On Pause

By Stephen | February 27, 2014

10,625 km so far.

We chose poorly.

Hindsight, and all that, but we really shouldn’t have taken a rest day in Son La. The town offered little to entertain us, and our hotel was less than perfect. Yes, it had a beautiful view from the window, but the rice fields are awash with mosquitos, so we had to keep the windows closed tight.

Que Sera Sera

If we had known how wonderful and welcoming Hong Ky Hotel in Tuan Giao would be, we could have pushed through and taken a rest day there.

It just so happens that we are being forced into a rest day again. Last night’s dinner – we suspect the mounds of almost raw garlic was the culprit – didn’t sit well with Jane. She slept very little last night, couldn’t keep her food down, and so today, we are staying put.

Had we got to town a day earlier, instead of resting in Son La, who knows what might be. Jane could be healthy, and we could have enjoyed a nice day off together, in comfortable surroundings, walking amongst the karst cliffs and rice fields.

Instead, we are having our second day off in three days, and this morning I picked up some yoghurt for Jane to have with the bananas we bought yesterday. Hopefully this will help settle her belly.

The proprietress of Hong Ky got the kettle on the boil so I could make some coffee, one simple way they are making us feel welcome, at home, and comfortable. Cup in hand, I left Jane to her rest while I went out in search of breakfast for myself.

Not That, This

I wandered around town. It seems to consist of one main road with little cement alleyways behind, barely wide enough for a scooter, which lead to small abodes. These houses would not have been out of place in the countryside we were in yesterday, and the town really seems to have sprung up in front of the old homesteads.

I met one lady who seemed quite upset about a picture I was about to take. It was a sign giving information about when you should take you baby to the hospital. Several of them depicted how Jane was feeling.

This woman, however, was having none of it. I got the impression she thought it wasn’t a nice representation of Vietnam. I showed her some of the pictures I had already taken and assured her I thought her country was beautiful. Of course, she spoke no English and I speak no Vietnamese. So I could have it all wrong, and maybe she had no idea why I was showing her pictures.

She posed for a few photos, and showed me where she thought I should go – which was to continue walking the way I already was.

Several locals were snickering at the interaction, and I got the feeling they were laughing at her. She was being quite loud, and dramatic, and they were all getting a kick out it, so I didn’t mind. It was a fun way to kill 15 minutes with no harm done.

When I stopped in to check on Jane, the hotel matron, unrequested but absolutely appreciated, brought some rice congee up for Jane to eat, saying she hoped Jane felt better soon. How sweet!

Jane’s note: I was very touched by this kindness, especially since we’d refused to eat in the hotel restaurant the night before. Sadly, the congee was made with a very strong chicken broth, and my stomach could handle even a couple of bites of the meaty flavour.

I went out a while later to see about some lunch of my own. Not far from our hotel was a restaurant advertising Thit Cho, along with a picture of a golden retriever, which if you have been following my Instagram feed you will know is dog meat.

This restaurant was different from any we have seen so far. Out front there were four live dogs in cages, just waiting to be ordered for dinner. As I walked past they barked furiously at me, and when I looked them in the eyes they seemed to be saying, “Please, just open the cage and let us out.”

It was heart-breaking.

No Photos Please, We’re Communist

Back near our hotel something was afoot. There were hundreds of school children around wearing costumes, carrying signs, waving brightly coloured fans about, and being a little rambunctious.

Kids sports day, Tuan Giao.

Kids sports day, Tuan Giao.

Lots of other people were also watching what was going on, but of course I was the only Caucasian.

The kids were gathered in front of their school, along with about 20 military men in full dress uniform, some carrying machine guns. I could hear a band playing somewhere inside the building. A huge portrait of Hoa Chi Minh was being held aloft by a few students and six kids were carrying a billboard-sized Vietnamese flag.

Ho Chi Min billboard, Tuan Giao.

Ho Chi Min billboard, Tuan Giao.

I moved in to take a picture of the flag. It was then that a man in a military uniform walked over to me and told me No Photos, and gestured that I should leave. Now.

As I mentioned, lots of other people were watching the event, but I was the only obvious foreigner, and also the only one with a nice camera taking pictures. Still, it just appeared to be a school event. I was confused, disappointed, and a bit pissed off.

I went back to the hotel and asked the owner, who speaks French, what the event was. He told me it was a sports day. I was still none the wiser about why I couldn’t photograph, or even watch, it.

Jane’s note: Um, if there was a strange man taking photos of school children in the US, someone would call the police.

Who You Calling Hong Ky?

When dinner time rolled around the owners of the hotel offered Jane some soup to help her feel better.

They run a restaurant and serve food at the hotel, but twice today have gone our of their way to make her food, just to help her get back on her feet, and her wheels. They are such a sweet family, and really made what might have been a bad day much better.

The kindness of strangers never ceases to give me hope.  

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