Heat, Humidity And Hard Work
Mrs. Dawes, one of my least-favorite teachers, was wrong about many things. The metric system, for instance.
“You must learn this,” she insisted to a room filled with disinterested 6th graders, predicting - wrongly - that, “By the time you’re grown up, America will join the rest of the world in using the metric system. You’ll have to know meters, kilograms and even the centigrade scale to get along.”
Except for the three years I spent in Ireland, the intricacies of the metric system have been useless bits of knowledge. Long forgotten.
Good thing, too. If I’d known what 50°C translated to on the more precise Fahrenheit scale, I might not have set out on a half-day bike tour of small island villages in the Hoi An Delta on Monday.
And - despite the ungodly heat and 87 percent humidity - that would have been a pity.
It was already 104°F (I checked on my American phone) when we met our tour guides in downtown Hoi An. They sternly cautioned us - and the four Aussies, the British couple and two girls from Hong Kong who were with us - to wear hats, slather on “sun cream” and drink water. Lots and lots of water. They promised to refill our bottles along the way.
We set out for a 45-minute boat ride down the Sông Thu Bồn River aboard the least seaworthy wooden vessel I’ve ever seen. The floor planks were loose with half-inch spaces between them. Rusty nails had popped everywhere and the engine sounded like the African Queen did right before Humphrey Bogart had to jump to Leech River to fix her.
Seated on splintery benches, the Hong Kong girls - English teachers, it turned out - looked nervous as they eyed the retreating shoreline. That’s when they confessed that they couldn’t swim.
To make them feel better, the tour guide - “Ken” - said he couldn’t swim either. He added, matter-of-factly, that most Vietnamese people are unable to swim despite living beside so much water.
“These boats sink all the time, you know,” my daughter murmured. “If this one goes down we’re going to have to get four people to safety.”
I looked at the murky water, the rickety boat and forgot all about the heat. Until we landed on an island with a name I couldn’t pronounce and mounted our bikes, that is.
What followed was an amazing, eye-opening, stifling afternoon as we pedaled through villages where parents head into the city for work each morning, leaving behind hordes of kids and the grandparents who care for them.
Water buffalo, chickens, pigs and rail-thin dogs wandered the narrow streets. Everywhere old people were toiling with their hands - harvesting rice, weaving rugs, making moonshine, repairing boats (but not ours, unfortunately) - oblivious to the temperatures that had us Westerners sweating through our clothes.
As we pedaled toward the boat launch after five hours on these other-worldly islands, I remarked to Ken that the Vietnamese people seem very industrious.
“They work very hard,” he agreed. “Very, very hard.”
In the heat.