An example of why we travel

You meet amazing people when traveling; fellow travelers who share their stories. You’re lucky if you are able to meet locals. Locals tell you the best of their culture; share their hearts; places for good food; sites not in the guidebook; why things are the way they are; authentic discussions between non-fellow countrymen.

Monday night it happened to us….again. We visited out favourite local pub (Bia Hoi Ha Noi) with the idea of going for a delicious dinner of grilled skewers later in the evening. After a few beers, our night took on new life, summed up by my comment of ‘let’s just go with it’!

After ordering a few draft beers and munching on peanuts, a group of eight local Vietnamese joined tables next to us. The local pubs in Vietnam are nothing but flexible. A few more plastic tables and chairs were quickly arranged, and it was starting to get busy in our neck of the pub.

The whole group.

The group began ordering plates upon plates of food. Just when we thought they were finished, out comes a hotpot of broth with rare beef. The beef is cooked table-side, fondu style. Along with this was a salad of dried beef and local greens.  Being foodies, they now had our attention. SarahKate was longingly checking out the beef salad as the nearest lady offered to let her try it: The beginning of the end.

The famous and tasty dried beef salad!

Within minutes, we had new friends who requested that we turn our table to join them for the evening. For the next few hours, friendly bonding ensued.   Check out the video of the group: Our new friends!

They turned out to be a group of co-workers.  The boss was taking them out for the evening.  Food and beer was on the boss. Oh, and he decided to pick up our check as well. What a guy!!!

Me and the boss shaking hands.

Well, first there was the general stuff: Where are you from?; How do you like Vietnam?; Here, try this; Another round of beers; Cheers!!

Much fun by all!

This was followed by ‘do you like hot dog?’, where an affirmative meant that they ordered hot dog for us to have at the table. By this point, they had already shared the beef salad with us, and we had eaten a large portion of the beef cooked in the hotpot. They were so excited to share their food and culture with us. Constant ‘Yo’ was being said as we would cheers for a round during all of this.

SarahKate and her new friend.

Next, I seemed to have a good idea: shake everyones’ hands and get a few key photos as I went aroud the table. This was well received! I think I got a hug or two as well.

Who's the kid?

I love this guy!

Finally, as the night wound down, a few people headed for home; a few relatives showed up; we got a business card of where they worked; and an invitation for a Bun Cha lunch the next day was issued. What a night!!!

We said our goodbyes, only to be back up tomorrow thinking ‘Do we have lunch plans?’ We looked up the address, which was nearby, and headed out for lunch. Sure enough, they were expecting us. This time, only three of them joined us.  However, they gave us a motorbike ride to a very well-known and amazing Bun Cha restaurant.  We love a good motorbike ride through Hanoi.

Loving the motorbike rides in Ha Noi.

An amazing lunch of Bun Cha and Nem.

Lunch was delicious. We had a great time with our new friends, who again, paid for the food. Then, we were back to their offices to walk back to our hostel.  What an amazing group of people and experience for us all!

Moving on…

I must admit to a litte nervousness when we landed in Vietnam.  I mean, this is a country that we Americans were at war with not so very long ago.  A pretty nasty and contentious war by all accounts.  A war that my own father-in-law fought in.

I didn’t know whether the people of Vietnam would hold that against us.  I mean, Andy and I are pretty obviously American.  We’re taller and broader than 99.9% of the population.  We’re strolling around Ha Noi in our matching North Face fleece jackets and Converse sneakers.  We stick out.

Having dinner at a pho restaurant

That’s not to say that we’re not really trying to fit in.  We eat only local food at street stalls and we’re masters with chop sticks.  We spend our evenings drinking bia hoi (the home brewed and preservative free beer) with locals rather than sipping Heineken’s at an expat bar.  We’ve tried really hard to pick up some Vietnamese words so we can converse with the people here on their terms.

A typical gathering of Vietnamese men at a bia hoi

But, despite all these efforts, I sometimes have a moment of panic whenever a Vietnamese person asks us where we’re from.  Do I lie and say we’re Australian or British or Canadian?  No.  I really couldn’t do that.  Instead I say, quietly but proudly, “We’re American.  From Georgia.”

Andy certainly sticks out... but he's having a blast!

And, so far, every single time I’ve said this, I’ve gotten a positive response.

Last night was an especially cold night in Ha Noi.  Andy and I were looking for a warm dinner and we came across a restaurant full of locals eating plates of rice with various side dishes.  We walked in and started the (sometimes painful!) process of pointing at things, using our ridiculous attempts at Vietnamese and just guessing what we’re ordering.  The sweet little girls behind the counter, as well as half the patrons of the restaurant, were giggling at us almost as much as we were giggling at ourselves!

The girls behind the counter thought we were terribly funny with our pointing and confusion!

We got our plates and went to a little plastic table near the door.  Before we could even really start eating the owner of the restaurant, a well-dressed woman in her early 50’s, asked us where we were from.  I told her we’re American and she got so excited.  She tried so hard, in her very limited English, to explain to me that her daughter lives in the USA.  She was gleaming, so proud.  Like any mother anywhere would be when talking about their successful child.

The owner disappeared for a few minutes and I began to eat (rice, sauteed Asian greens, tofu, a pork rib.)  Then, she reappeared with a huge stack of pictures.  She’d run upstairs to her living quarters above the restaurant to bring down all her photos of her daughter in America.  She showed me each photo, her daughter in a cap and gown at university, her daughter and son at Disney World, a photo of her daughter’s degree, pride and happiness  all over her face.

We finished our meal and I asked the owner if I could take her photo.  She posed on the sidewalk in front of her small restaurant, holding a picture of her daughter in America.

Proud mom!

I’ve got nothing to worry about.  We’ve received such a warm welcome here.  Vietnam and the Vietnamese people have truly moved on.