Following My Heart in Vietnam
Less than twelve hours earlier I had been beaming with pride for having made my way from the airport to my hotel in Vietnam without any assistance. Learning to decode a Vietnamese address could easily qualify one as a contestant on Survivor. However, the task of reading addresses now failed in comparison to the challenge before me.
It was mid-morning and I’d yet to venture beyond the central boulevard in front of my hotel. Every attempt to cross the street was opposed by a constant and rapid flow of traffic—a perilous undertaking for a foreigner unaccustomed to Vietnam’s road conventions. A quick Google search for “Vietnam traffic” and you’ll know what I mean. It’s a tourist attraction in its own right.
Feigning confidence, I started down the sidewalk. A young man stole a glance from me as I passed. “Where you from?” he asked.
As an experienced traveller, I was well accustomed to this ruse—peddlers beckoning for you to engage them in conversation before they begin their impenitent plea. But something about his jovial countenance broke my disdain. I obliged with a response.
“Canada!” he returned. “What a beautiful smile you have.”
I was caught unprepared for how he would invite me so deeply into his world in Vietnam.
I stepped into his trap, unwittingly flattered by his compliment. From the moment our eyes met he began spinning his web, carefully weaving each strand until I was tightly in his embrace, and cunningly convincing me of an offer I didn’t even know I needed or wanted.
His name was Cuong, but he assured me I should call him Diamond. He quickly swooned me into hiring him for a day tour around the city. By the time he returned me to my hotel that evening he’d convinced me to go touring with him around the Mekong Delta, although I’m certain now he was guilefully plotting our sanctimonious union.
The next morning I woke with trepidation, fretting that I’d been played for a simpleton. I wondered if my gallant companion would return to claim his bride or if he had already smarted off with my pre-paid deposit. I lambasted myself for being so naive. And then I began to wonder, if he did return for his fair maiden, what dubious misfortune awaited me?
I quickly began typing out a letter home to bear witness to my calamity, giving just enough indication of my last known whereabouts without raising the alarm. I told my family I was heading out on a tour around the Mekong Delta in Vietnam and that they should expect to hear from me again in four days. In fact, I then hauled my backpack to the street corner to await the verdict.
When the time came for me to return to my solitary journey, I felt a pang of regret knowing the emptiness that he would leave behind.
Of course he showed, if not a minute or two early. I cursed myself again for being so incredulous. With a sigh of relief, I climbed onto the back of his motorcycle and we set out on our exploration of the Vietnamese countryside.
Weaving our way through traffic, we exited the city. He leaned back and shouted at me pointing to the girl riding tandem beside us: “You wrap your arms like this,” implying his ardent hope that I would tuck my body in closer to his. Our first stop was a visit to the hospital to see his ailing father.
I was caught unprepared for how he would invite me so deeply into his world. Bearing witness to an intimate moment between father and son, I secretly wished I had the power to make myself disappear. Not knowing where to avert my gaze, I suddenly found myself interested in the curtains. It was the ecstasy of defeat. He smiled at me reassuringly, skillfully drawing me into his world and evincing me of everything raw and beautiful about it.
Having secured his father’s approval meant we could resume our affair.
Having secured his father’s approval meant we could resume our affair. We spent our days lazing in hammocks at roadside stops drinking iced coffees, and in the evenings we chased fireflies and laughed uncontrollably over copious bottles of rice wine. When the time came for me to return to my solitary journey, I felt a pang of regret knowing the emptiness that he would leave behind.
He was right: “You never try, you never know.” Had I not returned his charming advances and accepted his offer I never would have known this world beyond tour buses. And while he may have wistfully longed that I would become his betrothed, he remains an admiring companion forever etched in my heart.