Around 15 years ago, I was sitting on a park bench in Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). Sensing I was a tourist, a young girl of maybe 13 or 14 years old, in school uniform, approached me. I was initially apprehensive as there was always a kid peddling something on the streets at that time. She spoke very good English.
She: Which country are you from Sir, if I may ask?
Me: I am from Kuala Lumpur. Do you know where that is?
She: Malaysia! I like geography.
She: What is your country’s GDP last year?
Me: [Coughs] What??? I honestly don’t know as it changes every year. So sorry.
Me: Why are you asking strangers all these tough questions?
She: I come from a very poor family and I know I will never afford to travel. Meeting foreigners and asking questions is my way to travel.
[An awwww moment that brought tears to my eyes]
Me: Wait. Please sit here and wait for me. I’ll be back.
She: OK. Don’t be scared as I won’t ask you any more tough questions.
I dashed across the street to a bookshop visible from where I was sitting. Wanted to buy her a coffee table book of my country but couldn’t find one I like. It got me thinking, I should carry a lightweight paperback on Malaysia in my backpack when I travel. It may be the best souvenir or memento to give someone genuinely interested in my country. Unfortunately, she had no internet access then or I would have given her my blog or website address where she she can see thousands of pics.
I went back to Saigon subsequently in 2008 and later years. Happy to see the country developing and progressing tremendously in economic terms. I saw this dog and many pet shops. Pet shops and pedigree breeds are an indication of how affluent a society has become. I am sure the school girl got her chance to travel. Lessons for me: Always be curious but humble and be grateful because we can afford or have the chance to travel.
I was just talking via WhatsApp to my Cambodian friend who traveled by bus with me to Saigon from Phnom Penh. I wanted to know the name of the hotel we stayed in as it had a PC in the room for internet access. Great for editing your pics on the go.
Since he also suffered from amnesia, we made some surprising headway. At least, he remembered the street in between sips of Angkor Beer. It was the Khmer New Year.
The hotel was on Phạm Ngũ Lão Street where the cross-country bus stopped. There are like a million hotels on that street now.