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  • Writer's pictureJoanna

Y ' Unnastan?

So my first full day in Hoi An... and I had booked a tour to go to My Son in the afternoon.  Pronounced Me-Sen... not My Son... as our tour guide gracefully pointed out on more than one occasion.


I got up in the morning, had an amazing breakfast at the homestay (included with my upgraded King size room... posh posh...) and then made my way in to town to explore a little bit before the tour picked me up at 1pm. The town of Hoi An is equally as charming and alluring during the day as in the evening.  I made my way through the fruit & vegetable market... through the shops & stall merchants... along past the street food vendors... and despite the "No Pressure," proclamation that they have all managed to adopt, there is always a certain degree of what I like to refer to as the 'Three I's"...

... Intense, Invasive and Irritating pressure. Some people just do not understand the concept of personal boundaries.  In the past few days, I have had randoms approach me by coming right up to my face.  They try to coerce you in to following them in to their shop, where obviously you'll find their goods & wares too tempting to resist not buying!  Some of them even go as far as to grab your or put their arm around you as to guide you in, so to speak.

"Hey! Hey! Hey!"

"You buy something please."

"You come in. Nice things for you. Please buy."

You simply can NOT express any interest in anything in any shop or stall or they are ALL over you like white on rice... And once that happens, you're trapped. You're trapped bargaining or explaining what you want or what size you are or where you're from or what you're doing or how many you want... and they are experts at the art of deflection.

"You buy."

"I give deal for you."

I've found that sometimes you just need to walk through the markets stone faced, don't look at anything and definitely do NOT touch!

... just stay focused...

...head down... ... you're on a mission...

DO NOT look at that pretty dress...

...and wonder what the material is... ...and does it come in my size... ...and how much is it...

I stopped in to this little mask-making workshop to have a look around and while I was there, the lot of us got shimmied in to this little amphitheatre space and were all told that the show would start in 11 minutes.  Like most tours around the country, the ushers were demanding and where we sat was very regimented.  It resulted in no one sitting in the first three rows, but we were all jammed in like sardines in the others. From the moment I stepped in to the theatre, I had no idea what to expect.



Water Puppets?

Interpretive Dance?


Cirque du Soleil?

Puppetry of the Penis?

... no idea.

And to my surprise, it was actually not bad.  Little traditional Vietnamese band... dancers dressed up and representing (from what I could gather) a dragon, a turtle... some kind of peacock maybe (??) and something else... very shimmery and flashy... perhaps another dragon?

No one specified.

It was a nice,,,. and not too long, as I tend to get bored in those kind of things. If I'm not fascinated right off the bat, it just becomes endless and nauseating.  But... I'm self diagnosed borderline attention deficient disorder.  The flashy animals did a couple numbers, then there was a ballroom dance duo...

and then...

...drum roll...

...the 'expressionist dancer' came out.

She was like the Tom Cruise of Interpretive Dance.  Definitely an over-actor.  You know those people that distort their face, over perform... and basically are just too overly all expressive in their art. I have to mention that her movements were so incredibly jerky and all over the place that the spot-light couldn't keep up with her!

...or it was his first day.

That was the final dance and I was thinking they'd be hard pressed to keep the audience had they started with her. Maybe that's why they crammed us in so tightly,.. no escape.

Sitting ducks... just like the human kebab buffet.

At the end of it, they mentioned something abut a bingo card they'd given all of us when we came in and now we were all going to play. However this was not the traditional Bingo we've all grown up with... "under the B, under the B"... this was bizarre bingo.  The two people leading the game got on stage and proceeded to sing the instructions (in Vietnamese) all the while waltzing around as if in some kind of 1930's movie musical rendition.  Like a melodious conversation with each other.  Three times, some prancing lady came out with a scroll alluding to some particular Vietnamese diction decoding that I couldn't have understood if I had been paid. Eventually it was determined that an Australian lady in the audience had won.  From the look on her face, she was just as puzzled as to the conclusion as the rest of us were.

As the big winner, they coaxed her up on to the stage for the Bingo winner presentation of a small lantern.  Then all of the performers came out for a round of applause... they all held hands, intertwining their arms and proceeded to sway back & forth to Auld Lang Syne.  It was surreal.  I felt like I was at Kellermans celebrating the final night of summer. That was my cue to walk back to the homestay.  I do have to say one thing about the pavement in Vietnam.  It's like the put it in and they all agreed that come hell or high water, they would never fix it. Myself and the remarkable paving jobs here have have a few close calls.  My ankles don't much appreciate the handiwork of the city. At exactly 1pm, the van pulled up at my homestay and off we went on my tour to My Son.

Cue Hero... our My Son tour guide.

Many of you may imagine that I'm making these names up - Miss Gabby, Unicorn, Hero... but I assure you that I am not. I like how these tours advertise their English speaking guide, but their English leaves you so incredibly worn out from straining yourself to listen and try to piece together the intonation,... unscrambling the mispronounced words in to some kind of easily interpreted sentence structure... and just when you think you might have figured out what they are speaking about... off the guide goes in to a new tangent and you're left wondering what happened to the th's & the ch's & the sh's....

Ahhh... the continuous entertainment of Vietnamese vocabulary pronunciation problems.

But like I've said before, I speak zero Vietnamese, so they are definitely winning the language race today... Back to Hero.

Hero was very abrupt and to the point and very regimented. He barked orders at us the entire day. This is how the conversation went when he first introduced himself to us;

Hero: "I Hero. You call Hero. Hero!"

