As an avid couchsurfer and hitchhiker, I benefited from the kindness of others on a daily basis. The generosity of near-strangers surprised and inspired me. So much so, that the theme of my backpacking journey slowly changed from “Why are people so nice to me?” to “I love people.”
One incredible example spans my first two weeks in Vietnam.
When I began to map out my post-au pair plans, Vietnam was always a given. My college roommate is from Hanoi — reason enough to make it priority number one. But after purchasing my plane ticket, I realized I hadn’t figured out any of the logistics. Where would I stay? How much time would I spend in Hanoi?
Without any hesitation, Van’s entire family welcomed me with open arms. I stayed in their home for two weeks– touring the city on my own during the day, and reuniting at nighttime for dinner. Van’s mom (Nguyet) made some of the most tasty food I’ve ever had, and slowly but surely I felt more comfortable using chopsticks to devour it.
Nguyet loved how much I could eat, once telling me that I “ate like a Vietnamese.” And I began to feel like I belonged, because of how quickly they integrated me into their family life. She began to give me Vietnamese lessons, instructing me on how to say my name, where I’m from, etc. That is one of my favorite memories, being picked up by Van’s mom and dad after a full day of exploring Hanoi, and practicing the phrase “Tôi ăn chay,” literally meaning “I eat vegetarian,” referring to my diet, not my preferred choice of cannibalism.
When I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to visit Halong Bay on my own, her parents decided to drive us all there, making a weekend trip out of it.
On my last day in Hanoi, I rode on the back of Van’s scooter to her mom’s workplace. Nguyet came outside, and we said our final goodbyes. She told me to come back soon.
I definitely will.