Today was more of a transit day. The scenery was not quite as jaw-dropping, except for when the road cut right through a lake. It was another hot day as well, but I felt pretty strong, especially with a massive breakfast of eggs and toast from the hotel.
The real fun of the day actually came about in Kon Tum, a bustling city untouched by Western tourism. I had the good fortune of running into one of the hotel workers as I was about to leave to eat some food. His name was Kan, he spoke great English, and he became my new best friend.
Kan loves Vietnamese food, and invited me to go and grab a late lunch with him. After my introduction to a dish revolving around dipping various items (spring rolls, noodles, fried crispy pork, tofu) into a fermented shrimp sauce, I was very happy. This will become one of the highlights of the trip: chance encounters that end with small plastic stools, good food, and even better conversation. Kan and I talked about a lot - life in America, life in Vietnam, etc... it wasn’t an official interview, but I definitely got some good background information for my project. Above all, we connected over a love of food.
I had a scheduled interview with a Facebook acquaintance, D’uong (pronounced Yuong) for that evening. In planning for this trip, I sent out a blast message on a few Facebook groups, explaining my project and trip. After weeding through a lot of comments, doubts, and well-wishes, that is how I came up with many of my interviewees. I will spend more time on this at a late juncture, but as an aside, this trip is a shining example (so far) of putting yourself out there and making the most of connecting with people.
D’uong is an interesting guy. He’s a local English teacher - which puts him in unique territory for me. I’ve talked to English teachers, but only expats. He moved to Kon Tum when he was 1 with his family. He opened my eyes to the slowly growing sector of local tourism. Young people living in the big cities like Hanoi or Saigon wanting to explore Vietnam. Apparently this is a relatively new phenomenon. In general, we talked about change, mostly centering in Kon Tum. It’s interesting because it is a town that is seeing a lot of economic development (banks, English centers, commerce) but little to no Western tourism. Five years ago, there were no English centers, now there are seven or eight. We talked for a long time as he was interested in the topic. I will do a much more in-depth exploration when I can listen to the audio again in the States and review my notes.