Twe stops for a chat

I want to talk about people. Not places and sights and all that crap. People. Because people fascinate me almost as often as they bore me.

The other day I had a long chat to Twe, the vendor girl. I was at Kim’s Bar on Bui Vien, just inside the door, sorta hiding almost in the corner. I wasn’t really hiding, but I just wanted to be sort of inconspicuous and just watch stuff go by without being part of it. Twe wandered into the front area to try and sell some trinkets to some people sitting at the tables outside. They didn’t buy anything and she had a bit of a weary frown on her face. Then she squinted inside and saw me and her face lit up in the way that you only see on a Vietnamese vendor who knows she can definitely sell something and make 50 cents or whatever.

So she came in. I gestured to the seat beside me, but she said it was ok and she would stand because she stood all day while she was working anyway. She said “Wow. Haven’t seen you in more than two weeks”. I said “I know. I went to Hanoi”. “Really ? You too ?” she asked. “Yep. I left the day after you did. Guess what I did ? I bought a motorbike and rode it all the way home”. “From HANOI ?!” she said. “Choi oi. That is so far. Are you ok ? You get back alright ?” “Yeah. Not many problems. A few blown tyres and a little blockage in the fuel line, but not really any serious problems. People were very nice and I met lots of great people on the way home” I told her. “Wow. Ride from Hanoi. So far” was all she could say, shaking her head in amazement.

I asked how she was, and she said she was good, but of course she normally would say that. I politely asked about the funeral, because I knew she had gone home for her mother’s funeral. Obviously it’s always sad to lose your mother, but it just seems even more unfortunate when someone’s only in their 30’s and they don’t expect them to die, although I don’t know the circumstances and I presume she was sick. Twe said that it was hard for her to get back home again on such short notice because all her family lived in the north near Hanoi. I asked “You have no family in Saigon at all ?” and she shook her head. I vaguely wanted to ask “Why do you live here in Saigon, so far from your family ?”, but of course I knew the answer would be “For work, because I thought maybe I could earn more money in Saigon”.

I bought a pair of tiny scissors and something else I needed. It occurred to me recently that I have a disturbing array of bottles and lotions in my bathroom (for a straight guy who isn’t very metrosexual) yet I don’t have a toothbrush, and I was worried that the apartment’s cleaner would be commenting “Do you realise that guy on the top floor doesn’t have a toothbrush ?” So Twe being there was a great excuse to buy a toothbrush. She asked for 50,000 and I didn’t try and bargain her down because I knew she’d just got back from Hanoi, which meant she was off work for at least a week. I only had 100,000 though, and she didn’t have change. She said “Wait a minute. I will go change somewhere”. I saw her wander across the road to a little street food place, but neither the woman there nor the American guy eating there wanted to change a $5 for her. I saw her cross the road again and ask at a couple of places, getting turned down again and again.

I got distracted by my phone briefly and Twe must have found somewhere to get change, because she came back and gave me my 50,000 dong. We started chatting again because it had suddenly started raining outside, so obviously not great weather for walking the streets selling trinkets. She talked a little bit about her mum’s funeral and explained how she was well loved and people would be coming to the house to pay their respects for at least 50 days, but that after 100 days she was supposed to move on and stop grieving. I think that stopping grieving for a loved one is important, but it’s hard to draw a line between when you’re actually grieving, and when you’re just thinking about them. So maybe the idea of setting a limit on the number of days that you should grieve for is a good idea. And have a party afterwards I guess. Asians do that for their deceased relatives. They get pissed. It’s a good tradition. Noone who dies would ever want their family sitting around being unhappy about it. They would much prefer that you got drunk when they passed away, missed them for 100 days and then you had another piss-up to commemorate the end of the grieving process.

I imagine that it must mean that Twe has a big 24cm framed picture of her mother at home now in front of a small shrine where she would burn incense, but I didn’t ask. I guess that goes without saying. It was nice to have her talk to me about it. I’m not really a friend of hers or anything. We would never hang out. But seeing her and chatting is always a pleasure, and despite her stoic face and lack of sadness, it was touching to have her talk to me about her mother’s funeral a little bit. We talked about other stuff too I guess. I probably talked a lot about my trip back from Hanoi, because that seemed to impress Twe. I reckon we must have chatted for at least 40 minutes in total and it was good to have a longer interaction than just the usual “Oh hi Twe. How are you ? What have you got that I can buy ? Ok, thank you” stuff. When the rain stopped and our conversation had run it’s course she said “Ok, I go work more now. Nice to see you” and I still had the 50,000 dong note folded up in my hand, so I pressed it into her hand and said “You take this, ok ?” She just smiled and said thank you. It was only $2.50, but at least it was $2.50 that she didn’t have to trudge around town being nice to strangers to earn. For the amount of times that Twe’s put a smile on my face and made an average day a little bit better, giving her back the 50,000 dong change she gave me was really the least I could do. She’s a lovely girl and it’s always a pleasure to call her a friend. Some people might be cynical, but if I spend a couple of dollars on some slightly overpriced trinkets in return for a chat and a smile from a nice, honest Vietnamese girl and I feel that I know her a bit, that’s cool by me. Sometimes you need that.

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