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The Serene Vulnerability of Travel

A 11:00 am I stepped off the bus in Ky Son; a place I had never heard of and knew nothing about. It is the first town in Vietnam as the two lane highway bends through the mountains and makes it’s way east, away from Laos.

When I got on the bus I had a much different destination, 300 kilometers away, but the reason I stepped off the bus in Ky Son is not relevant, what happened next is.

I had no local currency, didn’t speak the language, and was hungry and thirsty. Ky Son is a one road strip of houses and shops in a mountain valley. I walked the whole strip and did not see any money exchange or ATM. Two boys, aged 12, and sharing a single bicycle, slowed and said ‘Hello.’ A dozen other people in town had already stared and said ‘Hello,’ but only because I was a novelty, none spoke more than that and the youngest greeters often giggled. Frankly, I found it annoying.

The boy on the bicycle asked, “What’s your problem?”

“I need to change,” I said, pulling out some Lao money to show him. “Or an ATM.” I pantomimed putting my card in a machine and drawing cash.

“Follow me,” he said. “What next?”

I rubbed my belly. “Food.”

We traded some basic conversation as they led me to the towns only bank—which I had walked past minutes earlier. It was closed and would reopen in two hours.

“What you do now. You need to wait. Now you eat?”

“I have no money in Vietnam.” I pulled out the Lao bills again and shrugged my shoulders. “Only this. I need the bank before I can eat.”

The two boys looked concerned.

“It’s okay. I can wait here. I have a book to read. No problem.”

The two boys talked to each other in hushed tones. Then one asked, “You want come my house. It near.”

His parents were away. I couldn’t figure out for how long or why, but it was just the boy and his younger brother living there for the moment. We talked, they taught me some basic Vietnamese, took a few selfies with me then brought out food for me to eat, carefully making sure it was vegetarian after I explained I was. He even gave me some sugarcane to snack on later. They put on the television and watched an old episode of Mr. Bean.

“I like watch television only English,” one said.

Two hours later they walked me to the bank and said goodbye.

So often we hear about the evils of human nature and the unfriendliness of the world outside our comfort zone. That’s not my experience at all. There is incredible kindness and compassion out there but it whispers while fear screams.

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