“Two people,” I said to the cashier at the Ho Chi Minh Museum. It was our last day in Vietnam and Brandon wanted to visit some cultural and historical sites.
“Is he in your group?” she asked while eyeing Brandon.
“Yeah, that’s my friend.”
The cashier slid a single ticket through the glass window. “That will be 25,000 dong” ($1.25 usd).
Confused, I examined the ticket and stared. Unless I needed LASIK eye surgery (which I’m told on good authority is affordable and safe in Vietnam) there were not two tickets on the counter. “Hai nguoi,” I mentally recited. I was fairly confident that I mastered how to count in Vietnamese, but was suddenly overcome with anxiety–like a lost child looking for his mommy.
“Um…two people,” I nervously repeated, this time using my fingers to reinforce the point.
The cashier smiled. “Tour guides don’t need a ticket.”
“Hurry Brandon, let’s go in before she changes her mind,” I said gleefully.
When I was a volunteer in Cambodia, I often tried to get into tourist attractions using my Khmer language skills and charm. Neither worked and I always had to pay. Imagine my delight when I was admitted free of charge to the museum. It certainly wasn’t because of my Vietnamese ability; so for once my disarmingly good looks must have paid off. I felt elated and assumed my new role as Brandon’s guide and interpreter very seriously.
All good tour guides are trained to be knowledgeable and confident. As we walked through Ho Chi Minh’s former house, located adjacent to the museum, I diligently explained to Brandon the historical significance of the sights and artifacts. Where my knowledge lacked, I made up for it by displaying even more confidence using a blend of fact and hyperbole.
“We’re now approaching Uncle Ho’s famous house on stilts,” I said while framing the house with my hands–a well known technique which conveys grandiosity. “Here is the office where he worked. Notice the books. Uncle Ho loved to read. He could read in Vietnamese and French. See the desk lamp? Uncle Ho turned it on at night to read. Here is the bed where he slept. It also has a lamp by the bedside. ‘But where are all the books?’, you might be asking yourself. They are in the office of course, where he did his reading.”
I was quickly hitting my groove and feeling increasingly bold as the tour went on. We visited the trees in his yard, the fish in his pond, and the gift shop he built for the future tourists he knew would come–the latter exemplifying the vision and prescience Ho Chi Minh was renowned for among his party.
“Uncle Ho often took walks around his fish pond. He loved his fish very much. There are 353 fish, each with a unique name. The oldest is Stewey. He’s Uncle Ho’s favorite.”
By the end of the tour Brandon was full of laughs and giggles, kind of like the Pilsbury Doughboy when you poke his belly. Incidentally, this actually happened to Brandon (which possibly awoke his inner child).
Feeling satisfied with my performance, I left Brandon and hurried to the bathroom. 32 oz of water in a tropical environment is very taxing on one’s bladder. When I came back, Brandon had disappeared…
Ed. note: it remains a regret of Brandon that he did not make the appropriate “tee hee” sound when his midsection was randomly patted (Polynesian-Buddha-style), despite the implicit commentary on his personal fitness level.