We visited famous temples, rode a motorbike along the coast, swam in the ocean, and learned how to make homemade pizza, ice cream and clams with linguine, but here is my favorite moment:
At about seven on the first evening - after a really full, fun day with Fran and Ann, I see Thanh lying on the bed looking at a sheet of paper with a bunch of writing on it.
"What's that?" I ask.
"Research," she answers.
"What do you mean?"
And she begins to show me the list she has made of things she wants to do while in Nha Trang. Famous temples and sites, but mostly food she wants to try: a regional fish soup, the Nha Trang version of the grilled pork assembly in rice paper I ate for lunch on my first day, a special grilled beef and a squid version of the rice cakes.
I just stare at her. I mean, I had no idea she was actually that much of a Soul Sister, too. Every single time I go on a trip, I have the same kind of list with me. I had no idea she did research.
"Well, what are we waiting for? Let's go!" Fran calls us a taxi and we head into town that minute to begin marking off her list. Out of a list of eleven things, we manage to do nine of them by the time we leave. Here is the fish soup:
The next morning, Fran and Ann have a motorbike delivered to their house for us and my goal to ride it up the coast to where the best beaches are - way out of town. I think this is "our" goal, but Thanh is driving, and the further we get out of town, the slower we go. I think that perhaps we are running out of gas or the bike is losing power. Finally she stops.
"Why?" she asks, indicating the open road ahead.
I'm surprised, but I say, "Because that's where the beautiful beaches are."
She is really uncomfortable.
"I don't like," she says, and I realize that she hasn't spent any of her days outside of her community - it must be really strange to feel so isolated. So we head back and find a beach in town with hardly anyone on it.
At first she is hesitant about the water. The previous night, after fish soup and the night market, I drag her down to the water and make her wade in it. She screams and laughs, but then finally relaxes and says, "Hello, Sea."
But in the daylight the waves aren't so menacing, and pretty soon I see her all the way in the water in her shorts - she doesn't have a swimming suit.
And later, while laying on the sand, she says, "Freedom."
She says so many good one-liners during the 48 hours. When we wake up on the first day, the first thing she says is, "It's so quiet." Reminded me of when Katherine was showing her a picture of her parents' Montreal cul-de-sac, covered in snow. She didn't mention the snow - her only comment, "Where are all the people?"
And on the first morning, when we walk to the end of Fran and Ann's gated community to peer over a brick wall and see the fishing community in full work mode, she says, "Two worlds." Which is exactly what that contrast is.
And after landing in Nha Trang, I don't want to make a big deal out of the fact it is her first time on an airplane, but when the plane stops, she says, "Not scared."
But our favorite line the whole trip is something I told her that my three-year-old niece, Ava, said on Christmas Eve when my whole family showed up: "I can't believe my eyes!" To every beautiful scene or temple or experience, this is our on-going joke.
It's really fun to be at the temples with Thanh. She is very spiritual, and places money in all of the donation boxes. When we pray to the Lady Buddha, she says, "You ask her anything, anything..." and when we pass an elephant god, we rub his head then rub our hair, "For lucky." She buys incense at each place, and offers gratitude constantly. She also buys Ann many "host gifts" - flowers, candy, a lucky Buddhist medallion. She and Ann are fast friends - Ann is Vietnamese, Fran is American. They met in Philadelphia, and have had numerous experiences in education here. Right now they are on a break from it all.
I learn some pretty shocking news from Thanh during these 48 hours, and I wish I could see the look on Katherine's face when she reads this. But, here you go: the fabric stand is Thuy's, not Thanh's. Thanh just "helps." She doesn't get any money from her work.
"I don't need money," she explains. Thuy pays for everything - the house, food, rent for the stand. Thanh gets a little money from selling silver on the side, but it's just a part of being in the family. I ask her why Thuy does the stand and she says, "She's good (at it)." The other day when I was buying fabric, I asked Thanh "how much?" and she said, "I don't know. Ask Thuy." And that kind of surprised me. But now I understand that it's not Thanh's thing.
The other shocking news: there was this guy that we always saw kind of hanging around the stand, and we never really knew who he was. Hanging out at their house as much as I have been, I see that he's there in the mornings to assemble the stand, then at night to put everything away. I ask her who he is.
"He's my brother," she says. Then she says that he's different. I ask her what she means and she says, "Asberger's."
Anyway, we had a lovely time. When we land and walk out of the airport to smell the city and feel its electricity, she says, "I love love love Saigon."
Nha Trang is beautiful, and the air is clean, but home is home.
For me it is so refreshing to see my friends - we had so many significant times together. One reason I wanted to come to Nha Trang was to say goodbye to a very good mutual friend who had passed away over a year ago. Fran and I sat on the top of the Catholic church where he's buried and called him names for not being with us.
"I got him back, though. He's going to kill me for burying him at the Catholic church." But the view from up there is beautiful, and I think he is happy, despite himself. So this is a trip of many emotions. Many.
Here are the squid rice cakes - yum: