Why we travel: Seeking a new lens.

Why do you travel?

For me, one of the more enticing lures of any foreign destination is a fresh perspective, and some of my most memorable experiences abroad came after my perceptions were turned upside down. Potentially life-changing, sometimes just entertaining, these interactions offer a raw glimpse of culture and difference. Below is humorous example of when culture meets culture, taken from my experiences in Vietnam.

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The ice cream truck song, in Vietnam.
I lived in the middle of nowhere when I was a kid. The family farm rested approximately eleven miles from civilization, if you can call a town of no stop lights and a single gas station civilization. Nevertheless, I rarely had any complaints growing up. I had a hundred and seventy acres to run around on, which was like a hundred and seventy times bigger than the school playground, and included a swimming hole and fishing rods. It was a kid’s paradise. But it did have one particular downside. Apparently, eleven miles was just too far for the ice cream truck. And I would’ve killed something for Fred Flintstone Orange Push-Pop.

ice cream truck

You know the ice cream truck. It’s heaven on wheels and driven by an ice cream angel. It’s little and white and covered in pictures of different popsicles and ice creams. It has a side window and a roll down, red and white-striped sun awning. And it never stops playing that song. Pavlov couldn’t have created a better experiment if he tried. It’s more than just salivation. When that song hits the airwaves, kids freeze. Their ears twitch and their eyes dilate as they identify and confirm what they’re hearing. Adrenaline kicks in and then it’s an all out, half mile sprint across three neighborhoods for a rainbow popsicle. And you don’t wanna be around if little Joey is short a quarter when gets there, either. S*** gets real.

I hadn’t thought of the ice cream truck in ages until a few weeks ago. I was sitting at a street side cafe, sipping a late morning coffee in Hoi An, Vietnam. I was chatting with the owner of the cafe when I heard the song. It took just three notes and I had already frozen in place. All I could think about was Fred Flintstone and push-pops. The cafe owner said something in Vietnamese and disappeared in to the back of the kitchen. I assumed she was thinking the same thing I was. As I looked around for the little white truck with the fold down awning, I noticed all the nearby Vietnamese restaurant owners running out of their storefronts. At first I was amused. I had never seen an ice cream truck garner such reaction from the older generations, especially at ten-thirty in the morning. But then I noticed that everyone was carrying bags. I was completely confused until I saw the truck. And then I almost cried.

In Vietnam, or at least in Hoi An, the garbage truck plays the ice cream truck song. As I sipped my coffee in utter misery, I watched as the garbage truck slowly made its way down the street playing the song. Just as kids run out for an ice cream, shop owners ran out to throw their trash in the back of the truck. Everything I had been conditioned to understand had just been lit on fire and my dreams of push-pops began to crumble. As I tried to swallow my dismay, the owner of the cafe I had been talking to came sprinting back out of the kitchen with two bags of trash. The truck was already a block away and the song was beginning to fade. Nevertheless, just as any eight-year-old, or I, would go the extra distance for a Fred Flintstone Orange Push-Pop, she sprinted after the garbage truck yelling and laughing, praying it would slow down.

I’ve traveled half way around the world and still the ice cream truck eludes me. Some day. Some day I’ll get my Fred Flintstone Orange Push-Pop. And it’s going to be glorious. For now, I’ll enjoy my coffee in Hoi An.

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