30 Day Travel Series: Oooohhh la la

Julian was perched higher up in a semi-squat, looking a bit like a man in a baby�s carseat, and I was squeezed down between his legs, holding on for dear life.

As we wandered the streets of Hue, our conversations were peppered with, “No, no thank you”-s. We couldn't seem to get across to the rickshaw drivers offering us a ride that we were out on a walk. Every block or two we would get caught up with a driver who positioned his rickshaw in front of us to stop us in our tracks and offer us a ride. We joked with the drivers a bit, asked questions, and said things like, “You think you could really pedal us around in that? We're too big, aren't we?” We were definitely too big and definitely not interested in being the giant tourists overflowing out of rickshaws in the middle of Vietnam's traffic; so we just kept the nos flowing.

But late one night when we were on our way home to the hotel, we relented. The skinniest man in the universe had been following us for blocks with his rickshaw insisting we take a ride with him. He told us it would only be one dollar. He said he really needed the dollar. I tugged on Julian's arm and asked, “Should we just do it?”

Julian examined the rickshaw and said, “There is no way you could take both of us in that.” The man nodded his head rapidly and said, “Yes, yes, yes!” Before we could even blink he had jumped off his bike and put down a slat of wood in the front, making it a two-tiered seat. “Two people, two people. Come come come!” he said frantically. We rolled our eyes and mumbled to each other:

“We weigh four times as much as him.”
“The bike is gonna break.”
“Dude is 85 pounds, how will he pedal us?”

Rickshaws in Vietnam are old school bikes that are attached to the back of a throne-shaped basket designed to fit one small passenger. So when Julian and I sank down into the “seat,” the wood cracked and popped, threatening to snap in half. We didn't fit. Julian was perched higher up in a semi-squat, looking a bit like a man in a baby’s carseat, and I was squeezed down between his legs, holding on for dear life. “We really don't fit,” Julian said and started to make moves to get out. “Plus we don't even need a ride, we're just going a few blocks,” he said. But the man insisted that we stay. He repeated, “One dollar, one dollar.”

The contraption wobbled as the man mounted the bike and prepared to take off down the street. On the first pedal, the driver let out a long, “Oooooooooohhhhhhhhh.” We were barely moving. “Told you,” Julian said, annoyed. The driver continued to push. I tried to look back to see if the man was okay. I couldn't see past Julian, but I heard him. “Ooooohhhh la la, ooooohhhh la la,” he moaned dramatically.

I whispered to Julian, “I think he is dying.” Growing more annoyed by the second, Julian said loudly, “Yeah, he is dying, but why won't he just let us out?”

“Oh no, ooooohhhh la la, oh nooooooo, ooooohhhh la la,” the driver pedaled on at a snail’s pace, complaining the whole way. I felt like a bad person.

When we finally made it to our hotel, the driver stopped and let out an exasperated, “Holy wow!” We unstuck ourselves from the rickshaw and jumped down. The driver was sweaty and distraught; he was rubbing his thighs and muttering, “Oohh la la.”

Julian looked at me, his face a mixture of annoyance and guilt, and said matter-of-factly, “I have to give him two dollars.” The man accepted the money but continued to moan and rub his aching thighs. He tilted his head up in agony and with both hands on his legs he said, “Ooooohhh la la.”

“He's just not going to stop, is he?” Julian asked. We felt so bad just walking away. “Hey man, are you okay?” Julian asked, trying to catch his eye. “Very heavy, very much,” he responded. Julian rolled his eyes and pulled out two more dollars. “Well, sorry man, here are two more dollars.” The man nodded and through his anguish he managed to mutter a thank you.

Julian grabbed my hand and we walked into the hotel. “Geeeez, that was dramatic and awkward,” he said, shaking his head. “We just paid that guy four dollars to make us feel bad about ourselves.”

I looked down at our bodies, our hands together. “We're real life giants.”

The next morning when the two giants stepped out on the street we were focused and on the offensive. No more chit chat for us. As we made our way towards the internet cafe, we were crowded and followed by haggling rickshaw drivers, and like a couple of celebrities hiding behind their sunglasses, we walked with our eyes averted, waving them off with our hands, saying, “Promise, promise, you really don't want to give us a ride.”

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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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