Compassion without Words

It’s funny.

Sometimes you wake up crying and in a miserable mood, wishing the next few days were already passed and you were somewhere else after the seemingly endless Tet holiday is over in Saigon. You rant for a bit to anyone who will listen and decide to go out in search for coffee on an assumedly empty street with closed shops and restaurants.

Instead, as you turn the corner of your apartment building, you see families drinking tea, playing cards and mahjong, eating breakfast, drinking beer, tea, and coffee, and you see the lives of all of those celebrating around you.

I stopped at the first stand I saw that had even a single beverage to offer and grabbed myself the best iced coffee I’ve tasted thus far for less than $1. Everyone I passed smiled at me as I walked by as I wished them a happy new year.

As I turned the corner, a group of men was sitting on stools and tiny chairs, smoking cigarettes, drinking beer, and laughing. I walked by and they all yelled “hello!” and waved to me enthusiastically. In that moment, I decided to keep moving, but it only took me walking for two minutes more to decide that I should start walking back and find a bite to eat at one of the places I had passed.

As I walked past the same men again, I heard, “hello! Hello!” and I turned to look at them as they motioned me over. I won’t be dishonest and say I was not a bit hesitant; you never truly know a person’s intentions. But as soon as I sat down, I was given a cold beer, one of the old men opened it for me, handed me a stool, and I sat down and started sipping. They spoke no English beyond the word “hello.”

As I sat with them, they offered me food and I drank my beer. Over the course of the next half hour, I translated to them that I am from America and I’m 24. We took photos together on both my phone and theirs, something about which they were very excited. I motioned to my being hungry and one of the men tried to take out 50k dong (~$2) and hand it to me for a Banh Mi that he pointed to across the street. I declined his money but took him up on the idea of grabbing a Banh Mi later on.

One of the men tried to communicate something to me that I couldn’t quite understand at first. He kept pointing at my phone. After a few minutes, I realized what he was saying: be careful with your phone because someone on a motorbike will try to snatch it from your hands. Keep it close; be careful.

It’s pretty amazing how much we can communicate without words. I realized this at the farmstay outside of Hanoi, and I realize it now.

One of the men gave me his phone number and address to stay in touch; I wasn’t quite sure what they were trying to invite me to, but they made me feel genuinely welcomed. They took my waking up crying and frustrated and turned in into a reminder to appreciate the moment and the place I am in.

That’s what’s funny. How in the middle of an emotional, PMSy, life’s-not-going-how-I-want-right-now kind of day, I was reminded why I came to this country and this part of the world; I connected with locals and was accepted fully by them without any words really exchanged.

I truly despise when people say that Vietnam is dangerous; that people will try to take advantage of you as a westerner; that people should not be trusted; that you will be ripped off.

The Vietnamese are probably the kindest human beings I have met thus far. Of course, not everyone is the same in every place, but in these back-alley, live-out-of-your-shops and 20k dong coffee shops, you will not only be invited, but you will also be accepted as you are.

So many people in this world like to assume the worst of some places. But not everyone in this world is inherently bad. Some are just curious; most are forever kind. I’ve found it to be truly remarkable the connections you can make without a single ounce of English. I’ve always been concerned about language barriers, but realistically, you just have to pay attention to body language and go with your instinct. Love and compassion especially exist without words.

Seriously – thank you for reading. You have no idea how much it means to know that even one person beyond my dad reads my blog.

Until next time,

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What is traveling all about for you? Culture? Food? Thrills? Luxury? Spending time with someone you love in a new place? For me, it’s nature, culture, and food. I don’t need luxury; I appreciate it and will splurge, but I don’t need it. I am a pretty simple person when it comes down to it. However, the last few days have been pretty exhausting. I don’t do well with moving around a lot and bopping around from place to place. Instead of settling right into a hostel in Saigon, I booked myself a boutique hotel (it was 40% off, I’m still a cheap ass) that had great reviews. It’s been the perfect way to decompress: breakfast in my room, real coffee in the little kitchenette, a big bath tub, prostitutes across the street… can it get any better?! Just kidding, I didn’t buy any prostitutes, but they were definitely across the street. Now that I’m a bit recharged, I can get back to exploring and socializing. I will probably be in Ho Chi Minh City for about a week in total. I travel slow… very slow. I’ve learned that getting to know a place is a lot more enjoyable than having to rush through one. Tet is coming up as well, which means that a lot of things will shut down. I’m heading to a hostel today to see what they’ll have going on for the holiday. My next stop will be a beach town on the coast, and I’m very excited to wake up with the sun and watch it set in the evenings. Happy Lunar New Year!

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