The next morning, a note from Quan was waiting for us in the lobby. Written in neat handwriting, it said that his friend will meet us there at four-thirty.
We went to eat Bún bò Huế, a soup similar to Phở but with different seasoning and thicker Bún noodles, and it’s served mainly at Huế or Souther. Afterward, we had iced coffee at a woman who stood behind a wagon in the entrance to the alley where our hotel was. Her coffee was among the best ones we’ve ever had in Vietnam, or generally. She would make big amounts of black coffee in plastic bottles in advance, and then pour them by order into big glasses with crushed ice and condensed milk, and together with the scorching heat of the city, this coffee was spot-on every time.
We went again to the market and I bought ten simple hair bends. The two vendors rolled in laughter after I paid – probably they charged me a higher price, but those things didn’t bother me anyway. We bought some more stuff we needed and then found out there was another floor to the market’s building, where they sold mostly clothes.
We crossed the river again, which was surrounded by a neat lawn with some small paths and white sculptures and had another cup of iced coffee.
When we were hungry we got back to the hotel’s area and ate at a Bánh mì restaurant ran by a mother and a daughter.
Bánh mì is one of the biggest remnants of the French rule that was there before, together with the coffee fields and the Latin letters.
It’s a baguette filled with goodies, meat or sausages, green leaves, something crunchy like pickled carrot or cucumber, and the strict ones also add liver pate. Every place makes it different, and you can ask to add or remove things.
We ate there and I tried to write in my journal when a big German man came in and began speaking with us.
He was born in Germany and migrated to Australia, and been traveling to Vietnam once a year for eight years, for a month each time. Once we said we were from Israel, he too often mentioned that he was a jew.
Then the monolog began.
He apologized several times for talking too much, but went on. The story began by him having cancer before, but he has healed thanks to the lemon he’s eating and the tea he’s drinking. After that he said that his wife is also sick, so he takes care of her for eleven months but when he’s in Vietnam he doesn’t. He called our generation “The Zombies Generation” since we are always with our heads inside the smartphones. Once, a few years ago, he petted an elephant and it had a tear and now he gets the chills whenever he thinks about it – he showed us his hand so we can see the goosebumps.
It ended with a strange story about a young Vietnamese woman who worked in a hotel where he stayed. She had a crush on him because of his huge earlobes, that are known for a sign of good luck. After one night with him, she got pregnant with her husband.
Before four-thirty, we came back to the woman with the coffee near our hotel and had iced tea. A little girl played with my phone and maybe somehow sent text messages to random people.
Quan’s friend arrived with a motorcycle – Ann, a girl with black short hair and red glasses, and after a few minutes her friend arrived – Ducky, with a ponytail and round face.
I guess the word “Awkward” was invented for those kinds of situations.
They both looked very young, around 12 or so, but they were 18. I’ve felt as if they didn’t understand our humor and when we talked about our country they just looked at us silently, which made us talk some more.
They told us that they were going to study together economics at the university, a four years course, and then they plan to move into one of the big cities and work for a big company. They know Quan since they used to work in an Italian restaurant right next to the hotel. Generally, it seemed like they do everything together.
They taught us some Vietnamese and mostly worked with us about the pronunciation of some of the syllables. There is a syllable that I still can’s pronounce, that sounds somewhere between N and G and comes from inside the throat.
They also taught us how to order coffee and food, which was very useful during the trip.
We spent about two hours together and said we will meet the next day same time and the same place.
In the evening, I bought a blue coat that I saw earlier in a small shop and fell in love with it. It was a bit strange to buy a coat in this hot weather, but I didn’t want to miss it. The woman who worked there said she runs the shop with her brother and they make all the clothes, she workes in the evening and her brother in the mornings.
The next morning we went to another market, on the other side of the city. I
t was smaller and mostly food, fruits, meat, and livestock was sold there.
On the way there we met the Australian with the big earlobes again and somehow he managed to find enough things to talk about for 15 minutes.
It was very hot so we got inside a mall on the main street. It has a big supermarket with two floors, the first one is some kind of a general store and the second one has mostly groceries. I bought some simple shirts since I took too few with me and I got tired of sending clothes to the laundry all the time. Traditional music was played everywhere and it was stuck in my head for the next hours
. It was getting too hot to walk around so we took a cab back to the hotel, with a confused driver who kept asking people for directions.
They were cleaning our room so we went outside to have another Bánh mì.
Each afternoon in the hot cities everybody takes a break for napping – at the stores and cafes they put a mattress on the floor behind the counter, fall asleep on the lawn by the river, or even tie a hammock between two trees in the street and sleep in it. Sometimes it’s hard to find something open at these hours.
After they were done cleaning we came back for a shower and a nap, and around four I woke Roni up and we went downstairs to meet Ann and Ducky again.
They took us by foot to a small restaurant where we ate some yummy rice cookies – rice leaves rolled with different things, mostly shrimps and vegetables or crispy pork skin. Afterward, they ordered for us a sweet soup with noodles and crabs, which I didn’t really like because its texture was too gooey for me.
From there we went to have coffee. It was still a bit awkward and Roni tried to brick the ice and asked them to teach us some bad language, which made them giggle and blush.
We sat at an open cafe that was spread over a big avenue, and Ann taught me how to approach waiters and people from different ages. It’s a bit complicated since you need a lot of tact when approaching a middle-aged woman, because she might get offended and think she looks older than she really is.
We told them that Roni and I studied animation together, and Ann showed me a small cartoon she made in a notebook and gave it to somebody she had a crush on.
They said that the universities have some clubs. They were in the music club, and they needed to go there the next day and sing a song by Adele. They are nervous because Ann has a sore throat.
Later on, Quan finished his shift at the hotel and joined us, which eased on the vibe.
He also had coffee, and then took us to a place that seemed from outside like a kiosk, but there were some low stools inside between the shelves. Bags with dried meat were hanging from above and Quan took one so we could try it, and we even got plates for that. It was tasty, but too much of it caused a heartburn.
He ordered for us banana leaves rolled with pork and hot pepper, which I really liked.
I had to pee because of all the beer but there was only a men’s room there with no door, so Quan drove me to the hotel with his heavy bike and brought me back.
After another beer or two, we went back to the hotel, took each other’s Facebook names and said goodbye.
I felt kind of relieved. This whole situation was awkward and I was afraid to say the wrong thing all the time, but I was very happy we did it because we would never have reached those places without them.