The old lady who seemed to be in charge in that bustling alleyway grumbled a little when she had spoken to me in Vietnamese only to discover I was a silly English-speaking foreigner. She then looked around, spoke quickly to a young Vietnamese couple who had just sat down, and gestured at me. A brief discussion ensued, and the young couple shoved their stools together to the same side of the little table to make space and invited me to sit with them. I will help you order, said the girl, smiling. The food when it came was communal, and the girl would urge me to eat and had even, in that Asian, maternal manner, picked up little parcels of fried crab rolls with her chopsticks and placed them into my bowl whenever she thought I wasn’t eating enough. They were in their mid-20s, domestic tourists from Ho Chi Minh City and Danang, and I learnt they had been university sweethearts who were now in a long distance relationship and he had come up from Danang to meet her while she was on a business trip in Hanoi. We chatted, haltingly but pleasantly, about universities and travel and long distance love. They told me they were regular travellers to Hanoi and this was one of the best bun chas they’ve tried and suggested other restaurants I could visit. I thought to myself as the meal went on that I really must pick up the tab for all of us at the end, they were such a helpful and likeable young couple (and conscious too, that I was from a wealthier country.) I never got to do that. They finished eating a little earlier than me, said they had somewhere to be and got up from the table. I think, she says to me, maybe you have difficulty communicating with the owner so to make it easier for the owner we will pay for you also. I protested, but of course as with all Asian tussles for the bill after a meal after a long back and forth the original offeror always prevails. Don’t say anymore! Is okay! Said the boy. The girl said, It’s okay! I’m sure if we go to Singapore, Singapore people will also be friendly to us. We settled for her hugging me goodbye and they wished me happy travels before going off hand in hand. It occured to me only an hour afterwards that wretch that I was I hadn’t even got both their names or offered my email if they came to Singapore one day.

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