February 21, 2011

Week of Weirdos Part I: Henri

The road attracts all types -- misfits, lost souls, artists, missionaries, curiosities...  I've met some of the most interesting people on the planet through random encounters in strange places. This trip was certainly no exception, Jenn and I met some of the most eccentric personalities and consequently found ourselves in ridiculous scenarios with our new acquaintances. 

The people we met are far more interesting than the places we visited, so I feel like I have to give them a little credit for making my travels even more memorable. So here's the start of the "week of weirdos" dedicated to the characters I met in the last month. In some cases, I'll use "weirdo" in a positive and quirky way, other times I'll use it in a "dude, you are legitimately strange," sort of context. I've got full confidence you'll be able to decipher between the two. (Also, I've changed a few names). 

Week of Weirdos Part I: Henri

The bathroom in our hyper-modern hostel in Nanning, China, was a unisex one and after 30 hours on a train, I badly needed to wash my face and brush my teeth. As I squeezed my nasty green tea flavored toothpaste onto my brush, a devastatingly handsome guy walked up to the sink next to me and started to brush his teeth as well. We were the only two in the bathroom and our eyes were nervously darting around to avert eye contact but still gauge each other. 

I made sure I brushed my teeth longer than he brushed his, just to show my superior oral hygiene (ha!) We didn't say a word to each other. 

The next morning, we inexplicably found ourselves in the same situation as the night before: awkwardly brushing our teeth alone in front of the mirror. Still not a word was spoken.

Later that evening, I saw him in the common room hunched over his computer. He had dark brown hair, dark eyes, and an 8 o'clock shadow on his face. His well-fitted jeans and sweater were a little nicer than what most travelers wore, and I sensed he was probably from Europe. He was beautiful.

A few hours later, we once again were in the bathroom brushing our teeth for the third time in 24 hours. The awkwardness was palpable and we managed a brief "hi."

At 6 a.m. the next morning, Jenn and I walked downstairs to begin our walk to the bus to take us to Vietnam. He was in the common room getting directions for the bus, apparently this mystery man was on our bus. 

The second he got to the station he came up and started talking to us. He didn't stop talking. His name was Henri, he's French and was really, really excited to go to Vietnam. He was talking with his hands in fast, broken English that was impossible to understand in the noisy station. He had an exorbitant amount of energy for 6:20 a.m. He was like an 8-year old who had just shotgunned a Mountain Dew.

Any attraction I had to him was immediately erased after he opened his mouth.

His energy didn't wane, even after four hours on a bus. At our first pitstop, asked if we could help him track down his hostel in Hanoi -- which was fine he asked that, but he did it in a high-energy, "I want to stress you out," sort of way. As we were going through customs at the border, he showed us his passport and told us about the origins about all four of his first names. He told us about the city he lives in China and all of his favorite hobbies and foods. And when he wasn't talking he was humming or playing a noisy game on his cell phone. 

When we handed over our passports to the Vietnam border agents, we were in a huge mob of people that were all trying to elbow their way to the front. Jenn made it to the window and started telling the agents about cowboys in Texas (which definitely expedited our passports) and good ol' Henri stood by me, put his hand on my shoulder like he was my dad, and started humming and bumbling about something. I couldn't pay attention.

Once we finally made it to Hanoi, the energetic 34-year old got his planning hat on and scared off a few Vietnamese taxi drivers who couldn't understand his loud, fast French accent. The small pool of Anglo-saxtons around him, including Jenn and I, looked at him in sheer, baffled amazement at the train wreck happening before our eyes -- he was trying to finagle all five of us into a tiny car and tell the taxi where our hostels were at, even though he was clueless. 

After 20 minutes of high-stress deliberation, Henri got in one taxi and Jenn and I got in another one. I never had to endure another toothbrushing again. Thank goodness.

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