We generally avoid making sweeping statements as we know no culture and community is homogeneous; however, we’ve had such amazing experiences with people in Trà Vinh. We understand that this is because we are foreigners with light skin, who they don’t see often, but we’re thankful they are willing to engage with us. At first, to acknowledge our own assumptions, we were nervous there would still be tensions about the Vietnam War. Second, we just weren’t sure, we were mindful to know our place in the world and we wanted to be careful to not step over boundaries but also open ourselves up to new experiences.
Because it is rare to see a foreigner or hear English from a native speaker in a small town like Trà Vinh, most, if not all, the Vietnamese people we’ve met have wanted to talk with us (in Vietnamese or English). They’ve welcomed us with open arms. Our favorite part of this is no matter where we are or what we are doing, someone wants to shout ‘hello’ at us. It doesn’t matter if they are cruising past us on a motorbike or 30 meters away at the market. They want to say hi, they will make there way to us. Something Justine would have considered obnoxious in the US became beautiful here. When some strangers come up to us, gently nudging their child to stand by us or say hello and giggle because of their nervousness, it’s a reminder of how small the world is and even without the same language, people can connect.
It also reminds us to be happy. Life is too short. If we’re begrudgingly and sluggishly plugging away on our bikes with not the nicest mug on our face, and we hear that sing-song hello, we instantly smile and sing it back. Some days, we say ‘xin chào’ and their wide eyes open wider knowing that we know some Vietnamese. It’s a good day when people sing to each other.
Our favorite story happened a week ago. We are accustomed to hearing several ‘hello’s’ on our way to the market two kilometers away and sometimes we even encounter an extra courageous person who is willing, with the encouragement of their friends, to say ‘what is your name?’ However, in most cases, it took too long for the bravery to build up and we’ve already cruised past them and their friends so when we try to crane our necks back to shout, we’ve missed the opportunity. This time was different.
As we bicycled on one of the main roads, and most people on motorcycles whiz pass us, two young men drove parallel to us. It was as if they were driving next to us for so long so they could take it in, to make sure this wasn’t a joke, to make sure they were seeing what they saw. When their suspicions were confirmed, they moved in front of us, while still looking back. Finally, one of them shouted ‘hello’ and waved the peace sign fanatically to us. We shout back, together, ‘helllooooo.’ Giggles burst out of them uncontrollably. If they weren’t convinced we were real before, they did now. So much so that they did a u-turn in the street to say it again.
Making a detour in their planned route, they circle back to meet our eye contact and confidently say hello again. This time we giggle. We liked them instantly. Of course, we know nothing about them and they, nothing of us. It didn’t seem to matter. They stop, we drive pass them. As Justine peers back, we see them pull over, switch drivers, and start driving again. This time, the former driver of the motorbike had the opportunity to say hello. We all laughed and then they drove off.
Whether we made their day or not, we don’t know, but they definitely made ours.