$27 passport, the Universal language, and wife swapping

Where do I begin? The last six days have gone by in a rush, and after a nice hot shower and a chocolate ice cream cone, I’m feeling almost normal and at home in Hanoi. But on to the post. I’ll try to get some pictures up tomorrow when I have more time, so for now, just imagine….

Day 5 of my motorcycle trip took us from Img_2637 Bac Ha to Du Linh (say zu ling but with a soft g). The day started slowly under ominous skies, but it was relatively smooth sailing back to the valley at 1500m. There, we met a friend of our guide that had travelled all morning to personally deliver my passport that had been left in Sa Pa. He also brought my only purchase of the trip, which was also left there. That’s what happens when I depend on a guide to remember things like that. After a brief negotiation, I paid Dat’s friend $27 to make a 135km round trip for a stupid foreigner’s passport. With that business done, we proceeded to head down the most enjoyable stretches of road in the whole trip, with beautiful valleys surrounded by mountains that still had trees on them. We stopped for lunch at a roadside hut (our usual routine), and I happened to spy a guitar sitting on the wall. I ask Dat if we could play it, and Girard, Dat, Lam, and I all took spells on the guitar playing various songs. Some flamenco from our French member, the theme from "Love Story" from Lam, a French melody from Dat, and a Jimmy Buffett number from me. Pretty darned cool sitting in a hut in the middle of nowhere Vietnam with three nationalities all talking the same language. After we were finished, the owner of the restaurant pulled out a traditional Vietnamese instrument and proceeded tImg_2642o give us a private concert of Vietnamese folk songs. According to Dat, he is a master at this. He followed this with a couple of songs on his flute (which he handmade from bamboo) that were absolutely stunning in melody, note, and timbre. I was lost in yet another surreal world as I closed my eyes and listened to the pure notes coming from the flute. This was just a random yet incredible treat on the trip.

Later, we stopped for a break in the middle of Luc Yen, which unless you’re into rubies and sapphires, means nothing to you. In the words of our guide, the mafia is alive and well in Vietnam revolving around the ruby and sapphire business (see http://www.ruby-sapphire.com/vietnamese_rubies.htm for an entertaining view of it 10 years ago). In his words "a lot of bad people from other provinces come here." Nothing like illegal gem activity in a communist country. Makes you want to stick around just to see how it all works! Right where we took a break, there was a woman sorting less-than-precious stones, and it was tempting to buy a few. But instead, we decided to traffic in perfectly legal soccer balls so that we could all show off our prowess when we got to the night’s stop. So off we go, with the theme from "The Godfather" replacing the theme from "The Love Story" in my head.

We get to the village for the night a bit late to give the soccer more than just a brief pass around, but we were treated to a wonderful story. Here it is loosely translated and slightly embellished for story telling purposes:

"One time in Vietnam, there was this brave and handsome man. While fishing one day in a small lake, he saw this amazingly beautiful girl working in the fields and knew that this was the girl for him. He told his parents about her, and they arranged to visit the parents of the girl. The day came, and after the visit was over, they informed their son that the parents of the girl said that he could not marry her. Crestfallen, he broke with tradition and went straight to the parents of the girl and told them how brave he was, how well he could provide for her, and how he would be an excellent husband. This changed their mind, and now they are happily married and have several sons and daughters."

This man was the owner of the house we were staying in, and despite the fact the rice wine was flowing freely, it is a true story. Kinda cool, don’t you think?

Img_2660_1 The next uproar was when the women came back from changing Jeanette into a Dao woman, complete with the traditional clothes and jewelry. That was all good and well, till Jeanette got the two women to change into some of her clothes. Well, that got the men just cracking up, and something was said to the effect that western clothes make the chest bigger, but that could have been the rice wine talking. The frivolities continued, as Jeanette tried to explain the use of perfume, mascara, and lipstick. The Dao women were not amused, but the men sure were!

While I’ve already talked about music as the universal language, the children of the house provided yet another example. We managed to play children’s games with Img_2657them without any common language other than fun. Nam (the boy in the picture) was quite an instigator, and we managed several games of "slap hands" until we both had hands to sore to continue. 

Okay, it’s time to bring this post to a close. I’ll hopefully catch up and bring you more from the days where the nearest computer was miles away.

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Categories: Travel

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