I took Giang’s invitation to go to her hometown for a few days. She comes from Dong Hoi, a small coastal town that took five hours to get to by train from Da Nang. She said her mom might be wary of her bringing a man home, so Giang made me aware of my new life, that I’m her age (35), I live in Da Nang as a travel writer, and we’re just friends. Cool. She bought us two first class train tickets and I passed out for most of the trip. I love train travel so much, especially one where you have a bed and you can stare out the window and listen to music with no one bothering you for hours on end. So much time to think.
Her brother came to pick us up from the train station, the brother that is older than me in my real life but younger than me in my new life so the power dynamics here were very confusing. He’s such a nice guy, everyone I met in her hometown was wonderful. He’s got this face that’s sort of like a regular guy but with certain weird features that you don’t forget. If I were a casting director in Vietnam I would put him in everything I could.
Her brother is married with two little girls and they all live in the same house as her mom. Giang’s sister in law is her best friend and she also speaks decent English. The two girls are absolutely adorable, and although they cried whenever I walked into the room the first day, they really warmed up to me after that. The older girl even went from calling me ugly at first to crying when I left.
Giang’s mother owns a high-end clothing store adjacent to her house, which allows her easy access to go from feeding her grandchildren to selling some Armani. She’s a small, strong divorcee who spent ten years working in Germany, and now she spends most of her days caring for her two granddaughters.
It felt good to be in a smaller town again. Everywhere Giang and I walked someone would come up and say hello, most times they were people she went to high school with. Giang is seven years older than me so almost all her hometown friends are married with kids. I said I needed to find shaving cream and she insisted that we go to the salon right next to her house where they would shave me – something I’ve always kind of wanted to do but never really trusted anyone to do it. Wow, when they slip in that straight edge razor and come right up to your throat it really wakes you up. The woman shaving was very thorough and focused, although I later found out she was commenting in Vietnamese the whole time about how thick my beard hair was. I followed that up with my first mani-pedi, asking Giang to preemptively apologize for what these women were about to deal with. The finished product was really something else, I didn’t know that my toes could look like that.
So, they had a chicken coop in the backyard with a few roosters. I’ve never lived on a farm but it’s always been a secret fantasy of mine. It’s not just in the movies and books, roosters really are loud as hell and they wake you up as soon as the sun starts rising. Every morning around 5am I was startled awake by their crowing. It’s ridiculously loud. And then my last morning I didn’t hear it. I woke up late and when lunch time came around they put a nice big bowl of soup in front of me with chicken feet hanging out. And that explains the lack of wake up call.
Giang’s brother, who has started smiling and nodding constantly at me now, drove us both and hour and a half up north to Paradise Cave. It’s huge, I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
I’m going to miss Giang so much. There is something so rare about her personality, she’s truly kind. Whenever we walk into a shop or need something from someone on the street, within two minutes they’re laughing with Giang and holding her arm, she makes friends with everyone, especially people of a poorer class. We went to the beach to have some shellfish, right from the boat, when I started to tell her how much it meant to me that she took me around and spent almost every waking hour with me the past 10 days. I began to talk about how incredible it was to meet someone so far away from my home who I felt connected to on such a deep level. I had to put my sunglasses on out of fear of crying, but I went on about how her kindness to strangers was an inspiration to me and I noticed she started looking behind me to my left, but then looked back at me nodding for me to continue, and then back behind my shoulder and then back, not wanting me to stop talking. I looked behind me and there was a Vietnamese man with his back to us but head turned around looking straight at me. He was smoking a cigarette with one hand and holding his dick, pissing with the wind, in the other.