An hour later we were in bumper-to-bumper bicycle traffic on the outskirts of a large city. The home-bound urban dwellers carried every imaginable form of cargo on their rusty bikes, from full-sized pigs to thirty-foot lengths of bamboo that trailed along behind them like dinosaur tails. They were unabashedly friendly and took the opportunity to ride with me whenever possible, smiling broadly and trying out bits of unusual English gleaned from contraband copies of Bruce Springstein and Madonna.
A young man swerved into the momentarily empty space beside me, his cargo a grinning friend who sat side-saddle on the back rack. They were students, one studying French in the local university, the other English. On the unlit road I could make out nothing more than the moonlit glow of their smiles. I was captivated. The miles slipped by beneath us.
Why, I asked, English and French? The language of the invaders.
"Business!" they both chorused and laughed happily. Western languages, particularly English, were the key to a coveted job in a foreign firm. Everyone aspired to American dollars, American contacts and, eventually, a chance to emigrate to America. Besides, if no job opportunities presented themselves among the multinationals, it was always possible to get by teaching English to future wannabes. The University course was immensely popular and only the best and brightest were accepted. Russian was no longer even offered, due to a complete lack of interest.
Fung pushed his front wheel between us and pried my young friends away. He spoke to them roughly in Vietnamese, then turned on me.
"Bad men, no good. No talk."
Our rapid-fire, unintelligible English had made him uncomfortable. I weighed my new friendships against the thought of having to spend the next twelve days in Fung's company, and sadly waved them good-bye.