My Son and The Boys

by Andrew Stein

My Son is a Vietnamese name for a cluster of temple ruins that bears no relation to its English meaning. The phrase “the boys”, however, is intended to have exactly its American connotation.

In an attempt to avoid the tourists at My Son, I left in the mid-afternoon from Hoi An and pay a motorbike driver less than it would’ve cost for gasoline in my Prius to take me to My Son. On our way, we fly through narrow roads surrounded by rice fields and farmland, and during the hour drive, I learn the smells of Vietnam. I smell exhaust on the road, trash burning next to it, incense sticks, and occasionally fresh air. When we arrive to My Son, it was just as I had hoped and there are less than 10 tourists wandering through a space that could accommodate many more and still feel empty.

My Son black and white

With my camera in one hand and the Kindle version of Lonely Planet in the other, I navigate my way through the ruins trying to come with the perfect photo while still learning which building was intended for which purpose. After covering about half of the ruins, I find a group sitting in a circle and listening to music. It is unclear how everything progressed, but I soon find myself in their circle, we compare music tastes, and we share our snacks. I learn that they are all currently attending a university in a near-by town, De Nang, and are just visiting the ruins as an afternoon break from school. A couple snacks later, they ask my evening plans, I tell them none, and we decide that they should come back with me to Hoi An. Throughout it all, we communicate either very slowly in English or by writing notes to each other. They could understand almost anything I wrote despite having some trouble understanding me verbally.

Snacks at My Son

Between the five of them and me, we pile on four motorbikes and work our way back. I was particularly happy not to be driving at this point as the sky was turning black with only the almost full moon, the occasional street light, and the bikes less-than-powerful headlight to drive by. We get back to town, and the first thing we do is eat. I am not entirely certain what I am eating because we eat next to the street on what seemed light children’s red play furniture. The food was good and cheap. Dinner cost less than $0.50 per person. With full stomachs, we walked the streets of Hoi An, before coming across another inexpensive and local restaurant. We ordered beers, some fried food, and I took out my deck of cards. I let them teach me a new game because with our communication barriers, 5 teaching 1 is clearly superior to 1 trying to teach 5. During the rest of the night, I really enjoy the game and their company.

Card Games in Hoi An

The Vietnamese, both tonight with the boys and the other day with Quynh Chi, have been so welcoming and warm to me. In twenty years, I think it will be these faces that I will remember the most about my time in Vietnam.