And so time and life ticks by…
I spent a lovely final few days in Ho Chi Minh City going to coffee and dinner with friends, and even going to see War of the Worlds which was fun even though the theatre was freezing. Now I feel like I have a little knowledge of the layout of the center of the city at least, and I know how to go between some places without getting too lost. But the time came for me to leave, and so I called the bus company and through some confusion in Vietnamese reserved a ticket.
The day arrived for me to leave the city. I went to the cafe where I’d had so many lunches, and even some dinners. After I paid I told the middle-aged man, who I think runs the place with his wife, that today I had to return to Long Xuyen. He didn’t say anything except “Thank you” and extended his hand to me. I heard him telling the other people who worked there what I told him as I walked away.
I had packed the night before (as always) and realized that I’d accumulated more books and clothes, mainly from Jack when he was leaving, and my bags were bulging. I got in a taxi and headed to the bus station. Traveling from Ho Chi Minh City to Long Xuyen involves a series of transitions, and the more luggage one has the less pleasant these are. First, I had to get to the bus company where I’d reserved the ticket. That part of the journey I made by taxi. Then I got my ticket and paid, and was sitting there saying a few things to a man with a good portion of metal teeth. I asked him if he thought I should buy another ticket, so I had one for my bags and one for me. He said that I probably should. I told him that before I bought two tickets, but only needed one, as they just shoved my big bag in the rear of the Ford. But he said if would be a good idea, so I bought another ticket. Then the public bus pulled up, which goes to the western bus station of Ho Chi Minh City. The attendant shoved my big suitcase in a compartment located on the outside of the bus. The man with all the metal teeth said something like “give him some money,” so I decided to give him a small tip when we arrived at the western bus station. The public bus crawled through the crowds of motorbikes with the horn blaring and we arrived at the western bus station. I was the last one off the bus, and the attendant unloaded my bag. Apparently he knew only one word in English: “Money.” I gave him 5,000 dong (the city bus fare is 2,000). He wasn’t happy. Then, in Vietnamese “One dollar.” I wasn’t happy, but didn’t want to make an enemy right there either, so I gave him 15,000, which is almost a dollar. Then he said “Two dollars.” I got fed up and walked away. He probably thought I was a damn tourist and I could’ve gone through my tirade about how I’m a volunteer and whatnot, but I was rather upset and the words most likely would have come out wrong.
I finally climbed aboard the Kim Huong bus that would take me to Long Xuyen. It turns out that I didn’t need the second seat after all, again, and after I discovered this I was really fed up with everything and just wanted to get “home.” It started to rain on the trip south and I fell asleep and woke with a sore neck. We stopped at the halfway point for a break and food and drinks and I ate rather ravenously. The girls working there were asking me if I’d married anyone yet with big smiles on their faces and one kept saying I should marry one who worked there. I said I was too young. They complimented me on my Vietnamese, which always makes me feel good, even if it’s not true. A guy at the other end of my table muttered something like, “He speaks Vietnamese?” I ate fast and then waited by the bus. I wanted to get back to Long Xuyen. The driver saw me and we’d exchanged a few words before we ate. He gave me a box of strawberry flavored yogurt to drink (I find it a little strange that the word for yogurt in Vietnamese is literally sour milk, we try to disguise it in English). Then he came over and sat down next to me and started with the questions. Where do you work? Where do you live? Do you have a girlfriend there? etc. I think the whole bus knew a little about me the second leg of the journey back to Long Xuyen.
Because of construction and the rain, the road was terribly muddy and the driver had to dodge huge puddles. One section of the road runs right next to the river, and workers were dredging up mud from the river bottom and pilling it on the narrow space between the road and water, trying to keep the river from claiming it. Finally though, we came to the ferry.
As we drove the last few miles into Long Xuyen it started to rain more. Not heavily, but steadily. I had a rain coat, but figured I was going to get nice and wet anyway. I had been in contact with Julie and friends and they were waiting for me to go to dinner. Because of the rain I didn’t see many motorbike drivers around, but started talking to one. I told him I wanted a xe loi (a kind of wagon pulled behind a bicycle) to go back to AGU. “My bag is too big!” I said. “No problem,” he said. With the help of another man, a driver, me, and all my luggage were on a small Honda motorbike and headed through the wet streets of Long Xuyen.
