Tuesday, April 19, 2011

出会った: ベトナムのバスで

I was nearing the end of my solitary journey through Vietnam. As most "solitary" traveling experiences go, it ended up not being very solitary at all. Hue had been beautiful. Overgrown ruins of ancient tombs, palaces and Thien Mu Pagoda, site of Thich Quang Duc's self-immolation in 1963, as well as an unexpected trip to the beach, made for an eventful day on the back of a motorbike.

I had been sick for a number of days prior, and so the day began with a trip to the local doctor. I was given some medicine. The packaging and instructions for dosage were written in Vietnamese. I couldn't understand what the doctor said, but wasn't in a position to argue, with lack of language ability, severe gastrointestinal displeasure and an upcoming 12 hour bus ride to Hanoi.
So here I was at the bus terminal, finally leaving my guide who had been trying to woo me throughout the day. I boarded the bus and took my seat. A few minutes later a boy sat down beside me with a girl sitting beside him in Not muchthe other aisle seat. They were talking and laughing about something while sneaking smiling glances at me. They were shy, but intrigued.
As the driver started the engine and the bus rolled out of the station I closed my eyes and submitted myself to the noise and frequent honking of the bus. I settled in to the calamity around me. The sickness and lack of sleep of the last few days perhaps, made this easier than normal. I must have fallen asleep for a few hours. The next thing I knew, the bus had stopped at the first service centre for a food and bathroom break. I hadn't yet developed an appetite, though I had hardly eaten anything all day, but I got out of the bus anyway. There was a small restaurant with plastic tables and chairs. Each table was set with chopsticks and condiments for hungry customers, many from my bus, anticipating their last meal before Hanoi. I was disoriented. Without appetite or acquaintance to turn to, I sat alone outside watching the dusk descend the distant mountains. The driver, chatted amicably over cigarettes with another man and I couldn't identify the boy and girl in the occupied seats inside.

Thien Mu Pagoda

When people started boarding the bus again, the boy and girl resumed their seats beside me with new found confidence. After only a few minutes they attempted conversation with the very limited English they had. We got through a few name repetitions and basic questions before turning to my notebook for assistance. We attempted a make-shift game of pictionary to aid in the understanding of more difficult concepts. I determined that they were students from Saigon going to school in Hanoi but not much else. What was going on seemed quite funny to them and so I laughed too. I never did figure out if they were just having a good time or were actually laughing at me, but I got the feeling that it wasn't really important.

Eventually I slept again. The bus provided us with blankets and despite the uncomfortable seats, I slept soundly. A few times during the nite my blanket would slip down from my neck and I would drowsily notice the boy beside me gently lift it back in to place. I awoke a few times during the night. It seemed like our bus had been stopped for a long time, but maybe I was just hallucinating. I think because I was still recovering from my sickness, I wasn't very concerned and went back to sleep.

In the morning, after our bus had started to move again, we made a short stop at a small store just off of the highway. I opted to stay on the bus but the boy beside me left for a cigarette. When he got back on the bus he brought pastries filled with cream for the girl, himself and for me. The gesture was so natural, as if insignificant. Nothing in his action demanded, nor even suggested expecation of gratitude. I was really touched by this. The 12 hour bus ride had turned into 15 hours due to an accident on the highway (and hence our 3 hour stop on the highway, I found out later) which made the pastry the most delicious thing I could remember eating.

When we arrived in Hanoi I said goodbye to the girl and boy as the grumpy, tired travellers waded through the chaos of their belongings and the bus stop. I got my bags, found a cab and went to a nearby hostel.

I never saw or heard from the boy and girl from the bus again. It has been more than 3 years since my trip to Vietnam and although I remember much of my trip, some places, some events, some anecdotes, I often think about this boy and girl. Their laughs, their kindness.
Reminders that the impact of a simple and random act of kindness resonate no matter how seemingly inconsequential.

No comments: