Usually I’m all about a bit of banter with the locals. But not when I’ve been sat in my own sweat for the previous 12 hours. Not when I have spent the day being crushed up next to other people; baking on the hottest and busiest day of the year; suffering from the effects of a bad hangover; and dealing with a possible overdose of Malaria tablets. In this situation, the last thing I want to do is make conversation with people I don’t know. Especially in a language I don’t understand!
Becky, Francis and I were seated with a Vietnamese Family…and considering the sorry state we were all in, the arrangements were a little too close for comfort. I watched closely as the serious but smiley gentleman across from me stabbed at an unidentifiable sea creature on the dull silver platter. The creature hovered mid air, expertly positioned between wooden chopsticks. Its spindly legs given a new lease of life as it surged forward in a movement dangerously close to my bowl. PLOP. No!! NOOOO! The bloody thing was swimming around in my soup! I know the table was only small but surely this Chopstick Olympian could reach his own bowl considering his years of practice? He had to have at least 50 years up his sleeve!
Shit. What the hell was I going to do? Maybe I could somehow flick it out when nobody was looking. But then there was no saying where it might land. What if I flicked it out at such an angle that it hit the little man pouring out beers square on the nose?! It would just have to stay there. I tried not to look into its eyes as I hastily went in for a spoonful.
Mr Serious but Smiley was at it again; stabbing away at more unidentifiable creatures. Again, he expertly lifted a slightly squished cockroach type thing this time, and then…sure enough… flung the bloody thing straight into my bowl! He threw me a large toothy grin after catching my no doubt icy expression. Poor Becky received the same treatment. Although being vegetarian made it all the more awkward.
The guy with the beers was clearly feeling flash as he happily shared them out with us foreigners. It’s practically a sin to drink beer from a bottle in many Asian countries, and Beer Man went around filling our glasses to the brim. However, he soon came across a problem. Becky and Francis were glass-less. Beer Man paused. Stroked his chin several times. And then proceeded to pour Becky and Francis’s share of beer into their empty soup bowls! My friends looked on in disbelief. They would have just asked for another glass if it were up to them. Slightly baffled, the two of them picked up their beer bowls, shrugged their shoulders…and downed them in one! This was met with cheers of applause from the Vietnamese side of the table. They looked to me expectantly. I realised they were waiting. Despite really not wanting to sink a pint of beer, I kind of felt obliged to. The pressure of all those eyes and smiles of encouragement had got to me! I lifted my glass to them and drank the lot. Probably not the best decision, but at least it would help me deal with the octopus and cockroach that were now swimming together in my soup. The Vietnamese Family clapped and cheered. They spoke in chattered tones of which we understood not a word. We exchanged smiles and gestures, and accepted the crazy looking food they kept flinging onto our plates. It was official. We had been adopted.
The problem with being adopted is that this essentially binds you into an unspoken contract. You take on certain responsibilities and obligations. You stick by your family through thick and thin. Whether that be eating a specific kind of food, or having a fist fight in the middle of the street as we were soon to discover…