It’s time to pay the bill, but we don’t have any idea how much we’re to be paying and only a slight idea what we’re paying for; we’re sure we ordered something with beef in it but was there beef in dinner? Yousef hands over some notes and a young boy stands stuck to the spot, unsure what to do next although he’s done this a million times. He slowly edges away and without a chorus of objection from the four people he can’t understand he surmises that the coast is clear, he can leave and no one is going to shout at him. In no time he’s back with the small pieces of change that Yousef doesn’t want, but it’s part of that process he’s done a million times before. In the wave of a hand and the flash of a smile Yousef destroys the process; people take the change, this is not how it works. He’s stuck to the spot again, this time with confusion rather than uncertainty. Another friendly gesture and the realisation dawns, the process has an exception.
With childish glee that the once terrified boy cannot contain, he skips with high heels to show off to his friends, the bounty he now has all to his own, not an amount worth a mention to any of us but it’s worth skipping in public for him. It’s evening and our faux double-date is going well, Holly has even done herself up we’re told. We’re on a tour of sorts, a food tour of Nha Trang but this one is a little different, this time we’re the all knowing, all seeing locals. This day started with quite a different script, so how did we get to be on a double-date food tour of Nha Trang that we’re completely unqualified to be guiding? The answer comes close to defining the spirit of this excellent adventure.Bright and early was the alarm, we commenced the shuffle that we’re rather used to now, up early and walking to the shop. Not quite ready for the world we’re shuffled to a car and got prodded like cattle to a boat, still not entirely ready for getting up let alone being this far from bed. A few mumbled words make it through the defences and we nod, this is all quite routine. Alertness threatens us on a salty sea breeze that takes the fight from a sun that doesn’t quite sting like it should. It’s all a precursor really, in no time the world is blue and with that blue we’re awake; the climax of our ever so dependable routine now upon us as we breathe the air under the surface of the South China Sea. Scuba diving felt so grand, such a discovery when I first took the breaths I shouldn’t be able to; now the enlivened feeling remains untamed but frontier discovery is replaced by a sort of comfortable embrace, a down couch that has your groove well worn into it.
Corals, fish and all the usual cast are there to greet us, sadly not as many fish as we’d have liked but over fishing is a global problem and no more so than in Asian waters. Trigger fish greet us too, our old territorial friends that enjoy a sparring nip to keep us out of their domain, but nowadays we’re more locals here than visitors, more local under water than on the streets of Nha Trang. This day didn’t have Yousef or Holly in the script but travelling does that sometimes, a less padded world encompasses us without the ready contact to a cast of friends and family, doors usually shut are so often left swinging on the hinges nowadays. They’re breathing on the surface we’re finning beneath and on this great adventure every person we see has a unique story to tell, a story we’re more interested in hearing than we usually are.Diving is all the blissful things it promises to be, a blue cuddle from an old friend. An enormous frog fish is our highlight in an otherwise passive day more about familiarity than discovery. Today the triggers weren’t even nipping. Awake now the boat bobbles back, and the conversation with Yousef and Holly goes like many before but moves quickly like only few seem to. The rituals are passed: travel stories, work lives at home, where is home; and that’s where most travel insta-mates find themselves stuck in a whirlpool, going around in circles but unable to be pulled into the middle, just around and around.
In no time we’re at a street stall, our street food festival holding us in good stead as we share our discoveries with two people that seem to have no troubles getting into the eye of the whirlpool and beyond a surface of flapping arms. Steamed buns and sugar cane juice are some of our favourites and now they’re favourites for Yousef and Holly also before coffee places us on a soap box. We feel like coffee experts and for a minute we possibly carry it off too, Yousef and Holly have been a little gun shy about the local food thus far but we’re having none of it. Some people inspire confidence to immediately let you be yourselves and leave protocol back on the boat circling in the whirlpool we’re all now lost within. We make plans to meet up again for dinner.Another Vietnamese blind stab in the dark is a success, rice paper rolls with something like meat and something like savoury candy goes down a treat. Here the days impromptu script writes to the now, the little boy skips with glee through the restaurant displaying far too much excitement for the small change he’s just won; or so we think at least. With our guide caps on it’s baguette time before a beer and to finish off this day that didn’t want to be what the script said it should. But who needs scripts anyway, this year of cut strings and abandoned routine was in a way written for a script that had no words penned before they happened.
Yousef has an interesting upbringing, the son of a mixed faith household; Catholic and Islamic parents raising a child of no religious identification at all; post-post-modern poster child. Holly works for a company in the same group as Charlie’s, another market researcher with a right brain who wants to write and be creative, a kindred spirit to both of us. Through doors that are so often closed two people have walked right in past the otherwise fortified barrier of our worlds that usually have no time for more friends. Can you ever have too many friends and no time for more? We took a plunge and said goodbye to our old worlds to allow a road to form under each struck footstep rather than lay out far in advance. A road already laid out doesn’t allow newcomers to emerge so suddenly and in this openness we have one of the primary reasons for this great adventure; life’s never too busy for another couple of friends; anymore.