During my junior year of college, I studied abroad in Hanoi, Vietnam. There, I met one of my best friends. How did I meet my best friend in a country in which I couldn’t speak the language? How did I get so lucky to have met an English speaker in a café? One day, I walked to a huge blue lake in the middle of Hanoi city, called Hoan Kiem Lake. I walked along the streets around the lake, looking for an amazing café I had heard about. I walked past a Roman-style church and music streamed into my ears. I turned left past shops filled with tapestries and colorful elephant pants. I saw the café near a magical white church.
I found the cafe, which was decorated with black and white tiles, and came with a menu written in English. I sat down at a table and pulled out my Vietnamese homework. I tried to comprehend the new sounds. I wanted to learn Vietnamese so I could get around in a country where not many people spoke English. Every time I tried to speak Vietnamese, gibberish came out. I decided to give up for today.
I looked around the cafe and saw a short girl with black hair, wearing a superman shirt. She told me to come over and share the table with her. She was Vietnamese, and named Chi. She had lived in Vietnam her whole life and had taught herself English when she was fifteen years old. She told me that she came from a traditional Vietnamese family, and her parents told her at a young age that she should become a nurse, but she decided to go against her family’s wishes and live out her dream of becoming an architect. She paid for college herself and got her first degree in architecture.
I wanted to experience first-hand how Vietnam had survived after the war, and see the places where the war had happened. I wanted to stop just reading history books, and listening to other people’s opinions of Vietnam. I told her I wanted to create my own opinion about Vietnamese culture, people, life, and history.
Chi asked me what I was doing in Hanoi. I told her that I wanted to study abroad in Hanoi. I had travelled all around Europe but had never explored a country in Southeast Asia before. I told her that I learned so much in college about why Vietnam stayed a communist country. I wanted to experience first-hand how Vietnam had survived after the war, and see the places where the war had happened. I wanted to stop just reading history books, and listening to other people’s opinions of Vietnam. I told her I wanted to create my own opinion about Vietnamese culture, people, life, and history. She smiled at me and asked me if she could show me around the city. I told her, sure!
We walked outside and I saw her black and silver motorcycle. My hands were shaking and my heart raced at a million beats per minute. I decided to jump on. Chi drove fast through cars and bikes that all drove in one lane. She drove past white buildings, blue shops, bars and that lake. We stopped at a bicycle store. We hired bikes, and Chi said to me: “I need to show you the gold gems of the city and we need explore what makes Hanoi unique.”
We biked past the lake and the avenues of trees while the sun shone orange, yellow and pink. We stopped to take pictures, smiling at each other and the camera. I had had no idea that this city was filled with golden keys that open blue bridges. I was exploring the most magical city, and the gold shone in my eyes. We rode our bikes and I knew that I had just met my best friend.