What I’ve Effed Up So Far

Welcome to my random musings about the world, on a weekly-to-occasional basis.

When we went to Vietnam the first time, early in our nomad days, we were still at the beginning of a steep learning curve. We were (perhaps unconsciously) trying to figure out what kind of people we wanted to be in the world. We didn’t think about it in those terms, of course—we were busy thinking about how to buy cotton balls, and how to get the laundry done, and why did my underwear come back full of holes?

We stayed in a lovely little hotel in a lovely little town named Hoi An. It’s a very touristy town, because of the well-preserved colonial architecture in its compact center. The hotel was beautiful, the staff could not have been nicer, the town was a respite. We liked it so much we extended our stay, and then extended again. We wound up spending a month there, which we look back on with great fondness.

Except for one thing.

Breakfast was served every morning in a room looking out at the pool, and the jungle beyond. We sat in that room for hours every morning, on our computers, drinking Vietnamese coffee and working. It was truly a tiny little hotel, with maybe about eight staff people, and we were sort of odd visitors, staying so long. Everyone was so very kind, and we started to feel quite attached to them. I’m still FB friends with Mai.

The egg guy in the breakfast room (there’s always an Egg Guy) was a very enthusiastic young man who was trying hard to learn a few words of English. Every day he made me two eggs, scrambled with cheese, not runny, and by day three had memorized my order. A couple of weeks in, he invited us to his other restaurant. He gave me the name.

Great, we thought. We’re in with a local! So off we went.

When we arrived, we were surprised to find that it was not, as we had expected, “his” restaurant—hello, language confusion—but the restaurant in which he worked when he wasn’t at the hotel. But we were still thrilled. It turned out to be an NGO-sponsored training restaurants, which is our favorite kind of place to support, so that was a huge added bonus, in our minds.

When I went to wash my hands after we arrived, I saw “our” chef in the kitchen, and gave him a big wave and a thumbs-up. We’re here! We’re rah-rah cheerleading on your behalf!

Later, after we’d read the back of the menu (all about the NGO’s mission and fundraising) and had a delicious lunch, the American who had founded the place stopped by to make sure we’d enjoyed our meal. He was great—we felt as if we’d met a kindred spirit, but one who was much more willing to live his beliefs. He’d started this place in order to train at-risk youth in an employable skill. He was working on fundraising in the US, so that he could open a similar place in Ho Chi Minh City, focusing specifically on helping gay street kids. That’s a mission that’s near and dear to my heart—I was so impressed with his work.

The food was fantastic, I told him. I told him all about the great job the young man at our hotel was doing—he was a credit to the training program, representing well in the industry. I told him all about our kid in culinary school, and our concerns about LGBTQ rights all over the world. He told us about the American ambassador to Vietnam, and what a great guy he is.

We went on our way.

A couple of days later, as I was finishing my breakfast, the young woman who helped Egg Guy in the dining room came to my table. 

“He wants to tell you goodbye,” she said, pointing back toward Egg Guy, who gave me a small wave.

In my utter obliviousness, I gave him a huge smile. “Excellent! Where is he going?”

We stumbled through the translation for a minute, but with growing horror, I realized what I’d done. Part of his contract with the NGO is that he’s not allowed to moonlight. I’d ratted him out to the boss, and he’d been given an ultimatum: quit at the hotel, or get booted out of the program.

The waitress went on to tell me how hard it was—his wife having a new baby, and all.

I was gutted. Back in our room, I cried, wanting Lee’s sympathy—I didn’t know what to do with this guilt I was experiencing.

“It’s not about you,” he pointed out. He was right. I had made a mistake—one that had real consequences for someone else—but that would impact me in no way whatsoever.

I wasn’t sure what to do with that. It was a sobering lesson in . . . what? Unintended consequences? Look before you leap? A reminder that there are always real people on the other end of our actions, and even if we don’t know them, they’re not so different from us? It’s possible to break things for other people without even realizing we’re doing it?

All of the above, I suppose. It was a hard lesson, but I’m pretty certain it was much harder for Egg Guy than for me. The harder question, though, is this: what else have I broken, without even realizing it?

Take care,


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