It was a boring morning as I rolled along Highway 1 in Vietnam. I’m getting fewer Hellos in South Vietnam than I did in the North. I was listening to a Freakonomics podcast on my iPhone when a hand reached over and yanked the earphone jack out of my phone. “Whooooaaaa!” I yelled, and I found two young Vietnamese guys on a scooter next to me. The guy in the back was still hanging onto the end of my earphones. I pulled them back, giving a scolding look. They said some stuff to me in Vietnamese and I showed them I didn’t understand, but then I reverted into being polite and friendly — I’d rather not have trouble, or show fear. They stayed close to me, and showed a lot of interest in my iPhone which was mounted on my handlebars. Then he grabbed at my iPhone, and I threw his hand off of it. I still tried to remain friendly, but it was weird. I waved goodbye as a hint for them to get lost, but they hovered right next to me. I would speed up, and then they would speed up. I tried slowing down, but they had that covered too. I felt like a victimized woman probably feels. I had a feeling they were planning some attack, and I was out in the countryside, a white man with a big helmet but no language skills. Then I saw we were approaching a town. I saw a fruit stand and I pulled over to safety. They left, luckily, and I needed oranges.
I got three oranges from a sweet-looking, smiling, elderly lady. She told me I owed 40,000 Dong ($2). This is double what I’ve paid many oranges before, so I gave her a suspicious look and talked her down 50 cents. [I know, it's only $1 extra, but it's the principle and the feeling. Can you imagine overcharging someone because they're foreign?]
From the fruit stand, I moved on to a food stall to get some Pho. Pretty standard, and I was left alone. But then this little one came out and said Hello. He was curious about me — the tall, strange being. I was friendly to him, and the family who ran the food stall all loved it. I took this photo below, and then showed it to him. Then I was invited to join them at their table, and eat some of their food.
They gave me a bowl of rice, and kept giving me eggs and salad, and pointing to other things I should try and have more of. They found out I’m not married, and so they started pointing to Vietnamese girls that I should marry.
The little boy was looking bored, so I went into my panniers and pulled out a spinning top. I had bought this in the $1 section of Target for exactly this purpose — winning children over. And it worked perfectly. He loved it, and the family loved me even more.
It’s a simple trick: win people over by loving their children. All you need is a top, and you win the entire family.
Terrible self-timed shot. Why am I so big?
I asked how much I owed, and the grandma said 20,000 Dong ($1) for the Pho. I figure this is the local price, and I’ve been paying 30,000 at every other place. I gave her 50,000 and refused the change, gesturing shoveling food in my mouth to show them that they fed me well.
I headed on towards My Lai. I decided to take a back road to cut off some distance. It was a great decision — beautiful landscape, quiet road, and quaint villages.
But then the road turned to mud. I slopped through it; rode where I could, and pushed where I couldn’t. It was really tough going, and I almost fell sideways a couple of times from exhaustion. And my shoes fell into big mud pits a couple of times giving me soppy mud-water socks.
But hey, if you don’t love it, why do it?