My neighbour is already half way across the River Hoai with excitement. He looks back towards me looking worriedly at the water below. The water is deep blue reflecting the Quảng Nam sky on a good day, but today the colour resembles ca phe sua da – Vietnamese thick-milky coffee. I can see bits of market leftovers in it and don’t want to go anywhere near the water.

This is the second outing with my neighbour. As tourists wave from their boats to the sandy Cua Dai beach, I swim across the river traffic with the waves reaching towards my mouth. With cornfields and buffaloes to our backs, we dig for shellfish in gooey mud on the river island. Once we swim back, he gives me all the shellfish we’d caught.

His sisters too come up to grill our catch in the cafe kitchen. Some shells don’t pop open on the flame and turn to charcoal, but he laughs and insists they are good to eat. His younger sister, who works at a restaurant in the ancient quarter, shakes her head and says we shouldn’t. “He’s different from other people,” she smiles.

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