• Joanna

Worth our Weight in Rice

I just can't proceed without making mention about the fact that my body's reaction to this country has not been what I intended... nor what I anticipated....

I have hardly touched bread (except toast for breakfast), had almost zilch in the Diet Coke & Redbull category, consumed minimal wine (at least not in the copious amount to which I have previously become accustomed)and I often fear that I might actually drown due to the amounts of water I drink on a daily basis. My dessert at every step of the journey has been watermelon... except for ice cream once. And do not give me this 'twice' business, because I didn't eat the gob of freezer-burnt orange crap. I should be fading away... but yet, here I stand... thick, steadfast and true. Selfies have been not bad... hitting the perfect light, angling my iPhone camera and the ever-so subtle tilt of the face manages to work wonders for the fantasy of miniature me... but if only you knew the amount of selfies and self-timer photos I've trashed. My face is bloated, my thighs are thick, my arms are wide, my stomach is bulging out of my pants... the list goes on... It's quite exhausting trying to 'photographically' prove I was here.


And I really needn't mention my ankles and feet again...

Line me up with the itty-bitty Vietnamese girls and get me a guest appearance on Dr. Phil... that's how I feel.


Oh well... Blame the rice. Have I mentioned that I'm sick of rice?


I hate rice...

***Jump to Present Times...*** OK... not a word of a lie, but as I sit here writing this blog, the overbearing little lady working breakfast at my hotel will not stop buzzing around me, inundating me with questions.


Why you not eat soup?

Where you go today?

Where you go yesterday?

Why you no have more pineapple?

Why you drink coffee?

Why you no eat more?

While I'm trying to politely ignore her and deflect this unwanted attention... I open up Photos on my computer. I'm keeping myself busy cropping, adding light & filters... in a desperate attempt to appear tall, thin and beautiful in each image. You know the procedure - add definition, reduce the fat-factor, trim down the bloated, erase the blotches... etc etc... Dare I say... this 'gem' of breakfast lady is one of those people that is perhaps slightly blurry on the definition of personal space and personal boundaries. I was editing this particular photo (to the right) and suddenly she's there... right beside me...


"Beautiful," she says.


I'll give her points for charm... and manners.


Then she looks again at both the photo... and then at me... a little bit more studious this time... She's really concentrating, analyzing my features and appearance compared to the photo... She stands there in a pondering state for a minute and then, "You look different in photo."


How so?


She stands by her conviction...


"Photo- you fatter."


Wow... tell me how you really feel....

She sure did.


"You fat in photo. Big face. Now- not big face. You small face. Photo - face very big."

Quick question... is this my my new best friend / potential life coach... or someone I need to punch in her face face? Torn between accepting a compliment and losing my shit completely... I've decided to blame any weight gain (perceived or not) entirely on my iPhone.Stupid camera.

Anyway... enough about me... and back to me!


We left the homestay and made our way all the way up Ba Be Lake and then along the Song Nang river in some kind of motorized river vessel. It was about a 3 hour journey. Ning 'anchored' us at one point, barked our orders at us... "Get out now"... and we were told that we had ONE hour to explore the local village. I don't know if I would necessarily call it a "village exploration".


Don't get me wrong- there was a village, and we did see houses and farmland, but we only just passed by them briefly as we followed Ning along the river bank path.  Our stroll was systematic...  Ning occasionally pointing at things and rapidly alerting us to what they were.


"Dis corna fo cow."

"See here rice a fo du viyage peepa."


If anyone got slightly ahead... or behind...


"You no go."  "Slow walk you. No hurry." "Go now. Hey, you come."

Most times when Ning would speak, I would look to Mia for translation. She was better at sorting out his fast paced slur of English than I was. During our village excursion, he told us a very long-winded story about Vietnamese people going to 'hopita.' I didn't have the faintest idea what he was talking about, but I was nodding my head enthusiastically to show both my undivided attention and my enthrallment.  Hopita? I thought he was referring to a specific area, district, jurisdiction, province... nope... he meant 'hospital.' No wonder I'm disorientated most of the time.


As our boat was making its way along the Song Nang, it brought us through the opening of a large limestone cave. Ning stopped the boat and we all disembarked again for the opportunity to climb up in to some of the larger passages and dark spaces...

Well... blow me over... because guess what was smack dabin the middle of the cave? Guess what natural modern resource I discovered deep in the heart of this isolated, dark cave? An easy question... if you think about it... because imagine the pure disgust were you NOT to find this amidst a cave... in a National Park... in the middle of nowhere in remote Vietnam...


...a wee shop!


Some random villager had set herself up on the steps and was selling pop, water, beer, Oreos, crackers, pineapple, dragon fruit, BBQ meat, corn, fried fish... all there for the taking (for a small fee, of course!)  No ice cream... but that was about the only snack convenience missing. Hard to imagine how difficult it is for us to mange to stop at anywhere remotely similar to a fully stocked SHOP while suffering 900km of country roads... passing through 10-15 towns and villages... but... hmmmmm. I just have to shut my mouth. Finally we get to somewhere that sells (semi) normal product and we're in a creepy cave with no money.

Who brings money on a National Park lake, river and cave cruise? I know that I have mentioned the insane and unethical driving methods on more than one occasion, so I probably don't need to empathize these perils again. BUT... one more time... just for old time sake! Just when the group of us were just starting to relax, doze off... getting through the nausea and managing to ignore the fear of the winding roads, fast and reckless driving, blind corners...


BANG! ... BANG!...


It was terrifying. The driver slammed on his breaks, but it was too late.

A large German shepherd had darted in to the road and there was no time for our driver to slow down. The dog got snapped up under our two left tires and was spit out for dead on the side of the road. I think we all wished we hadn't looked back, but each one of us did. It broke my heart. I don't know if I was mourning the dark and sudden death of the dog... or grieving for the dog's family... or thinking about my Potzy... or maybe I was just cemented in this dismal,  emotional state of mind.  


I don't know... perhaps all of the above... but I sat there in my seat, head in my hands and I sobbed.

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