I made it back to the guesthouse and Julie, Duc, and another volunteer who works in a neighboring province were waiting for me. I threw my bags in my room (a quick glance told me it was really dirty) and went to try and get Old Abe running. It took a lot of frustrating kicks, a lot of fiddling with the choke, but then he was running. We weren’t going far for dinner, but after long I realized that I needed air in my tires. I asked Julie, riding on another bike, how they looked. She said I should get air right away. However, all the places where I usually get air were didn’t have it at the moment. So me and Church (the other volunteer) walked the motorbike in the rain wearing our ponchos. We got air and went to dinner.
After dinner was Julie’s last karaoke in Long Xuyen. It was fun, and I sang a song in Vietnamese, but I don’t remember the words. I guess that’s the beauty of karaoke. Julie told me that we had been invited to breakfast with a student at 6:45 the next morning, so at 11 we went home and Julie apologized for waking up the security guard. I wasn’t tired, so I bummed around and read and did little useless things in my room.
But then 6 a.m. rolled around. I got up, grudgingly, and did my best to shower in ice cold water (people had told me that there hadn’t been sunshine in Long Xuyen for several days). The student we were supposed to meet didn’t show up, so we had breakfast at the Thu and then went to the second commencement of An Giang University. There were some rather long speeches, and I really didn’t understand much at all, and then the students started walking. All the students hadn’t finished walking, but friends and family were getting out of their seats and taking pictures with the new graduates at one side of the stage. Julie went to take pictures with her old students. I didn’t know many students, so I headed out, back to my room to clean.
I cleaned for hours that day. I moved furniture, I mopped, I swept, I even dusted a few things. The rain came down in torrents about an hour after the outdoor graduation ceremony, and I was glad that the ceremony hadn’t been a disaster.
Then lunch with Julie. And just like that it was 1 o’clock. I was in a daze. I thought this time would never arrive, not for a long time. But there Julie was, standing on the steps to the guesthouse, giving me a hug and saying goodbye. I didn’t really believe it then. It seemed like she was just going for a weekend in Ho Chi Minh City. But just like that, the last third of the famous three was gone. I really can’t believe that Jon, Jack, and Julie are all gone now. I suppose I accepted it as inevitable when I arrived here, but on the two trips I made here with Bluffton, all three were always here. They were all here when I arrived in December, but the stream flows on I suppose.
A teacher arrived at the guesthouse ten minutes after Julie left. He came with chocolates for her as a goodbye gift, but missed her by a few minutes. He sent some messages on his phone to her, and then invited me to his boarding house where he lives with two friends; all three of them are fun to hang out with. “Well,” I said, “I have to finish cleaning my room.”
“You can do it tomorrow,” he said. It didn’t take any convincing at all to get me dressed and on the motorbike.
We sat around there and ate salty fish and other little snacks and talked and talked. It’s nice to spend time with them all. They love to tease me about girls, but I give it back to them as well.
It had been raining off and on while I was there, and I decided to take my chances and drive back. My motorbike was nearly out of gas, but they directed me to the nearest station. The rain came down heavier and heavier as I drove, and before I made the station I was out of gas. I walked the bike through the rain. I was completely soaked, but didn’t really mind too much. I couldn’t see much through my glasses though. There was a place on the side of the road where I bought a liter of gas for 10,000 and just decided to get back to my room, ASAP. I couldn’t drive very fast because the rain was getting in my eyes and therefore I drove along squinty-eyed and slower. I drove through big puddles fast and splashed everywhere, I couldn’t bring myself to care at this point. I was already soaked. But I made it back and changed into a sweatshirt and warm pants (I really didn’t want a cold) and sat on my new comfy couch and read. I was getting hungry, and I figured that it wasn’t raining anymore, but I stepped out and it was drizzling a little. Oh well. I went and bought some sandwiches.
I really haven’t exercised since I stopped playing tennis, and that was in March, I believe. So while I was in Ho Chi Minh City I decided that when I came back to Long Xuyen I should try and do a little running. Its honestly been years since I’ve gone jogging, but I actually dragged myself out of bed this morning at 6:30 and went out to were Jon and Jota used to run. It was almost completely deserted at that hour, which was nice. The weather was cool and there were clouds; perfect weather I thought. I managed to actually run a kilometer, which I didn’t think I could do at this point. I was happy. And because of the weather, I didn’t even break a sweat. I went for an ice-cold shower anyway and then had breakfast at the Thu.
After lunch I took a nice nap (I never really napped much in Ho Chi Minh City) and when I woke up I saw that Long Xuyen was finally being kissed with a little sunshine.