The Five People I Met In Vietnam
Earlier this month, I had the privilege to take a quick break from real life with a trip to Hanoi, together with my #InstagramPinsan, my #InstagramAte, and one of my #TitosOfManila. And as expected, I came home with my mind abuzz with stories to tell and be written.
This story is an excerpt from my hand-written Vietnam travel journal (as recommended by my good, well-traveled friend Meryl), and focuses in particular, on our chance encounters with the interesting souls we were fortunate to meet in Hanoi and on the Ha Long Bay cruise.
I have included photos that are in no way related to the individuals mentioned, to show you how much the city is in fact filled with curious people, if only you know where to look, and would look closely so.....
THE KINDLY VENDORS WHO KEPT GIVING US WATER
Frankly, I was debating whether to call them elderly or kindly, but I thought the latter better describes how they approached us. Elderly, though, adds warmth to the story.
On the night we were looking for the famous egg coffee, we chanced upon a souvenir shop selling the ubiquitous I ❤ Ha Noi shirts that make perfect Pinoy pasalubong. And while I only bought a couple (one for my mom and another for my niece), my sister was able to find sizes for a lot of her family back where she lives. It was a long and grueling process of choosing among the designs.
The vendors, however, with the wisdom and patience that perhaps come with age and experience, were very helpful in assisting us, as we searched and sifted through the sizes and colors. In the end, they even insisted on sending us home with bottles of refrigerated water and biscuits, which we politely accepted. On our last night in Hanoi, my sister and I dropped by again to buy more shirts, and this time, they offered us fresh fruits.
THE HOTEL RECEPTIONIST WHO SEEMED LIKE A FRIEND
The first time I noticed her, it was because of her shy reaction to my cousin who asked her what her name was. Maybe it wasn't usual practice in Hanoi? I thought it was adorable.
On our last night, I was freshening up and had a change of clothes in the communal bathroom, when she accidentally walked in on me, as I apparently wasn't able to lock the door properly. Not that there was anything to see. She apologized profusely and I brushed it off.
The taxi driver arrived to take us to the airport and when he came up to meet with the hotel receptionists, they were louldy chattering. The hotel receptionist who seemed like a friend told me that the taxi driver thinks I was beautiful and I reacted shyly, but said thank you anyway.
THE SINGAPOREAN COUPLE WHO WANTED TO VISIT THE PHILIPPINES
...And try balut, too. We were definitely amused. They also told us how, back home, it was normal practice for them to add condensed milk to their coffee. I was envious! I informed them that back in Manila, that coffee with condensed milk would be already be considered a special kind of coffee. On normal occasions, we usually just settle with adding lowly cream..... or, as they say, "creamer".
THE TOUR GUIDE WHO THOUGHT I WAS SPANISH
...Not that he was completely mistaken, because I am a little bit Spanish, but really just a little bit. Like maybe 1/16th of my entire genetic makeup. It's so insignificant my parents never actually briefed me about it, until my pre-teen years, when I started getting comments from other relatives. Apparently, I look a lot like one of my lolas who is from the Spanish side.
Back in Manila, I've had countless encounters on the question of my race. Sales people would come up to me and speak with me in English, only to be disappointed when I answer them back in Filipino. They would then confess that they were usually excited to have someone practice their English to and I sincerely hoped I wasn't such a let down. I've had Grab drivers who would ask if I understood Tagalog and would receive a polite "opo" from me. One time in Hong Kong Disneyland, I was welcomed by a tour guide, with greetings from practically all the Southeast Asian languages—well, except "Mabuhay!".
Eventually, I learned to be amused at situations wherein people can't place me. It makes me feel like an ~undercover~ agent that would fit in the K-drama City Hunter, starring Lee Min Ho.
Back in Ha Long bay, we were a mixed group with Caucasians and Asians alike. And what was striking about the tour guide was how he was able to guess accurately. While we had Philippine passports, he was able to tell my what my minor foreign gene was. I thought he was a master of races. It was refreshing that he referred to me as "Spanish girl", because in Manila, I'd often get called "kana".
The tour guide who thought I was Spanish also revealed that he had a Filipino song saved on his phone—"Kundiman". Literally, it translates to "love song", but it could have also been the song by the band Silent Sanctuary.
THE CHIC GROUP I SUPPOSED WERE FRENCH
We boarded the cruise to Ha Long Bay under-packed (if there's such a thing), with only a rash guard for kayaking, no trekking gear, sleepwear, and the next morning's outfit.
So at night, after taking a shower and heading up for dinner, my sister and I were in our somewhat-decent sleepwear. But the group I supposed were French were dressed for the occasion, which I thought was a lovely way to spend an evening dinner on a cruise.
The men were in button-downs, sleeves rolled up to the elbows, while the women wore off-the-shoulder tops and white shorts. After dinner, the karaoke was on, and they sang songs of their era, such as Mama Mia and Dancing Queen, among many other tunes I no longer could recognize. They were polite, pleasant, well-dressed, practically everything I want to be when I grow up to become a menocore woman.
As a concluding note, I thought to ask, did these stories make you feel relaxed after reading? Did you feel well after? Do you want to give yourself a hug? I have infinitely more things to say about Vietnam—from the city's low UV index, the motorbikes, and their *best* iced coffee (with condensed milk!)—but let's save that for another time. If you'd prefer a more visual approach to my encounters there, the story highlights are on the Instagram.
And may I offer an unsolicited explanation on the inclusion of an overseas trip in My Hometown. It is simply because I navigate the world and elsewhere, always in relation to where I am from., and a perspective molded from a very Filipino upbringing.