A WET SHOE STORY
In May of 2005 seven members of the New Hampshire Master Chorale took a two week trip to Vietnam. We were collaborating with the Vietnamese National Opera and Ballet (VNOB) for a concert series in Hanoi and Halong Bay.
We were informed when we arrived in Hanoi that our home-stay families would be parents of children in the youth choir. I met Minh Hoa and her five-year-old daughter, Cat Phuong, shortly after we arrived at the Hanoi Opera House, and they whisked me away on a very long cab ride to their apartment.
It hadn’t occurred to me until I was in the cab that I might not be entirely welcome in their home. After all, this was North Vietnam. True, Minh Hoa had agreed to house me. However, during our conversation at the Opera House, she mentioned she shared her home with her parents. Unlike Minh Hoa, her parents were old enough to remember the war, and I was worried they would not be enthusiastic about hosting an American. Although Minh Hoa herself was friendly and kind, I knew I was completely at the mercy of this family. If the rest of her family harbored feelings of resentment, I wouldn’t know until I arrived, and I had no idea where I was going or how I could contact anyone else in my group.
Once we arrived, I realized I had been foolish to worry. Minh Hoa’s family welcomed me into their home with the utmost grace and warmth. Her parents smiled at me and showed me to my room, which was probably theirs, as it was the largest bedroom and opened to a balcony overlooking the street. They were keen to ensure I was comfortable and well fed. At the midday meal, they insisted on filling my bowl every time it was empty despite my protests. Minh Hoa was the only person in the house who spoke English, and just a small amount at that. Translating through Minh Hoa, her mother said after lunch, “You should rest now. It is good for you,” and I was happy to oblige. It was clear there were no feelings of anger toward me even though the U.S. had been on the other side of the war in Vietnam.
On the second day of my stay with them, it started to rain in the afternoon. It began as a light shower and turned into a torrential downpour that lasted over an hour. The crowded city streets quickly flooded with four inches of dirty water, and traffic came to halt.
At 6:30 P.M., Minh Hoa called for a cab to take us to the Hanoi Opera House for our concert. By seven, the cab had still not arrived, which was not surprising, considering the depth of water in the street. Every time a vehicle dared to drive by, water flowed into the kitchen. At 7:30 P.M., the cab finally arrived, and we all headed for the door.
Minh Hoa’s father carried Cat Phuong to the car so she wouldn’t get her feet wet.
I readied myself for a wade. But before I stepped off the curb, Minh Hoa’s mother stood below me in the street and motioned for me to get on her back. I would estimate her mother at sixty-years-old, 5’2″ and 115 lbs. There I was, a twenty-six-year-old, 5’6″, 175 lb. moose compared to this petite woman. And she wanted me to get on her back.
I do not speak Vietnamese except for a few important phrases, and “I am not getting on your back” was not one of them.
She argued with me in Vietnamese, and I argued right back in English, our arms waving frantically. Ignoring my protests, she turned her back to me, and with her feet planted in the newly formed lake in the street, she enthusiastically patted her shoulders. When I tried to step around her, she moved from side to side, blocking my path. It was clear she didn’t understand I was saying “no,” but I kept objecting anyway. Even though she couldn’t see me because her back was turned, I waved my arms and exclaimed loudly, “NO! Please!”
She turned around then and the look on my face of astonishment and stubborn refusal must have been enough for her to change tactics. As I again tried to step off the curb, she grabbed my arm and held out her hand, motioning for me to wait. She rushed into the apartment and returned with a pair of slip-on shoes and then helped me out of my own dress shoes and into hers. She handed me my shoes and smiled as I stepped into the muddy water. I could hardly believe it. This kind woman, who barely knew me, gave me her best pair of shoes so that mine would not be ruined by the water. I was instantly filled with respect and love for these gracious and caring people.
Carolyn’s travel adventures began at the age of seven. In recent years she has participated in choral tours to South Korea, Vietnam, Brazil and Peru. Upon completion of her MA in Arts Administration and Cultural Policy, Carolyn plans to combine her two passions, music and travel, and continue to champion quality arts programming worldwide. A New Hampshire native, Carolyn currently resides in London. Visit the New Hampshire Master Chorale at www.nhmasterchorale.org.
Reprinted from “Female Nomad and Friends” by Rita Golden Gelman. Copyright © 2010. Published by Three Rivers Press/Crown Publishers, a division of Random House, Inc.
We invite you to join s on the Female Nomad and Friends virtual tour. The full schedule can be seen at http://bookpromotionservices.com/2010/05/17/female-nomad-tour. You can learn much more about Rita Golden Gelman and her work on her website – www.ritagoldengelman.com. The book can be preordered on Amazon – http://www.amazon.com/Female-Nomad-Friends-Breaking-Around/dp/0307588017/