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A story about a bus ride in Vietnam

Friendly and Exotic People
Submitted by Dick B

If you’re looking to meet new, friendly and exotic people in an intimate, group setting, I strongly recommend taking a bus in Vietnam. It doesn’t matter where you go or for how long. If this is your sort of adventure, there are some things you need to know. You absolutely must find the bus at its orgination early enough to get a seat. Make sure you make a head call, take on bottled water and charge up your sense of humor. By the time the old rig leaves the city limits it will be SSSRO. That’s standing, sitting and squatting room only. You can be sure every inch of floor real estate will be covered with the feet of those hapless beings who did not have the foresight to find or be able to get to the bus station. Experiencing the bus is one thing, liking the bus is an acquired taste.

Our little bus ride today was a rush job. We were off at the last minute to go to the funeral of a good friend of Thu An’s who was also a member of her opera troupe. Mr. Thu’s life was cut short by a motorbike while crossing the street to get a coffee in his home town of Duy Xuyen. It is about 10 or 15 kilometers south on the rode to Chu Lai. He was a young man and had a bad heart. I was told he never married because of this. I normally would find him at the coffee shop in Sai Gon and also at the Dien Bien Phu apartment building. He seemed to be everywhere over these last three years. We didn’t say much to each other but he seemed gentle and kind and I liked him instinctively. I felt I had known him for a long time and was saddened to here of his death by this country’s most clear and present danger.

We learned of his death while walking along the beach road. Thu An had just signed the rental agreement for our house and we had just gone for a walk to check out the neighborhood. We walked the three blocks to the beach and were strolling down the new road south towards the My Khe Beach Hotel. This new road, six lanes wide, is said to run along the whole beach from Monkey Mountain, past Marble Mountain and China Beach, south to Hoi An; a good 25 kilometers. All the houses and restaurants that were once cluttering the beach side of the street were gone. All that remained were some whispy pine trees, rubble, half finished gutter drains and groups of ladies trying their darndest to rent us some old beach chaises down by the water. Across the road, new construction and new restaurants were already popping up. We were marvelling at the apparent sudden changes to this part of Da Nang and the expectant beauty of the finished product when Thu An’s cell phone went off in my right pants pocket.

I watched her experession go from happiness to shock as the caller loudly announced the news. She folded the phone closed and told me in gulping expressions Thu had been killed by a motorbike. At first I didn’t follow her Vietnamese. I understood someone had died but it remained unconnected. She read my unchanged composure and new I didn’t know what she was talking about yet. She said over and over, “Thu, Thu, Thu, Anh Thu, Que Son, chet, motorbike!” The image of Thu as I last saw him, sitting on her mattress in her little room in the Dien Bien Phu Street building, smiling up at me as I gave him a “See you again.” in Vietnamese, broke into my consciousness. I didn’t know what to say.

Over the next hours and into the next day, a flurry of phone calls kept her busy coordinating the details of our life with the need to go to a funeral. Most everything we had planned for the next three or four days had to be put off and rescheduled. She gave me updates in short clipped Viet-lish. Without any real responsibilities to handle, I just changed the batteries in my camera flash and stayed ready to roll.

Then, in the middle of the next day’s afternoon, with only fifteen minutes warning we bought a Buddhist funeral wreath and headed by motorbike to the bus station. The folks who were going to take care of her son made us lunch and then whisked us away. On the way, she stopped and bought a large bundle of joss sticks.

At the station, an open lot really, the bus to Tam Ky was slowly filling. It was another one of these overworked and sorely abused Korean built city busses from somewhere else. The crew of four were loading the roof and keeping track of the food and refreshment hawkers getting on and off. As we started out onto Dien Bien Phu Street, Thu An slumped down in the seat and closed her eyes. I sat next to the aisle and watched intently as the bus ambled along its way. The crew solicited and then stopped for every and all available customers on its way out of Da Nang. Before long, I was having another one of those intimate group experiences with new, friendly and exotic people.

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