Yesterday morning I was greeted by a large spider on the floor of my hotel room. Mai showed up shortly afterwards and brought me back to their house where we ate and talked and showered.
We eat frequently here, though not a lot. There are 8 females in this house and it seems like every time I turn around one of them is offering me a fruit or giving me a drink or telling me to sit down while they point the fan where I should sit. It's a little overwhelming because I don't really know how to respond. I feel so indebted to Tien's family but I don't know how to repay them. They won't even let me pay for things.
I saw two girls sharing a bicycle. The one in front pedaled while the girl in back upshed off the ground, then when they got moving they both put their feet on the pedals side by side and pedaled off together.
I saw a white guy riding a bicycle and it was really odd.
We came across a boat race on the Hâu river while we were on our way to Câm Mountain. We rode along next to this river for a long time. The road was on a burm between two waterways that irrigated rice paddies. The rice paddies were some of the most beautiful sights I'd seen, so green and stretching on to the horizon with geometric lines running through them and flags placed here and there. The paddies were only visible through the gaps between shacks built off of the burm, standing up on stilts. These were some of the most poor shelters I've ever seen. Tin shacks on wooden stilts with wooden floors. Some had docks going down towards the water where people could board boats.
There were lots of boats. We passed a ship yard where people were welding together barge type boats. There were hand-powered boats that you'd row or push with a stick. There were boats with long outboard motors. There were wooden foot-bridges that rose up over the river in a large arc that was too steep for most bicyclists to bike over, but not too steep or weak for somebody to ride over on a scooter.
I tell you, Vietnam is all about scooters. Tien says you have to be 18 to ride a motorbike, but it doesn't seem that way. People go to street fares and never get off their scooters. They sit on them like they're chairs while they watch live performances on a stage in the center of a wide boulevard. They wait outside of to-go restaurants and the employees bring the food out to you on a scooter. They watched the boat race and never got off their scooters. They love their scooters. They wash them all the time. I even saw a guy washing his scooter wheels using the muddy water of a puddle at the side of the road.
We stopped in a town called Châu Dôc and went to a Budhist temple where we ate lychees and Tien's family prayed. The other women at the temple loved this blue accented straw hat I was wearing and wanted to try it on.
I saw chickens eating fruit that looked like a coconut.
We rode some distnace more until we got to the foot of the mountain where we found a local shop to watch our scooters. People never leave their scooters unattended. Part of going to a restaurant is that they watch your scooter and will park it for you if needed. This usually involves putting it in neutral and rolling it up tightly next to another scooter.
We had originally intended to hike up the mountain but it was getting late, so instead we hired 4 guides to give us a motorcycle tour of the mountain and the temple at the top. It was a steep ride up the mountain, 15% grade in some parts (thankfully grade signs are universal.) We rode over dirt and cobble stone sidewalks right next to vendors where people were walking until we got to this huge statue of Buddha where people were praying and vendors were selling incense and kids were plaing with toy laser guns that made irreverent noises.
Afterwards we went around a lake to the temple which had a large pagoda and two small ones next to it. One of the great things about temples is that street vendors can't go onto the temple property, which keeps them quiet and calm and peaceful. It's an amazing difference from the beeping of scooters, zapping of toy laser guns, jabbering of street vendors, etc..
Somehow Tien's mom managed to get one of the monks to unlock the 8 story tall pagoda and walk with us up to the top. Tien and Mai stopped at each level to pray, and I was allowed to take photos, unlike in the temple where I wasn't allowed to take photos or even go inside. The view from the pagoda was really great. It was hard for me to show how excited I was without being irreverent, and it ended up coming off as me being unimpressed, so I had to make up for it when we got back to the bottom by talking on and on about how beautiful it was. And it really was awesome.
One of the things I've gotten used to is attention. I've only seen 4 white people in Vietnam so far. Everybody turns their head as you pass, and some shout out "hello!" and wave to you. Some just say "oi!" At the bottom of the pagoda there was a guy with his family who I had seen at the Buddha. This guy, maybe a high school student, was unabashedly taking a photo of me with his cell phone, moving so that he was always in front of me. I posed and joked at him for taking too long, but I'm sure he didn't understand a word of what I said. His family all laughed and smiled and we all thought it was pretty funny. People here love my light eyes, straight nose and my dimples. As we were leaving they said "Goodbye! See you later!" which I thought was pretty funny since I would almost certainly not see them later.
We took a quick stop off at another small temple they were building at the side of the lake. This quick stop involved riding down a dirt trail and over a bridge with two large humps in it, then through a sparse forest up to the foot of the temple. There were vendors beyond the safety of the temple property, one was selling some kind of rodent, maybe a furry kind of mouse or a squirrel, in tiny cages. After this we headed down the steep mountain and wound up at the bottom reclining in hammocks eating lychees and relaxing.
We piled back on our scooters and headed the 75km or so back home. Mai and I listened to music, the sun set over the rice paddies, people were out on the roads relaxing and watching the traffic, all turning their heads at me and saying "hello" from time to time. We didn't get home until after a dark ride down what was basically a sidewalk that supported two-way foot, bicycle and scooter traffic through into the town where Tien lives.
I stayed at their place last night. It rained like a monsoon in the middle of the night. I awoke to the now familiar sounds of Vietnam: scooter and truck horns.
Today I need to figure out where I'll be going next... It's been difficult because Tien wont' be coming with me, so we have to find places where people will speak english. I'm thinking about taking a 4 day trip to Ha Long Bay, then maybe going to Singapore instead of up through Cambodia and Lao. This language thing sucks... where is Mandarax when you need it?