This morning, determined to keep a positive attitude, we take to the teeming roads of Vietnam once more. Now mentally prepared to let the chaos wash over us, the constant dance of dodging people and oncoming traffic is actually pretty fun. It has taken a few days, but we're getting used to the pace of Vietnam.
…and with smiles like these to cheer us on, we're finding it easier and easier.
Not far out of town, we pull off the road to check out our first Vietnamese market. Since neither of us relishes the idea of pushing our bicycles through a crowd, Tara agrees to stay with the bikes while I make my way around on foot.
I am ridiculously out-of-place with my shiny black spandex riding shorts, camera, and helmet (which for reasons unknown, I am still carrying). Absolutely every person with whom I make eye contact gives me a long and curious stare. It's no bother; two years of being a foreigner has rendered me wholly numb to sticking out like a sore thumb.
At the heart of the bustling market, I can hear a faint chorus of chirping. Making my way towards the sound, I discover a basket full of ducklings! Excited to document the crippling level of cuteness on display, I pull out my sound recorder.
Several of the dinky little fluffballs take notice of the giant piece of electronics looming overhead, and pause their incessant twittering just long enough to scramble over their brothers and sisters (with uncoordinated webbed feet flailing), eager to peck at the plastic intruder.
Every time one of the floppy little fowls tumbles its way towards my hand, I must resist a visceral urge to scoop it up and squeeze. What is it about human biology that makes baby animals so compelling, and why do I want to literally hug them to death? These are counter-productive urges, Nature.
After a spin around the crowded, market-filled block, Tyler returns grinning, and ushers me on my way as he secures hold of both our bicycles. As I slip through the crowds, I, too, am far from blending in, garnering looks left and right.
While I squat down to coo at the flat basket of the pint-sized chirping fluff-balls resting on the ground, I can feel hundreds of eyes on my back, and notice market sellers doing confused double-takes at my presence. Then they smile and point, and chatter to each other in rapid-fire Vietnamese. My best guess is that they're saying something like:
Hey, I could swear there was just a guy in black spandex and a helmet doing the –exact same thing– just a few minutes ago!
After fully appreciating the duckies and resisting the urge to scoop them all up and take them away in my panniers, I move on to the other market stalls. My first stop is at banana lady's domain. She's awesome and old and very, very smiley, so I buy some bananas which we're sure to use as a snack.
She seems to be as happy about this as she is about all the attention she gets from her peers when the white girl with weird tan lines pays her a visit. I just love her little red cardigan!
Next is the seafood lady. Though I have no call to buy her product, she is very enthusiastic about showing off her fresh grey shrimp, thanks to the egging on of her friend sitting nearby. The friend laughs, and then the shrimp lady laughs, and then I laugh at the absurdity of it all. Then, I thank her, and carry on.
Encroaching on the main market thoroughfare is my final stop: the iced jelly dessert stall. On ridiculously small stools that make me think of kindergarten, old women squat around a laughably minuscule table, rear ends dangerously close to the comings and goings of the market. They chat, eat spoonfuls of the chilled milk-and-jelly concoction, and they watch the world go by.
Upon seeing me hover for a moment, the elderly ladies rustle up another stool and pat it, welcoming me into the fold. I am happy to comply, sitting in the middle of the road, waiting for my dessert. Behind the table, a woman takes a glass and scoops in all manner of colorful agar-agar cubes, strings, and zigzag shapes. Then, she adds a few ice cubes, and pours over a ladleful of white liquid that tastes of thinned, sweetened coconut milk.
Though a bit odd, it's a delicious and refreshing light dessert for a hot day such as this.
While Tara explores the market, I practice my Vietnamese with a curious and outgoing young boy. I teach him one through five in English, and he does the same for me in Vietnamese (much to the delight of his mother and her friends). When Tara returns, and we say our goodbyes, his mother rushes to hold him up, pointing excitedly at the camera for us to take a picture:
This is shaping up to be a great day!