Take the bookshop down the road. When we arrived in town after 92 kilometers of cycling (during which time a friendly competition along Highway 1 resulted in one H2Her receiving a live victory chicken), Gibson and I tiptoed past the market on Do Luong's main drag, braving the mud-slicked streets in search of food. Of course, in a country like Vietnam, it's no surprise that our hunger problem was quickly solved, but what we also found was a bookshop, small and unimposing, dust laid thick on rows of comic books and school supplies. Someone had hatched a brilliant idea, days ago, to use chalk on the road to leave directions for fellow riders (a la Hansel & Gretel) but we had yet to find it. So, treading carefully, we made our way up to the bookstore, where the shopkeeper watched us approaching. At the sight of us, his face nearly split in two. "Hello!" he beamed, getting out of his chair. Five minutes later, we were not only gifted a box of coloured chalk but also invited to tea.
Over the next hour, Gibson and I were encouraged by the shopkeeper's mother to eat all the ginger sweets we could stomach. We were also introduced to his son and daughter, his wife, his sister, and the various school friends that came traipsing through the shop's "back room," also the kitchen. On the wall hung wedding portraits and family photos, the faces of the people in front of us staring down two-fold at their strange guests. I fielded questions about my family, teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City, and why I had yet to marry, and when the teapot and ginger sweets had been exhausted several times over, Mr. Ha appeared.
His suit, gray and stiff, barely moved as he sat down. "Hello," he greeted us. And then, in perfect English, continued, "Where are you from?" The introductions repeated once with Mr. Ha, the local English teacher, and then again when, five minutes later, he insisted that we join him at his house with the 16 students he was currently instructing. Nearly all girls, they took great pleasure in picking apart my social life and taking my phone number, as well as a half-hour's worth of photographs with foreigners. Poor Quan, the only boy, sat in the corner, shying away from the girls who insisted that he measure his height against my father's 6'2 frame.
|Mr. Ha's English class|
In the end, what began as a quick eat and an innocent wander in town became a 2-hour visit with the locals, whose kindness and generosity still impresses me. Unfortunately, the ginger sweets were gone within 24 hours, as we are hungry cyclists and they were delicious. However the chalk has proven useful, and the 17 or so text messages I've received since Day 5, all wishing me good luck from Mr. Ha's English class in Do Luong, are as much encouragement as anything to keep cycling through the cold, wet, sometimes-longer-than-anticipated stretches of our trip. Despite the fact that, as a team, we do love cycling into bigger towns, which are better equipped to enable our Facebook habits and our multiple dinners a night, sometimes it's nice to be off the beaten path, deprived of Internet and convenience, and quite literally the strangest people in town.
|Guard dog at our hotel|