Centrally located along the coast of Vietnam, Da Nang is famous for its international port, which played a pivotal role during the Vietnam War. For being such a large city, Da Nang was quaint and cheery—sprawling coastlines were surly a welcome sight.
The sand was fine and white, framed by a wide sidewalk lined with palm trees wrapped in colored lights. More than the climate, Da Nang’s vibe was noticeably cooler. It was quieter and people were smiling.
We arrived late in the evening without a clue as to where to stay. By now I had loosened up a little and wasn’t imagining myself toothless and begging for change; lost in a third-world country. Blindly, we pointed to an address in my notes, and off we went.
Our beach hostel was perfect: directly across from the ocean, ten US dollars a night felt like grand larceny.
The next morning was decidedly a beach day. I was so excited to sit and do nothing that I barely remembered to put sunscreen on. I suggested we go early. I was sure that such a pristine beach would crowd quickly. But as we took our sandals off to walk barefoot on the silk sand I could see we were all alone.
Other than a few people scattered further down the beach we were the only people enjoying the lounge chairs and sun. Mike was a bit disappointed. “Where are all the girls in bikinis?” he complained.
I felt the opposite. I felt like a celebrity on some private oasis. Shut up, Mike.
The water felt like a freshly drawn bath. I didn’t brace or slow as I walked further into the deep. I put my head under the waves and tasted the salt on my lips. I felt every muscle in body relax, every worry lift away, as I floated on my back listening to the muffled sound of the South China Sea.
I feel asleep on the sand between chapters of my book. When I woke, the sun was beginning to set. Only when the sun started to go down did the sand and ocean begin to fill with people. It was a wonderful sight to behold: families, groups of playful teen boys and girls, elderly couples holding hands.
I rested and watched the beach continue to fill with people. The carless ease with which they embraced the beach and ocean was special—occupying it the same way I might sit in a living room wearing mismatched pajamas. It was personal and yet somehow everyone was invited.
While the sun was low, we made chitchat with several people lounging near us in the sand. Two of them happened to be staying at our hostel. So when they saw Mike and I in the lobby later that evening it wasn’t strange they invited us to join them for dinner. We accepted.
Our new friends, two Vietnamese women, spoke exceptional English and were just as eager to learn from us what we wanted to learn from them. It was wonderful to be in their company, locals who could help navigate a menu and shed some much-needed light on the things we had experienced to far.
Our hosts asked us what we would like to eat. Seafood was definitely on the menu. Inside the building I could see the colored tubs and glass tanks that were keeping dinner alive.
“Anything,” I said. “I trust you.”
Mike was a bit more apprehensive, but he didn’t want to be rude.
Barbecued squid, fish in chili sauce, steamed prawns with lemon and blue colored crabs. I was excited. Mike looked like he was going to pass out.
It was a messy ordeal, but I enjoy the slow and delicate process of working at shellfish. One of the women showed Mike how to properly tear apart a blue crab and get at the meat.
The evening ended uneventfully but deliciously. We retired to our rooms to rest up for another long day of travel.
And then, I woke up.
I can’t breathe. My throat. Something is wrong.
My throat was on fire; my tonsils were the size off golf balls. I couldn’t drink. Mike ran to the front desk to find some help, while I lay in bed speculating what my friends and family would say about me after I was gone. Who would read my eulogy?
Mike barged in my room. He had tracked down the women we had been to dinner with and one of them was willing to come with us to the hospital. Mike pushed me into the waiting taxi.
The doctor handed me a green pill the size of a horse tranquilizer. Our dinner host did most of the talking. Again, I was putting all my trust in her.
I took a colorful assortment of pills and hoped for the best. I was experiencing anaphylaxis: an inflammatory reaction to the shellfish we had enjoyed the night before.
The rest of the day was spent in a medicated haze. I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t remember where I had put anything. Mike was clearly irritated that I had become an adult-sized 4-year-old. All I could do was sit quietly and stare off into some space that may or may not have existed while we waited for our connecting modes of transportation.
I was lost in Vietnam.