Our first week in Vietnam was a rather unique one for us. Not just because we were entering a new country. But after 14 months on the road, it was the first time we had company during our bike tour. Two family friends – Greg and Kevin — flew out and joined us for a 500 kilometer stretch up the Vietnamese coast. It was great; we got to catch up with friends from back home, and Greg and Kevin got a taste of what it’s like to be part of the Postulate One project. They came out to bicycle tour, and get a week’s worth of our adventure. “Just don’t hold back guys — we want to travel the way you do.” Greg told us before they arrived. Well, okay we said. If you insist…
So we took the 54 year olds couchsurfing with us.
Now, Morgan and I have been couchsurfing over 50 times since Paris. We love it – staying with locals is hands down the best way to explore other cultures. But we’re also accustomed to it. While I used to wake up in random people’s living rooms and momentarily panic, now it doesn’t even faze me.
Greg and Kevin, however, were total newbies. They come from our hometown of La Canada, a suburbia nicknamed ‘the bubble,’ where the word couchsurfing is typically met with slack jaws or blank stares. Greg and Kevin had been backpacking around the world in their 20’s, but it had been awhile since they adventure traveled. It’s hard to rebuff a hotel once when you’ve got the wife and kids in tow.
I was fascinated to see how they would handle it. Would they be comfortable? I was slightly concerned. The first few nights up the coast, Greg and Kevin half-jokingly requested we only stay in hotels with “air con and wifi.” So we did. There was no telling what the conditions would be like at Tien’s family home though.
It didn’t help that she was late.
“Is this normal?” Kevin asked.
We had been waiting forty minutes in front of the post office and our host had not shown. We started to talk about finding backup hotels, but it turned out to be a timing miscommunication. After we called her she arrived on a motorcycle.
“Hello, I’m Tien. But you can call me Tanya!” She hopped off the bike, tilted her head with a smile, and stuck out her arm for a handshake. She was young, only 18 and still in high school, and here we were – two pairs of 23 and 54 year olds. It was an odd combination to be sure. I looked at Greg and Kevin to see their reactions. They were completely relaxed. That’s when I knew the old dudes would do just fine. The most important thing with couchsurfing is simply going with the flow, and that’s what they were doing.
The surprise was how into it Kevin and Greg got.
“This is so cool.” Greg said, taking in 360 degree views of the fishing village from Tanya’s rooftop. Behind him Kevin was running commentary on her father’s method of barbecuing pork on a miniature grill. They were fascinated by everything. “Tanya, what’s this city’s population?” “How many fishing boats are there?” “What does it cost to live here?” “Where was your father born?” “Where do you and your friends hang out?”
Tanya answered what she could, but had to laugh when the questions reached the specifics of the fishing trade. “Ummm I don’t know! I’m just a high school student!”
Then we were called down to dinner. It was a feast, prepared by Tanya’s mother and included mounds of fried fish, pork, sautéed vegetables, and fresh sliced mango. Morgan and I tucked in, letting Greg and Kevin do most the talking while we enjoyed the spectacle. Kevin was showing Tien’s mom photos of his wife and kids from his iphone. Greg was rapt with attention as Tien’s father described hiding in foxholes during the Vietnam war. Then all the parents turned their attention on the youngsters — me, Morgan, and Tanya — to give us marriage advice.
The highlight of the evening however, was the concert after dinner. Tanya’s father produced two guitars and Greg played with him. “What songs do you know?” Greg asked. We laughed when her father jumped into renditions of Jingle Bells and Silent Night. But afterwards he pulled out some sheet music and played a Vietnamese tune. Greg chimed in with his own harmonizing part. It was beautiful. “Wow, was that a traditional Vietnamese song?” I asked.
“No” Tanya said. “My dad wrote that.”
The next day, as we cycled to Nha Trang, Greg and Kevin couldn’t stop talking how special the experience was. “We can’t thank you guys enough for last night.” Kevin said. “Really.” Greg talked about how he could host people in his condo in Pasadena.
Not only did they enjoy it, but it looks as though we may have turned a couple of old dudes on to couchsurfing.
And you know what? There wasn’t a single mention about the lack of air con or wifi at Tanya’s place.