Vietnam postcard

[From January 2009.]

I’m sitting there near my bike, sipping a coke from a roadside stall, content. There’s a bunch of 20 something Vietnamese loafing about, it’s Tet after all. A woman comes up to my bike, she’s checking out the map clipped to my bar, pretty detailed as it’s from a Vietnamese/English road atlas I scored in Hanoi, produced by the Vietnamese. She quickly locates where we are, her house is on wooden stilts with a thatched roof, her parents are probably those older folks in the rice paddy even today, but she’s wearing jeans and Vietnam is a highly literate country. In less than 20 seconds, all the people who wanted to approach me but didn’t out of shyness are now standing around the bike, “where are you from”‘s, etc. Someone unclips the map to get a closer look, there’s a debate about where we are, the first woman was correct, I point to the spot, then the road in front of us, more debate, nodding.

“Where are you going?”
“Oh, well, this direction, this will take me to Phuong Vien.”
“Ah! Phuong Vien, yes.”
There’s a small conference. I’m smiling, nodding. More admiration of the map.
Then someone says, “Sir! Phuong Vien this way,” pointing down road.
“Yes, I know.”
“This way!” pointing. “Then, 4 kilomayters, go left,” along with vigorous leftward pantomiming.
“Yes, thank you, yes.”
I’m done with my break, it’s time to head out.
“Small gift for telling you way?” the first woman asks.
“Huh?”
“Small gift.” she holds out her hand
“I didn’t ask and I knew the way!” my big grin is the more revealing part of my message.
“Small gift? Lucky money?”
“No, thank you.”
“Nothing?”
“No, nothing but you have my thanks for not showing me the way because I knew, but thinking that you did, nor did I inquire, I was, after all, sitting down and you approached me!”
There’s silence at my avalanche of incomprehensible English.
“Nothing? Okay, Happy New Year!”
I’m pretty sure that she new it was a long shot. Nice try, though.

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