Bus Encounters

10 Feb
Encounters in the sleeper bus...

Encounters in the sleeper bus...

Just as I wasn’t feeling so happy (just a bit of travelers blues), I bump into lots of interesting people that cheer me up on the sleeper bus. It is a nice way of life showing me that ‘all will be fine’ and that I shouldn’t worry when I have a little dip. I got some relationship counseling from a Dutch-British couple, talked about travel approaches with a retired German traveler and got into deep philosophy with a French dentist that was volunteering in Vietnam.

I thought I’d seen them before, and yes, it turned out that I was virtually doing the same Lonely Planet trail as the Dutch-UK couple I sat with during the dinner stop of the night bus. For some reason, stronger than me, I mentioned my darling from Berlin, and the confusing and complicated times we had been going through. So the UK guy also told me that he used to be with another Dutch girl before, but when he actually moved over to Holland, he discovered that actually he was more in love with the country than with the woman.

  • So was I maybe more in love with Vietnam, than with my ex? Does exotism attract – or just complicate love-stories?

And just when I was starting to write down some thoughts about life and love, this lovely Vietnamese young businesswoman on the bunk bed next to me started a conversation. Besides the usual small talk, soon we ended up talking about relationships: the eternal ‘are you married’ question. And even though she had more or less the same age as me, she was still single – as me. She complained that with her job, she was too busy to find love. Which is a good reminder to get priorities right in life…

More bus encounters

More bus encounters

On another bus, moving up North, I stroke a conversation with an older German pensioner – who was also traveling alone. He told me the reason for this was that his health still allowed him to do so. So is traveling to faraway places something you do as long as your health is ok? And what does that mean when you are getting older-) and your (travel companions’) friends’ health is not 100% anymore?

He was a bit conscious about eating from street stalls and vendors, because he was fearing the consequences i.e. turista, a.k.a. Delhi Belly or other diseases. I told him that it probably is about calculated/consented risk: one does sometimes eat from the street, have sex without a condom, put one’s money in an Icelandic bank… And if you don’t take those little risks that make life more exciting, you’d probably live a very sterile and blunt life.

Eating in the street restaurants - mmmm

Eating in the street restaurants - mmmm

He didn’t agree, and started explaining the types of Durchfall (diarrhea) he had had already… I got a bit of a funny tummy as well, but after 2 or 3 times you get more resistant and eating in the street becomes a pleasure, rather than a danger. It’s true that the re-used wooden chopsticks are not all that clean, the meat lies around uncovered and unrefrigerated on the table, you use the same cups for drinking as other customers only after a vague rinse, you pick the herbs and salad from a big communal basket, etc. So conditions are different here – but people still smile and survive without any problem.

  • So maybe we’ve just gotten too uptight in Europe… Taking things a bit more loosely wouldn’t hurt and add some quality to life… Or does it reduce quality?

The German guy was not convinced, because I met him again by chance at one of the temples and he immediately came to me and continued trying to convince me about the dangers of eating in the street – so passionately that he almost lost his group that he was with.

On that same bus to Hue, I was sitting next to a French dentist who was volunteering in Hue. Quite interesting case. I asked him why he came to Vietnam. His official answer was that he was looking for new challenges, that he wanted to learn about new cultures etc. But when talking a bit more with him, inspired by my Dalai Lama book, it soon turned out that he was running away from problems in the family, in relationships and in the job.

  • What am I running away from?

He was so bitter to say that Happiness is when you don’t depend on other people – that you are in control of everything yourself – that you are happy with yourself and have a fulfilled life etc. A very ‘American’ view: you are on your own, so you better like yourself… Whereas the Dalai Lama says that we can never be independent from others. He gives a naïve basic example of the clothes you are wearing – you bought them from some places, someone had to sell it, someone transported it to the shop, someone else tailored the clothes, designed them, someone went picking the cotton for your trousers to be made, etc. But just as much in relations and emotional well-being “you need others” – I told him full of conviction.

'Friends' feeling with some people on the road...

'Friends' feeling with some people on the road...

You are only you through the mirror of the other. You can only be happy if you can show other people. Others do stimulate you to be happy and I also came to the conclusion that moments of ‘togetherness’ make me happy. I call it the ‘Friends’ feeling (like the TV series), a bunch of people that are interconnected even though they are different, they hang out together, have fights but make up, or fall in and out of love, etc…

  • And there I was, traveling on my own on the bus from Hoi An to Hue – with all the people I love in this world are far away… So I think that this trip is likely to be my last trip on my own

So maybe the people that were surprised I was doing this world trip alone, were not that wrong. I think it is a bit stupid to force yourself to be away from the nice people that surround you for ‘no reason’ – but maybe there were some reasons: finding out that I don’t like to be on my own. Getting to know myself and what is important for me

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