Turning Travel Pro
There’s an older Vietnamese guy speaking loudly to me as I bump along on a local bus.
A hot and wiggly Miss M is squirming on my lap as I try to decipher his strange accent.
At least, I think it’s his strange accent. My Vietnamese is not that flash at the best of times and these circumstances are far from quiet and calm and conducive to concentrating on the slippy slidey consonants and tones of Vietnamese.
We had already discussed where I come from (what kind of foreigner are you?) and where we were going but I just could not grasp the follow-up questions.
“Sorry, I don’t understand,” I say to the older gentleman, who has twisted round in his seat to talk to this big Western stranger (with child) on his local bus.
People around us titter with laughter. I am assuming they also find him difficult to understand. Or they’re laughing at me.
I poke my four-year-old and ask her quietly if she can understand the man.
She says no. She says he’s not speaking “Ginamese”. My hunch is vindicated. It’s an accent.
Eventually the gentleman gets off the bus and I’m left to ponder our situation. Me and Miss M navigating our way across Ho Chi Minh City on a hot, noisy and crowded local bus.
This is what being a professional traveller looks like, I suddenly realise.
Because we are on our way to check out a new museum dedicated to the ao dai, the graceful flowing-yet-fitted national dress of Vietnam.
We are heading there as part of my new gig updating a big name guidebook. Miss M is with me because Wednesdays are half days at her new school and because I thought she’d like the grounds, which I’ve heard have already become a popular location for local film makers. We are on the bus because it’s sooooo much cheaper than a taxi. The new gig pays but not well enough to swan around town in taxis every day.
Since I signed the contract a week or so ago I have alternated between feeling excited at the prospect of exploring my adopted home in greater depth and feeling completely overwhelmed with the amount of work involved. I have an early December deadline and I’ve never had to self-manage such an enormous amount of work over such a long period before.
It’s a dream come true, in some ways. Who doesn’t want to get paid to travel? What writer doesn’t want to immerse themselves in a topic, becoming so drenched that the sights, sounds, smells and images that words drip from your fingers effortlessly like a tree scattering raindrops after a sun shower?
This is the reality: Deep in thought, trying to summon the words to describe the way the incense curled lazily to the ceiling in that atomspheric Cantonese temple from last week when “EXCUSE ME I BURPED” is yelled into my ear.
That’s what being a professional traveler looks like at our place, where my home office is also a main household thoroughfare.
“Excuse me is supposed to be an apology, not an announcement, sweetie,” I mumble as I rise from the computer and lead Miss M back out of the room to her play area.
I resume my place on my ever-sinking office chair that is wreaking havoc with my shoulder. I try to remember what profound thought I was thinking a minute ago. And how many more Ho Chi Minh temples I have to write about this week.
“The baby has done four poos today,” thunders Darling Man as he carries a kicking bundle of smiles past me to the bathroom.
Brilliant. Just what I needed to know right now.
Right. The temple. Which one did I visit again?
Back on the bus, which is bouncing and swerving very professionally over bumpy old District 9 roads, we reach our destination. We are deposited, very professionally, right next a sign that points the way to the Ao Dai Museum.
It is a stunning place. The ao dais, as exquisite as they are, take a back seat to the beautiful grounds.
Miss M is entranced by the ao dai quoits, the vast expanse of grass and feeding the fish in the lake. I am entranced by the beauty of the grounds. At the same time, I’m also boiling hot, shirt wet with sweat, as I alternate between taking photos, taking notes, keeping half an eye on Miss M and making small talk with the lovely Miss Cam, our guide.
Just before closing time we head to the museum cafe to rehydrate.
It is here, in this beautiful setting, that the seemingly gentle Miss Cam tries to kill us. With sour apricots.
Yes, this is what being a professional traveller looks like.
It also looks a little like this….
… with a side of sleep deprivation, baby poo and constant interruptions.
And in a few weeks, when I leave my babies and Darling Man behind to research the farther flung parts of Vietnam, it will be lonelier but much more productive look. With actual travel involved.
Stay tuned for updates from around the region.
- Ho Chi Minh City’s Ao Dai Museum is at 206/19/30 Long Thuan Street in District 9. It’s closed on Mondays and it’s a loooong way from downtown.
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