I’ll start this by stating the obvious: I really like Hello Kitty. And it has been pointed out, on more than one occasion, that I am in fact an adult, and my love of this childish mascot is kind of…. well, childish. Well, let me tell you right now: Hello Kitty love is a great thing, and it kept me from getting hopelessly lost this week.
But first, let me back up a bit. Heading into week two here in Can Tho, I’ve begun to get the hang of things. I’ve found a few food stalls and restaurants where I can order without speaking Vietnamese. I can cross the street, if not with reckless abandon than at least without a major panic attack (maybe just a small one). And I have been exploring my neighborhood as much as my incredibly poor sense of direction allows.
If you know me, you probably know I would have trouble finding my way out of a paper bag. But even so, I usually find my way eventually. Back home, I credit my iPhone and Google maps with this small miracle. Here, I’ve yet to unlock my iPhone, so I’m left to rely on actual maps (by which I mean screenshots taken on my iPhone of a Google map). And in reality, I didn’t even try this until Thursday. Most of my adventures have been in a straight-ish line or with others with better directional capabilities than myself. It was working out just fine, but eventually I knew I’d have to get to work without a taxi and find my own way to the grocery store.
But I digress: Thursday. I don’t teach on Thursdays, and while time off is great, I have yet to really figure out what to do with the copious amounts of free time I seem to have these days. I mean, even on days I do teach, my schedule is still pretty lax. I wake up whenever I feel like it (usually later than I had planned), eat some form of baguette + topping for breakfast, do some lesson planning, venture out for coffee or lunch, come home and wait until I need to go to work. Plain and simple, I’ve been a bit bored with all this time on my hands.
It sounds silly – when I told people I was planning to move to Vietnam for a year, even I had visions of a year jam-packed with adventure and excitement. I forgot that, even on the other side of the world, life is just life, and some days you end up sitting at home in your pajamas watching Netflix and eating junk food. Here the junk food just happens to be seaweed-flavored potato chips and choco-pies. I was feeling bad about not being more adventurous, and especially for not making more of an effort to go out and find friends.
That’s when my new housemate told me about a nearby café that hosted an English happy hour on Thursdays. He was going to observe a class at the center, but suggested that it might be a fun way to meet some friends in the area.
I decided this was exactly what I needed. I studied my route, dressed up, and headed out in order to arrive at what I calculated as around 30 minutes after happy hour started. My route took me through several smaller streets and back allies, and while back home this would have been a scary thing to do (walking alone in an unfamiliar place), I promise that here, it was really no big deal. In fact, I prefer walking on the smaller streets, because there are fewer motorbikes, and even small streets are full of people.
So I walked, and walked, and I was pretty sure I was going the right way. Until I wasn’t, and all of a sudden I couldn’t find the street I was supposed to turn on. Most streets are well marked here, but this is not always the case for smaller, less traveled areas. I stopped to ask directions from a woman running a bahn mi stand (clever me, I had written the address down!), and was kindly pointed back in the right direction.
Off I went again, with perhaps less confidence in my directional abilities, but certainly I was not daunted. And as it turns out, my wrong turn led me to a Pagoda where something big was happening, and I got to sit and watch some sort of ceremony for a few minutes. But this interesting distraction was just that – distracting. And I was once again at a loss as to which way to turn.
I picked a direction and decided to just go for it. I came out at a busy street, totally at a loss as to where I had ended up. I was starting to feel a bit nervous, and then I saw it, bright and pink and happy as could be: an entire shop devoted to Hello Kitty goods!
Now, certainly I had not gotten lost, but had subconsciously wandered in the direction of what is probably the nicest collection of HK goods in Can Tho. Inside the shop, a young woman and man were eating their dinner off of a small table in the back. I decided I would ask them for directions, but naturally I should buy something if I expected them to help me. I selected a pair of kitty house slippers (something I actually did need, and have since used every day) and went forward to pay and ask my question.
Now, I was just hoping for someone to point me in the right direction. I anticipated at least another 20 minutes of searching were in my future. So, I asked the girl if she knew the place I was looking for. Not only did she speak awesome English, it turns out her friend was a volunteer at the café, and she decided to call her friend to have someone come pick me up. This was perfect! She called, but when her friend didn’t pick up she grabbed an extra helmet and said her brother would drive me over instead.
It took me a minute to process that these people were not only willing to help me, they were going to stop mid-meal and make sure I found my destination.
Now, I realize that my family is probably having a heart attack after reading this. Yes, back home, I would never in a million years accept a ride from a stranger on a motorcycle. However, here in Vietnam, the kindness of strangers is not so suspect, and it absolutely did not occur to me that this might be anything other than a kind gesture. In fact, I didn’t even think about that until I started writing this post. But in that moment I grabbed the Hello Kitty helmet, hopped on the back of this guy’s bike, and was safely delivered to the Tiny Corner Café, which I would never have found on my own.
The café was fun, but I’ll save that story for another day. For now, I’m going to kick off my Hello Kitty slippers, curl into bed, and try to remember where that Hello Kitty shop was….