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Heat, Humidity And Hard Work

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.”

Hah. 

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.

Hong Kong girls boarding the SS Sure-To-Sink-Soon

Hong Kong girls boarding the SS Sure-To-Sink-Soon

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. 

HoiAnBoat.jpg

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. 

These women are weaving grass mats. It takes them 3-4 hours to complete one. They make about $1 profit on each. The woman on the left is 66. She’s been weaving mats in this open-air room for the past 50 years.

These women are weaving grass mats. It takes them 3-4 hours to complete one. They make about $1 profit on each. The woman on the left is 66. She’s been weaving mats in this open-air room for the past 50 years.

This happy gent was sitting outside what can best be described as a Vietnamese nip joint. In back they were fermenting rice wine and putting it in plastic water bottles. One large, fragrant tank had a cobra marinating inside.

This happy gent was sitting outside what can best be described as a Vietnamese nip joint. In back they were fermenting rice wine and putting it in plastic water bottles. One large, fragrant tank had a cobra marinating inside.

Water buffalo watching a man at work in the fields.

Water buffalo watching a man at work in the fields.

Hay to feed the local livestock, delivered on foot.

Hay to feed the local livestock, delivered on foot.

This fisherman passed under a floating bamboo bridge just as we were crossing on our bicycles.

This fisherman passed under a floating bamboo bridge just as we were crossing on our bicycles.

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. 

Hitting The Hanoi Street-Food Stalls

Hitting The Hanoi Street-Food Stalls

Hallelujah!

Hallelujah!