Befriending Dragons

Ha Long Bay translates as “descending dragon”, the Vietnamese believe that in a time of battle, a dragon was sent to save them spitting out fire and gems to protect their fleet of ships. Those gems became the well known green-topped rock formations of the world heritage site known as Ha Long Bay.

Across the seas, we have our own dragon myth. In our legendary tale, a fearsome dragon lived in a giant pond in the city of Cyrene in North Africa. This mythical creature threatened a village and demanded human sacrifice. In this tale, a Roman soldier named George tamed and then slayed that dragon in order to protect the people, thus gaining his heroic and patron saint status as St George.

Two different cultures and two different perspectives. In Ha Long bay you won’t find the gold shiny M of industry that dominates much of the western world, but small open front shops with multicolored plastic chairs where families sit eating pho and the bun cha bbq smoke wafts hot and heady. In zig zagged side streets, Bia Hoi’s and coffee shops are nestled in every nook and cranny, bikers pull up and grab a bench to take in Vietnamese coffee and rice all the while smoking thuoc lao. There is some strange warming comfort in knowing that this is real, unaltered life in Vietnam and there is not much that will ever disrupt its constance.

When I first arrived, I was the dragon slaying type. I had no desire to travel in any other way but by car and the idea of a motorbike was unimaginable. I was definitely more fine dining than banh mi. Ha Long Bay softened me, tamed me into becoming open to exploring the culture.

My weekly trips to the local markets were not an easy thing initially, but it quickly became a much loved habit: the vibrant colours, the bustle, the variety of produce, the heartbeat of the city. These markets are now places where I speak broken Vietnamese and the merchants eyes grow wide with appreciation. I try the strange shaped fruits, get tips on how to eat them, I bought a bike, and even got lessons from the locals on how to ride it. I learn from my students about their daily life and their local celebrations and know what an utter privilege it is to be not only let in, but fully welcomed into their culture.

You can push against the current of a place you live in or you can let it sweep you in new unexplored directions. So learn to ride that motorbike, go to that bia hoi, try the milk tea and celebrate that Vietnamese holiday whilst wearing the flag with pride. Be grateful for the respect you are given when arriving in such a foreign land, care for it and protect it right back. Embrace the dragon, don’t fight it. Writer; Beth Crowder #travel #vietnam #asia #travelling #adventure #discover #backpacking #backpacker #instatravel #travelgram #travelblog #travelwriter #southeastasia #workingtravel #workingtraveller #esl #tefl #tesol #apax #apaxteacher #teachapax #halongbay #teacher #englishteacher www.teachapax.com

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