‘Stranger Danger’ – A False Pretense

A bit out of order, but this was a Vietnam post from right before crossing the border into Cambodia:

You know it’s going to be a good day when you wake up under a bridge in rural Vietnam, sunlight filtering through jurassic plants and getting caught in your mosquito net. You start your day early as the road rolls out before you and the heat wafts in, making every roadside waterfall and creek that much more alluring. You cover as much ground as you can until the hot wind has sucked the moisture out of you and finally you must succumb to the urge to submerge yourself in the next creek you encounter. Lucky for you, it’s a very fresh one running out of the mountains and away from farmland, surrounded by tall trees wearing white flowers, and a cloud of butterflies that breezes about. There is even a small waterfall with a perfectly positioned boulder to lounge on and let the refreshing water rush over you. After your skin hydrates, you opt to sun dry, sprawled on the pebble beach. You gaze at the sky and watch the butterflies flit around you as you drift off to sleep.

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You awake completely refreshed, and once back on the road are dazzled by the lush green hilly jungle. After hours of riding the heat persuades you to call it a day early so you begin to seek out a camp for the night. A sun dappled orchard of proud trees sporting multicolored collars catches your eye, so you check it out. However, as you drive up the hill your clutch suddenly goes out. A quick inspection reveals a snapped clutch cable. Thankfully you have a spare and 30 minutes and 4 very greasy hands later you’ve sorted it out.

As you clean your hands in the small dribble of leaky water truck valves orchard workers suddenly appear and offer you detergent for your hands, seemingly unphased to have 2 tall, blond, motorcycle wielding westerners covered in grease in their orchard. You all notice the setting sun. Your hope to camp sinks with the sun on the horizon, as your cover has been blown. Until, the men unlock the door to a shack and make the gesture for sleep; inside you find 2 large beds behind shiny curtains and a bronze bust of Ho Chi Minh. You prepare your aubergine with tofu and soup on their camp stove and try to make some sort of conversation over tea. You discover that the orchard is rubber trees and the men are spraying overnight.

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As the men prepare their own fresh dinner that was lying hogtied in the corner of the kitchen staring st you moments before, you settle in and drift off to sleep, thankful for a real bed. Suddenly you’re being tapped on the shoulder. “Súp?” “Whaat?” “Súp?” “Umm, sure you can have it.” Back to sleep. 20 minutes later, another tap, this time a different guy. “Súp?” “Súp ga?” Oohhhh, they want to know if you want some of their chicken soup. At midnight. While you’re asleep. “No. Gam ern.”

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After a decent rest you wake to only one man left, sleeping in a hammock keeping watch outside your door. The others return shortly; daylight means work to be done. You thank them for their hospitality and let them ride your Minsks a bit. Back on the road you think how thankful you are for Vietnamese hospitality, humor, and the rubber trees that you zoom by on your own 2 rubber tires.

“Stranger danger.” “Don’t talk to strangers.”rubber04

Unfortunately our society needs guidelines to keep our children safe from “strangers,” at least until they are wise enough to discern between what’s okay and what is not. And unfortunately some people never learn to let go of these boundaries that were learned as a child. Of course if you don’t, you’ll probably stay rather safe inside your own little world, but you’ll also miss the hospitality, love, and kindness of strangers. It’s amazing how generous some people can be, expecting nothing in return but a smile and maybe a good story out of it.

And after all, what is a stranger? I’m strange. I wouldn’t mind getting to know people “stranger” than me. Now especially, after the many kind people who have welcomed us into their homes (two tall, pale, often dusty and haggard strangers), I’m going to think twice about who I decline in need of a couch to surf or who I pass by out on the highway waiting with a lonely thumb out in the breeze.

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