“We saw you coming down from the monument and I challenged my friend to ask you over for a drink or dinner.”
Actively seeking English conversation practice, Zugi and Anne have been hanging out by border city Dien Bien Phu’s Victory Monument. The statue celebrates the Viet Minh’s victory against colonial French forces here in 1954 that lead to the Europeans’ withdrawal from Vietnam altogether. We have ended up in Dien Bien thanks to the logistical necessities of overland travel between Sapa and Laos, but we have discovered the scene of a battle that had a fundamental impact on the future of Indochina on the way.
In the busy city centre, the monument is the most visible reference to the colonial struggles. It commands an excellent position overlooking the traffic and the malls, and the sweeping mountain range we must cross to get into Laos. From the upper reaches of the steps leading up to it, the beacon that is my blonde hair and dark beard combination completely ruins Kaili’s attempts to go incognito, so to dinner with complete strangers we go!
Zugi is an engaging, confident English speaker in town on business from Ho Chi Minh. He works for a corrugated iron company supplying sheets for roofs. Anne is eating dinner with a westerner for the first time and, as a local high school student, is understably a little nervous. The cultural affinity Kaili shares for Vietnam goes a long way to put her at ease and it works out as a nice evening.