Just Nod and Smile

Well, I have been trying my hand at some travel writing. I have had so many funny and unique experiences while traveling, I feel like I need to share them. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoy reliving the experience. Get ready to read about my adventure in crossing the Vietnamese border!

      I have found that my best response in life is a nod and a smile. This is especially useful when dealing with gun-toting, communist boarding crossing guards. After a very long and interesting 24 hour train ride from Hangzhou, China to Nanning, China, I was finally ready to make my way across the border from one communist country to another. We had to get off the bus and walk through customs and exit China, then walk across the Vietnamese border and do customs on that side.

      So, here I go walking through with my 30 pound traveler’s backpack on my back and my friend Danny by my side. Even though I haven’t done anything criminal or wrong, I always feel a little edgy going across borders. Are they going to deny me entry? Have I unknowingly let my passport expire, and they’re going to send me on the next slow boat back to America? After being pushed and pushing back to get to the front of the mass of people that should, in an American’s eyes, be a nice, neat line, I finally make it to the window.  

     As Danny finishes up at the window, he stands off to the side, as I start my smile and nod routine. There are two Vietnamese officers behind the grimy, plexi-glass window. They both look like they are growing weary of seeing 20-something year old foreign backpackers trying to enter their country. I hand one angry-looking man my passport. He flips it open, looks at it, looks at me, looks at it, looks at me. He’s grumbling to the man beside him as he slams a rubber stamp down on my Vietnamese visa. Then he looks at my entry paper. The second man starts talking rapidly to the man holding my precious passport. If only these two gentlemen spoke English and didn’t frighten me slightly, I might have had the courage to ask if there was a problem. Finally, after much deliberation in a language that I couldn’t even pick a single word out of, the man with my passport looks at me from under his little, blue hat and says in English, “Is dat man your husband?” while pointing to Danny who was already safely through the line.

     My mind begins racing. I am thinking they have discovered that Danny has smuggled some illegal substance into the country; maybe he is even hiding a small child somewhere in his backpack, and he forgot to mention it to me. I’m already picturing us being escorted to a back room filled with rats the size of my head. I quickly spout out an, “Um, no?” hoping that is indeed the right answer.

     “Oh good!” he says as he slaps the other man on the shoulder enough times to constitute as the himlec maneuver. “Because he thinks you are soooooo beautiful and is very happy dat you are not da wife of that man!” he says while crying with laughter. I glance in the direction of my admirer who is red in the face and is swatting at the hand on his shoulder. I figure that that information was supposed to be a secret between comrades. I take my passport back and tuck it back into my bag as I nod, smile, and walk away. 

Me with my travelin' gear


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