As you advance through countries, you will find that you assemble a patchwork quilt of memories. There are countless stories and moments which you take in your stride while you’re travelling. Some of them stick with you forever. Many are forgotten, and the memory dredged up years later while flicking through an old journal, jerked out of the subconscious by the scruff of its neck.
I was in Hue, Vietnam, and was midway through a motorcycle tour of the surrounding countryside, during which time I took in views of old US bunkers, Buddhist temples, and vast tombs of long dead emperors. I was riding pillion on the motorbike, clinging to a bony Vietnamese man with a broad, leathery smile, who diligently barked the odd word in bad English as we passed key landmarks.
While flitting down a riverside dirt track, tree branches whipping past, he turned his head and yelled something unintelligible above the wind. He tried again, and the jumbled series of sounds he made sparked dusty cogs turning in my brain. He repeated his question a third time, and the gears clicked into place.
GCSE French crept back into my head after the 3 year alcopocalypse of student life had beaten it into submission. I rattled through the handful of phrases that still remained.
“Er, oui. Mais, je parle petit français.”
“Bien! D’où êtes-vous?”
“Où habite tu?”
“Ah! J’habite en Angleterre.”
I chatted to him for the rest of the journey, yelling my cringe worthy Yorkshire-French in his ear as he navigated the sun dappled mountain roads. I managed to tell him I had two brothers, had been to a school called Wetherby High, and had a big yellow dog called Paddy. I veered into German at one point, much to his confusion. If he was frustrated by my Neanderthalic conversation, he never showed it.
Many Vietnamese speak French, harking back to when Vietnam was French Indochina at the turn of the twentieth century. My driver, whose name now escapes me, sadly, had learned French in school, and while he wasn’t fluent, he could speak it much more comfortably than English.
We wound our way home through woods and valleys, streaking along waterlogged rice paddies, and merged back into the stream of buzzing motorbikes heading into Hue. We arrived at the hostel, and dismounted. I thanked my guide for the day, and bid him ‘au revoir’. He whizzed off and disappeared into the torrent of traffic.
There are so many brilliant people in the world. I want to meet all of them.