It started off as a rough day. I was running behind schedule and I had not planned out my route. From Nghia Lo I started down the road and made my way south. I ended up in the town of Yen Bai.
At this point I realized that I was lost. I had traveled about 40 km or 25 miles in the wrong direction. On this rough and winding road 40 km took one and a half hours. I would have to backtrack. One and a half hours in the wrong direction, one and a half hours to backtrack. That meant that I had wasted three hours of precious daylight. I was upset with myself, I was physically tired and for some reason I was sleepy too.
I eventually made my way back one and a half hours to where I needed to be to the town of Van Chan. How had I missed this intersection?
As I was passing through the town I noticed a bicycle shop. I thought to myself that I should stop and purchase a bicycle tire pump. After getting lost on a rough road I thought to myself that I should prep a little better for these types of situations. When traveling by motorcycle I always like to have the necessary tools and equipment for roadside repairs. I had most of the basic tools and two spare inner tubes in case I were to get a flat tire. But I didn't have a pump to inflate the tubes. So I stopped at the bicycle shop to see if there might be one for sell.
This smiling gentleman came out to greet me. He could tell that I wasn't his typical customer by the way that I was dressed and the way that I was acting. I greated him with a hello in Vietnamese. Then I pointed to one of the tires on a bicycle and made a pumping action with my hands. I'm becoming an expert at pantomiming. He understood immediately that was looking for a pump. He nodded his head yes and showed me a electric pneumatic pump that he had in his shop. I pantomimed that I needed a small handheld pump. He shook his head right and left indicating that he did not have one. But he pointed across the street at a hardware store and indicated that they may have one for sell. I thanked him and walked across the street to the hardware store. I called out but no one responded. Then the gentleman walked across the street and called out for the owner. The shop keeper emerged. The gentleman explained that I needed a small hand pump. The shop owner directed me to one aisle of the store and pulled out a footpump. I indicated that I was looking for small handheld pump. The shopkeeper eventually pulled out a bicycle hand to foot pump. The pump was not exactly what I was looking for, but it would meet my needs. And it only cost 40,000 dong or about two dollars. So I bought it.
As I was walking back towards my motorcycle the gentleman made a gesture to me. He moved his hand as if he were holding a cup and lifted it toward his mouth. I smiled at him and shook my head... Yes... I needed a drink. I was parched and really beyond just thirsty. However, I thought that he was telling me that I should go into the small grocery store next door a buy a drink. So I started walking in the direction of the grocery store. But then I realized that he was actually inviting me for a drink inside his house. So I turned around and I followed him.
I can only speak and understand a few words in Vietnamese. But over three or four cups of hot tea I learned a few things about this man and women.
I learned they were a couple. I learned that they had one son and these children were their grandchildren. The television was on, and the program that was showing was a Vietnamese program about travel within the country. So I assumed this gentleman liked travel stories. I showed him the list of towns in Vietnam that I had visited and was planning to visit. He seemed to appreciate the journey that I was on. It is amazing what you can share and learn with gestures and a few words.
This gentleman didn't have what I wanted, but he gave me what I needed. When all I really wanted was a bicycle pump, he showed me kindness. When all I really wanted was a cool drink, he showed me warmth. Was this man a mind reader? I don't know. But at that time and at that place, he gave me just what I needed... humanity.
I do not know if it was the break from riding, time out from under the sun, the stillness of the moment, or the three or four cups of tea that I drank, but when I began to ride my motorcycle again, I felt very alive. For the remainder of the day I rode like the wind.