Today I would learn the fate of the wound on my knee (and its lingering infection) and gain some insight on what on earth was growing beneath the initial layer of my skin (cork-sized firm yet squishing substance had gained form near my lower abdomen). Before going to the international hospital and speak with someone that had some grasp of the English language, I picked up some nibbles at a couple of restaurants for breakfast. I ate banh loc which is a clear tapioca flour dumpling steamed in thoroughly wrapped banana leaves with shrimp and pork mixed in. With some chili-infused fish sauce they are delightful but a weird texture that takes some getting used to. Onto the next restaurant I sampled a local Hue favorite called bun hen. It is supposed to contain baby clams, which are what make this dish stand out but as much as I searched with my chopstick chisels I could not uncover a single one. Despite having peanuts as a usual initial win for me, I did not enjoy the aggressive assault on the dish by salt and pepper that killed it for me. Either way, a fifty cent setback for the meal was something I could live with. Onto the most important task of the day, I went to the international hospital to seek some care, most specifically care that I could understand and accept rather than unknowingly hope for the best with gestures. After waiting around as the sole Westerner in the hospital as far as I was aware, I got placed into a room with an English speaking doctor. I told him the timeline of events that lead to today including the accident, the medication I had been using, and the hospital visit in Hoi An. With each sentence of the story he kept repeating ‘yes’, ‘yes’, ‘yes’. I hate hearing that word because it is an Asian filler word. You have no way of knowing whether they truly understand what you are saying since they do not want to come off rude and admit incomprehension. The yes man unwrapped my knee and gave me the good word that the knee had been healed of its infection but still needed time to heal completely before being opened up completely and exposed. The lump on my abdomen is apparently a hematoma that needs to be massaged away and should not be worried about. With a clean bill of health I was excited knowing that this injury would not hold me back any further; I could now continue north traveling as I had always intended. I spent some time at the hotel to cool down and relax until the heat was not as strenuous. In an attempt to not be a lazy hog, I walked to the Imperial Citadel across the river instead of using my motorbike. Using my negotiating skills along the way, I got some deals on sunglasses and mangos. It definitely helps knowing what the local rate is and being willing to walk away; by simply turning your check and continuing on away from the seller you can lower the price significantly as they relent. I have been able to slash their initial asking prices by at least fifty percent at times. Everything seems to be negotiable to the point it gets nauseating. Sometimes you just want to know the fair price and not be forced to haggle over a few dimes. The Imperial Citadel had been ravaged by the Vietnam War with America through constant bombings but after numerous renovations and some holdover buildings, the complex is quite impressive. I walked through multiple temples and ruins even as a storm began to brew. I had no idea such a dynasty and empire had been in form not long ago in Vietnam during the 1800s and early 1900s. It felt so Japanese and Chinese in its form of tarchitecture, woodwork, paintings, sculptures, and written text. After checking out the Royal Theatre that offers shows of traditional dance, I witnessed Gaudi-esque roof mosaics that melded with the culture of Vietnam in the form of ceramic mandarin warrior servants of the emperor and dragons. Dead or not, Anton Gaudi is still my boy. I could look at his wildly genius creations for hours; they seem to put me into a dreamlike psychedelic state. This 10 km square brick lined compound was the base and capital for the empire that held its strength at the center of Vietnam. The gardens in the far corner were a relaxing retreat filled with bonsai trees and low arching bridges. The Civil Hall of the Mandarins offered a look into the world of the capital and the daily lives of the occupants, most specifically the luxurious, concubine life of the emperor and his servants. The rainfall hit quickly and lowered the temperature within a tolerable level. After having my fill of history for the day, I went to the restaurant that I was always destined to eat at and try their famous banh khoai. Noticing that I was ready to eat alone, a local offered to have me join him and his brother for their dinner. Apparently the man lived in Houston and was here to see family and friends for a month before going back home. The meal turned into a banh khoai buffet; he refused to let me pay for anything which I could have easily taken greater advantage of but I kept myself in check. The banh khoai was quite good but no better than the one that I had yesterday. While we were talking I kept peppering him with questions about Houston and his life in the U.S.; I couldn’t help feeling leery of people regardless of how kind and generous they appear. You never know when chance may strike and you end up on the wrong side of a cunning scam. The man was good company with his extended use of English but the evening got better when two friends of his, both women, joined us to eat. Now with all four of them together they were especially insistent on me eating more banh khoai and basking in their seemingly genuine hospitality. Besides the brother speaking some sparse English, the Houston man who extended the invitation was the only one to speak English. When they spoke Vietnamese amongst themselves, I could only awkwardly look, nod, and smile. I kept locking eyes with the one woman who continued to give me the same shy smile. They were all in their fifties so that wasn’t the direction I was going but she seemed to be so happy to see me for some odd reason. The man translated several times that she said I looked handsome. I think I charmed the lot with my vague attempts at using Vietnamese. Eventually I began getting shown pictures of her gorgeous daughter who just so conveniently lives in Hanoi. Apparently this woman was trying to arrange some sort of marriage between the two of us. The guy even joked that I should call the woman my Vietnamese mother. Throughout the night while the conversation was translated for me to English, they kept tempting and teasing me with more pictures of this beautiful girl. They were so serious about their efforts that the guy got my contact details so that possibly we might actually be able to pull of some sort of blind date down the line in Hanoi. Trusting them enough I joined them in a taxi to the woman’s home a short drive from the restaurant and near enough to my hostel. I was led through the woman’s immaculate home and met some of her family before getting the chance to watch her do her daily offering to Buddha and observe her praying. She loved it that I was so interested enough in her religion and how it is done, especially when I asked through my use of numbers and gestures to make sure I got the motions of the prayer down correctly, with each bow and symbolic gesture of the hands getting repeated three times. Back in the living room, she went ahead with her gracious hospitality by setting up the man and I at the TV with some football while she squeezed fresh juice for us to drink as well as a green bean custard she had already prepared unknowingly for me. Incorporating green bean into a dessert sounds bizarre but the texture worked; it isn’t something I would necessarily ear again but it was worth to say I ate green beans for dessert. Eventually I needed to leave if only not to overstay my welcome and so I took what turned into a long back to the hostel thanks to getting lost of course. It was an unusual walk through various backgrounds that Westerners (and to an extent locals for good reason at times) don’t take. I wanted to get a fair bit of sleep for the night since I hoped to leave relatively early to get a start on my ride in the direction of the famous caves of Phong Nha.
Riding Vietnam Day 173: An Arranged Marriage