Trip Start Apr 21, 2005
Trip End May 17, 2005

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Flag of Vietnam  , Quảng Nam,
Thursday, May 12, 2005


What I was looking forward to most on this trip was visiting Hoi An and the Nguyen family.  I met them at the chopsticks store on my last visit.  They invited me to stay in their second house.  In fact, they insisted several times.  Normally I stay in budget hotels.  They suit my independent and convenient nature just fine.  But this time I opted for the local experience.

The Nguyens are a close family.  They're happy and interact well.  The parents are in their late 40's.  The oldest daughter, Bich Huyen, is married with two children.  Kim Lanh is the only one who speaks English so she translates a lot.  There's a brother and sister in their teens and another little boy about six.

From what I've seen they're pretty generous too.  Twice at home, I saw the father take himself away from dinner to have tea with a neighbor who wanted to talk.  At church, they read lessons and coordinate the parking for motos and bikes.  And at the chopsticks store, they regularly give to the more deserving beggars.  At home, handouts are not encouraged.  But here, there are few aid organizations to help the disabled or those unable to support themselves.

Days here start early.  One day I went swimming with the brother-in-law at 5AM.  The beach was packed.  By 6AM, street traffic is full steam.  And by 7AM the store is open, every day.  During the day, I'd stop by the chopsticks store and hang out.  Watch the foot traffic in the market.  Eat lots of delicious food.  Help sell chopsticks.  Teach English and learn Vietnamese.  The Nguyens actually have two stores.  The married daughter runs the second one not far from the first.  Both shut down about 7PM.  Throughout the year they have only four days off - during the Tet holiday.

The father stayed with me at the second house.  Either he or the teenage son would bring breakfast over every day.  Usually a small bowl of noodles in a little broth with some strips of meat, some small hard boiled eggs, some greens and ground peanuts.  The bathroom is outside.  Not in back, but adjacent to the main building along a busy road.  So I tried to jump in and out during lulls in the traffic.  The first day I hopped in the shower to freshen up.  Just when I'm at my most vulnerable, I turned around and came face-to-face with one of the things I hate most - a spider.  The biggest, thickest tarantula-like spider I've EVER seen.  I freaked.  Then jumped awkwardly back outside.  It moved faster than its smaller comrades.  I don't understand people that can gently move them outside.  This is one animal I want to kill.  Remember Jaws II?  A couple days later its spouse came back for revenge.  Same stall, same spot.

In the evenings, I'd leave the shop for their first house.  Before dinner, I'd watch music videos with the sons while the mom and daughters cooked.  At dinner, the father and I sat at the head of the table.  Next was the two sons.  In the middle was the mother and oldest daughter.  At the other end was the youngest daughter and child.  Every night was a buffet of wonderful food:  fish, calimari, meat, vegetables, rice, rice paper, etc.  And very different than what's served in Vietnamese restaurants back home.  One time they asked why I wasn't hungry?  Apparently I filled my bowl with rice only once.  So I started adding smaller portions more frequently.  They seemed more content.  After dinner I'd sit down with the sons to practice Vietnamese.  Their six year old son and I started a unique bond as we were about on the same level.  Around 11PM, the father would take me back to the other house.  We'd share tea and teach our own language to the other.

The family was extremely generous to me in every way possible.  For example, in setting up my room they immediately brought in an air conditioner, mosquito net, locks, new bedding, soap, tea, etc.  I feel incredibly fortunate and honored to be invited into their family.  This was the highlight of the trip.

For me, it was also a challenge receiving it all.  And a challenge adjusting to a new lifestyle.  I was getting little sleep, the heat was wearing me down and I developed a nasty rash under my arms that only spread.  I regret to say I turned into a bit of a grump.  I like to challenge myself on my trips.  I do my best to adapt to the culture.  As much as I go for authentic, local experiences, sometimes I think I may have asked for too much.

Their second house is located on a busy road leading outside town.  It's a remote area not frequented by tourists.  It wasn't long before the neighbors saw me around the house.  Their curiosity was bringing them closer and closer.  One night about a week into my stay the father woke me up.  There were three communist police in the living room.  It's apparently illegal for Vietnamese to house foreigners.  According to the police, the host family would be liable for $100,000 in case of death.  My passport was confiscated temporarily.  The police questioned my host father for about an hour.  Eventually they accepted some cigarettes then left.  The next day, the father moved me into a hotel.

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