This past weekend, I went to Hue, in central Vietnam. Hue is a small town, with lots of history, a unique culture, and wonderful food. When I am looking to get away from the big city for a bit, Hue is my go to destination. This past weekend, I was looking forward to seeing my local friends that I hadn’t seen in some time, enjoying some of my favorite foods, and relaxing in the quiet royal city.
I arrived Friday afternoon, but my friends were busy until the evening. So I decided to take a nice walk along the beautiful Perfume River that splits Hue in half.
About 2 minutes into my walk, I was approached by some local students who were sitting in the park that is around the river. They asked if I would take some time to speak with them so that they could practice their English skills with a native speaker. I was a bit cautious and wary that it might be some sort of scheme, but I agreed to talk with them for a few minutes.
I was pleasantly surprised by this group of wonderful people. They were students studying in all different fields, including medicine, law, economics and tourism. The few minutes that I had promised them, quickly became an hour. They asked me about life in the US, and about how I saw in Vietnam. Every time I said something nice about Vietnam, I could see the happiness in their eyes, as if I had just complimented them personally.
At one point in the conversation, it came out that I speak a very decent Vietnamese. They were all quite surprised and said that none of them had ever met a foreigner capable of holding a conversation in Vietnamese, because so few foreigners live in Hue. We switched to talking in Vietnamese and the conversation continued for another hour and change.
Around 7pm, most of the group excused themselves and went home to eat dinner. But a few remaining people invited me to eat at some of their favorite student eateries and introduce me to some new foods. I assured them, that I had been to Hue many times, and there was probably no local food that I had yet to try. But of course, I was wrong.
They took me to two different food stalls, and showed me 4 different dishes that I had never had before. All 4 were quite tasty. But the real fun was the conversation with my new friends. It turns out, that before that day, they only knew each other’s faces, but had never talked. But after that day, everything changed, and now we were all friends.
After we finished eating, we went to a drink stall and sat and talked. At each place, my new friends couldn’t wait to introduce their new foreign friend to whoever was near by. After we were done drinking, we all exchanged Facebook contact information, and one of them drove me back to my hotel on his motorbike.
The interesting things is, that when they initially approached me, I came very close to saying no. Many times, while walking around Hanoi, I have been approached in similar fashion, and it often turns out to be an attempt to try and get money out of me. It was getting to a point that I was becoming quite cynical. But for whatever reason, I decided to give this group a chance, and I am glad I did. I had a great evening, and now have more friends. Sometimes in life, you just have to put yourself out there, especially when traveling alone. If you do, life often has pleasant surprises waiting for you.