A Return to Tam Coc and Our New Friends

Trip Start Nov 08, 2006
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Friday, November 21, 2008

It was our last day in the country.  We flew out that evening and had to first get back to Hanoi for our 7 p.m. flight, but we wanted to enjoy a bit more of rural Vietnam first.  Plus, we really wanted to take a few small tokens of our appreciation to the kids who showed us around two days earlier.  So we went to a store in Ninh Binh and grabbed some notebooks, pens, colors and candy for the 6 kids we had met.  It's the people we meet on our travels that add some much to the journey, and we always want to do something in return, but handing out money seems arrogant and awkward and totally changes the dynamic of the interaction.  So a few useful items a little candy seems like the best gesture.  

Felix, a tour guide in Vietnam from Denmark, had been our companion to the day before.  It was great that he's worked in Vietnam for years but said that our trip the day before was his greatest day ever in the country.  He wanted to come along and meet the kids we had told him about and see the sights, so the three of us headed back to Tam Coc. 

First we went to a temple we saw during our boat ride.  It was on top of the mountain overlooking the river.  It was a bit of a climb (my guess is 43,000 steps), but the view was pretty stunning.  It was cloudy and the light sucked, so the pics aren't very impressive.  But you'll just have to trust me that's it's a hell of a view.  We didn't stay long because we were in a hurry to get back to the kids' house before we had to get to Hanoi for our flight.

We arrived with perfect timing.  The kids were leaving the dirt road where we met them.  The two girls were on their way back to school for the afternoon, but they were happy to see us and quickly led us back to their house.  When we arrived, the mother who we didn't get to meet on our first visit emerged smiling from the house waving the thank-you letter we had written for the girls.  She was beaming and said "Lindsey, Dane, America!" or something along those lines.  She knew who we were and the girls had obviously told her all about our meeting and adventure.  She welcomed us in and after we gave the girls and the boys who had arrived their gifts, they hurried off to school.  The mother and father were both home and so was a friend of the father's.  The guys were watching a fuzzy game of soccer on a small television.  They were all sitting on stools in the living area of the house that was bedroom, dining room and den.  They were all incredibly friendly.  The 6 of us sat down in their living room and they immediately served us green tea and sugar cane.

For the next two hours we all sat around talking in broken phrases and laughing at ourselves.  No one felt awkward or uncomfortable at our incredibly simple communication.  We managed to exchange names and ages and nationalities.  We drank tons of tea and ate pounds of sugarcane.  We even smoked some outrageously strong Vietnamese tobacco.  Our hosts were very amused at how small puffs of smoke about put us on our asses.  It really was tobacco and not weed, but it was strong enough that Felix and I almost fell off of our stools.  I'm posting a video of Felix's second effort.  

They showed us the girls' school pictures and shared all they had in their home.  The woman showed us her embroidery and gave us a small wooden boat she made.  Handicrafts are the primary trade in the village as fishing and agriculture become secondary.  By the end of our time together, perhaps from the sweets, smoke and smiles, we were all best friends.  The father's friend spoke the most English, but he made what I thought was a very interesting and telling error during our conversation.  The Vietnamese currency, the Dong, is very week.  It's about 17,000 dong to the dollar, so all their numbers are always followed by "thousand."  And since most interactions with English speakers involves prices, it's the most common denomination when speaking in English.  So when we asked how old he was, he said, "30 thousand."  I said, "Damn!  You look good!"  We were all very amused, but maybe we were pretty high.

When we left, the woman gave us the boat and we really wished we had something to offer them since we had given everything to the kids.  So Felix started looking through his bag to grab something and I wanted to give them anything, everything we had.  It's such an awesome feeling of kinship and you just want to do something nice for people that awesome, especially when they were giving us things when they obviously had so little.  They even gave Lindsey a class picture of one of the little girls.  One of just a few they kept in a special envelope in a place of honor on their shelf.  It was awesome.  So we ended up handing over pens and flashlights and a jacket and beanie.  It's cold there, and the father put my jacket and beanie on as soon as I handed them over.  It was just great how casual and not awkward the exchange was.  I hate handing out money but love giving out gifts.  The story probably can't convey it, but I felt so good about humanity by the end of our visit.  These people were awesome, and I forgot all about the hustle and trouble of Hanoi and our hotel.  These were the people I came to Vietnam to meet - people who had so little that they weren't greedy or demanding or malicious.  They were infinitely happier than all the rich pricks we met in the city.  It was the perfect end to our visit before heading back to Hanoi to catch our flight.  That was a hassle and hustle, but I won't even get into it.  Maybe in the next blog.  All I can say is that those people in that bare-floored and simple home, were so warm and kind that they alone were worth the trip.

Definitely check out the video of going from inside their house to the front porch.  It's a simple home and doesn't even have a front door, but check out that view.  I know I'd trade Tivo and espresso machines and all our other gadgets for a view like that.
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