Lunatics and Hospitality
Deeply disturbed by the idea of staying in a slowly decaying relic managed by escapees from the local asylum I spent my recent rest day wandering the streets of Sapa, an old French colonial hill station, looking for a hotel with walls that weren’t rotting away and run by someone that didn’t drag customers into managerial disputes for over an hour before handing over the keys for the pre-booked rooms. To top it all off as I later wandered past reception the convivial lass on duty hailed me with a big smile and handed over a letter from afore mentioned potty management. Clearly penned by someone recently graduated from the Sapa collage for the insane with a certificate of extreme incomprehension of the English language it explained in a bewilderingly dim witted manner how the managerial dispute really had nothing to do with management, that they were “really really really sorry” for being oafish and that they hoped that I would completely and totally forget all about the inconvenience caused. I bade the receptionist humbly thank management on my behalf for their thoughtful words and continued on my way with my trusty colleague Mr Phong.
The hotel we settled on is owned run and managed by a convivial husband and wife partnership who speak excellent English. The rooms are quite splendid in size character and appointment. The location is more convenient than the old hotel and according to Phong’s translation the delightful jolly smiling chambermaids all wish to spend the night with me whenever I stay there. Phong also mentioned that so long as it wasn’t a Wednesday the receptionist would like to join us as well, but alas on a Wednesday she had an on going obligation to teach English at the local asylum and needed to recuperate alone afterwards. I do sometime wonder about the accuracy of Phong’s translation.
Having showed us around the hotel the manager told us that today was the day when his family would be visiting from one hundred kilometres to the east for New Year’s celebrations and he would like very much for Phong and I to join them all for lunch. It seems that the further from Hanoi one ventures the longer New Year festivities extend into the New Year.
Lunch was a veritable banquette of salmon, shell fish, king prawns, chicken, pork, beef, various vegetables, tofu and of course, lashings of the obligatory rice wine. Disturbingly there was so much rice wine, which despite the name is not fermented but distilled, that it was stored behind me in an eighty litre jerry can. The Vietnamese being a polite and hospitable bunch of folk would feel most awkward and out of sorts were they not to do all in their power to make a stranger feel at home. For the ladies this means feeding a chap vast quantities of fine food and in the case of the men it means making sure that the traveler should not leave the party on steady feet. This sort of convivial jolliness is of course offered to any itinerant stranger, but when one is the only possessor of large round blue eyes and a long pointy nose one does have difficulty in blending into the background and soon becomes the focus for much “ah cheers”.
It was a splendid lunch, and a wobbly journey home.