Monday, September 6, 2010

Travelling with our Vietnamese friends

We are back in HCMC. Last night we said goodbye to our Vietnamese friends, a lively group of young Hanoians who we will sorely miss. We don’t know how we will do now without the constant laughter and joking around… it also will be much more trying to find the best food stalls and tour deals with our now very limited access to Vietnamese language.
Before I talk about out three days travelling with them in Phu Quoc island and Canh To city, let me talk a little about them.

First of all, Nam.
Nam, the organiser of the trip and the glue to all its participants, used to be my student, a while back, at Language Link. We remained friends ever since and he is one of our very favourite people in Hanoi. Because he’s awesome. Kind hearted, hilarious, interested in everything. The kind of friends anybody would be lucky to have.

He's made me laugh so much on this trip that I had severe stomach cramps. True story.

Chau and Van (Pronounce Chow and Vun). on the Picture, Van is on the left, Chau on the right.We bunked together in Phu Quoc – there were two couples in the group, but we didn’t get anywhere near such nonsense as mixing genders in the rooms!

These girls are fantastic: their English is brilliant, they know all the cool expressions and get all the private jokes Dan and I say to each other and usually are completely lost in translation, as we expect them to be. Well, be careful with Chau and Van, they understand it all. The two girls are best friends, they’re hip hop dancers, dress in their own style, live their own life and shake their head at the idea of living their life the way their society tells them to. At 24 and 25 years old, they are not married, hold no yearning to be, and don’t want to become mothers for another few years. What they want right now, is to open an International dance studio in Hanoi and keep travelling throughout Asia until their means allows them to travel further. Honestly, it’s not because there is so much Westerner inside them both that I find them so refreshing. It’s because of their individuality, which I’m sad to say has been proven a rare treat in Vietnamese twenty something years old. Most teachers would agree with me, and all the ones I know will without a doubt: teaching Vietnamese students have made us very aware of the fact that all our students share a lot of the same ideas, opinions, goals, dress sense and often even hobby (computer games.). This is a bit generalized of course but all in all still true. I mean, not a day goes by in my Vietnamese teaching days where I don’t get a comment for having been married for two years and not yet have produced a baby. I’m border-line selfish to three quarters of my students, and I’m sooooo old that I won’t be able to even have one very soon so what the hell am I waiting for?
Am I sick? Is there something wrong with me? I’m 29 years old. Understand my annoyance at the whole thing. Pressure, much?

Anyway, Chau and Van have decided to wear baggy pants and cute little singlets and go about their life dancing and travelling. Their friends think them childish and also borderline selfish, for not turning their interests onto more serious and responsible matters such as – I’ll let you guess… yes, that’s right: getting married and making babies. But they don’t care, they do what makes them happy, and to this I bow in wonder and admiration because how difficult it might be to do such a thing in a society where it’s considered selfish and childish: well, I’ll never know, because I never had to do that.

The girls are also incredibly friendly, funny and witty and it was a great pleasure to hang out with them and share a bungalow with them instead of Dan, who snores, fidgets and sweats in his sleep. Lol.

Chi Anh: (Chi just stands for “older sister” but as Anh was the oldest of the group, we all addressed her with Chi in front of her name) was our accountant and treasurer. She was so awesome at it that she deserves a very special mention. For our 4 days travelling all together, we slept in hotels 4 nights, took I don’t know how many buses, boats and tours of rivers, markets and islands, we also ate breakfast lunch and dinner together: that’s a lot of paying. Chi Anh took care of everything, she paid every single hotel reception, waiter and bus driver. We all put money in a fund on the first day of our trip, and Chi Anh was in charge of that fund the whole trip. We never had to worry about dividing bills, counting money, tipping, who ate what etc… Chi Anh did it all. For this, we will eternally be grateful! She’s really the best treasurer ever, and we love her. She’s also pretty awesome at bargaining, finding the best fruits, finding us stuff to eat for breakfast when we are in the middle of a river, hungry, and waking up all the girls at 4.00 am when we keep going back to sleep but we need to get up because we have a ferry to catch. In short, she really was everyone’s big sister. (in the picture Chi Anh is the one with the purple dress, from left to right: Mai, Hien, Anh, Van and Chau)

Now I need to shorten the rest of the character’s biographies before this post starts taking up three pages on blogger as well as the rest of my HCMC morning: there was also Mai, a sweet lovely girl, a little shy, to whom it took a couple of days to warm up to us enough to try her English a bit more frequently. She also happens to be Nam’s girl. Be reassured that they did not overwhelm us with passionate embraces and crazy snogs: the Vietnamese have something us French call “pudeur”. It doesn’t quite translate in English, it’s a word which blends “reserve about all things private” and “sweetness” all at once. It can only be responded to by us with respect and our own amount of reservation back. No making out in front of our Vietnamese friends. Not that we do that in front of our other friends either; apart from Connell and Jem because they love it.

There was Phi, Nam’s friend with whom he came to Hanoi from their home town ten years ago, a really nice guy, and Hien, again a friend of Nam’s and of Chi Anh, who seemed like a real joker too. Most of her jokes happened in Vietnamese so we only caught bits of them, but laughed anyway.

Ok, so that was the group. It needs to be said that those guys were always in a good mood, laughing, happy and that they didn’t let anything bother them and never ever got annoyed at each other. I mean, at one point, we took a four hours bus with the meanest bus driver you can imagine. Horrid. He snapped, bipped (honked) the horn at us when we were taking a toilet break, moved people rudely from one seat to the other, and was altogether enough of a &*^!@& to make Dan and I first angry, then only able to appease ourselves by insulting him under our breath for two hours out of four. The other guys though, reacted very differently. They shut down. They slept, daydreamed and generally pretended he didn’t exist, though not enough to chat freely. They went quiet. When the bus dropped us off, nobody had a bad word to say about the driver, but they all came back to life suddenly. We tested the water by telling our friends that we had found our new favourite person on Vietnam. They looked at each other, wondering which one of them it could be, and asked us, and we said: “the bus driver”. We wanted to know if they would be the sort of people to react or just pretend that was in fact a possibility.

They all burst out laughing, completely aware that could only be a joke, and even admitted the driver was not nice. That’s as much bad mouthing we could get from them, but we were happy!
So, there. Thank you Nam for a fantastic few days and for introducing us to your fantastic friends.

Me, Van, Mai, Phi Chau and Nam

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