I was a mere 9 years old when I got asked out on my first date. The mini Casanova sat next to me in third grade class and wooed me with fruit scented colour pens, animal postcards and a baby photo of himself. But I wasn’t easily charmed and after three unsuccessful attempts and a warning that my mother would never allow it, Casanova decided to take matters in his own hands and got his mother to phone mine about a date. A week later, the three of us (Casanova,his mother and I ) sat in a dark cinema, sharing a box of popcorn and holding each others tiny, salty hands. The relationship didn’t end up with a “happy ever after” though. In fourth grade Casanova and I had a dramatic break time break-up after my best friend and I decided that he cheated on me (we just discovered “Days of our Lives”) with a girl called Nadine. A little less than 20 years later, Carl Gustav van der Merwe would’ve been long forgotten, was it not for the baby photo and little “sal jy met my kys JA/NEE” note that my mother kept in my school album. But the one thing that stuck with me about my first date, is the movie we went to go see that day….FORREST GUMP.
Now for some “Forrest Gump” was just a movie but to me “Forest Gump” was much, much more. With a mother who was very strict about TV, Forest Gump was a introduction to a whole new world….a world of hippies and disco, Joan Baez and Credence Clearwater Revival and most importantly a world of green jungles, rice paddies and war. There in the darkness of the East Rand Mall Cinema, a fascination for Vientnam was born that would lie dormant for years to come.
Time passed and life went on and eventually I developed an even stronger fascination for a country with cherry blossoms and geisha’s. I dreamt about tea ceremonies and kimonos and promised myself that I would pay the “Land of the Rising Sun” a little visit as soon as I sat foot on Asian soil. I was so serious about Japan that I even asked to be placed at a school in the middle of the dockyards just so that I could be closer to the Fukioka ferry line. Fate had other plans though. Little did I know that Japan was not only ridiculously expensive (a weekend in Japan could easily gobble up an entire months paycheck) but also quite similar to Korea. Not that I minded much, I really love Korea, but the problem with these fast developing Asian countries are that although they are wonderful and interesting, the authentic traditional elements that I like so much, are buried under a thick layer of Americanism. Having had enough of the designer- label obsessed, Starbucks sipping, i-Phone fondling masses, I was craving something more authentic. I wanted to see what “poor” Asia looks like!!! Suddenly the childhood crush was woken from its peaceful sleep and it all made sense - what better place to experience “poor Asia” than the war torn, culturally proud Vietnam that I fell in love with so long,long ago. When I learned that Hanoi, with its cobbled streets, French colonial architecture and street café’s was called the “Paris of Asia” I was even more convinced that Vietnam was just the place for me. There was only one last problem….I discovered that I was pretty “poor” myself when I realized that my vacation fell in “peak season”.
Now, “peak season” is not all that bad you might say?! And perhaps you are right. But one thing that I’ve learned is that you pay a lot of extra money for supposedly “good” weather. Plane ticket prices sky rockets and you could easily fork out more than double for accommodation. Not to mention the influx of tourists! I wasn’t convinced that I wanted to break the bank but oooh, the “Paris of Asia”….?!?!
So there I was, sitting on a shaggy carpet in my friend Jill’s apartment, complaining about my money versus “live in the moment” predicament, when her boyfriend Aaron gave me the best advice…
“Rather regret the things you did, than the things you wanted but didn’t do”
The next day I paid the travel agent a little visit!!!
It was Forrest Gump that said “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you might get”. From what I could gather, my next “chocolate” was going to have a fishy, Vietnamese flavor to it....