30 Day Travel Series: Pork Nostril and Sticky Chopstick

With her giant chopsticks she tossed in an array of meats; I saw strips of light pink jellied flesh and maroon cubes that looked like dark tofu.

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Okay, Julian was eating absolutely everything on our trip. It was scary sometimes, because he was eating stuff like raw pork and random things he couldn’t identify. Once he ordered this bowl of food that looked like noodles and pig nostrils. We think, upon reflection, that it was intestine, not nostrils, but either way it was super hardcore to try and eat. I just watched in awe and try not to think negative thoughts, like that he was going to die.

One of the worst times was one night when we were walking down the street in Hue and he was on a mission to try Bun Bo Hue. A Vietnamese friend of his back home, Jenny Ton, had told him he absolutely had to try it in Hue. We were leaving the next day so we had to find it that night.

We saw a woman squatting behind a pot that was twice her size on the side of street. Julian pulled my arm to stop me from walking. “Look at her,” he whispered. She was stirring a cauldron of steaming broth. She picked up a bowl and dropped in a handful of noodles. With her giant chopsticks she tossed in an array of meats; I saw strips of light pink jellied flesh and maroon cubes that looked like dark tofu but what I regrettably report were in fact congealed pigs blood. Using a ladle three times bigger than any Iadle I’d ever seen she flooded the bowl with broth. The broth sloshed right to the edge but not over. She barked a command and without looking up she handed the bowl off to a man that was working with her.

There were a few people sitting on tiny stools out front, and the helper man set the soup down on a table.

I looked up and Julian was gone. I spun around looking for him. I heard his perfected Vietnamese accent as he was talking to the woman: “Mo Bun Bo Hue.”

“Heather!” he shouted, and motioned for me to come over like I was late. “I already ordered.”

We sat inside. The pale yellow walls were dingy and smeared with black. My feet were sticking to the floor. Our table was littered with dirty napkins and there were two small cups on the table, one half full with tea. The man came to our table with a pitcher of iced tea. He picked up the glass with tea in it, took one step towards the door and flung the remaining tea into the street, whereupon he refilled it and set it back on the table. Just to be clear: he refilled the glass that had grubby fingerprints all over it and - without washing it - handed it back to Julian.

Julian was crouched on the tiny stool, his knees spread, with his game face on. He picked up a pair of worn, wooden chopsticks, dismissed the stickiness and held them in anticipation.

The man dropped the soup down in front of Julian. He stirred it with his both his chopsticks in one hand and held a spoon in the other. He slurped the broth and piece-by-piece he popped in bits of meat. His eyes and nose began to water as he pulled up noodles and sucked them in. I just watched. Every few bites, a splatter of hot broth would hit my face.

I saw the man out front washing a stack of dirty dishes. He’d rinse them under a trickling hose and stack them back up in the “clean” pile. As I watched him washing the dishes I felt certain that this was the time that Julian would get sick. But when I focused my attention back over at him, he was sitting there with tears streaming down his face, sipping the tea to help break the spice, and I noticed the smile exuding from every part of his being. I decided the satisfaction he felt in that moment was totally worth it.

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This is one of 30 untold stories of launching a global project (with my boyfriend, Julian) about love, story telling and connecting change makers.

Read all 30 days here: http://www.smithmag.net/community/people.php/HBOX

Throughout Vietnam, South Africa, and Uganda, we engaged with 650 everyday people working to make the world a better place to share their stories. Inevitably, there were parts of our adventures we couldn’t tell while on the road, because we were a start up trying to prove our merits as a serious social change project or because of nervous families monitoring our journey. But the truth is while we worked passionately to bring our dream project to life we also had an adventure of a lifetime. Here are the stories behind the stories of the Million Person Project: http://www.millionpersonproject.org.

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