Sharing I Love Yous in the Streets of Vietnam

| 9/24/2012 3:26:13 PM

Hanoi Traffic 

This article, a winner of Shareable’s Share or Die Storytelling Contest, originally appeared on  

Julian and I had been traveling side-by-side almost 24 hours a day. So, it wasn't until two weeks into the trip that I started to notice this awkward thing about Vietnam. The first time it happened it was dusk. Julian was at a tiny copy shop on the side of a busy road in Hanoi; he was making 30 copies of our storytelling workshop packet, for the workshop we were holding with climate activists the next day, and it was taking forever.

I had to pee and I was bored, so I went for a walk in search of a bathroom. I stood at the edge of the road watching the cars weave and whiz by me. I couldn't find the courage to cross the street. The week before, a Vietnamese friend had told me to just close my eyes and step out, and trust the cars will go around me. She said the only time people get hit in Vietnam is when they hesitate because they are trying to predict what the driver will do. I paced back and forth, trying to muster up the courage. I couldn't convince myself to close my eyes, but I stiffened my back and imagined I was Frankenstein, walking step by step, trusting that the cars, scooters, and vans would go around me. They did. And as I took my last step out of the traffic, I felt a rush of wind from a van passing too close behind me and I thought I heard an “I love you” fly out from the window. I wondered if they could have been talking to me.

I headed to a building with bright lights at the end of the road. When I got to the gate, I asked the thin, little, 60-year-old security guard if I could use the bathroom. He didn’t speak English, but after a few tries he understood and he nodded enthusiastically, saying, “Toilet, toilet!” and pointing to the bathroom door as he shepherded me toward it.

When I came out, he was standing there waiting for me. I laughed and said goodbye to him, he nodded and smiled big. It looked like he wanted to say something, so I turned around and looked back. He quickly and quietly said, “I love you,” and a smile lit up across his face. Turns out that almost everyone in Vietnam knows how to say “I love you” in English.

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