When they invited me to have “egg coffee” with them, I followed them with no hesitation. But when we walked into the back of a shop and up dodgy-looking stairs in very dim light, I started doubting my instinct and my trust in people.
There was no need to panic, though. Instead I was about to embark on a journey of discovery off the beaten track!
I had met these two students at the Hoan Kiem lake park, where University students in Hanoi go to meet foreigners and practice English. After several weeks in Vietnam I was totally familiar with the scenario and quite enjoyed chatting to whoever approached me.
After the egg coffee – which was delicious – we promised to keep in touch. And when I was back in Hanoi 10 days later I contacted them.
“Would you like to see our University?”. Why not, I thought. And we got on a local bus full of students for our long ride to the campus. Once we got there, I soon realised that there were no other foreigners around. Everyone seemed to be staring at me with surprise and curiosity. Celebrity of the day!
“Now we are taking bicycles and going to my room so we can cook lunch”. Cool! We first stopped to buy some food from a tiny grocery shop in the street, then two more students joined us and the five of us rode our bicycles through the countryside to reach the area where these students live.
Compared to the standards of students digs in my own city, these Hanoi ones appeared pretty “scruffy” and very basic. But they indeed do the job, and have everything we needed.
So we started preparing lunch. After washing and chopping the vegetables, I joined in the “rolling phase” of the nam (rice paper rolls) making. I broke the first one but soon mastered the art :-).
Our “masterchef” skillfully pan-fried all rolls while her “assistant” made a nice sauce, and the rest of us prepared the table. The resulting meal was a five-star!
“Do you want to see an artisan village?” I was asked after lunch.
Why not, I thought. And this time we hopped on motorbikes and drove (me as passenger) to Bat Trang village, which is famous for its ceramic/pottery production. We walked around the shops taking a lot of silly photos, then when I thought we were about to leave another surprise came.
We entered a small shop full of little plastic chairs and wheels with lumps of clay on top. We sat and were shown the basic technique for making a small vase. Then it was our turn! I have to say that none of us appeared a natural pottery maker, but we had lots of fun messing around with the clay. And after a while some of our production didn’t look too bad!
I had so much fun and loved the whole experience that day, and I am sure that other tourists would love it too! My student friends could even create a “tour package” based on my day with them (guinea pig!) and offer it to others, in exchange for their time and some English practice. I will suggest it :-).