We went for dinner at a fancy vegetarian restaurant by the river, set back enough that we couldn’t actually see the water. We sat outdoors, as everything in Vietnam is open air. All around was metal curlicue trellis work, plants grown over everything, with strings of lights around the edges. A romantic setting, perfect for making eyes at your lover (or, in my case, your vegan Indian friend) over a steaming plate of tofu. Just don’t order the hotpot or you may lose your eyebrows– the flame underneath is strong enough to roast an entire tofurkey. A hotpot is a pot that is hot (if you couldn’t guess) filled with broth, noodles, suspicious-looking green plant parts that taste bitter and kind of make you gag, mushrooms, okra, tomatoes, tofu, and probably a few other vegetarian things I’m forgetting. I learned that in India okra is called “lady fingers.” There must be women with pretty strange-looking fingers in India.
After our dinner splurge (143,000 dong) and the usual after-dinner life conversation, it began to rain. We wanted to wait it out, as it was pouring down, but the staff were making closing-time preparations, so we braved the drops to make our way back to our hotel. We walked, dodging bicycles and motorbikes, passing street vendors and customers sitting at tiny plastic tables on the sidewalk, stepping in puddles, trying to read the street names and not get hit by a bus, hoping the rain doesn’t come pouring down harder until we made it back to the hotel.
Walking along a wet street after it has just rained at night is a magical feeling, because everything, even the trash in the gutter, seems cleaned and glossy and there is potential just waiting in every puddle. Walking down a street in Hue after dinner, after the rain, being passed by rain-ponchoed motorbike drivers, passing food vendors selling what is definitely not tofu chicken body parts, I can’t imagine being anywhere else. This moment is brilliant– the lights from shops reflecting in the million tiny pavement puddles, the sounds of wheels splashing through, the smell of rain in the city– not dirty, not offensive, just the smell of rain on pavement and plastic.
This is Vietnam.