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  • Flora Le

Christmas at Ba Be Lake


There is no hotel at Ba Be Lake, but rather a myriad of homestays run by H'mong people. Ours was absolutely charming. It looked like a cross between a rustic wooden cottage and a house on stilts. The place was obviously not heated, but the interior was clean, cozy and comfortable.


My body was slowly getting used to the climate. After four days, I was still feeling the cold, but I wasn't as bothered by it. Even on the bike, my body had learned to wait in the cold. My fingers and toes were still frozen, but my mind didn't care. Instead, I was focused on marveling at the scenery around me. Every moment I was reminded of how lucky I was to be on a motorcycle in such exotic and beautiful surroundings.


Every moment, too, I thought how lucky I was to have found Trung. We had been traveling together for four days and I was thrilled to have him with me. His presence was so reassuring. He helped me adapt to this new environment in which I would be immersed for the next six weeks. We had seen many different types of roads: the busy and chaotic streets of Hanoi, the winding and isolated roads of the mountains, the country roads full of animals, the polluted highways dominated by heavy trucks, and the off-road roads. In short, I felt that I was now better prepared for the solo portion of my trip.


Trung had agreed to stay with me one more day. He would normally have taken the road to Hanoi the next morning, but he decided to make a detour to follow me south. Tomorrow was our last day on the road together.


Although I had adapted to the road, I still had many fears related to my trip. Fear of breaking down in the middle of nowhere. Fear of getting lost. Fear of asking directions to people whose language I don't speak. Fear of being treated like a persona non grata because I am a tourist. Fear of not knowing how to order in restaurants without a menu. I dreaded the moment when Trung and I would go our separate ways.


Alone, I felt very vulnerable in this country where I don't speak the language. Since the beginning of my trip, I had been carrying a guilt about not being able to express myself, even minimally, in Vietnamese. I wanted people to know that I was not just another tourist. That my father was from here, that I had the blood of the country in my veins and that my trip had a special meaning. But the fact that I didn't speak the language reduced me to just another tourist. I was often frustrated by this.


Since there are no restaurants in the area, the hostel prepared a dinner for us that night consisting of rice with imperial rolls and some meat dishes. One of them was a cold chicken salad with onion strips and some leaves of a Vietnamese herb I don't know the name of.

At the first bite, I froze. I had already eaten this dish. My mind raked over my memory to find where and when. And then after a while, a distant memory came back to me. I had eaten it when I was a child. It must have been fifteen or twenty years ago. My father had cooked it.

It was Christmas Eve. I looked up at the sky and smiled.


After dinner, I retired to my room as I do every night. Trung would have wanted us to continue the party with a few beers. But I wanted to take advantage of the two hours I had left to write a few words.


I was already feeling the sting. After four days, what I wanted most on this trip was to ride and write. Just riding and writing.

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