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While Vietnam also has some of the most genuinely sweet people I've met in my travels, it also has some of the most relentless hawkers. They’re not necessarily rude, but they are…well, persistent.

The most insistent hawker of my entire trip appeared while Phuac and I were strolling back from Hang Dao to the Old Quarter. I was more curious than annoyed, but I probably goofed when I succumbed and bought a green T-shirt with “Vietnam” emblazoned on the front. I didn’t really want it, but it was only two dollars and I felt bad for this desperate woman. Phuac said he could not intervene because it might inflame the situation and incite a violent reaction. I think he would have preferred that I not buy the shirt. My purchase undoubtedly further encouraged this behavior toward the next Western tourist to pass by.

Finally, we made our way back to my hotel through the Old Quarter. I watched groups of families gathered together on sidewalks on little stools as they do daily for morning and evening meals. They chat away for hours, often while sipping pho, the staple noodle soup.

Phuac told me I was the first American he had met and was thankful that I was friendly. I learned more about Vietnam that day than I’d learned in my previous week in the country. It really helped to see the city through the eyes of a local. I felt much more at ease now walking the city than I did the first day, when I tromped around like a lost puppy looking for cold medicine.

Phuac and Hanoikids helped me appreciate the highlights and cultural subtleties of the city. The next day I emailed the organization my thanks along with a good recommendation for Phuac.

Upon returning to San Diego, I emailed Phuac some photos taken during our time together. He emailed back, informing me he wants to come study in America, but added that finding a scholarship will not be not easy.

Having firsthand experience of Phuac’s intelligence and preparation, I wouldn’t be surprised if he manages to nail one down. I’m wishing him luck.

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