A roar let out amongst the soldiers sitting around, listening to the rousing speech, one that Vinh had long rehearsed after hearing such philosophical rhetoric his whole life from his anti-French father. The Deer Team marveled at his speech and passion, and Charles stood up and shook Vinh's hand in admiration. It was easy for the Americans to see that the Allies had a powerful friend in the passionate troops who fought for their country against the Japanese.
This part of the Vietnamese country side has witnessed little change through the centuries. The crooked-backed peasants face another daunting day every time the sun slips over the eastern ridge, greeting them with stoic reminders of the paddies which need rending. The giddy, shirtless, barefoot boys still ride the water buffaloes out through the paddy ridges to find slivers of green grazing that will keep the beasts contented until the next time they are needed to plow-under the sun-bakes soil, readying the field for another planting. The dawn illuminates a village, which awakens like a colony of ants, miles to go to feed themselves for another day. The crows overhead witness the ants, scurrying out from underneath the palms which shield the single-story cement dwellings from the relentless afternoon sun. The busy-bodies hunker down in the fields, women side by side with sisters and aunts, neighbors and cousins, donning the cone-like, pointed straw hats, which protect their faces from darkening in the heat of the day. The dainty hands, each with a single stock of rice seedling no more than six inches tall, skillfully push the heroic staple into the mud until it settls in the place where it will thrive and grow, giving the planters their rewarded survival. They owe their lives to the blessed crop which gives them sustenance, they owe their age to the cursed crop, which robs them of years and sentences them to curved backs and ridged, hard skin. This is the land of their ancestors, a canvas of paint so vivid, so real, so far removed from the toil of the modern masses. These people have become one with the land, one with time, one with each other as they etch out a noble existence for which two thousands years of Vietnamese history owes them much.
In the midst of a region which had witnessed little of time's changes, perhaps it seemed odd to the few boys and peasants close enough to the only paved road in miles to see a white faced rider on a motorbike, whipping through the open plains, a Vietnamese girl at his back with wind-tied hair waving furiously, creating an arrow which pointed back towards their direction of origin. They laughed and smiled, waving at the boys, whose grins lit up as they stood at attention and yelled the familiar, "Alo, Alo!"
The motorbike passed the occasional truck coming from the Chinese border two hours ahead. They had been on the road for about an hour when Thuy gently tapped Chip on the shoulder and told him to pull down the next small dirt road, which led to a long, one story cement dwelling with a faded sign over the open, barred window which read "Di Tich Lich Su Hang Phuong Hoang." Chip stopped the bike beside the house and turned off the key in the ignition. It had been the only sound around except for the gentle breeze, which tingled the trees with its morning freshness. Thuy jumped off the back and went over to an elderly man sitting on a stool outside the house directly under the sign. She chatted quickly to him in Vietnamese, and he pointed back over his head towards the large mountain which lay directly in the background...
"Where is the cave?"
"It's way up there, out of sight," Thuy said as she pointed towards the unspecified destination.
"Are you sure this is a good idea?"
"Yes. You won't regret it," Thuy replied, looking up at Chip with a playful smile.
"It looks painful."
"All worthwhile things are."
"Chip, you don't--"
"No, wait. Let me do this right."
He slid down the front to the rock and stood right in front of her so her legs went under each of his arms. She reached out and put her arms around his neck, clasping her hands in the back...
"Thuy... "You have changed me. When I came to Vietnam, I didn't know what I was doing. I guess I was trying to figure out who I really was. I have never met anyone like you, and I know it sounds cliched and all of that. But it's true. I have been thinking a lot lately about my life and what I want out of my life, and I realized that there is only one thing I want. You. What I'm trying to say to you is...
He hesitated again. Thuy's eyes overflowed with tears, but she didn't care to wipe them away.
"Will you marry me?"