It’s hard to start this one, never mind finish it. You see, I’m sitting in a Saigon internet cafe (sort-of air conditioned!), thinking about the reasons that I love to travel. All that flies in front of me are the faces that I’ve met. The places, while sometimes stunningly beautiful, all fade without the faces that make the places someones home.
I think back to Hue and the last night I was there. A young man says hello to me on the street in the afternoon, and after polite conversation, we make plans to meet after dinner. We walk down to the river, and we talk about our families, our futures, and our faiths as the bridge slowly changes color, the floating candles drift downstream, and the tables around us slowly fill up with others enjoying the after-rain evening.
I think of the moto driver in Hoi An that befriended me when we watched a bicycle loaded on top of a rice straw truck get snagged by an overhead powerline and was left dangling 20 ft. off the road. We both laughed so hard and suddenly it didn’t make any difference that we didn’t speak each others language. Later, he took me to the beach where he left me at a relative’s beach restaurant, and I found out their parents both died in the communist purge of Hue during the Tet offensive occupation. The remains of the family relocated to quieter Hoi An, and now they’re stuck in the love/hate relationship with the influx of tourists.
I think about Mr. Luu, my guide in the central highlands. Born in the jungle to a Vietcong father and mother, his Uncle fought with the South Vietnamese army, teaching me that the war wasn’t simple for many living here and that even for Vietnamese it was not easy to choose sides. He now makes a living as an "Easy Rider," trying to make enough money guiding tourists around on his moto to keep his children in school so that they don’t have to be an Easy Rider. He is a great observer of life, and we shared many poignant conversations regarding Vietnam and it’s future.
I think about the family in a new village in the central highlands. Relocated in 95 from the North, they have been eking out a living and now after 10 years and 5 children, they are starting to enjoy some luxuries such as a separate bedroom. Drinking coffee (ca phe den da khoung doung, which I finally figured out is how to get my black iced coffee without sugar) in their "cafe," the kids and I befriend each other as I use my camera as the icebreaker. Soon I have them making faces and singing songs, and even managed to keep the youngest one from crying by taking pictures of him and showing them to him. Hey, it worked on my goddaughter, and now I know it works across continents and cultures. We took turns singing songs and playing them back as a video on my camera, and it was neat just knowing that we could connect.
I think about the laborer who was kind enough to stop his work to show us the details of how to split rock. Then he even let a stupid tourist try it, and despite it taking me a bit longer than it would have taken him, I did manage to break a rock. It’s nice to know that if I ever do eventually end up doing hard labor somewhere, I’ve got a head start in training! The government allows him and a friend to split rock at road construction sites, and he then sells the rocks as construction material. I’m sure he got a bonus by telling all his friends what a foreigner did today….
I think about the quiet stream crossing deep in the mountains, where Luu & I were taking a break. As we were sitting there, a couple of motos pulled into the stream and it went from mountain stream to the local moto wash. Then a bunch of women and children from the minority village up the road come down a mountain path and add dish washer, clothes washer, personal tub, and kiddie pool to the list of what the stream is to them. Again, the kids and I connect, as they probably haven’t seen many other foreigners where they live, never mind one that is just "hanging out" at their water hole. One tries to catch my eye with his antics in the river, and I play along until his mother chides him for playing instead of bathing. Hmmm, that never happens anywhere else, right?
I think of the woman from Costa Rica that I talked with in Spanish on a boat in Nha Trang, talking about the difficulties of cultural differences in a relationship, especially when one of the partners was raised in a family-centric culture such as Latin American or Asian.
I think of stumbling across a soccer game while bicyling on the outskirts of Hue and suddenly noticed that there were non-Asians playing. It seems that a tour guide for this German group had set up a soccer game between Germany and Vietnam, complete with uniforms and a referee. I had a good time watching for a while and talking with a few of the non-playing Germans. The Vietnamese were losing 0-2, and from what I could see, it was a gift they were giving the Germans. Nice to see friendly international competition!
I think of my "family" in Hue that provided me with many valuble things including laundry, Mr. Cu, sinh tos, hiking companionship, rides on a river boat, music video production, the best darned place to eat ice cream in all of Vietnam, and wonderful conversations about almost everything. And that’s the whole gang including Meo before her litter was born. Doug – I’m still working on the global hunger problem and I hope you’ve got the other ones under control.
I think about the myriad of other travelers that I’ve met along the way, ones that I have much in common with and ones that I don’t. Regardless, being able to share stories is I believe one of the richest experiences between humans. No matter what type of trip I’m on, something always happens that makes you go hmmm. Sharing that just helps see many more points of view. For example, there were five of us trying to come to grips with this picture I took in the "chicken village" near Da Lat. We were trying to come up with a humorous caption, and even though we came up with a few, I’m putting it out there to the readers of this blog to come up with some suggestions. I know the talent is out there, so don’t be shy.