...then he made a show of his right arm muscle for us all to see.

Hero: "My family has 6 water buffalo."

.... crickets...

I don't think we knew if this was comic relief or bragging rights. I almost raised my hand and announced that my family had SEVEN water buffalo's, but I managed to stop myself, believing my humour might be lost on Hero.

Hero: "You learn ride horse. I young ride water buffalo."

... definitely bragging rights.

Hence the 'hero' part...

The one thing about Hero is that after almost every single thing he said, he followed it up with "Y'unnastan?" Y'unnastan irrefutably translated in to "You understand?" and we would all nod diligently, regardless of the level of actual understanding,  We would do this just so that we could ALL move on to the next story or ruin...




Hero divided us in to two teams - Team Rabbit and Team Happy.  Don't ask where he came up with those specific names, but I was Team Rabbit. I walked along beside an American girl named Laura for most of the tour and I specifically remember saying something to her about how the rain was holding off nicely. I mentioned that I'd noticed earlier that the forecast called for rain, thunder and lightning all day... and no sooner had the words come out of my stupid pie hole, did it start to pour.

Thank GAWD I wore a skirt.

But honestly,... thank GOD I brought good shoes and a rain jacket.  Some people were in summer dresses, flip flops with no rain protection at all.  In regards to the skirt, in my defence, it was laundry day at the old homestay. My son is a cluster of ruins that were constructed between the 4th and 14th century.  They are dedicated to the worship of the God Shiva.  It was used as a site for religious ceremonies and burials. The majority of it's architecture was destroyed the the US during one week of bombing during the Vietnam War.  Very sad. Hero would do his very best to explain each ruin to all of us and we were forbidden to take photos until he was done speaking.

"No photo!!! Y'unnastan?"

When he was finished with his lesson, we were set free from the grips of his orderly teaching and allowed to roam around for 7 minutes to take photos.

"Be back here 2:10!  


It was both spiritual and almost spellbinding in such a holy sanctuary.  Transported to days gone by, silently making our way through the tranquilly of the ancient ruins, a sensual aura of prayer, offering and praise... becoming one with all that Shiva and Hinduism epitomized... and the clamorous buzzing of the chainsaw and the chop! chop! chop! of the machetes tearing though the thick of the nearby, overgrown thicket really added a sense of... je ne sais quai...


Took me back to my conversation with Becky, warning me to keep going if I came across a man with a machete.  Keep going!

Đừng giết tôi, làm ơn.

The rain didn't stop.

Not one bit. I was almost tempted to skip the boat ride back to Hoi An... and just stay in the van.  But... what kind of a traveller would I be if I didn't throw myself out there for every experience possible?  Even pneumonia...

I kept thinking though... if this rain continues, I'm gonna be real mad that I spent 400,000 dong getting my bathing suits back.


I decided to throw caution to the wind and do the boat ride.  At least we were getting a sandwich, so that was a bonus, right?  I can't say the same for the drive to the boat. It was terrifying, death-defying and unquestionably awful.

I don't think our driver had EVER;

  • Been taught to drive a motorized vehicle.

  • Heard that there might be rules associated with the road.

I also don't think that he had any respect or consideration for;

  • Any of us that were in the van.

  • Anyone that was on the road - be it scooter, car, van, bus, bike, pedestrian.

He rarely kept to his side of the road.  If buses were plummeting towards us, he didn't care.  We must have had a close call with about 100 scooters and not a worry in sight for him.  It was a blatant disregard of any danger that might occur on the road, an utter indifference to any injuries that ANYONE could sustain... Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that our driver necessarily wanted to kill us... but it sure felt like it a few times.

He was probably on the correct side of the road... maybe... 30% of the time.  And believe me, I'm struggling to say that much.

Đừng giết tôi, làm ơn.

I've found that everyone on the road is completely expressionless.  At moments when I would be completely losing my shit, it's deadpan. Nothing there. Checked out. Vacant.  There is zero anger expressed... no violence (that I've seen yet)... no empathy... no apologizing for a bad turn or a missed signal.  No courtesy wave, no civility... just blank, meh...  And it seems like only the adults wear helmets.  WHY???  The babies and toddlers are all flying free & easy in the upstairs brain department.

Nothing. There are NO rules. No police. No traffic control.

Not only are the lines ignored... the LIGHTS are ignored. I made it to the boat, had my sandwich and made it back to the homestay in one piece, alarming as it all way.

I was tired and wasn't really in the mood to wander around the night market, spending money again.

What to do? What to do?

Maaaasssssaaaaaggggeeee! Now, as much as I LOVE massages, and everyone knows that I do, I do have to say that I find them a bit creepy.  These woman and men are out on the road, literally begging strangers to come in to their little curtained shop, get half naked and let them rub you down... all to make a few bucks!  When you put it like that...

I do see the oddness.

I feel like my love of massage is going to backfire on me one day.  Like... all my stuff will be stolen while I'm on the table, comatose... Then everyone will taunt me, "That's what you get for always wanting to be rubbed down." And from that day forward, it'll always be someone else's hilarious story (not mine) - "I had a friend who got robbed when she was naked at a Vietnamese massage parlour"... just sounds creepy.... and just my luck... Maybe I'm lucky I'm sunburned.

I think I just talked myself out of massages... Nah... think I'll go again tomorrow. How can I not?

One hour... 300,000 dong... that's $18.   It would be indecent NOT to go.


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