The past three days have been shoved full of travel and exhaustion. I’ll try to recount the main points:
Day 1:Ha Tien, Kien Giang Province
On Saturday Tyler, Sharla, and I went to the southern-coast city of Ha Tien with a group of students. The most ominous part of this trip was the 4 a.m. departure time. We woke up in the darkness and walked to the main campus—with several dogs barking at us—where the bus was meeting us. Things seemed to be going smoothly. The bus was old and had no air-conditioning so we had all the windows open and let the cool wind blow freely through the bus. However, we weren’t very far outside of Long Xuyen when there was a loud BANG! and the bus stopped; we had a blowout at 4:45 a.m. As with all buses, the tires were big, and so were the bolts holding them on. The driver couldn’t take the wheel off without more tools, but it was also before 5 a.m. in the morning and few, if any people were up and about. The mosquitoes were viciously attacking my feet and it was dark and things weren’t looking so good. Then a small café opened up not far down the road. This was very good information for me. Then the sun began to rise over the Mekong Delta, which drove some of the mosquitoes away. I’m still not really sure how the driver did it, but somehow he found some tools or help somewhere and got everything back together and we were on our way again slightly after 6 a.m. At this point I fell asleep and when I woke up the landscape had changed and there were some mountains around.
We finally reached a place near Ha Tien where a pagoda was located in a cave. It was also right on a small beach and people waded around in the water and I was one of many that climbed around on the rocks in the area. We left that particular area and headed towards the actually city of Ha Tien and ended up at some tourist area where they had innertubes and lots of seafood for sale. We ordered kilos upon kilos of crab and this big shrimp-looking animal that I’ve never seen in America. I ate and ate and finally a guitar was brought out and then the singing. It was wonderfully cool in the shade near the water. But eventually we had to head towards home. There was much talk and laughter on the bus and more singing with the guitar too.
One of the students on the trip lived en route and we stopped there to eat and drink more even though we were completely stuffed already. The trip wound down with a student in the back of the bus (where Tyler and I happened to be sitting) doing imitations of several teachers that left us howling and in hysterics. We were finally home, but I was slightly nervous going to bed, because the next day a mixed group of students and teachers were invited to a student’s house for his wedding party and we were leaving early.
Day 2: Phu Tan District, An Giang Province
Tyler and I were up early. I was finished showering and everything early and went off to fill up before the trip. Then a good breakfast and coffee to shake off some of the exhaustion from the previous day. We were headed to a district of An Giang Province called Phu Tan, and people told us it was about 40 km from Long Xuyen. It was a nice trip by motorbike and the air felt good. We actually arrived there early though, and went to a café for a good twenty minutes or so to kill some time. Then we drove a little more and found the wedding party. The groom was a student of me and Tyler, and we were the only foreigners at the party. It was a wedding party so everyone seemed to be happy. The food was excellent and seemed to never stop coming to the table. At wedding parties in Vietnam, the bride and groom walk around to all of the tables to take pictures and to exchange wishes and thanks.
At this particular wedding, there was a very friendly photographer who was chatting a little with Tyler and I and made us pose for a few photos with other people.
After about 2 hours of eating, we decided it was time to go. Tien, a teacher who came with us, had read about some corpse that had been found near where we were and wanted to go see it. I never really knew if he was exaggerating things or what, but several people were very excited to go see this phenomenon. However, once we were headed the opposite way of Long Xuyen we learned it was farther than we expected. Then Tien got a flat tire and decided that this was a sign to head home. I agreed and we made our way back to a ferry. However, just before we arrived at the ferry, Tyler and I noticed a strange sound coming from my motorbike. It was something with the chain and it was making be nervous; after crossing the ferry we still had about 20 km back to Long Xuyen at that point. Somehow it was too tight, but there was a man near the ferry who adjusted it. It continued to sound weird on the ride back though. I have to say that on that particular drive I’ve never felt more tired driving a motorbike than that day.
I arrived back so tired, but worried too because at 6:30 the next morning we were taking another trip, this time to the neighboring province of Dong Thap, and my chain was making strange sounds. I went and found a good friend who happens to know a lot about motorbikes and we decided that it was time to change the chain and sprocket set, which we did, though I was nearly falling asleep as we sipped coffee and waited for the work to be completed. Tired: yes. Exhausted: yes. But I slipped into staying up and talking with Tyler and Sharla, and this stimulated something in my brain which kept me up until 1 a.m. I was planning to get up at 5:30 to shower and shave, etc, but instead was woken up with a text message from Tyler saying “Wake up!” at 6:30.
Day 3: Cao Lanh, Dong Thap Province
The morning started by waiting for other teachers to congregate (unlike the previous two days, this was a teachers-only event). Finally we bought gas and headed out of town. This trip was about an hour, two ferries, and kilometer after kilometer of narrow roads. I’d made the trip about a year ago with students and teachers from An Giang University. This too was a nice ride. Our first stop was the home of an English teacher from An Giang University who has a small child and her husband recently went to study in America. We talked and snacked for awhile and then went to eat. And did we eat. Someone ordered plate after plate of something called banh xeo, a kind of flat pancake, crepe-type thing folded over beef, shrimp, and bean sprouts. I’ve never seen so much of that stuff before in my life.
After stuffing ourselves with banh xeo we went to the memorial of Ho Chi Minh’s father which is located in Dong Thap province.
Another volunteer from An Giang University, David, was in town on that particular day and I was in text contact with him about a relatively new café there where foreigners drank coffee, juice, tea, anything for free. So after visiting the memorial, the women went to the supermarket in town, and the men went to drink coffee. However, there were some problems finding the place. We started asking people, and the first two didn’t seem to know anything. Then something happened that would never happen in America: A male teacher was riding by himself, and stopped to ask a young woman for directions. Instead of explaining, the girl just jumped on his motorbike and said she’d show us; a show of trust between strangers and male and female that I can honestly say that I’ve never seen before. And thanks to this girl, we found the café where foreigners drink for free, from December till February.
David met us at the café and had his free coffee too. So after coffee we met up with the women again at the supermarket and our weary band of 11 made the trip over two ferries and narrow roads back to Long Xuyen.