Welcome me back, undisputed, glorious and faithful six! We were in Prague for quite a while there, and now we’re in Vietnam – a small village just outside of Hanoi, to be precise, volunteering at a place called the Vietnam Friendship Village. You can read all about the particulars of the mission here, so I won’t go too deeply into it, instead giving preferential treatment to myself and my own silly ideas.
Noticed on the way in from the Hanoi airport an accident on the Northbound side of the expressway. I could see enough just to know that it had been bad for some. A twisted wreck of car and some extra metal – maybe a former payload, perhaps a Honda Dream – one of the little 180 cc bikes ubiquitous in southeast Asia. A serious looking man was shifting parts from the road. He bent at the waist and scanned the asphalt for something, like a woman searching for a lost contact lens or earring. He seemed official, although he didn’t wear a uniform – like a senior waiter at a decent restaurant with a fat money pouch strapped to his belt. There was no money pouch, but he wore his solemn authority that way. Nothing else was different; his faintly striped blue shirt and dark pants and plain black leather shoes shining somehow despite the dust of the road.
The kids were all together in the minivan up front and as the traffic slowed to rubberneck the scene I saw their lenses focused on the northbound lane. Lenses come before face – it’s one way to put distance between, to say to anyone watching: you can read all about this later somewhere else, but now I will not interpret, I will not judge. Each one of them has a camera and some have two. Earlier, they show off the photography tricks they’ve learned – snapping shots of each other mid jump while waiting for the call at terminal C of Ruzyne. “Look,” they say to each other, pointing at the TFT displays, “how you’re floating six inches off the ground.” They’re good kids. Smart and eager to be. Through the duration of the 19 hopur transit, they barely complained a word, just laughed, listened to music and slept.
Red votive candles or lotus petals dyed crimson or bits of cut up felt litter the highway. Candles. “Someone is dead,” the driver told me. The northbound lane had been made a necessary, inacessible shrine.
“Yes,” I said. The girls looked straight at the seat backs in front of them and said nothing.
The driver rolled down the window and slotted a 100,000 VND bill out onto the wind. He rolled the window up again without looking back and I noticed a flurry of bills dancing along the highway between the cars – a few inches from the ground like the fat, lazy snowflakes that appear in early October and cannot last or amount to anything.
“Is it for the people who died? Does someone collect it?” Bara asked from the back seat.
“Yes, dead people…” the driver confirmed, sober faced and disinterested in clarification.
The whole time my video camera was sitting on my lap in standby mode. I went back to watching the water buffalo, the lush green and murky lump of not so distant hills.