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Running away from Home

Proofreading love letters

VIETNAM | Saturday, 10 April 2010 | Views [435]

The overnight bus trip from HCMC left me very weary. The bus was set up in three rows of bunks and I got a small “bed” towards the back. I was feeling under the weather with a sore throat and all I wanted to do was sleep, but a group of Vietnamese guys right behind me stayed up playing cards until 1:30am. I managed to get a few hours sleep, and when I got up I went to use the small lavatory in the back corner of the bus. This bus must have needed shocks because it was like trying to use the toilet in an earthquake. My throat was still bothering me so I took a peek at it. I tried not to panic when I saw the little white blisters on my tonsils. I thought I just had a post-nasal drip going on. This was clearly an infection. I thought, “calm down. Find a pharmacist. Get some antibiotics.” This was at 6:30 in the morning. By 6:40am we had arrived in Nha Trang and I had to deal with finding a guesthouse. The bus company that I had booked with had an affiliated guesthouse right next door, so straightaway someone was out there offering me a room for $8. It was a nice enough room for $8 and they allowed me to check in right away.

On my way out to find a pharmacist a member of the hotel staff asked where I was from. When I responded, “the U.S.,” she asked if she could talk to me. She was writing a letter to her British boyfriend and she wanted some help with the English. I told her that I would help her when I got back from the pharmacy. I found the shop, but it turned out be too early for buying meds. I plodded back to the hotel, sat down in the restaurant and ordered a fruit shake. The young woman brought her letter out and even though I just wanted to go upstairs and sleep, we worked on it together. I was a little embarrassed by some of the personal information I was being privy to so I focused on the challenge of trying to help her express what she wanted to say in English and not what I thought she should say. It was clear to me that she was in love with this person and was laying it all out for him. Some of the things she wrote made me want to say, “oh honey, don’t write this. You’ll scare him off.“ But it wasn’t my letter and I wasn’t a pretty little Vietnamese lady with a tight figure. There was also something poetic about this woman struggling to express her feelings in awkward English. I truly believe that human feelings cannot always be expressed with perfect syntax so when the meaning was clear I didn’t make many corrections. I was bowled over by one of her statements, “do not let silence do the talking.” English is my first language and I don’t think I could come up with anything that poetic. Maybe you have to feel it first.

We worked until we were both pleased the second draft. I told her that even though a few parts were rough, she actually expressed herself quite well. I also said that she was very lucky to have met someone so special to her. I told her that I was in my thirties and I have never felt this way about anyone. She gave me a look that was a combination of pity and horror. She had thought that her 27 years was quite long enough to wait for her first love. No further comment was made, but she thanked me repeatedly. I wished her well, and headed back out to the pharmacy. I love how you can purchase antibiotics with no prescription. I may be doing myself a disservice by self-medicating, but it seems so obvious to me. I got a broad-spectrum antibiotic for 120,000 Dong ($6), and hoped for the best. I got back to my room, popped a pill, and fell asleep until mid-afternoon.

When I came down for a meal at 2:00pm, there was a different woman working in the restaurant. I ordered some chicken noodle soup and hot tea. She asked me where my children were. I told her that I didn’t have any. She asked me if I was married. “On my own,” was my response. She asked my age. I told her 35. “You’ll get married this year.” Was she trying to reassure me, or is she clairvoyant? When she came back with my soup, she said something like she was older than me, but she still intended to get married. I was still sleepy and she spoke softly in broken English. I tried changing the course of the conversation by offering a compliment. I told her that even though she was older than me, she looked younger. “Of course. I am Vietnamese.” She went back to the subject of marriage. I wearily told her that not everyone is meant to be paired off. Again, the look of pity and horror. I hope that she knew that I was talking about me.

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