While staying in Mr. Thien’s homestay in Thon Tha village, Ha Giang province, Vietnam we met 4 Swedes also staying there (as described here). 2 women and 2 men, they work as travel agents/tour guides and a few of them live in China. We spent some time with them in the homestay and through them met QT, their Vietnamese guide, and several of his colleagues (including a Swedish guy that the 4 Swedes knew from way back). It was an interesting (and fun) gathering. QT runs a hostel and a motorbike rental company as well as being a semi-professional corn wine brewer. That night we discovered that corn wine (especially QT’s corn wine, of which he was very proud) can cause singing and laughter.
The following night QT was absent, but Mr. Thien (the owner of the homestay) spent time with all of us after dinner. He shared his rice wine with us and taught us to say cheers in Vietnamese. It’s something that sounds kind of like “chooksaquay”.
We got along well enough with our new Swedish friends that we agreed to try to meet up when we were all in Hanoi a week later, but made no actual plans. As Michelle and I sat at a popular corner in the Hanoi Old Quarter drinking a beer and watching tourists pass by we randomly saw them amongst the throngs and called them over. We hung out for a while and made plans to meet up again the following night at a bar called Ray Quán. This bar is one of my favorites, after a friend showed it to us on our trip through Asia 2 years ago. It’s not on the street, but instead on train tracks.
To reach it you must walk down the street to the rail crossing, then turn and walk down the tracks to the entrance. Occasionally a train goes by and no one can enter or exit the bar until it has passed. Like many other drinking establishments in Vietnam it also serves rice wine that has been steeped with various things to absorb the special properties. These range from gecko wine to sea star wine to seal penis wine and beyond. While not particularly environmentally friendly, they do make for a humorous time when westerners give them a try.
After spending time with our new Swedish friends we learned several things:
- Swedish people are a lot of fun.
- Swedes argue over which coast is better, East or West. It’s hilarious.
- Apparently the Swedes of the far North often communicate without words, instead using inhalation and exhalation between top teeth and bottom lip.
- In the Swedish language, “hen” denotes a person of neutral gender.
- At some point in the past there was no official word in Swedish for a specific body part on a woman, so they had a national election. “Snippa” won the election. Then a cartoon music video was made. Feel free to search the internet for this ridiculous video if you’re not offended by cartoons teaching body parts: