Chum Chum and Oranges

When I was in Vietnam, I had the strangest experience one morning. It was my first morning there, and I was excited to get out and explore Ho Chi Min, but because of my jet lag, I was probably more excited to eat breakfast. I sat down at a table at the small restaurant in the hotel lobby and ordered eggs and bacon and toast.   Surprisingly, the combo also included a fruit plate. A few minutes later it was delivered to me, and it was fruit, technically, but it was fruit I had never seen before. I was a little nervous, and decided to stall a bit, and played the part of an obnoxious foodie, and took pictures of my food to post to Instagram.

Starting at the top, there was watermelon. That was easy. In the center, was a passion fruit. I fell in love with passionfruit on a trip to Australia and have scoured stores Stateside ever since looking for them (with almost no success). As for the other two, I was completely stumped. There were the eyeball looking fruits at the bottom of the plate that seemed to blink at me when I turned away, and then there were the two fruits that looked like oranges, but had skins that were dark green. Essentially they looked like limes with orange pulp. It may not seem like much, but at 7:00 in the morning on the other side of the world, with almost no sleep, it was the traveler’s version of having my mind blown!

I asked Keith, my travel buddy, what he made of it, and he was as perplexed as me. The waitress must have seen us examining the fruits like exploratory botanists, and noticed our furrowed brows.   When she came over, I pointed to the eyeballs, and as kindly and as naively as possible I ask what in the world was on my plate.

“Chum Chum,” she said, and smiled, almost giggling. She was probably thinking to herself, “dumb, dumb…. American.”

“Ohhhhh!” I said, learning that this was something I was going to have add to my shopping list. “And what is this?” I asked pointing to the bizzaro limes.

Her smile disappeared, and without any irony, and in the most deadpan voice a young Vietnamese woman could muster, she said, “That’s an orange.”

She must have thought I was the dumbest human being on earth. How could I not know what an orange is? Where is this guy from? Mars? Gheez!

In all honesty, I felt pretty stupid. I should have just tasted it before I questioned it. When I did, it tasted like every other orange I had ever eaten. The scene played out and we all had a good laugh. As the day wore on, though, I thought more and more about that morning. I couldn’t help but wonder why is it that we insist on questioning things before we even try them? Are we so fearful  that our questions cause us to miss out on actually having experiences? Questions can be good when going into the unknown, but sometimes, wouldn’t it just be better to have the experience and then form an opinion?

So many people over the years have told me that they don’t travel because they are afraid, and they just wouldn’t know where to begin. Maybe I should be more nervous about it, but more often than not I simply put one foot in front of the other and make my out the door. I have had amazing experiences simply because I decided I wanted to do something, and shouted, “Stop the car!” It wasn’t bravery, it was just movement. This isn’t to say I’m the bravest person on the road. Clearly the idea of trying an orange was enough to stop me cold in my tracks. I struggle with it just like everyone else.

Life is such an interesting adventure. In college I read the book The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. In it, he makes an amazing analogy of life, comparing it to a road map. Your birth is point “A” and your death is point “B.” Everyone’s map becomes more detailed and more clear through learning about the world around them and the experiences they have. The mistakes in life, bring you one step closer to figuring out who you are and to finding your own voice. As the map becomes richer, your path becomes easier to navigate and you begin to move more easily on your journey. If you don’t learn, you resist and you struggle. At the same time you are learning, you are embracing yourself and becoming the person you want to be. You become the captain of your ship, and you are able control it more confidently in stormy weather.

The chum chum tasted like skinless, sweet grapes, and when I was back home a friend explained to me that that the fruit is known here as lychee. I have become a fan, and I’m on the hunt for them in markets now, though I usually strike out. I still eat oranges pretty much daily, but every time I do, I can’t help but think of my lime colored Vietnamese orange, and how such a simple fruit reminded me to live my life with fewer questions and more meaningful experiences.

Does anyone know where of a market where I can find passion fruit and chum chums?  Let me know! 🙂


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Categories: Asia, My View of Things


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