I arranged to meet Hien and Ryan in Nha Trang, Vietnam's major beach town, this past weekend. Of course I wanted to see them but really I just wanted to meet Hien's Dad who lives out in the country. The trip could not have been more memorable. Here are the highlights:
1. After much argument Ryan and I convinced Hien to let us rent our own motorbikes for the drive. I practiced riding in the alley of my hotel for about five minutes before I said, "screw it" and jumped in to the streets. Within the first thirty seconds I had a near accident with a bicycle rider who made a left turn directly into my lane. Despite having never driven a car with gears, let alone a motorbike, I did a pretty good job.
2. After Hien and her cousin Lee (it's a nickname which means hard-headed) met us at the hotel, we took off for the 70km ride to meet her dad...we got about 1/2 a kilometer before Ryan turned to me and said, "I really need to fill up with gas." Five seconds later I turned to look at Ryan but only saw him in my rear-view mirror--his bike had run out of gas.
3. After filling up with gas we hit the road again. Within fifteen minutes we were on a major highway headed towards distant mountains. Highway driving was easy except when a giant truck/bus/van/etc. would come up behind you blaring it's horn (it's the law here to honk your horn when passing motorbikes) or even worse, when a giant truck/bus/van/etc. would come right at you in a traditional game of chicken.
4. We finally turned off the highway and drove through country roads...and then turned on to even more country roads...and then onto even more country roads. We passed rice fields and sugar cane plantations and occasionally schools where children would run out and yell, "hello!!!" Slowly the paved roads became less paved until they were merely dirt roads lined with bumps, pot holes and cow feces. Eventually we arrived at Hien's Dad's house. Now when I say house I really mean a bamboo dwelling built over a large pond. You see, Hien's father retired a few years ago and lives in this structure raising fish. The house was half Robinson Crusoe and half the fort Mike Levy and I built in my backyard as a child. The place had no power outside of a battery that hooked up to lights, no toilet, and well, no real floor. The fish would literally jump up underneath you while you sat/slept.
5. This trip was really special for Hien too because she doesn't get to go home very often and see her father. Usually when she comes to Nha Trang she has to babysit her students and doesn't get the chance to venture off to the country. Ryan and I aren't like her usual students and wanted to the country to be our trip. Hien was more than happy to oblige. She phoned her father the day before we took the trip and he was extremely excited. He told her, "he wouldn't be able to sleep that night (except of course in Vietnamese)." Hien's Dad was amazing and completely welcomed us into his home. He immediately offered me the best seat in the house--a lawn chair. He also shoved his hunting rifle into Ryan's and my hands and had us play with it. (no shots were fired from the gun, just from my camera).
6. The trip was only supposed to be a day trip. However, it began to rain in the late afternoon and Hien informed us that, "if it rains a lot we can't go back. The river will flood." Well, it didn't stop raining so we slept at the house. It was my first time: a) sleeping on bamboo b) sleeping above thousands of fish when not in a boat c) sleeping with a mosquito net. Despite all that, I got eight hours of sleep which is by far the most I've gotten since my travels began.
7. The absolute highlight of the trip was the eating. Besides a few vegetables and a little meat Hien bought at the market, every meal consisted of things found around the house. This included:
a) Fish caught in the pond.
b) Sugar cane cut from the surrounding grass.
c) Frogs snatched mid-jump.
d) A bat Lee shot with a sling shot. Yes, a bat.
e) One of the chicken's Hien's dad was raising in the backyard.
To sum up point "E": Ryan casually asked if we could eat a chicken for dinner. Hien then asked her father who promptly walked into the "backyard" and grabbed a chicken. Like a pro, he cut the chicken's throat (plenty of picture of this that might be too graphic for some of my loyal ahoyhanoi viewers) and held her down so she wouldn't "run around like a chicken with its head cut off." Hien then placed the chicken into a bowl and poured boiling hot water on to it to help the plucking process. Well, the boiling hot water works because the chicken was quite easy to pluck. I should know since I plucked about 25% of it. Yup, that's a first for me....