The following day we hired a boat and went off on a snorkelling trip in the coastal waters of the South China Sea. The boat was skippered by an old man. The old man met tourists from various countries through his boat business and he maintained a notebook of his encounters and conversations with foreigners. He showed me a page in his book of a popular Indian song written in Hindi by an Indian person who had been on his boat. He even hummed the tune to me, which he remembered very clearly. I was amazed and inspired by him. From his little wooden boat in Nha Trang, he was able to stay connected with the rest of the world. His notebook contained snapshots of multiculturalism from around the world. It was my first attempt at snorkelling, and although I was somewhat overwhelmed to be out in the open ocean with a pair of flippers and a face mask with a pipe to work as a breathing apparatus, the scene of the colourful corals underwater made every minute of it worthwhile. On returning to the boat, a delicious Vietnamese lunch awaited us, prepared by the skipper and his assistant, while we were out in the water.
Later that evening upon returning ashore having bid our friendly boatman a warm farewell, I took a walk along the sandy beach lined with palm trees. A local musician strummed a guitar playing local tunes and accepting whatever change people dropped in his hat. Local kids played in the sand, with no seeming hurry to go home. The next morning we made a trip to the market in paddle rickshaws. The driver of my rickshaw would not accept a tip, and he insisted on waiting for me until I finished shopping at the market so that he could take me back to the hotel. Most of us bought the traditional Vietnamese straw hats that are typically worn by workers in the rice fields. One of my colleagues couldn’t stop taking pictures of the market place. He said it felt so warm and homely that he had to take back as many reminders of it as he could. We treated ourselves to traditional Vietnamese coffee and spring rolls at a street-side café. I bought portable statues of the laughing, travelling and the meditating Buddha, local paintings and picture postcards depicting life in Vietnam, all as souvenirs and gifts. At another street-side shop, I bought a t-shirt embroidered with a traditional scene of a rice field. Happy with my purchase, I walked away. A few minutes later, I saw the owner of the shop hurrying towards me with a t-shirt. I thought she wanted to sell more of them to me, so I politely refused in English and started walking away. She followed me, insisting on something in Vietnamese, all the while holding out a t-shirt to me. I ignored her for a few minutes, and then I tried to explain again that I did not want another t-shirt. She pointed at the t-shirt that I had bought from her which was in my shopping bad and said the word ‘damaged’. I pulled out the t-shirt from my bag, which she hastily grabbed from me, unfolded it and pointed out to me a large tear in the cloth! She had realised that she had sold me a damaged product, so she had followed after me to exchange it for another t-shirt! I was touched by her honestly, and I gladly exchanged the t-shirt with her. She smiled in relief and went away.