After a night of almost no sleep at all I was woken up at 4:30 in the morning. The people here really do live with the daylight. I kind of figured I would be going back to Dalat today as I didn’t want to be an inconvenience to these people. Faith had other plans…
Rain, and lots of it, ruined my early morning departure. Just the th0ught of driving back over the roads I took the day before had me in shivers and I figured these same roads in mud would take me all day. The family told me to wait and gave me my morning noodle soup while I helped both the grandma and the kids with their English homework. In no time I was promoted to Teacher! Teacher!
The rain finally stopped and I tried to explain I would leave to go back to Dalat. The daughter however came to get me, told me to put on my jacket and took me to the little dirt road in front of their house. A lady on a motorbike was there and I was urged to go on the back while they all shouted GO! GO! GO!
The motorbike sped away and it took me about 1 minute to realize I was on the back of a motorbike of a lady I had never seen before, without a helmet, on the muddy dirt roads I so dreaded to drive. I had no idea where I was going and all of my stuff and money was still in the house and I was wearing flipflops. So much for safety first.
The lady took me on a bike ride from hell. I literally thought I was going to die any second as the lady speeded up and down muddy mountain paths as if she was a professional dirtbike driver. I have never been so scared in my entire life as we were slipping and sliding for 45 minutes on these steep, bumpy mountain paths with 30 meter drops one meter to my left. The lady laughed while I cried out multiple times. I held on to the motorbike so hard that I had two blisters and my arms were shaking for about 15 minutes when we finally arrived at our destination.
Because miracles do happen and we did arrive without any major incidents. I still had no idea where I was or who these people were but the views were amazing! The house we arrived at was simple but it was located in the middle of a narrow valley next to a river. The hills were all coffee plantations and there were palm trees next to the river. While I waited for my arms and legs to stop shaking I walked around this truly beautiful place untill at some point I realized OH My God, we also have to go back!!
My hosts arrived 20 minutes later and immediately the women started cooking. The men were seated in the other room and were drinking tea and smoking cigarettes. In this traditional divide of the sexes western woman equals man so I was put in the room with the men and the only thing I was allowed to do was sit around and drink tea. To be honest I would have been utterly useless in the kitchen so it was probably for the best. More and more people started to arrive and the mood became festive. No English was spoken but everyone truly made an effort to communicate with me and newcomers were quickly filled in on the things they already found out. Holland, Rotterdam, 32, no husband, happy single, yes really happy single, working with computers, 1 brother, does not smoke.
The lunch was served on a large plastic sail laid out in the room and turned out to be a combination of different dishes. It all tasted amazing! From curries, soup and fresh spring rolls to sweet potatoes and mushroom snacks it was all there. I just did what everyone else seemed to do and there was always someone there to explain to me how a dish needed to be eaten.
One funny fact I did not see coming (other than the fact that I did not see this whole day coming) was that the beginning of the lunch was also the beginning of the drinks. The drink menu was very limited and consisted of shots! Yes that’s right only shots! The shots were of something that can best be described as a combination of lighter fluid and nail polish remover. Very strong and very disgusting. Every 4-5 minutes someone said a few words and everyone took a shot. This could get interesting. Everyone seemed to want to take a shot with me. The woman who drove me there started to tell me from the second shot to not take any more and told people of that were handing me new ones. She took a couple of them of my hands and downed them herself. I figured she was protecting me and was grateful for the gesture. However new shots kept coming and I took some of them figuring it would maybe make me a little less stressed on the way back.
The way back however, was nowhere near.
The house had nearly no furniture in it and only had a heightened structure in a corner and a sound system on the wall on the other side. And with sound system I mean a sound system that many party crews would be jealous of. Six giant speakers looked like they could convey a message to the Cambodian border if they wanted to. For the size of the house even one of these giant speakers would be overkill so what could they possibly need six of them for? The answer came soon enough when an electric guitar was plugged in and a couple went on to the stage. They were going to sing a love song. An incredibly loud love song!
Singing is something that the Vietnamese take very seriously. This doesn’t mean that they are all equally good at it but that fact does not prevent anyone from going up to a stage an sing there hart out. Apparently the message is more important than the execution.
So the couples took the stage one by one and sang some Vietnamese songs. Everyone received a warm applause and the women received flowers during the song (they all received the same flower since there was only one, but again it is the gesture that counts). At the first couple of songs I thought this was a fun way to spent the afternoon but after 4 hours! of this singing (which was getting a lot worse with the amount of alcohol consumed) I started to get a more psycadellic experience. There were 25 drunken Vietnamese people, 1 monk and me. What the monk was doing there I will probably never know but he was just staring at me the entire time. Literally the entire time he sat in the corner looking and smiling at me! The constant incredibly loud noise in combination with the alcohol and the scrutiny I was under was getting to me and the way back suddenly was less scary as before.
This was also the point I looked at the woman who drove me to this place. She was completely and utterly drunk. She drank so much she couldn’t even stand up by herself anymore and there was no way I was going to get at the back of a motorcycle with her. I would rather walk. I soon found out it was also not her intention to drive me home. She laughed at me, pointed at the drink and gestured to me she couldn’t drive anymore. A nice point of self-knowledge I thought. And then she threw the keys of the motorcycle to me and told me I should drive. Uhhhh WHAT?!?! It all started to make sense. It was a setup. She didn’t want me drinking cause she wanted me to be the designated driver! She saw the perfect opportunity to get a free pass on drinking. I have to give it to her, she played it out perfectly. There was only one minor problem with this plan…. I could not really drive a motorcycle. Let alone on these muddy mountain paths and not in the slightest a non-automatic one with a drunken lady on the back.
Luckily for me the rest of the group also thought this to be not such a good idea. And within no time two military men appeared of which one drove the drunken lady home on her bike. I was to go home with my hosts. The momentary relief immediately faded once I figured out that meant we were going to be on a motorcycle with the three of us and I got to sit in the middle, still without a helmet. My host sensed my fear (and with sensed I mean I almost squeezed the poor little man to death) and took it slow and sort of safe. We got on and it must have been quite a sight to see this small Vietnamese couple with a giant white woman in between driving home. But well, we got there right before dark and I was ushered straight to bed with the kids. I was never so happy to go to sleep on a wooden board again.
The next morning I really made sure to point out I would be leaving today. I helped to pick coffee beans before I left that my hosts would sell that day and helped grandma and kids with their English again. The goodbye that morning was strangely emotional. Even with the minimal communication I had started to become part of the family. Because the family had been so nice to me I gave them almost all the money I had with me. I was feeling embarrassed that I couldn’t do more but for them it equalled a monthly salary and they were so happy I received hugs and gift for back home. They drove me with the giant bean bag in between them to the crossing to Dalat and from that point I was on my own again.
The road home was in good weather and had one last remarkable event. I hit a fish! Yes you read correctly: I hit a fish! During the six hour drive back to Dalat I was looking around in the distance I saw something that I thought was a garbage bag on the road. I didn’t take a lot of notice but by the time I got there it turned out to be a giant fish. I was to stunned to avoid a collision and so with a big splashing sound I hit the fish right in the middle. The fish had jumped from a bucket of a lady selling fish on the side of the road and was trying to make its escape to the other side until I came along. Needless to say the fish did not survive. I stopped to pay the lady for the fish even though I thought I was technically not my fault but I did not want to be responsible for a loss of income on her part. They all laughed at me and made gestures that I think meant something like “it happens all the time” but in the end she happily accepted some money.
I drove the fish splattered motorbike home to Dalat and with big smile on my face I fell down on my bed thinking I went out to see a temple and ended up staying with a family, going to a local party and hitting a fish. You’ve got to love how life turns out sometimes (well maybe not for the fish).