We arrived in Danang this afternoon; flight 4 of our 10-flight itinerary down. It’s only about 50 minutes from Hanoi to Danang but we soon discovered that the climate changed dramatically – cool and romantic in Hanoi; sultry in Danang. Upon feeling the first fat drops of sweat trickle down my nose, I steeled myself for more of Sean’s complaints. Another tip: don’t bring a cold-blooded Celtic boy to a tropical climate; they melt like green-faced witches. At least air-conditioned cabs would be relatively inexpensive to Hoi An from Danang airport.
As we hoisted our suitcases onto our rolling luggage cart, we were approached by a gentleman and a woman. I’d seen them on the plane; a middle-aged couple with matching sunburns and sensible shoes. Viet Nam and Malaysia aren’t like Japan, where the relative scarcity of non-Asian folk makes them gleam in a crowd like religious icons. Here, we’re surrounded by tourists of all shades but even so, we stand out suggestively. Look! More tourists, and they smell just as awful as I do. Maybe they know a good spot for dinner. Maybe they’ll know what to do about these bug bites. Maybe they’ll want to share a cab from the airport!
“Excuse me,” said the gentleman. Ah. Australian. “Are you headed to Hoi An? If so, would you want to share a cab?”
I had just been to the travel agent booth, armed with the knowledge that a sedan ran for $15 USD and a minivan ran for $18. Divided by four ways, the rate was irresistible. I don’t know how much cabs cost in Australia, but in Japan, a cab ride from the airport is an unimaginable luxury. How many times have Sean and I schlepped heavy bags through the subway stations, all in the interest of saving 10,000 yen?
“Of course,” we said delightedly. Naturally! And as soon as we had agreed, my Uncle Scrooge-like euphoria waned ever so slightly. After all, we had not only agreed to splitting a cab ride, but to being in a confined space with 2 strangers for 40 minutes. I dropped my eyelids ever so slightly as we headed to the Airport Taxi, attempting to sniff out any identifiers about the couple, just in case. The missus and I had fallen behind Sean and the gentleman and when I focused on the two men, I noticed, with a shock, that from behind, they looked almost like twins.
The most obvious common trait was, of course, the hair. Sean is blessed with an abundant crop of thick, red Irish curls which have, in the 2 years I’ve known him, become increasingly scattered with becoming strands of gray. He blames teaching. I’ve seen pictures of his father – gray at 30 – so I have a better idea of the real culprit. The older man’s hair was only slightly less red, slightly more gray but even at this stage of his life, abundant apart from a bald patch at the crown. I had glimpsed a pronounced paunch earlier but from behind, they were similar in build – tall and slight. They walked silently, dragging similar black backpacks and if I let my imagination run, I could imagine that they were father and son … or, even creepier, Present and Future Sean. I shuddered.
The missus gave her suitcase to the cabbie and planted herself firmly in the front. I was immediately jealous; I usually like to sit shotgun because I am almost always carsick. Amazingly, I’ve been all right so far this trip so I decided to chance it and keep quiet. I sat in the middle, between Present and Future Sean, so wigged out that I could barely breathe. The engine started and we were off down a long, paved road flanked by roaring motorbikes and lush, green palm trees.
“You,” said the gentleman to Sean. “That’s an Irish accent I hear. Whereabouts are you from?”
“Cork City!” Sean beamed. One of his greatest joys since moving to Asia is the rare occasion that someone identifies his accent as Irish, rather than – god forbid – British.
“That’s our favorite place in Ireland,” said the gentleman. His accent reminded me of some of my Aussie ex-coworkers, but his voice itself was rather softspoken, like Sean’s.
“Excuse me!” said the missus. “Oh, no, no, no, this won’t do.”
“What’s the matter, love?” asked the gentleman.
“This fellow!” huffed the missus. “He’s trying to raise the price on me. Look here!” she shouted at the sheepish driver. “I have the ticket from the counter and it’s $18. $18 and no more. That’s the price I agreed on and that’s the price I will pay. Okay? Is it a deal?”
“Yes, yes,” agreed the cabbie, as shamed as a schoolboy. Beside me, Sean beamed even brighter. His greatest peeve since arriving in Viet Nam has been what he calls “cowboying” – Irish English for scamming.
“Brilliant!” he whispered to himself. On my other side, the gentleman shrugged at me with a wincing grin. I sensed he’d witnessed such tirades many times before.
We began to chat. The pair had been traveling since January – a round-the-world trip. I deduced their names through references to each other – Viola and Jack. They’d just come from Indonesia and planned to head to China after Viet Nam.
“Violet’s idea,” said Jack. “Two weeks was enough for me.” My heart had leapt in envy yet again when he mentioned the scope of their trip; 2 weeks is far too short for me but there are things to be done back in Japan and elsewhere. For Sean, on the other hand, 1 afternoon of cowboying was enough.
“I’ll tell you what!” said Violet. “These children? They ought to be in school, that’s what!” She was talking about the children on the side of the road, the ones who have been sent out by their parents to earn an income by selling postcards or clay whistles.
“I’ll tell you what I told them,” she said. “I tell them – ‘You go home right this instant and back to your mums! You ought to be in school!'” I felt Sean’s joy swell to the point of bursting. Watching all the motorcycles screech past us, I was starting to get a bit car sick after all. I focused on the horizon, catching glimpses of Violet’s feet in their sandals. I caught sight of her inflamed, twisted bunions – doubtless caused by a lifetime spent tottering around in high heels. I love high heels; am crazy about high heels. A slight Napoleon complex led me to wear them every day from the age of 14 until the age of 24, when a leg injury forced me to cut back to several times a week. Was Violet Future E? I tried to imagine Sean and I traveling the world together in 30 years’ time – Sean passive and partly bald; me lecturing cowboy cabbies and wearing shoes with bunion cut-outs.
Our hotel was first.
“Goodbye!” said Jack and Violet. “It’s a small town; we’re sure we’ll see you around!”
“Goodbye!” we said. As the cab turned the dusty corner, parting the crowds of chickens on the road, I saw Violet shaking her fare ticket at the cabbie again.
“Well now!” said Sean. “That was a lovely couple, wasn’t it? He was rather soft-spoken. And the woman – what a character! I like outspoken women like that. They balance each other well, don’t you think?”
“Yes,” I said, glancing at his thick red curls to make sure they covered all parts of his scalp – a scalp I’m sure is freckled under all that hair just like Jack’s.