He must have a plan, because the motorbike takes a decided left instead of right and we’re racing along the harbor shoreline, the festival music fading slowly in the distance.
Up a craggly hill then down again, and we’re welcomed into a deserted alcove of a parking lot. The curious sound of waves lapping below overwhelms me – this island is filled with beach after beach, harbor after harbor, nooks and crannies and watery roundabouts around every corner.
It’s a tiny Vancouver. It’s my personal ocean paradise. It’s cool and cloudy, lonesome and nostalgic by day, smooth silvery magic by night.
We do not speak, but then again, that’s no surprise. His English is about as good as my Vietnamese, which is relatively non-existent. (I can say “coffee with milk,” “bottle of water” and “noodle soup,” none of which are very useful when trying to communicate how long you’ve been waiting to kiss someone.)
Our long distance courtship has lasted nearly two months after my decidedly unladylike attempt to add him as a friend on Facebook.
He was so confused, so alarmed, so flabbergasted that I was even speaking to him – him, the chef who cowered in the bowels of the kitchen like an abused cat – that the entire interaction, our only interaction, consisted of a flurry of nervous laughter and smartphone screens and thick, palpable awkwardness.
I knew he didn’t know I liked him. Trying to express that, while simultaneously trying to make sure he was the one pursuing me, was a whole new level of challenging.
And yet here we are. Descending the crumbling steps down to the beach together, the gentle clinking of beer bottles in his bag like the triangle in the symphony of the surrounding night.
I can’t tell if he likes me. When I arrived today, the bus happened to drop me off in front of his restaurant, where I was greeted by a boisterous staff of 6 waiters and managers, all of whom remembered me from before, and all of whom apparently knew each and every – gulp – detail of my tryst with Truong.
“Your boyfriend here!” they cry, absolutely tickled by the entire situation.
“You no speak, I translate you!”
“Sometime you just need eyes. Just the eyes to look each other. When you love, no talk need!”
I blush fiercely, embarrassed at their enthusiasm but relieved to hear I’ve been on his mind enough to warrant a discussion amongst his colleagues.
“Sometimes your boyfriend, he talk you and he can’t concentrate work!”
He waits for me, having emerged from his kitchen cave to watch the welcome ceremony. He is grinning from ear to ear and my heart liquefies instantly, sinking down into my toes. On the 7th day, God made that smile.
I walk with heavy heart feet until I am in his arms for the first time, and he is generous enough to embrace me in public – a big faux pas in Vietnam.
I tower over him, or at least it feels that way, but he doesn’t seem to mind. I make a mental note to lose about 375 pounds so the two of us don’t resemble the “iO” in “iOS” while we’re walking down the street together.
As we descend the gravel waterfall to the beach below, I’m suddenly awoken my from love-dream and tumble into something deeper still – I’ve been here before.
This place, this night, are as familiar to me as the sweet smell of hairspray and powder that linger in my mother’s bathroom after she’s gotten ready for work in the darkness of the early morning.
The earth has sucked in its belly, creating a deep, rounded bay flanked in semicircle by soaring limestone cliffs. The horizon is inky velvet, the indigo sheets of water ripple like liquid chocolate underneath the moon.
There is no one else in sight, and I wonder how so magical a place could have opened itself to us alone.
He pulls me across the sand, his dark eyes searching for a place to go, a place to be even more alone than we are right now. A place so secret, our solitude is turned inside out and we’re free to make loud, boisterous music in appreciation of each other, in celebration of the union of two souls.
The bag of beers hit the ground with a crash, my purse leaps from my hands, and he’s kissing me like a soldier waging war against every doubt that ever crossed my mind – yes, he likes me. Very much, in fact.
The water and sky enter me completely as I’m wrapped up in him, the smell of the water and wind is his smell, the power of the earth to comfort and caress becomes ours. His kisses spill to the earth below like strands of silver moonbeam.
We explore the craggly cliffs with our hands, finally finding a shallow cave that seems to have been carved to serve as a two-person throne.
And now he’s talking, talking more than he’s ever talked before, his fingers moving feverishly upon his phone’s screen.
My arm rests easily around his shoulders as I wait patiently for him to put into words – and then translate those words – and then see the terrible Google translation and start over – how he is feeling.
“You and I are God” he writes, looking expectantly at me to see if I understand his words, and more importantly, if I agree with them.
“In this time is my greatest happiness” he writes. Just when I thought my heart had solidified again…
He works on and on, wanting desperately to tell me everything, and I marvel at his tenacity and my own patience. His diligence is to be admired more, though – after all, I have the moon and chocolate-water to caress me as I wait.
“You my 3 girlfriend. I only 2 girlfriend, high school and college. Fortune teller say I have 3 girlfriend.”
I think I get it. I try to say “third time’s the charm!” but his crinkled brow shows me something important was lost in translation.
“But now I have girlfriend 3…and you are a FOREIGNER! And 2 years older than me!”
I’m actually three years older than him, but I let that one slide. And marvel at our cultural differences – it really does matter to him that I’m a foreigner, and that I’m older than him, if only by a few years. It really is a big deal. It’d be like me dating….I don’t know, a Martian?
Whether we realize it or not, we really do live in an “anything goes” culture, especially compared with many other parts of the world, and especially when it comes to romantic relationships.
And yet for some reason, he’s willing to overlook my “faults.”
“In this time is my greatest happiness.”
I am gifted with another silver moonlight kiss, and the moon follows up with a rush of cool affection – the tide swirls in all around us, soaking our clothes and whisking my sandals into the watery depths.
A very fair sacrifice for a night that was beauty incarnate.
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1. Travel romance is possible, even when you don't speak the language.
2. Age is a big deal to Vietnamese men (and to Vietnamese women), but they might be willing to overlook the fact that you're "older" if you're persistent (and if you dye your hair - in Vietnam, having gray hair means you're "close to death").
3. One thing that might get in the way of your travel romance is the fact that you're a foreigner - for some reason that seems to matter a lot in SE Asia. Also, it seems to be much more culturally acceptable for Asian women to date Western men than the reverse.
4. If you date a Vietnamese guy, be prepared to state your intentions right off the bat - you'll probably be asked if you intend to marry him, and if you're "trying" to "get married with a Vietnamese man" in general.
Want to dig deeper? Go for it!