDERWEAR which was one of the most exciting things to happen in some time – I promptly disposed of all of my aging undergarments and now I am a new and improved woman (underneath my deceptively hobo holey outfits….). Obviously there were many, many more wonderful things about mother coming to visit me in Vietnam, but new underwear put a shine on things. We spent vast amounts of time drinking tea/gin/wine, wearing our complimentary robes, and reading our substantial novels, and we came to the conclusion that we could live quite happily as two little old ladies as long as we had all of the above plus perhaps the regular jaunt outdoors/ to fine food establishments/to be massaged. Love you mum – I’m a chip off the old block.
Mother left, I weeped in a trembly, blobby kind of way and scared off all of the neat and compact Asian humans that surrounded me in the airplane. Result! I got three seats to myself.
And I landed in Hanoi for three final Vietnamese days of hanging with old and new friends, walking the streets, eating for less than $5USD a day, drinking for 5000 VND a pop (less than 25c) and generally just enjoying the Vietnamese culture through its food, beer and coffee. If you’re not afraid to eat in a hole in the wall with steel tables, red plastic chairs and a little old man asleep in the corner, then you’ve got yourself a cheap and delicious meal. My favourite food man was so delighted to see me return a second time with a friend that he piled my plate extra high with a selection of exciting mystery meats! He smiled his proud toothy grin and gestured for me to “eat up nyam nyam!”…. And so I did. I am unsure to this day what precisely I ate, but I survived, even after 6 months of primarily vegan life.
I will say, if you’re planning to go to Vietnam, take your time. I could have stayed another two weeks and seen a whole lot more but I wanted to get to Bangkok to party with one of my favourite humans.
I’ll be back for sure – in the meantime, THAILAND ✌️