Monday, May 22, 2006

Hello - is it me you're looking for?

While on holidays Teddy de Burca Jnr. rediscovered the simple joy of a simple hello in the middle of nowhere, before forgetting it ever happened at all

Of course, living in Vietnam it’s inevitable that you will become used to, if not immune to, all the children saying “hello” to you, and all the grown ups who also say, er, “hello”, as you pass them each and everyday, here, there and everywhere.

But you can’t be a happy go luck foreigner all of the time – except for that one guy who we all know who is always happy, yeah, you know the one, he doesn’t even get hangovers he’s so incorrigibly happy-go-lucky – so after a hard day’s work you can’t be blamed for dropping your head, switching into getting-home-mode and ignoring everything around you.

There are after all thousands of foreigners in Vietnam and, therefore, if I alone hear 10 hellos a day that means there are tens of thousands of hellos uttered everyday, which multiplied by 365 is a staggeringly, if not frighteningly, large number of hellos being said every year. So who could blame you for giving up on that word altogether (if so, may I suggest experimenting with an exotic “buon giorno” or a polite “good day to you, sir” instead).

But, if, or when, the city depersonalises you to this extent you should know it’s time to get out of town. Of course, if you fancy driving out of town it is a labour Hercules himself would have struggled to pull off (though I read that one of his 12 labours was to impregnate each of King Thespius of Thespia’s 50 daughters, which if you ask me, even if you failed, though Hercules didn’t, you might not be too bothered with the other 11 tasks and start writing your autobiography). For there is a Biblical proverb, I’m sure, that goes “the road to peace and tranquillity is not easy, in fact it’s horrible”, or is it “the path to a nice weekend away is a particularly hairy one”. Or how about the expression “trucks and cars and motorbikes may break my bones or even kill me but it’s the incessant beeps that really make me cry” – Book of Corinthians, perhaps?

Nevertheless through the dirt and past the gigantic speeding automated vehicles driven by men who look like they’re 15 years old, you travel, and somewhere, out there, way out there, and definitely past Thai Nguyen, you will find roads that are joyously empty and air that is actually nice to breathe.

And wherever you are – on the road to Sapa, winding your way down to Ba Be Lake, lost on the way to Ha Giang – the wind will be blowing through your hair, so you will slow down to take in the scenery and realise that the last interfering noise is the engine of your motorbike, so you’ll turn it off and roll to a standstill and listen to that sweet sound of eat-your-heart-out-Simon-and-Garfunkel-silence until, that is, you hear a small voice behind you say, “Hello!”.

Yes, it has been six months since your last hello, and you swore you’d never say it again, you said it was history, but when you wheel around and see a small girl beaming at you with what must be at that very monment the widest smile in the north of Vietnam, even though your sunburnt face is covered in mud and you might easily forgive her for considering you to be some kind of bogey man, and you know you can’t deny her, as you might hear 365 times 10 hellos per annum but it’s not every day the bogeyman pulls up outside her house, so you say “Hello!” before she tears away screaming with joy because you made her day.

However – it would be out of character to end so pleasantly - the only problem for you is at some stage you have to turn back. And yes, the drive back into Hanoi is just as horrific as the drive away, the only difference being your trip is over and you’re totally exhausted. So when you end up pulling up to your gate with deafened ears, grit in your eyes, an aching back and a stiff neck, thinking why didn’t I take the train, you find that you can barely get off your bike.

And as you fumble for your keys, you hear the pitter-patter of tiny footsteps running up to you and a kid materialises beside your knee, and as the lock clicks open and just before you collapse inside the gate, you mutter, “Listen kid, you know that I know you see lots of foreigners on this street everyday, so forget it” but unperturbed by your gobbledygook he stares you dead in the eye and shouts “hello!” before racing away while screaming with joy and you realise, he doesn’t even need you to make his own day. All he needs is that one little word – Hello!


elliott said...


Buddhist with an attitude said...

elliott, LOL!!!!!! you are a genius!

Anonymous said...

Dia dhuit!

pittstop designer said...

Feels good doesn't it...

pittstop designer said...

...saying Hello, that is.