With my Ray Ban on, I thanked the young man and went on my way. But he wasn't going to let me go like that. He introduced himself and started a conversation. His name was Dang.
Dang first asked me if I needed a guide to visit the historical monuments in the area. I told him that I had already booked a tour with the hotel. He then offered me his services as a guide for the next day. I told him that I would be on my way to Hoi An then. He asked me if I needed a ride back to my hotel - I told him I was happy to walk.
This young man was definitely perceptive. I was ready to get rid of him when he asked me:
- Do you need anything else?
Actually, I did. I still didn't have a bathing suit. The best way to avoid being ripped off in Vietnam is to be escorted by a Vietnamese. They know the prices and can negotiate more efficiently.
- Do you know where I can buy a swimsuit?
- Yes, swimsuit, I repeated slowly. Mimicking a breaststroke, I added:
- You know, to swim.
- Yes, I know, he said. Follow me.
After walking a few blocks, we ended up in a restaurant. Dang waved me in. He introduced me to the waiter:
- He is my friend. He will help you.
A conversation in Vietnamese ensued. I sat down at one of the tables, a little confused. Maybe this young man was selling bathing suits in the back of his restaurant. Or maybe he knew where to find them.
The waiter approached me with a menu. I glanced at Dang, who nodded in approval. The waiter opened the menu:
- Here. Shrimp soup.
I burst out laughing. I turned back to Dang and said:
- Not shrimp soup. Swimsuit!
After some explanation to the waiter, the three of us were soon laughing. Dang was visibly embarrassed by his mistake. As we left the restaurant, he said to me:
- Swimsuit, for swimming?
- I know. Come with me.
We got back on his motorcycle and rode through the busy downtown streets. I was glad he was coming with me - I wouldn't have known where to find a swimsuit store in this big city.
We drove for about 15 minutes and ended up at a sports complex. This made sense: sportswear stores in Vietnam should be located in such complexes. That's why I hadn't seen any.
We entered the complex and Dang asked the security guards about it. He told me that the place was closed for the day but that another one was still open. We got back on the motorcycle. We drove back through the city.
Sitting on the back of the bike, I enjoyed the ride. Normally, I'm the one in charge and I can't afford to admire the scenery. Driving a motorcycle in Vietnam, in the city or in the countryside, requires a lot of attention. It is an act of sustained concentration. So my appreciation of the landscape was always limited by my desire to stay alive.
But sitting behind Dang, I was gloating. I had my visor open and the wind in my face. I closed my eyes to listen to the sounds of the horns. My head was spinning like a weather vane to see everything. I was taking pictures with my camera at arm's length. I would turn to look at the traffic lights behind us. I didn't have to worry about getting lost. I was enjoying this sweet carefree feeling.
We arrived at our second destination. Satisfied with his find, Dang pointed to the large sports pool in the complex.
- Here, swimsuit. Big one.
I didn't know what to say. Dang was so proud to have found me a pool. I didn't want to tell him he'd been wrong a second time. So I played along.
Dang went inside to see if it was open. He came back looking dejected - it was closed for the winter because it was too cold. I reassured him that it was okay, and that it was too late to do laps. He was motivated to find me another pool but I insisted on going back to my hotel.
In the meantime, I had had the chance to try out my friend's company. He was infinitely kind and had more dedication than a congregation of nuns. During my trip, I tried to surround myself with Vietnamese rather than tourists, but opportunities were few and far between. So I took this one.
I agreed with my friend that he would be my gastronomic guide for the dinner, and my tour guide for the visit of the historical monuments the next day. He was obviously delighted.
We had an appointment at 7pm to have dinner together.