As a matter of fact, we did mostly eat, and socialize. In Vũng Tàu , nobody spoke any English, and I don’t speak Vietnamese. We all knew a few words of each other’s respective languages. Teresa is in the best position, being fluent in both. However, I’m sure it becomes tiresome to be constantly translating an increasingly rich conversation.
Her family fed us until we were stuffed. I enjoyed a dozen or so Tiger beers, probably still my favourite beer throughout Asia; I just seemed able to drink more of it which is unusual for me.
Shortly before we came down, I came to realize that Teresa’s family is spread across two different towns, one being another hour and a half drive from where we were. The following day, Bác Tân would lead us on his faulty motorbike to this next place. The drive was beautiful, but we were warned of police stops and potential racial discrimination during these encounters. We already figured this could happen after a situation in Chiang Mai where I was needlessly picked out of a throng of motorists, only to be let go when it was assumed my Ontario driver’s license was suitable identification. On this particularly journey, we came across a few preoccupied cops, but were never stopped.
The second house we’d be visiting was unlike anything I’d ever stayed in. The front was a large convenience store with ceilings as high as you’d see in a home reno store. As you walk further back, it just becomes the house, a narrow but very high-ceilinged two storey space. At the back of the house is the kitchen and then the yard which consists of pig pens, dove cages, porcupine cages, free range chickens and ducks, and guard dogs. Clearly, her aunts and uncles takes care of their own groceries at this spot and it couldn’t have been more enjoyable to be a part of this experience. Everyone was welcoming.
I’ve said before that I can’t go somewhere and not eat what the local people are eating, even if it’s only to try it once. That’s why, despite the fact that Teresa and I have a pet snake at home, I ate one of the most delicious and memorable dishes that I would ever eat. The snake was marinated in a salty spicy sauce and then pressure cooked until it was tender and meaty. I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did.
Here, I got to meet the matriarch of the family, Teresa’s grandmother. She’s in her 10th decade and was very animated when we interacted. I try not to take for granted how meaningful a grandparent’s role is. They’ve created a legacy in the form of the family that many of us grow up with, spend our lives with, and care for more than anything else. For Teresa, it was only the 3rd time she’s seen her grandmother in person because of the distance that separates them. Each day spent together is a gift.
In the morning, shortly before we were set to drive back to Saigon and eventually work our way up north, we were treated to a dove, or pigeon, soup for breakfast. It was a unique experience, one I don’t know when I’ll have the opportunity to repeat. Even as we were leaving, her family was tying bags of tropical fruit and other snacks onto the handles of our motorbike.
It’s surreal to think, looking back, that we didn’t have our passports on us this entire time because we gave it to the people we rented the bike from as collateral. We were pretty trusting and it makes me wonder if I’ll ever move away from being somewhat reckless in order to obtain something that would enhance a travel experience. I guess it depends on the travel. It’s more affordable (although still not desirable) to lose your passport if it happens early on or in the middle of an extended trip. It would still be a nightmare, and a gut-wrenching feeling at its discovery, but manageable. I was still rolling around without a debit card, withdrawing from my Visa once every couple of weeks.
To bring it back on topic though, we were weighed down with a lot of good eats on our road back to Saigon. The trip back was a relaxing drive, without being in a rush and with the opportunity to stop for breaks and relax our strained bodies.
We passed a guy on the road who we were talking to as we were driving. He had a single dog in a cage on the back of his motorcycle. Teresa asked him what the dog was for. He told us he was selling it as a guard dog. When we asked him for how much, he told us he was selling it per pound. Make of that what you will.
We spent a little more time in Saigon before heading up to our next destination, Mũi Né. We actually went to a very nice restaurant on our last night, maybe the nicest we’d been to up until that point. It was outdoors with a spanning retractable roof/overhang. The service was really good, the food was definitely more costly than stall food, but still wholly inexpensive compared to back home and very delicious. In addition to a variety of appetizers, I had a beef tenderloin with a fried egg on top for dinner. Simple and tasty. It ended up pouring rain by the time we left and we welcomed it as we made our way to the parking lot.
Vietnam is the perfect country to travel. Geographically, it’s difficult to stray off of a direct course. It allowed us to see so much of the country as we squeezed every last day out of our visas. Even still, I’d go back in a heartbeat; to see what I’ve missed out on, and to revisit what I’ve had the privilege of experiencing.